Continue reading “Story – Introduction + Changelog”
Continue reading “Story – Introduction + Changelog”
|Tuesday – 11/10||“The Tall Grass First Gets the Scythe.”||Chapter 5.1|
|Wednesday – 11/11||Anyone Can Be William Wallace||Chapter 5.2|
|Thursday – 11/12||Sheeple||Chapter 5.3|
|Friday – 11/13||Koi||Chapter 5.4|
|Saturday – 11/14||The Chinese Dream and Leaving America||Chapter 5.5|
|Sunday – 11/15||Quelling Dissent Quietly is a Puzzle||Chapter 5.6|
|Monday – 11/16||Religion as a Means of State Control||Chapter 5.7|
|Tuesday – 11/17||Undercover Brother||Chapter 5.8|
|Thursday – 11/19||Planning a Field Trip||Chapter 5.9|
“Hierarchy is extremely important to the Chinese people,” Alan is telling us. “Do not use your western ways of thinking here in Xinjiang. Try to be more open-minded and set aside your own biases and preconceptions.”
It’s the next day and we’re all gathered back at Building 11. Everyone has signed onto the project. We’re all gathered back in the laboratory trying to figure out what exactly it is that we’ve signed on for. That morning, Alan is walking us through some preliminaries.”
“A good example,” continues Alan, “is that in the west I know you have the saying, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease.’“
“So true!” says Coleman, giving two big thumbs up. For some reason he has sunglasses on even though we’re all inside and it’s only a bit past nine o’clock in the morning. I might be imagining it, but I’m pretty sure there’s liquor on his breath.
“Well,” says Alan, “here in the east, we have a saying of our own– ‘The tall grass first gets the scythe.’” Alan gives us all a flat look. “Need I say more?”
“Sure,” says Katherine. “Message received, loud and clear. We all believe in democracy. You believe in communism. We tell our kids to be themselves and follow their dreams. You guys tell everyone to be the same and fall in line.”
“It’s not just that,” says Shu softly. “In China, following your dreams could easily mean ostracization, death, or worse.”
“You need to understand,” adds Vanessa. “In China there’s safety in the group identity. To conform is to be safe. To be different is to be noticed. Always remember that.”
“Is being noticed really so bad?” asks Coleman. “It doesn’t get you extra bread in the breadlines or something?”
Alan rolls his eyes. “This is China in the 21st century. Not the Soviet Republic. We have no breadlines here.”
Deepak chimes in. “This strict adherence to hierarchy isn’t only Chinese. India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the entire Middle East has practiced a similar system for centuries now. It all dates back to Europe, anyway. Kings, queens, dukes, duchesses, and the whole lot. There’s extreme comfort and direction in everyone knowing their place in society at all times. The stability is security. It’s not all bad.”
“Alright,” I say. “This is all good to know. Nice history lesson. But where’s all this going? What are we supposed to do with this?”
“The goal here,” Vanessa says patiently, “is right now the Uyghurs feel a strong sense of group identity. They’re a regional people with a rich culture that dates back centuries to the days of Genghis Khan. There’s obviously a huge Muslim population there as well, courtesy of our Kazakhstani neighbors.
“We, Team China, are going in to assimilate them though. We don’t want them loyal to their Uyghur ways. We want them worshiping China. So we need a way here to reprogram their loyalty. We want them subservient to the good ol’ red and yellow.“
I raise my eyebrow. “And you think we can help you with that? Two data scientists, a political mercenary, and an academic?”
“I’ve done more with less,” Van says delicately. “Besides, I think we’ve got the right stuff here.”
She moves to the front of the lounge and pours herself a new mug of coffee. For the life of me, I cannot imagine where this is possibly going. Not to toot my own horn too much, but I consider myself a man of considerable imagination. (Fan fiction, after all, is one of my strong suits. North American Top 100, right here. ✊) But even my own wide-ranging imaginative wonder is having some difficulty surmising how all this is going to come together.
