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I first met Dong Jian at an island dock as he was transporting some mapping equipment from another island. At age 24, Dong is a soldier from a surveying and mapping corps. He was lugging a heavy yellow tripod on his back while gripping another container in his hand the moment I saw him, while golden rays of the setting sun illuminated his sun-tanned face and the rippling ocean alike. After graduating from college, he joined the army to become a topographic surveyor and cartographer. Since then, his life has been sated with tape measures and maps, and his set of surveying and mapping devices has become his most important possession.
“Nothing compares to the joy I feel when I see topographic maps drawn with my survey data,” Dong grins with a youthful glow.
“Dong can always be found either at the mapping office or on the way to the office,” jokes Xu Xikai, one of Dong’s colleagues. “The surveying field is our home.” Every day over the last five years, Dong has been the first to rise and the last to go to bed. Some quit the taxing job, but Dong endures. Perhaps due to his persistence, his work has been highly recognized. This year, Dong was dubbed a “technical model” by his unit in two successive quarters. As an aerial survey expert of his unit, he has completed many surveying and mapping tasks in an exemplary fashion.
Since November, the temperature has already dropped on the island where Dong works although it isn’t as chilly as inland areas. Before daybreak, Dong and his workmates have already set out for their mission. Since the beginning of last month, when they accepted the assignment, their life has become repetitious day after day. In addition to a tripod and other surveying and mapping equipment, Dong takes a flag with him during every field survey. The flag is a surveying pole adorned with a red and white banner. “Each surveyor habitually takes a flag during fieldwork,” explains Dong. “When he finishes the survey, he will leave the flag there.”
Dong demonstrates remarkable precision and care during every step of his fieldwork, from arranging observation points to measuring new surface features and terrain details to supplementing maps drawn from aerial photos. Over the month he worked on the island, Dong has befriended many local residents due to his optimism. They support Dong’s work, and some families even invite him to be their guest. “Their kind support is an important factor in our work progressing so smoothly there,” Dong remarks. They conduct field surveys in the daytime and draw maps in their office at night while combating bad weather and insects such as mosquitoes. This is the characteristic lifestyle of surveying and mapping soldiers like Dong.
In aerial photos, every residence on the island appears similar in layout and size. It seems unnecessary to conduct field surveys one by one. “The aerial photos are slightly different from the actual objects,” illustrates Dong. “Although every residence has a similarly-designed courtyard, every courtyard has a different layout. So, we must measure every residence on the spot to make sure there are no mistakes. As a surveying and mapping soldier, I was warned that ‘minimal deviation may result in wide divergence.’ Therefore, we must conduct field surveys with the utmost precision, measuring every room and drawing every line carefully. Our job isn’t complicated, but it requires tremendous diligence and zero error.”