Oct 15, 2020|

Stubborn Flowers: A Couple at a JD Station in the Gobi Desert


by Kelly Dawson

At night the Gobi Desert of northwestern China can be cool like icy waters; at the height of day the heat can be scalding and relentless. Vegetation is rare, and one can drive for kilometers with little sign of life.

For many years, the area’s windy, freezing to blistering conditions made it a “no go zone” for express delivery. Then, in 2016, a JD Logistics truck arrived, announcing the opening of a JD delivery station here on the dusty outskirts of the city of Jiuquan, Gansu province.

Huang Yanhua was one of two original employees at the station. On that first day she accompanied the stationmaster on the maiden voyage to deliver packages. As they arrived at the final address that evening, they discovered that the information had been entered incorrectly. They were 60 kilometers away from the correct address.

Huang wondered aloud whether they might deliver the package the following day. As the stationmaster started the engine, his response was firm: “No matter how far away, the package must be delivered today.” True to his word, the final package was delivered around 11 pm.

Since then, the red JD truck has become a staple, picking up and delivering packages across the area night and day. Behind the wheel most days is Huang, who since the stationmaster’s departure now runs the station.

Since then, the red JD truck has become a staple, picking up and delivering packages across the area night and day.

Today Huang wears a thick coat, bundled for protection against the temperature drop of 20°C after sunset. Before departure, she sorts the nearly 200 packages according to the distance of the delivery addresses, and stacks them neatly in the back of the truck. As always, the stationmaster’s credo remains fresh in her mind. Whatever difficulties she may face—wind, rain, scorching sun, inaccurate delivery information, or more—she intends to deliver every package by night’s end.

Since Huang began working at the station four years ago, daily packages have risen from 30 to as high as 500 orders a day. That original JD truck has been upgraded, from 4 meters across to 9 meters. After the original stationmaster left and deliveries increased, Huang knew she needed an assistant—but job inquirers always disappeared when they learned the location of the station.

Eventually, her husband Wei Wei quit his job and joined her at the station as support staff. The couple’s son is taken care of by a grandparent when they are at work, and they are fortunate that the boy is obedient and appreciative of their sacrifices, Huang said.

While Wei Wei originally joined the team to simply support his wife, over time he began to truly believe in the value and function of the station, he said. Knowing that their delivery services improved the lives of locals living in the area was deeply satisfying.

“There is an old grandmother who likes to order snacks, and she always shares them with us. She likes to brag sometimes that she’s a JD Plus member,” Huang recounted, laughing. “Sometimes she feels upset that she gets to sit comfortably at home while we are out in the elements battling the weather each day and thanks us profusely, but we always tell her it’s our duty.”

Other locals have also expressed their appreciation for the couple. Huang described one customer who does scientific research in an isolated location. “He left us a message saying, “I finish work very late each night, and I feel like I’m in good hands with you, knowing that my packages will always arrive safely.”

Life in the desert can be eventful too, Huang said. Earlier this year as the pandemic receded in China, the nearby Jiuquan Satellite Base opened its doors to outdoor vehicles for the first time in months. During that time 2,600 packages for staff at the base had piled up at the JD station. With the stationmaster’s credo in mind, Huang and her husband worked late into the night, disinfecting each and every package with alcohol before delivering the items to each customer at the base, ensuring the highest safety standards.

This year Huang Yanhua and Wei Wei received the 8th JDL first-line award, officially recognizing their commitment to growing the distant JD station, which despite difficult conditions has flourished like a stubborn flower in the desert.

As Huang loads the truck tonight, she tells the story for which the city of Jiuquan (酒泉 literally means “Wine Spring”) is named. During the Western Han dynasty, a distinguished military general named Huo Qubing (霍去病,140 BC – 117 BC) won a battle in the Gobi Desert and was later awarded by the emperor with a jar of precious wine. The jar was not large enough to ensure that all of his men could have a taste—so he poured it into a creek, and he and the soldiers drank at the water’s edge together.

Locals tell this story often, Huang said. She loads the last of the packages, which will be delivered to residents across the area with care. Her work is also like fine wine, she says, poured on a barren expanse and shared by all who greet her on the journey.