A bridge to achievement
SHANGHAI - About an hour's drive from downtown Shanghai, Changxing island lies at the other end of the nearly 9-km-long Shanghai Yangtze River tunnel.
At a sprawling manufacturing complex here, Li Jianghua and hundreds of his colleagues have spent the past five years accomplishing one of the world's most challenging steel fabrication projects.
Standing among giant cranes and pieces of machinery, Li, 55, a man of middle height, looks full of spirit. Behind him is a huge steel module, which will be prepared for shipment to the United States around July 21.
After three weeks on the sea, the ninth shipment of steel modules will arrive in Oakland, on the Pacific coast.
With previous shipments, altogether more than two dozen giant steel modules - each half the size of a football field - will be assembled into the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Li, from Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Co, China's biggest heavy machinery maker, took charge of the project in 2006 when his company beat strong rivals from Japan, South Korea and some European countries.
To meet the project's high standard and tight deadline, Li and his colleagues spent most of their time on the island, except for rare home visits.
The re-construction of the Bay Bridge, which was severely damaged during an earthquake in 1989, is due to open for traffic in 2013.
Though Li's company is responsible for construction of the bridge decks and manufacturing the materials that went into them, the assembly work in California and pouring of the concrete road surface will be done by Americans.
Recalling the past five years, Li said they had experienced both wild joys and bitterness. At first, they were surrounded with excitement learning that they will be part of one of the world's most challenging projects.
"After all, not everybody can have the chance to build such a magnificent project," he said.
But soon, the technical difficulties and challenges started to bite. The 70-meter-wide bridge, designed for more than 100 years of use with a daily traffic volume of up to 300,000 vehicles, requires the highest quality and standard for every single detail during construction.
To meet the challenging requirements from the US client, Li and his team drew several thousand blueprints and endless revisions.
Li admits that there was distrust from their US client in the beginning.
However, through more than 400 meetings, the US clients' attitude changed, especially after the first shipment of steel fabrication was inspected and qualified.
"At first, they demanded that everything strictly follows their standard, but later, seeing we met their requirements, they started to talk to us in a more friendly way and even took suggestions from us," Li said.
In the end, Li and his team managed to accomplish the work five months ahead of schedule, and earned more than $30 million as a bonus.
"They've produced a pretty impressive bridge for us," Tony Anziano, a program manager at the California Department of Transportation, was quoted as saying a few weeks ago when he toured the 3-sq-km manufacturing site that the Chinese company created to do the bridge work.
Having been to the US several times, Li said his latest trip in August was most memorable.
"During that business trip, the immigration officers started to talk to me all in Chinese once they learned I'm working for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge project," Li recalled.
In Li's eyes, the Bay Bridge is not only an important transportation facility, but also a magnificent landmark on the west coast of the US.
"It is really an honor to have made-in-China products as part of one of the world's most challenging projects," said Li, who was born in Beijing and raised in Shanghai.
Li's colleagues said he combines the good personalities of China's north and south - an easy-going temperament plus a mind for precision.
"It is in fact quite a pleasure working with him," said one of Li's colleagues surnamed Wu. "Even though we had a hard schedule, he has remained cheerful and humorous most of time, which made us feel relaxed."
After the completion of the project, Li says he will bring his wife to the US and "show her what I have been busy doing over the years".
Li, who has been working for Zhenhua ever since he started to work, says he believes the traditional Chinese motto that a person should focus on one thing and make the best out of it - and the effort has paid off.
On July 9, during a banquet celebrating the completion of the project, Li received a surprise from his US client, who presented an announcement with the signature of San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, who proclaimed July 11 Li Jianghua Day in San Francisco.
Li regarded the honor as recognition of his whole team's achievements.
But Li also has some moments of private joy.
He recalled proudly that on the second day after the news come out, his son, who was then aboard a flight, called him excitedly after reading the news.
"I didn't know you've become so famous, dad!"