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It is one of those complex stories that are so difficult to tell, and yet they should, they have to be shared.
Imagine the splendid Mekong River, as it flows not far from an ancient capital of Laos, Luang Prabang. The river is powerful, with muddy banks, surrounded by lush mountains. Imagine poor villages and old ferry crossings, as well as broken plastic sandals on the feet of local people.
Then suddenly, near the village of Phonesai, you can spot several tremendous concrete pillars. They are growing out from the water, and from both river banks, literally connecting two mountains.
Soon it will be a bridge for high-speed trains. It is being built by China, a nation with the most advanced high-speed rail technology on earth. And a bit below, there will be another bridge, for cars and pedestrians.
Both mountains are being drilled, carefully and sparingly. This is where two tunnels will be passing through.
It is of course much cheaper to blow the mountains down with explosives. But earlier this year, China engraved the "Ecological Civilization" into its Constitution, and what it preaches at home, it also implements abroad.
This is the biggest project in the history of Laos, and it is often described as a mammoth engineering task: with 154 bridges and 76 tunnels, as well as 31 train stations. The Laotian terrain is very complex, its nature still pristine at large, and it is supposed to remain as such. The railroad will be 414 kilometers long, connecting Boten on the Laos-China border and the Laotian capital Vientiane. It is estimated that 20,000 Chinese workers will take part in the construction, as well as further tens of thousands of local laborers.
The railroad is expected to be operational in 2021, linking Laos with both China in the north, and Thailand to the south.
China Daily reported:
"The Lao government hopes that the completion of China-Laos railway will bring powerful momentum to social and economic development, while the construction of the railway has already brought great changes in many areas along the route.
At Sinohydro Bureau 3 Co Ltd's railway construction site between towns of Luang Prabang and Vangvieng, local staffs outnumber Chinese workers. Nearby hilly villages have over 300 people while some 20 of them have been employed to work for Sinohydro 3. Lao staffs are learning the advanced technology and management from their Chinese colleagues.
Chinese construction companies also donated money to local villages for building bridges and roads."
And not only roads, I saw and photographed new workshops, hotels, small factories and hospitals, along the road from Luang Prabang to Phonesai Village.
This is all part of Belt and Road Initiative, an optimistic, internationalist plan of China and its leadership, designed to connect lift out from poverty, a great number of nations, among them various previously colonized and plundered (by the West) countries in all corners of the globe.
While the Chinese workers are sweating, constructing the future of Laos, several French-speaking tourists on the main street of Luang Prabang are having beer.