Denver — August 28, 2011 On the morning the bomb went off at Salvador’s Café in Kunming, China, Denver native and co-owner Colin Flahive was standing outside on the sidewalk. Thick black smoke poured from the doorway, and his employees, all young women from the surrounding countryside, were screaming. When he ran in to shut down the electricity and gas and lead his workers and customers to safety, he saw renminbi, Chinese currency, scattered everywhere.
The perpetrator, an electrician on his way to pay his crew with a satchel full of cash, had stopped off for a mocha and waffle. He stepped into the bathroom and was assembling the device when it went off. He was still alive when the cops arrived, though his body had been severed at the waist. “A pile of mush,” is how Flahive describes it. Before he died, the electrician confessed to the bombings of two buses in Kunming earlier that year.
Fortunately no one else was injured, but the restaurant was a shambles, and Flahive himself was badly shaken. “I didn’t want to reopen,” he says. “Our girls are like family, and I didn’t want to expose them again.”
Despite his misgivings, he and his partners spent the next six weeks repairing the damage, and Salvador’s reopened in February of 2009. Business boomed after that, but for the next year, Flahive suffered from a severe case of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
The bombing sparked some soul searching and re-evaluation in the young entrepreneur. He thought a lot about his employees, all hardworking young women from the same village in South Yunnan Province. “I began wondering if in addition to employment, we could offer them a better future as well. The logical next step was a two week road trip where we met the families of all 20 of our girls. We did interviews focusing on education, health care, poverty.”
What they discovered was that with the country’s burgeoning economy, rural people are abandoning their farms and villages and moving to the cities to seek employment, better health care, and a higher standard of living. “We wanted to see if we could create more opportunities in the villages themselves to kind of stem the tide,” Flahive says. “Our motto is ‘What can we do to help?’”
The fact-finding mission led to the founding of “Village Progress,” a 501C3 registered in Colorado. Among their many projects, the charity is sponsoring a team of cardiologists who teach village doctors about the diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure.
Colin Flahive has lived and worked in China for ten years, but he’s been going there in one capacity or another since 1998. A graduate of East High School, and CU Boulder, he went initially as a backpack tourist between his sophomore and junior years and came away unimpressed.
“Travelling in China is a lot of work,” he says. “When I got back I threw away my Chinese-English dictionary. I was sure I’d never return. But when I thought about it, I realized how much I’d grown to love it, especially rural China, where the lifestyle hasn’t changed in a thousand years. It felt like I’d only gotten a taste, and I wanted more.”
He returned a second time to do research for his senior thesis on the forced urbanization of rural people due to the Three Gorges Dam project. He went back a third time to study martial arts at a Shaolin temple, and by then he was hooked. He started looking around for a way to stay there. He and a couple of guys opened Salvador’s in Kunming in 2005 and he’s been there ever since.
“I’ve got a gazillion ideas for business and non-profit,” Flahive says. “China is like the wild west. There are huge opportunities to do business there, and a kind of freedom we no longer have in this country. China is the land of opportunity in the world right now.”
For more info:
Aling Flahive’s Art
YouTube: Rural China by Motorcycle
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