The Jack Bao Story

NOTE: This is an ongoing original fiction story that I’m currently writing. I started writing this fictional story back on October 2, 2020 and contribute ~1,000 words to it every day on this blog. I didn’t outline the story at all going into it but it’s slowly evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang. In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project. My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security. If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Chapter Seven – Passage Five

“Thirty years ago,” Jack begins grandly, “you know, it was different.  Sure, the CCP was around.  But China was big in a way that’s no longer true now.  You could hide out in your own little corner of the country, scheme grand dreams, and fly under the radar.

“In our laboratories, hidden away from the wider world out of the public gaze, we dreamed the biggest dreams!  We built the grandest projects!  Monumental achievements, I tell you, monumental.”  Jack sweeps his arm expansively, clearly seeing something the rest of us mere mortals cannot.  “We imagined a connected China where every man, woman, and child shared knowledge and a collective story!  Where information flowed freely and the entire genius of the Chinese people could be brought to bear!”

Jack drunkenly clambers onto a stone dais, one with a marble statue of a magnificent serpentine white dragon, three meters tall and thick with polished scales.  The monstrosity must weigh something like two tons and I briefly wonder if the mythological creature is going to suddenly turn real and launch into the midafternoon sky.

Dimly, as if in a heavy fog, I look at my drink. 

“There was a time,” Jack bellows, his glass raised in the air, “when we celebrated excellence!  Invention!  Chinese ingenuity!

His expression turns dark.  Clearly in his mind’s eye, he’s a thespian for the ages; a modern-day Cicero orating to the peanut gallery.  He shakes his fist at the midafternoon sky, mostly blue with only one or two Cumulous poofs hanging in the air.

Damn you dirty communists!  Damn you all to hell!” he cries dramatically, still shaking his fist.  “I know you 白痴s1 are watching from up there in the sky!  I know it!  I spit in all of your faces!”

After that tirade of rage and anger aimed at the heavens, the remainder of the afternoon is a hazy blur.

In my fleeting moments of consciousness as I swim in and out of transcendent worlds here and elsewhere, a narrative suddenly begins crystalizing in my vodka-infused brain.  Jack Bao was a man who’d briefly had it all before he’d lost it all.  His father, Yun Bao, had risen from nothing, a poor farmhand from one of the far-flung eastern provinces.  During the golden period in the early 2000s, China had loosened its control while warring factions had fought over the country’s direction. (Embrace capitalism? Double-down on communism? But last time we tried that, Mao had killed 30 million!)  During this turmoil, Yun had taken the initiative, quit his dead-end meatpacking job, and bet his meager lifesavings on becoming a successful entrepreneur and capitalizing on China’s ecommerce boom. 

And Yun Bao had bet right.

Ruthlessly, over the carcasses and discarded bodies of defeated competitors left and right, he’d risen to the top, slowly at first, and then eventually mercurially, and had groomed his only son, Jack, to take the reins once he left this mortal world.

But once Yun had died last year, Jack had somehow frittered it all away.  He and his allies had bumbled and fumbled, the CCP somehow wrestling away control of the gigantic, multi-continent-spanning, megacorp now the family patriarch was gone.  A legendary story come to an inglorious and ignominious end; Jack Bao had instead become a cautionary tale for all who dared cross the Chinese Communist Party.  Indeed, it suddenly dawned upon me, that must be another reason they kept him imprisoned here.  Alive, he served an iconic reminder that no one, not even multibillionaires, was safe from the arm of the Chinese communist government.  Its reach could always find you, strip you of everything, and detain you anywhere.

When I wake, I find myself in a soft, white feather bed, tucked in under sheets.  I have no recollection of how I’d gotten here, but someone at least someone had apparently helped me kick off my shoes.  The second thing I notice is a thunderous headache that slams into my being with the force of a thousand suns.  There’s a throbbing in my temples that feels like a locomotive derailed and struck a nuclear power plant.  All while somehow crashing into a jumbo airliner that screamed in from on high.  Every fiber of my being feels dehydrated and I feel like a depleted husk.

Looking around gingerly, I notice that I’m in a small quaint room, nicely appointed with modern furniture.  I see that the room has its own bathroom so I stumble over to take a shower and get cleaned up.  Outside, the windows are bright and daylight seems to be streaming through the curtain blinds.

Half-an-hour later, I stumble out of my room and down the stairs.  It’s all slowly coming back to me as I survey the damage of the night before in the living room floor.  Kristen is still passed out on the soft, draped in a bear fur, of all things.  Empty beer bottles litter the heated stone tile floor and I need to watch my step in order to not sprain an ankle on all of destruction.

We had one and truly laid waste to the place.

