’Alibaba? It’s not for us, we go for top quality’

    A cup of coffee? Not at the Chinese nurseries that we’re visiting today! They welcomed us with a traditional tea ceremony and demonstrated at the same time their modern technology for sales and marketing.

    China is a large country, where distances between cities are huge. The tree nurseries that we’re visiting today are a three-hour drive away from Ningbo, in Jinhua. The climate here is slightly different, the roads are lined with large numbers of Cycas plants. Even more striking are macro bonsai trees made of Podocarpus. And lots of Camellia.

    These aren’t traditional Chinese plants. They were imported from Japan, just like the skills needed for professional pruning of those Podocarpus trees. We watch a Chinese worker busy with the job, while he’s smoking a cigarette.

    Our hosts explain that the nursery grows whatever the Chinese market demands. New, more exclusive products, for use in gardens and landscaping projects, is the current trend. We don’t hear the sales price of one of those macro bonsai, but I bet it’s quite a few yuan. Judging by the fast cars that these growers are driving, they seem to be quite well off.

    The ceremony proceeds at a slow pace. The growers silently prepare tea for their guests and poor it in small cups. One slurp and it’s gone. But in the meantime, new tea has been made for the next round. They don’t brew it by the pot, as that would spoil the delicate flavour of the tea.

    Smartphones stay within easy reach all the time. Every incoming call is answered immediately. It could be an order, or a response to a promotion photograph or video, after all. Or another grower, sharing some new information with the group.

    ’No more computers’, says one of the Chinese men with a big smile. The Huawei does it all. Everything is managed through apps and texts. The conversation turns to e-commerce. And we’re talking about Alibaba, which had our Chinese hosts burst out with laughter. ’Alibaba? That’s all cheap stuff. It’s not for us, we go for top quality.’

    Photos by Arno Engels

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