April 28 – Lack of Trust

Year of the Ox, Day 75. In a post-truth world, how can we relate to each other when we suffer from a lack of trust?

Enjoying the beautiful scenery of downtown Chongqing on the top of Nanshan.
Enjoying the beautiful scenery of downtown Chongqing on the top of Nanshan.

The year of the Ox, Day 75. The ox, in Chinese culture, is a hardworking zodiac sign. It often signifies movement, but some astrological gurus say that this year, the metal ox, we should hold fast. Having a good methodology, a good plan, and getting up to do the hard work every day are key to success in 2021, and so that’s what I’m working on making changes to optimize. When I moved to China in 2014, I was one tour away from retirement as a DJ/Producer and over the musical excesses of (promiscuous) sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but my transition from hedonist nightlife ninja that toured the world blowing fireballs on stages and doing standup comedy between burlesque gigs to the stoic bearded philosopher, wise and enlightened on his mountain is still a work in progress. So far this year, I’ve got a running tally of vices I’m cutting back on. I’ve quit arguing on the internet, even deleted some social apps from my phone, and I’m really cutting down the time I spend online. As creative writing guru Stephen Pressfield said in “Going Pro,” ‘professionals write, while amateurs tweet.’ It’s changed my outlook a lot, and I spend most of my day where I am, in my home, classroom, or out for a stroll, or relaxing with my wife watching a fun movie or TV series. After binging on some Russel Brand Under the Skin podcasts and taking his “On Recovery” book to heart, I’ve done soul searching to find anything that can be addictive and tried to control it or get rid of it altogether. I haven’t had coffee in a month. I quit impulse shopping and porn, as both can and do wire the mind into selfish and undesirable ways that make it harder to connect with real people we care about. But the mind is malleable; now more than ever, experts recognize the ability for neuroplasticity, what was once set, is now in flux, and we can change ourselves into whatever we want to be. I’m working on controlling negative thoughts, complaining, and cycles of overthinking and anxiety. Like a good person-in-recovery, I’m just taking it all, one day at a time, but I am much happier, healthier, and gearing up to have my most productive year yet, because I’m ready to get out of my way and do what I am here for: to live, to love and to write.

Beltane is coming, May 1st, halfway between Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It’s a time when spirits and fairies are believed to be extra active, the veil between earthly and fairy realms are the thinnest, and magic springs forth when dreams can be answered. At least that’s what my Gaelic and Celt ancestors believed, and so I will be hoping for good omens and good luck as we struggle for the resilience to endure the rest of the pandemic and the integrity to channel all of this reflection into changing our course before the climate collapses and steals our children’s very futures away from them.

This year for Earth Day on April 22, Greta Thunberg released a video reminding us not to accept the good wishes and platitudes of our leaders; when they talk about “ambitious targets” but omit critical industries like agriculture and aviation, we must hold them accountable for the sake of our lives, our kids and our future. I’m excited to hear what sounds like a real progressive change from many leaders, but we must keep an eye on the details. We have less than a decade to turn the world around and change the game, or COVID-19 will seem like a minor inconvenience compared to the future pandemics, environmental catastrophes, mass migrations, and food shortages of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. We need to become comfortable paying more for less and making do with less. Convenience culture was burning our planet. Now we have to work hard and be satisfied with slow progress. Life is hard, but it can also be good.

A trip to the beach can clear your mind.
A trip to the beach can clear your mind.

I snuck away with Xiaolin recently, having had a couple of days off when my students were taking exams. We flew to the ocean, ate BBQ fish with lime juice and coconut drinks, and drove a scooter around sandy beaches. It was amazing to fly after spending more than 16 months without leaving my city and 20 months without a travel vacation. It’s amazing how safe China is, I actually took my mask off to eat on the flight, my first since 2019, but still, we kept it quiet, not wanting to make our friends or family nervous.

People these days are squirrely. Although there is some good news, people in many countries distrust their government’s COVID response or the media’s spin, and sometimes with good reason. Objectivity seems to be thrown out the window. Goodbye balanced evening news that our parents watched over dinner, hello hit pieces on politically convenient opponents to shield those allied with the networks. At least that’s what it feels like, from my misty mountain on a hill in SW China. I am still looking out of our bubble at the world, and it’s teetering on the verge of something awful. I haven’t given up; I’m just resting a little for the fight to come.

Over 3 million recorded deaths from COVID later, the latest wave with the predicted variants of concern affecting younger, healthier people is the worst to date. It is heartbreaking to watch Brazil and India both experiencing the utter collapse of their health systems, as hospitals refuse patients due to lack of beds, oxygen, and supplies, leaving people to die in ambulances or their cars in the parking lot. Although the reported daily death toll of 2500 a day in India is tragic, mainstream media reports that experts on the ground say it is many times more, possibly even higher than 10,000 a day. It’s not a wave, they say; it’s a tsunami. The Indian lockdown has been extended, but with a million officially diagnosed cases in the last three days, it will lead to a future spike in deaths in the weeks to come. The government will have to balance the lockdown with the needs of the people because, with so much of the population employed as day workers, India can not support several months of extended lockdown without mass starvation. Many blame PM Modi’s mass superspreader rallies and the opening of religious and cultural festivals in the past two months for this COVID tsunami, going so far as to call for his resignation. It was indeed incredibly irresponsible and poor leadership, and he has blood on his hands. But he is not alone. Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s PM, has been called a Donald Trump-like character, and swept to power in a similar campaign of social media manipulation, using targeted ads to discredit his more qualified opponent and once in charge, has disregarded the needs of his Aboriginal population, engaging in a campaign of systemic genocide against the Amazonian rainforest people as he also burns the Amazon, the lungs of the planet that he has been elected guardian of, for some quick corporate cash. It’s a tragedy and a travesty, and under his watch and pandemic denial, he is decimating many of his most at-risk people, unique tribes that have lived for thousands of years in the heart of the rainforest and small surrounding villages. If that’s not a war crime, I’m not sure what is.

