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Yiwu may be a small city in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province, but it boasts the world’s largest commodities fair in terms of floor space and the variety of goods it sells. In the lead up to the Beijing Olympic Games, the city is attracting a greater number of professional buyers and visitors every day. In today’s On the Road, let’s take a stroll in the city with our tour guide Ning Yan.

Yiwu has a population of 1.8 million, 60 percent of whom originate from other locations. Of the massive migrant population, more than 10,000 are business people and merchants from different countries and regions all over the world.

Jamil Alariki from Yemen is one of them. He and his family have lived in the city for 6 years.

Jamil has his own trade company called Five Oceans. He first came to China in 1994 as a medical student in a college in south China. He returned to Yemen after graduation and worked as a doctor.

However, a year later he discovered that medicine was not the career he hoped it would be. Seeking a way out, Jamil decided to come back to China to try his luck. He initially came to Guangzhou, the capital city of south China’s Guangdong Province in 2002.

“China’s economy is getting better and better. Most people in the Middle East purchase and consume Chinese products. Oil rich countries there do not manufacture but rely on imports for a majority of the products they consume. China is a main exporter of these products.”

Jamil registered his import and export garment company to function in Guangzhou. One year later, he left Guangzhou and moved to Yiwu, hoping to find more business opportunities.

“I came here because Yiwu is small with some concentrated market areas. The factories are quite near too. I find everything I need in four hours at most. But in Guangzhou, I would have to take an airplane and make a purchase in other provinces which was a great waste of time and money.”

With six employees in his company, Jamil’s business is expanding from garments to daily necessities and bed sets.

Jamil says there are 200 such companies from his country buying and selling a variety of products in Yiwu.

“I sell many kinds of products, from garments to bed sets. I also sell jewelry and other ornaments. I’m still trying to include even more varieties to meet customers’ needs.”

A typical daily routine sees Jamil arriving in the international commodity city, a high-rise building and the main location of the world’s largest commodities fair.

With numerous shops, the lobby of the building presents a clean and tidy image. Jamil passes by shops selling bags.

“You can find all sorts of bags here which are of very high quality and fashionable. They are export products sold not only in Arab countries but also in Europe, the United States and Africa.”

Jamil says the fair is so big that it would take as many as three months to visit every shop in the building, let alone all the markets in the city. With such a large fair, it’s hard to imagine that the city was a very small town only 15 years ago. Jamil recalls his first time in the city.

“I first came here ten years ago in 1998 when there was only one old market in the Garden Road and the city was mainly engaged in garbage disposal business. Trade started when substandard goods were brought to sell in the city at low prices. Later more businessmen and better quality goods were attracted to the fair which has gradually developed to today’s scale.”

In the main commodities hall, visitors can easily find everything they could possibly want, from daily necessities to jewelry and toys at much cheaper prices then elsewhere in the world. There are plenty of expensive products too, like world famous brand suitcases and leatherwear, and handicrafts.

Jamil says the cost for renting a storeroom can be high with some at the best locations setting you back as much as one million Yuan a year.

“For many manufacturers, the fair is their only reliable sales opportunity. A series of goods sold in the market are actually manufactured in the city, such as large and expensive industrial machines. Of course, most of the commodities sold here are manufactured in other provinces and cities.”

Jamil has been doing trade in Yiwu for six years now. Declining to reveal his income, Jamil says his company and business is medium-sized compared with other businesses in the fair. He says next year, he plans to set up a branch in Guangzhou, one of the largest cities and a business hub to be found in south China. Jamil says that although he is a Muslim, he feels very comfortable living in the city.

“Great progress has taken place since China opened to the outside world in the 1980s so there is a deepened understanding between the Chinese people and those from Middle Eastern countries.”

Jamil says that in his spare time he is free to go to a mosque and the family can always eat outside at one of the Chinese, Muslim or western style restaurants. He adds that a special service center and an international school for foreigners and their children are also being built in the city.

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