There’s a giant flat screen display on the wall opposite of the wall-length fireplace that Jack built into the wall.  It’s weird to me that a place as hot as Xi’an could also get snow, but sure.  On the display, I see that apparently at some point in the evening, we’d gone to town on karaoke.  The scrolling marque from John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” is still scrolling across the bottom of the screen.

“Do you want breakfast?”

I look behind me and see Li.  She’s wearing a grey oversized knit sweater and big, thick black-framed glasses.  I guess perfect eyesight still wasn’t a thing you could buy with all the CRISPR tech.  Also, despite the fact that it’s also quite cold, for some reason she’s wearing absurdly short shorts.

I start to say something but my head spasms with pain so I can only nod.

“Of course,” she says sympathetically.  “Sit, sit.  I’ll make something up.”

With great care, I sit on one of the orange leather barstools at the massive kitchen island that’s Antarctica-sized and she bustles about, cleaning up the countertop and sweeping away the mess from the night before.  She pours me a tall glass of orange juice which I accept gratefully.

A fragment of my piecemeal brain suddenly recalls a memory:  Li is definitely standing on the glass coffee table in the living room drinking Grey Goose straight from the bottle with one hand and a microphone in the other.  I look at her, now at the stovetop scrambling eggs; the smell of onions, chives, and cheddar wafting in the air.

“Li,” I manage to croak, my voice hoarse.  “How are you still alive?”

She laughs.  “Ah, high tolerance and a quick recovery period is one of the benefits, you see.”

She lays out the plate of food before me.

“Eat, eat!  Shu is currently out at the morning market.  She’s getting supplies for our big outing later today.”  Li smiles as me, “We’re all very happy that you’ve visited us.  It can sometimes become… isolating here, away from it all.”

  1. “dickheads” (roughly translated)

Seven-Time Classic Tetris World Champion, Jonas Neubauer

Warning: Spoilers Ahead for CTWC 2020’s Group E!

Seven-Time Classic Tetris World Champion, Jonas Neubauer, went out in a blaze of glory this past Sunday during group-stage play (Group E Bracket) of CTWC 2020.  The Reign of Neubauer was long and splendid, stretching from 2010 to 2017 (with only one defeat to rival Harry Hong in 2014) but starting in 2018, 16-year-old Classic Tetris prodigy, Joseph Saelee snatched the crown, handily defeating Neubauer in a 3-0 sweep in that year’s finals.

In 2019, Neubauer exited that year’s tourney early in a shocking and disappointing loss to MegaRetroMan in Round 1; and ever since, all eyes have been on the longtime veteran CTWC champ to see what he’d have up his sleeves for 2020.

Jonas did not disappoint.

I know I’d already written about CTWC 2020 last month as qualifiers kicked off, but with the first half of group-stage play finished, I thought I’d write another entry more specifically about Jonas today.  First, more generally, as a CTWC fan for several years now, these past few weeks of non-stop Classic Tetris have been an absolutely phenomenal treat.  It is so glorious to be able to tune in every weekend and watch the best Classic Tetris players in the world show their mettle.  Truly, what a time to be alive.

Also, some results have been surprising!  I also follow Classic Tetris Monthly (hosted by God’s Gift to Man, vandweller) and from that scene, some “new kids on the block” were expected to make a big splash this year at their inaugural CTWC debuts.  Let me say, these young guns (and emphasis on ‘young’) were heavily hyped.  The Canadian, Jake B, posted an impressive 5x maxouts during quals and was seeded 8.  And the American, Eric, who posted an astonishing 7x maxouts during quals, was seeded 2.  Both of these players shockingly flamed out early in their respective brackets though and didn’t even make the final rounds.  Maybe it was the pressure and heat of the moment?  Bad RNG?  Or maybe just a bad day.  In any case, we’re looking forward to seeing them again in the future!  Needless to say, they’re still young and have time on their side! 👍

Back to Jonas though.

I don’t know exactly how old he is (though he is married; that, my friend, means more than all those T-Piece trophies combined.  Hi, Heather! 👋) but one thing I really give Jonas props for is despite being several decades older than the new youngblood on the scene, and for being a DAS player, the old dinosaur still had some fight left in him.  As someone who is older myself, I really appreciate the old guard showing these young whippersnappers that age, experience, and wisdom do count for something.  And while that something maybe wasn’t quite enough to see Jonas through to absolute victory this time around, it was still certainly a valiant and magnificent effort.

Here’s a quick play-by-play highlighting some great moments this past Sunday:


Jonas did not have an auspicious start in Round 1 on Sunday, ultimately losing Game 5 to the newcomer, RedShurt.  Upon beating Jonas in Round 1, here’s RedShurt making the happiest anatomically possible face for a human to make– he’s just beaten the SEVEN-time world champ!!  This was, and might quite possibly be, the greatest moment of RedShurt’s life.

