BEIJING, May 5 (Xinhua) -- A Laotian girl missing teeth, a dropout in Cambodia, or a Syrian man in war-torn Aleppo ... On the surface, they appear to have little in common. But their lives have become entwined along the Belt and Road in a way they could have never imagined.
China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 with the aim of building infrastructure and trade networks to lift villages, towns, cities and countries out of poverty and bring more prosperity to wealthier jurisdictions along its path. The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road are expected to connect countries and peoples in Asia, Africa and Europe along ancient trade routes.
NEW TEETH, NEW WELL
Grinning no longer embarrasses Anuo, who now has her two front teeth back. Smiling and laughter has returned to the 12-year-old Laotian girl.
"I look much happier when I laugh now," said Anuo, who lives in Hakai by the Nam Mang river.
More than three years ago, she lost half an upper foretooth during a struggle with a catfish caught by her uncle. Another tooth was lost when she fell on the muddy road following a downpour.
The loose, fragile and yellow teeth of the locals are largely blamed on the turbid, smelly water drawn from the only well during a drought. What's worse, the amount of water was insufficient for the village.
However, tremendous change when the Chinese company building the Nam Mang River 1 Hydropower Station dug a new well, along with improving the village's major road free of charge.
More of a surprise for Anuo was the free physical examinations for the villagers arranged by Dongfang Electric Corporation. It was then when Anuo received her new front teeth.
"The fish mom cooks on drought days tastes equally good now," Anuo says.
Like Anuo, millions around the world are directly benefiting from Belt and Road projects. Dongfang Electric completed the Nam Mang river power project in 2016.
A PATH THROUGH WAR
The road from war-torn Aleppo to the port city of Latakia in Northwest Syria was rough with bumps and hollows, with a truck dilapidated with bullet holes and shrapnel scratches, and a driver who couldn't be more prepared for any emergency situation.
Suddenly, a shell blew up by the road. Ameer Anis, 32, made a sudden dodge to escape death. He remembers how lucky he was that the truck remained in good condition along with his cargo, nearly a ton of solidly-packed soaps he helped make.
The road was really tough, but was not tougher than the life Anis and other Syrian families were leading amid a war.
These Aleppo olive soaps of traditional Syrian craftsmanship were bound for Tianjin some 7,000 km away. Li Jianwei, a Chinese businessman based in the port city some 120 km southeast of the Chinese capital Beijing, made this order and many others before.
Li found the Aleppo handmade soap during a 2000 trip to Syria, and has since been its fan. An experience of buying fakes in 2015 prompted him to import the authentic from its home for online sale.
From Tianjin's Haihe River to the Bohai Sea, down to the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and via the Strait of Malacca, further to the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and to Latakia by Mediterranean, stretches a route of the ancient maritime Silk Road.
Soap orders from China have kept the Anis brothers from fleeing home.
A LANGUAGE FOR CHANGE
Life took a drastic turn when a serious disease hit Chamraeun Sreytouch and forced the top student out of middle school for five years. It also deprived her family of an economic well-being.
However, life changed when she took her father's advice to study at a Chinese language elementary school in the countryside of her hometown Kandal Province. She was not fully recovered but felt heavily obligated to make money to support the family. Many Chinese people have come over to open factories, and doing translation work for them would be a decent job, her elderly father said.
Life again changed from that point on. Learning Chinese was fun and brought hope to the young Khmer lady. She was led to further study at the well-known Duan Hua (Toun Fa) Chinese School based in the capital Phnom Penh, and later at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Because of her academic excellence, she was given the opportunity to complete her last two years of college studying at Dali University in southwest China's Yunnan Province.
Chamraeun then had an idea. Why not to help more Cambodians learn Chinese to improve their chances at a better life? After graduation, she opened the Pei De Chinese Language School in her hometown. With a desire to continue learning herself, the headmistress is now a student at the Confucius Institute in Phnom Penh with an aim of going to China for graduate studies.
She could have ended up either working in a factory or a restaurant, she says. Instead, she's one of more than 5 million registered students at more than 1,500 Confucius Institutes and Classrooms in 140 countries around the world.
KUVATOV'S SHIFT TO PEN WITH YET SWORD
For Timur Katayamovich Kuvatov, practicing two hours of Chinese Kung Fu has long been a daily routine as well as providing stress relief from his work as president and editor-in-chief of the Kazakhstan Today news agency.
But he isn't known for his work at the agency. Instead, he's made a name for himself winning medals in martial arts competitions in Kazakhstan, Asia and world, and as chief coach of the national martial arts team.
Kuvatov made a career shift amid the economic aftermath of Kazak independence from Soviet Union. He quickly rose through the ranks of the news business. But for Kuvatov, the practice of Kung Fu proved to be his real passion, and he longed to advance his skills.
In his late 40s, Kuvatov decided to begin learning Chinese in order to better understand China's culture and the roots of Kung Fu. "Kung Fu is not only a sport, but also a philosophy," he says.
In recent years, Kuvatov has witnessed more of his friends travelling to China and more Chinese travellers and enterprises coming to Kazakhstan. He believes China's Belt and Road Initiative, of which Kazakhstan is a participant, will lead to increased bilateral cultural and people-to-people exchanges.
He also notices that a Kung Fu trend is gaining ground among young Kazaks, something Kuvatov is very happy to see.
(Xinhua reporters Zhao Yu, Ji Xinlong, Feng Junyang, Zhou Liang and Wang Yachen also contributed to this story.)