March 7 – Year of the Ox (Epilogue: Part 4) The Legend of the Phoenix

“All cruelty springs from weakness”, Seneca says. It’s been a tough year to champion China’s COVID response because Netizens have been bombarded with endless negative propaganda, often from conservative, far-right corners funded by the military-industrial complex. They say favourability levels are at all century low in the West, a country that always needs an adversary to unite against. What bothers me is not that they don’t have anything to criticize; it’s that they pick and choose very conveniently what to ignore and what to feel outraged against. The corpo-owned, military-industrial complex sponsored media is very biased yet claims to be free and independent. It’s laughable, really. The US kills a million Iraqis after manufacturing WMDs, lying about evidence, to fight the threat of domestic terror—no genocide. And the US gets a pass. The US lets half a million of its own die from COVID, often people of color—no genocide. In fact, we cut democratic Myanmar some slack for its ongoing persecution of Muslims in the Rohingya genocide, because you know, they’re diplomatically aligned. Saudi Arabia and its ongoing campaign of genocide in Yemen, that’s problematic, but hey, we get their oil. So the question is, why does the media focus on China? It’s convenient, it’s political, to paint China in a negative light for locking up extremists; to stop subway and market bombings and machete attacks. They call it genocide. But who is saying it? To be an ex-pat in China in 2021, you must be both an epidemiologist and a diplomat and historian it seems. It turns out the info is coming through from the far right. Groups that challenge China, like NED, are military-sponsored, with the goal of ‘spreading democracy.’ They interview a handful of people, make sweeping claims, implant it into national headlines. But it never feels like the whole story to me. The West cries, “China destroys democracy in Hong Kong,” in China, we hear “finally pushing the British government out of Chinese territory that it stole,” it’s sort of a matter of perspective. Western coverage is always very western-centric but tries to pretend it’s a very well-rounded and critical point of view. They don’t report on the wonderful life here in China or cover issues with a historically accurate picture. No mention of the opium wars that devastated the Chinese and funded Ivy league colleges or colonial oppression. It’s just talking heads peddling fear to sell security. So I turn it off and enjoy my life.

People are worried about the Brazilian variant causing reinfection in previously recovered folks. The Brazilian one seems to be different enough that you can get it again, but it’s not clear that you can get the Brazilian one more than twice. Also, all vaccines lower the sickness you get from all variants, it ranges from not sick at all, to very mild, but in general, vaccines are really working. Countries that have managed it well have kept the variants out, and are ready to share vaccine passports with other safe countries…. and CDC is saying people will be able to share space in crowded spaces (sports matches, concerts, parties) unmasked with other vaccinated folks. This is all we need to hear to make it through the rest of winter, I think, some good news during the icy winter, and sounds really promising.

I WILL come back to see my family in Canada again. I hope to see many of you for a beer or poutine or pizza when I do… much love.

I bought some shoes online. It was a process, and I tried to keep it as cool as possible, tried to justify it, I work hard, I’m a teacher, a tutor, an editor, a columnist, a novelist, a blogger, and they all pay. In China new clothes for the new mean good luck. But I’m still an addict. I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink, I don’t cheat, or gamble, but I am addicted to the rush, that dopamine hit, and I still get it from shopping online, slamming hard, black coffee, and a few other things. My wife, a strong protector of our better interests, not an enabler, is like a dragon that sits on top of our savings, guarding my money against my impulses. When I get the urge to be compulsive, to buy something for the sake of buying, I try to put it away for 15 minutes. When I feel in the grips of addictive shopping, I try to be in the moment, listen to music, exercise, or laugh and relax. If the feeling passes, I don’t buy it. If I keep coming back to it, chances are it might be something I need, or at least, really want, that will be useful for me. If it’s not shopping it could be the escapism of perpetual phone scrolling. We are constantly hungry for a new story, new video to laugh at, new jokes to share, and hungry for approval, comments likes, and shares. Sometimes, it’s easy to wonder what we are running away from, always scrolling, always glued to our screens. I used to hate the idea of being boring, and boredom more than anything else, but a little self-reflection and inward soul searching go a long way.

The ancient, wisened Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “It is the part of the wise man to resist pleasures, but of a foolish man to be a slave to them.” I try to moderate my life, enjoying the heady pleasures of the future without being a slave to them, without being afraid of being by myself, and contemplating my life in those quiet moments. In fact, they are some of my most peaceful, enjoyable ones.

