Chinese, who normally do not eat bread, have really enjoyed eating the bread baked under the bell, which has become a true hit on the Pelješac bridge construction site. Who knows, maybe this information shall inspire some skilled Croatian bakers, regardless of China's population, to do the business of the century and completely change the cuisine habits of Chinese people.
On the awakened ‘’love’’ between the Chinese and the homemade bread under the lid, I have found out by accident. I agreed the visit to the site and asked my friend Hrvoje, who did the ‘temporary’ work in Komarna, if he needed anything from the city. ‘’Bring me some fresh bread’’- was his only wish. With a bread baked under the lid in one hand and a camera and notebook in the other, I came to the assembly operative site centre, and therefore causing the curious views from the hosts. Mario Tevšić, liaison officer for China Road and Bridge Corporation, coming from Dubrovnik, Lucija Đurković, a civil engineer from Cavtat, Josipa Pavlić, translator from Bjelovar, Ivica Granić, a quality control engineer from Metković and Talman Damatare from Togo in Africa, so called Split son-in-law, who takes care of the import of the equipment and material from China. And of course, the already mentioned Hrvoje Ljepotica from Dubrovnik, the commander of the transport boat, who transports people and equipment on the sections between Komarna and Brijesta in Pelješac. Encouraged by the bread and the reasons of me bringing it, they told me that the Chinese employees really liked the bread baked under the bell offered in our stores and they are buying the big family bread.
250 Chinese employees on site
Besides my six hosts in Komarna, there are currently around 46 Croats working at the Pelješac bridge construction site, along with the 250 Chinese employees and the son-in-law from Togo; another citizen from Serbia was also hired, one from Bosnia and Herzegovina and one Norwegian. Besides the fact that the largest and strategically most important bridge in Croatia is being built; the construction site looks slightly different. Unlike the construction sites we are used to seeing in our county, this one is completely different. Neatly arranged white container settlements, it more resembles a residential settlement. Since this is a construction site, it is surprisingly clean. Nowhere, are there cigarette butts, papers, let alone empty beer bottles. Between the neatly arranged container offices with bilingual captions on the doors, there are concreted paths and lawns with olive trees and warning tables saying ‘’Keep off the grass’’. In both Croatian and Chinese. On the large external video screen there is an informative movie on the Pelješac Bridge, and there are hundreds of colourful flags with Chinese symbols talking about the Chinese Croatian cooperation on the bridge in each corner of the site. On the other side of the Pelješac bridge, in a small place called Brijesta there is a similar container settlement where Chinese employees live, while our employees live both in Komarna, as well as on the peninsula, but in the rented apartments.
I am interested how is it for Croatian people to work for Chinese in Croatia, which is also my reason for visiting you here in Komarna. My hosts agree on one thing – the cooperation is very good, even though, it was a bit complicated in the beginning– says Mario Tevšić . – Until we got to know each other better, the situations happened in which we brought completely different conclusions from two premises. But we overcame the expected cultural differences and now we don’t have any issues – explains Mario, and his colleagues comment that the Chinese are very nice people. They are quiet, hardworking, and calm, when taken from a Croatian point of view, too shy. But since the bridge is emerging from the sea, the atmosphere is more relaxed and there are more real friendships between the Croats and Chinese. They are telling me that all the Chinese know about Dubrovnik and the walls before they even come here, they know about Marco Polo and his contribution to China and the contemporary western world, but only few of them managed to visit his hometown, Korčula. Besides the bread baked under the lid, they really like wines from Pelješac and our Adriatic fish. Football is not very interesting to them, but they like basketball which they often play in their free time, along with table tennis of course. When they ask about the nearest big city, and we mention them Split and Dubrovnik, they always laugh, because their version of big and our version is completely different. In work, they are not so different from the people in Europe. They are extremely professional and hardworking, and even though there is a myth that here on south they work ‘’24 hours a day’’, it really is not like that. They work according to the Croatian Labour Law, which is almost equal to the one in China.
