Nov. 15, Chongqing
We’ve been pretty low-key for the past few weeks, as Chongqing has clamped down on movie theaters, bars, and a lot of socializing as the latest wave hit us in October. Today a 2-year-old tested positive but asymptomatic, making a total of 6 confirmed cases and five asymptomatic carriers in Chongqing municipality. All of them are undergoing treatment and medical observation at the Chongqing Infectious Disease Medical Center. Presently, all the patients are in stable condition. It started with a single case again. His close contacts were investigated, lines of possible transmission traced, and some dangerous areas locked down and told to self-monitor and quarantine until given the all-clear.
This very localized smart-lockdown system, in conjunction with the Apps we’ve been using to show our vaccination status and “Green Code” to show we have not recently been to an affected area, allows for the most safety and freedom for the majority of us. It’s a wonderful system. As a result of the few cases we found, mass PCR (nucleic acid) testing was implemented for 3.799 million residents in related areas, and the rest of the results came back negative. Expert investigators traced a line of transmission, and there is no sign of further community infections. The situation is now back under control. This would be our slight drizzle of China’s third wave, the first wave being January-March 2020, the second wave July 2021, and the third wave October 2021-Present.
As I first wrote in my early lockdown column and subsequent book, Kai’s Diary, the nonpharmaceutical interventions (masks, distance, less socializing and quarantine, track and trace) are incredibly effective when used well. In conjunction with vaccines, we’re doing an incredible job to keep us safe. But it isn’t easy. My neighbor is a doctor, and when I heard an hour of loud banging on the floor at 2 am, I came up to check to see if they were ok. It turned out he came home after three days of constant work and community testing to shave and was given some ducks. His wife was cutting them up so he could take them back to work. The sound was annoying but tolerating it was the least I could do to honor a front-line doctor working hard to keep our city safe.
The Year of the Metal Ox is almost over, a year where hard work was required for success, and looking back in the aftermath of 11/11, a record-breaking consumption year for the online retailers, where Alibaba sold 540 billion RMB and JD sold 349 billion for Double Eleven, basically USD 150 billion for a single online sale, things seem to be pretty good, and I hope we can beat down the national outbreak, as we have the local one in Chongqing, through community engagement, sacrifice, and hard work. There are still a few areas of concern: Beijing is still on high alert with the Olympics coming soon. Dalian numbers are looking close to exponential, and I expect more severe restrictions soon to get a handle on it, Harbin and Gansu area, all supposedly originating from a retired Shanghai couple, former professors who disregarded self-monitoring and quarantine rules to take a national holiday road trip around China, seeding a new outbreak that is the most serious since the initial epidemic of 2020. That said, the numbers are minute compared to most of the rest of the world, and our community efforts to cooperate and abide by scientific guidance is a selfless form of heroism. Together in China, we enjoy the silent satisfaction of hard work.
I’ve put a lot of work into myself this year and am pretty happy with the results. Last year, still struggling with high stress, anxiety, and pandemic PTSD, I had a short temper and wanted to run out of the room every time a student coughed, sneezed, or spoke in a loud voice. Now, things are much smoother, I have ironed out my rough spots, and teaching is a joy and pleasure once again. My school supports my writing and public speaking, such as the events in Tongliang, the Human Rights and COVID convention, and the Shanghai World Forum for China Studies, all of which pulled me out of the classroom. Still, I could incorporate meaningful experiences and lessons for my students after and bring the world back into our classroom. After eight years of teaching than I have at any point since I moved to China, I feel more satisfied now, and I am eternally grateful for that.
My writing is intoxicating. It’s the most relaxing and yet complex machine I’ve ever operated. Something as unstructured as staring at a white page trying to fill it with words can feel lost and lonely, but when you can build in a clockwork machine of whirling gears of equal part motivation and support, it becomes a whirlygig of excitement. From an outline of the Amos origin story, I took a chance to write and read a penultimate chapter for the Tongliang event to students of Chongqing, Macao, and Hong Kong last June. I got such great feedback from the students and their professors. I was encouraged to finish the draft by September and collaborate on a guided reading course. Instead of my usual traveling for summer, we stayed in to join the ‘home guard’ and stop the unfortunate Moscow-Nanjing outbreak of late July-August that came from a sad breach of airplane cleaning protocols, and during that summer break, wrote the 75,000 words first draft. I had about a week to let the printed copy sit and cool down before I had to start revising for my university contact, and I linked up with a few wonderful editors in the UK and India to get a world-English perspective on the new book. Since then, it’s been a grueling baton race of excitement, where I revise my draft from Monday to Wednesday, send it to my editors for their developmental feedback until Saturday, and then take their notes and comments and fix them up to send the students a revised third draft by Sunday, along with homework questions and an introduction video. A week later, I’ll get 46 literature students’ feedback and will, by Spring Festival, use them to do a further revision before sending it off to another round or two of editing, and then translation to Chinese and to agents and publishers. And then it will be time to start a new book. It’s a wonderful system, and I love it so much.