Still, I bought the shoes. The Nike Ferrari’s. They’re gorgeous and were size US 13 (47.5), which is very rare in China. On an American store, they were $553 USD. That’s 3599.20 RMB. I got them for 193 RMB, or $29 USD. I’m not sure if they were knock-offs, or the pandemic is making export impossible and super cheap, but they look and feel great. For reference, I bought a pair of AF1’s last year for 900 RMB, or $138 USD. I don’t know if those were “real” either, but they cost more. Does that mean they were cheap authentic shoes or overpriced fakes? A year later, they’re still great except I tore up the inside right heel fabric a bit being lazy with taking them off. It makes me really think about the prices of things, and what reality, authenticity, is really worth. I saw a documentary on Shenzen, the cradle of manufacturing and it discussed the differences in IP approach between America and China. In America, as many as 30% of staff could be in the legal team, making sure no one is infringing on their designs. In SZ, they don’t bother as much to police IP, they just hire more engineers to develop the next big thing faster. People will copy and imitate, but if you already have the next big thing, that’s how you maintain market dominance. My wife and I bought an LV bag for about 30 Euros in China that was obviously fake, and she liked another one we both for 1200 Euros that we bought at an LV flagship shop in Rome, Italy. They sit beside each other on a shelf now and I can’t tell the difference. If the quality is the same if they were made in the same factory, with the same materials, the real ones 9-5, the fake ones in the evening, do I care? I really don’t. I’m happy to get a nice deal on some shoes. If someone can make these for $29 including a satisfying tidy little profit then Nike is robbing sneakerheads at $553 USD. It’s completely manufactured nonsense. There are a lot of reasons I like living in China, and not making billionaires richer seems to be a new one to put on the list. 

Two years ago, I went through a phase where I bought over 100 Kickstarter projects, becoming a super backer. It was interesting to me to be able to fund the independent entrepreneurs and futurists, those with cool, trendy, and fashionable future-forward ideas. The problem was, as I thought, living in China, I was overpaying 5 to 10 times too much and then waiting a year for things that were already available down the street from me and then paying for it to ship from China to Europe and back or China to America and back with my wife laughing at me for being a fool the whole time. This morning, for example, on Facebook, I saw a cool carbo-Bladerunner sling bag offered as a sponsored ad. It was cut-proof, USB 3 charging, big enough for your small notebook or tablet, and all your daily carry accessories. It looked super cool. It was €85 to back this wonderful new project. The problem was, I had bought the exact one in the summer of 2019 for my trip to Europe. It already existed, years ago, in China, and they are pretending they have to design and develop and produce them over the next two years with no promise of actual delivery. I took a picture and sent it to them side-by-side they look identical to the thing I bought for 99RMB; they were selling for €88, about five times the price. It’s just doesn’t make any sense; I mean, other than the fact that these people are not entrepreneurs and creators; they go shopping for cool products on Chinese websites, write a bunch of fake cool copy and sell them for 5 to 10 times the price to Western suckers are used to be one of those western suckers now, I shop in China. What can I say about all that? I guess I’ve evolved, my point of view is more nuanced, and for that I’m grateful.

Avatar (2009) came out again in the cinema in brilliant 3D and with an incredible audio mix, just so well done, fantastic film. I’m not sure if they updated the 3D or it’s just aged very well. It’s an incredible movie. It’s amazing that capitalism can produce such anti-capitalist manifestos— artists are amazing. I sobbed a few times and as much as it can be critiqued for the ‘white savior’ trope, it’s a beautiful film really makes me hate human greed that enables suffering for profit, including the slave and child labor around the world that most likely happened to make this MacBook sing.

Are you a fan of Elon Musk? Asks a Buzzfeed quiz. Name 5 nickel-cobalt mines that use child labor! I can’t, I admit it, I just know, we all benefit from the exploitation.

“The fact that Daft Punk never wrote a song called trash fence baffles me a bit”, says Peter Aslandidis on Burning Man, as the news breaks that after 28 years, Daft Punk is breaking up.

“Trash fence is a Daft Punk cover band”, says J Lillian Thanas.

“Never say never”, I say. “I have hit them up and pitched a performative reunion piece at the fence….” It’s happening. 

“It’s different, but more or less as it’s always been,” says Kevin, welcoming Guy onto the deck of Heavy Meta, his fire-breathing metal dragon. “I mean, we’ve been wearing masks and goggles for years, so we’re ready for any storm, dust, or COVID; it doesn’t matter.”

The guy smiles under his robot mask and turns on his drum machine, firing off a series of quick hits, like a heartbeat, syncopated and funky. “It’s so wideout here,” he says with a hint of lilting French, “in the wide-open air.”

The crew sails on into the horizon as twilight falls, one sad robot playing his drums. It’s almost dusk by the time they see it, the perimeter fence, and they hard bank to follow it into the growing darkness, for some time, until they see another dragon, this one electric and with a new LED lighting system, pulsing.

On the desk of the electric Tesla-powered dragon, Elon is waving around a martini glass wildly as Thomas bangs out the funkdafied synth keys of a beatless disco tune. The familiar pads are warm and groovy, with a touch of sorrow— a promise unfulfilled.

There is already a crowd waiting as the dragons meet, and disbelief turns to jubilation. “They finally did it,” someone shouts.

As the dragons approach each other, one blinking and one shooting fire, both captains wave hello again and line up side by side as the two Robots recognize each other in their sonic grooves. The crowd goes bananas as they start to sing into their vocoded synthesizers.