In the West, CNN and BBC report that America and Europe are scrambling to send aid and supplies to India to make vaccines; Brazil has refused any help, despite their desperate need. In China, Xiaolin sees a random video on TikTok’s native DouYin app, showing the widespread panic and deaths in India, people lying dead on the streets reminiscent of the first panicked days of the Wuhan outbreak, only much worse, with bodies being burned in parking lots because all the crematoriums are backed up, and there’s nowhere else for the dead to go. It gives me a shiver to think of what China could have been like had we not been so vigilant. She watches the footage while text scrolls informing her that China is sending aid, while the USA is not, and the USA and India are joining together to undermine Chinese interests (possibly a reference to their gang of 4, with Japan and Australia). The underlying message in both the official Western news and from this anonymous video in China is that we should believe our own country is doing heroic things while other competing nations are doing nothing or actively hindering us. It ferments both nationalism and a lack of trust in others. I think it’s part of the problem. I think people, all people are inherently good. If governments can find ways to work together for mutual benefit rather than trying to simply squeeze the planet and each other for maximum profit, we will find a way to make it to 2100 and beyond. If you can’t or won’t, it’s going to be a pretty rough century. It’s hot already in Chongqing, maybe 35 and sunny, it’s so hot, and it’s going to be hot for 8 months, I think, so I put all my pants and long sleeve shirts away and prepare to survive the furnace of China for another year.

Both the severity of the outbreaks in Brazil and India and the utter mismanagement of Canada’s Ontario and Alberta outbreaks due to their weak leadership and disregard for science, undermining and underplaying the seriousness of the pandemic and giving people the clear signals to go and socialize en masse. The Vaccination race will try to match it, but it will be a race to the finish. An interesting and certainly actionable, treatable statistic is that vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in India, ranging in studies from 40–90%, with most studies reporting 80–90% prevalence of this deficiency. I’ve been quoting studies for a year now, such as JAMA and Sofia Reigna U, to show that this is the single biggest predeterminer of bad covid, that ICU and serious illness are twice as likely if you are deficient and the deficiency creates more ACE2 receptors and allows the virus to replicate quickly. Although exact stats are not available, there has been shown a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in both men and women in Brazil. Also, vitamin D deficiency of less than 30 ng/ml inhibits the uptake of calcium and can lead to obesity, another of the strongest indicators for bad COVID outcomes globally. It has become increasingly evident that the vitamin D endocrine system is related to obesity in adults. Obesity has been found to be associated with lower levels of serum 25-OH Vit D and higher levels of serum PTH. A low vitamin D intake was associated with increased body mass index (BMI). Some experts in India are calling upon the immediate fortification of vitamin D in staple foods as that would by far be the easiest way to reduce COVID deaths globally, and I hope this gets traction around the world.

Many children are now infected and sick in Brazil. As both the P1 variant from Brazil and the double mutant strain from India start to spread in Canada, several provinces already teeter on the verge of their own health care system collapses. Ontario and Alberta ICUs are stuffed, and their parking lots have tent hospitals ready to try to tackle overflow. People are already being flown around the provinces to find available beds, at considerable risk and cost, while supplies last. Nova Scotia, previously relatively COVID free, is now reeling from an outbreak that is growing rapidly by the day, so they are locking down to try to contain and treat it before the Atlantic bubble shatters. A 13-year-old girl in Brampton, Ontario, died at home. Canada has sent in the military to help overwhelmed doctors and nurses.

Pfizer is testing a pill that could become an at-home cure, a protease inhibitor that attacks the spine of SARSCOV-2 to stop viral replication in the nose and mouth. There is some interesting or potentially good news on the horizon. The prestigious UChicago, my uncle Dr. Larry Wood’s former stomping grounds where he was dean of medicine until he retired, has designed ‘nanotraps’ to catch and clear coronavirus from human tissue. The possible COVID-19 treatment combines nanoparticles with the immune system to ‘search and destroy’ the SARSCOV2 virus. They mimic the target cells the virus infects, and when SARSCOV2 binds to the nanotraps, they sequester the virus from other cells and target it for destruction. It’s incredibly clever. But it’s on the horizon. Today, international aid is coming for India. Their crisis is a crisis for the world, not just for brewing new variants but as the world’s largest vaccine maker, 100 countries are now left high and dry, as India uses its 90 million doses a month production internally to battle its apocalyptic COVID tsunami. While 1 in 4 people have had at least one shot of a vaccine in the world’s richest countries, that number is 1 in 500 people in most of the developing world, and the WHO warns that the pandemic is worse than ever globally. So far, the hotspots are still few enough that international aid mustering seems viable and the morally right thing to do but the vastness of India’s bucket feels insurmountable. Their huge population combined with an exponential countrywide outbreak mean even a huge gathering of aid might only scratch the surface, leaving other nations depleted if their own precarious situations get out of control.

