The Beijing Review asked me to write about my Christmas and the post-COVID 0 environment in China. It felt like a great way to cap three years of “The Invisible War (Kai’s Diaries),” a trilogy of nonfiction journals spanning half a million published words in the national news for multiple countries in multiple languages that chronicle my journey from a place of fear at the beginning of the pandemic, to a place of wonder and learning, to that of sharing and peaceful acknowledgment, of acceptance, and hope, by the end, just in time for Christmas.
The news reports that the current strain of Omicron, BF.7, is the most contagious yet (a reported R0 of 20!) and has become too transmissible for China to contain. After two and a half incredibly successful years with COVID 0, it is untenable, and people need to get back to work, be outside, and take a chance at living. So about two weeks ago, we kissed our health codes goodbye and just went about life. Some carefully – others quite carefree.
For three years, my wife and I have gotten pretty good at avoiding COVID-19. In the past week, every family member except baby Ethan and every single one of my friends has caught the SARSCOV2 virus, just going about their days. We feel like the only ones, although some stats say half of China has still to encounter the virus. This reopening is good news for our hopes to revisit Canada this summer. That’s a huge relief. We called my mom and Grandma last night for Grandma’s 93rd birthday. She couldn’t believe it had been almost five years already.
The good news is these new variants are relatively mild for most vaccinated people, especially those with healthy bodies and good levels of Vitamin D3. On the flip side, with a population of almost one and a half billion, that’s still going to lead to some serious illness and death for many folks-and that’s a tragedy beyond measure. We cannot control a pandemic and the course of a virus; all we can control is ourselves, so we focus on mitigating risks and, as the French say, improving our terrain with exercise, vitamins, a healthy diet, good rest, and lots of warm water. I have concrete goals for the eventual post-Spring Festival gong show that in-person teaching feels like: I will get down to 12% body fat, be in the best shape of my life, and be ready to tackle SARSCOV2 when I finally come face to face with it. It’s getting milder and milder, and I’m getting stronger and stronger every day. I like my odds.
Christmas this year is quieter than most. The big public feasts are off, like the writer’s dinner I attended last year. We got a lovely invitation to see our good friends this Christmas, but all of them are still coughing, and a few are still testing positive. We don’t want to get COVID for a plate of turkey and a few good laughs. We’ve worked too hard these past three years to throw ourselves at it. So we will continue being COVID super dodgers as long as possible, hoping the continually weakening variants will be milder and milder by the time it does corner us. Baby Ethan came to visit for our ‘Christmas party’ at home, and his rapid test was still negative. So we try to walk the line between avoiding risky situations and not being afraid to live. Heck, we even snuck out to see Avatar 2 in a Chongqing theater last week, and so far, so good. The first one was Xiaolin’s favorite, so if there was ever a movie to ‘risk dying over,’ it was this one.
My friend Tom runs a pizza house and sent us a special dinner on Christmas Eve. It was absolutely delicious: roast Chicken, salad, ham and cheese platter, salad, and I added some fixings: gravy, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce to the side. We exchanged cards and gifts and watched Willow. I fell asleep early, of course; that’s what 3 hours of exercise a day will do, I suppose.
For 60 days, I plan to write my new novel, a secret horror story set in 1920’s Paris, as I promote my recently published Solarpunk fantasy, Amos the Amazing, in the west. So far, the reception to a 2038 Chongqing that has conquered the virus, turned around a looming climate emergency, created space tourism, and a lunar resort in the west has been excellent. The audiobook, a collaboration with an award-winning British actor, will add a new dimension this spring, and the Chinese translation will be published next year.
There are many things for me, a writer and teacher, to be excited about. When I look back to my first diary, January 23rd, 2020, I was afraid of the virus, the unknown, and not having accomplished my dreams of publishing my books. After nearly three years of contemplation and putting in the work,’ I am more satisfied than ever and ready to see what a new ‘open China’ holds regarding adventure and opportunity. I hope to live 50 more years and publish 30 more books, but no matter what, I have already lived my dream. Life is for living when you take the fear out of the mix. Like my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Rob Roy MacGregor, Scottish Robin Hood, and his cohorts that fought and died for freedom used to say, “every man dies, but not every man truly lives.”
In the end, life is a journey towards your goals, where we stop to smell the flowers and appreciate the sunrises and sunsets along the way. In these quiet, pristine winter hours, I prepare to partner with BookBub, a literary service in America, to send my vision of a Future China as a solarpunk world power to two million middle-grade readers for their winter holiday; it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Baby Ethan decided he wanted to stay over for six days! He really meant it. At about 11 pm, he started to cry for his mama. This was where previous ‘sleepovers’ have always failed. Somehow Xiaolin talked him through his anxiety and his fear, and eventually, he fell asleep. Bravery is not the lack of fear but steeling yourself against a mindless, terrified panic and some sense of resolve, despite your fear. Ethan woke up today at the crack of 10 with a big smile on his face. He is a big boy now.
As I sip my morning coffee, the news comes across my desk that China’s National Health Commission will downgrade the management of COVID-19 from Class A to Class B. That means no more quarantine to enter the country and no more sealing of high-risk areas. I gues that means I’m flying back to Canada for the summer to see my family.
So what did a pandemic teach me? Like Seneca once said, life is short but long enough if you use it well. In 2020 I felt like an imposter, with binders and drafts but a writer without a published book. In 2023, I’ll have the better part of a million words published in 60 countries and multiple languages read by millions of people because I let go of fear and went with the way – the Wu Wei. Writers write; that’s just what we do. In the end, life is beautiful when you stop being afraid to fail and just put in the work.