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A glimpse into the life of a Kunming fruit seller

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For a fruit seller in China, it's impossible to deny that the hours and work are demanding. And yet you can judge by the smile on her face that Zheng Hui (郑慧), a fruit vendor at my favorite Guandu wet market, is a woman who loves her occupation.

Demanding would be an understatement for her job description. Zheng's normal workday begins with a drive together with her husband. Each morning at 5am, they visit her distributors at a wholesale fruit market in Jinma Zhengchang Village (金马正昌村), near the intersection of Erhuan Dong Lu and Dongjiao Lu in the city's east. Back in Guandu, Zheng closes her shop when the surrounding market shuts down at about 8:30pm each night. She works seven days a week, every week of the year. No days off!

It's not easy to find good tasting fruit, even though Kunming is very close to many of Yunnan's fruit farming areas. Zheng's challenge is of course to find the best produce at the best price. How she does this each day is truly amazing and she has four criteria. Early each morning at her wholesalers, she judges the fruit by its color, its texture, the place where it was grown and the flavor, tasting each and every batch before making a purchase.

Although the majority of the work rests on her shoulders, Zheng has trusted helpers to assist in managing the daily jobs that keep her attractive shop running so well. It's simply too much work for one person. She takes great pleasure in knowing that her family is always behind her. Her husband, who runs a flower shop at a market nearby, helps her out from time to time in the busy hours, and her mother-in-law and father-in-law are often on hand during the afternoons. As a bystander, it is easy to tell she has a wonderful relationship with her family.

Zheng originally came from Chongqing, and says her incentive for starting in the fruit business was a simple love of eating fruit. She decided to move to Kunming to open a fruit shop because in her words, "Kunming has a lot of fruit." If she is near the source, she reasoned — near good fruit — then she would be successful.

In addition to her trusted family, Zheng has some business partners who are farmers and distributors from different places around the Kunming area. Her distributors live in Lanyi Village and they have been working together for many years. Over time, they have come to trust each other completely.

With farming and distribution methods constantly improving in China it's easy to imagine that she could solve her major difficulty soon, that of procuring products that are up to her exacting standards. To this end, she sees her early morning task as an integral part of her job, "I just can't find good quality fruit on a daily basis for my valued customers, that's my biggest problem."

To my amazement, Zheng has told me there's a new method of marketing fruit that has popped up recently — that of selling fruit on WeChat. It's hard to imagine buying fruit without seeing, touching, smelling, and maybe even tasting it first, but this way of doing delivery is starting to take hold in certain areas around university campuses.

WeChat aside, it's hard to beat coming to her shop. Zheng is always happy and smiling and as a regular customer, it makes me feel so good. With her prices fair and her advice honest, buying delicious fruit and nuts from her is a pleasure. I am fortunate to have found her and I quite agree when she says the thing she likes most about her business is that it gives her the opportunity to get to know people and become good friends.

Editor's note: Roz Weitzman has been working in China since 2005 as an international school principal and writer. An avid cook, Roz has published two cookbooks entitled "Roz Weitzman's World of Chinese Comfort Food" in both English and Chinese (a French language version will be available soon) and "Roz Weitzman's World of Yunnan Cuisine". Both titles can be purchased at www.rozweitzmansworld.com where you can also find more about her and her writings.

Images: Roz Weitzman

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You had me at that first picture! Nice article. Wechat some fruit, very interesting.

Nice article. More like this one would be awesome.

If I'm not mistaken, the wholesale market mentioned in the article also has a side with an extensive choice of frozen food. Many restaurants, shaokao vendors and meat sellers at wet markets get their supply there. Nice place to get cartons of steaks, chicken wings or seafood on the cheap if you have a big freezer.

Yep, excellent article. No days off whatsoever!? And I complain about my 4 weeks a year...

I imagine sensualists of all stripes have noticed that it's now mango season. I think I'd buy mangoes on wechat about as fast as I'd order mail-order brides. My appreciation of these people, and the fine friendly lady who sells fruit on my streetcorner, for keeping life here several jumps ahead of unadulterated electronic supermarket culture - which, I guess, has its strong points, but not when it comes to mangoes.

Thanks for the wonderful comments and keeping a positive spin on things! Check out "Exploring Kunming Bread: Guandu Baba" if you want more of the same. I'm currently researching/writing an article about my local Library Lady, who owns a private English and Chinese Children's Library. Regards, Roz

Great to get a glimpse of the daily Kunming life!

Call me picky, but I wouldn't necessarily say that farming methods are 'improving'. Yes, newer methods are producing higher yields, but some may claim that chemicals and mass-farming isn't an 'improvement' ;-)

@Yeah, it's always necessary to consider the question of yields of...what, exactly? The point of view of the individual farmer, who must live on a relatively low income, is bound to be different - understandably so - than that which might arise out of the broader concerns of those who have the privilege of being able to afford to think beyond more immediate concerns - so the farmer dumps on more chemicals, etc.

Another argument against skewed 'development' and its exaggerated economic inequalities.

Very cool article. I've often been fascinated by the paths that commodities take from the farm to the market. I think those of us foreigners living in Yunnan are very lucky. Much of the produce we get is coming from this very province. There are a lot of people in our home countries who can not say that. There are a lot of people in other provinces in China who cannot say that, either.

On a related note, here's a series of maps I made a while back of agricultural commodities in Yunnan:

Cool article, most fruit sellers in Kunming come from Sichuan province or Chongqing(same area),I do not think the reason she has choiced this business is that samplely she love eat fruit.

Thanks again for the wonderful comments. Keep them coming! I love to hear your opinions...especially that you like to learn about the lives of our locals here in KMG. It's true that there are other reasons for this woman to chose this business, and as foreigners we look at the bigger picture of things do not take everything at face value!

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