Monday, May 4 – A Breath of Fresh Air

By Jorah Kai CHONGQING, CHINA

Day 101. A breath of air. What can you do with a breath of fresh air? I find out that it’s quite a lot. Canadian super astronaut Chris Hadfield taught me any problem you have in space must be able to be solved in that breath. It’s the difference between life and death. As I’ve restarted teaching – in-person – 1000 kids this week, I’ve had to rewrite my protocols on the fly. I wasn’t going to use public bathrooms at all, for the risk of contracting the virus in aerosolized particles was too high. Now, I have no choice but to use public school bathrooms, but with my mask on, and I hold my breath, to not attract dangerous aerosolized poop particles towards my face. I carry an air purifier with me. I do a lot for a breath of fresh air.

May 4th, always a happy day for a Star Wars fan, brings good news. Scientists conclude people say with some certainty we cannot be re-infected with COVID-19. Researchers at the South Korean center for disease control and prevention (CDC) now say the COVID-19 virus can’t reactivate in human bodies. The CDC added that unlike HIV and chickenpox – which can hide in the nucleus of human cells and remain dormant for years before reactivating – the coronavirus stays outside of the host cell’s nucleus. “This means it does not cause chronic infection or recurrence,” explained Dr. Oh Myoung-don, the head of the CDC committee, meaning it is unlikely for patients to relapse in this fashion.

We go visit some friends, things are basically back to normal. A bunch of friends, masks off, sharing air together. Yaya and her daughter Cherry have bought a gorgeous house, traditional style, lots of wood, and I find a massage chair in the back to write my blog. I’m happy.

As the AC circulates the air, and more friends show up, a voice in the back of my head creeps: Is this how I die? But no, In Chongqing, I Trust. So we have a dinner party.

Geopolitics are heating up—- sucking the air out of the room. Some good friends are angry at me, just for living in China, it seems. A dear cousin of mine yelled at me on Facebook for being a journalist during a crisis — and having the gall to get a paycheck for my work — and then blocked me. I know it should hurt and sting and make me fret, but in terms of the barbs and jabs I’ve taken over the years, I barely felt this one. ’Tis but a flesh wound. It’s funny though that the FED can bail out the billionaires with their shitty junk bonds on the back of the working class. Yet, we turn on journalists, storytellers, doctors and other front line workers. They collect a paycheck for operating in a pandemic, accusing THEM of disaster capitalism while the global elite use the chaos as an opportunity to profit like never before; while the poor starve. They’ve got us all bunched up, and until we unite and work together, they’re always gonna float to the top. I hope he’s ok, he must be having a hard time out in Alberta, with the economy and the layoffs, I don’t take his anger personally. Before I go on an epic rant, I want to talk about getting back to normal in China, for the early crowd, the idea of life back to normal is what they showed up for. In 10 days, my life has changed for the better; if it’s strange, it’s still good.

I’ve had my feet in two canoes for a long time: one in China, my new home, my new family, and it’s a wonderful life, and the other in Canada, where I was born, where I was raised, and where my parents and my family live. For 6 years, I’ve straddled the world and stood tall, but these canoes are going different ways:, and I’m about to be tested in my “Jean Claude Van Damme” epic splits.

As the anger rages that China should have used bigger flares and sounded a bigger alarm and told a BETTER WHO that there was a problem, the fact that my life and China is pretty much back to normal, using simple NPIs that China told the world about and was mostly ignored, is only going to make the angry finger wagglers angrier, but I’m here to tell my story anyway. I’ve never been a stranger to a tough crowd, and don’t be afraid to tell me how you feel; most of you know I can take a punch. In fact, it’s not the falling down that matters, so much as the getting back up. Rocky told me that, and I never forgot it. So here goes.

One day I went to a tax office, using our protocols to verify I was ‘code green’ (zero risks of COVID), passed a temperature check, and then got a year’s worth of taxes/receipts, etc.

