Thousands of children excitedly posed with military vehicles and fired laser-fitted guns at the People's Liberation Army open day yesterday, with the force giving the public a glimpse of what's behind the gates at two of its barracks.
The PLA's Shek Kong Barracks in Yuen Long opened at 10.30am and the San Wai Barracks in Fanling followed suit at 2.30pm to mark the 16th anniversary of the handover from British rule.
More than 20,000 people poured through the gates at the two barracks to see mock anti-terrorist raids, marches, military bands, martial arts shows and new weaponry. They also tested their shooting skills with real army guns that shot laser beams in place of bullets. Most visitors were families with small children.
Juliana Lee Ka-chee, who visited the Shek Kong Barracks with her parents, said she felt sorry for the soldiers after taking pictures in a combat vehicle under the scorching sun.
"I think the soldiers have a very hard life," said the nine-year-old. "They have to perform drills in such hot weather, too."
Despite all the martial prowess on show, Lee was most impressed by the soldiers' domestic discipline after seeing their dormitory; their blankets were folded in perfect rectangles and everything had been tidied with military precision.
Kevin Lau, 22, and Johnson Chau, 18, attended open days last year and in 2011, visiting barracks at Shek Kong and Ngong Shuen Chau. This year was their first visit to San Wai, and they said a rope descent from a helicopter by anti-terror squad soldiers was the most exciting event.
"We really like the open day," said Lau. "The PLA looks less mysterious and closer to us now."
But some visitors complained it was difficult to find a place to watch the military performances, which took place on a large drill field without a spectator stand.
"I just couldn't squeeze through to the front," said Ada Chow Wai-heung, who went to San Wai with her parents and sister. "There were so many people surrounding [the drill field]."
This morning the Ngong Shuen Chau Barracks opens its gates. All the available tickets were distributed free a week ago.
The latest open days are the 25th since the handover and almost 500,000 people have visited during the events.