‘How’s COVID in China?’: Awkward Convos from Different Sides of Pandemic – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my post titled ‘How’s COVID in China?’: Awkward Convos from Different Sides of Pandemic. Here’s an excerpt:

How’s the COVID situation in China?

I hesitated to type a response to my friend back in the US, as the latest media reports of the virus situation over there — over 250,000 deaths and over 12 million confirmed cases — still circulate through my head. When I eventually type out that “Things are nearly back to normal”, a part of me flinches within, wondering if I just sent her the message equivalent of a gut punch. Is it ever polite to tell someone living in a bonafide disaster zone that it’s no longer a problem where you live? Even if it’s the truth?

I breathe a sigh of relief as she responds without any apparent annoyance, and I do my best to quickly shift topics to something else. But my guilt remains tenacious — the guilt that comes from living in a country that has nearly restored life to the new “normal”, as friends and family in the US, my home country, face a frightening surge of cases and deaths.

I wish my family and friends didn’t have to live with the threat of COVID-19 stalking them so close to home.

Read the full post at WWAM BAM. And if you like it, share it!

Photo Essay: On the High Prairie in Ordos, Inner Mongolia

This month I visited Inner Mongolia for the first time, and my trip brought me to Ordos, best known for its rugged grasslands, deserts, and also the mausoleum of Genghis Khan (unfortunately, no time to see that!).

But I went there to discover another side of poverty relief supported by the internet — in the healthcare sector. And I experienced it with the help of a local Mongolian man named Yilao Baganna.

He lives in a modest ranch-style brick home on the prairie, where he keeps sheep, cows and free-range chickens, and tends a modest garden.

The prairie surrounding his home seemed as endless as the brilliant blue sky, which looked like something borrowed out of a painting. And I couldn’t even see the home of his closest neighbor! What a contrast to Beijing, where I live, with its crowded streets and apartment buildings.

During my visit, he shared with me his story of how he became impoverished, due to his medical condition. A few years ago, because of kidney failure, he received a kidney transplant. However the new kidney still didn’t function as expected after the operation, so he would need to undergo dialysis three times a week at the local hospital.

Here, he’s getting dialysis done at the local hospital.

I learned that his public healthcare coverage takes care of over 90 percent of his medical costs, making it very affordable for him to manage his condition. Plus, they’ve put all the insurance information online, so it’s easy for him to settle the costs once he has finished; he just goes up to a designated window and it gets done in a matter of minutes.

The coverage has literally saved his life. He even told me that without this support, he would not be able to go to the hospital.

Yilao Baganna showed his hospitality by treating us to a snack that reminded me of breadsticks, as well as some tea.

He showed me around his house and the grounds, and horses were a common theme, from this picture with Mongolian script…

…to this decoration before the home, one typical of Mongolian households, which featured a replica of the renowned picture of eight fine steeds as well as horse-shaped metal embellishments at the top.

On the way to his home, we stopped by a tourist resort which featured statues of Mongolian guards — perfect for a photo!

 

In the process, I made a few friends too, such as with this local reporter.

I also had the opportunity to spend one evening in the more metropolitan area of Ordos, close to its airport. I discovered a riverside trail that made for a pleasant walk before dinner.

The walk capped off my short but fascinating first journey to Ordos, Inner Mongolia. The more I travel around China, the more I realize just how diverse it is.

Everyone in Ordos told me the landscape looks even more spectacular in the summer, when the prairie turns green with dazzling flowers in a variety of colors, including purple. Perhaps another trip? 😉

Lawyer’s Anti-racism Leadership Lights the Way for Action – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily just ran my most recent column titled Lawyer’s Anti-racism Leadership Lights the Way for Action. Here’s an excerpt:

This year has witnessed an alarming spike in hate incidents against Asians around the world. The surge of openly racist and xenophobic attacks has only exacerbated the dark reality of a cruel pandemic overshadowing the globe.

But this tragic situation has also sparked hopeful activism, forging some new heroes in the battle against racism and discrimination — including Xiaojiu Zhu PhD, MBE, a distinguished lawyer at the Cruickshanks firm in London, UK.

In the face of rising reports of discrimination against the Chinese community in the UK, including stories of children being targeted at school, Zhu believed something needed to be done. And as a lawyer, she considered it her duty to help people in the Chinese community protect their interests and legal rights.