Vaccination is chugging along, in many countries racing their next wave. Certain places, like Israel, also seem to be doing it right: lockdowns and low rates of infection and quick vaccination create a seemingly sustainable bubble where inside, they sit in cafes sighing in appreciation, feeling the tension drain from their bodies as they look out from the other side, but still, they must stay vigilant. Soon they will start tourism, PCR test negative, and vaccinated tourists. This is the post-pandemic new normal for those countries that appreciate good health over free movement. The alternative is the UK considering COVID as an endemic problem, just part of the new social fabric. But those on the other side of the walls in Palestine still struggle for vaccines, and many criticize Israel for not assisting those whom they wall off in the name of their own security for not doing more.

That muscly menace in Canada, ‘Chris Sky,’ the violent anti-masker who traveled to Europe and back around Canada speaking moistly at anti lockdown rallies, was arrested again in Thunder Bay, Ontario, for breaching his previous quarantine charges and probation and other offenses. I’m glad to see a little law and order for the plague spreaders.

Kai and Xiaolin enjoying a sunny day in Eling park

In China, things remain good, nationally, hovering about 300 cases caught in quarantine from international imports, 4 in serious conditions. It’s the world’s largest COVID-free bubble, and students study, business thrives, people eat at restaurants, and we continue to wear masks on subways, flights, and in crowded areas and monitor temperatures, show QR codes to indicate healthy, to keep it that way. It’s been months since anyone died of it. We’ve got great treatments and a lot of resources to spare because of our early diligence and vigilance. I don’t see a summer vacation to Canada or anywhere else happening, sadly, so I’ll try to stay busy writing and hope for a chance to see my family again when I can. At least we have video chats and online hockey with my dad. My grandma is well, loving her Blue Jays baseball games and hockey when there’s no ball game. She said she’s really proud of my book and supportive of me to keep writing. I want to see them again soon.

I had an appointment to get a Chinese COVID vaccine but canceled due to a bad cold, sore throat that went to my lungs. It feels like bronchitis, so I’m on meds for a week and have just two classes left before I have a week off for midterm exams. By then, the May labor day holiday will be a scorching hot 36 degrees. Chongqing’s summer starts early: shorts, T-shirts, and an average of 40 degree days until November. There are worse places to spend a pandemic as long as I don’t turn on the news.

Geopolitics? I will don’t want to be writing about this. I don’t want to get into it. I’ve been happy, not arguing on the internet for a few months, just focusing on my life. My rationale has been pretty clear: anyone I could have swayed to prepare for the pandemic was prepared, and any information I could have given to help people make responsible choices such as mask, social distancing, and vaccine decisions were made for the most part. When I talk about China, people sour my punch.

Ok, so I might still have something to say, now and then, on COVID. Still, I was happy to let my work stand and move on to my own recovery, to new projects, but it’s clear now that the pandemic is still blooming. I would be remiss to lose track of something I have spent so much time on top of, and with China so often coming up negatively in Western news, I need to say my piece, as unpopular as it may sound. Having encountered so much bias against China while trying to help inform my friends and readers about the pandemic has really had me thinking about why. Having read about the #StopAsianHate movement has made me angry at the racism in the West and want to push back.

If 2020 and COVID made everyone an amateur epidemiologist, or virus specialist in lay terms, 2021 and being an ex-pat in China is requiring I become a miniature ambassador, delicately representing the best of the West and diffusing the anger my students feel overhearing that their favorite brands are embarrassed to be working in their country while graciously accepting the business of the world’s largest capitalist market. Recently these brands engaged in a tough conversation about accusations of slave labor, genocide, concentration camps in China’s western region. Loaded words. If true, proven, and verified, these are serious allegations that should have to be explained, amended, ended. One problem I find in dealing with Western and Chinese issues is transparency. The West expects everyone to work like them, aspire to become them and operate like them. They feel the relative privacy, secrecy, and opaque governing and security of the Chinese implies something to hide. This is not matter of factly correct, but try to tell the West that, and they might blow a gasket. At least, they will most likely fail to understand. Western people like to talk about freedom and use freedom and democracy interchangeably. This is why they can’t imagine another society, another civilization, would ever not want democracy, could be happy without it. After seven years in China, I do believe that the people here are happy, with their own system, with their society. I often think their culture is much happier, having seen for myself they don’t like to complain, often are grateful for simplicity, and truly seem to enjoy the company of their family. They view each other as a large extended family of sorts, and I am honored to have been accepted into the fold. My wife and her family have been nothing short of wonderful for me, and my life here has been truly blessed. As much as the West fails to understand and often respect Chinese society properly, it is another kind of happiness nonetheless. But I want to go farther, out on a limb.

In the West, we feel democracy is the goal every country should aspire towards, even though many popular plans and ideas never become law because a small group of hyper-rich corporate elites makes more money depriving us of what we want. Things like health care, good environmental policy, and working wages for ordinary people, or gun control in America, an affordable housing market, etc., consistently poll over 75%. In a proper democracy, that means we should have them. The fact we don’t shows me we don’t really have the democracy we believe in, but rather, a form of corporate oligarchy controlled by a few tech and media giants and a giant military-industrial complex aiming for global domination under a thin coat of paint, a thin veneer of choice that leaves us arguing at dinner tables and ruining family gatherings like it really matters what color we choose. They have their priorities, and we are free to choose the window dressing as long as it doesn’t challenge their powerful stranglehold. And this whole machine is really intimidated by the rise of China, a country set to double or triple America’s GDP by 2030, and frankly, will do anything to slow China down by any means necessary. That doesn’t make them right. In fact, I’d argue the opposite.