“Generally speaking,” Van starts, “a population is vulnerable to authoritarian rule only under very specific conditions. The easiest way to think about this is in terms of what the population in question needs.
“If the target population is destitute and living in abject famine, a totalitarian ruler will initially be able win over the people simply with food, fresh water, safety, and shelter. In this first phase, no one cares about human rights, free speech, or democracy.”
“Sure,” Katherine nods. “That totally makes sense. You can’t eat human rights. And democracy will not feed neither you nor your starving family.”
“The ability to really dig in and endure a long-running war of attrition is paramount too,” Van adds as she waves a beignet covered in powdered sugar around, picking it off the breakfast spread that’s on the folding table. “Anyone can suffer or even die valiantly for the cause in the heat of the moment, going out in a blaze of glory that’s forever immortalized in memory and song.” Van scrunches up her face for a moment, trying to remember something. “Basically, that bad anti-Semitic man in that one Scottish movie.”
It takes me a minute. “Wait, you mean Mel Gibson? William Wallace from Braveheart?”
Alan snaps his fingers. “That’s it!” He gives a nod of approval, to no one in particular. “You Americans do make really great movies though. I’ll give you that.”
Coleman makes a face. I can’t tell exactly what’s perplexed him. (Probably, all of it.) Also, he still has the thousand-yard stare of a young man on Cloud 9, after a hard night of one too many mojitos.
“Yeah, anyone can be William Wallace,” says Van shrugging. “You just suffer excruciating pain for maybe ten minutes while your intestines are being pulled out, yell something memorable, die, and then you’ll be subsequently be made a martyr immortalized for time immemorial. Easy-peasy.”
“Uh,” Coleman mumbles, “I don’t… that’s not so easy, actually…” Poor kid.
“The point,” continues Van starting in on a second powdered beignet, “is that ‘flash-in-the-pan courage’ is nothing. Every wanna-be Che Guevara’s got that in him. What’s an infinitely heavier lift is asking a man to watch his small children starve and die slowly from starvation and malnutrition for weeks and months on end. That’s the kinda sacrifice that most are unable to make. That takes real conviction. A conviction that precious few possess.”
I hold up my hands. “Whoa. Hold up. Stop the Crazy Express. I didn’t sign up for no ‘Operation-Starve-the-Children’ here. That’s a big, fat red line for me. Next idea.”
“Jesus, calm down,” says Deepak, “no one here’s even remotely considering anything like that. Besides, like Van said earlier, that sort of ‘hard-power’ move only works initially. It only gets you so far. Eventually, the poor slaves in the galleys will all kinda look at each other and realize that they’re being trampled upon by artificially-imposed scarcity. And once that happens, you’re gonna get Spartacus on your hands, which ends exactly how you’d imagine.”
“What we need to watch out for,” says Katherine, “is the ten percent.” She says this while staring intently at a donut which she’s speared with a fork off the breakfast spread. The intensity of her gaze seems to suggest that she’s about the untangle some grand mystery of the universe.
“The ten percent?” Coleman looks perplexed. “Ten percent of what exactly?”
“In any given population,” Kat continues, “ninety percent of your people will be followers. Maybe not always happy. But they’ll be obedient. As long as they’re ensured safety, food, and shelter, they’ll fall in line and do as they’re told. The mass of men are not leaders. Leading is difficult. And annoying. It’s a burdensome and thankless job.”
Van nods. It’s the nod of a kindred soul whose been in the trenches. Beside her, Coleman swivels around in his office chair, looking clueless.
“Ah. And the other ten percent?” I ask.
“The other ten is the potential for trouble. These are your aspiring revolutionaries, your dreamers, the wide-eyed and the eager. People who’ll harp on about the grandeur of democracy and equality. Young folk who grew up having never worked a single day of their lives and instead read James Baldwin and Malcolm X on Mommy and Daddy’s dime.”
