Little Poplar, Chapter 17: Nobody wants to be looked down on!

Little Poplar《小白楊》Xiao Bai Yang

Little Poplar, Chapter 17: Nobody wants to be looked down on!

Normally, the training of the troops should be gradual and progressive but Xu Chuang did exactly what he said he would do at the beginning. After basic training in half a month, he started a physical fitness program and the daily cross-country run increased from three kilometers in the morning, to five kilometers and then gradually increased. An extra 5Km before dinner and I hear in a month it’ll be three 5Kms a day, with weights, too.

   Bai Xinyu’s level of training, which he had managed to get used to, suddenly increased too much and he couldn’t keep up. The punishments were as varied as push-ups, squats, leapfrogs and stretching. Bai Xinyu cried out every day and began to feel that he was dying.

   And he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t keep up, there were a lot of new recruits who started complaining, that they were tired as dogs, that they could fall asleep in their beds. At this time, the gap between the good soldiers and the weak ones started to widen. Bai Xinyu, despite his displeasure with Yu Fengcheng, was one of the top performers among the new recruits, the kind of soldier that Xu Chuang, a manic-depressive, would like enough to smile at once, whereas he, on the other hand, was obviously the one who was punished for his mistakes. Bai Xinyu couldn’t feel ashamed to be punished all the time but his mentality of muddling through and getting by didn’t change. He always thought that he was training to cope with his superiors, not for himself, so his training performance got worse and worse, a vicious cycle that made his life miserable every day.

   That night, Bai Xinyu was deep in bed, when he was suddenly awakened by the piercing whistle.

Chen Jing jumped out of bed, shouting, “Emergency assembly! Get up, all of you, gather round!”

There was a howl in the dormitory, with the sound of clothes crackling and thumping.

The nights in Xinjiang are very cold and you can imagine the agony of dragging someone out of their warm bed in the middle of the night and having to get ready in five minutes.

Bai Xinyu was too sleepy to keep his eyes open, hugging the blanket and howling, “It’s killing me…”

Yu Fengcheng grabbed him by the blanket, yanking him out of bed, “If you’re late, Company Commander will kill you.”

Bai Xinyu got goose bumps when he heard the words” Company Commander”, he quickly got dressed and put on his shoes and finally poured down the stairs along with the throngs of new recruits.

Xu Chuang, wearing an army coat, looked at them with a sneer, tsking twice, “Look down at yourself, look at the guy next to you, are you wearing the wrong pants?”

Most of them looked like shit, some hadn’t had time to put on their socks, some had tied their belts wrong, some had left their buttons undone and there were two snickers in the group.

Xu Chuang snorted, “Laughing?”

There was silence for a moment.

“First emergency assembly, the results are disappointing.” Xu Chuang pointed his finger at them, “Look at you all, with your awake faces, if it wasn’t a whistle but an enemy shell, how many of you would have escaped from the building, let alone put up a fight? I’ve told you before, in my hands, don’t think of yourselves as recruits, think of yourselves as soldiers! But you’re a long way from being a soldier, you brats.” He looked at his watch, “5 km cross-country, 30 minutes, if you don’t finish the task, run again with the by squad, if you don’t finish more than a quarter of it, the whole squad will run again.”

The whole company was quiet.

Xu Chuang snapped, “Run!”

The Class Leader of the first class took the lead in shouting a slogan and led the group to the poplar forest, the other classes followed, running as fast as they could, enduring the cold and hunger.

Xu Chuang is a man of his word, no one wants to be tortured again, so they all hang in there.

Big-bear shouted and said: “Class Leader, it’s too cold.”

Chen Jing shouted and said: “A little run and you won’t be cold.”

“Class Leader, let’s sing.”

“Okay, you start.”

Big-bear thought and yelled at the top of his voice, “The wind roars, the horses scream, the Yellow River roars-”

“Hahahahaha-” the crowd laughed loudly.

Big-bear was annoyed and said: “What’s so funny, that’s the only way to wake up!” he reared up, “Ready, sing!”  He starts up again, “Ready, sing!”

The song was not sung but roared, no tune, no tone but only the heroic spirit of the young people from their bodies and the whole forest was shaken.

Bai Xinyu was able to clear his head after a couple of roars but after 3km, he couldn’t keep up and the thought of falling behind and having to run again made him try to move forward but he fell behind the pack.

Chen Jing slowed down, ran to the back of the line and shouted and said: “If you see a comrade who has fallen behind, give him a hand and let the whole class pass.”

There’s only 20 of them in each class, so a quarter is five and at this rate, there’s definitely more than five that won’t make it back in 30 minutes. Among those who have obviously fallen behind, are Bai Xinyu, Qian Liang and a few others.

Feng Dongyuan ran over, reassuring and said: “Keep breathing evenly, don’t be nervous, I’ve done the math, we usually run only 30 minutes, speed up, no problem.”

