Feature: Chinese-built bridge brings hope for transnational couple in Croatia

KOMARNA, Croatia, April 25 (Xinhua) -- The Peljesac Bridge, connecting Croatia's mainland with its southernmost region, is also a symbol of happiness for Croatian-born Ana Vulic, 32, and 34-year-old Talman Damtare, a native of Togo in Africa.

The two first met -- and eventually got married -- in China. But it was the bridge, built by a Chinese consortium led by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), that brought and kept them together.

Since "Talman" means "hope" in one of the local languages spoken in Togo, he was affectionately referred to as "Hope" by his Chinese colleagues during the bridge-building project.

"We would like to express our love and gratitude to China," Hope and Ana said in an interview with Xinhua.

The two met in Nanjing in 2009, where they both studied Chinese at the Nanjing Normal University (NNU).

Back then, Hope often took Ana to the traditional local folk event known as temple fair and bought her various gadget gifts.

It was in Nanjing where they fell in love, and it was also there that they both mastered the Chinese language, which would benefit them a lot in their future careers.

Hope and Ana got married in 2016 in Hong Kong. Soon after, the pregnant Ana returned to Croatia to her family's care, while Hope, who was employed by a foreign trade company based in Shanghai, traveled back and forth between China and Croatia.

"It is really a hassle to have to go back and forth between the two countries. I wanted to find a job in Croatia to enable me to take better care of Ana and the baby," Hope said.

Construction work on the Peljesac Bridge started in June 2018. The 2.4-km bridge connects Croatia's northern Dalmatian coast with the southern region of Dubrovnik-Neretva County and thus it greatly promotes the development of the whole country's economy. No wonder the locals' heightened interest in participating in its construction.

Ana was hired by the construction company in August 2018 for her skills as a Chinese-Croatian translator.

As luck would have it, the foreign trade company in Shanghai that Hope worked for also had business ties to the Peljesac Bridge project. In November 2018, he also got hired by the Chinese consortium and was put in charge of customs clearance and transportation of materials.

"Being able to work on the Peljesac Bridge project is something I never dared to think about before, and it is also the wish of many people," Hope said.

Alongside Hope and Ana, over 60 locals have been employed successively at the construction.

According to project manager Xie Jingli, the bridge project manager, the additional arrival of hundreds of Chinese builders has injected vitality into the local economy as hotels, restaurants and supermarkets are being opened one after another in the seaside village of Komarna near the bridge.

Cooperation, a quest for mutual benefits and a win-win approach have characterized the work at the site since day one, Xie said. The consortium has signed more than 1,200 purchase contracts and orders with Croatian companies with a cumulative value of over 166 million Croatian kunas (23.5 million U.S. dollars) along with 91 business subcontracts whose value has exceeded 220 million kunas.

The building of the bridge has brought together 18 design consulting firms, 45 construction companies, along with 112 equipment and material suppliers and environmental protection companies from the European Union.

This fully complies with the principle of extensive consultation and cooperation advocated by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, Xie said.

Making the project even sweeter for Hope and Ana, the consortium has decided to employ both of them on a long-term basis. This means that even after the bridge opens to traffic later this year, the couple can continue to work at the bridge's maintenance service, and thus can count on a stable job and income.

"When we heard the news, we immediately informed all our relatives and friends," Ana said.

If it were not for China, Hope and Ana might not have met each other and got married, nor could they live a happy life as they do now.

"We love China, we are so grateful to China," they said. (1 Croatian kuna = 0.14 U.S. dollar)

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