Tragedy without empathy sounds like comedy.
I realized this painfully one Saturday afternoon in July. Xiaolin and I were tutoring a young kid’s early learners class when Xiaolin got a phone call. I kept up, but her surprising gurgling made the children laugh. It was a strange sound— from their teacher. It made them laugh because it was unexpected. It was the sound of her heartbreaking.
(I remember now, years ago, helping to feed a baby kitten from a litter, where one had a disabling injury from birth, and the funny sound it made when my friends tried to feed it milk from a syringe, we laughed a little, uncomfortably, because it was odd — unexpected — later, I realized it was the sound of it choking, trying to live, and it did pass away from its injuries days later… now, decades later, I remember that sound and our confusion and my heart leaps for my beloved Xiaolin and our family)
Meito, our niece, was at Shiyoulu mall, and the Ultraman exhibit was crowded with people. Just like that, someone pushed her two-and-a-half-year-old toddler — away. He wriggled out of her hands and disappeared into the crowd. She cried and screamed and finally got help to find him, but when she called us, it was to say, hey, please help, your grandson is missing. Ethan, a very independent toddler, was happy to run off on his own, but where did he go? So Xiaolin is crying, weak in the knees, and I put on a video about fruits and tell the kids I’ll be right back, but they look alarmed. I’m simultaneously trying to find out what happened, support her from collapsing, and comfort her as she barely hangs on — that’s how fast your entire sense of security can collapse, just a second, and everything is not the same as it was, there’s only a hole, where our hearts used to be. She’s going to head out the door, but I want to go and help her, so I’m suddenly trying to find someone to watch them for an hour so we can run to Shiyoulu mall to find Ethan in a crowd of screaming children. We need someone to babysit if not teach until the parents come back – we can’t leave them, but. I can’t leave Xiaolin to face this alone.
Just like that, our grandson is gone, and my mind races to the darkest places of baby kidnapping gangs and human trafficking, even as I figure he’s probably just hugging a fuzzy mascot and laughing. Xiaolin is barely hanging on now- I can see this weighing so heavily on her shoulders, the incredible weight of the first wave of tragedy.
Within 5 minutes, before we can finalize our exit plan, Meito calls back. Ethan’s been found, just a scare, a mother was watching him until the crowd could filter enough for the helpful families to track him down. The rest of the family is racing to help in the mall, full of advice “use a kid leash,” “don’t go to crowds alone at his age,” but mostly full of love to protect them. I give Xiaolin a few minutes to recover, and I teach the class until Xiaolin can relax for a few minutes.
She returns, and we explain how kids should never run away from their adults because we worry so much about them, and we finish the lesson.
Keep Your Kid on a Leash.
The next day, we take Ethan back to watch the Ultraman show – but we have him on the kid leash and don’t take our eyes off him for a second. It’s his hero, he’s happy, and we don’t want to deprive him, but he’s so important to all of us.
Last month Hachoo ran away.
It was a Tuesday morning. I’d been at Jacob’s playing D&D until midnight the night before, a rare schedule switch so James could be involved with his shifty schedule, and I was up at 7 to teach at eight on Tuesday. I had a break at nine and came back to lie down. Somehow, the lock didn’t engage, and about 9:30, someone came up or down the stairs. Benben pushed the door out into the hallway, and they both took off. We got up at ten and looked around. No dogs, the door was open. I ran out to find them and saw Benben sniffing around outside. No sign of Hachoo. I climbed every building on campus, floor by floor, 24 floors, calling her name, but she was gone. I had to teach at 11:30 and was giving a keynote speech at a human rights and COVID conference that afternoon, so I had to make a tough decision to get back to life and hope she returned. She didn’t. We tried to get the security camera footage but hit roadblocks, and then I was teaching, eating, and heading out to the conference. My mind was on her all day, but it was amazing and rewarding despite my heart not being in it.
A few days later, after days of walking around the neighborhood calling her name, I finally got access to the cameras and saw her run out of the house, within a couple of minutes, right out the gate. My theory she’d been taken on account of her cuteness by an overzealous visiting parent during the GaoKao’s was wrong. However, it still happened in the chaos and business of that event around campus.
After a few weeks, we stopped calling her name as we walked, but I still looked for her. Benben stayed, Hachoo ran, and I wondered in my life which dog I would be, the one that was looking for any excuse to bail given an open door, or would I stick around and fight through obstacles because this is where I truly belonged? I’m scared that I have two dogs in me. I want to be a Benben.
