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China's PLA recruits develop green fingers on remote posting
2007/07/18

Wu Bing thought he had left the rural life behind when he volunteered to join the Chinese army.

   But like many of his company posted to remote Jinji Mountain on the border with Vietnam, he is finding that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is just as adept at making farmers out of soldiers as they other way round.

   North of the Jinji military camp, a winding road on the hillside leads to a small farm garden.

   "I didn't expect a garden after traveling for hours over a bumpy mountainous road to the camp," said Wu, a 19-year-old new recruit.

   The garden, built on the side of Jinji Mountain, was a piece of barren wilderness 20 years ago, said Hu Xiaosi, leader of the PLA company.

   Because of its dangerous landform, Jinji Mountain, 511 meters above sea level and a commanding height in the area, has been an important border defence area since ancient times.

   The conditions were very harsh at that time, Hu said. Since the nearest town is more than an hour-long drive, fresh vegetables were a luxury for the soldiers, he said.

   So the soldiers made use of their spare time clear the weeds and rocks and brought back soil in their satchels from their patrols, Hu said.

   The soil added up. With generations of servicemen's efforts, the dusty land was became an oasis on desolate Jinji Mountain filled with Mexican cactus, vegetables and herbs.

   The PLA has a long tradition of feeding soldiers through their own efforts. They often grow vegetables or fruit around the barracks, and raise poultry and pigs.

   The farm now covers more than 1,400 square meters, with 34 kinds of vegetables and fruits, and provides the company fresh fruit and vegetables all year round.

   "Some of the seeds are from the Guangxi Agricultural Sciences Institute and some were brought back by soldiers who go home on vacation," said Hu.

   Raised in the countryside in east China's Shandong province, Wu had some farming experience before he joined the army because he had to help with harvests.

   Pointing to red roses blooming in a hand grenade box,  Wu proudly proclaimed himself the grower.

   The garden has also become a leisure area for the soldiers stationed here in the remote mountain. In one corner, stands a kiosk about two meters high and covering 10 square meters stands, with a small pool of fish in front of it.

   "This is also the place for the soldiers to sit and relax," Hu said.

   Because of the restrictions of the company's location, life was very monotonous: training and patrolling, he said.

   Carving the rocks in the garden has become the most popular activity among soldiers. At the east side of the garden lies a rock with a map of China which connects the Jinji Mountain and Beijing with a red line.

   "I love this garden, it's full of life and fun," Wu said.
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