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Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Sat, Aug 19, 2006 @ 01:08 AM

Our third stop was Kunming, in Yunnan Province, southwest China.  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 universities. 


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 University business 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!




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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, China, Kunming