Another day we had a picnic because our city has had zero cases, no new infections and our protocols of social distancing and masks for everyone has worked, now we can relax and not be so serious about the masks and distancing, and so kids play in a park, and Shaolin and I had a picnic, and it was really fun.

I got my hair cut. With masks, it was ok.

Another day I went to get a PCR COVID-19 test, and it was easy to get and cost about $50, and my school paid for it.

I started school on Monday. I had to pick up my test, so my classes were canceled. No COVID! That is good news.

Tuesday I get up early, make coffee, choose my favorite dress shirt, a grey iron-free “quick dry” model I bought with my dad in Canada on my last trip, my favorite “Haida Raven power” red power tie from Vancouver, a NASA inspired pair of black dress pants with 4-way stretch that feels like PJs but looks like business, and my wheat suede AF1’s. I unplug the small headset microphone and amplifier and put it around my neck, clip the speaker to my belt.

I decided to wear my matching grey 4 filter HEPA face mask with charcoal lining rather than the gas mask because I want to show my students I’m confident in Chongqing’s protocols, but I still pack a HEPA filter air purifier in a duffel bag for good luck, and turn the first few minutes of every class into a discussion on “English as an Idiomatic Language” and then show them the literal embodiment of my idiom: a breath of fresh air, that I give them by showing up and plugging this thing in at my feet, creating a bubble of purified air scientifically shown to pick up and destroy 99.99% of circulating virus and other bacteria/dust/mold particles in my vicinity, making the job of my mask easier and more effective and also reducing contamination and spread that may seep out from someone’s mask/ respiratory droplets.

On the way in, they scan my temperature. I’m ok. I’m allowed inside.

Then I introduce my students to a clip from their old teacher, Ian, who greets them, makes some jokes, and then introduces me to them. We chat a bit. Then I play my Xinhua news clip, which talks about my diaries, my writing, my book and research on COVID, and my respect for the Chinese protocols. The students are aware many people in the world are angry at China, they are upset by it, we discuss the reasons we can imagine and what other people may be thinking. We generally settle on “they are scared and just lashing out, like a drowning person” and not to take it personally if we get jostled by them. In fact, we have a lot of science, experience, and equipment we can share to help a lot of people, that is, if they’re willing to hear it. Thing is though, mostly they ignore our advice, if “you should wear masks” is any example, they don’t want to listen.

We talk some more about changes. What’s different this term?

We sit a bit farther apart. We all wear masks. We get temperature checks when entering the school and wash our hands at newly installed sinks outside the gate.

In the dining hall, they sit alone, with little voting station type dividers. It’s lonely. I ask them who are their heroes? Maybe they could get a photo of Taylor Swift eating soup to put in their eating booths?

I show them a movie trailer because kids love movie trailers: Blood Sport, 1989, my favorite Jean Claude Van Damme film when I was a kid. They don’t recognize him. Then I show them the recent “Volvo ad,” where he does his perfect splits on moving trucks. It’s epic. They’re impressed.

I tell them that this Thursday, I have to speak a “ted talk” for a convention in Canada on rebuilding society after COVID-19, and how to fight the disease. I show them the website, talk them through my process. The things I would have said March 30 when they asked me to speak are not news April 30, they’ve been absorbed, things like “masks for all” and “asymptomatic transfer” are generally accepted by the experts, even if they haven’t been picked up by the policymakers and are thus still ‘controversial’ to the citizens and netizens out there.

I show them the site and look, the list of keynote speakers: me, the only guy wearing a mask in the lineup, and then they see him: Jean Claude Van Damme, and it all makes sense. They’re impressed: their English teacher is sharing the stage at a big COVID-19 expo with his childhood hero, action movie star and martial arts legend.

I tell them that I hope that whoever they thought of today, as their idol, that in 20 years, if they work at their own mastery, that one day they will share a stage with them also, whether it’s to fight off an alien attack or repel an asteroid or stop another viral pandemic. Just be their best selves, and they can, too, share a stage as experts with ones who were once their heroes. That’s the beauty of growing up and becoming a guru at something you love.

