Trials and travails of a Taiwanese-American kid in Taiwan

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

全線預備! Ready down the line! - Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

"Morale sound off!" (「精神答數!」), the officer of the day yelled. We chanted out the cadence based on Chiang Kai-shek's list of qualities a good soldier should have, interspersed with shouts of "LOUDER!" (「大聲!」) from our drill sergeants...

「雄壯!」 (Honorable)

「威武!」 (Majestic)

「嚴肅!」 (Solemn)

「剛直!」 (Upright)

「安靜!」 (Silent - somewhat ironic since we were hollering at the top of our lungs)

「堅強!」 (Enduring)

「確實!」 (Precise)

「速決!」 (Expeditious

「沈著!」 (Taciturn)

「忍耐!」 (Persevering)

「機警!」 (Vigilant)

「勇敢!」 (Courageous)

It was a beautiful day in southern Taiwan. We marched down the road from base, passing through orchards of mango, guava, and bananas. Finally, we stopped at the calibration range beside the road, surrounded by trees, with paper targets pasted to wooden stands behind which was a large earthen barrier. Forming into waves of 12, we lined up behind our designated targets. Clearing our rifles as we had been instructed, we held our unloaded rifles upright in both hands with firing bolts locked. 

Our battalion CO, a lieutenant colonel, raised his bullhorn:

"Attention! Commencing live fire target practice in 5 minutes. All nonessential personnel clear the target area."

"Remember", our drill sergeant told us as he handed out foam earplugs, "we've been through the procedure dozens of times already. When called you will proceed to your firing alley. Do not load until instructed. You will fire two volleys of 3 shots each. After firing you will examine the target with the sergeant next to you. The recruit behind you will paste a new paper shooting target after you finish examining the results of your second volley. You will then take your used paper target, clear your rifle again, hand your bulletproof vest to the next recruit in line, and proceed to the analysis area off to the side. Also, the shock waves will be more intense as they bounce off the ground, so you can get away with using just a single earplug in your left ear."

A warning siren sounded. The battalion CO began issuing orders:

"Shooters proceed to firing points!" (「射手上把台!」)

I marched up to my firing point along with the rest of my wave of recruits and stood at attention, rifle held upright in both hands.

"Prepare for target practice in lying position!" (「臥射預備!」)

"Preparing for target practice in lying position!", we yelled, taking a step to the left and dropping onto the ground.

"Load three bullets, release bolt!" (「三發子彈,送上槍機!」)

"Loading three bullets, releasing bolt!", I yelled while inserting the filled magazine (oooh, heavy) the sergeant provided and pushing the bolt release catch on the side of our rifles. The drill sergeant next to me knocked the back of my helmet.

"What is this, a confidence building session? Shut up and just perform the moves.

"Ready on the left!" (「左線預備!」)

I flipped the selector switch from S to 1 (single shot), and tried sighting the target. 

"Ready on the right!" (「右線預備!」)

I sucked in a deep breath and tried to keep my hands steady as I extended my finger over the trigger.

"Ready along the line!" (「全線預備!」)

I slowly curled my finger backwards, the trigger gave easily enough as I slowly pulled. Odd, when is it going to-


My ears were momentarily overloaded as the rifle recoiled backwards. Up close, the sound was more of a very loud sharp popping noise, rather than the bang that I had been expecting.

Two more shots to go.



By the third shot, both my ears were ringing. I could barely hear the sergeant next to me as the cease fire order was issued. We all safety-ed our rifles, placed them down, then walked towards our targets as a range safety officer stood waving a red warning flag.

"Not bad. Your shots came pretty close to where they should be at this distance, and they're clustered closely together, so it looks like your aim hasn't shifted too much between shots."

Between the recoil, the loud pops, and the increasing blurriness in my right eye, I eventually settled in an odd sense of zen like calm as I fired off the second volley. 

I was jerked back into reality by the sergeant next to me slapping my helmet. 

"You're empty, you can stop pulling the trigger now."

We rose, picked up our rifles, did a left face, and walked off the firing points to the sides where we cleared our rifles. Carrying our target papers, we tried to listen as a sergeant came up with suggestions on how improve our shooting technique, while the rest of the company took their turns. There was a minor incident where one recruit apparently couldn't tell the difference between the 1 and the A on his selector switch, and ended up with the dubious honor of being the only person in our company who ever fired a rifle on full auto. 

I noticed absent-mindedly how the shots sounded less like pops, and more like dull thuds from a distance. High frequency acoustic waves are probably damped more easily than low frequency waves, the physicist in me thought.

Everything else went by in a blur. In no time at all, it seemed, we were marching back to base through a light rain, our rifles tucked under our ponchos.

"Keep marching. The CO has ordered the kitchen to make ginger soup for lunch today."

Ginger soup (薑湯) is a bit of a tradition in the ROC military whenever cold weather (by Taiwan standards) or getting drenched in the rain is involved. The procedure for making it is fairly simple, as our drill sergeants relayed it: take the oldest, most gnarled chunk of ginger root you can find. Whack it a few times with the blunt side of a heavy cleaver, then throw it into a pot of boiling water. Boil down till the liquid is reduced by about half. Saturate the final liquid with as much rock sugar as physically possible. The resulting concoction burns all the way down, and is a folk remedy for the common cold.

As lunchtime drew near, those of us in the mess squad marched down to the mess hall with the usual baskets of trays and utensils, as well as the large pots of food from the kitchen. A couple of us hauled down two large pots filled with the steaming hot ginger soup to be served to the company.

Unfortunately, news of the ginger soup was not successfully relayed to everyone in the mess squad. One overtly enthusiastic recruit promptly poured both pots out as food waste before they could be served.

The CO was not pleased, to say the least.


Trent T.K. Chiang said...


Your blog is really interesting. I moved to US when I was 15 and could not waive my conscription like other did.
Your description make the military service sounds not too bad after all.
Please continue once you have time!

Haitien said...

Thanks for the comment. Basic training isn't bad, although the really hard part comes later. And believe me, although I don't regret doing my time, there is plenty of bullshit to go around that I haven't even begun to get into yet...

Steven said...


I've been following your blog for awhile and I've especially appreciated your posts regarding military service, it's been fascinating.

I'm an ABC who wants to stay in Taiwan long-term and I'm in the process of applying for citizenship, though it seems like a pretty confusing situation. Were you born in Taiwan, and if not, would you mind sharing with me the process you went through? I've gone to the immigration agency multiple times but each time I leave more confused. (ex: it was only on my most recent trip that I heard I had to apply for a TW passport and then enter the country with it)

Thanks in advance! (

Haitien said...

Hey Steven,

I'm no immigration lawyer, so take everything I say with a grain of salt. For me, my folks had be naturalized (入籍) when I was 10 years old. Since my household registration (戶口) is in Taiwan, I automatically received my draft orders when I was 18, and had to apply for education deferments afterwards to postpone my induction till after I graduated. There's an age cap for such deferments, IIRC, 25 for a bachelor's degree, 28 for an MS, and 30 for a PhD. Most of my fellow draftees range in age from 18 - 25, although age is less of a factor in the military than induction date.

There is also an ex-pat status (僑居) you can apply for, which renders you exempt from the draft. the kicker is though that you will not be able to reside continuously in Taiwan for longer than a few months. Staying longer than that amount of time changes your household registration status to domestic, and thus makes you eligible for the draft.

The draft itself is due to be phased out by 2014, though a few months basic training will still be mandatory. I do not know whether that will be better or worse as far as the quality of training is involved - currently 1 month is rather rushed, and there is a great deal of on the job learning after basic.