By Song Mengxing and Li Xiao song
During the 30-minute Xinwen Lianbo broadcast — CCTV’s flagship nightly 7 pm news bulletin — shown on Sept 27, the program telecast a riveting story nearly three minutes long on how Li Lin, a technician from China National Petroleum Corp, worked in the almost unbelievably harsh conditions in the Arctic Circle with a song in his heart.
Within the Arctic Circle, the Yamal peninsula, located in the extreme north of western Siberia, was previously a place home to few living things — apart from the odd polar bear. But now it has become a place transformed, in the wake of the roar of petroleum machinery and the sounds of oil workers.
Li is an employee of PetroChina International Co and is now manager of the Yamal Liquefied Natural Gas project, located near Sabetta in the Yamal peninsula in Russia. His family members were initially opposed to him working in the Arctic Circle, objecting that the conditions in Yamal were intolerably harsh and it was so far away from China.
Li told them the Yamal project is an extremely important Sino-Russia joint energy project related to the Belt and Road Initiative and he felt particularly lucky to be chosen to work for it.
He said he had previously worked at home and he wanted to really“develop abroad” to improve himself, adding that he would persist no matter how hard the environment.
Li went back home to take a vacation during the National Day holiday in early October. He said he was overjoyed to see the sunshine as it was a luxury to see it in Yamal, which is located in the extreme north of the planet. Li said despite the hardships, he thought it worthwhile and all the employees working for the Yamal project were also proud.
The project is unique in the world in terms of scale, capacity and the difficulty of construction, according to Li.
“Under such extreme environments and with so many difficulties, we ensured the project progressed as planned and even came into operation in advance,” he said, adding it went beyond his imagination.
Employees of the Yamal project come from different countries, mainly from Russia. They got along well with each other and had one goal — to finish the project, Li said. But in their daily lives, because of cultural, religious and language differences, Li and two other colleagues, who were also chosen to work for the project onsite and behaved well at work, paid a lot of attention to communications with their foreign colleagues.
Li said what concerned him and his colleagues was that they might unintentionally violate taboo and offered their foreign workmates, making themselves as Chinese look impolite.
“We knew full well we represented not only China National Petroleum but also the Chinese people and we paid a lot of attention to our image,” he said. Li said foreign personnel on the project appreciated the achievements China has made in recent years. He said that the Russians, especially, were impressed by how greatly China was currently developing.
In a similar vein, colleague WangGuihai has also made great contributions to the overseas projects of China National Petroleum. He is known as the overseas “Iron man” and now works on an Iraqi project.
Wang was born into a farming family in Tianjin in 1968. He began to work at an oil extraction plant in Daqing oilfield in 1990 and went to work in Sudan in 1999. At the time, the working language in Sudan was entirely in English and it was very difficult for Wang, who had never been abroad, to communicate in that language. When a foreign oilfield production director complained “Mr Wang didn’t understand me”, he took stock of the situation.
Wang said he could not disgrace himself and as a result he tried extra hard to improve his English. He worked outside during the day, but at night he learned English in a sweltering hot iron room.
Three months later, the director gave Wang the thumbs-up and said he was doing great. Two years after that, the director recommended Wang assume a supervisory position in an oilfield in Sudan.
By 2007, Wang could use his fluent English to report on the day’s production with his colleagues from Sudan, Malaysia, India and elsewhere.