Then we talk about outlines, how to listen well, how to plan for a good class, and actively listen and make outlines before and during a lecture, and then I let them hear my Ted Talk. As the class finishes, I get a huge standing ovation: they clap and cheer, and I’d say it was a pretty good first class back. I smile and wish them a successful year, and then I pack my air purifier back into my duffel bag and move to the next class.

I teach a few more classes on Tuesday, and go home and relax. At home, I wash up, change into “home Green zone astronaut clothes” after my shower and feel the adrenaline leave my body. I’ve just shared breathing space with hundreds of kids, from 1000 people’s homes. In Chongqing and our protocols we trust, but hey, since everyone wore a mask and controlled our own respiratory droplets inside our masks (99.99%) and I stood near an open window, and in a zone of HEPA filtered air that caught 99.99% of ambient particles and my own mask was a HEPA filter 4 stage charcoal filtered N95 mask that caught most particles… I’d say the chance of catching COVID in that room, even if any of the kids was an asymptomatic carrier, was pretty low. Still, it was riskier than sitting at home for three months, so the adrenaline had me a bit shook up.

Wednesday was easier, my second day, and it was more of the same. I had some of my old students back, and Thursday, I taught 6 classes, 4 before and 2 after lunch, for the biggest day all week. By 4pm, I was ready to call it a week.

Thankfully the Chinese calendar is full of 5000 years of holidays and special events, so after a very busy Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I get to take a week off for “labor day.” The actual holidays are May 1-5 (Friday to Tuesday), but then Wednesday and Thursday are midterms for the kids, meaning I might have to go and watch them write 2 hours of exams a day, and then I’m back in the classroom Friday, May 8 for a couple of classes and then the weekend off again. A school teacher in China is a pretty great gig. However, I do miss being able to focus 100% of my energy on my writing: but I will keep that my burning hot passion and focus. Not that I’m totally free for the week; because I still tutor on the weekends, work daily editing for my daily news gig, but my real focus is building the blog, my second book, The Lighthouse, and curating this engagement for the Revel Alliance.

I reach out to one of my oldest, best friends with the news of this funny Jean Claude Van Damme matchup and he tweets it out, calling me a “blog guru” for COVID, saying he learned more from me than POTUS or WHO, which, I mean, since I chatted with him about it for a few hours one on one makes sense but also is funny because of my old Ottawa friends that have been really negging me for being right about my pandemic premonitions and hating to see me put in that “guru teacher role,” just in time to see a tide of “other reasonably famous people” sort of welcoming me to the podium as a bonafide COVID-teacher. The universe has a great sense of humor, and amor, and is both telling me to be humble and bold, and, something else, that I can’t quite make out yet, but am listening intently for, as it rumbles in the great abyss.

The COVID conference was great. I had woken up 6am Thursday, taught 6 classes, had a hugely busy day, and by 10pm for me, it was 9am in Toronto, and their big day had just begun. I popped in, said hello, and took naps sporadically, showing up for various talks, interacting with experts. Finally, the time for my talk came. I slept through it— in my defense, it had been a hell of a day. I woke up later and saw that there had been a lot of good feedback. My dad had sat through it and shared his impressions of the theatre/conference room. The event programmers had done a nice job, he said, for the lightning talks before mine had set up the art of storytelling an a pandemic, the idea about human stories, and teaching through our own action and setting a role model for the future. My dad said my talk, coming after that, just made sense to people: here’s a guy in China, he found out about it, he was scared, he moved past his fear, learning, growing, sharing, and giving information back to his family, friends and the countries (China and Canada) that he’s tied to, by birth and marriage, by passport and expert-status. People enjoyed it, and I got some great comments, questions, and feedback I answered.

Later came Jean Claude Van Damme, my childhood hero, and he had an interesting point of view — that the rivers are clean, the skies are blue, and the animals are happy. Dolphins have returned to Venice, the Ganges is drinkable, the Thames looks downright tropical. This is a better world, with us locked up. I love the guy, and in many ways, I agree. I hope we can use this opportunity to change, fundamentally, for the better, or it’s a wasted crisis.

