On a September afternoon, a young man walked out of a toy store with a bag in his hand, heading quickly toward the post office in Zhuanghe, a small port city in Northeast China's Liaoning province.
When he stepped out of the office, he seemed happy and a little relieved.
He hurried to the last passenger ship of the day, which was just about to leave the harbor.
The weather was fair and the ship set sail just in time, smooth and steady, and the man imagined his 10-month-old boy playing with the first gift he received from his father, whom he had never met yet.
Xu Long, 29, from a small town in Nanchong of Southwest China's Sichuan province, has served as a soldier at a radar observation post on an isolated island in the Yellow Sea for nine years.
The island covers more than 20 square kilometers. It has long been the home of Xu and his 16 buddies. Through advanced radar technology, they monitor the surrounding ocean and air, and report any irregular circumstances.
Liu Yuanjie, the chief of the observation post, has already served here for 23 years. Every Spring Festival he stayed on the island with his crew, far from his family in Dalian, a major city more than 200 kilometers away in Liaoning province.
Most of the other soldiers have served at least five years on the island. They've seen each other grow from new recruits to veterans, and turn from carefree youngsters to homesick husbands and dads.
Life has never been easy in an island surrounded by ocean and blocked by mountains. Fog and mist descend most days of the year. Soldiers suffer rheumatic diseases living in such a wet environment, and long exposure to a radioactive workplace can also be harmful.
While physical pains can be endured, as sons, husbands and fathers, they get very lonesome for their loved ones. When they miss someone they sail to the nearest port city of Zhuanghe to buy them little gifts.
Postmen sail to the island to deliver mail only once a week, and only if the weather is good and sea calm.
Then they set sail again, carrying gifts and remembrances to loved ones back home.
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