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No real reason to feel guilt over wealth gap
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Ensuring the success of the American boss's China trip is so exhausting that I splurge by flying to Sanya with my partner for a three-day mini-vacation.

It is our first trip to Sanya. We stay at a well-known resort. Unlike the massive chain of hotel complexes along the beach of Yalong Bay, this one is tucked inside a small bay, far from tourists; inside the gated compound, the rooms are spread out over the hill, and huge pools, quietly hugging the rooms, lure us to jump in whenever we are not in bed.

The tranquil infinity pool on the beach is especially appealing. The water flows outward gracefully, as if into the palm trees and the sunset, while classical music plays from hidden speakers. I am mesmerized by the view, and also by the music - it reminds me of my teenage years when I would listen to such music and imagine just such a perfect experience, immersed in warm water and staring at the setting sun. And like a true liberal, I feel a bit guilty - do I deserve the luxury that I can finally afford?

The waiter comes with our $10 drinks. After some chitchat, we learn that he is from Sichuan province, and this is his first job after graduation. He makes 1,200 yuan ($175) a month, in addition to free room and board provided by the resort. The 15 percent service charge on the bill, he explains, actually goes to the hotel. The waiters only get the tips guests leave on the table. So the food staff conspire to cheat the hotel - whenever guests pay by cash rather than charge to their rooms, they pocket the cash.

The mischievous smile on his proud face, set against the last rays of the setting sun, makes me feel even more guilty. We are from the same province, speak the same dialect, and here I am, spending more on a hotel room that each night costs more than his monthly pay. If sipping on lattes while talking about donating to wikipedia is a typical Western symptom of liberal guilt, am I experiencing its Chinese variant?

The stars begin to twinkle so we move inside to dine by candlelight. The more I contemplate my new luxurious comforts, the more I wonder: If my dad had not studied hard to work his way out of farming, if my parents had not pushed me to study hard when I was young, and if I had not had a natural interest in studying, would I have ended up just like him and many others who barely get by in this wealth-gap new China?

Then I almost laugh out aloud at my own questions - of course, we have different fates because we are raised differently and are different. A friend indignantly said to me once: "I can't stand a world in which people are unequal. It's not just."

Yet, our life experiences are different. A just world is not one which gives everyone the same schooling, the same job and the same pay, but one in which we, with our individual flaws and strengths, can explore and push our limits, unhindered.

So I glance at our waiter friend who stands silhouetted against the darkening sky. Perhaps he will work very hard; and if he is smart and has some luck along the way, he may own a hotel in 10 or 20 years. It would be facetious for me to lament his having to serve people like me. As long as the China dream continues for him and me, as one of billion in the system, and can help people like him pursue this dream fairly, that would be way more meaningful than dwelling on one's liberal guilt.

"Cash or charge to the room?" he inquires at the end of our meal.

"Cash is fine," I say.

At least, I can help get him started with a little more cash.

(China Daily Augsut 27, 2009)

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