Deepak nods. “Your Gandhis and your Kings. The Jeffersons and Adams of the world.”
“Exactly,” Van agrees. “Without leaders, people degenerate to their native and primordial form– the common sheep.”
“Alright,” I say, “some gross and sweepingly broad generalizations notwithstanding, let’s say we run with Kat’s idea. So what exactly? You’re not thinking of more starvation and disappearance campaigns, I hope.”
“Tsk, tsk,” Van shakes her head. “Honestly, you think such awful things about my nature. On the contrary, it’s in fact the exact opposite. We devise a system to reward the outliers and would-be changemakers. Scholarships and job opportunities abroad. We export them out of China.”
The moment Van describes her idea, I immediately realize there is merit in her thinking. By appealing to the self-interest of the excellent and ambitious, it’s possible to use a carrot and simply lure them away. No sticks necessary. It’s promising and the idea I like best so far, as it doesn’t require forced starvation or genocide.
“But how do we do that, exactly?” asks Katherine. “Academic decathlons? National competitions?”
“No, rewarding scholastic aptitude won’t work,” says Alan. “In fact, many of the best test-takers and highest scorers, our data has repeatedly shown, are in fact the least capable of independent thought. They are beneficiaries of China’s rigorous standardized testing system and destined for government sinecures and riches. Many are from wealthy families as well who obviously possess a healthy interest in maintaining the status quo. Almost entirely across the board, they’re the least likely to shake the boat.”
“So basically,” Coleman summarizes, “the valedictorians are sheeple and non-threats. It’s the rebels and dropouts that we need to watch out for.”
“In a nutshell, yes.”
Kristen closes the lid of her MacBook and rubs her eyes. “Guys, let’s give it a break,” she says. “We’ve been going at it for three hours now. I need a breather.”
I look up at the clock and see that it’s indeed nearing noon. Somehow, the entire morning has whizzed by in a complete blur. Funny how time flies when one is nation-building and I hear my own stomach grumble. Nothing whets your appetite like playing God, after all.
Van nods. “Let’s take twenty, everyone. It’s Tuesday which means the chicken-rice cart ought be out on the main lawn if you want to get some air. I recommend it.”
I grab my jacket and head outside. Nothing stands between a man and good chicken-rice.
Outside the air’s crisp and cool. It’s September and autumn’s in full swing here in Jinshui. The grounds of the office park is built to emulate traditional Japanese koi ponds dating back to fifth century BC and I stop my amble a moment to admire the little red and golden fish swimming around. It’s an ocean of vibrant orange, white, and vermillion.
“They look pretty happy, don’t they?”
Shu walks up from behind me and kneels by the water’s edge. I see in her hand she has a small knit pouch of something and she flicks a handful into the pond. Ah, it’s fish food. The koi swarm in and it’s a complete feeding frenzy.
“I guess so,” I say, watching the koi fight over the flecks. “It must be pretty nice to just be able to laze around all day and get free food. Never having to worry about being hunted or needing to fight to survive.”
Shu laughs. It’s soft, proper laugh, the kind that is polite and trained. Back from a time when young women attended finishing schools and learned about manners from stern headmistresses and textbooks.
“These koi are domesticated. They’ve won the genetic lottery. Because of their beauty, they’ve come to mean prosperity and good luck.” She smiles. “It’s win-win for everyone.”
“It’s good if you can get it,” I say, shrugging. “But these fish wouldn’t last two seconds in the wild. Their bright colors would make them instant fodder. They only live such good lives because they’ve got sugar mommas and daddies fending off the wildebeests.”
“Is that such a crime to rely on others?” Shu asks. She stands and walks away, leaving me with a distinct feeling that I’ve somehow offended her. But my stomach resumes its growling and I have no more time to overthink the situation. It’s chicken-rice time.
Van was right. The chicken-rice is positively sublime. It comes in a litter-sized Styrofoam container that I’m confident undoubtedly contributes towards climate change once it’s discarded into some monstrous landfill that’s likely the size of Mount Fuji but that might as well be the story of mankind. Enjoy the moment today and kick the can down the road. Different day; someone else’s problem.
