It’s been over 20 months since the pandemic started, and there seem to be two worlds: those that don’t want COVID and those that can’t seem to be bothered either way. Or to be fairer, perhaps, those who believe hard work today to attain 0 cases is worth the effort, and those that felt it wasn’t that big a deal. China and New Zealand use a 0 tolerance model, where we lock down areas at the first case, use track and trace and strong mask and vaccine and quarantine protocols, and are mostly safe COVID-wise. Then there are the other countries, who are still having arguments about whether it’s legal or moral to make people work together to save lives. In the worst affected area of Canada, Alberta, Premier Kenny declared a state of emergency and said Alberta might run out of intensive care beds within ten days, putting in all previously removed restrictions such as social distancing, banning social gatherings for unvaccinated people, and requiring masks in schools. He said the government made ‘a mistake’ when treating COVID as endemic and is trying to reverse the course. As Xiaolin likes to say (or sing), ‘it’s too late to apologize’ when the people are already dead. An ICU pediatric doctor tweeted that he can no longer guarantee the affected children in his hospital critical care treatment because some people said it violated their rights to work together to save lives. I feel far away from those debates, and I guess I am grateful for the chance not to be directly concerned. We do the right thing in China, prioritizing the health and wellbeing of all people here and move on, and I’ve been busy writing my book and teaching.
Amos the Amazing has been an inspiring journey and excellent for my mental health. All summer, I wrote the draft, August 30, printed out a copy and stuck it away for a week, and then took the red pen to it and got back to work. My fantastic and encouraging contact at a local CQ university has begun a reading series for university students, allowing them the opportunity to read and critique a novel in process, by a Western author, about a Chinese boy protagonist set in Chongqing. For students of cross-cultural and literary translation studies, this is possibly the first pilot project of its kind, and I am honored to take part in it. Although I wish I could do it for every one of my forthcoming novels (the early feedback from the students, by chapter, answering my questions on a guided reading are very helpful), even if this was a one-off, it’s worth putting all my energy into doing it right. The year of the metal ox demands as much.
The process is quite exciting and demanding but creates a machine-like structure out of what would otherwise be a lonely writer in front of their laptop spinning their wheels. Structure and a process are essential to making progress. Monday and Tuesday, I revise a section of about 5000 words, read it repeatedly, tweak it for redundancy, character motivations, story goals, dramatic turns, sensory writing, literary techniques such as metaphor, symbolism, and alliteration. Then, grudgingly, I send it to my beneficial developmental editors on Wednesday. They go over it meticulously, and by the weekend, return it to me with inline comments and a general take on the section, what is working great and what needs a little more finesse. I take it back and tweak it for another day, and then send it off to the university with my video and guided reading questions by Sunday evening, take a rest, and begin the next section on Monday, to do it again. In 16 weeks, the course will pause Spring Festival, and my first draft will be rocketed into the third draft or so, with a metric tone of Chinese university beta reader feedback to help me fine-tune it before translation and publishing. I’ve been getting some bites on that front and really looking forward to seeing this one through to the end.
Mid-Autumn Festival came and went, and I ate a few mooncakes, played Mahjong with the family, and enjoyed a little break. We have so many holidays in the first part of the school year. It’s really an excellent soft launch. After the National Holiday, we’ll have 3-4 hardcore months of work and then another long break during the winter. I’ve prepped my sweaters and scarves, but it’s still so hot, over 35C many if not most days, that the idea of wearing these warm clothes is laughable, but I know one day the time will come, and I want to be ready.
Something we’ve looked forward to for a long time, my son Jin’s wedding came upon us just before the start of the National holiday. It was a makeup workday, September 26, but many of us managed to get the time off to be there anyway. Jin looked grown-up and handsome, and his wife Cici was sweet, kind, and beautiful. They looked like Wedding Ken and Barbie cake toppers, so perfect was the moment that I found it hard to really believe it was happening. I made a decent speech, but most of my best jokes had been stripped before we made it there. Xiaolin told me that unlike the western tradition of hilarious and long-winded speeches, the Chinese tradition demanded short, upbeat, and profound. So I did my best. This is the last speech I have to write before the Solar Punk one for Shanghai if I can still make it to that. It was a good one.
The wedding itself was lovely. We got to host 200 or so close friends and family, had a great celebration, lunch, and dinner, and it was all done safely, without masks or need for worry or precautions. In most of the world, this would have been either extremely irresponsible or dangerous, but because of China’s incredible efforts to keep us safe, it was fine. For that, I am grateful. The roadmap we’ve offered from the beginning for pandemic management has kept us in the top echelon of pandemic management and provided a lighthouse for the world in how to do pandemic prevention correctly.
