By WENCHUAN (ALLEN) LIU
TODAY, I will tell the story of a highway and some flowers.
Some may ask, what is so special about highways. Most of our travels are through highways. Highways are already things that we are accustomed to in our lives; all kinds of flowers are also everywhere in our daily life. And none of them is magical at all.
Yes, all of these is really nothing special or surprising for people back in China. However, the road that I’m telling you of now is of great significance to the people in the town of Mendi, Southern Highlands and in Tambul, a major centre in Western Highlands. Because this is the first important highway leading to the outside world for this remote corner of the earth. With such a road, the deep mountain valleys and the outside world can be connected.
On Oct 1, 2015, China Overseas Engineering Company Ltd (Covec) based in PNG won the bid for the Mendi to Tambul highway project. The project is located in the Southern Highlands. The living conditions of the local people are extremely difficult. Moreover, most of the road sections of the project are located in virgin rainforest and mountains. There is abundant rain in the construction sections, traffic interruption in the middle section of the line, scarce material sources, poor public security, and frequent work stoppage by local residents. During the 2017 national election, the security situation was extremely severe.
Vicious social security incidents, such as burning a plane, looting, tribal fighting, murder and over-trafficking, occurred frequently, posing a great threat to the normal operation of the project and the safety of staff and properties.
All mechanical equipment transportation, parts procurement, and even the most basic life materials procurement are very difficult. However, it was under such conditions that the project team experienced all kinds of hardships and difficulties, and in the absence of mechanical equipment and accessories, completed the projects in advance on Feb 21, 2019 according to the contract requirements!
It was such a coincidence. And just one week after completion, it began to rain heavily throughout the region, and it lasted for two weeks.
When the rain stopped and the weather cleared, unexpected and magical things happened. Lines of purple wildflowers grew on both sides of the newly constructed highway, neatly and gorgeously. Moreover, it was surprising that this kind of flower bloomed on both sides of the road. The purple line of flowers stretched over dozens of kilometers along the road, and there is no such magical flower from a distance of only one meter from the road.
Seeing this magical flower, the local people were very happy.
Because purple is one of the main colors in PNG, and it is popular in all aspects of life. Whether in the decoration of buildings or the colour of clothing, purple is the favourite of the people.
These flowers are also purple. Everyone says that this is a symbol of auspiciousness, which indicates happiness. These flowers are planted by God on both sides of the road.
This road can lead to the Garden of Eden and bring people a happy life. Therefore, the locals affectionately call these flowers God’s flowers.
But how exactly did these flowers grow? The project team did not send people to plant such small flowers, nor did the local people plant them. Did these flowers really come from the hands of God as the local people said? The project team was confused.
Just when everyone was puzzled, by chance, someone in the project team found this flower on the upper stream of a river. However, this place is far away from the highway so how did these flowers reach the sides of the road?
Just then someone suddenly discovered the reason. The raw materials used to construct the roadbed, the original river beach materials, are collected from nearby rivers. The flowers on the upper stream of the river blossomed and bore fruits. The seeds fell on the ground and were washed into the river by rain.
Because these seeds sank all year round under the water, they could not take root and germinate. Occasionally, they were dug out of the water and mixed with these riverbank materials. These riverbank materials were removed from the water for road construction, and the seeds also had the opportunity to be exposed to soil and sunlight.
In the process of building roads, the asphalt surface part was needed. Asphalt has sealed the seeds of these flowers under the surface layer, however, on the shoulder the surface without asphalt, the seeds could take root and germinate and bloom beautifully, just like God deliberately did this. So the flower was called the flower of God.
Before this road was built, villagers in the mountains walked for days to Mendi town. A local chief of one villages told the author that when pregnant women in the village were about to give birth, a simple stretcher was needed to transport them to health facilities to the lives of the mothers and their babies.
Several young and strong boys took turns to carry the stretcher to take the pregnant woman to the hospital. Most children in the village did not go to school due to inaccessible transportation. This was also an important reason for the low level of local civilisation.
And now with this road, it only takes about three hours to reach Mendi by bus, which greatly saves time and physical strength. According to the village chief, with this highway, buses can travel and it is much more convenient for the villagers to get medical treatment and for children to go to school.
At the same time, the villagers can transport some construction materials from outside to build hospitals and schools, which will greatly improve health and educational standards of local people.
In the past, without roads and traffic, villagers did not know the changes in the outside world. With this highway, everyone has the opportunity to see the outside world. When locals talk about this road and these flowers, they have a happy with bright smile on their faces.
The author calls this new road “the happiness road’, which implies a beautiful and happy life for local villagers, and these flowers are the veritable icing on the cake.
These are “smiling flowers”, just like the bright smiles on the faces of local villagers. And these smiling flowers are beyond the meaning of ordinary flowers here.
They are the flowers of youth of the project team, the smiles of the local people, and the flowers of friendship between the peoples of China and PNG.
Most of the staff in the project team are graduates of the post-90s. They gave up the excellent living conditions in their country and came to work in the extremely backward part of the world. Due to climatic factors, so as to complete the project on schedule, they get up at 6.30 every morning and start working at 7am. After lunch, they resume the intensive work immediately. Sometimes they have to work overtime in order to catch up with the schedule. They work hard, are optimistic, and use their hard work to earn a better life for tomorrow.
Aren’t these smiling flowers the epitome of youth that these young people striving to bloom!?
With such a road, local residents can take agricultural products into town to sell and increase family incomes; they can also go to town to find employment opportunities. At the same time, there is also an opportunity to introduce some of the advanced health and educational resources into the lives of locals.
With this highway, it is possible to accelerate the movement of people in towns, and local people can strengthen their ties with towns and improve their living standards.
Children can also go out of the mountains and see the world outside. They break the vicious circle of herding sheep or pigs, getting married, giving birth to children, etc. They can live a good life, and the bright smiles on their faces are just like the smiling flowers on the road sides!
In the process of building the road, the project team established friendly relations with local people. At the beginning, the locals were very unfriendly to the project team and frequently blocked work, but with the construction of the road, the connection between the project staff and the local villagers gradually strengthened, from strange to familiar.
The locals also learned that the Chinese are down-to-earth, diligent and kind, and are a friendly people. Over time, the project staff and the locals established friendly relations and became friends. The friendly relationship between the project personnel and the locals is a testimony to the friendly relationship between China and PNG. Isn’t this smiling flower exactly the flower of friendship between China and PNG!
Now, the project team is also shifting to the Nipa-Munihu highway project with the same difficult conditions. Let us praise them here and wish them the best in their work and success. Go on!
- The author is the vice legal manager of Covec PNG Ltd.