Like the legend of the phoenix

All ends with beginnings

What keeps the planet spinning

The force from the beginning


We’ve come too far to give up who we are

So let’s raise the bar and our cups to the stars.

We’re up all night till the sun.

We’re up all night to get some.

We’re up all night for good fun.

We’re up all night to get lucky.

Satchitananda, existence, consciousness, and bliss. This is the subjective experience of the ultimate unchanging reality, Brahman, it’s the thing I’m trying…

I reached out in the darkness and turned on the tap again, cranking it from the tiny drip into a flood. The water exploded like a burst dam, rushing into the tub with a ferocious fury. With it came new ideas, new sensations, new memories crystallized into the water molecules: who they’d touched, cleaned, passed through, who they’d been. I lurched momentarily, overwhelmed by the rush of new information, and then settled into it. I could feel my nurse puttering about in the other room, making tea and singing a slow Spanish lullaby, one she’d had sung to her as a small child in a faraway land. She stopped to consider me and gave me an exaggerated wink, and the water in the kettle toiled and boiled, humming. 

I pulled the rubber stopper, letting the rush of water find a conduit out and away- through the hotel water system. I felt my consciousness, which at that point had just been getting used to being a large tub filled with water, expand again as I became intimately connected to the pipes and waterways of the hotel, to the showers and the sinks and the toilets. I quickly spread beyond the hotel’s pipes and spread into the city, feeling the pulse of millions interacting all around me, and I spread through them, out into the gulf of St. Lawrence, and then finally out into the vast oceans of my watery blue planet. I spent a long time there, playing among the eddies, washed newborn dolphins, and was blown playfully through the blowhole of a blue whale. Moments passed that could have been millennia and were, as I traveled forward and back through billions of years, the lifespan of the nearly endless blue oceans.

Finally, I looked up at the celestial heavens, the sprawling cosmos, the never-ending ever reaching darkness peppered only ever so sporadically with pinpricks of incalculably bright balls of light; on closer inspection, huge masses of flaming space rock. I followed the rain, surfed on the gentle breeze, and kissed the tender cheeks of lovers as I rose up into the highest clouds and still higher until there was no more moisture in the air and no more air at all, and still, I rose into the vacuum of space, the great nothing above and I stared into the dark abyss, a mirror to my soul, like a barbershop across the cosmos, the stars we see were reflected back at us, through time, the child’s head across the room was us, once.

Music’s got me feeling so free.

We’re gonna celebrate

Celebrate and dance so free

One more time

I sit down at the Bovine in downtown Toronto, listening to the surf band groove away. I smile at the familiar face across from me. 

“Danish, this is Kat,” says Laura. “Kat, Danish.”

“Hi Danish,” Kat Von D says with a smile, sipping from a fruity cocktail through a straw. She’s kind of a big deal.

“Hi Laura, hi Kat,” I say and sit back in my chair, playing it cool. I’d heard Kat and Joel… Deadmau5 .. split this week, and the girls were enjoying a drink before Laura’s burlesque performance. I sit back so hard that my chair cracks, sounding like a gunshot that makes the LA native’s eyes grow wide in momentary alarm. 

I grasp the back of my chair before it hits the ground and trying to slide it under the table delicately. “I prefer stools,” I say, with a shrug, going for nonchalant but feeling pretty dumb. The song ends, and Laura gets up to dance, and I order a few drinks and let the groove carry me away…

Tim asks: “is it cancel culture, or is your idea so bad that everyone is making fun of you?”

“Did you see or hear about DJ Medicineman’s boomer post,” asks Jesse. “I love the new braless summer trend, but what’s with the mom jeans?” never have I seen a more thorough and entertaining live public lynching. “Everyone is making fun of you” is exactly what happened. But so did something extra: cancel culture. People posted in the number of the radio show he worked at and called in to get him fired. Any of his friends appealing on his behalf for a more charitable reading of his dumb post were put on blast, and mutual friends asked to unfriend and congratulated for unfriending his sole defender. And other friends who might have stuck up for him got the message: shut up. And to his credit, Medicineman allowed the whole thing to play out on his own wall, with just one friend (briefly) defending him.”

“You should check out Clementine Morrigan,” Kevin says. “She says f**k the police means we don’t act like cops to each other.”

 “This makes me happy I “canceled myself” to go find an interesting life and seek spiritual growth,” I say to whoever might be listening. “Because the Medicineman example makes me sad if you can’t comment on some fashion or make a dumb post without people trying to ruin your life…it’s simpler here.”

It’s an unrefined irony ore, says the grizzled dwarf homunculus. You could mine it—- go ahead, give it a shot.

It does not matter what is making a noise outside, so long as there is no turmoil inside – as long as there is no wrangling between desire and fear, as lon as greed is not ata odds with self-indulgence, one carping at the other. – Seneca

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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