Qian Liang is gasping for breath, “Dongyuan, Dongyuan, you watch…  Dongyuan… You are thinner than me, how can you run so well.”

Feng Dongyuan laughed and said: “I practiced long-distance running at school.”

Bai Xinyu was rolling his eyes, he felt sure he would be the slowest to get back to the playground and the price for being the slowest to get back was to run another 5km, Xu Chuang was playing with them to death!

Feng Dongyuan tugged on Bai Xinyu’s arm, “Xinyu, you hang in there, or Company Commander will really make you run again.”

Bai Xinyu was out of breath, “I… 30 minutes… No way.” Every time he runs a 5Km, he’s always dying and he’s always at the bottom of the class and he’s always doing push-ups, which is tiring but it’s not on the same level as a 5Km and he really wants to beat Xu Chuang to death.

Chen Jing said: “It doesn’t matter if you can’t finish, you might drag the whole squad down with you.” He lifted Bai Xinyu’s arm, “Bai Xinyu, you’ve been a soldier for a month, have some backbone.”

Bai Xinyu threw his head back, sweat all over Chen Jing’s face, “Class Leader, I really can’t, in half an hour… I really can’t run forever, why don’t you knock me out and then Xu Chuang will leave me alone.”

Chen Jing sternly said: “Nonsense, you’re playing dead in battle, is that what soldiers do?”

Bai Xinyu gasps, “I’m f-cking… If I run another five kilometers, I’ll be a dead man……and a soldier….and a soldier….and soldiers….and soldiers.”

Chen Jing smacked him on the head, “Bai Xinyu, about your attitude, I’ll talk to you when I get back, you’re going to die even if you have to finish the race, as long as you try, you can’t finish in 30 minutes, I’ll run the 5km for you! If you want to give up now, I will despise you for the rest of your life!”

Yu Fengcheng ran to him at some point, watching him silently.

   Bai Xinyu gritted his teeth, his heart felt as if something had grabbed him, he struggled between running and not running, if he did fall to the ground and play dead now, he would have escaped but…

   I will hate you all my life!

   It hit him like a bell, rattled a chord in his body called pride and he wanted to throw himself on the ground but he couldn’t do it.

Feng Dongyuan pushed him, “Xinyu, run, it’s not like you can die, maybe you can actually run for 30 minutes!”

Chen Jing said: “Dongyuan, you go and help Qian Liang, those of you who are physically fit, help each other, don’t fall behind, if more than 5 of you fall behind, it’s the whole class’s problem.”

Feng Dongyuan nodded his head and grabbed Qian Liang’s arm, dragging him forward, the others also rushed over to help those who fell behind. Originally, if there was no time limit, after a month’s exercise, they could run the whole course vertically but after the 30-minute limit, they had to increase their speed, their physical exertion doubled and the whole squad started to help each other to run forward, the passage of time was hanging on their necks like a machete.

Bai Xinyu gritted his teeth and ran forward, covered in sweat as if he were taking a shower. Yu Fengcheng went around to the other side, lifted his arm and whispered and said: “Don’t drag the class down, pick up your feet and run.”

  Bai Xinyu unconsciously spreads his weight on Yu Fengcheng, in fact he would like to hang on to Yu Fengcheng, he can hear Yu Fengcheng panting too but restrains himself, being dragged by himself like this, the physical exertion must be increasing but Yu Fengcheng’s breathing is not messed up and he grabs it. The arm that was holding him was so strong, he couldn’t even stop if he wanted to, he lifted his head slightly, seeing the beads of sweat hanging from Yu Fengcheng’s knife-sharp chin, running down his neck like a river into his clothes, also running long distances, himself like a dying fish, yet Yu Fengcheng could be so relaxed.

   They were all young men with arms and legs. Was the gap between them really that big? He doesn’t want to drag the whole squad to run with him, he doesn’t want anyone to run in his place, he just wants to be a normal soldier, just like everyone else, to complete the mission normally, without being punished, just like that. He Bai Xinyu… Is he really that cowardly?

   When he comes to the army, without the money, he’s nothing. His grades were always the worst, he was always punished the most, no one called him, “Young Master Bai”, no one patted him on the back, not even a few were willing to get close to him, not many looked up to him, Yu Fengcheng even called him names.” Wimp,” he thought he could care less, he could keep doing what he did to his mom and dad, ignore it all as long as he was comfortable but he found he couldn’t do that more and more and when he saw that recruits six years younger than him were better than him, he… He felt uncomfortable, humiliated. He had no lofty ideals of defending his country, nor any desire to win, he just wanted to be an ordinary soldier who wouldn’t fall behind!

   The lights of the playground were shining like stars in the distance and Bai Xinyu didn’t know how far he’d run, or how much time he had left, he just moved as fast as he could towards the spot.

   He doesn’t want to be looked down upon…

~Little Poplar~




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