Sometimes, like when we had a heavy rainstorm a few days after she ran away, I stopped at that moment and breathed, focusing on the in and out of my breath, and I just wondered where she was. Who she was with, what was she doing? I hoped, then, that she was picked up by another living family, a cute and happy dog. She certainly deserves it. Sometimes though, I wonder if she just ran away and kept running, like that old song, runaway train, and was scrounging for garbage and hiding under cars as the pouring rain pounded the ground, and I wondered if she missed us or knew her way back. I realize then how my dad must have felt, and my mom, during the most difficult moments of my teenage DJ career when I was wandering around the USA, playing gigs, and taking shelter from storms. My heart aches for her.
The CPC turned 100.
I got interviewed at the school by national news again for the CPC 100 event about the pandemic and poverty alleviation. While normally I wouldn’t say I like watching my interviews– I generally prefer writing to vlogging, they did a nice job with my interview, and I felt quite eloquent. I even shared it with my friends back west to see more about where I live and how I feel.
First Media Event for Amos Goes Elsewhere (novel) a Success.
I got asked to read a poem at an event for Hong Kong, Macao, and Chongqing University students, so I wrote and read a chapter from my forthcoming Amos book. The event was in Tongliang Village, and that’s where my main character, Amos’ grandmother, lives and where he returns from his magical adventures Elsewhere at the end. So, I wrote a chapter near the end from my outline and, feeling brave, read it to the crowd on that hot and sunny day.
I was glad I did, as the response from the students and professors was very positive and encouraged me to keep writing it, and so this summer, I have been working hard, aiming for 2000 words or a chapter every day. I find I write best in the morning, with some green tea or coffee and a clear, focussed mind, so that’s what I generally do. A few days, we’ve had to get up and run to the new house, where Xiaolin is putting the decorative finishing touches on it. It’s been hard work for her, but I’m proud of her, and it’s looking great. In general, July has been good, and summer is going well. Except, we’ve put off plans for the vacation.
Failure of Nanjing Airport Workers to Respect Protocols Causes Worst Outbreak since Wuhan Epidemic.
China has been generally COVID-free (for the most part) since our initial lockdown and epidemic prevention. Our quarantine net and contact tracing and strict testing and quarantine procedures have been rock solid, the fact that seems inexplicably unreproducible in the western world so much that they can’t even imagine it even in theory. That said, we had an incident that’s rocked China harder than anything else since the Wuhan epidemic outbreak.
The story emerging is of a problematic flight from Moscow, Russia to Nanjing, China (now temporarily banned for their repeated infections on board, previous ones caught in quarantine and treated without incident until this massive failure of protocol leads to disaster), and nine airplane cleaners who, it’s been reported, disregarded their protocols, rumored to have removed their masks on the plane to eat some free Russian plane food. The nine have been infected and proceeded to seed an outbreak amongst their friends, families, and coworkers. China has been chasing down contacts hard, but this Delta Plus Variant makes it difficult. Compared to the so cold inoculum of the wild type that would take 10-15 minutes of the casual encounter, experts here say 5 seconds, within about 2 feet or 0.6 meters, is enough to transmit the virus. Close quarters indoors, but outdoors is also a possibility. There is no such thing, they say, as a free lunch. Although many angry Chinese are calling for stiff penalties for the workers that caused so many of us anxiety, inconvenience, and lost business, revenue, and more trouble (and they are no doubt coming for some leaders of Nanjing), I cheekily propose we send them via a green card to the USA, where their lackadaisical attitude would fit right in. That’ll teach them.
Nanjing tested its entire 9.2 million person population twice, isolating and quarantining anyone deemed a viable threat for 14 days, narrowing down the patients. We had daily spikes of between 50-100 patients for a few days, but it is now settling down. With about 1200 active cases for 1.4 billion people, there is now under one case per million in China. That said, we had 3 cases in nearby Chengdu, a couple in Chongqing, which was enough to put several communities on lockdown and the city on high alert. We’ve tested hundreds of thousands of possible exposures, and so far, it seems to be mainly under control. Still, some schools and tutoring centers are already shifting in anticipation and prevention to online remote classes. My school has asked us not to leave the city, and after one Beijing man got COVID on a flight back from Sanya, our appetite to go there has diminished.