The problems are with nuance and difference and not being able to or why we shouldn’t want to judge everyone with the same stick. Although in the West most people assume China has a single-party system, I even assumed that, it’s actually multi-party cooperation and political consultations under the leadership of the CPC. Unlike Canada, for example, it doesn’t require all average citizens to engage in it, yet the Chinese government comprises, guess, Chinese people who have specialized in governance and spent decades becoming involved. The single party in China has evolved and changed more in the last 50 years than most multiparty systems in the West and accomplished amazing things to bring prosperity to the Chinese people. While no system is perfect, I don’t believe many recognize the remarkable accomplishments China and the ASEAN nations have brought to their people in recent decades, or, to their peril, that Asian prosperity is changing the single story of Western dominance to a polyphonic orchestra that will allow for the rise of an African Union, a South American Union, and many voices and stories to be heard. The CCP that is a popular target, “it’s not the Chinese people we have an issue with, it’s their government,” being a popular line — but a clever ruse to insinuate ‘regime change,’ when in fact, if you ask the Chinese people how they feel about their government and their futures, stats and facts clearly show: they are overwhelmingly more positive than any Western nation. To my limited knowledge, in China, anyone could join and decide to pursue a career in government. And what is preferable? A stable government with qualified leaders with decades of experience in education, politics, and management, or a system where any TV show host can mock disabled journalists for a cheap laugh and get elected without any qualifications or ability to govern? I feel like the pandemic made that pretty clear. We see the places where COVID was taken seriously and scientists listen to prosper, while those where it was underplayed and ignored flounder. I know, I’m probably rambling to myself but if you’ve hung in this far, let’s see how far the rabbit hole goes.

Freedoms are an interesting idea too. Only in America would people insist freedom means anyone can carry an automatic rifle into a McDonalds’, and school shootings occur daily across the country. In China, we have another kind of freedom, the freedom to feel safe in a country without guns, the freedom to send our kids to school without worrying their peers will murder them. We have the freedom to pursue meaningful careers with an affordable cost of living, growing economy, buy homes and support our families, retire well and leave a legacy for our children. We have affordable health care, excellent education, and new policies of mass tree planting, electric cars, a campaign to clean our rivers and air, poverty alleviation, the best trains and infrastructure in the world — the freedom to be happy. But I understand if you don’t believe me. The problem is a lack of trust.

Recently, the international calls for an examination of Xinjiang and treatment of the Muslim Uighurs have been louder, after some groups pressured big companies such as Adidas, Nike, H&M, and Skechers to stop using Xinjiang cotton. They made accusations that it was produced in unethical ways, essentially using prison labor (yes, those in America ignore that they have the world’s largest prison population, of mostly people of color, many arrested for crimes created explicitly for racist persecution by white nationalists, like marijuana possession, and also use prison labor to manufacture goods and even fight fires but I have had little success in pointing out that hypocrisy). It was interesting how the brands reacted. Most of them, Adidas, Nike, H&M, eager to avoid any controversy and appear woke at all costs, all emphasized that they were against slave labor and severed ties with Xinjiang. Only Skechers actually seemed to bother to investigate the claims on the ground. It’s telling, that they found everything to be above the board, normal working conditions, acceptable and humane treatment of workers, ‘fair’ payment according to the market. They put out a statement that the allegations were false. It’s interesting that, without any evidence, the brands that cut contracts with Xinjiang (giving jobs and work to a minority inside China in a developing previously fairly barren area) were applauded by the Twitterverse, and the one that did the work to investigate and continued to provide economic opportunities to the people in question was doubted and maligned. There is a real lack of trust that makes it hard to communicate. It’s been a problem for a while, it goes back farther than Trump and his claims of ‘Fake News’ but he tossed gasoline onto that fire and it’s going to take a lot of prisoners to put it out. For what it’s worth, baby Ethan’s father’s mother, essentially a cousin-in-law of my wife’s family has a cotton manufacturing business in Xinjiang Xiaolin has told me. When I asked her about it, how the cotton was produced she described and showed pictures of fancy new American John Deere tractors and equipment, not this bizarre image of malnourished slaves chained together picking by hand. I asked if the workers got paid a fair (market) wage, she said, of course, and invited me to go see the place some time. I think I would like to.

For a long time in the West, we had a single narrative; we bought into it, as western-centric as it was. It was pro-corporate and pro-elite and western-biased, but it was The News, and we believed it. Now it’s been fractured into a right-wing and left-wing spin, a corporate-military spin, and fringe theories and realities all spinning around, like a hyper manic pinball machine, a dizzying array of ping-pong balls firing off the stage in a crazy kaleidoscopic Bangkok vaudeville show. I can’t trust the Western media to discuss foreign policy honestly because their agenda is too skewed for the selfish interests of those who make pills, bombs and buy news stations, but just as much, you in the West wouldn’t trust a documentary from China’s state media setting the record straight, assuming it was a different flavor of propaganda, by its very interest, biased to be pro-Chinese. It gets weird when ex-pats on the ground showing their life are similarly distrusted when people tell me they, who’ve never been to Asia, know what my life must be like more than I do, who’s been here for close to a decade. Then there’s the Pushback, and Greyzone folks, and others that do push back against the popular Western narrative and show stories that the mainstream media buries, often in the pursuit of de-escalating the military-war machine from building consent to invade another country, but some of my friends and followers on social media write them off as Russian propagandists. Never mind, that Aaron Maté, son of the renowned healer, addiction and early childhood trauma specialist and Canadian doctor Gabor Maté comes from a line of truth-speakers and healers, the grandson of Hungarian jews persecuted by literal Nazis, when I brought him up, an old friend, without doing a cursory investigation and full of righteous fury, called me a bootlicker, and him a Nazi on the internet for pushing back against the popular narrative. We don’t speak any more, sadly, but I don’t miss his mean-spirited words when he thinks he’s right and everyone else is wrong. My wife doesn’t get why I try, but I want to set the record straight.