I have no idea where everyone’s wandered off to, but I take a beat to simply bask in this moment of being alone. There’s a bench by one of the footbridges that’s off the cobblestone path. It’s out of the way and secluded so I decide to eat lunch there. Everywhere, the trees and foliage have all turned red and orange and leaves rustle in the slight breeze. As a child growing up, China was always a distant land which may well have been a completely different planet. Growing up in the rustbelt Midwest of America, I’d never imagined in my days of youth that I’d one day be in China. Working for communists, nonetheless. I chuckle. Unbelievable. What would that Dexter of yesteryear think of the Dexter of now? Traitor to America? Betrayer of the red, white, and blue?
Leaving America though, if I’m reflecting honestly, was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. The thing is– I simply no longer belonged there. It’d slowly but surely grown into something I no longer recognized, like a favorite sweater that once fit snugly and served you well which you wore for many years. But then slowly frayed and faded over time until one day, you looked in a mirror, and seriously didn’t like what you saw reflected back.
The truth was, even though America billed itself as a democratic republic, increasingly over the years, the country had grown increasingly autocratic in many ways. Sure, on paper, it was “one person, one vote” and there theoretically existed those highly vaunted “checks and balances” that you always learned so much about growing up as a kid.
But the reality was that, especially with the first term of the DTJ administration, for all practical purposes, via executive actions, Junior had unilaterally curtailed everything from voting rights to freedom of the press. America’s founding principles of “every man was created equal” (unless you’re black) had become more a mythological shingle that we hung in front of the shop to avoid any actual public scrutiny. People saw it every day, was comforted by it, and walked by contented, blissfully ignorant that they were in fact living under an increasingly authoritarian regime wherein all men were definitely not created equal.
I take another bite of my chicken-rice and chew for a moment. The koi fish in the pond before me swam happily about. I wonder, briefly, if they even at all realize or comprehend that they’re all in a pond. Do they believe that the entire koi universe simply stretches the length of their enclosure?
Yet, the koi really are so beautiful. What Shu said earlier had struck a chord. Is it such a crime to rely on others?
Maybe I was looking at America the wrong way. Growing up, we were taught individualism as a prime directive. Be yourself. Everyone’s a snowflake. Everyone’s special. And sure, one could simply lounge about sipping fancy dry martinis all day and spew bile and reams of discontent at DTJ or whatever poor hapless soul who happened to be in office. That ankle-high bar isn’t a particularly ambitious reach. But at the crux of it, thinking back about why individualism was such a cornerstone of the American identity– I realize now that there’s a fundamental basis of mistrust behind that core philosophy.
Here in China, I see that people simply trust their government. The CCP wants to steamroll your ancestral home to make way for the 2008 Beijing Olympics? Sure, no problem. The government wants to forcibly relocate your neighborhood to across the province for the new metro line? Awesome, sign me up. There was never any pushback. Chinese citizens simply trusted that their government knew what it was doing and that whatever inconveniences or sacrifices that was being asked of them was simply for the greater good. For the Chinese Dream.
Now, to be sure, this extreme deference has led to a totalitarian regime that’s curb stomped human rights, enabled forced sterilizations, and sprouted “mandatory reeducation camps.” But a more glass-half-full read on everything would also fairly conclude that the vast majority of Chinese citizens did have enough to eat, had jobs, and had roofs over their heads. And ever since the Chinese economy entered a “hybrid-pseudo-capitalistic-model,” the younger working generations in the major urban centers like Beijing and Shanghai now also had a way to constantly save up and buy the latest iPhone, PlayStation, or whatever shiny-new-toy-of-the-week. Consumerism was slowly becoming the new frontier now that Maslow’s basics needs were increasingly being met.
