I slowed time

1997-2006
Three Gorges Dam, China*

You make lots of friends on the shelves in warehouses when you travel widely like I do. Having a truly exotic and fascinating tale to tell doesn’t hurt either. They make me repeat all the time.

It all started when NASA calculated that, with a little help from me, the spin of the Earth slowed down. A day is now 60 billionths of a second longer since they built the dam…

That rather astonishes my listeners and they often start thinking about what to do with all that saved time on their hands...not quite the right attitude, really.

Then they want to know about China and the Yangtze, Asia’s longest river. I have to tell them that never again have I seen so many people working together to build something. Over in China, there were a few superstitious people. They kept saying it wasn’t right to build something bigger than the Great Wall. The ancestors would be horrified. But the job needed doing. The Chinese had been toying with the idea since 1919. They even said that the ‘Great Helmsman,’ Mao Zedong, drew up sketches and planned projects when camped for the night during the Long March. It’s no secret that China’s hungry for energy. Clean if possible, thank you.

What could be cleaner than 84,700 GWh a year generated by a dam 185 metres high and more than 2 kilometres across? This is where my story gets moving… anticipation is the thing. Everyone’s attention is riveted on what comes next.

There was a problem to solve at the job site. A big one too. It had to do with the dam’s spillways. A formula had to be found for high-performance concrete. It had to have high resistance - just think of all the stones and debris a river like that drags along - and high, fluid consistency. A lot of trials were run on admixtures here at our company. At the end of the day, I, Mapefluid X404, was the best. It was great. I was ready to pack and head to China. Not so fast, they told me. The Chinese wanted to run some trials of their own just to be sure.

So, they formed a committee to run tests on other products. Let me tell you, it was like the finals for the world championship of admixtures. The competition was edgy, the stakes were high. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. That’s how I played it. Even the Chinese pegged me the winner.

A few years have passed since then and a lot of water has gone under the dam with my help. Proud is but a word. My colleagues treat me with all due respect, consult me on technical matters and, naturally, ask me to translate words on the signs of Chinese shops here in Milan. I’ve even become the leading expert on spring rolls in Mapei’s warehouses. It’s part of the job now too.

* Mapei decided to acquire a Chinese company for local materials manufacture and even more efficient supply and services for a project of such magnitude. In doing so, Mapei also wanted to make sure that the ethical principles under-pinning its corporate philosophy regarding personnel safety and environment concerns would be firmly installed along with its products and know-how.

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