Described as a unique venture involving the Cook Islands, New Zealand, and China, the $60 million Te Mato Vai water project is engaging a number of players, including the Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC) – a leading contractor.
When not replacing the pipes of Rarotonga’s aged ring mains, many of the company’s workers can usually be found at their living headquarters, which is located in Avarua at a site adjacent to the former Kia Orana Foods site.
Built over the course of a couple of weeks earlier this year by the company’s workers with the help of local construction crews, it looks like the Chinese have set up a pleasant temporary home.
Despite being only a couple of months old, the compound has a homely feel to it.
Accommodation quarters are set along the periphery of the property, with a basketball net in a large courtyard in the middle, giving the workers an opportunity to get some exercise by working on their jump shots. A garden has also been set up on the side, with cucumbers and tomatoes slowly beginning to emerge.
I was given an invitation by CCECC Assistant Project Manager Nicky Nie to join the team on a recent Saturday night, when the crews ham it up after a long week of construction work.
I accepted easily. I’ve been lucky to visit China, so I’m aware of Chinese hospitality.
Joined by two Te Mato Vai project officials - Construction Advisor Miki Schmidt and Material Quality Specialist John Batty – we sat down with the workers in the mess hall and enjoyed some excellent Chinese food prepared by the company’s chefs.
Plates of spicy fish, chicken, bok choy with chillies, sashimi, and eggplant were laid on a spinning ‘lazy susan’, and we dug in.
Frequent interruptions forced us to put down our chopsticks, where we all toasted to good health, project success, and the sheer uniqueness of the situation: where foreigners like us have been given the opportunity to work and spend some time on a small, remarkably beautiful tropical island in the South Pacific.
Afterwards, a little group gathered at the picnic tables in the courtyard where we shared small cups of red tea, prepared during a unique ceremony which involves pouring hot water over stone frog. Over time, I was told the frog will change colour, indicating sufficient amounts of the nutritious tea is being drank, and will also bring good luck.
I was told many of the CCECC’s workers were from the southern parts of China – a nation of roughly 1.35 billion people – and, like myself, have left loved ones in our native countries to pursue opportunity.
Even though we come from strikingly different backgrounds, I took note that their stories were not much different from mine.
After courteous goodbyes and numerous invitations to return, I stepped out in the pouring rain and returned home, feeling a sense of luck and wonderment after experiencing a little China in the Cook Islands.