Summer vacation: Raffles City Staycation and the Infinity Pool
Instead, strongly desiring a break from my routine and some sun and swim, I took a chance and offered to dog sit and house sit for my friends who left for a weeklong trip to the majestic deserts of Gansu. Their pad, an exclusive new complex at Raffles City, the famous horizontal skyscraper downtown, has a gorgeous infinity pool and the night view is probably the best in the city.
We had fun with her parents playing some MahJong and enjoyed the change of pace a lot. Their golden retriever puppy was a handful for us, especially with old Benben, as he was too old and too small to be able to really play with her and just barked and tried to hide, but we managed to make it work. She’s an adorable puppy, as huge and strong as she was. The week saw me get some good writing done, some great swimming and relaxing opportunities, and nice meals. We went with take-out over dine-in, as many people are now on high alert again or the first time in 14-15 months, and we’re wearing masks in the malls. They’re doing routine temperature checks and QR health code checks to get into these crowded locations, but it seems to be working to find and isolate potential infections and keep the rest of us safe.
99.999% Survival Rate Among Vaccinated People.
New studies say there’s a 99.999% survival rate for vaccinated people even against the Delta plus strain in the USA. With 160 million Americans are fully vaccinated, just over 1000 died — it’s pretty good odds against hospitalization or death. Still, the studies show even fully vaccinated, we can get enough to get a bit sick and spread it, not as much as the unvaccinated but still enough to worry about our kids and the immunocompromised unvaccinated folks.
Luckily, my grandma, parents, and close family people have all had their shots. Behavioral differences are interesting too. 54% of vaccinated adults in an Axios poll from July said they were extremely or very concerned about the delta variant compared to only 25% among unvaccinated adults.
How many go outside without masks? Vaccinated: 16% never wear them outside. Unvaccinated 35% never wear them outside. So the delta variant plus outbreaks in the west are very different between unvaccinated and vaccinated communities.
Some areas, such as Alberta and Mantiboa in Canada, are removing all mask regulations or requiring COVID-positive individuals to quarantine. This freedom is their hope for lasting herd immunity, but the impact on children 1-12 who cannot yet get a vaccine or the immune-compromised who cannot be vaccinated is quite a wild card, and there’s a potential for a lot of long covid and a generation of severely impacted individuals such as we haven’t seen since the polio epidemic of the 1950s
Some areas with high vaccinated populations see a mild covid presentation, with very few hospitalizations and deaths. Others, with low rates, have stuffed ICUs in the city, county, and states, where medical triage decisions might again fall heavily on the shoulders of doctors and nurses still suffering PTSD from the earlier waves. They say, if you are unvaccinated, your chance of dying is 25X higher than if you’re vaccinated. If you have the opportunity to get one, get one. It’s not just about COVID— there aren’t ICU beds for adults or kids in many low-vaccinated areas now. Your kid breaks his arm, your family gets in a car accident, someone has a heart attack, and there aren’t beds, there’s no place to go. The vaccine hesitancy will also surely create more dangerous variants and mutations of COVID… this isn’t the end of the story, as much as we’d like it to be over and move on now. The mixed messaging in many countries, including politicians and leaders arguing that it is not serious despite all facts and deaths, makes it very hard for many people to know how to behave. Against, I feel fortunate to have seen it from inside China, where we worked together and handled the epidemic as a united front. I hope the story of how well an effective collective effort can be will somehow be a lighthouse to places that sorely need that kind of coordination. From the human rights conference, I picked up a great quote that sums up our feelings well, “Without collective effort and collective freedom, we cannot have individual freedom.” That’s the takeaway.
Vaccines Passports Are Coming To Your Pizza Shop – New York.
New York is discussing making it illegal to drink or eat in public without proof of vaccination. It seems like mandatory vaccination and passports are needed. Someone’s personal decision to not be vaccinated affects other people, and they might see insurance rates rise or certain public activities removed because their choice affects everyone. This is, of course, controversial, but when health becomes political, everything is controversial.
It’s not just about protecting yourself. This is about protecting everyone around us. A comedian and MC friend tells me that a Shambhala festival party happened in their Salmo area in Canada, inviting a mix of cool cats and the Qanon kooks, anti-vaxxers, and conspiracy folks that have taken over spiritual groups this year. A huge spike in cases 10 days later can’t be a coincidence. Photos of 120,000 maskless folks at Lollapalooza in Chicago are a severe cause for concern too. They came from all over, and all over they will return, Delta Plus with them. What is going on with people?