Chinese try to communicate using their ‘hands and legs’, but they manage to understand everything
– I graduated from the Faculty of Civil Engineering in Zagreb and after graduation I was given an opportunity to work for China Road and Bridge Corporation. I did not want to miss my chance and I applied along with my 20 other colleagues. Only six of us got this job. From college to work, which is a rare thing in our country- says Lucija Đurković, who has been making drawings for less demanding construction objects (like drawing scaffolds and making calculations) in the Technical Department for the last eight months. She lives in Komarna together with her colleagues where the Chinese company rented apartments for the employees. I go home on the weekends, either to Cavtat or Zagreb where my sister and friends are. Especially in the winter, because in Komarna, besides us working on the bridge, there are only around 20 locals. In winter only one store works in Komarna. And this year, the café that works only in the summer shall probably work during the whole year, which will be a benefit for us – says Lucija. Her colleague from Bjelovar, Josipa who arrived in Komarna in February, ‘’survived’’ the first Dalmatian winter along with rains, ‘’rotten južina’’ and dark, cold bura. – I studied Chinese in Vienna because there is still not such study in Croatia. I became a graduated cynologist – says Josipa and explains that you need at least two years of studying to understand basic communication in Chinese. It was hard in the beginning, but it became easier with time, and it is very interesting. There are many things which are repeated, and when you understand how it functions, then it gets less complicated – assures the young translator, even though the 20 notes along the conference table containing names and surnames of Chinese employees awaken doubt, that it is not so easy for us westerners to write and speak Chinese. But Josipa is a cynologist and she should be trusted. Apart from Josipa there are six other official translators, 4 of them can communicate on Chinese. – I translate in all situations and on all types of jobs. If there aren’t us there, our Chinese try to communicate using their ‘hands and legs’, but they manage to understand everything – says Josipa though laugh, adding that many of the employees learned some basic words in Chinese over the time.
I tried provoke Ivica Granić, an engineer from Metković, in charge of the quality control, with the belief that all Chinese products are of low quality and asking what could happen due to Chinese bad steel, if in a few years the Pelješac bridge started to bend? - No way! Everything that is installed in the bridge is of top quality, even the steel produced in China. Besides our department, which is the internal site control, the quality is checked by the experts from IGH as supervision and Croatian Roads as the Investor, not only on the site, but also in China, to keep everything according to the European standards along with the help from the consulting European companies. Everything that arrives from China, including steel, machinery and special boats, 14 of them to be precise, goes though the hands of Talman Damtare (in paper form). Talman imports it temporary or permanent in Croatia. – I worked in China for years, and my company already cooperated with China Road and Bridge Corporation. Once I was offered a job in Croatia, I said yes, especially because my wife, who also works here, comes from Split – says a likeable Togo guy, and to the question where he met Ana, he says: Where else than China.
It is all going according to the plan so far and if there are no big weather surprises, the bridge should be finished as foreseen, in two years
We are coming to the dock, where Hrvoje Ljepotica is waiting for us. Divers from Split are loading the driving equipment now. They shall connect the formwork on the new pile cap under the sea, i.e. the base on which bridge piers shall be built. – We sail at seven a.m. and sometimes work until 7 p.m., depending on the job – says Hrvoje while he is directing the light aluminium boat to one of the structures which is situated between Komarna and Brijesta as a small island. Ljepotica, as well as other crew members of both boats, works for seven days, and then has seven days off. The job is good, everything is organized and there are no significant surprises. We are driving the employees to the platforms, sometimes including light cargo and loads. We are like a sea shuttle bus. We have very good accommodation and food in Brijesta, but we must freeze the bread to last seven days. That is why I asked you to bring us the fresh bread – because the one from the fridge is not so great – explains Hrvoje. Namely, there are two canteens on site, one with Chinese and other with Croatian cuisines , but our people sometimes try the Chinese lunch as well.
While we are sailing toward the section no.8 where preparations for the pile cap casting are being finished, we pass the large boats that relocated the big anchors. We cannot unsee the large zucchini hanging from the deck while we pass the boat. It is the same on all their boats around here. They have a hanging gardens where they cultivate their vegetables and they are really good at it - explains Hrvoje. Lucija and Josipa discover how the Chinese kitchen is mostly about vegetables. Unlike us, they cook it together, even the salad which we eat raw, and it is all spicy. We disembark on section 8 where Chinese employees are finishing the reinforcement in which concrete shall be cast. 3000 m3 to be precise. From its middle, the shall built the piers, and once they are connected with the structure, the road shall be on top of it. – The pile cap reinforcement consists of pipes though which we cool the concrete using water, and the temperature is controlled by sensors. So far, we have installed 18.000 m3 of concrete of the 70 thousand foreseen, and steel span structure is already being produced in China, it shall connect the area between two piers. The first spans arrive in February. It is all going according to the plan so far and if there are no big weather surprises, the bridge should be finished as foreseen, in two years – explains engineer Granić on the current works at Pelješac bridge site while Hrvoje Ljepotica berths along the section with his sea shuttle bus to take us back to Komarna.