Continue reading “Seven-Time Classic Tetris World Champion, Jonas Neubauer”

One Small Flaw

“One small flaw in your reasoning, super-genius,” says Coleman who’s obviously agitated.  You can tell he’s young and unaccustomed to such strong and vocal support for fascist, strongman rhetoric.  It clearly grates on him.

“Smashing the Uyghurs with an iron fist may work initially, in the short run, but you’re forgetting that in Xinjiang, the Uyghurs ultimately number 21.82 million people.  Xi can only push so far.  One too many unjust ‘summary executions in the public square’ and you’ll have full-on revolt on your hands, in the streets, everywhere.”

“Who said anything about ‘unjust’?” replies Deepak.  “You think anyone actually wants litter and drugs on their streets?”

“There’s a chasm I could sail the Titanic through between ‘litter and drugs’ and ‘free speech’,” says Coleman, waving around his arms to make his point.  “If you left it there at just littering, then maaaaybe Xi could get away with it.  But that’s not what this is!  Dissent of any kind gets you jailed.  Comparing Xi to Winnie the Pooh gets you jailed.  Streaming non-sanctioned western TV shows and movies gets you jailed.  This is totalitarianism!”

Katherine holds up her hands.  “Wait a sec.  Coleman, aren’t you the guy who just helped DTJ win the presidency last November in the States?  The most authoritarian and hardline, far-right president in American history?  How does that work?”

Coleman laughs.  “You think I helped Junior win because he’s a shining beacon of humanitarian and democratic values?  A guiding light for us all?”

“I’m guessing not,” Katherine says dryly.

“Junior’s the most bigoted and racist president in the history of the republic.  His victory just helps accelerate the corrupt system’s collapse.”

I furrow my brow.  “You want America to… collapse?”

Coleman shakes his head.  It’s the headshake of a young man who clearly thinks he’s surrounded by complete imbeciles.

“Dex, my man,” he says to me, “look at the color of my skin. Take a nice, long gander to ensure you’ve properly registered its delicate shade and tone in your neural cognition.  Do you think America these past few decades, no wait, ever, has ever been fair to a brother like me?


“No,” Coleman says emphatically.  “No, it has not.  At least the Republicans have the courage to actually just say what they think.  The Dems are just wussy-footed liars.  They may sing sweet words of ‘hope’ but behind your back, once they’re in power, they just cut budgets and give money to the wealthy, like everyone else.

“That’s the problem with you rich white people,” he says to me, “you all live out in the suburbs in your own sheltered bubbles.  You have no idea what it means to be black in America.  But you somehow think it’s ‘all okay’ because Obama got elected all them years ago.  Obama was half-white, man!  Half-white!

Continue reading “One Small Flaw”

You Can Never Go Home

24.28 million people live in Shanghai and I watched a small sliver of them flicker by, tiny lights on the city skyline, as the Shanghai night rolled past.  On the “Zoomie” bus, it was a straight shot from PVG Airport to the Four Seasons hotel in downtown Shanghai.  It was a long bus ride and just shortly after midnight so the cabin lights were dimmed giving us passengers a chance to get some shuteye.  Even at the hour, there on the outskirts of the city by the airport, there were still cars and large autonomous semi-trucks everywhere on the sixteen-lane highways.  Thanks to the Zoomie’s unique, elevated design though, we were able to simply glide over all of it, unencumbered.

I knew I was arriving in China at a unique time.  On one hand, yes– great turmoil and tremendous risk.  But on the other:  Unfathomable riches and opportunities.

I watched a cacophony of car lights streak by below me, in a blur.  This situation I now found myself in, half a world away from home, in a country I didn’t speak the language of, in a land I didn’t know any of the customs to, was less than ideal.  But as they say, fortune favors the bold.  And as they also say:  You can never go home.

The truth is, I had made a hash of things back home.  I had lived a beautifully privileged life, possessing every creature comfort.  But in a series of bad decisions that’d quickly escalated, it’d all spiraled out of control, crashed, and burned in spectacular fashion.  It was the Hindenburg of personal life failures, a catastrophe on a scale and magnitude so sweeping, so epic, so gargantuan, that had it not actually happened to me, personally, I honestly would not have believed it.

But happened, it did.  And I had had a front row seat to all of it.

So now I found myself in this present moment:  Cecilia and Devana likely thought I was dead in a ditch somewhere, FoxGen, my former employer, believed me guilty of embezzling funds and stealing proprietary company intellectual property, and so I was here, on a Chinese “Zoomie” bus, heading into China’s biggest city, on an invitation of mysterious provenance.

