Sunday, September 19, 2010

Shaanxi Pomegranates

Qian and I went to the Chinese super market near our house today to buy moon cakes (月饼) for the students Qian is teaching this fall. I enjoy shopping at this Chinese market. We can buy a lot of Chinese food products that I hadn't realize would be available in America before coming back. Every trip to the market is good listening practice for me too; there are always tons of Chinese people there speaking their native tongue (which, unfortunately for me, is usually incomprehensible southern dialects). It really is a nice little slice of China in the middle of suburban Kansas City.

One of the things we saw today was pomegranates. They were expensive - $2.70 for one. We didn't get any hoping that they'll drop in the next couple weeks as we fully enter pomegranate season. But even assuming that the pomegranates do get a bit more affordable, I'm sure the market will never offer the quality of pomegranates I had in China.

Xi'an is right next to one of the pomegranate-growing capitals of China - Lintong, Shaanxi. At this time of year in Xi'an, pomegranates straight from the farms are everywhere. They generally range in price from 1 to 5 kuai ($.18 - $.80) depending on the quality. Over the three falls I lived in Xi'an, I became accustomed to having copious amounts of insanely good pomegranates at my disposal.

Talking about my Chinese home town and one of its greatest flavors, I feel as though I should share this great article I saw recently on Twitter painting a picture of Xi'an and Shaanxi Province:

Resource-rich Shaanxi has seen significant developments in the past few years, as this most traditional of Chinese provinces enters a new century full of hope, promise and a gleaming makeover of its capital city, Xi’an.

Like the most attractive of China’s magnets for investment, Shaanxi can rely on more than one component part for attracting development and creating opportunities. Coal supplies are plentiful and of a high quality, while the province also has large reserves of natural gas and oil. While that does give it a more hardened feel to life here, the province also boasts a rich cultural history, and that, coupled with excellence in engineering academia, gives Shaanxi a fairly unique character not found elsewhere in China. From the historical perspective, Shaanxi is considered one of the cradles of Chinese civilization.


Shaanxi’s mineral reserves are ranked the highest of all the provinces in China, and particularly coal, oil, and natural gas. Communist-led education to exploit this over the years has also led to the province having a very strong pool of well educated workers, ranked third in the country, only after Beijing and Shanghai, while most of Shaanxi’s universities – over 50 of them – provide education in many different engineering disciplines from aviation, dam building to coal and gas extraction, much of it pioneering work. Shaanxi has an additional 2,000 science and technology research institutes, and these have taken a leading role in R&D in aerospace, equipment manufacturing, electronics, and agriculture.

Shaanxi’s GDP has been developing well over the last few years, growing at about 12.5 percent per annum since 2004, and with now the expanding secondary sector accounting for 54.9 percent of this figure. Shaanxi’s nominal GDP for 2009 was RMB818.7 billion (US$112 billion) while GDP per capita was RMB21,729 (US$43,179), ranking it 14th in the PRC. The minimum wage in Xi’an is RMB760.

Natural resources are crucial to Shaanxi’s development – the province ranks third in coal production, and fifth in oil production nationwide. A complete industrial system comprising high technology, fruit, animal husbandry, tourism, national defense, energy and chemical industries also developed and is well integrated. Large reserves of natural resources have been a spur to heavy industry such as oil drills, and equipment for mining, railways, petroleum, and chemical processing. In agriculture, the main produce is fruit and grain. Regulations are also in place to encourage investments in infrastructure, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, metallurgy, machinery, electronics, light industry, and building materials. Utilized foreign investment in the province was US$1.2 billion in 2009, and has proven sustainable at about this figure over the past decade.

Read On
Shaanxi Province is one of China's most interesting. It's the cradle of Chinese civilization. It's topography - largely mountains and loess plateau - is unique. And it's one of the poorest yet fastest-growing provinces in China.

Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is a place that I'd recommend to any foreigner traveling to China or wanting to live abroad. The pace of life for a big city is very relaxed. Another positive is that Xi'an is not as overrun with foreigners as it seems other coastal cities in China (not that having a thriving ex-pat scene is necessarily a bad thing). There are scores of universities and job opportunities there. And as evidenced by the above article, it's not a bad place to get familiarized with for business purposes.

I'm not sure exactly why I'm writing this post. I suppose seeing pomegranates at the Chinese supermarket reminded me of my Chinese 第二个故乡 (second home). I have such warm memories and such a positive impression of Xi'an and Shaanxi in my mind.


Ramesh said...

Its very nice Mark to see you feeling Xian as your second home. That's true assimilation into a different culture - very creditable.

On a tangent, I wonder if the overseas Chinese, many of whom are Cantonese and who left China ages ago , can even relate to modern day China. They can probably barely speak Mandarin and perhaps wouldn't have kept pace with the dramatic developments back home. Something like this happened to the Indians who went to South Africa in the early 190os and were marooned by apartheid. Given that China has changed enormously in a very short time, I wonder what the overseas Chinese make of it.

Anonymous said...

We have a huge Chinese community in Vegas with several Chinese grocery stores. The quality and the price of the produce blows away anything you can find at the mainstream chain stores. My wife does all our produce shopping and all of it at the Chinese markets.

With regards to Ramesh's comment, I don't know how it is in other cities, but many of the Chinese here are still supporting families and many plan on going back to China for retirement. I gather the Chinese who are descendents of those early Cantonese settlers have long ago lost the ability to speak Cantonese and many probably don't relate much to China anymore.

Anonymous said...

Should read "still supporting families back in China".

Lynnette said...

Hey Mark,

Just want to say, another great post - I just left China a little over 5 months ago, and not a shopping trip goes by without me missing it. I'm already planning my next travel trip there and will be sure to include shanxi! Thanks! (those pomegrantes look absolutely delish in the picture! )


Mark said...

I would think that there is a disconnect for those who've lived long-term in the US outside of China. And given Hong Kong's tenuous relationship with the mainland (particularly before the last 15 years or so), I don't think there'd be much of a connection at all with those people.

I'm sure that there are many who are still tied to China though.

I've highlighted articles on here before about Chinese people leaving US and western countries to return to China. It's getting to the point where it very well may be smarter economically to stay in China. People are still going to emigrate to the US, but Chinese people don't have to go abroad to have opportunities any more.

For what it's worth, Qian has taught/is teaching Mandarin to a few students whose parents are living in the US. Chinese people want their kids to be able to speak Mandarin. Even white, non-Chinese, parents want that now!

Mark said...

@Lynette - Let me know if you have any questions before you go to Shaanxi. I'd be able to give a few ideas!

Anonymous said...

Did you try Price-Chopper or local grocery store for pomegranates?
They sell there too. I think they are even cheaper there.
Anqi Parkville, Missouri

andy said...

The CHEAP and copious amount of pomegranates were definitely awesome Mark...

Mark said...

@Anqi - I think you're right. They should get cheaper. We have a Hen House and Price Chopper close to us, so we'll be good on that front!

@Andy - You were in China during this time of year. That was a great time to be out traveling - not too hot, not too cold. Twas an epic time.