Since 2018, dubbed as the world capital of small commodities, Yiwu had already been home to around 15,000 foreign business people. Many of them came after H.Qayoum Azimi from Afghanistan, the very first foreign face in Yiwu.
His first pot of gold in Yiwu
As early as in 1998, when many Chinese people were eager to find opportunities elsewhere, Azimi spotted China's Yiwu as a hidden gem. "I wanted to know Yiwu, a name that was usually printed on the products from China."
The now one-day flight from Afghanistan to China took him 4 days at that time. "I had to transfer in Islamabad of Pakistan on my way from Kabul to Urumqi, from where I fly to Hangzhou to take a long distance bus to Yiwu."
Among the very few things in his suitcase, a bag of nuts was equally divided into 4 shares for his 4-day energy tank; some banknotes were well-bundled to buy things that could worth several more bundles when shipped back to his home.
When in the market, not understanding each other, numbers became the universal language for Azimi and the local Yiwu dealers, and calculators were the most accurate translators. "Yiwu people always made me full of respect," said Azimi.
A born businessman
Born in a business family in Afghanistan, Azimi's business talent runs in his blood. He learnt his negotiation skills from his father, and practiced behind the counter when it was even taller than him in his childhood.
Azimi's hometown Parwan Province used to be a breathtaking and vibrant valley, each year attracting thousands of international visitors, before the outbreak of Soviet–Afghan War.
As all doors were closed at night, his family business fell to the bottom of the pendulum. A few days later he was found joining some soldiers to eat watermelon to the noises of bombs and gunfire.
From the brief chatting, the soldiers recognized that this guy was not one of them. But instead of being pointed by a gun, Azimi ended up selling them 10 bags of batteries. "My father was exceedingly worried about me. But as I told him, I wanted to pursue a high-quality life even in tough times."
A new Yiwuer
On his first trip to Yiwu, Azimi got a clear message that China could secure him a good life.
In 2004, Azimi opened his trading company in Yiwu, mainly exporting products to Afghanistan under the country's high demand for consuming goods. As his business expanded, he opened offices in India, the USA, and European countries.
Due to different time zones in these countries, after the normal daytime shift Azimi would move his "office" to open-air food stalls. Talking on the phones with his foreign partners while dinning at the stalls, he couldn't help having a mixed feeling of being exotic and native. "Now most of those stalls have been upgraded to indoor restaurants," said Azimi.
Having been living in Yiwu for 2 decades and witnessing the changes, Azimi knows the city to a hair, if not better than the GPS. "Go straight ahead and turn right at the corner, you will find the bank," said Azimi, a fluent yet illiterate Chinese speaker, who acquired the language from daily conversations.
A China fan
A few years ago Azimi convinced Mr. Amiri, the president of Canada-Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce to visit China, who later described the visit "eye-opening".
Following Mr. Amiri was a filming team from Kabul News arranged by Azimi to capture the real China. In years this China fan has been actively promoting cultural exchanges between China and Afghanistan.
Just as he pointed out in an interview by CCTV during the second China International Import Expo (CIIE), "For those who haven't seen China, they wouldn't know the real China, nor would they understand how big this market is."
Azimi started to import goods like olive oil, saffron, and honey to China the same year CIIE opened the market to the world. "With CIIE, bringing Afghan products to China now is at the right time."
Currently Azimi has three big projects undergoing: first to participate in the 4th CIIE and then to open a new office in Hangzhou. The third, which Azimi always puts on the top of the list, has been carrying on good cause. With his sponsorship, many underprivileged kids in Yiwu are able to finish high school and even go to college. "I hope every good person may receive help when in need, like me, and like these kids."
May this humble and sincere man succeed！