Mad As Hell

I got up this morning to a fog rolling into the city. It’s not from rain, or from temperature change or any other natural reason for a hazy day. It’s because I live in Beijing, and the pollution levels are on the rise today. Jumping a few dozen points between 8:00 and 9:00am. The AQI is 249 at the time of writing this.

I made tea, and watched the latest episode of VICE, which only further disgruntled me with its expose on the scrapers working legally and illegally in America’s industrial towns, taking apart once booming factories to sell the metal to China – not only have our jobs gone there, our buildings are being sold to China piece by piece.

I have been awake for just over an hour.

We are killing each other with video game warfare, poisoning our selves to buy poorly made products, dehumanizing the disenfranchised by way of forced labour, and bankrupting our once great nations so the 1% can buy another yacht.

Any words I could muster through the rage that is burning in my belly, would not do justice in articulating the total shit show going on outside my door, your door, and the doors of anyone, everywhere. So instead I’ll leave you with the words of Network’s (1976) Howard, as I think it is more poignant now than ever before.

– Parry

“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s no one anywhere that seems to know what to do with us. Now into it. We know the air is unfit to breathe, our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had 15 homicides and 63 violent crimes as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad. Worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in a house as slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller and all we say is, “Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster, and TV, and my steel belted radials and I won’t say anything.” Well I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad. I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crying in the streets. All I know is first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, “I’m a human being. God Dammit, my life has value.” So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” I want you to get up right now. Get up. Go to your windows, open your windows, and stick your head out, and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Things have got to change my friends. You’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open your window, stick your head out and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

– Network 1976

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Guilty Indifference

This world is going up in flames, and nobody wanna take the blame.

– Charles Bradley

This years Oscars have come and gone, and each year becomes more forgettable in nearly the time it takes to broadcast, at least for me. But this year, one notable moment held my attention. Steve McQueen accepted the best picture award for his bio-pic 12 Years a Slave – a story that is all too familiar if you’ve lived outside a box for the last century – which he accepted on behalf of the 21 million people enslaved worldwide. In case you didn’t pick that up, let’s look at that number again, 21 MILLION! And if you haven’t seen the film, watch it! If it were up to me, it would be required viewing (and reading) for every first world high school student. But since its not currently up to me, lets talk about modern slavery.

The days of people shackled and sold at legal auction are gone, but human beings are currently being sold the world over. Human trafficking has become big business, close to exceeding revenues from the illegal drug trade. Now I’m sure the average person is not participating in this horrendous business – you are not selling or buying human beings for your own use. But do you buy produce, electronics, clothing, footwear, jewellery or anything else from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, or the Philippines? How about China? Well these are just a few of the countries that currently use Child and Forced Labor. Whether you want to call it modern or contemporary, the fact remains that this is slavery.

Wealth has been made on the backs of the impoverished for centuries. The pyramids were built by the hands of slaves. Kings taxed their subjects into starvation and depravity. And ‘Old Money’ was often made through dehumanizing values. But we neglect to see that we have continued this tradition of greed through the exploitation of the helpless. We are detached from the enslaved in distant lands, and ignorant to those in our own nation.

I am part of the 99%. My personal income is just above the Canadian poverty line. The cost of living rises and the income levels dip. I cant afford most Canadian Made products, though there are few left to purchase. It has become a vicious cycle. Poverty breeds more poverty and too few have all the money. The more I buy MADE-IN-EVERY-OTHER-COUNTRY-BUT-MY-OWN, the fewer high paying jobs are available, the less money I make, the greater the economy suffers and the need for cheaper labor rises. But who do we hold accountable? The government? The outsourcing corporations? Or we, the consuming public? Answer: all of the above.

Now I’m not implying that everything you buy is made by way of forced or child labour, but how would you know? There’s no label to indicate that the items we buy were made by age of majority free persons. But I can guarantee that something in your home, your car, your purse, or the purse itself, was made by someone who is starving, overworked and abused. It is our neglect to question our purchases, our failure to demand fair trade goods, and our apathetic response to governments that protect big money makers. We are responsible for every person, child or adult, forced to work against their will in deplorable and inhumane conditions. Why? Because it is our indifference that makes us guilty.

