A cooking skills competition was held in early April at a brigade of the 77th Group Army of the PLA Army. Unsurprisingly, Suonan Jiangcai, an army cook of the Tibetan ethnic group, topped the other competitors and defended his "King Chef" title again.
"I just want to be a good army cook," said Suonan, "As early as 10 years ago, this belief took root in my heart."
It was early morning on April 14, 2010, when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Yushu, a county-level city of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in southern Qinghai Province, China. Suonan, who was then a boarder of a junior high school in the county seat, was awakened from his dream and he rushed out of the dormitory building.
The scene in front of him made Suonan stunned: the teaching building was "lying" on the ground, and the sports field opened its "mouth" with wide cracks.
He rushed wildly back home, only to find that the adobe house had collapsed. To his comfort, his parents happened to be at a relative's house out of town for a few days, otherwise ... Suonan couldn't imagine what would’ve happened if his parents were home.
Both his home and the school were damaged in the quake, and the nearest relatives are also 100 kilometers away, Suonan had nowhere to go and wandered around in the streets.
Fortunately, the first rescue team of the PLA arrived the next day. Suonan was "picked up" from the street and settled in the cooking squad.
That day, Suonan ate "the best meal in life". In the days staying with the army cookers, he took the job of an interpreter, helping the cooking squad to distribute food to the quake affected Tibetan people.
Hearing the sincere thanks from the adults, Suonan believed: "The cook is the biggest hero in the world!"
In the post-disaster reconstruction, the recue troops built a new house for the Suonan family. Several soldiers in the cooking squad also donated money to help Suonan's mother to open a shoe store. The affected family gradually got out of the predicament thanks to this help.
Suonan made up his mind: "Join the army and become a cook!" To realize his dream, Suonan attended a cooking school after graduating from junior high school. In 2013, after finishing his studies, he signed up to join the army. When he and the other recruits walked out of the railway station, Suonan immediately recognized a familiar flag among several flags of the troop units receiving the recruits at the railway station. That was exactly the flag of the army unit that rescued him in the earthquake.
After the coordination of superior conscription departments, he was finally assigned to the "old army unit" as he wished.
"Ma, I'm in the army unit that saved me in our hometown three years ago!" Suonan couldn't wait to tell her mother the good news after arriving at the barracks.
At the orientation meeting, the recruits were encouraged to speak out their wishes. Most recruits said they wanted to be soldiers of the combat units, such as the special operation units and the armored units. "I want to be a cook!" Hearing what Suonan said, the audience burst into laughter. He didn’t care about the loud laugher, but quietly lowered his head and opened a recipe book he brought from his home.
Before joining the army, Suonan had heard that "soldiers with poor military skills will be assigned to the cooking squad." So, he tried his best to make himself perform poorly in formation training, physical strength training, and shooting training. The company commander asked him whether he had any difficulties and encouraged him to train harder, Suonan shook his head, saying: "I'm so clumsy that I can do nothing well but cook."
The company commander already knew Suonan’s thoughts, so he did not blame him. Instead, he organized a military skill contest in his company. The final results surprised Suonan very much: Seven cooks all ranked in the top 15 of the company, and the total points of the cooking squad took the third place in the company.
"The cooks have less time to participate in the training, so they are all top picks." The company commander told him. Realizing he had been overshooting himself and eager to demonstrate to the company commander he was not as clumsy as he pretended before, Suonan did eight cross-bar flips with 360-degrees rotation in one breath on the horizontal bar.
Suonan was not as clumsy and weak as he had showed in the training before. Finally his dream of becoming an army cook came true.
In 2017, the cooking squads of companies merged into a cooking platoon under the battalion. Furthermore, the military training and assessment of the cooking platoon would be conducted with the same standards as the combat squads.
"What? We get up earlier in the morning and go to bed later at night, but the standard is the same!" The other soldiers in the cooking squad chose to transfer to other posts, only Suonan stayed in the cooking platoon and began his double roles of both a cook and a combatant.
Just like the Gesang flowers in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, you don't know when they will germinate, but the flowers bloom across the plateau overnight. Suonan won a single championship in a military competition in his brigade six months later. Until he stepped on the prize-awarding podium, many soldiers did not know where this "dark horse" came from.
Military training model, cooking expert, excellent non-commissioned officer... Suonan has won five medals and certificates in the past three years.
Not long ago, the brigade organized a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Yushu earthquake rescue and relief. Suonan took on the stage and made a speech as a witness.
"Out of gratitude, I joined the army, and I never give up because of love. I firmly believe that the soldier who wants to be an army cook also is a good soldier!" Suonan's words immediately won warm applause from the audience.