Feature: Chinese road builders help improve lives in Laos

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"Looking back at the past, I saw the years of my youth had gone, but the only thing I have never regretted is the time I spent in Laos. No one knows what is waiting for us at the end of the road, but for all, I only wish the road will lead to happiness," Ma Yi, a Chinese road builder wrote on her blog.

"Less than one hour's drive from the border area of Chinese Yunnan province's Mengla county, neighborhood scene's appear in the forms of bamboo and wooden houses, local villagers picking wild greens and digging up bamboo shoots in the forest; then roasting chicken, grilling fish, drinking, eating, singing and dancing at night," wrote Ma, an employee at China's Yunnan Sunny Road & Bridge Co., Ltd, of her younger days spent developing many new roads in northern Laos.

Yunnan Sunny Road & Bridge started doing business in Laos in 2009 when the term "traffic jam" was unfamiliar to Lao people. Arriving in Laos in 2011 for a construction project, Ma found that "it was just like traveling back in time, yet it was only one or two hour's drive from the Chinese border area."

"After driving for just a short while, I was suddenly dropped at this primitive place that seemed like it was in Stone Age," said Ma.

Unlike the poetic descriptions on Ma's blog however, Yunnan Sunny Road & Bridge has faced numerous difficulties during its work in Laos.

First of all, there was the inconvenience of daily life. According to the company's Deputy General Manager Li Weidong, in the beginning, the village near the project site had no electricity or running water.

"The butcher at the village would kill a single pig for sale every two or three days. We wanted to buy both fat and lean meat, but could only buy one piece. The butcher said if he sells all the meat to us, other people will have no meat for their meals. It was the same with vegetables," Li told Xinhua recently.

The company participated in the World Bank loan project on the expansion of the 108 km Phongsaly 1B national highway and repair of the 81 km, No. 13 North highway, which connects with China, among others.

"Taking the No. 13 highway for example, the construction period was planned to be 36 months, but thanks to careful organization and construction management, we completed the project in just 26 months," Wan Min, Director of the company's Vientiane Office told Xinhua.

According to Wan, the No. 13 highway is an important part in the Asian highway network and is the most important highway connecting northern and southern Laos. At present, this is the sole highway for trade activities between China and Laos.

Joining Sunny Road & Bridge company on the No. 13 highway project is China's Third Railway Survey and Design Institute Group Corporation (TSDI).

Project Manager of TSDI, Liu Haizhong, said his company has completed survey and design work for the Muang Xay section of the No. 13 highway and the highway along the Mekong river, among other projects sponsored by China. In 2010, TSDI finished pre-feasibility studies of Laos-China railway. Later in 2014, TSDI completed the Lao national highway network planning.

"Construction of the No. 13 highway was not easy at all. The project schedule was affected by the 10th Lao National Games, while China's highway technology standard was not applicable to the United States' highway standards referenced by Laos," said Liu.

"Meanwhile, we had to manage traffic and construction at the same time as it is one of the key routes in Laos and cannot be disrupted, thus safety risks were high," Liu explained, adding that the rough terrain and poor geological conditions in northern Laos brought many difficulties to the construction work.

"Despite all the difficulties, we still completed the project ahead of schedule with a 100 percent quality pass rate, with no safety or environmental issues," Liu said, adding proudly that it has been marked as a "benchmark project" by Lao Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

With the new road, travel time on the 81 km route from Pakmong to Muang Xay has been shortened by over one hour, thus promoting traveling and cargo transportation between China and Laos.

Talking to Xinhua during his survey tour in northern Laos, Deputy Chinese Communist Party Secretary of Sunny Road & Bridge company, Qin Quan, said "after the completion of highways, business and trade activities between China and Laos have become more frequent. Many villages now have access to the power grid. Shops, restaurants, hotels and banks have been built. Now, people here are no longer worried about buying foodstuffs."

Laos is a major partner of China in expanding foreign trade, promoting economic and technological cooperation, as well as an important market for Chinese business people in the "Go Global Strategy". The Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China is to bring development opportunities for other countries, and Lao people have also benefited from the initiative, Qin said.

"There had not been many opportunities to make a livelihood here before. Now many of my friends and I have jobs at Chinese companies. We not only receive our salaries on time, but can also learn new technology," Khande, an employee at Sunny Road & Bridge company said.

"With better roads, we can transport our farm produce easily to sell. We can plant more, earn more money and no longer have to worry that our produce may spoil in the fields before it ever makes it to the consumers," Ketmane, a local villager at Muang Xay told Xinhua.

With the improvement of roads in northern Laos, there are more visits from tourists who have driven themselves from China, especially those from Yunnan, Hunan and Sichuan, which brings more revenue to local residents. Enditem

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