It’s all really so confusing. But now, more than ever, it’s important to think clearly and ask good questions. One good question I have is if the Western media coverage of China is fair and unbiased, why don’t they ever report on our good news? Whether it’s our excellent COVID response (one of the best in the world), lifting more than 850 million people in the last few decades out of poverty, world-class cities, a phenomenal and affordable high-speed train system, or China’s vaccinee generosity to developing nations, I can’t find a single piece of good news about China from the West. It’s almost like they’re afraid to admit we’ve got a pretty good place here, and they’re afraid for you to know it, too. I sometimes feel that if they didn’t make us look like some kind of bad guys, you’d wonder why we are so happy, and what our secret was? That’s got to stop, in the name of peace and mutual prosperity, it has got to stop. For the record, we often print very good news from the West and think very highly of many western countries, products, and goods.

I wonder, why does the West want to convert everyone to be like it? Is that a universal property or a western property? Could you imagine if China went around trying to make everyone Chinese? In fact, I have books that show that centuries before European colonialism, Chinese sailors discovered North America and while they left artifacts, they did not seek to conquer. When the BBC reports about China taking back Hong Kong, it conveniently leaves out the colonialism and oppression, and aggression of the British that stole the territory in the first place for 100 years. Sure, they built some nice buildings, but I don’t believe in their arrogance, the BBC would ever consider that China might not want democracy inherently, that them being what historians call a civilization state, have a different way of doing things that people are absolutely positive about. It might sound crazy, but if you saw it, and lived here, you would believe it. Why not? The people have opportunities, a growing middle class, and their lives have continued to improve in fundamental ways over the last decades and they believe their children’s lives will continue to, so why wouldn’t they be positive and content?

Where do the Western claims that bash China so much that bother my friends and make them worried for me come from? This is one area that I’ve been digging into a little bit, and it’s quite interesting. While very serious, they seem to get data from a tiny number of people and often with questionable backgrounds and funding from very biased sources. And that’s worth thinking about, why there isn’t even a basic level of scrutiny to these claims, and how a handful of people with an obvious agenda get the mouthpiece of the BBC, NYT, and the other major networks, without anyone asking what I would consider meaningful for hard questions.

A good example would be that when the two spokeswomen claiming genocide and forced labor in Xinjiang are revealed to get funding from NED (a US Congress and military-funded center to push democracy into countries that don’t want it), that should be a red flag to a critical mind. Their own page states “The National Endowment for Democracy is a U.S. agency that was founded in 1983 with the stated goal of promoting democracy abroad. While sometimes referred to as a non-governmental organization, the NED functions as a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization.” Funded by Congress, with an agenda to push back against non-Western-aligned countries, their testimony also has suspicious holes. I wonder how can normally “bulletproof” journalistic machines air their testimony without poking into it, be so convinced without objective and independent evidence? One woman (Rushan Abbas) claimed to be in a retraining center, but the BBC blurred out only the detail of her passport renewal date, later it was revealed, she renewed her passport while she was supposedly locked up, something that doesn’t make a lot of sense and undermines the veracity of her testimony. She also changed her story at least three times, going from mildly unpleasant and then later escalating it repeatedly with more and more details in regard to torture and rape, with an aim to further demonize the guardians and bureaucrats of the Xinjiang region. In the West, one can not question a claim of rape, so we immediately accept this as true, but we have seen in the past how easy it is to manipulate a Western audience to manufacture consent for war, and later, find out that the real war criminals were the ones making lies to justify invasion. There are also issues where she claims her sister is in prison, and her mother has reported they just don’t talk to her and have broken off contact. These stories are common — someone claims their nephew was killed in a Xinjiang prison, and then their brother posts pictures, the family is happily living in another country and doesn’t understand why they’ve been used as propaganda. When asked how she felt about US-led genocides in the middle east, she seemed glib, not having a comment about that, very careful not to bite the hand that feeds. She’s got one job, discredit China, don’t talk about human rights with her unless that’s the narrative. Checking her website, she boasts about plenty of experience working for government agencies, homeland security, and the CIA. This is the witness put forth that they want to use to manufacture consent for war? So much hangs in the balance, so we must give this narrative a hard pass until concrete evidence comes forward to support them. We must not beat the drums for war again.

I would be swayed to see it for myself or read it from people who have first-hand experience and evidence and do not receive money from organizations trying to push a Western agenda on China, or militants pushing for violent independence. That hasn’t happened yet. I have seen Colin Powell’s former aid in the state department Lawrence Wilkerson explain why Afghanistan is so important to the US, because it’s their pipeline into disrupting China via Al Qaeda, using violent extremists to make issues and slow China’s progress (watch it for yourself).

