Model soldier keeps low profile

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 January, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 January, 1996, 12:00am

NIU YIYANG, the much-vaunted trilingual member of the PLA, was much in demand.

According to Xinhua (the New China News Agency), Niu would be one of the crack troops to be stationed here after 1997.

Able to introduce himself in Cantonese and English, and the winner of a first prize in an essay contest in his hometown, the 19-year-old was the acceptable face of Hong Kong's PLA garrison.

Except that when the PLA went on show in Shenzhen yesterday, Niu was hard to find.

There were rumours he was on parade.

Some people claimed they had definitely seen him, but most were disappointed.

And that was a pity, because although the several hundred troops who demonstrated their military skills yesterday were impressive, it was Niu's talents that were most in need.

The soldiers scaled four-storey buildings in 12 seconds flat. They were 100 per cent on target with their various weapons - but ask them a question in Cantonese or English and they were virtually all stumped.

Having heard of their future garrison's language skills, both Preparatory Committee members and the media wanted more than just to see the soldiers in action . . . they wanted to pass the time of day with a chat.

But if this was the PLA's first language test in the field, they got poor marks. Only a few understood Cantonese. Even less could understand English.

That they were generally reserved in the presence of Hong Kong's aggressive press pack was hardly surprising. They have cowed far better men.

So in such a frustrating situation, the press did what it does best . . . hunted down a pretty girl.

A few women soldiers were spotted, including one beauty from Jiangsu province . . . and what's more she could communicate.

The veteran of seven years said she was prepared for her new posting. They had all learned about Hong Kong by watching the local news and reading 'permitted' newspapers, she said.

But it appears life in the Hong Kong PLA will be rather quiet - something Hong Kong people will be happy to hear. The troops stressed they were under strict discipline and would steer clear of the territory's 'evils' - karaoke bars, pubs, even hair salons! Sadly, one of the few soldiers that did pass the language test got zero marks in knowing when to keep your mouth shut.

Proudly assuring Hong Kong people to put their hearts at ease about the handover, he said: 'There is nothing to be afraid of. Hong Kong's return to the motherland, the joining of the two sides of the strait . . .' At that point he was whisked away by those who knew better before he could complete his sentence. Perhaps there are still some things the PLA does not want to communicate.