Trials and travails of a Taiwanese-American kid in Taiwan

Thursday, August 23, 2012

懇親日: Visitation Day, Part 1

Head squaddie (班頭), you taking the bus to the train station when they let us out on Visitation Day? Also, want a bento box when you get back? Mess hall is closed the day we come back.

"Yeah, but I'm taking the high speed rail back. Lunch box please."

I made a note of his choices in my small pocket notebook that I'd purchased at the PX on Induction Day. Given the general ban on smart phones and PDAs, we'd all reverted back to pen and paper.

"Damn, that's close to a quarter of your pay this month... okay, Squaddie 3, how 'bout you?"

"Didn't I tell you before that I'll be hailing a taxi myself, Squaddie 2?"

"Sorry, new orders from above say that when we leave on Visitation Day, its either with our parents, or on the bus to the train station."

"Fine, I'll take the bus."

I scribbled this down in my notebook. As the second tallest recruit in our squad, it had fallen on me to handle all the miscellaneous tasks our Head Squaddie didn't have time to handle on top of his normal duties of keeping track where everyone was. My tiny pocket notebook was filling up fast.

Visitation Day (懇親日) marks the halfway point during basic training. On Visitation Day, family and friends are invited on base to see how their loved ones are dealing with their new lives in the military. For us recruits, Visitation Day represented a reprieve from the usual training regimen, our first contact with the outside world since induction, and more importantly: our first leave. The whole event plays an almost mythical role in the cultural perception of military service in Taiwan.

What's he crying about? He's gonna be on leave in less than 4 hours.

"Listen up! All of you will be recieving new BDUs for Visitation Day. Also, you will take turns manning the check-in desk for relatives coming on base as follows..."

With PR concerns in play, our superiors were taking no chances. All relatives coming on base were to check into a desk manned by two professionally staffed new recruits who would match their names with the presubmitted list, while being courtious and professional.

Sort of a tall order for a class comprised mainly of 19 year old kids just out of high school. Being the best educated amongst the group, I was thrown to manning the check-in desk for most of the morning.

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