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December 16, 2011

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Counting the days, eager for change

AS Gao Haisheng watches water patting the coastline, the land across the water seems to be so close yet so far away.

The middle-aged man has lived next to where the mighty Yangtze River flows into the East China Sea his whole life, and now comes a massive new bridge.

"The bridge will give my name a new meaning," said Gao, who operates a seafood-processing business. His given name, Haisheng, means "born by the sea" in Chinese.

Behind him lies Lusi, a renowned fishing port in China, part of the Qidong region that is counting down the days until the opening of the Chongming-Qidong bridge. For Gao, it's the place where he started in the late 1980s. Knocking on fishermen's doors, house to house, to buy fish in the beginning, Gao now owns more than 140 fishing boats and a joint-venture company.

This time, Gao and others hope the bridge can give them a lift. With a big increase in traffic, the bridge and highway link will bring more business. The annual fishing harvest in Lusi accounts for fully one-third that of Jiangsu Province.

"Make yourself at home," smiled Gao, putting out the welcome mat to Shanghai residents and talking about the seafood - yellow croaker, hairtail and crab - long favored by Shanghai locals.

"It's good news for our overseas business," said Chen Weibin, a manager with Gao, referring to the increased commerce the bridge will bring.

Chen said their products are usually taken to Shanghai's Pudong International Airport or Shanghai Waigaoqiao port for export to Japan and North Korea, as well as Western countries.

The journey used to take more than three hours via another bridge, said Chen, and despite new technologies to keep seafood fresh, they would suffer loss.

"You should see the days when there's no bridge at all," said a truck driver, surnamed Pan. The 49-year-old used to take seven hours to cross the waterway via ferry when transporting seafood to Shanghai in the 1980s. "Back then all I hoped was that the fish could make it," giggled Pan.

While fishermen in Qidong expect business to be boosted as the products can be transported much faster in the Yangtze River Delta region, they are not the only happy ones. Businessmen in Shanghai also welcome the resulting lowered transport costs. Wang Yuebin, a manager of an aquatic products company based on Chongming Island, said, "The market will largely be opened and expanded once the transports get easier."

Wang said ferry transport was often greatly affected by weather.

Trade with Qidong may not amount to much now, said Wang, but businesses "look forward to cooperation" with the markets enlarged in Jiangsu.

"Here's the backyard to Shanghai," said Sun Jianhua, a top government official with Qidong.


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