Posted by: thelocaldialect | December 26, 2008

Tragedy in Kunming

Yesterday I was playing around on Facebook when I noticed a status update from one of my friends saying he was shocked that the cafe he owned had been bombed on Christmas eve.

I was shocked too. The cafe in question, Salvador’s, had been a regular stop for me for almost as long as I’d lived in Kunming. It is a hub of the expat community in Kunming, a place where you can stop by and be sure to see a familiar face or five. Owned by three American guys and a Japanese woman (all great people who I know personally), it is operated with a keen sense of of social responsibility as well as a good business model. Salvador’s is especially known for it’s fair treatment of it’s waitstaff. While most Kunming bars and cafes, most of which employ poor young women from the countryside, treat their workers in an almost subhuman manner, subjecting them to insanely long hours for weeks on end, pay a salary below the living wage, offer no benefits and little job security, Salvador’s made it a point to pay fairly, offered benefits, and made sure that their staff worked reasonable hours with adequate time off. They also gave all of their staff free English lessons taught by voluneer foreign teachers. In fact, I myself used to teach several of the Salvador’s staff. Most of the waitresses at Salvador’s stayed with the cafe for several years, until they either went back home to be married off, or set out to follow their dreeams out somewhere else, armed with work experience and a knowledge of English. Several of the Salvador’s waitresses have been with the cafe since it first opened it’s doors in Kunming (a previous incarnation of Salvador’s was located in Dali). I knew these girls well. The thought of them having to experience what must surely have been one of the most horrifying events of their lives leaves me speechless.

The full (as full as possible at this point) story can be read at GoKunming, but as far as I’ve heard, what happened was that a man came in, ordered a plate of waffles, and then proceeded to blow himself up. The bomber died in the hospital, but apparently on his deathbed he also confessed to being behind the July bombings of a Kunming public bus. Whether or not that is actually the case is still up for speculation, but one thing is for sure, and that is that this is a tragedy which will strike the heart of Kunming, and especially the expat community, for whom Salvador’s was a sort of home. Although I am in Beijing now, my heart goes out to Salvador’s, the owners, and the staff, and to Kunming as a whole. I hope the community that I know and love can find a way to heal and come together during what is sure to be a rough time ahead.


  1. That’s awful! I remember spending some lovely time at Salvador’s when Jay and I were in Kunming for your wedding. It seemed, as you said, like such a harmless, nice place, and it’s shocking that it was targeted this way. On the other hand, at least none of the other customers or staff were injured (right?)

  2. I had no idea that China had a problem with bombings and terrorism… or was this a very unusual occurrence?

  3. That is so sad and shocking. I was surprised to hear of things like this even going on in China (call me naive). I hope that restaurant will be able to recover and reopen so that it can continue doing so much good (amazing to hear of a business not just in it for the money and actually making a difference).

  4. Karen, GG, and Christelle,

    This really isn’t all that common in China. GG, China has some problems with terrorism, but mostly in Xinjiang province, where muslim seperatists agitate for independence. In general, things like this don’t happen very often. Kunming had two instances in 2008, but in all the years that I’d lived there, nothing like this had ever happened.

    I’m happy to report that it does seem that Salvador’s wasn’t the intended target, that the bomber was actually on his way somewhere else when the bomb went of unintentionally. As one of my friends put it, perhaps it was an act of fate that the bomb went off when it did, so that no one was hurt. It could certainly have turned out much worse!

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