WHEN 200 raw recruits from Hong Kong volunteered to spend the weekend training with the PLA, few suspected they would be hauled from their beds for a 14-kilometre midnight hike.
The boot camp blow-ins wanted to spend the weekend at Guangzhou's Huangpu Youth Military Academy.
The students, clerks and businessmen, aged 14 to 41, brushed up on marching, learned some kung fu and adapted to a military routine in their four days at the academy, established by Dr Sun Yat-sen in 1924.
But on the second night - after a full day of rigorous physical training - participants were roused from a deep sleep and given five minutes to report to the parade ground in full uniform.
'I didn't even have time to put on my socks - I didn't expect the instructors to put us on parade at this sort of time,' said Emily Ho Ho-yee, 15.
The dazed rookies took turns carrying a seven-kilogram gun as they marched in silence from Guangzhou to Panyu and back. The 14 km trek across fields, skirting civilian houses had to be carried out with stealth. The 'troops' were ordered to move quietly to avoid 'attracting the attention of an unseen enemy'.
'It was the longest march any civilian unit has done so far in this academy. I am very pleased the participants made it, academy principal Zhu Tingyang said.
Only two failed to complete the trek, while another two stayed behind for health reasons.
'This sort of activity requires the participants to have confidence and an unflinching will to complete it,' he said.
But for some, the midnight march was a nightmare. 'My feet hurt . . . it was like there was a hot coal inside,' said Emily Ho.
Carmen Fung Ka-man, 16, said: 'I was very scared. And the worst of all, it was the night of the Hungry Ghosts Festival. It made me shiver.'