I guess it bothers me, whatever the truth is, that we only hear half the story, without context, and that is an unfair depiction of China. With the history of racism in the West, I feel it’s part of a campaign of unfair treatment and portrayal as Other that really bothers me and feels unjust. What people don’t often acknowledge in the Xinjiang story is that fighting violent extremism and terrorism is hard and that the West hasn’t written the playbook on it yet. China had escalating terror attacks with bombs and machetes that left hundreds dead until they raised security to protect the region. Many locals claim to feel safer now and appreciate the rapid economic development in their lives. It is never judged against the American standard either because I don’t see ‘1 million dead and endless wars in 6 countries that create more orphans and more terrorism’ as inherently better than using mass surveillance or jails and ‘re-education centers’ to track and hold those who leave China to fight with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, get trained in violent terror tactics, and then come back to try to ferment violence and disorder. Every country enforces the right to protect its people from without and within, and create armies and jails for that purpose. I read that China blocked Facebook after Facebook refused to block accounts from Al-Qaeda from recruiting inside China, where as many as 10,000 Uighurs are believed to have left to go fight in the Middle East. China fears and monitors closely for their return and activities to prevent future violence. Xinjiang is too important to China, and I believe, for their new silk road and trade initiatives that in this way, similar to the USA, that they refuse to bargain with terrorists. Instead, they develop the Xinjiang region, pouring billions into building roads, shops, jobs, factories jobs, schools, and opportunities for a better life. This is the way to fight terrorism, and I wish people in the West would get to see that side of it and not just the biased news coverage.

The misinforming isn’t just politics when health is made political. I think about the vaccine business going on these days, and Cerebral Venous Sinus Thrombosis, causing a blood clot in roughly one in 1 million patients. This has stopped the use of the two affordable vaccines, while the costly ones are rolling ahead as they paused their rollout, with one of six being fatal. This seems to be related to the adenovirus properties of the Oxford Astraezenica vaccine. Both are flagged and being studied further. Experts seem to think that unless “fixed,” they will not be recommended for use in women under 50, as those are the demographics of all affected patients in this extremely rare condition. Some criticize big pharma for playing up this rare condition (hell, birth control has a 1 in 10,000 chance for a clot, and people use it) and underplaying the for-profit vaccines’ side effects. There are billions and billions of dollars of profit to be made in a pandemic, so it’s natural to be skeptical but sad all the same to see this lack of trust so directly impeding our best efforts to right the ship. Then again, my mom told me about a 54-year-old woman who died yesterday in Quebec due to a blood clot from AstraZeneca. It’s hard to argue with it when it’s someone you know; it hits home. Pfizer has a rare case of facial paralysis, but while both are rare, no one has paused that money maker. A very real question we need to know, but I understand how difficult it is to study, is how infectious can the vaccinated be? And how will having a partly vaccinated relaxed portion of society mingling with a more (or less) cautious unvaccinated masked (or unmasked) population affect each other? Stay tuned, this year, to find out.

China is planning to give out billions of doses of their vaccine to developing countries and is criticized for doing so by the West, who’s also criticized for not doing so, for vaccine hoarding is a global threat when developing countries desperately need the help. America has a billion doses, and developing countries are expected to wait until 2023 while COVID ravages their health system and people. It does feel like the West will criticize China for anything these days, just to deflect attention away from their own problems, and while the accusations leveled can often play to the heart or sound serious, often there is very little supporting evidence behind them and that in itself is problematic, in a history of spin and lies used to manufacture consent for war, coming up on twenty years since they paraded a tearful young girl in front of a camera to say how Iraqi soldiers were killing Kuwait babies, throwing them from incubaters, on top of the weapons of mass destruction. Later, almost a million dead later, it was revealed none of those claims were true. No dead babies, no weapons of mass destruction, no reason to invade Iraq. One day America might face a war crimes tribunal if they ever agree to play fair. Although mainstream news barely touches it, we see that the chemical attack in Douma, Syria that killed 40 was actually revealed by the OPCW’s own chief inspectors to be staged, the report later changed by admin, not on the ground. Politicians called the inspectors out as ‘rogue agents spreading lies or incompetent ‘pseudo-science quacks,’ but it was their most veteran inspectors, their most credible scientists that said there was no chemical attack there. It feels like I’m into Jason Bourne tinfoil hat stuff, but my very friends on social media are susceptible to the spin machine. How could you not be? They ask me how I can champion China’s COVID response for a year as an example of how to successfully use nonpharmaceutical when 1–3 million Uighurs in Xinjiang are being held in jails and/or coerced into forced labor to make Xinjiang cotton. It sounds very serious and is meant to silence me into being ashamed I moved to make a life here, I suppose, for being happy in a country that could do such bad things. I don’t get how one-sided and flimsy it all sounds without anyone really recognizing or questioning that. Three million? That would be 30% of the population, locked up? How would they even manage to house and feed that many people? It defies logic and commonsense.

It’s hard to believe that the whole world could buy a narrative presented by fewer characters than I have fingers but I will run it down again. Look closely at the sources for the stories and you see a very small recurring cast of characters. A group of people connected to an independence militia movement, formerly a terrorist group (East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), that the US just de-listed, allowing them to fundraise in a further effort to ferment violence and disruptions with China. Then there’s Rushan Abbas, a spokesperson who worked for the CIA in Guantanamo and gets paid from NED, a pro-democracy group funded by the military. In Australia, you have ASPI, a think tank funded by the Australian military, who employed a teenage “hacker” to use google earth to identify factories and large compounds and call them all prisons with blurry aerial photography. What they don’t recognize is that it’s common in China to live and work in the same place, I live at my school too and I am not a prisoner. And the ringleader is a German religious nut named Adrian Senz who’s the US expert for Xinjiang despite never having lived here. His primary qualifications are being vocally anti-Chinese and he believes all nazis are victims of communism, including children that weren’t born because of communism. Not abortion, but because of circumstances like increased social welfare leading to lower birth rates. Despite his lack of any qualifications, he happily takes money from the military. His figure of “1 million Uighurs” was a ‘guess’ from a supposed former prisoner, and he writes reports that misquote and fudge Chinese documents to use in media broadcasts, such as a report about how China has brought 850 million people out of poverty and has now required all citizens of China to have only two children (previously Han Chinese could only have one, and Uighur could have as many as they want).

