When passing Rehendhi Maizaan Park in Malé, the capital city of the Maldives, people often slow down, with their eyes fixed on that huge painting of Sinamalé Bridge also called China-Maldives Friendship Bridge on the park's wall. Against achingly blue skies, a grand bridge straddles a vast expanse of sea, lifelike and exuberant.
At the end of October 2016, local artist Ali Amir was assigned by the government to paint the Sinamalé Bridge on the wall of the park, which at the time was just about to open. Notably, he was requested to complete the work within a week.
For years, local people had lived without a bridge, with ferries used as their main mode of transport. As such, the Sinamalé Bridge is a life-changing and long-awaited project for Maldivians. Undertaken by Second Harbor Engineering Company (SHEC), which is affiliated to China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), this 2,000-meter-long bridge links Malé with the surrounding island of Hulhulé, where the country's only international airport is located. More importantly, this bridge has made it possible for locals and tourists to travel between the two islands within just five minutes.
An impossible dream
Amir had never seen a bridge as long as the Sinamalé Bridge, even when he was abroad for training. In fact, he is an expert in forensic art and skilled in imitation, being able to quickly depict the appearance of people and things as per the description given. But depicting the bridge was a new experience for him.
"I have seen the original design of the bridge and felt it was really beautiful. But it was quite a challenge to depict the bridge and the surrounding environment on the wall of nearly 50 meters and in such a short time," Amir said.
While Amir was racking his brains, SHEC's construction team had already toiled in billowing waves and strong winds for over 300 days.
Known for its clear seas, soft sands, blue skies and fishing schools, the Maldives may be the ultimate romantic destination for honeymooners. However, for the Chinese constructors involved in building the bridge, the experience was far from romantic. There was one caveat: the Sinamalé Bridge is located in 46-meter-deep exposed waters with a long surge cycle and extremely complicated coral reef geology.
Those problems arose early on and stayed fresh in the mind of Cheng Duoyun, chief engineer of Sinamalé Bridge Project.
"Soon after the project broke ground, we came here to prepare for the landing stage. As the construction site had a wave height of over 3 meters, a maximum surge cycle of 14 seconds and a current speed of over 1.5 meters per second, we had to have a special person in charge of observing surges when we began construction. Once a surge was coming, the observer would give an immediate warning. Upon hearing of the observer's shout, construction workers would stand up instantly with their welding tongs raised high, and continued welding after the waves died down."
As waves came and went day by day, Chinese constructors finished work on the 400-meter-long landing stage bordering Malé in late June 2016, opening up a lifeblood sea passage for following construction.
As the huge painting of the Sinamalé Bridge was taking shape under Amir's painting brush, SHEC's construction team had already completed the installation of the main bridge's first drilling platform. On October 6, 2016, the construction for the first pile foundation of the main bridge broke ground.
The "blueprint" came to life on the wall and eventually became a reality, Amir said with emotion. "My painting has been transformed into a reality. It was unbelievably fast!"
Amir has a new plan for the future. According to him, if time permits, he could draw the bridge more delicately, and he would motivate his students to paint the bridge in more detail from their own points of view. "If possible, I am very eager to build a bridge museum to let more people know about the bridge," Amir said.
A Romantic Wedding Venue
On August 30, 2018, the 2,000-meter-long Sinamalé Bridge opened to traffic. To celebrate this historic moment, the Maldives hosted a seven-day celebration starting from August 31, making a spectacle out of the bridge. The next day, the bridge was picked as the wedding venue for five couples, who tied the knot in a mass wedding ceremony.
From an impossibility to a reality, the Sinamalé Bridge is indeed a lucky charm for Maldivians. A Maldivian groom called Rupp said that he felt extremely honored to be able to marry the love of his life on the newly-inaugurated Sinamalé Bridge. "Marriage is a major event in life. The bridge will bring a new life to Maldivians. Hence why I applied for the 'Bridge Wedding', in the hope that the bridge will bring us good luck," he said.
With Chinese and Maldivian flags fluttering in the light breeze on both sides of the guardrails, the bridge wedding looked majestic, as characterful garlands and tender music brought romance to the atmosphere. Moreover, the mass wedding ceremonies were held in different parts on the bridge, with each wedding party allotted an exclusive place complete with a floral arch. On that day, people could see beautiful brides in full-length white dresses and handsome grooms in tuxedos walking past every now and then accompanied by their happy families and friends.
