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Horror in my hometown

Publication Date : 03-03-2014


My father phoned at 7am on Sunday. "It's horrible! Dozens of people at a railway station were killed last night! Dozens! In Kunming!" he said.

He wasn't the first person to contact me and express shock and indignation at Saturday night's attack in my hometown.

I find it difficult to make a connection between terrorism and Kunming, often called "Spring City". It's renowned for its temperate climate, beautiful skies, flowers, delicious food, fresh air and plant life - anything and everything, but not terrorism.

I spent 20 years growing up and living in Kunming. Life in this medium-sized provincial capital is neither as tough as in metropolises such as Shanghai and Beijing, nor as demanding as in some of the remote cities in western China that lack resources.

Kunming people enjoy a leisurely lifestyle. Some small stores even close for the weekend. One of them often puts up a sign that simply reads: "We are out hiking".

When I was growing up, migrants from other provinces were rarely seen in Kunming, apart from a few workers and businesspeople from bordering provinces such as Sichuan and Guizhou. The Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is far from familiar to local people.

Yunnan has 25 ethnic groups, the largest number of any Chinese province. However, people are used to getting along with their neighbors under the principles of honesty and mutual respect.

When I was a child, my parents often took me to a famous downtown restaurant owned by people from the Hui ethnic group. On the street where it's situated, there are 20 to 30 similar restaurants. More than 80 per cent of the customers are Han Chinese.

So far, I haven't heard anyone in Kunming blame the attack on the differences between the various ethnic groups. Everyone has criticised the attackers instead.

On the flight to Kunming, I suddenly remembered an elderly lady from the Dai ethnic group whom I interviewed in the wake of a 2010 earthquake that destroyed thousands of houses on the China-Myanmar border. When refugees from Myanmar fled to the shelters near her village, she organised a team to cook for them. The food was provided free of charge.

She told me of her Buddhist beliefs. "Share most of your goodness with others and kill the darkness with the light in your heart. Different groups respect different gods and the principle of life, just as we do in Yunnan. But we all trust in love."

At 9:40pm on Sunday at Kunming International Airport, thousands of people were arriving for business, to recharge their batteries with a short break, or to visit their families.

When I got off my flight, I turned on my phone and immediately received a message from my father: "I've heard that many restaurants are offering free meals for the police officers who are patrolling voluntarily tonight. Everything will be fine. Welcome home."


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