Off DeWall: A Tale of Two City Blocks

            Opulence and squalor usually seem worlds apart. Country clubs usually don’t border low-income housing, designer clothing stores purposefully keep access to their goods limited to only a certain clientele (if you haven’t seen the movie Pretty Woman, watch it and you’ll get the reference), and the checking accounts that most people take for granted are a privilege offered only to people who have quality credit. Yet, I just experienced an exception to this rule.

            I just landed in Kunming, which is a town in southwestern China. My hosts Xinyue Zhou, Ding-guo Gua, and I flew here to attend the biennial Asian Association of Social Psychology conference. (We’re usually in a town called Guangzhou, which is located in south central China.)

            Kunming is simply gorgeous. I’m staying at a beautiful resort called the “Crystal Place.” It has a huge pool, waterfalls, and the biggest koi pond (and koi fish) I’ve ever seen. They call Kunming the “Spring City” because the weather is like spring all year. It’s about 26 degrees Celsius, which is about 78 degrees back home. That’s quite a difference from the 36 degree (97 degrees Fahrenheit!) days I had back in Guangzhou.

            Is Kunming gorgeous for everyone? I think not. Ding-guo and I needed to grab a bite to eat because the resort buffet closed early. We walked down the street to the nearest restaurant. Although we were only 50 feet from the resort’s 100 foot ceilings, marble floors, and picturesque statues, it looked like the entire block had been bombed. Entire storefronts were filled busted concrete walls, people dumped their garbage in the alley (much to the delight of a bunch of stray cats), and people were brokering what was possibly illegal activity openly.

            Once we made it to the restaurant safely, we had an absolute blast. It was a restaurant where you actually pick out your fish to eat. They had a big pond in the kitchen filled with enormous fish. They killed the fish in the back and then brought it out to us to cook in a stone bowl built into our table. It was easily the freshest fish I’ve ever had—and remember, I lived in Florida for four years during graduate school. Ding-guo and I had several laughs and chatted about America and China’s relationship (and how much we citizens from each country have in common with each other). We also chatted with the cook who took care of our fish. He was such a nice, smiley guy. After a long dinner, Ding-guo and I said farewell to our new friends from the restaurant and hurried home to our resort.

            It’s so easy to take what we have for granted. Usually this is because the rich and the downtrodden are segregated from each other. When the veil that separates people is cast away, it’s a much different world. It’s a world where people are just people, where a belly laugh is intoxicating no matter where you are, and where you can easily embrace the common thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that connect all people.