I found out that the event was all a corporate-raised fundraiser for “WE,” a charity that literally breaks down doors to save child slaves, gives homeless kids a second chance, and builds schools around the world. I accepted no speaking fee, and as far as I know, neither did Van Damme — so what is my cousin embarrassed about? I feel sorry for anyone that is so inside their own crisis that helping people, sharing research and information is something that seems wrong to them. I hope one day we can laugh at this awkward moment, over a glass of whiskey or a beer. I hope.

This fan art pleases my inner 12 year old. Ok, I’m ready to move on.

On the weekend: another milestone. We have small tutoring classes in our home, not online. They come in, masks on, wash their hands well, and then sit down. We’re just going for it.

During the break, we take the kids up to the garage aka ‘The Gym’, my place of solitude and relaxation and movement during the lockdown. So much has changed, yet so much is still the same.

This may be foolish: But I am putting it out to the universe. I am not finished making silly hardcore music yet. Put a pin in this, but if anyone remembers, I used to always mumble about the “Fun Syndicate 2025” in the ‘90s… well, we’re getting closer now, just 5 years off, almost the curtain call for the post-apocalyptic silly time walkabout. Time to start preparing for the next act, even as this one is in full swing.

This just in: Doug Ford ft. PMJT dropped a new hit single, “A Bunch of Yahoos,” and I’m digging for a bunch of great material for my next “Live on the Internet” DJ set for the Freakeasy crew in Chicago. I spent the day crate – digging for COVID rap and dancehall tunes and some choice DNB and other beats. Crate digging in 2020 means having Baby Ethan bouncing on my lap. I’m teaching him to wave his hands in the air.

I am still using Facebook as a means of trying out my new bits, but I do it so openly that I think it’s more a way to look behind the curtain: at the fabric store backstage.

So there’s a couple of new stories: one, that Dr. Falci secretly backed research into bat coronaviruses for the last decade in Wuhan. Put a pin in this, I will need more time to research and absorb, but that might be a pretty significant thread to pull on.

The other one is general anger at China for not lighting a big enough smoke signal for humanity. For that one, I have something of an analogy to share.

Imagine all the world, each nation, was a college student, living together in a dorm building.

Chelsea China noticed the floor was on fire, and it spread to her room first. Everyone rushed to offer wet towels while the fire spread. She told the floor leader that the floor was burning, but they said it wouldn’t spread and would soon be contained. It did spread— turns out there was some gasoline stored onsite and boom badda bing, it’s a bonfire. Now the whole house is on fire, and everyone is mad, Jenny Germany and Alex America want some money from Chelsea China because they wasted their towels on their friend and don’t have a wet towel to go outside. Meanwhile, there are many of us rushing around with buckets of water, performing first aid, and trying to save the children who are still in the house. Other people are running around yelling, “who started the fire 🔥?” They’re looking for someone to blame, pointing fingers and looking for evidence of wrongdoing. There may be a place for that, but in my mind, the investigation comes after the emergency is over, to me, that’s natural. Let’s save the lives we can, and later, investigators will do their thing, for now, those angry people should try to be helpful, pick up a bucket, put the fire out. Lead, follow or get out of the way. Still relevant.

Am I missing something? People in Canada are mad. They gave masks away to China, they threw out millions of “expired masks,” and now don’t have enough. China asked for help; Canada gave too much and should have kept some ppe for itself. China warned the WHO, and they were very slow to call it a pandemic when it obviously was one. How exactly is this China’s fault?

I get how giving all Canada’s masks to China and then not having any is both dumb of Canada and frustrating (obviously we should have given what we could spare and kept what we might need). What I don’t understand is how countries say, “China hid the extent of the pandemic” – you hear that a lot, but I was here. I spoke to CTV live about the lockdown. I blogged every day for a national Canadian newspaper. The world knew 1.5 billion people were afraid of a spreading virus that was on the loose as China was set to begin the spring festival, the world’s largest mass migration. What part did they not add together? What part should China have highlighted?

