When we knew we’d be moving to Kunming, I was already thinking what many friends would soon ask me. “So, will it still be Small Town Laowai?”
Yes, it will, and it is. Here’s why.
1. Years of small town experience
Moving to Kunming doesn’t erase all the experiences we had while we lived in a smaller city and a little county town. Many of those experiences are stories I still have yet to write, especially since I didn’t really start posting regularly until about a year ago. There are still plenty of small town stories to come.
2. We’re not done with small town life
Because of our work with minority groups, we are planning to still visit smaller towns and villages. These trips will inevitably bring more small town stories, too.
3. I’m still small town
This probably reflects a lot of the culture shock I’ve been going through as I adjust to life in a city with Uniqlo and Burger King, but my heart still feels like a Chinese hick. I feel more at home when I walk by tricycle carts and run-down mianbaoches than I do as I pass Porsches and BMWs. It makes me happier to see the nainai carrying a live chicken onto the bus than it does to see the meinü carrying the Michael Kors handbag into Starbucks. I am getting better at not having my mouth hang open when I see the newfangled city slicker stuff, though.
4. Kunming is still small town
Apparently, Kunming is still considered the boondocks by a lot of Chinese and foreigners. I’ve now heard from Guangzhou, Beijing, and Chengdu expats that coming to Kunming feels like a significant downstep in terms of transportation, restaurants, and amenities. In fact, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about expats “living further off the beaten path.” The author interviewed a guy who lives in Kunming, which apparently counts as “living in China’s remote corners.” Um, okay.
To top it off, I just met an older couple who recently moved to Kunming from the U.S. They said they’d been warned by friends that “Kunming is really backwater.” Uh, no. No, it’s not. But, I do agree that it’s far less Westernized or cosmopolitan than those bigger cities are. So, while this is probably the least compelling of these reasons, it still is a small contribution to why I’m keeping the “small town” moniker.
5. Carved in URL stone
And, on a purely practical level, there’s the fact that the domain name is paid for, and there’s only a gazillion links I’d have to change if I went with a new one. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
So, there you go. I’ll still be blogging as Small Town Laowai for a while. I appreciate you reading along, no matter where life might take us!
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September 12, 2015 at 8:18 pm
I consider Kunming to be a big bustling city. Even 10 years ago I loved having a layover their so I could load up on all the imported fancy goodies before flying on to the edge of no where. I can understand why you are experiencing culture shock. Just wanted to say I enjoy reading your blog, and I hope your family settles in well to your new home. From a fellow laowai.
September 12, 2015 at 9:20 pm
Thank you very much, Karen, for your comments and your encouraging words. We have also always considered Kunming a place to stock up on Western stuff. We would come here every once in a while when we lived in Guangxi, and I would make a point to go to the import stores in Chun Yuan to get popcorn kernels, Hershey’s syrup and other treats. It was a happy day if we were in Kunming NOT on a Sunday so we could get dinner at the Wicker Basket. It’s weird to hear other China folks say Kunming is small or backwater, but I guess it all depends on your perspective, and where you’re coming from.
September 13, 2015 at 9:11 am
Currently living as far west as you can go in this country, in Kashi/Kashgar. It is great, filled with minorities and half the time doesn’t even feel like China.
September 13, 2015 at 3:30 pm
Wow, Karen, that IS really far west! I have wanted to visit Xinjiang for a long time. I can only imagine how different it feels when you are in other cities in China. Vastly different languages, culture, not to mention climate and terrain, yes?
October 28, 2015 at 9:44 pm
I just wanted to leave you a comment and let you know I enjoy reading your posts. I just found your blog via a post someone shared of being drained of your extrovertedness, I went through the same thing. For me it was mostly due to the language barrier. I was studying at the Normal University but my wife had lived here for a year before we got married and I was relying on her a lot for communicating. I began to want to go out less and less and avoided conversations because I was not confident in my language ability. I’ve since returned to my old self but I do value alone time more than I used to. I also read your post about crying from pizza. Our town has only recently got pizza hut, before that there were only KFC and Dicos. We did have some privately owned western restaurants that were very good but I remember the first time we traveled to Guangzhou and ate Papa Johns. I can’t say that I cried but it was an emotional experience. We are in Xining city, the capitol of Qinghai province. We get the same impression from the Chinese, that even though it is a city of 2 million people it is a “small town”. I grew up in Missouri and Kansas and moving here was a very big adjustment for me. But when people ask me why I’m in Qinghai and not Beijing or Shanghai I tell them I like it here because it reminds me of my hometown. The rural culture and the hospitality are very much like back home. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
October 28, 2015 at 10:33 pm
Jared, thanks for introducing yourself and sharing a bit of your story. I don’t know much about Xining, but from what I’ve heard it is much more like what we were used to before Kunming. Only in China does a city of 2 million = small town, right? 🙂
August 19, 2016 at 5:04 pm
We live in Lijiang and Kunming seems like a big, bustling city to us, but hey we just got a Walmart this past December.
August 19, 2016 at 6:28 pm
It’s a slippery slope from there, my friend! 😉 Even after a year here, this still feels like a city to me, too. So it’s funny to hear friends from Shanghai and Chengdu talk about how tiny Kunming is and how there is nothing here. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective!