The next time you're thinking how sweet and innocent China's youth appear, consider this.
That cute girl with the Hello Kitty doll dangling off her mobile phone, can strip down an automatic assault rifle, reassemble it in double time and get ready to lock and load.
The 19-year-old in question (who's probably 25) has probably spent a few weeks in the army during high school or university.
Military training in China is not totally compulsory because farmers' sons and daughters, who don't go to university or finish high school, don't have the opportunity to go to boot camp.
But I asked 20 random Chinese co-workers about their time in the army, and all 20, male and female, have served. And they have all fired guns.
China is not the only nation that offers kind-of-compulsory military training. Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Israel and both Koreas have much stricter training. Singapore is very tough about this sort of army business and my Singaporean colleague had to serve two years after leaving high school.
He reckons it gave him discipline and helped him work better in a team but sometimes he has mixed feelings. When he's hanging out with his Singaporean buddies they complain about the 5 am alarm bells and the overbearing drill sergeant; but when he talks to foreign friends he feels proud and believes he achieved something.
Sane people hate killing and every family on the planet bears the scars left by the evils of war.
What I hate the most is why we humans cannot stop doing it.
The cynic inside me knows there will always be the need for guns and military training because we humans are hopeless and fickle creatures.
But another part of me never stops dreaming that one day, just one day, we will all put down our weapons forever. And I know I don't dream alone.
(China Daily August 10, 2009)