When I was a young schoolboy, I was a big admirer of John le Carré spy craft novels, often reading them late into the night, under the cover of dark, beneath my blanket illuminated only by flashlight.  Le Carré often wrote of handsome, dashing young men, who’d led double lives, jetting about all over the world under the guise of secret identities on matters of national importance and urgency.  But now, as an adult, I realized that le Carré’s heroes and spy protagonists led the most lonely lives imaginable.  Not a single other person on the planet currently knew my whereabouts.  If I were to disappear tonight, I’d simply be gone without a trace. 

Honestly, though, I wasn’t sure what pained me more:  The knowledge that no one would know.  Or the knowledge that no one would care.

2016: A Harbinger of 2020?

FiveThirtyEight, the data journalism site built by the Oracle of Michigan, the esteemed Nate Silver, only gave Donald Trump a 28.6% chance of winning in 2016.  Additionally, Silver also thought that Trump would win only 235 electoral college votes (and Clinton 302).  Yet, when the results were finally tallied and all the dust had settled, it turned out that Silver had gotten it backwards!  It was Trump who walked away with 306 electoral votes as well as the 45th Presidency.  Here’s how 2016 ultimately shook out:

But the polling!  All of the social media sentiment!  How?  Last week I saw this real gem that Athena Scalzi had posted on the Whatever blog:

Scalzi is young (still college-age) so I can totally understand her post.  Once, many eons ago, I too was in college; we’ve all been there.  But this general breathless sentiment which the left moves to condemn Trump is, IMHO, most definitely counterproductive.  In her post, Scalzi declares that “supporting Trump will embarrass your bloodline for generations.”  When I see stuff like this, I just shake my head.  I guess, part of me wonders– what is Scalzi’s motivation/intention when she declares a promulgation like this?

If I’m a Trump supporter and I see Scalzi’s comment, am I honestly going to reflect upon the error of my misguided ways?  “Oh, thank god– here is college-aged Athena Scalzi, swooping in from on high, reminding me how moronic I am and that my future generations will consider me a great stain upon the filial lineage.  Time to change my vote in November!  Good thing I saw her post!”  Hooray, American democracy is saved!

If I am someone in the middle, just the fact I am somehow, at this point, still in the middle is, a) A small miracle; and b) Likely means I’m going to be quite unpersuaded.  I consider myself rather centrist and when I see these kinda holier-than-thou, sweeping condemnations of Trump, it honestly just turns me off.  Scalzi’s post comes across as haughty and totally devoid of empathy.  With many liberals –not all! But many— I have observed (especially among younger folk) that there exists a genuinely ironic illiberalism and smugness that’s annoying as hell.  Like, if we don’t all eat organic or drive electric cars, we’re spawns of Satan and are going to the ninth circle.  It’s annoying.  And especially when I (someone, admittedly older) get this kinda scolding from people significantly younger –people who haven’t yet even worked years in real-world soul-crushing jobs or have otherwise accrued very little general life experience like traveling and living in different parts of the world for years on end– it’s a little irritating.  To be sure, as I’ve grown older, I’ve simply detached.  There are tons of ways I can be annoyed– using the internet isn’t going to be one of them.

People vote for a president for a hundred different reasons.  I would encourage Scalzi to try to exercise some imagination as to why tens of millions of Americans will undoubtedly vote for Trump this November.  Is it possible that they’re all bigoted, uneducated idiots/racists?  Every single one of them?  Also, some of Trump’s most ardent supporters live in states that have benefited the most from Obamacare and the other kinds of policies that Trump is trying to repeal.  Here, we have tens of millions –people in lower SES– actively voting against their own self-interest, at least for healthcare. We should all take a beat to ponder why?

My two cents on Scalzi’s piece is that it was performative and one of self-expression.  I am pretty confident she felt good writing that post.  Like, it was a genuine act that gave her great joy.  Which is great!  She’s not looking to convince anyone– it’s more like she found a hilarious $50 banner in Ohio which was so ludicrous she wanted to share.  (And I confess, it is motivating! One wants to share it! Omg, that image of Trump standing on the tank with “YOU’RE FIRED!” on the barrel… Jesus, Ohio– you are seriously the best.)  I’ve been writing a lot recently and self-expression is a huge part of it.  But I’m also a complete nobody on the internet who has zero platform.  If she does continue writing, I think, at some point, it’d behoove Scalzi to reflect on why she’s writing a particular piece and her intention/goal when doing so.  Because when I saw that image, look– Real Talk:  Seeing that hyperbolic/patriotic tank poster, and seeing the disbelief it generated among the liberals in the comment section, all of that encouraged me to vote for Trump.  I’m not going to do that because I’m not insane.  But I understand the compulsion and psychological impulse.  The Trump campaign knows exactly what it’s doing and I suggest that the Democrats take him seriously.  Else, it’s going to be another long four years.