When my husband and I got off the plane and landed in Kunming, China in 2010, we did not know what to expect. We were met by the only two other white people in the airport at 3 am in the morning. They loaded our two hundred pounds of life into their tinny van (that priceless booty consisted of tootsie rolls, underwear, wrinkled work clothes and half a bike lock) and brought us to our new home, an apartment twice the size of our condo in Chicago.
After staring at each other wondering what we did, we giggled all night listening to bullfrogs in the endless fishponds behind our apartment. Shacks and old guys right out of a National Geographic magazine. The checkerboard of ponds faded into the Xi Shan 西山 or Western Hills. At dusk, their silhouette turned into a sleeping princess, one whose tears formed Lake Dian Chi.
Yeah, sorta pretty.
But within a few months, construction began. My husband and I watched a fearless fisherman who refused to move when a bulldozer threatened to tear down his shack.
The bulldozer won and the fisherman’s home was replaced with this:
Ni Hao, Paris.
I took a walk to Europe, China, after school yesterday, just twenty minutes from my front door. I stepped into what looked like the photo on the TEFL brochure that lured us down the rabbit hole. The course didn’t landed us jobs in a quaint Italian village where rivers flowed with espresso; but in “I never heard of that city in China”, one with the population of Chicago but on China’s standards, is only ranked 29th in size.
We were lured to Kunming by two reasons: the promise of a new Walmart that sold cheese and jobs with health insurance.
But now? All of that has been replaced with cobblestone streets and an amusement park.
And Ben Hur.
Today a Great Wall. Tomorrow, an outlet store.
Will whoever took the fish ponds, please return them already?