So, in short: America to me had grown increasingly into a place where we didn’t trust our leaders. We didn’t trust our most educated, men and women who had trained for decades to hone a specific expertise. In America, we believed in equality– freedom of speech had allowed everyone a seat at the table. And then the internet and social media had given everyone megaphones so we could hear everyone’s voice equally.
But did I really want to live in this world? A world where everyone had an equal voice? Where the pot-smoking teenager in his mother’s basement had the same amplification and audience as Nobel-winning laurates?
“Meeting the locals will be a crucial part of the project,” Alan is saying. “If we’re going to build a campaign to win over hearts and minds, we’re going to need to know how they feel and think.”
It’s a few weeks later and we’re back in Building 11 again. For days we’d tossed about dozens of ideas. No matter which approach we came up with, the chief obstacle was always the same: The key challenge in Xinjiang was that there existed a small but vocal faction of protestors in the region who resented Chinese control and rule. Using the state surveillance apparatus, we’d gleaned their whereabouts. Overhead satellite imagery told us where they convened, an old building in the Shuimogou district above a convenience shop stuck between a clothing store and a rundown Chinese restaurant. Once they entered the building though, we had no idea what happened inside.
“I don’t understand,” Coleman says. “In Ürümqi, the people have everything. The local municipality provides government-sponsored housing and daily food rations for the destitute. No one goes hungry or without a roof over their heads. Why are people plotting in secret to overthrow the regime?”
“The discontent and disillusioned are predominately the young, new generation,” says Alan. “Among the older folks, for decades, there was never a single peep. But increasingly, as young people return to Ürümqi after studying and working abroad, they’re appalled by what they see in their hometown.”
“Is it possible,” asks Deepak, “to simply restrict all movement in and out of the capital? Lock down all of the borders and disallow free movement between provincial and city borders?”
Van sighs. “So obviously, it’s possible. Anything’s possible. But if we can help it, we’d prefer not to.” She taps a few keys on her computer and projection of China springs up on the wall. Some areas are colored in light pink. “These colored regions represent potential zones of turmoil by what we’ve been able to observe. When we operate in Xinjiang, it’s critical to understand that we’re operating under a microscope. While there is some western press covering Xinjiang, what’s really important is that we don’t provide any fodder to China’s other autonomous regions that would instigate rebellion or action.”
“But you guys control of the media, right?” Coleman asks. “Why are we worried about this?”
This is my cue. I’ve actually been studying this data in the last few weeks and my findings aren’t what I expected.
“The Great Firewall of China,” I explain, “is considerable but not impregnable. In fact, with each passing year, the CCP has actually been losing its ability to control information within the country. There’s a significant uptick in people using VPNs, among other methods, to circumvent state control. While once formidable, the sieve is slipping.”
Kristen chuckles. “Have you ever tried containing the internet? It’s easier said than done.”
“Right,” says Van. She turns to Deepak to answer his question. “So like I was saying earlier. If we did just shut down all movement in and out of Xinjiang, there’s no way to do that quietly. We’re talking about closing down border checkpoints, shutting down airports, and barricading all ports of entry.”
“Yeah,” I say. “And also, you’ll need to enforce it too, which is a whole other project in itself. There’s gonna be coyotes illegally ferreting people in and out– what are we going to do with these folks? The Chinese army is just supposed to shoot rulebreakers on sight?”
“Right, and then you just know that some kid’s gonna snap a photo of it with his ancient 3G Huawei phone: his 80-something Grandma being shot in the back as she flees Chinese border patrol on foot–“
“–and that’ll eventually make it onto the frontpage of Reddit, The Post, or worse.”
We all sigh. This is a puzzle, alright. Quelling dissent in Xinjiang– but doing it quietly.
Never before has anyone ever in the history of nation-building gone into the enterprise a humble man. But once you actually get into the nitty-gritty, and are knee-deep in all the gory details, then the inevitable humility rapidly sets in. What I slowly realize over the days and weeks that follow as we discuss and debate for hours on end was that there existed a chasm the width of the Milky Way between the Uyghur and the Chinese populations. Essentially, Alan and Van gave us a very quick crash course covering all of China in just several days. It was certainly an education.