I’ve seen Delta Variant go from 20% prevalence in the UK to 99% in a month. Now it’s taking over America and Canada as well. They say it’s 60% more transmissible than the Alpha (Kent) strain, about 50% more infectious than the Wuhan wild type. Now that we have the Lambda variant wrecking havoc across South America and Delta has entered their region, we will get to see Delta and Lambda fight it out; which super strain will be most dominant? It’s like watching Mothra fight Godzilla and King Kong for a Kaiju super showdown. In the end, the virus strains will win, not the people. “What doesn’t kill you mutates and tries again.” So mask up, stay home, get vaccinated.
The Olympics are a thing. Two local CQers won gold in Tokyo! China and Canada seem to be doing quite well.
On July 6, 2021, Mary Simon, a former broadcaster, and diplomat from Kangiqsualujuaq, Nunavik, was appointed the new Governor-General in Canada. She’s represented the Inuit people to the Canadian government and the US and worked on the Inuit people’s inclusion in the constitution in 1982. This is the first indigenous appointment to this top job, at a time where the government is being pressured to examine all 139 “Indian residential schools” after more than 5296 children’s bodies were discovered in the first handful that was examined by radar/radiograph. There are 130 or so left to check, and it is thought that thousands more bodies will be discovered. The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996, after a century of the government and church attempting to eliminate native cultures and peoples from Canada in a disgraceful and violent genocide of cultural assimilation. Mary Simon is one step in the right direction towards reconciliation and healing, but there are many more to go.
The Invisible War Isn’t Over, So Stay Home.
I’m reminded today of the beautiful heartfelt song my brother Dash wrote to compliment my precautionary pandemic tale and how in a world where people loved a little more and took the warning as seriously as we tried to deliver it; we might not be where we are today or headed to tomorrow. But if wishes were fishes, there’d be oceans of dreams— instead of growing dead zones baking the oxygen and suffocating the seas. Please stay home. Please stop burning gas. Don’t let lipservice to green ideals hoodwink you anymore into pipelines and backroom deals with world-killing corporations. Be a solar punk. Demand better. Fight for your life and planet, and all of us like you believe it’s worth dying for because otherwise, you’ll be dead anyway. When I go out, I want to go out fighting, kicking, and screaming for a better world than on my knees, capitulating to the massive world killers making billions off planetary mass extinction without even a struggle. At least that’s how I feel today.
I Didn’t Want to Write this, and I Don’t Suppose You Want to Read it.
I have been putting off my diary for most of the summer so far because I’ve been enjoying my life, my writing (Amos, a joy to write fiction and a break from reporting disease and deaths and gloom and despair, as I’ve done for 16 months now). But the pandemic rages on, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t make at least a menial effort monthly to keep a record of our life. I don’t spend much time on social media anymore these days. The same memes telling people to wear a mask are being circulated 16 months later, people still trying valiantly to make the right analogy to appeal to those who are not working as a team, but instead, presented with the same data as everyone else, more concerned about rights and freedoms and the perception of conspiracy and infringement than the actual emergency and pandemic in front of their noses. The emergency that brought China together has, as my Canadian friend Rhett told me, made many westerners paranoid and out for themselves only — the opposite of what we need to navigate this emergency and the ones to come, like climate catastrophe and the green new deal we need collectively to manifest. I can’t stand it anymore. The good news is, I am happy living my life, less digitally, more old school, with my family and friends, happy, healthy, grateful, and lucky.
July 15 was ‘Freedom Day’ in the UK. While experts protested and I cringed at the universally short-sighted lifting of mask and quarantine restrictions in many countries, even as the Delta plus variant wave is rising around the world, somehow, inexplicably, the UK case numbers are going down.
42: The Meaning of Everything
My birthday is coming up – August 9th. It’s the Year of the Metal Ox, so maybe hard work is what’s called for instead of Tibet, Xinjiang, Sanya, or a dream trip somewhere in the world. So, as the metal ox suggests, I will work hard to do what I must with my writing and advocacy and hope it fulfills me. I have a sunburn, and it reminds me of my time in Mexico. It’s nice, the little things. The Canadian border will open to vaccinated Americans, and we hope the tourist dollars will not also be paid in blood. I will be 42, the number that the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy referred to as the meaning of everything. Taking that to heart, I am trying to decide everything I can about my life, my purpose, and accomplish my goals as much as I can before I turn 43. This will be a very decisive year for me, so I continue to work hard every day. August 9th will also be the release of the new IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, rumored to draw the broad conclusions that the extreme weather emergencies at catastrophes have now gone beyond and reasonable anomaly and are the cause of human-caused global warming and climate change. This is not a surprise to most people but will hopefully quiet the critics who oppose any efforts made to save ourselves and our planet on principle.
