Our third stop was Kunming,
in Yunnan Province, southwest
Closer to the Tibetan border than to Beijing or Shanghai, it wasn't
really the rural environment I had imagined it would be – the metro area has
about 2 million people. The city is more
cosmopolitan than one would expect for a variety of reasons. Known as the “city
of eternal spring” it was the location of the Empress Dowager’s Summer Palace. In the early 1900’s, it was a city to which
many political “undesirables” were banished.
It was the base for the US’
Flying Tigers for nearly a decade during World War II. And, it is now home to eleven colleges and
Compared with Beijing and Shanghai, though, there
were some seams showing. A question
about the cost of hiring a programmer prompted a vocal debate between a
government official and a local businessman.
The “five star” hotel did not have the same customer service we
experienced in the first two cities.
There were exchanges with hotel staff that, due to cultural or language
differences, could have been straight out of Monty Python. In one, a hotel clerk insisted that I needed
to talk to the concierge, pointed me around the corner of the check-in counter,
and then turned to face me as the concierge when I had walked there. In another, the business office attendant who
was arranging to ship things, repeatedly handed back select items, announcing
“You can carry this.”
On the other hand, their impression of the US has its seams too. Yunnan
school faculty members often come to MIT for training, so there’s a close
relationship there. We were greeted very
warmly at the school with a large banner, a reception, a group photo, and
gifts. When we came back to town on
Sunday (read about the weekend soon), a number of us went out with a number of
the MBA students. It was an invigorating
evening of conversation, in which it turned out that they had very similar
business ideas to ours. But, it turns
out that they get “Sex in the City” and I had to explain that women lawyers in New York (which I had
been) did not generally live, dress, or behave like the women on the show!