March 6 – Year of the Ox (Epilogue: Part 3) The Art of Living

I’m finishing a book, walking around the buffet, but everyone’s waiting in lines, and I’ve got this empty plate … I just don’t feel the need for anything because I have enough already.

“I’m hungry,” Shaolin says and finds the live shrimp tank with a weave basket in her hand. She pokes and prods the shrimp. The suckers swimming away or quickly gobbled up into the blue bowl to be later grilled. The smarter ones stop moving and sink to the bottom, playing dead; she pokes them, but if they can put on a convincing enough performance, they live to swim another day.

Life is like coconut rum martinis scooped up by shmoozing foreigners, I think, delicately clutching the glass stems as a crowd skitters by, momentarily impressed by the graceful foreigner, and they double-take. For a moment, my swagger is back- even if only to scoot over to my wife fishing for shrimp. In some places, I’ve been Peter Pan all this time; in others, I never, ever was. All at once.

Eating a shrimp – next to the flipping ones for which I hope a quick death, Shaolin smiles and asks, is it nice? It is- it is. Here our life is simple and good, we eat, and we rejoice, we have a family and they are happy. It has a dreamlike quality to it, but it is more real than most dreams I’ve had. I turn around to survey the Chinese buffet house at the end of the Universe and smile.

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks,” says Marcus Aurelius, seriously, and I nod, trying to peel back a shrimp and eat it without breaking eye contact until it gets weird.

CNN and Trump, you’d think they were enemies, but on a higher level, in the realm of capitalism, they’ve been best buds. It was good TV, ratings and money were flowing. Now the major networks aren’t covering “normal politics” and freefalling as we stop room scrolling our phones and screens with white knuckles.

As Bernie put it, the system needs a reboot – we need on the ground journalists telling real stories again. That’s an important job. Less talking head pundits, more storytellers, on the ground, working their craft.

Strangely, despite the rise of several serious variants of concern, global cases seem to be dropping. We’re just hitting 115 million cases worldwide, 2.5 million deaths, with the largest amount, 30 million cases, and half a million COVID deaths all happening in America. Trump played it down, mocked mask-wearing, held super spread rallies, slow-walked testing, spread false cures, pushed unsafe reopenings, silenced scientists, had no national strategy — antiscience denialism in politics, especially at this critical time, will lead to unmitigated disaster. We’ve seen that in Brazil too, and other far-right governments that don’t futureproof and support the people. We need to keep a clear head. But Johnson and Johnson is now FDA approved, with its one-dose-wonder, and the race for vaccination is on.

Luckily, my family is good, and so are most of my friends, but they’re not out of the woods. As Canada aims to open up again, a BC pub that hosted its first trivia night has facilitated a super spreading event that caused more than 300 infections. We called my mom to chat and Shaolin and my mom had some good laughs. The newest scandal in Canada is that, even after waiting a month to implement the ‘mandatory quarantine hotel’ from the Chinese pandemic management playbook, it’s going horribly. First, it’s only 3 days, with symptoms taking an average of 5-7 days to arrive and several days to show up on tests, this is too short. Secondly, there was no communication with previously shut down hotels as to the scale of the travelers arriving, and no government or armed guard support. Scenes on TV played out of people complaining there was no food or water arriving in their rooms, so crowds of 50-100 people were all in the lobby screaming together at the front desk for help. They were not allowed to bring in outside food for some reason. And of course, all of these mingling people were under strict quarantine. No mention of doctors taking tests and temperatures, and even though they had to pre-register with the Canadian government, no one thought to provide that information to the hotels or offer logistics support. I have a feeling they gave the contract to whoever did such a great job with pandemic preparedness and having masks for everyone on standby last January, you know the one that didn’t have any, and then instead of resigning in shame lied and said you don’t want masks anyway, they don’t do any good. The new South African variant can reinfect us, even if you have antibodies to the original, studies show, and fears grow, and anxiety builds. That’s no excuse to turn into a tinfoil hat nutter though. Saying “vaccination is a choice,” makes sense if you live alone in the woods, but when you are a part of the vibrant, living organism of a city, a nation, a society, you have a duty to the whole, you cannot be that selfish.  A society that tolerates that sort of self-sabotage is setting itself up to fall. Saying that wearing a mask during a pandemic is “living in fear” is like saying that using oven mitts means you’re “afraid” of the oven. Ok, take a breath, take a breath, and be calm. My friend Sasha told me that bees don’t need to explain to flies that honey is better than shit, and I think it means I’ve done my best and it’s time to move on.

One thing is clear, anti-Asian hate is on the rise in the west. China is advising its citizens to avoid Australia for the moment, and many naturally born Asian Americans, as well as visitors, are experiencing double or triple the typical amount of verbal and physical assaults. Something must be done. It starts with you, see something, say something.

It’s deeper than a pandemic but feels like only now are we waking up to the mess we’ve swept under the rug. When you understand that under capitalism, a forest has no value until it’s cut down, you begin to understand the root of our ecological crisis. I look out the window and wonder if we’ll have time to apply our pandemic lessons to climate catastrophe. It feels like it’s happening so fast, but on such a huge scale that we have years to watch the slow-motion changes, we have time to act. I want China to apply our remarkable pandemic stoicism and self-sacrifice for the greater good to the environment because that’s what it will take. We rocked at doing the right thing, working together, sacrificing some comfort, and making hard choices to root out the virus, but it will take a leap to apply that same thinking to our environment. One we need to make. We’re on the way – 100% electric cars by 2030 sounds radical but not radical enough — we need to see big changes fast. But I am hopeful. We can’t keep going the way we were. 

The airlines are on life support. Experts call it a sad day for the 100-year-old aviation industry. Thirty major airlines file for bankruptcy. Many more are trimming down their services to match the lowest demand in a century. By September, the industry is looking at 8,000 grounded planes and 90,000 unemployed pilots. Some are complaining they’re rusty. I don’t want to fly with rusty pilots.

A year ago, China saw success with its coordinated strategy. Now, we have downgraded our national threat level to low, as all medium and high-risk 2nd wave zones have been eliminated, treated, and protected. Heilongjiang province was the last to downgrade, as no-no confirmed or asymptomatic cases were discovered for two weeks. I hope for summer travel, to see my family, in Canada.

“Declassified us intelligence report says Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the plan to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.” I wonder what will come from this revelation. Journalists are important. We’ve also declassified a bunch of documents about the existence of UFOS. I’m excited to find them.

Kai has been writing about the pandemic since January 20, 2020 on CTV News and iChongqing and his first pandemic diary is available on Amazon. He’s currently writing another nonfiction book about the changing post-pandemic landscape, and it’s called Year of the Rat, and several fictional novels. You can read more about them here.

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