Under a starry night sky on the South China Sea, I saw a sailor sitting alone on the deck of a warship toying with a Rubik’s Cube. After a while, his hands fell still and his gaze fixed on the dark-blue horizon.
It was the sixth day of the China-Russia Joint Sea 2016 drill. After an entire day of tough training, the sailor was finally taking a chance to relax.
His entertainment options were limited, though. I couldn’t help but think of an episode of Soldiers Sortie ,a classic TV show, in which one bored soldier tells the other, “Here, staring at an ant is a kind of luxury.”
Ye Chenjun, a deputy political commissar with the navy, told me that because of long missions this year, this sailor will be able to spend only about 20 days with his family.
Space on a warship is limited, and as crew members carry out their duties in a strong electromagnetic environment — largely because of the amount of telecommications equipment — their bodies can receive a certain amount of damage.
Yet compared with the physical, the mental discomfort can be more severe. “At the beginning, everything seems fresh and fine. But soon, I can’t get to sleep at night. Two or three hours is good for me,” Ye said.
In addition, due to various military missions, officers and sailors are unable to take care of their elderly parents or their children or other loved ones, so they often face family pressures.
A lieutenant told me that since signing up 10 years ago, he has not once returned home during the annual Mid-Autumn Festival. But he believes it is his duty as a member of the People’s Liberation Army.
“We need to defend our country, anytime, anywhere,” he said.
“Every sailor needs to face and overcome weaknesses. Human nature is hard to change and is often painful.”
I again thought of that sailor with the Rubik’s Cube. Perhaps, it was not only a way to kill time, but also a kind of mental training.