Young women from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region join the navy.
Editor's note: On June 10, the Peace Ark embarked on a 118-day voyage to provide medical assistance in a number of countries and take part in joint operations and exercises with fellow members of ASEAN.
The surface of the Gulf of Aden was flat except for the water stirred up by the Chinese hospital ship Peace Ark.
"Dolphins!" exclaimed Nurpaxa Abduwayit as she stood in the pilothouse and pointed starboard, where a large pod of dolphins leapt out of the water, arcing gracefully through the air.
The 19-year-old female sailor ran onto the deck to join crewmembers watching the dolphins. The dolphins came to the surface to chase their quarry, a school of fish. Some burst out of the water again and again, the gray stripes and mottled areas on their skins clearly visible.
It was Nurpaxa's first cruise and her first sighting of dolphins. She said seeing them was like being at a carnival.
Because she was born and raised in Kashgar, a city in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in China's inland northwest, all Nurpaxa's knowledge about the ocean came from television until she joined the People's Liberation Army navy two years ago.
The water was dark blue, so dark it was almost black. Nurpaxa watched the dolphins until they eventually glided out of sight. An evening breeze carried the clean smell of the ocean and ruffled her short, curly hair. Her brown eyes sparkled in the dusk.
In 2011, the PLA navy recruited 20 female Uygurs for the first time in its history. Three of the women were deployed on the Peace Ark, which is on a 118-day voyage, visiting eight countries and providing free medical services to locals.