Zhu came up with the idea of having an online forum for Chinese communities on responding to racism during the pandemic. The May 27 event, organized by the UK Beijing Association, the UK Society of Chinese Lawyers, and the Roundtable of Southern California Chinese-American Organizations, featured keynote speakers — including Zhu — who encouraged people to take positive action against racism and discrimination, such as reporting incidents to authorities and taking legal recourse.

More than 8,000 people from over 10 countries attended the forum, and the online replay attracted some 10,000 views. This extraordinary reception was a testament to the significance of racism to Chinese around the world, and made Zhu realize the need for an international group to forward the cause.

Read the full column here — and if you like it, share it.

Traveling to Ordos, Inner Mongolia for Video Shoot

I’m traveling to Ordos, Inner Mongolia this week for a video shoot on the road, to explore some of the poverty alleviation efforts in the region. Will share the full experience in a photo essay when I return.

And since this is Nov 11 (11:11), the famed Singles Day, China’s version of Black Friday, here’s hoping those of you who participated nabbed some great deals this year!

Photo credit: By Fanghong – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4960386

Biden/Harris Win Also a Proud Moment for Interracial Families

Wow, just wow. After a roller-coaster ride of an election day week (and a very long four years), I have been savoring this moment of learning that Joe Biden has been officially projected as the next president of the United States. And Kamala Harris will make history in the vice presidency as the first woman, the first woman of color, and the first child of immigrants to take office at that level.

But it feels a little sweeter knowing that, a little over 50 years since Loving v Virginia made interracial marriage legal across the US, we’re also going to see a woman who is part of an interracial couple and family in the office of the vice presidency. Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, a black and South Asian woman, is married to Douglas Emhoff, a white man. It sends a powerful message to people across the country, if not the world, to have that kind of diversity reflected in the second-highest office in the US. I’d like to imagine that the Lovings are smiling down from heaven at this groundbreaking moment.

Four years ago, I braced for what a Trump presidency would portend for interracial couples (and found the results more chilling and cruel than I ever imagined). It’s been a long road, and this year’s election will not magically undo all the damage. But it’s an inspirational start, one which I will celebrate with smiles, laughter and maybe a little dancing to Mary J. Blige’s “Work That”. 😉

via GIPHY

How do you feel about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris winning the US election?

When US-China Tensions Get Personal: Intl Couples Spotlighted in PRI Story

For those couples who are a living reflection of US-China ties — such as me and my husband — recent tensions between two respective nations can feel a little more personal at times.

So I was thrilled to find a report by Rebecca Kanthor (who is also an American with a Chinese husband) exploring the real impact of US-China tensions on Chinese and American couples. It’s titled ‘You can’t just break up’: US-China tensions add stress for binational couples.

One of the couples featured in the piece spoke about how challenges have given them second thoughts about their plans:

Their plan was to move to the US together this year, but the pandemic canceled those plans.

“Because everything happened when it did, we kind of put everything on hold and we’re just here [in Shanghai] for the time being,” Mention says.

But it’s not just COVID-19. The relationship between China and the US has been testy, to say the least, and that’s made it harder to imagine a life together in the US.

“I think it could be much more difficult for [William] to find a job or to get a visa. We think that the hoops we would have to jump through would be much more difficult,” Mention says.

This sounds much like what I’ve observed with a number of Chinese and American couples I know. You can head on over to PRI to read or listen to the full story.

If you’re part of a Chinese and American couple, how have US-China ties affected your personal life? Or do you know Chinese and American couples who have been negatively impacted by politics or otherwise? Sound off in the comments!

Wowed by Ningxia ‘Wonder Woman’ at Poverty Relief Plant – Pub’d on China Daily

Recently, China Daily published my most recent column titled Wowed by Ningxia ‘Wonder Woman’ at poverty relief plant. Here’s an excerpt:

Late into the evening during a recent trip to Ningxia Hui autonomous region, I couldn’t stop thinking of Hai Yan, a “Wonder Woman” I had met at a factory in Minning, operating in support of poverty relief efforts.

Her Cinderella-like transformation, which I had learned about in the course of a video shoot, left me feeling so inspired that I gushed about her to my husband in our usual nighttime video call, even though it was nearly 11 pm and I had to get up early the next morning.

As a child, Hai grew up in an arid, mountainous village deemed one of the most inhospitable places in the world for living. Photos of her at the age of 5 or 6, rosy-cheeked and dressed in a festive red down jacket, seemed to belie the hardships of her youth. She never finished primary school, dropping out to start working, along with her older sister, to support the family after their mother had become disabled and confined to a wheelchair.

