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Xinjiang herders embrace e-commerce convenience
2018-10-25 source:Chinadaily
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Courier delivers 20 to 40 parcels a day to people in hard-to-reach communities

It was 9 am, and courier Ma Yong and a co-worker were loading parcels onto a van at the Qinghe county logistic distribution center, before setting out for the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region's remote Sandaohaizi Valley, where most local herders graze their flocks in summer.

Around the same time, herder Kusayen Halidulla and his family were packing up in the valley, in northwestern China, in preparation for the migration to their fall pasture.

Ma drove out of town, down a winding mountain road. Two hundred kilometers away, Halidulla was waiting eagerly. He had received a text message from Ma that morning informing him to expect delivery.

That delivery was a motorcycle he had ordered online so he could ride it during the migration.

Like the other 300 herder families in Sandaohaizi, Halidulla's family have preserved the traditions of their ancestors - grazing their livestock and migrating to fresh pastures. They live in portable yurts that have no postal address.

A year ago, Halidulla had to travel 80 km to town by bus to buy coats and boots for the migration.

"To go shopping, we used to set out before sunrise and wouldn't get back home until sunset," he said. "It was a long ride. Products in the shops were expensive, and we didn't have many options."

This year, however, roads were paved and optical fiber cables installed in the area. With the rapid development of logistics, herders can finally join the world's largest e-commerce market. With 569 million online shoppers, China saw online retail sales hit 4.08 trillion yuan ($591 billion) in the first half of this year.

To promote e-commerce among herders, the local government has set up a service station, equipped with computers, and trained young herders to help people browse online. The government also works with e-commerce companies to give couriers subsidies for trekking around the prairies and mountains.

Ma serves seven villages. He usually calls the buyers in advance, and the herders can either collect the parcels at the service station or ask Ma to deliver them to an agreed place, be it a large stone by the river, or a tree on the pasture.

He delivers about 20 to 40 parcels a day in Halidulla's village, mostly clothes, shoes and household supplies, but also large items like portable washing machines and portable solar water heaters. He has even delivered a pet tortoise.

Halidulla had ordered the motorcycle online a week earlier from a seller in Chongqing, southwestern China.

"All my family, even my parents, use cellphones," he said. "We buy everything online now; food, clothes, furniture, and even tools to build yurts."

At 2 pm, Ma's van arrived at Halidulla's yurt. The couriers unloaded the huge box from the van, and unwrapped the packing. Halidulla couldn't wait to take the motorcycle for a ride.

"I can ride on the hills faster and save on all the horse feeding and saddling," he said, twisting the throttle to hear the roar.

"It's so much easier than riding a horse, but it was too much hassle to buy a motorcycle in the past."

Bidding farewell to another happy customer, Ma set off on his next delivery. He said it was sometimes hard to drive on the snowy mountain roads, but herders on horseback would occasionally help out.

Content with his purchase, Halidulla rode the new bike to lead his family and flock on their migration.

He stopped to graze his flock, and, leaning on his motorcycle, began to browse the internet on his cellphone.

"I want to buy a coat for the winter, and some skin care products for my wife," he said. "It's hard to choose from so many options. I'm waiting for Nov 11 - the Singles Day shopping festival - when online retailers have promotions."

A delivery van travels to the Sandaohaizi Valley in Qinghe county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, to deliver goods ordered on e-commerce platforms by herders living on the pastures. Photos by Jiang Wenyao / Xinhua