For instance, here’s an easy but illuminating example: Religion.
China is officially an atheist state but has informally made an exception for two religions: Buddhism and Taoism. One main reason is that the CCP considers Buddhism and Taoism to be “Asians religions” and a global check on “foreign religions” such as Christianity and Islam. But the second big reason was that Buddhism and Taoism prominently champion the idea of reincarnation whereas in Christianity and Islam, there exist very-well defined notions of an “afterlife” that is distinctly different than the corporeal life that we’re all living now. This is a massive contrast and makes a world of difference when it comes to how a state controls and manages its people.
As Van put succinctly one morning: “In Buddhism and Taoism, if you do bad things and die, you’ll come back into this world as a dung beetle. There are no 72 virgin maidens in paradise awaiting you if you die a martyr. Nor is there a heaven or hell. There’s simply this human life that we all come back to and nothing else.”
Furthermore, Buddhism and Taoism heavily emphasize good deeds like Judeo-strain of Christianity as opposed to the Protestant-strain where “belief alone” is sufficient for salvation.
In the Protestant version of Christianity, in the New Testament, Jesus is nailed up between two thieves— Dismas the Repentant and Gestas the Not. Even as he died, bolts driven through his two hands to the Rosewood, the “good thief,” Dismas repents his criminal ways and pastors commonly teach that Dismas follows Christ into heaven. (Gestas, I guess, is ostensibly condemned to the depths of hell and never seen again. Sunday School often left that part out.)
In Buddhism and Taoism though– there is no repentance for salvation. Belief as a card to heaven simply doesn’t even exist. Instead, these two CCP-approved religions solely emphasize that your fate in the great cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth is solely defined by your character. If you do bad things, you are simply doomed. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. It’s simply game over. And, conveniently for the CCP, “good character” largely follows Confucianism– an ancient Chinese philosophical school of thought dating back to 2070 BCE that primary champions obedience.
Well, of course, Xinjiang is a Muslim-majority population.
So… great. Now we essentially have two populations– the Uyghurs in Xinjiang on one side. And the Buddhists/Taoists/Atheists of China on the other. What divides them, religious belief, is not a matter that can be empirically decided or proved in this material world. Yet, this monumental schism exists. How the hell are we supposed to solve this?
“Okay, guys. Seriously. This isn’t working.”
Kristen leans back in her oversized beanbag chair and rubs her eyes tiredly. It’s late in the evening and we’re all exhausted. In the preceding weeks, we’d taken the liberty of special-ordering a king’s ransom-worth of office furniture to our little lounge here in Building 11. So now at least we were able to work in more relative comfort. Though it’d been necessary to convince Yu-Law that these items were “crucial” to the Uyghur suppression effort and so all of the expenses had gone blithely onto the Corporate AmEx.
Kristen flips through various charts and dashboard on her monitor; we see a projection of it all on the wall.
“Clearly, this is not what we want,” she says, frustrated.
On all the graphs, the amount of turmoil and discontent in Urumqi has only increased since we’d joined the project several weeks ago. This is bad. When you’re a data scientist and your sole value towards a project is measured only in bar graphs, there’s literally nowhere to hide. No beautiful storytelling to obscure the total lack of results or excuses to explain away the abysmal outcomes. The numbers and charts are all there, in the harsh light of day, for all to see.
We were failing.
We’d tried running an advertising campaign in the city promoting good behavior. Building on top of China’s Social Credit System, Uyghurs would be rewarded with additional food rations if they ratted out on their fellow neighbors who were planning protests. So far, no full-scale riots had exploded in the city yet, but acts of vandalism on public, government property were definitely on the rise. There was a giant banner of Xi Jinping that hung from the public court house in Urumqi which had been defaced by spray paint last weekend and other miscreants had similarly defiled one of the statues celebrating The Great Mao in Hongshan Park in Hongshancun district. So far, none of the vandalism done was irreversible, but the offenses were becoming increasingly brazen.