Eventually she and the family migrated to Minning, moving into a Hui community with neat rows of one-story brick homes and willow trees, but even then her life trajectory diverged little from that of the typical local woman.

“Before I joined the plant, I was just a housewife and didn’t really have a lot of thoughts about my life,” she shared with me.

Initially, when Hai entered the factory as it first opened in Sept 2019, she was an average worker at the plant, sorting and packaging local specialty foods such as the region’s celebrated goji berries.

But when COVID-19 arrived in early 2020, a shift in strategy at the factory suddenly paved the way for her debut in the spotlight. The management decided to train the workers, of whom 99 percent are young women, to do livestreaming to promote products online.

You can read the full column here (and also listen to a recording of me reading it too). And if you like it, share it!

P.S.: You can see more photos of my trip to Ningxia in this photo essay.

Troubled Expat In Bed w/ Tokyo Gangster: ‘Lost Girls & Love Hotels’ Film

When Margaret (Alexandra Daddario), a self-destructive white English teacher in Tokyo, starts a kinky affair with Kazu (Takehiro Hira), a Japanese gangster, the last thing she ever expects to find is love — and the experience might just push her to the brink.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Catherine Hanrahan, “Lost Girls & Love Hotels” offers a seedier take on expat life through the troubled lens of Margaret, who spends her days barely hanging on to her position and her nights boozing and partying with friends, and stumbling through pay-by-hour love hotels with the Japanese men she picks up, in pursuit of unconventional sexual pleasures. But Kazu becomes more than just a one-night fling — and will falling for one of the yakuza put Margaret in even more danger?

Though “Lost Girls & Love Hotels” has drawn mixed reviews, earning less than 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Daddario and Hira have good onscreen chemistry and make for a captivating couple. If you’re the kind of person who might enjoy a moodier film that drifts through the dark side of expat life in Tokyo, with a little unusual cross-cultural /interracial romance and S&M thrown in, give “Lost Girls and Love Hotels” a watch.

See the trailer on Youtube or, if you’re in China, on Acfun.cn.

P.S.: Looking for more films to watch? Take a look at my list of critically acclaimed AMWF movies.

Photo Essay: A Stroll at Beijing’s Summer Palace in September

Recently, Jun and I spent a leisurely September afternoon at Beijing’s Summer Palace.

We’ve missed the West Lake all these years living up in Beijing, and found strolling around the Summer Palace to be Beijing’s answer to our favorite destination in Hangzhou.

The Summer Palace is built around a lake (Kunming Lake) with many features recalling the West Lake — from its bridges and willow-lined causeway (modeled after the West Lake’s Su Causeway) to the pagodas and towers perched along the hills that frame the lake.

And did I mention the Summer Palace, like the West Lake in Hangzhou, also includes a number of osmanthus trees, which were just beginning to perfume the air with their heavenly scent?

One wonderful thing about the Summer Palace is that you can enjoy it at your own pace — and even take time to smell the flowers along the way — despite how many people there are.

It took us a few hours to circle the lake, and the experience left us with plenty of good memories — and the hope that we’ll return again soon!

Have you ever visited Beijing’s Summer Palace? What was your experience there?

Post-COVID Air Travel in China: Easier Than I Imagined – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my piece Post-COVID Air Travel in China: Easier Than I Imagined. Here’s an excerpt:

It was less than 24 hours before my flight to Ningxia was scheduled to take off from Beijing Capital International Airport, and already I found myself grappling with a new form of travel-related anxiety.

What was it like to go through the airport in China in the post-COVID era? Did I have everything I needed to ensure a smooth check-in, security check and boarding experience? Would I have a harder time as a foreigner?

I was already bracing for delays and hiccups, after being advised by a colleague to arrive at the airport at least two and a half hours ahead of departure because he said processing foreign passengers was “more trouble”.

So imagine my surprise the following day at the airport, when I breezed through every procedure in record time, without so much as an unexpected holdup of any kind. Going to the airport in China in the post-COVID era proved far easier than I expected.

Here’s a rundown of what I experienced while going through airports during my trip — to help you know what to expect next time you do any domestic air travel in China.

To find out what my experience was like with domestic air travel in China — and why it turned out to be easier than I ever expected — head on over to WWAM BAM to read the full post.

P.S.: If you’re curious about how the rest of my journey went, check out my post Photo Essay: Ningxia Video Shoot (More Than Just Goji Berries).