Day 266. I used to be a dancer. That’s not to say I was a great dancer, just that it’s what I did. There was a time, as a teenager, when going out all night, to elusive and underground warehouse parties and dancing until well past the dawn was my raison d’être, the meaning in my life. It was a whimsical time when I made friends and earned respect by pirouetting, spinning, shuffling, and turning through grungy warehouses to the sounds of Richie Hawtin or Andy C, all around North America. When I started getting booked to DJ, it was like “going pro,” getting sponsored to dance and party all night. My hearing, sanity, and my center of balance took a real thrashing during those years, but my whimsy, magic, and creativity became super sharp. Now I don’t dance so much, but it’s still who I am in my heart.
Sometimes I think that there’s sex, drugs, and rock n roll sized hole inside me. Over the years, I’ve tried filling it with everything, but. Nothing is quite an exact fit. The closest I get is the cool serenity, wisdom, and virtue that comes with mindfulness, reflection, meditation, exercise, and education. If that makes me sound like a bit of a snob, I must confess, I am. It comes naturally with age and opportunity.
My reflections in mindfulness, stoicism, and Buddhism have taught me that being a moth to the flame of gratification, rewards, and pleasure only spur us to find the next, bigger hit. In the end, we become craven. So these years, on the side of a mountain, in Southwest China, I mediate my joy with work, rest, relaxation, and domestic life. And I think it suits me. I have changed a lot, in ways, since the young grasshopper I once was.
Patience, young grasshopper, the Shaolin master said. God has given you strength; utilize it to the fullest.
I was 18 when I played my first international gig, driving 9 hours across the Canada-US border to headline a party in Brooklyn, New York, with some of the legends of hardcore dance music: Lenny Dee and Rob Gee, in their home turf of Brooklyn. I was a skinny wisp of a thing with bleach-blond hair, and I wore my blue and white Snug jersey and a white baseball cap like a uniform, taking care to keep it sparkling despite the grungey, greasy venues I inhabited. I was a good DJ because it was the only thing in my life that really mattered, and I sacrificed everything else to give it everything I had. I had fans that enjoyed me because, at least on some subconscious level, they believed if they watched me perform enough, they’d see me die on stage, immolate into a ball of fire as I burned my fat, my skin, my essence for the encore of a thrill, an extra cheer. But you know what? I was alive.
Things are different now, and I have lots of time to reflect. I guess that’s why those photos meant something; now I have time to take a look through them. I’m sitting and eating hotpot with the family for a niece’s birthday and just taking in the atmosphere, and I have to admit it’s overwhelming. It’s typical of China. The place is crowded, and every table is screaming to be heard, but no one is saying anything really important. We’re drinking, and a couple of guys are smoking. I manage to get the brother in law to change places with me so that he’s not sitting next to baby Ethan because the kid already has allergies and I know all about growing up with allergies and smokers, and it sucked, man. So that’s one good deed for today. I realize how I must seem. Not only do I not socially smoke, but I also prefer it if you don’t too. I’ll have a couple of beers, but not too many.
Because of the road trip, I’m eating out of the water pot, like a child, and rather than screaming and smoking, I sit quietly, with my air purifier medallion and my handheld air purifier sucking up smoke and germs dutifully around me. I am the only foreigner, and rather than be the symbol of chaos that I used to exemplify, literally breathing fire and screaming and breaking things, hearts, souls, anything I could get my grubby paws on, I am some kind of quiet philosopher, more at home in my modest ivory tower with a thick book than on the streets where the action is. I realize, when we go out to somewhere ‘nice’ for a date, especially in a city of 35 million people, what we’re buying is space. Space from the ground, on the 44-77th floor, overlooking the city. Space on our plates, which are changed frequently and arranged artfully, and space from the smoking, screaming, crowded masses of ordinary people, where you can hear a pin drop, you can enjoy a quiet conversation without having to raise your voice, where space, peace and quiet are the commodities that your hefty bill affords. But I am ok with all that. In a life of chapters, this is my graceful aging, and I’m glad it’s a new adventure to the ones that made me infamous, so long ago, far away, in that dreamy cacophony of the sprawl and the desert raves and festivals where I inhabited.
We need to stop identifying problems and start proposing solutions. I wanna think SolarPunk. I wanna pivot to ideas. I’m gonna need time to broil that stew. We know the political system rewards corruption and favours corporations and oligarchs. Yes we know the environment is collapsing and a mass extinction event is imminent. Yes we know capitalism is destroying our ability to live, let alone happily.