Many people congratulated me at the wedding, which felt a little undeserved, I mean, it was their hard work and marriage, but that is perhaps the united cultural aspect in China where the wedding is not of two people but two families. By that, I am not losing a son but gaining a daughter. We hope to travel with them a little over the National Day holiday, getting to know Cici a little more before their honeymoon vacation. I am really proud of them both and wish them a long, healthy, happy lifetime and a big, beautiful family. One of the gifts of getting older is watching those little ones grow up and make something remarkable of their own lives. I have to be honest too, that I am proud and so thankful for them to be Chinese- what other country or people work so hard to give their children the best educations, best opportunities, and best foot forward for their young lives? Most experts consider debts and financial issues the number 1 source of conflict in marriages, and while many young couples in their 20’s struggle to buy a home while straddled with student loan debts that will turn into mortgages and lost money to insurance companies for most of their working lives, in China many families work hard to pay for their children’s education, and then give them a home to live in, paid clean and full, with no debts or mortgage. I can only imagine being in my 20’s with my own home paid for, not a debt to my name, and a huge and supportive clan of loving and supportive family around me waiting to help me make the most of my life and raise the best children with all of their help at my disposal. This is the best, in my humble opinion, aspect of Chinese culture, next to the healthy and holistic way we treat our elderly. At least I will get to enjoy the latter, as I hope to grow old in Chongqing, a resource and font of elderly wisdom and philosophy for the next generations of our Wang family clan.
My Shanghai Conference is back on, the 2021 World Forum on China Studies in Shanghai, postponed from early September due to a minor COVID outbreak at the Pudong airport. China is once again mostly COVID free, but there are a couple of cases of concern up north in Harbin and in Fujian where a family who returned from Singapore quarantined for 21 days and passed nine consecutive negative tests before testing positive and causing a local outbreak 39 days after returning to China. This is, of course, a concern and will be monitored closely; either the containment facility had loose protocols and they got sick while leaving the quarantine hotel, or they are one of the 0.01% of cases Dr. Zhong Nanshang had discussed that could hibernate infectivity much longer than the average and we must prepare by perhaps, extending the self-monitoring period extra several weeks or month to contain future incidents. I am looking forward to testing my thesis connecting China’s incredible success with COVID-19 pandemic prevention efforts with the greater struggle to come: the transition from burning fossil fuels and being a coal-burning CO2-creating global superpower to a carbon-neutral or even carbon sink or carbon sponge green energy country. The current CPC plan calls for carbon neutrality by 2060 and in itself is an ambitious goal, even if it’s 40 years away.
Can we keep the pedal down and do even better? It might be hard, but I do hope some breakthrough technologies, such as China’s planned solar farm in space by 2025, might allow for such incredible leaps.
I do feel a swelling sense of hope from the pit of where my despair used to live. Let me explain. For 20 months I’ve watched China succeed in the pandemic where many countries could not, and have been sickened and frustrated while many pockets continue to debate the efficacy of masks, or the mandating of vaccines as ‘invasions of freedom’, as if the highest freedom was the freedom to walk around infectious and sicken your family and loved ones. It’s been depressing and frustrating for many science-minded and reasonable people to watch this ‘debate’ crawl on while people continue to get sick and die; because while the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths are among the minority of unvaccinated people, children who are not able to vaccinate safely yet, are the casualties of this ‘debate’ and flex of ‘Free Dumbs,’ and it’s a very unfortunate situation for teachers and parents to have to see happen. But it dawned on me, many times over the last 20 months that the West’s inability to make the hard choices today for a better tomorrow with COVID, such as a long lockdown with adequate contact tracing, testing and quarantine, and containment to isolate infected people that would have slowed and halted the outbreaks in their country, what they said was impossible, in many ways was a dark mirror and a microcosm for their complete inability to honestly discuss and address the issues of climate change and global warming that they’ve generally ignored since 1982, for more than 50 years, as it’s worsened and created general climate instability, warmed the ice caps, changed gulf streams, flooded some areas and created dry forests rife with constant fires in others. This was the darkest, hopeless feeling before the dawn; when I realized the yin to our yang was China, who fought so diligently, who did what 99.9% of other countries said was impossible, to do the hard thing today for the promise and hope of a better tomorrow. We fought for every CM of freedom and spared no expense to beat back COVID, making countless hard decisions and sacrifices today for the promise of a better tomorrow. What country could be better able to work harder today for a better environment tomorrow, could better demonstrate the cooperation and hard work needed to transition from black to green energy, and create the leapfrogging of technologies not yet invented that would help us to rocket towards our carbon neutrality goals than China also? This is my hope, that we will quickly turn the corner from the world’s largest emitter of C02 (from a recent video on CGTV, 28% of global emissions despite being only 18.5% of the world’s population), to the world’s largest producer of solar power and clean energy. It’s true, China’s been the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels since 2008, and since 2011 produced the majority of global photovoltaics annually, but also the world’s top investor in clean energy for 9 out of the last 10 years according to the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. To me, this is an incredible moment to witness in the history of China and the world, and it’s been a light switch moment for me, when I went from feeling creeping despair: how can I teach my students for their future without feeling sorry; for the world, we are going to give to them, to, while knowing we have an epic struggle ahead of us, they will, if we are triumphant, get to tell their children and grandchildren that they witnessed the end of the age of coal and fuel-burning black power and the dawn of the green energy revolution, won the fight against climate change and the dawn of the age of our Solar Punk future: Humanity living in harmony with nature, and high technology, and an age of peace and prosperity. I believe with all of my heart that China will be the global leader of this new age, and am excited to go to Shanghai and make that case, that we and the youth of China that I’ve been invited to address must cooperate fully with the government, encouraging the rapid transformation rather than dragging our feet, we must accelerate the technological transformation for the sake of our future and our shared planet with billions of humans and billions of animals of all kind that depend on us. The Holocene might be over, but our Anthropocene can be a beautiful thing if we make it so, so, let’s ‘make it so.’