The UTIs used to help with birth control were 8% in Xinjiang, but Zenz said it made up 80% of all the surgeries in China, being wrong by a factor of 10x and essentially saying that every woman in Xinjiang had 3 UTI birth control surgeries a day, every day, for years. They call this sterilization and genocide because it’s politically convenient to attack an economy that is booming when their own is in decline, and personally, this offends me that the media recites it, and people will believe it. It undermines real genocides, and disrespects real victims of it. No matter that Xinjiang has the fastest population growth in China. From 2015 to 2017, the annual growth rate was usually above 1.1 percent. It dropped to 0.613 percent in 2018, but was still twice the national average of about 0.3 percent, according to the central and regional government census. Senz and Abbas have made claims and the BBC and NYT print that up to 30% of people are in prison, based on literally no data, a 16-year-old on google earth taking pictures of schools and factories, without any idea of how a society could operate and feed and house 30% of its population in prison…an astounding figure. In China, people laugh at it, it’s painfully out of touch with reality.

The problem I have with all of this is that America can start wars in five countries, bomb a million Muslims around the world in the name of its national security, persecute Muslims across the middle east, making up lies and stories to manufacture consent at home for their wars, and then has the gall to accuse China of genocide for locking up people it perceives as threats, re-educating them to deescalate extremism, building up their communities with economic opportunities and monitoring their families. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and if you believe Edward Snowdon, a pretty serious surveillance state of its own. This is despite the national incarceration rate being at its lowest in 20 years. About 25% of the world’s total prison population is in the United States, despite it being only 4% of the world’s population. The USA is holding over 2.19 million prisoners as of 2019 (1.38 million in federal and state prisons, 745,200 in jails), the vast majority of them are people of color, Blacks, Natives, Hispanics, and many of them for soft drug charges such as Marijuana, even as it becomes a billion-dollar industry for white CEOs across the country. Their 13th amendment allows the use of them in factories, plantations, even fighting fires for an average of $1-$5 per day. So when America calls out mass incarcerations and labor conditions, I can’t help but feel like it’s a lot of projection. But I don’t know for sure. I know my wife’s cousin has a cotton plantation in Xinjiang, and they use John Deere tractors, not slave labor. I know that sanctioning half a million jobs in Xinjiang by the west, forcing Adidas, Nike, and H&M to cancel their contracts, does not actually help the day-to-day lives of Xinjiang people to thrive. If anything, it will drive them back towards poverty and make them more susceptible to extremist thought. The sad thing is I think that’s the point.

There are interests in the West that want to create conflict, making their money selling guns and bombs. The complicated thing is I don’t think most people who watch TV are bad. They just see things and believe them, repeat them and post them. But it hurts those of us who live in China and love our lives because we see that this negative portrayal is not honest, or just or real. I haven’t been to Xinjiang, though, yet, so I guess that’s something I have to see for myself, to be sure. I’m planning to go, as soon as I can, this summer perhaps.

Eling Park is a natural oxygen bar in the heart of Chongqing.

I used to use this quote in music when I was younger, by Mario Savio, in live sets. “There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you cant take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to throw your body upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it and the people who own it that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.” It could mean many things to many people, but to me, it can represent the feelings of those of us that want to stop the eternal war machine and the corporate-capitalist machine to stop destroying our planet. They are powerful forces, but together, we are stronger, and so I have hope.

I have lost touch with friends and some family members for my work in fighting the COVID pandemic, championing the green new deal, and in trying to point out the flimsy nature of the sources the West uses to trash, countries compete with, including China, often before they attack them. I regret none of it, because it seemed like the right thing to do. I think of a quote by Deitrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Although it is much simpler not to wade into such nuanced and complicated dialogues, I believe it is a mistake not to speak our minds and do our best.

Every country does things in the name of security, like jailing individuals for many years, that our empathetic hearts would find arduous, but we trust that it is for the greater good to preserve the rule of law and safety in society, while we try to work towards a more balanced system of justice, for all, not for some. I wonder how the Western media is able to hone in on politically convenient targets (i.e., its major competitor on the world stage) for the public to be outraged by while ignoring or washing over those that are not convenient. Saudi Arabi gets a pass for their murdering of Western journalists because the West is hungry for oil, but the changing testimonies of a handful of former CIA operatives is proof enough for the major networks to poison the amazing work China has done in the minds of millions around the world. And by that, I mean, raise 850 million people out of poverty and govern 1.4 billion people in one country that works very well together for the most part and is the safest place I’ve ever walked around in, day or night. That doesn’t seem right or fair, but I only know what I know, and until I go and see for myself, I can only speculate the truth. In the end, we trust what we see, what we experience, and what we discover.

