Arab, Muslim traders call China market town home

Tue May 5, 2009 4:54am EDT
 
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By Jason Subler and Zhou Xin

YIWU, China (Reuters Life!) - Saied Elnagdi is at the heart of the growing trade links between China and Muslim nations, and the 26-year-old Egyptian loves it.

Elnagdi runs a bustling cafe-restaurant in the center of Yiwu, a famed wholesale market town in the eastern province of Zhejiang, known for its hard-driving private enterprises.

His clientele: the tens of thousands of Muslim traders who live here or pass through regularly to buy small consumer goods that eventually find their way into homes from Kabul to Cairo.

"Here, I don't feel like I'm living in a foreign country," Elnagdi said in his restaurant, the smell of scented tobacco permeating the air. "This is my second home."

And Yiwu does feel like home for many Arabs and Muslims because the town has become a magnet for merchants from Afghanistan to South Africa.

Traders plying the markets occasionally pause from bargaining over everything from doorknobs to wall hangings to pray in the hallways. On Fridays, thousands gather at the local mosque for prayers, often meeting up with friends afterwards for kebabs and conversation in the stalls set up out front.

Touts outside the mosque even offer to illegally install satellite television channels to help the homesick keep up with news from back home.

"Everybody knows about this place," said Mahomed Paruk, a South African trader spending a couple of months in Yiwu during his first trip here. "I've always been meaning to come here."   Continued...

 
<p>People gather outside a mosque in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, after prayers April 24, 2009. Yiwu does feel like home for many Arabs and Muslims because the town has become a magnet for merchants from Afghanistan to South Africa. Picture taken April 24, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Subler</p>