So what? We need a nonhierarchical system, flat, that is immune to corruption. This system would facilitate trade, reward efficiency, and excellence, operate fairly on a set of principals and values. What are those values? That’s a good question. We need to de-commmodify nature and animals, instead favoriting a relationship that respects our symbiosis, balance, and harmonious coexistence. We need cities but we need forests too. We need insects, plankton, biodiversity and not just to cut down or look at, but to breathe and live and thrive alongside us. We will fight for this or we will die. Could an AI be the answer? A computerized job bank and trade platform allows each of us to work, contribute, even ‘vote’ on issues of opinion, and otherwise use scientific principles to further our value system.
In the social dilemma, it’s discussed that now that we are the whale, we are the tree, maybe we will push for reform and create AI that works for us rather than to sell us, pushing a better value system into the future.
What kind of witch are you? Asks my imaginary BuzzFeed quiz. I’m a Sand Witch. I am: crusty, gritty, I love puns, I’m snack, and I thrive in chaos, maybe more to see, I am most efficient when everyone else is breaking down.
Now that Ontario has closed all the bars and restaurants, experts are asking what took them so long. “Did the changes come too late?” They ponder, as the second wave spread rocks the health care system, bulging close to bursting well before the predicted flu season X COVID-19 deadly cocktail — something to “look forward to” with dread, as the cold months set in, as we Canadians endure a cold winter of isolation, anxiety, and fear. A story that would have rocked the news cycle in any other year is now a footnote: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was the subject of a terror plot that included kidnap and the incitement of a new civil war. Trump has refused to denounce them, even as his doctors have mysterious cleared him of COVID-19 and he’s declared, “We should not fear the disease because I (with a helicopter ride and the best care and the experimental drugs you can’t access, supposedly, got through it). He’s like a firefighter in his specialized fire-retardant jacket, face shield, helmet, breathing apparatus, balaclava, and oxygen tank who survived the burning building telling everyone, “fires are no problem don’t be scared of fires, anybody could have done it.” At this point, he’s so out to lunch. You’d have to be drinking the Kool-Aid to support him still. Biden is polling higher than any challenger since 1936, so as long as Trump doesn’t steal the election again…whatever. More than 34 people in the White House have now tested positive for COVID-19, and raccoons have infested the grounds.
In exciting news, the mirror image of me, the Revel Alliance founder, supporter of science, mask advocate and researcher of COVID news, anti-mask, anti lockdown, anti-government activist Chris Sky has been arrested in Moncton. After months of posing with Toronto police at his illegal Cherry Beach parties, he’s finally been too brazen. After returning from anti-mask protests in Europe and failing to quarantine for 14 days in Toronto, he was fined for speaking at an anti-mask rally there, and then refused to wear a mask (citing a medical note and childhood asthma) on a plane to Moncton, New Brunswick, where his wife Jen recorded his interaction with flight attendants and the Moncton Police that were called to handcuff him and arrest him. He was charged for his quarantine breaches, causing a public disturbance on the plane, and then sent back to Toronto with more court dates. I am happy to see the law coming down hard on him. The popularity he’s garnered for flaunting public health policy has definitely been a bad influence on many others (while my pro mask group sports 500 members, including doctors, researchers, union bosses, and teachers, his anti-mask group has more than 10,000 members, many supposedly angry mothers that he’s offered to champion by starting an unlicensed home school program for children .. in his garage).
One thing I can admit to now, months after our “debate,” is that while he was wrong about masks, he might have been right about lockdowns – sort of. He quoted Japan as an example of why both China’s and Canada’s public health policy was wrong, but I believe he missed the point. Sure, Japan did not do an economic lockdown and did not enforce mandatory masks, but that’s because people voluntarily wore masks at near 100% compliance. A recent study has shown that 95% of the cases in Japan were asymptomatic to mild. Tokyo, a megacity of over 37 million people, suffered only minor fatalities during their first wave. As of October 9, 2020, Tokyo has recorded 27320 COVID-19 cases, 1006 hospitalized, 21 with severe symptoms, and 421 deaths. New York City, the first American epicenter of the virus, with a population about half the size (18 million), had more than 243,975 cases, 57,694 hospitalizations, and 19,237 confirmed deaths, and 4,642 probable deaths (23,879 total), even with lockdowns and attempting to use masks and distancing. This is because, as I wrote months ago, the level of viral load transferred has a direct connection to how sick you get from the virus, and minimal transfer from mask to mask means the vast majority (95%) of cases will not require intervention or hospitalization.
