BRI project enriches life of Croatian truck driver
Ivan Bjelis, a Croatian truck driver, found meaningful employment and built close friendships while working on the Peljesac Bridge project under the Belt and Road Initiative, which has not only improved Croatia's infrastructure but also enriched his life.
For Ivan Bjelis, a local truck driver in southern Croatia, the Peljesac Bridge -- a project of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) -- means the world. It offers him a job, a handsome salary, and the precious experience of being involved in a giant international project.
After the Peljesac Bridge project started in 2018, Bjelis was told by a local friend that the company was hiring experienced drivers. He qualified for the job as he had been working as a driver at the construction site of a hotel complex near Dubrovnik in southern Croatia.
"It was all new for me, and full of challenges. I immediately felt that it was a serious project in which everyone had to give his best," Bjelis told Xinhua.
The first challenge was the language barrier as his English was limited, just as the Chinese workers barely spoke Croatian. Thanks to the help from his Chinese colleagues, he gradually was able to communicate with them.
The Peljesac Bridge, constructed by a Chinese consortium led by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), was inaugurated on July 26 last year. The 2.4-km bridge, stretching across the Mali Ston Bay, connects Komarna on Croatia's mainland with Brijesta on the Peljesac Peninsula.
The bridge, the largest infrastructure project in Croatia, has been hailed as a key project of the BRI, which envisions trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes.
According to Bjelis, the bridge means a lot to the whole of Croatia as it greatly shortens the travel time between Dubrovnik and the rest of the country. "This is one of the most important projects for me," he said.
Bjelis said he appreciated his "hardworking and responsible" Chinese colleagues, with whom he forged a close and deep friendship. "I would tell the Chinese workers that they are always welcome in Croatia," he said.
Bjelis recalled that once, after midnight, he was alerted that one of his Chinese colleagues had been injured and needed to be taken to the hospital. As there was no hospital on the Peljesac Peninsula, the worker had to be transported through the Mali Son Bay to Komarna first before being transferred to a hospital.
However, as the worker was badly injured, Bjelis, who is sturdy and 1.9-meter tall, just carried him on his back to a boat and rushed him to a hospital in Komarna across the stormy Mali Son Bay.
"I also brought crabs and fish to my Chinese colleagues. We cooked the crabs and fish the way it is done in the south of Croatia. Subsequently, many of my colleagues asked me for the recipe and said that they would cook fish and seafood that way after they return to China," Bjelis recalled.
He was also surprised to learn that his Chinese colleagues were so enthusiastic about Croatia's soccer stars, especially Luka Modric. "When we had free time, we watched matches together, and we enthusiastically cheered and shouted when a goal was scored," he said.
Bjelis said he had learned a lot from his colleagues about China and the country's culture. He could also taste Chinese food and learn how to use chopsticks.
"The chance to work at the Peljesac Bridge means a lot to me. I have learned a lot about the different cultures and socialized with people who live far away. I am happy to have been a part of that great project," he said, adding that "the money was also good, I was making more than I had ever made."
"With what I earned, I was able to finance my family's life quite solidly," he said.
Bjelis ended his work at the Peljesac Bridge last year and now he is a truck driver for a local logistics company, but he still keeps a jacket with CRBC signs on the front and back as a souvenir.
"If the Chinese company gets another project in Croatia, I would like to join them again because it is an important life experience for me," he said.