–    Parry

For more information on the products made by illegal labor practices, and offending countries, check out this PDF from the U.S. Department of Labour:  http://www.dol.gov/ilab/programs/ocft/pdf/2010TVPRA.pdf

The Republic of Capitalism: A Chinese ‘Every Man’ talks Morals and Money

Now a growing player in the global market and a curious destination to many, China’s  capitalist whitewash has been holding our attention. But how has China’s economic growth affected the working class? Mr. Lee* shares his experiences growing up in China, its newfound wealth and the dichotomy of morals and money.

***

It’s a quarter past two in the afternoon when I text Mr. Lee who is uncharacteristically late for our meeting. He’s coming to my Beijing apartment, as he felt it safer than a public space; someone could be listening. He’s confused by the elevator, and wants me to meet him in the lobby, which I do and am greeted with his typical warm smile.

I met Mr. Lee some 18 months ago, through an expat friend. His English has improved a great deal since we met , but my Chinese is minimal, so I’ll be relying on Google Translate to fill the gaps. He takes a seat at my dining room table, politely refusing any water, and only after some urging, he unzips his jacket, but does not take it off. After a few minutes of pleasantries, the conversation becomes the interview. He starts wringing his hands. He continues to do this for the next two and half hours.

Mr. Lee was born in 1969 in a small village on the outskirts of Beijing. He was the youngest of four children though one of his two sisters died as a child. His relationship with his brother is strained, though he is close with his surviving sister. Both parents have passed away and he now lives in a small siheyuan, a traditional courtyard residence connected by a series of alleys. To say Mr. Lee had grown up impoverished would be an understatement, there was no running water in his home, heat or insulation to survive the harsh Beijing winters, and basic food was a scarcity. He recalls his mother telling him of seeing a withered chicken dead drop dead in the street from starvation. He laughs at this as though reminiscing on a pleasant family memory.

We talk more about growing up in China just after the civil war. Though his family lived in poverty, a lack of toys did not deter the children in his village from childhood play. Mr. Lee recalls chasing cars with local boys, but the simple joys of childhood were not a removal from an unhappy home. His father was a cook for one of the ‘leaders’ of the time, and though this granted them some benefits such as leftovers, their windowless home could not keep out the devastation of what lay outside, and brought frustration in with it.

I ask Mr. Lee about his life now, and if it has improved since China opened up to foreign business. He says his life is better as he is able to modestly provide for his family, and even send his son to university. But after a moment of hesitation, he further explains that some things are worse now and he still fears his government. The air quality continues to decline, and healthcare is a luxury that most at his income level cannot afford. The speed of development is also a concern, as many villages are being bought through corrupt means and leaving many working Chinese homeless – unable to afford the apartments that have replaced their homes. And he does not trust his leaders.

The more I inquire of his opinions on his government, the more tentative he becomes to answer; insofar as jumping at the sound of an adjoining apartment door. Mr. Lee is afraid to be honest because he knows of people who have disappeared for sharing their opinion. He tells me of prisoners in work camps who have never seen trial, and the resort-like penitentiaries for corrupt officials. He believes in democracy and that China should use its newfound wealth proactively and model themselves after countries like South Korea. He wants transparency from Chinese officials and income fairness and equality; he wants socialism but doesn’t believe it truly exists.

Mr. Lee likes foreigners, he thinks capitalism is good for the economy. But he feels that the Chinese have become indifferent to each other; the sense of community he had during his humble beginnings has broken down. The role of Confucius ideologies are taught but not practiced, “Chinese people have traded morals for money”, he says “and that has made China a bad place.”

***

As an expat living in China, I can see the pollution, I can see the military presence around Tianamen Square or in front of the Forbidden City. But I can also eat at western restaurants and shop at American brand name stores, I talk freely with my friends over a bottle of Canadian wine, and access the New York Times online (albeit with a VPN). But in that lies Mr. Lee’s fear. Foreign relations and economic growth has brought a false sense of freedom in an effort to shroud the regime that China really is; a disillusioned  republic corrupted by greed.

– Parry

*Name has been changed to protect identity