Last month, the small Canadian town of Lytton, BC, broke the record for hottest Canadian temperatures, between 46-49C for 3 days straight, killing 200 senior citizens before it caught fire and burned to the ground. This is a sign of things to come, should we not manifest a Solar Punk alternative to mass extinction.
World Forum on China Studies in Shanghai Keynote Speaker
I’ve been invited to travel to Shanghai at the beginning of September to be a keynote speaker for the World Forum on China Studies, to speak on behalf of and directly to the youth of China. I am hopeful the epidemic situation will be safe to travel by then, and my publishers have told me they can also schedule some book release events over the same time to make it a rare and useful visit for me outside Chongqing and in China’s most international city. I’ve decided to write a blunt yet hopeful speech that will hopefully stoke the fires of the (well deserved) nationalistic pride Chinese felt at their gold standard COVID response and extend that spirit of cooperation to the existential climate emergency. I was required to piece together a 200 word abstract for their event program. Here it is:
Abstract: Solarpunk China and the Green New Deal
Solar Punk is the vision of lush green cities with rooftop gardens fuelled by clean energy, a harmony of technology and nature, and the only solution to the existential climate disaster facing us.
The COVID-19 pandemic left the world grappling to make hard choices today for an easier tomorrow. In stark contrast, China showed a single prolonged lockdown could avoid years of lightswitch opening and closing, recover the economy, and protect a generation of children from long-Covid.
The west’s struggle to make hard choices today for a better tomorrow was a dark mirror of our global failure to address climate change, while China’s collectivist society was a lighthouse to the world. China is uniquely positioned to become the SolarPunk leader of climate action on the global stage.
President Xi Jinping said, “lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets,” and in Guangxi, we are building the world’s first carbon-neutral forest city. Our forest coverage has grown from 12 percent to 23 percent since 1980, planting forests the size of Germany in the last five years and contributing 1/4 of the world’s recent re-greening.
China is the world’s largest solar power producer and must continue to speed up the timeline to preserve the planet. Solarpunk China is the world’s best hope, and for our youth, our greatest opportunity.
Amos Goes Elsewhere (novel) Coming Along Well.
My book is coming along well. I’ve posted the first part, ten chapters, to alpha readers for comments and am working on the big middle section. I have about 35,000 words out of a planned 80,000 written, and I hope to get it to beta readers in the fall. It’s a tough schedule, but I like the pressure to keep me working hard.
Xiaolin’s Birthday was Wonderful.
We had family over for lunch and went to Chris and Jacob’s for dinner. She loved her oil portrait from a renowned Beijing painter of the iconic snow day picture she loves, and she got me a necklace as my early birthday present.
I bought a PS5. Xiaolin was not impressed, an understatement. “Another game machine” was all she thought. Sometimes that culture clash is real, but I do my best to be patient because the benefits of my life here far outweigh the difficult moments of misunderstanding.
Some Schools Are Going Online; Others will Postpone Opening.
Some of my friends are shifting to online classes, and the news says medium-and-high risk cities (those with active cases, I presume) will push back fall school … perhaps a month. I don’t know if that will affect me or not. My friend’s gym (he owns) is closing down temporarily, and I believe mine, and most of them, are also closing for safety. It’s better than because we have a full-blown outbreak, but it’s a bit of a bummer not to have access to the pool and gym, but hey, it could be a lot worse.
Xiaolin got 3rd shot. We’re fully vaccinated now, and we’re working on vaccination passports. One day, we will travel again.
Life is the greatest vacation – treasure it while we can.
Kai shares his diary exclusively with iChongqing. Kai has been writing about the pandemic since his lockdown began on January 23, 2020. You can follow his fight against COVID-19 on his blog, www.theinvisiblewar.co, or find his first collection, Kai’s Diary (The Invisible War), the story of Chongqing’s battle against the COVID epidemic in book stores and on Amazon.