Chinese farmer strikes roots in Nepal


Standing in his field on the outskirts of Pokhara and below the dazzling snows of the Annapurna mountains, Xiang Shaohua points to peach saplings in his orchard.

The seedlings were sent to him by his son and daughter who are studying back home in China. And just like Xiang himself, the peach are striking roots in Nepal’s soil.

Xiang first came to Nepal 10 years ago as a tourist, travelled to Pokhara and was so mesmerised by the place and people here that he never left.

Today, he rents 2 hectares of farm and is growing lettuce, cauliflower and fruits commercially to sell to the market and restaurants in the lakeside tourist town. He also works as a subcontractor at Pokhara airport, and at other infrastructure projects.

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“In the beginning, it was only supposed to be for three years, and if it did not work out, I planned to go back to China,” Xiang recalls. “It has not all been smooth sailing, but it has been worth it.”

Xiang now has his father and wife helping out at the farm. The fact that he came from a farming family back in Sichuan where the climate and soil are similar to Nepal, has been helpful.

Xiang says his most challenging period was during the 2015 blockade, when supplies were scarce. He felt like quitting, but realised he had greater responsibilities.

“Actually, I could have left, but that would have meant that my Nepali employees would be out of their jobs,” recalls 32-year-old Xiang, who speaks Nepali with a distinct Pokhara lilt and considers himself “half Nepali”. Everyone here knows him by his Nepali nickname, Sandesh, and some call him China’s “non-governmental ambassador” to Nepal.

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His Nepali side was heartbroken to see the destruction after the 2015 earthquake, and reminded him of the deadly Sichuan earthquake of 2008. He and some other Chinese from Pokhara set up a rescue team and headed off to Gorkha to dig among the ruins with their bare hands and shovels to rescue people.

While tens of thousands of youth from Pokhara have migrated to the Gulf or Malaysia for work, Xiang is proof that there is plenty to do in Nepal itself, and it is possible to prosper if one is prepared for hard work.

“Farming is very labour intensive, and I notice that most educated young Nepalis are unwilling to do it,” says Xiang, who recalls the first time he came to Pokhara and noticed that farm productivity could be easily improved. That is when he saw an opportunity to put some of his own farming experience to good use, and stayed. Now, Xiang regards Nepal as his second home, and his Nepali neighbours regard the cheerful Nepali-speaking Chinese as a Nepali too.

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“I know Nepal. I know what Nepalis need. At the same time, I can communicate with Chinese enterprises to know what they want, and I can be a good go-between,” says Xiang.

With the new airport, and Chinese contractors working on various hydropower projects in Central Nepal, Xiang sees lots of opportunity for mutual learning between Nepali and Chinese people.

Xiang is not interested in making the quick buck, and says: “I would rather do something I like doing even if I do not make money for a while.”

Farming is not that profitable, but it is a passion and he enjoys growing food among people he likes, and in a land he calls his second home.

In his office, a poster on the wall in Mandarin characters says: ‘Remain true to your aspiration’. Xiang appears to follow his motto to the letter. And as he starts his second decade in Nepal, Xiang wants to make the best of his life in Pokhara.

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