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.