Lockdown, Day 45: the view from Shanghai.


First things first: I’ve decided to get back on the writing grind. From now on, I’ll be sending out a newsletter every Monday at 9:00 AM Eastern Time. If you want to get my writing in your mailbox every Monday, subscribe to the mailing list here. Much obliged.

Second: I’m writing weekly!

The reason I never fully committed to writing a weekly newsletter until now is a combination of the following reasons:

“I’m too busy.” It’s a bullshit reason and I know it, too. We just need to make time for the things that matter. It’s also pretty easy to write weekly as long as I cut down on making the stupid tweets and social media posts that don’t matter.

Look, I don’t know how good of a writer I am. I’m certainly not winning any Pulitzers and no one has paid me to write for their publication. But what I do know is that I enjoy writing, it puts me into a flow state, and it allows me to share ideas with people.

“I don’t know what topics to focus on.” From now on, I’m going to fully lean into being a capital-G Generalist.

What this means is that if you follow me, you’re NOT going to get just political commentary, or just tech analysis, or just digressions on running 350 kilometers in a single month. Rather, you’re going to get them all, in small Jamesian doses.

I’ll do my best to give context on the things that may be foreign to you. (“Basketball: this is a competitive team sport where one attempts to put a ball into a basket. The best players at the game are paid millions of dollars per year. James Hsu is unusually preoccupied with watching and following this sport.”)

But I’m done with trying to put my writing into a tiny little box. I’m done with trying to just be “the tech guy” or “the Magic: The Gathering guy” or “the Shanghai lockdown guy” or “the startup entrepreneur.” I am all of these things. I belong to three cultures: Canada, Mainland China and Taiwan. If that’s too much to handle, then I’m truly sorry. Hit that unsubscribe button. No harm, no foul.

Besides, writing on a range of topics is the only way I can guarantee fairly-confidently-assure-myself that I am capable of writing something each and every single week.

With THAT long diatribe out of the way, let’s get on with it…

Lockdown, Day 45

I wrote about my experiences, living the Shanghai lockdown, exactly 25 days ago.

Turns out I was naive about the lockdown ending, along with the other 24,999,999 people in this city.

So yeah, I’m still here. Still locked down, man. In an optimistic mood, but…locked down.

Right now, my wife and I have fully leaned into the situation. And it’s not actually that bad. We’ve gotten used to a lot of things, save one.

See, the thing about a lockdown is that it’s not about restriction, nor the infringement of personal liberties. I’ve lived in China for a decade; I’ve worn a mask for the better part of the last three years. I’m pretty un-American compliant in this regard.

Rather, it’s about relative, day-to-day uncertainty.

If you get COVID-19 in China, you’re stigmatized. And the stigmatization of the self includes the possibility of being taken to a “facility” where you serve out your COVID-positive term with others, in a place that you don’t call home.

The uncertainty extends beyond the self. If you’re un/fortunate enough to be the neighbor of someone who is COVID-positive, you may also be taken to the “facility.”

There’s nothing here that’s life or death — not gonna be one of those “sky is falling” proclaimers — but it’s about degrees. And it’s not a great feeling to go down that road.

As human beings, we generally like to feel that we can make meaningful life choices: marry that person, live in that city, take that job, and so forth.

This…runs counter to that.

Obviously, sacrificing or forfeiting for the greater good in proper circumstances is laudable, even encouraged. But when the greater good does not fall in alignment with the individual greater good, well…that’s a different story.

Jesus, that was a lot of words to explain what I’d been feeling. But that’s basically it.

What else?

We have enough to eat and drink. Last time, I mentioned a renaissance in healthy eating as a result of preparing our own meals. That’s still largely the case, although I temporarily gained a bit of weight back with better access to snacks. Self-aware narcissist that I am, I decided to cut a bit of that out and sleep better. So after a bit of yo-yoing, the weight loss has stayed off.

Delivery services have resumed in a limited capacity. We’re no longer paying exorbitant prices to get essentials delivered to our door. There’s been a bunch of shady business operations during this time, like retailers overcharging for crap and the overall selling of substandard quality goods. We’ve certainly fallen victim to some of that, but nothing to get overly worked up about.

The freely-commissioned goods, from the local friendly neighborhood council (God, I could write five essays just on the council, but I’ll spare you and I the agony), have become higher-frequency and higher-quality.

Apparently there’s a thief stealing deliveries in our building, and we’re still trying to figure out if it’s an inside job or an enterprising delivery person-cum-thief. But again, nothing to get seriously worked up about.

There are likely people with infinite time and anger on their hands that will get really worked up about theft. I imagine some folks going all Sherlock Holmes / MacGyver, installing additional cameras, trying to find the culprit and taking matters into their own hands. Truth be told, it’s crossed my mind, too. But we don’t have that much time, so we’ll have to let it slide.

On the topic of personal health, my right knee has not been 100% for years, and it’s no different now. It’s fine for the daily grind. There are days, though, when I feel my mortality. When the knee gets gnarly, I try to cut down on the HIIT workouts and stick to indoor walking and cycling.

It’s a constant challenge. I know it’s important to maintain my physical health through exercising, but I also don’t want to overdo it and fuck myself up. I’m older and wiser now, so I try to listen to my body.

I’m highly aware that for me, good physical health leads to good mental health. And I know that it’s difficult for me to function without some daily exercise. It’s a virtuous or vicious cycle, depending on how I play it. So I make time.

It’s a cruel twist of fate that Shanghai has been absolutely incredible, weather-wise, over the past few weeks. Very few rainy days. We are still afforded some nominal bits of travel near our compound, so not all is lost. It’s very Canadian to talk about the weather, so I thought I’d throw that in there, eh?

That’s it for this entry. I’ve got to save some golden story nuggets for subsequent entries; can’t use it all in one go.

Take care of yourself, and be well.


If you want to get my writing in your mailbox every Monday, subscribe to the mailing list here. Much obliged.

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