When the Maldivian Ministry of Housing and Construction released news stories about the "Bridge Wedding" in early August 2018, they received an overwhelming response from the Maldivian public. According to the ministry, more than 250 couples had applied for registration, from which the ministry selected only five couples due to the limited space.
Tsiada and Lishala were another lucky couple. "The Sinamalé Bridge is the first bridge in the history of the Maldives. This is the first time the Maldives has held a wedding on the bridge. So many firsts! Hence why choosing to hold a wedding on the bridge is very meaningful to us," the groom said.
The Gateway to Tomorrow
Early on in the project, many Maldivians thought building the bridge was "an impossible dream". Local resident Amira said, "At first, many of my friends and I didn't believe building a bridge here was possible. However, day after day, we witnessed the bridge being constructed little by little. It now offers a gateway to tomorrow!"
Now, the Sinamalé Bridge, which is seen as a symbol of daring to dream, has become a landmark of the Maldives, and has also brought convenience and simplicity to the lives of Maldivians.
On the map, the Sinamalé Bridge looks like a carrying pole with Malé and the island of Hulhulé on either side, not only linking Malé, Hulhulé and Hulhumalé together, but also advancing the development of the habitation circle around the capital city.
As the name suggests, Hulhumalé is located near Malé. Known locally as "Youth City", this vibrant place is at least three times larger than Malé, and also has larger parks, stadiums and beachfronts. According to Midhuam Saud, vice president of the Maldives China Trade and Cultural Organization (MCTCO), Malé has a population of over 100,000 living on a small area of about 1.5 square kilometers. To ease housing congestion in the capital, the Maldivian government is working on affordable housing projects in Hulhumalé to solve the housing concerns of capital residents.
The opening of the Sinamalé Bridge has made this place even more attractive. Rabindan, a foreman in a restaurant in Hulhumalé, said with excitement, "Since the bridge was opened to traffic, the number of guests visiting the restaurant has seen a remarkable increase. On weekends, many people living in Malé come here for dinner. And our staff are constantly very busy. What's more, many guests who live in Malé can order takeaways and pick up their food within just 10-odd minutes by motorcycle."
Following the opening of the bridge, the Maldivian government opened the Greater Malé Transport Link with nine new buses operating frequent services. Hence this transport link has put the ferryboat era to an end for Maldivians traveling between Malé and Hulhulé. "Now this transport link has a staff base of nearly 100, and carries 7,000 people a day at its peak. Furthermore, the number of buses is expected to increase to 22," said Nishan, a manager of the Greater Malé Transport Link.
Nahidha, a resident of Malé, was delighted to be on the bus with her three-year-old son. "I can now take my son to the park on Hulhumalé Island at any time. Before the bridge opened, that was not so easy," she said.
The bridge has brought much relief to the people living in Malé and Hulhumalé, including school girl Aisha, who lived in Hulhumalé while her school was in Malé. "The boat ride between the two islands was affected by many factors such as the weather, so I used to have difficulties in getting to school in Malé on time. School starts at 8 o'clock in the morning, so in order to be there on time, I had to get up at around 5 o'clock. Even then I would be anxious about getting there on time because of the unpredictability of the weather," Aisha said. However, today Aisha rides her father's motorcycle every morning and arrives at her school in just 10-odd minutes.
Even just at the mention of the Sinamalé Bridge, every Maldivian, including officials and ordinary people, will raise their thumb in approval of this life-changing bridge, while expressing their appreciation with Chinese words like "Hao (Marvelous)!" and "Xiexie (Thank you)!"
"Once completed, the Sinamalé Bridge will effectively ease Malé's housing and transportation congestion, helping Greater Malé Atoll remove transportation barriers to economic growth and laying important foundations for Maldivian central cities to expand urban functions and advance economic take-off," Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Mohamed Muizzu said.
"In other words, it will act as a catalyst for Maldivian's economic and social development. In practice, the Sinamalé Bridge's construction has opened the door to development for us."
PLEASE CONTACT TO DELETE IF NECESSARY