For Ivica Granic, an experienced Croatian civil engineer who has been involved in the country's infrastructure projects for the last decade, quitting his job to join China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) temporarily is not an easy decision. But he made it nonetheless.
It's all because of the Peljesac Bridge, the project that the Chinese company is working on.
PROJECT CUT SHORT
Crossing the Mali Ston Bay over the Adriatic Sea, the 2.4-km long four-lane bridge, once completed, would connect the southernmost tourism destination Dubrovnik-Neretva County to the rest of the mainland, giving Croatia a land link bypassing territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A few kilometers from the planned construction site, Croatian coast is disconnected for about 20 kilometers by Bosnia and Herzegovina and its town Neum. In summer, during the high tourist season, people could wait a few hours in queues at the border control to pass through the short Bosnian coast, only to enter Croatian territory again.
The bridge would save people that trouble. But the government had to terminate in 2012 the construction that started in 2008 due to lack of funds.
When the government decided in 2018 to continue with the construction, a Chinese consortium led by CRBC won the bid for the first phase of the Peljesac Bridge and its access roads and started construction in July.
The total value of the project is about 420 million euros, of which 357 million euros will be covered by European Union (EU) funds. This was the first time that a project funded mainly by EU money was given to the Chinese company.
PROUD TO BE PART OF IT
"I didn't have much information about CRBC before, but when I looked it up I didn't have any doubt that this is a serious company," said the 38-year-old Granic
Although working on the Peljesac Bridge is just a temporary job, as the project has to be finished by the summer of 2021, Granic decided to leave his previous job and accept the new challenge last October.
"I applied for the job because I wanted to be a part of such an important project. It's a big challenge to work on the biggest infrastructure project in the country. I'm sure many engineers would like to be in my place," Granic told Xinhua.
In the past decade, Chinese companies have built seven out of the ten biggest bridges in the world, in term of the length of a single span. "This will be a good reference for me and it is also very close to my home," he explained.
Granic is one of some 50 Croats who are currently working on the project. Most of them are engineers or translators. He likes the well-organized working environment and is now getting along well with his colleagues from China, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Togo. English is the working language here, and the Chinese contractor has chefs cooking Chinese food at the construction site. For those who don't like oriental cuisine, CRBC orders local food from nearby village Komarna every day.
Granic is from the town Metkovic, just half an hour drive from the working site. As a father of five children, he thinks it is important to be close to family, and the salary offered by CRBC is satisfying.
More importantly, as a local who remembers vividly the disappointing termination of the bridge construction several years ago, being able to work on the bridge is very important to him personally because it will benefit mostly the local community.
"When the bridge is finished, the life will be much easier for everyone here. Crossing two borders just to go to Dubrovnik is often very complicated and can take a lot of time," Granic said.
At the moment there are around 150 Chinese workers at the site, and most of them are living in the nearby coastal village Komarna. It's a small village with less than 200 registered residents. Some have rented out their apartments to Chinese workers.
Ivo Jerkovic, a young entrepreneur from Komarna told Xinhua: "We are just preparing to open the first Chinese restaurant here in June."
His company is leasing out rooms to Croatian and Chinese workers who are currently working on the bridge. "I'm really surprised how modest and professional Chinese people are. This is not just business cooperation, we have become real friends," Jerkovic said.
He described that many Croatian and Chinese workers spend evenings in his restaurant, watching football matches and cooking local food.
In April, work on the bridge would intensify as more people joining in. The contractor is building fully-equipped container dormitories for the staff as local accomodation is running out.
To date, the work is progressing faster than planned. "Xiong Cheng 1", the biggest pile driving barge in the world, has knocked nearly half of the 150 steel piles into the seabed of the Adriatic.
Granic is impressed that many of his Chinese colleagues are young and very experienced too. Take Zhang Fei, who is five years younger than him, had worked in major infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia and the Middle East before coming to Croatia.
"Chinese engineers show skills and competence, since they have worked on even more elaborate projects in their career. I am sure that they will finish the bridge within the deadline," Granic said.
In September 2012, when the government halted the bridge construction, local communities were so furious that they staged an unprecedented protest here. Around 500 boats, yachts and other watercraft, with several thousand people on board, formed a spectacular meandering "bridge" across the bay, connecting the north and south of Croatia, at least for a moment.
Now a photo of this boat protest hangs on the wall of Granic's container office in Duboka, a small coastal village. Sitting at his desk, Granic has a perfect view of the Mali Ston Bay that is enclosed by Peljesac Peninsula and the mainland.
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