In Pokhara, everyone is an expert on specific locations in China. When you tell someone you are from China, they will not be satisfied with this answer like people from other regions of Nepal. Instead, they will ask, “Which province are you from?” Then they start listing cities. “Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Nanjing……”
After the earthquake of April25th, Nepal has become a less attractive tourist destination all of a sudden for most Chinese. Pokhara is one of the most significant tourist destinations in Nepal, but due to an earthquake which did not really reach this city, tourism has been suffering for months.
Chinese are “our main source of a living”
It was 10 o’clock in the morning. Mohammed Shafi, a 39-year-old Muslim man, was doing regular prayers with his two Muslim friends in his shop, “Mohammed Art.” On the front door of his shop, there was a sentence in Chinese: “不坑爹 童叟無欺”，which means prices are cheap and the shop’s owner won’t cheat his customers. It is a commonly used sentence for Chinese business people. The majority of customers for Shafi are Chinese — or were before the earthquake.
“I had a lot of guests everyday — 90 % of which were from China,” he said. At that time, he opened his shop at 8 a.m in the morning and closed at 11 p.m. After the earthquake, he only works 8 hours a day, from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Shafi was worried about the loss of tourists these days. He said,“ If Chinese do not come, Nepalis [would ] have no food.” Shafi got a new 50 RMB note from a Chinese tourist on April 25th, the day the earthquake happened. Since then, he has not seen any RMB for about two months because no Chinese tourists have been into his shop.
“I could have closed my shop and gone back home. But what can I do at home?” Shafi said, expressing the frustrations that have grown for many shop and restaurant owners in the tourist town.
But he was still optimistic about the future of his own business and the tourism in Nepal. He said, “I insist on opening my shop everyday — what if somebody comes to me at some point?”
Pokhara — Relatively Unaffected By Earthquake
Ramesh Subedi is the owner of Lotus handicraft and Gift center. His shop has a Chinese name 等風來批發店, originating from the name of a Chinese film shot in Nepal. 80 % of his customers were Chinese. In the beginning, he knew little Chinese and Chinese customers knew neither Nepali nor English. In order to speak with Chinese, Subedi learned some Chinese over two years of working in the retail business in Pokahara. Now, he has not practiced his Chinese for two months.
Subedi remembered on the day of earthquake, he felt small shakes and some products fell down from the shelves.But nothing serious happened. He repeated one sentence “No big problem” in terms of the actual influence of the earthquake in Pokhara. He thought the tourists were frightened by reports from the media. “Media of other countries were saying that there are big problems in Nepal; some worn houses indeed fell down in Kathmandu, but no building fell down in Pokhara,” Subedi said.
Though the earthquake occurred in the Kathmandu Valley, it has has a large impact on the whole nation, especially in terms of tourism.
Things Will Get Better
In Shri Kalachakra Mandala Thangka Workshop, Shri Kalachakra,a Buddhist and painter, was painting a Tangka, a scroll painting, an art of Tibetan Buddhism. He has been painting since he was a teenager. Now, his daughter is 18 years old. His family had a tradition of painting Thangka. He learned the skill from his father. But his daughter was unwilling to learn the Thangka painting skills. He let her make her own choice, without compelling her to follow his expectations.
Kalachakra’s daughter and his wife sat in the shop, playing with their cellphones. He seemed quite calm about his business though few customers came to him since April 25th. “I’ll try to make more works of art these days, and people will be back someday,” he said, putting his paintbrush aside for a while.
“If only a group of Chinese from a small town come to Nepal, our business will re-boom, our life will be saved,” ShaFi said, looking outside the windows of his shop. Outside his shop was one of the main streets of Pokhara. Last June, this street was crowded with foreign tourists, especially Chinese. Now, one or two Nepalese walked by his souvenir shop without stopping. Shafi stood at the door, looking as if he were thinking about what to do next. He is one of hundreds of worried businessmen in Pokhara.