I warned friends in the Canadian government who laughed at me and called me crazy. And then I was right. 1 in 5 humans on earth locked ourselves in our homes for 60+ days. China shut down its economy. This wasn’t hidden. People didn’t believe it would spread. What would have convinced them to act? Because I tried, and I failed. China alerted the WHO to an emergency, and we all stayed home to buy the world an extra 30 days to federalize factories close borders and prepare. Largely, our sacrifice was wasted by inaction for many nations, and now they are mad we didn’t tell them clearly enough. That makes me mad too.

I might be missing something. I welcome the opportunity for discussion. What it sounds like is that a lot of leaders watched China, Italy, Spain, France and then America fall off a cliff, each hoping that it wouldn’t happen to them, and then mad at China for being the first one to fall.

A country that takes no responsibility for their own actions and looks for others to blame for their mistakes is a country full of fools. I think we’re better than that.

I am trying this OMAD: One Meal a Day thing, sometimes. Here’s my meal today. 3 Boiled eggs, french bread, spicy raw honey hummus and fresh guac on the side, a lentil, black bean and chick pea soup with carrots, onions, broccoli and garlic on the side and some fresh blueberries. Lots of coffee.

So a friend says, ”I’m not saying masks don’t work… Frankly, I feel that we should just open shit up, but slowly, no more lockdown… There are going to be such higher negative implications locking down economies then the actual virus itself.”

Consider this: China locked down for 30-60 days, making sure everyone stayed home and didn’t get exposed to the virus. We put everyone through a rigamarole whether it was a PCR test for the virus, temperature checks, checked their phone GPS to make sure they stayed out of hotspots, made sure when people went out there wore masks. After a month or two, we’re ready to open up again, with masks for precautions, but basically with most certainty that our country is mostly free of the disease. Our protocols worked, and our sacrifice was for something.

In America, they also closed down for months, hemorrhaging money, but without the temperature checks, testing, quarantining, GPS/tracking and making sure people wore masks, after 60 days the infection is more widespread than ever, and when they open up it’s going to be a slaughter. It’s not that I want this to happen. I don’t hope for a second wave, but like a tweet I read today, “I feel like I’m in a horror movie and the idiots believe the monster is dead.” It’s so relatable.

Ok if you think that picture is bad, you may not think selling it on shorts and donating the money to the NAACP is good either, but it’s a real thing.

My friends can argue for days, but I have a plate of sushi to eat, a class to teach, and a 38-degree sunny day to enjoy out there.

Curious grammar question: If the American empire falls, will the global world start using “u”‘s again?

When people make me mad on the internet, I make banana bread and eat it with some Oreo ice cream. It’s delicious.

Ok, new game. Put U’s in words that don’t normally have them until America replaces Trump. “I imagiune thaut thius couuld beu a lout ouf fuun.”

Going to start a podcast series! New adventures.

In other news—- the French people are being told it’s their patriotic duty to eat more cheese after sales have slumped! Belgians told to eat more potatoes! Maybe we should remind people to get some exercise too!

More science news! SARS-CoV-2 IS THE MICHAEL BAY OF CLOTTING

The new coronavirus is the sharknado crossover with the fast and the furious of respiratory diseases. It’s got organ failure, it’s got strokes in young people, wiggly toes in children, heart failure in the healthy. Clotting and thinning in ways that delight, dizzy, and amaze. “This isn’t regular ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) say the doctors, no, it’s the sequel.

The good news is: very encouraging early anecdotes from doctors who are treating desperately failing patients on ventilators, anti-coagulation as a way to open up capillaries and let oxygen and blood meet, marry, and diffuse.

Some places are doing drive through concerts. Now Oregon has drive-through strip clubs. This is proof that we adapt. Please listen to your scientists first, protocols work when listened to, let the places doing it right be a lighthouse in the storm, and keep the faith.

“They say hope begins in the dark.
That faith is the bird that feels light when the sky is still dim.
But with every tomorrow we carry our past.
It echoes beneath our feet.” – A.C.


May the fourth be with you.