In my free moments, I research publishing, and it’s a bit tricky. The ones that seem most receptive want investment and money, and while they might be genuine offers, the reviews are so hot and cold, but there are enough horror stories I don’t feel comfortable going that route. Self-publication is booming and gives me ultimate control to hire my team and make sure I am satisfied with the finished product. It’s very appealing, but takes considerable investment also, in money and time. I’ve been working with a few experts, some best selling authors in their rights with major publisher book deals to help write letters to query agents, who would then take it as their job to find me a big publisher book deal for the west, but I am pretty sweet on publishing it in Chinese and English locally in Chongqing. They might not want me to do that, so there are many questions. Lots of work still to do before those decisions are made, so in honor of 2021, the year of the metal ox, I cut the bull and keep on working.
A couple of cool things happened. While I was ‘tuning up’ my Twitter and trying to build more engagement in the writing community there, I tweeted that my fantasy book was almost done. I wondered what my childhood magic fantasy author, R.A. Salvatore, would do to navigate this (I guess he’d sign a major deal with TOR and write 60+ novels about beloved characters Drizzt and his companions, as well as a few other series and some Star Wars novels). It was cool when he wrote back to congratulate me, and when I told him it was my dream to publish fantasy books that one day makes kids excited about reading, as he once did when I was a kid and hooked me on books, he told me it was the best feeling in the world. It was a touching engagement, and he’s sent a few autographed books to my father and me in the past. When I get the book finished, I hope to send him and a couple of my other favorite authors a copy, and maybe, just maybe, if they have an inkling and time to take a look, they’ll tell me what they think.
My publisher told me that we are on an Amazon Best Seller List for China Books, next to General-Secretary Xi Jinping and Three-body problem book by New York Times best-selling author Cixin Liu, a famous science fiction book my brother Galen told me I had to read this year and is close to the top of my pile. The first edition seems to be sold out on Amazon, but a second edition is coming. It will even be available in paperback copies outside China in December, so I hope my Grandma can finally see her story and pictures in print in her favorite book store and on her shelf. She’s proud of that, and it makes me happy. The Chongqing Journalists Association gave me an award for my regular column, Kai’s Diary, and my colleague James another one for his work on reporting China’s great efforts to alleviate rural poverty, and it’s kind of a big deal to me to be recognized for my wee little column in a huge cyberpunk supercity of 34 million people.
Xiaolin was a bit gutted recently to find out Sanya had closed home buying for non-residents because it was always our dream to have a little vacation beach house for when we were older to relax in. For me, it was the dream of a writing retreat by the Ocean, and it felt very Hemmingway of me to imagine myself there, watching the waves, and writing my novels until an ancient age. But we took the news stoically, and when she got wind of an affordable new development in Guangdong, right on the beach, it felt like the right thing to make a move. Hard work reaps sweet rewards, and for someone who’s always wanted the treat before the labor, it feels good to relish in the hard work and consider the goal almost an afterthought or the cherry on top of the sundae.
Ethan turned three years old, and we got to celebrate in his mom’s new place that Xiaolin had helped a little to decorate- or, they both worked on new places together. Both did fantastic jobs, and while we aren’t socializing much at the moment, it was great to have a small gathering of family over and three of Ethan’s friends. The dad’s played Ultraman vs. Kaiju Godzilla battles for the kids who were all dressed up, and I could see the magic in Ethan’s eyes, this is, for a Chinese baby, like a western kid meeting Santa for the first time and knowing magic is real. It was very, very sweet and a joy to see him grow and teach him every day.
This year, I finally made it to the teacher’s annual health checkup, managed to navigate a Chinese hospital by myself, and did pretty well with my mediocre Chinese. About halfway through my barrage of tests that felt like an Amazing Race episode, a nurse approached me, asked me if I was Wang Kai, and told me she loved my book and even knew my wife Xiaolin. From then on, she helped point me in the right direction. She even made sure to tell the doctors to be extra diligent and careful with their examination, which was very kind and considerate and very much appreciated. The results back, of course, are that I need to spend more time exercising after all this writing and improve my diet.
The changes are dramatic: I’m eating breakfast now to start my metabolism early. I’ve stopped sugary drinks and treats, alcohol and coffee and tea, for now, only drinking water and no carbs past lunch which means, no bread, rice or pasta for dinner, primarily vegetables like spinach or other green vegetables, turnips, and some protein like a steak sometimes. For lunch, I could have a bit more freedom, like an egg sandwich or noodles. No snacking past dinner and my only snacks are banana, apple, or some walnuts. So far, after a week, I think I’ve lost about two KGs already. The gym isn’t an option yet, but I’ve been running and doing some Just Dance on the projector screen in the living room, so I feel pretty good about my week, and in two more, these ideas will be formed into new habits. Three weeks is all it takes. I told my colleague and friend Jessica about this at lunch on Friday, and she told me she was impressed with my dedication and discipline for these new habits, which I take as a huge compliment since those were always my weakest points growing up– easy to start projects but hard to hang in there and with a desire for chasing experience and fun, self-discipline was not my strong suit. It’s amazing what the power of hard work and high goals can bring. I’m happy to be able to teach this to my students as they prepare for the GaoKao, the biggest test of their life and determiner of their college path and future careers, and I’m happier that I can practice what I preach with sincerity. China has done a lot of good for me.
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