Travel and learning foreign languages are the best ways to eliminate racism because when we go around the world, we see that people are just people and most governments are just people doing their best to thrive in a complicated world. I am excited for the end of the pandemic, one day, to get back to travel. I’ve seen a dozen countries and languages this decade since I left Canada and want to see 100 more in this fantastic experience called life. I trust we’ll get there. We have to.

US President Joe Biden, wow, that feels much nicer to say, less heavy than the former, made his first impassioned speech to congress. Acting like a moderate, his fairly progressive caucus is pushing for some real change and imploring the 10 Republicans they would need to fix their country to get on board. I wish him luck. In his speech, he said that the country that gets out from under the pandemic first would rule for the next 100 years, and he needed their help to help him get America back on track to compete with China. To be fair, China has 400% of America’s population, and most people subscribe to 996 culture, 9 am-9 pm working, six days a week. I don’t know how America feels it can keep up with this engine as it’s now getting fired up, and with the pandemic in China effectively over since April 2020, China has worked to get back on track and even made a 3.4% GDP growth in 2020, one of the only countries in the world to maintain positive growth. That is to say, I guess, that I hope Joe gets the help and support he needs to make America better for his people, but it shouldn’t be to beat China or any other country, but because they want a nice place to live. Only fragile egos need to be the best, rather than be happy to work hard to be the best that they can be.

When I try to step back and be objective, which side, the West, spearheaded by the USA, or China, is more likely right here, I see what the facts can tell me. A simple google search reveals 7 governments the US has overthrown, 35 countries where the US supported fascists, drug lords, and terrorists, and 72 countries since the cold war that the US tried to forcibly change their governments. The US has been involved in 5 major wars and attacked at least as many others for one reason or another, for their own interests in resources, or global and financial dominance. When I do the same search for China, I get a much smaller list: skirmishes within its territories and along its borders. The only government the Chinese CPC seems to have toppled is the former Kuomintang (KMT) in the Chinese revolution 70 years ago.  America has 800 military bases in more than 70 countries around the world, while China so far has only one base outside of its territory, in Djibouti. I feel like it’s pretty clear who is being the aggressor here, and that I wouldn’t be surprised if, like when former president Donald Trump would attack his opponents, that there is a fair amount of projection going on. That said, I know you cannot manage a nation as big as America or China without making some tough choices, and to create a peaceful environment, they crack down pretty hard on those they deem to be threats. If you can give America a pass for all that, and trust that they’re doing what they do, in the ‘best interests’ of their people and the world, how can you not give China the same benefit of the doubt? I am not trying to apologize for that or invalidate the suffering of human experience at the hand of empires, but just try to be objective and clear-minded about why the voices on TV point out certain stories for us to get angry about while ignoring others that might be more blatant, and upsetting, but do not get our attention or our focus. There is a political calculus that goes beyond morality, a pragmatism when the West gives Saudi Arabia a pass because it needs oil, or formerly democratic Myanmar’s actual, literal genocide against the Muslim Rohingya people, a series of ongoing persecutions by the Myanmar military that persisted under the temporary (2011-2020) democratic Myanmar, because, well, they’re democratic, they’re allies, or, perhaps, they have no oil and pose no economic or military threat to the USA, so they don’t matter too much. This makes me sad when political calculus and manipulations can pretend to wear the cover of morality, for, like using the word genocide without cause, it dilutes the potency of these words, and as a writer, I do believe words matter.

On the topic of suffering, it hurts my heart to hear that as desperate as the fight in Indian cities is against the COVID outbreak, it is worse in the villages, where there are no hospitals, no oxygen, and no doctors, simply people with fevers, and headaches, gasping for breath, struggling to survive. It’s a tragedy, and it will get worse before it gets better, and all the aid in the world could arrive before it makes its way into those rural village blocks and alleviates their suffering. I am grateful, and lucky, that I and my family are healthy and safe, and I hope for the end of the pandemic soon. Stay home, wear a mask, get your vaccine, and save lives. That message hasn’t changed, and it’s still true today.

I visited China on a teaching tour in July of 2014, when I was still doing music, playing gigs and I didn’t expect it to change me so much. I fell in love with Chongqing, and have been here for seven years, marrying a wonderful wife and being accepted into a large Chinese family. I’ve been a mentor and teacher to thousands of bright students, had the privilege to be an editor and writer and podcaster for iChongqing, and publish my pandemic diary in English and Chinese both in China and around the world. The experience has connected me with many people, old friends and new, and a few that told me to give up. I’m glad I didn’t listen. It will take more than a few blurry photos and the easily discredited testimony of intelligence agents and extremists allied with violent terrorists to change my mind, but I’m listening with my heart and ears open, and hope that my readers can try their best to listen too.

One thing for certain, we need to communicate better and learn to trust again. If I can’t discuss world issues because I don’t believe their sources and they don’t believe mine, it makes for a pretty fragmented experience. I hope, soon, we can travel again, because travel is what kills natural prejudices and shows us that we are all human, we are all one.

I’m planning to finish and publish a few Amos the Amazing stories this summer and get them out as soon as possible. I feel like I might be able to write fiction again, after spending so long glued on the news and reporting the pandemic. I will keep blogging, but, want to tell some of the stories of my heart while I can. I want to publish them here, and maybe one day meet Zhang Yimou and see them on the screen. It is my dream, and everyone should have one. I made a new shirt to remind myself to work on it every day, so the stories in my heart could light my way through the darkness ahead.

Kai’s new Amos the Amazing Tshirt for his book about a Chongqing boy who discovers a world of magic.

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