It’s an industrial city, it’s where retailers and wholesalers go to buy goods and it seems to be a place that offers a wealth of employment opportunities. For us, it was five days in Yiwu scouring the International Trade City and walking an average of 10 kilometres a day through its gargantuan buildings and surrounding districts.
One thing I can confidently say is that it’ll be quite some time before Yiwu joints the likes of Paris, Rio or even Dubbo as a must-see travel destination.
Now that I’ve been here three times I’ve grown to appreciate this town for what it is. And since my last work trip to Yiwu four years ago, I’ve noticed some significant changes. A whole new downtown area that sprung up from an empty plot of land and a great deal of roadside garden landscaping and riverside wetlands that help colour up what’s an otherwise bleak-looking city.
Ok, that’s not entirely true. There are many pockets of well-established parks that help clear some of that pollution that blankets this part of China. I even noticed mountains on the edge of the city this time around, something that was enveloped by thick haze on my last two visits.
See that cluster of towers in the below photo? None of that was there four years ago, and a similar new cluster is located to the right of it. The economy here is clearly on the up.
Work usually started at 9am, which meant I had time to hit the streets and laneways bright and early to discover more parts of the city.
Tucked in the backstreets near the Ramada, where we stayed, I stumbled upon a couple of places serving up breakfast to the locals. This little hole in the wall specialised in youtiao – fried sticks of dough – and something very similar to cong hua bing, which I watched being made.
Well then that’s breakfast sorted.
Basically the guy rolled out some dough, layered it with spring onions and bits of meat, covered it, flattened it, then baked it in the barrel-like wood oven infront of his shop. At only ¥2 each, I grabbed a couple, parked my backside on one of the minuscule wooden stools on the pavement, and tucked into the freshly-baked goodness.
A mother and child joined my rickety table, themselves devouring youtiao with a bowl of warmed soy milk with sugar added to it.
The pocket of the city I was exploring kept drawing me in, urging me to wander around every corner. A labyrinth of passages buzzing with people heading for work, going for a morning stroll or setting up market stands. And something tells me they may not get foreigners in their neighbourhood too often, judging by the many double takes I received. Or maybe it was my freakish height in comparison to their 5-foot-nothingness.
I ended up at the place I always started my days on previous visits to Yiwu. Xiaozici Park. It’s the most perfect spot to recharge and start the day. Women dancing, men doing tai chi, dogs running about and others simply walking around.
Many pathways snake around a lotus-filled waterway, with hills and pockets of shaded forest to enjoy. The serenity was purely intoxicating.
From greenery in the park to the grit of industrial Yiwu. Talk about a contrast in landscapes. I guess we were here for work, but at least we could stop at one of the numerous food stations in Trade City to keep the energy levels up.
Our favourite one was the newer food hall we ate at last time. Namely because they serve the most incredible soya beans ever – tossed with a little chilli, tiny bits of pork and not much more. We arrived pretty late as there were only dregs left after the main lunch rush, but still enough to choose from.
Another new favourite was the stir-fried mushrooms, tofu and minced pork. So incredibly tasty.
I craved some dumplings and chose the only two that were available – one with finely chopped tofu and vegetables and another with pumpkin and ginger. They’re simply tossed into boiling water, drained and quickly caramelised on a hotplate. Sensational.
Closer to home – the Ramada, that is – we took an after-work stroll to a neighbourhood market we went to on the last visit. It’s hidden away on a road between Huagong Road and Xiaozici Park, runs from morning to evening and is a fascinating place to explore.
So much fresh food!
This trip to Yiwu introduced us to waxberries, or yang-mei, a fruit we’d never tried before. The incredibly juicy fruit is native to China and has a sweet tart flavour like a cross between cherry, mulberry and loquat.
Cooked meat and offal – some you recognise, others are a pure guessing game.
Snake beans, eggplant, melons and the freshest young ginger I’ve ever seen. Or how about some white cherries? The produce at Chinese markets is undeniably fresh and the cherry tomatoes are the best I’ve ever eaten. Nothing at home in Australia, or anywhere else I’ve travelled compares.
So much to see in the gritty backstreets near Gongren N Road. Notice all the caged in balconies on the old apartments in the next photo? Something tells me this may not be a flash part of town.
View from my room at the Ramada. I found it all too easy to crack open a local beer, sit and be mesmerised by that traffic circle at night.
Another place that’s worthy of a visit is Luo Binwang Park – built to commemorate Luo Binwang, a famous poet born in Yiwu in BC627 during the Tang Dynasty.
It’s a beautiful place to meander and explore, relax and escape the busy city outside its walls. It’s said that the park was built on the place where Luo frequently visited as a child, and many say that his spirit still lingers there today.
Not too far from Luo Binwang Park is Xiuhu Lake Park, home to the Da’an temple tower – built in 1110 AD. It’s an impressive old structure overlooking the lake, which is the centrepiece to this beautiful park in the middle of Yiwu.
Every morning it’s filled with hundreds of people exercising, singing, socialising or just sitting about. A couple of pavilion complexes can be found near the tower, one of which is used as exhibition space as well as somewhere to sit and play cards or chess.
The music here was blaring and those people were getting right into their group exercise session. Kind of like an exercise flash mob!
Would love to know what this guy was writing with water on the pavement. Can anyone enlighten me?
A few people set up shop on the walkway, selling things like ginseng, trinkets and books. You could smell that ginseng a mile away!