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Pinggu District: A valley with a value

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By Talibeh Hydara

I have been in Beijing for ten days now. It’s very close to the longest I have been away from my family. But the excitement has been nothing sort of extraordinary. Last Wednesday, we were billed to visit Pinggu District, roughly 70km outside Beijing and I had eaten different dishes the day before. Knowing how funny my digestive system is, I had anticipated a potential stomach upset. Like in Nigeria, the Jollof rice and the soup were too pepperish that some of my colleagues spent more time on the toilet seat than on the seat in the lecture hall. It was a disaster!

Moving out of our residence at DRC, a few hundred meters near the ultramodern Galaxy Soho in Chaoyang, the traffic was static but the streets came to life.

As the bus moved, sitting on the right side and curiously observing the skyscrapers; Industrial Bank Building, BRCB, China National Opera House, Oriental Garden Hotel, were all on the same string. There is flyover over flyover. Beijing is a work of art.

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The roads are immaculate. The size. The texture. The design. All top-class. From the Dongwei road to the Pingfang bridge, everything looks like a well-oiled machine.

Welcome to Pinggu District. It means ‘flat valley’ in Chinese and it is a stunning ecological conservation district; mountains on the east, west and north sides of the settlement and plain valley in the middle.

Pinggu announces itself at the entrance without needing signposts. It is littered with carefully planted trees on either side of the road; from Tonghui, Muyan, Misan, Cuixing to Pingsan highways.

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It’s not just the trees. There is a beautiful scenery of sheep raring, greenhouses and local fish ponds. Pinggu is small, a little less than half a million people, but its production capacity and potential are admirably unmatched. 

It’s violin time

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Our first port of call was to the famous Beijing Huadong Musical Instrument Co, Ltd, initiated by the revered Dai Hongxiang, Wang Chonggui, two top-class violin makers. It is simply a violin-making complex. We were introduced to all types of violins and their worth, the making of violins and, though rather brief, even playing them. Making a violin is no child’s play. We’re told that 246 tools are needed to make a violin. I don’t think even a human being would need as many tools to be made. Requiring a genius craftmanship skill, the stages of violin making shows an intricate process leading to perfection and global appeal. And all the different colors on a violin are extracted from natural ingredients.

For over three decades, the Beijing Huadong Musical Instrument Co, Ltd has blazed the trail for the making of violin family and their violins are sold in more than 30 countries and regions, such as Europe, America and Southeast Asia.

It brags that “one out of every three violins in the world are produced in Donggaocun town”.

It was a relishing experience for me. I have always wanted to play at least one instrument; drum, violin, guitar, kora, or any other musical instrument. Maybe, just maybe, that instrument is a violin and I might just start learning now. 

Zixingyuan food company

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On the schedule, it was specifically stated that it would be a full day. So, I don’t think any of us was happier visiting any other place than a food company.

Zixingyuan Food Technology Co, Ltd is just two years old, covering 12, 900 square meters and with a total investment of 120 million yuan.

The state-of-the-art food company has a processing center that mainly produces meat, condiments, frozen pasta and rice products, hot-processed pastries, pre-made dishes, among others.

It also has a production center divided into a pastry workshop and a cooked-meat workshop, producing 

Mantou, Huajuan (steamed bread), Tanghuoshao (steamed buns with brown sugar and sesame paste), Zenggao (glutinous rice cakes with red beans and dates), sesame paste-flavored shaobing (small wheat cake sprinkled with sesame seeds), beef pies, Tongguanbing (Chinese hamburger), Jiaozi (dumplings), Wonton, fresh noodles, and semi-dry noodles, and others.

After showing us how food is produced, processed, packaged, weighed and labelled, we were asked to taste. But we almost ate all of it. I roamed between the marinated quail eggs and duck necks like a hungry fox. I didn’t touch the chicken feet though but I love it. A few among the group argued that there’s nothing to eat on chicken feet. Yes, there is, people. Back home in The Gambia, especially a local chicken, biting its ‘phalanges’ is a joy for me. I’m drawn to it. But to avoid embarrassment, I stayed away from this one. I would have violated the chicken feet.

The group perched on the line-up of different foods like vultures. In 10 minutes, half of the foods, which were only meant to be tasted, have been devoured. The food tasting led us to a nice lunch on a beautiful revolving table, after the ladies among us were all given flowers in observance of International Women’s Day. It was a very thoughtful gesture from our hosts. I must admit I had never seen a revolving table before, only in movies. I don’t even feel embarrassed to mention it because the only thing revolving in The Gambia is poverty. 

Yukou poultry

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Beijing WOD Chen-Long Biotechnology Ltd has three competitive companies: Yukou Poultry, specializing in poultry breeding; Smart Food, specializing in chicken processing; and Wode Botron, specialising in the digital economy. It is the world’s largest egg breeder and the leader in agricultural industrialization. With 16 branches and subsidiaries across 12 provinces and cities in China, it has 400,000 grandparent breeders, and 5 million parent breeders with an annual capacity of 250 million chicks and pullets, accounting for over 50% of the market. This is an astonishing complex that blew my mind.  If you know me, then you will know I don’t just love eating chickens, I love buying chicks. In my modest home, I would buy chicks from the market and, because I don’t have money to regularly buy feeds, I would just let them grow among the local chickens. So, the chicks go out and peck whatever is available to them. Pecking insects and other things also makes them stronger than the normal chickens. That is my form of subsistence poultry. There are just two things I would definitely leave journalism for: diplomacy and poultry. It was a spellbinding experience visiting the Yukou poultry and seeing how a top-notch poultry operates and having the opportunity to even pick chicks which were only a day old. It was life-changing. We even witnessed a local cooking competition.  

Grazing the strawberry farm

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The last place we visited was Nanying Doctor Farm, a cold-formed steel structure greenhouse developed by a team based on years of experience and research in agricultural production.

It has a unique strawberry planting method, allowing the plants to grow naturally without any growth hormones and no soil. There is also a distinctive pest and weed control method.

The farm was lively. The strawberries have grown and most of them already red and ripe for harvest. Our host said we’re free to pluck it and taste. I guess he didn’t get the memo of what we did at the food factory. We don’t tase; we consume. We were unleashed on the farm and in no time, the ripe strawberries became scarce. And because it was so delicious and we couldn’t just keep eating, some people had to buy the packaged ones.

We also visited the Jingwa Centre, which sets a firm footing in scientific and technological research and development in the drive to independent innovation.

Pinggu is incredible. It’s a small place that can teach big places big things. China is ahead. Very far ahead. The rest of us have got some catching up to do. Follow me as I continue to bring Beijing to Banjul.   

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