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November 22, 2019

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Poems to Pakistan: a bucket list with love

A 78-YEAR-OLD lung cancer patient in hospice care in Jinshan District has her own unique bucket list. Top, is a desire to have her poems to the people of Pakistan published in a Pakistani newspaper.

The former nuclear power plant employee once worked in the South Asian country.

Li Naiying fell in love with the people.

“They are very nice, honest and friendly,” she said. “They once saved my life. Memories of the country are always in my dreams.”

After finishing studies in welding at a technical school, Li worked at a pipeline company in Shanxi Province. In 1959 she was sent to a desolate area of the northwestern Gansu Province to work at a plant of China National Nuclear Corp. There, she met her future husband. 

In 1985, the construction of home-built Qinshan nuclear power plant, China’s first, started in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province. It was established and began commercial operation in 1991.

But before that, there was a long period for the Chinese nuclear power workers to prepare for the development of domestic nuclear industries. Li is also one among them who began from knowing nothing about nuclear power and later turned to be a professional.

“I still remember we were taken by a truck to the factory,” said Li. “I made a big fool of myself. In discussing our destination, he used factory jargon, and I told him I had no idea what he was talking about.”

There was no employee dormitory at the power plant, so Li lived with other colleagues in tents, amid frequent gale force winds and periodic sandstorms.

“It was extremely dark at night,” she recalled. “There were very few women at the factory. To allay our anxieties, we sang songs to the accompaniment of an accordion. Later we started writing poems.”

One of the few workers who achieved high certification as a qualified welder, Li was sent to Pakistan in 1990 with a group of colleagues to do preliminary planning for a nuclear power plant there. She was responsible for ensuring the safety of the inner surfaces of pipes to carry cables and other instrumentation.

She returned to Pakistan in 1995 to assist the work on the Chashma nuclear power plant.

“My job that time was to oversee supply of materials,” she said. “There were large quantities of material coming from China and other countries that needed to be checked, sorted and hoisted into place. We employed 20 workers from the local people in Mianwali. I had a lot of close contact with them.”

Every morning, Li stressed safety rules and work protection measures with them before they started work.

“They had the habit of wearing slippers,” she said. “So I found some recycled leather shoes and gave them each a pair to prevent them being injured while lifting steel. Every month, I also gave them two or three pairs of gloves, protective glasses and specially made uniforms.” After each day’s work, the Pakistanis had to shower and change back into their own clothes.

“Among them, a young guy named Ressel was extremely clever and mastered the skills of doing important jobs within a month,” she said. “He could do nearly everything.”

Friendships grew.

Though we worked together for only two years, I came to admire their kindness and frankness,” Li said. “Whenever I recall that experience, I never fail to be impressed anew. I remember the head of the labor team, named Alfodor, and an 18-year-old named A Hedl most of all.”

In 1996, on the way back to her accommodation, her vehicle overturned, trapping her inside.

“I heard somebody calling ‘Nani,’ which means ‘grandmother’ in Pakistani,” she said. “It was A Hedl! I was saved!” Li suffered a broken arm in the mishap.

Another incident stands out in her memory, this time involving Alfodor. It involved the volumes of wooden boxes used to transport material to the city. Once emptied, they were of no use. Not wanting to dispose of them by burning close to the power plant, Li found a truck and told Alfodor to take the boxes home for wood-fire cooking.

Employees taking home any property violated the rules at the Chashma plant.

Li took blame for the decision. But Alfodor was put in detention for four days. She interceded when plant authorities sought to have him dismissed.

“Whenever I recall that incident, I still feel guilty,” Li said. “I owed him so much.” 

The people in Pakistan and China are like brothers, she said, and she hopes that close relationship continues.

During her stay in Pakistan, she wrote four heartfelt poems to the people who were part of her life there.


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