As I walk through the misty mountains of Wulong (Fairy Mountain), I hear the bamboo singing harmoniously, wailing in a discordant, chiming pattern that sounds both ominous and divine. Why don’t people in the West understand masks, I ask the forest, and for a moment, it grows quiet, before the crescendo of wind and bamboo whistling answers me with shocking emotion. Am I speaking to the forest? I wonder. Or to God? Jod, in the bamboo, answers back. It’s pronounced Jod, I hear amidst the wailing.
Why, Jod, I ask, is my fellow Canadians still suffering under these conditions when China’s eight weeks lockdown was enough to beat the virus? And Japan never locked down at all — just wore masks?
Some people understood it right away, Jod said. Like you, they were early adaptors.
Others waited or the experts to make up their mind, and then listened to science when it finally settled that masks were good.
And the rest? I asked. What about the rest? What could I possibly say, when all my arguments, my studies, my science, and my experts do not convince them to listen.
Tell them I told you to tell them to wear a mask, Jod said. Tell them the voice of Jod said, “wear a mask, dummies. Why would I have created masks if not for you to protect yourself?”
Would that really work? I asked.
It worked for Hammurabi, Jod said, how do you think he got them to believe in-laws, after all?
The voice of Jod, I thought, ok. I’ll give it a try.
If you’re reading this and don’t believe masks save lives, I need to tell you that Jod wants you to wear a mask.
I was reading a story to the young students recently about a grasshopper and an ant, and it made me really reflect on who I am, who I was, and who I’ve become.
The grasshopper enjoys each and every day, playing in the river, lazing on a lilypad, rushing through the grass, and singing as the wind and sun shone down on his face, brilliantly warming him. He gave little thought to the coming winter and did not work with other grasshoppers to prepare.
One day he saw a fruit violently approaching him and shouted in fear. “Banana, why? Are you attacking me?”
He heard a giggling sound, and it was the ants underneath, who had been carrying the fruit all along. They laughed at the easily spooked grasshopper, and he, in turn, rose up and laughed at them.
“It takes a dozen of you to carry the fruit, and I could carry it and eat it all by myself!” He said.
“We are not taking it to eat,” said the ants. “We are bringing it home to our hole.”
“Why? Is it bad?” Asked the grasshopper, for he could not fathom why they would want to put a banana inside a hole in the ground. He felt restless and wanted to scamper away to catch the fleeting rays of the sun.
“Because soon it will be winter, grasshopper, and all the fruit will be gone, and snow will cover the ground, and we are preparing,” said the ants.
The grasshopper laughed and said he would prepare later and wasn’t worried, and the ants knew that nothing they said could change his mind, so they went about their business, and he scampered off to enjoy the rest of the day.
As I told the story to the young Chinese children, I thought about how I used to be a grasshopper, and now, I was more like an ant. When I was young, I worked to revel and enjoy, always reaching and stretching for the next pleasure but taking no regard to the coming of winter. Now, I am much more humble, quiet, and hard-working, and prepare for not just the winter but for my retirement and beyond. I marvel in how much living in China has shaped me to enjoy hard work and collective struggle for our own betterment. We enjoyed beating the virus together, even if it was an inconvenience because it was best for all of us. Many grasshoppers in the West are more concerned about their own comfort and immediate gratification, speaking about their rights but never stopping to even consider their obligations – to their family, community, or society. In China, our lockdown was strong, and many called it draconian, but as the global economy is slumped, China is one of the countries that have economically recovered and is set to grow 1.6% – the struggle at the beginning was worth it, something most countries did not think necessary or were not able to do, now seems a pittance compared to the cost of 9 months and beyond.
As 1000 cases a day in Ontario require a new lockdown, I hope that my family and friends can stay safe and turn this around, but many predict a long, deadly and ugly winter. I know it my heart that it didn’t have to be this way.
Kai shares his diaries exclusively with iChongqing. His first book ‘The Invisible War’ aka Kai’s Diary: A Canadian’s Pandemic Diary in Chongqing is on sale now, in English and Chinese versions, both in print and online. You can also see his research and blog at www.theinvisiblewar.co
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