Despite our campaign to promise more food to good citizens, the program had generated very few leads though. The only thing we could recommend was increase the number of “peace security officers” that were on patrol. But again, that was bad optics and the last thing Yu-Law wanted. So that idea was quickly scrapped.
“The problem,” Deepak says from his table, “we don’t have someone on the inside. We need to better understand why they’re protesting in Urumqi. What they’ve unhappy about.”
“Are you suggesting we go in undercover?” Coleman looks dubious. “I don’t know, man. I think I’d kinda stick out.”
“Obviously, not you, genius.” Deepak turns to Alan. “Could you go in? Infiltrate their ranks?”
Alan shifts uncomfortably in his office swivel chair. “Me? Really?”
Asians are generally a skinny folk. For whatever reason, whether due to genetics or severe childhood malnutrition, Chinese people, were usually on the thinner, shorter side.
But Alan Chen is most definitely an exception.
Alan has a boyish face with bubbly cheeks and a short, rotund stature. This was not exactly the look of a man who had suffered the great privations of the proletariat.
Pondering, Van taps her fingers against her lips and thinks for a moment. She paces to the windows and back. Outside, the sun has long since set and beyond the glass, it’s all now nothing but black, well into night.
“That is actually not as insane an idea as it first sounds,” she finally says. “Unfortunately, Alan’s right. I think he wouldn’t fit in well enough which could cause problems. The last thing we want are the Uyghurs sniffing him out and then stringing Alan up out on the rack in the town square at high noon as an example. That would be bad.”
“Yes,” says Deepak dryly. “That’d be very bad.”
Alan looks relieved beyond all measure. Clearly, going on some secret agent assignment to infiltrate the ranks of aspiring, would-be domestic terrorists was not high on his list of life goals.
“However,” continues Van, “I think a trip out west to Xinjiang is actually a good idea. It will help you all learn a lot. Along the way, you could additionally stop by several Chinese provinces to see the lay of the land. These past few weeks, you’ve heard and learned all about China. But maybe it’s high time you see the real thing with your own eyes.”
“You’re planning to send them to Urumqi by train?” asks Shu. “That’s a ~4,000 km trip that’ll take two solid days. They don’t even speak the language.”
“That’s why you and Alan are going with them,” Van says smiling. “Consider it an educational exercise to expand horizons. A cultural exchange between nations.” The woman is clearly enjoying this.
Shu looks dismayed. She purses her lips but says nothing.
“If we’re going by train, we could also visit the experimental smart cities in Hebei and Gansu along the way,” says Alan. Though he initially seemed apprehensive, he appears to be warming to the idea. “This could actually be good.”
It might be my imagination but I feel like Kristen perks up a bit at the mention of visiting the other smart cities. But it’s late and maybe I’m just overthinking it. She’s been quiet this entire time though. I honestly can’t tell what she’s thinking.
Personally, this outing to Shanghai and Jinshui is the first time I’ve ever set foot outside America. And it’s been great so far. Free food, meeting interesting people, and tackling a tricky Gordian Knot of a problem. If we’re traveling on the CCP’s dime, might as well milk the gravy train for all it’s worth. See the world! Learn something new! Take in some sights along the way.
Let the record show that when adventure came calling, Dexter Fletcher answered the call.
“Let’s do it,” I say. “When would we leave?”
“It’s settled then,” says Van, “tomorrow afternoon. I’ll call the office in the morning and make the necessary arrangements.” She smiles. The prospect of a bunch of gringos traversing the Chinese countryside, clueless and confused, obviously amuses her. “Buckle up, boys. You’re about to get a whirlwind, firsthand taste of China.”
“Oh joy,” says Coleman wearily. “What could possibly go wrong?”