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Is Kunming still the Kunming?

It seems that new buildings, metro lines, technologies are emerging every day in this city, though I haven’t been back to my hometown for only 16 months. The development speed in my hometown is quicker than the bullet train. When I guided our students to walk to the bird and flower market in the downtown, I couldn’t recognize a number of streets because they have all been “revitalized” with brand new “Old” wooden houses. They call it “昆明老街” (Kunming Old Street) project, which is literally building “new” commercial streets.

Fortunately, I can still find a dozen of really old two-storey wooden houses similar to the one I was born in 35 years ago. Shared by my grandma, my parents and me, I lived in that second floor 25 square metres room until I was six years old. There was no bathroom and only a shared kitchen with a neighbour. We needed to pee and poo into a red “spittoon-like” basket and emptied it every morning or night to the public bathroom which is 1 km away. The house was located in the “centre” of the downtown where now located several shopping malls selling world famous luxury brand products. Even my kindergarten and primary school were torn down 20 years ago because of the urban development. So I can’t revisit the house I was born and the schools where I had wonderful childhood memory because they don’t exist anymore.

As to another change, I notice the laid-back lifestyle of local Kunmingers has been totally changed. People have fallen into the trap to pursue more materials and “better” quality of lives, particularly young couples who have small kids. Though locals are still generally approachable, hospitable and sincere, I’m afraid in a not distant future that they will behave like rude people in megacities due to the increasing pressure and the change of their values.

Development did bring incredible opportunities to Kunmingers including me. I don’t need to live in that shabby wooden house anymore and I had more chances to receive high-quality education that totally changed my life. But the development of Kunming is so fast that I can’t keep up my pace. During this course, as an outsider, together a group of lovely Dragons students, I saw the other side of it by standing on their perspectives, which makes me think deeper on how the fast development impacted on my beloved homeland. I was mentored.

Tony Zhang