It’s 2023 now! 2022 has ended. It has been 2 years since I wrote the last yearly review. So this article would be more like 2021 and 2022 in review.
There are lots of things that happened in the last two years, if not more than the two years of 2019 and 2020. That includes both my personal life and work life, both individual level and national level. So let’s talk about them one by one.
My personal life has changed a lot in the past two years. My wife and I obtained permanent resident status in Canada in mid-2021, and bought our first home in Toronto. Those two things are a big relief to me: I lived in Beijing for more than 7 years since graduating from university, but I never saw it as a long-term home. Needless to say, the apartments in Beijing are too expensive. There are also lots of restrictions because of the Hukou system: Hukou basically means “citizenship” for a region in China. Without it, the biggest problem is the education of the children. While the children can enroll in schools in Beijing and be educated there, they still need to take Gaokao (the national college entrance examination) as a resident of my hometown, where their Hukou belongs (no, being born in Beijing wouldn’t get them a Beijing Hukou). The eligible scores for colleges vary by region, since the number of students admitted from each region is different and each region’s population is also different. In this case, good colleges usually admit much fewer students from my hometown province, even though the province has a much larger population. As a result, a much higher score is needed to be accepted by the same college. In my opinion, this puts the children into an unfair game since the education they received is not prepared for such a level of competition. (It’s already an unfair game for the students from regions like my hometown province, but for better or for worse, the education system there is prepared for it). While Gaokao is still the way for most Chinese to enroll in a college, there are some other options like studying aboard, which requires studying in a private school for preparation. But all the other paths need much more financial support. This is only the biggest problem, not to mention other inconveniences without Hukou like retirement or even buying a home or a car. In general, without it, you won’t be treated equally by the government, even though you’ve paid lots of tax and social insurance. You may ask, why not get one if it’s so important? Because it’s even harder than immigrating to another country. The only practical way other than marriage is to join a state-owned company or a government department just after graduating from college. Once you miss that opportunity, it’s nearly impossible for average people to get it.
Anyway, even if I can solve all the problems above, Beijing has changed in the last few years when I was there, to the level that I don’t want to live there. The government started to focus on Beijing’s role as China’s capital, aiming for a place like Washington. There is even a “one thousand years” plan to move non-capital functions to a small town called Xiong’an. However, Beijing is not a city that is built for the pure purpose of political capital from scratch. It has a long history, multiple functions, and diverse residents. But the average people are not a priority in the government’s decision. It started to ban commercial usage at the lower level of resident buildings (such commercial usage was encouraged during Beijing’s 2008 Olympic games to make the city more vibrant), demolish restaurants and shopping malls, ban street foods, and so on. Lots of historical buildings were refurbished with shiny walls and unified shop signs. The policy reached an extreme when it began to banish “low-end” people (the phrase “clean up low-end people” was literally used in official publications and slogans). During the winter of 2017, using a fire incident as an excuse, the government started a movement to demolish “slums”, and ban some of the rental rooms which have the proper licenses. The movement caused lots of people didn’t have a place to live during the cold winter. As a result, the city as a whole seems to be dying. While the parks were grander, the streets were also quieter, and more people were leaving. It’s so sad to see a city I lived and loved transferred to a place like that. But my view doesn’t represent the view of big brother. Cai Qi, the leader of Beijing at the time (the leader of a Chinese city is not the mayor, instead, it’s the head of that city’s communist party), used to be seen as an open-minded official because of his interaction with people on social media (which is very rare in China), a close comrade of Xi, entered the standing committee last year and became one of the most powerful political figures in China.
Another bigger event also happened in the same winter. It made me not only want to leave Beijing but also China itself. It was an evening with a beautiful sunset, I went for a walk with my girlfriend to Dong Zhi Men – East Straight Gate of ancient Beijing, a place with a combination of historical buildings, vibrant shopping malls, and sky crawlers. In front of a shopping mall, I saw a large billboard displaying news of amendments to China’s Constitution. The news was pure text with a large font size, which seemed out of place compared to the modern buildings nearby. It’s only a draft of amendments, but there is an important one that caught my eye: it removes the presidential term limits! I’ve never had high hopes for China’s democracy. When some people talk about the ingenuity of Deng Xiaoping’s design of skip-generation appointments for power transfer, I always think it’s childish. However, I never thought the transfer of power would break so quickly. In my opinion, it’s like the last barrier that prevents China from becoming a pure dictatorship country again. Once that barrier is broken, it would lead to a downfall in the foreseeable future. Even if it’s not the last barrier, the change shows Xi’s ambition to become a dictator in the most obvious way, which will take China in the wrong direction.
It was a cold winter day when the draft was passed. Living in a rented apartment, which is close to a military compound and just less than a 30-minute drive to the power center of China, I wrote down the following sentence after a sleepless night:
Beijing at night, wind and snow blowing,
All creatures silent, the nation’s cold in growing.
It seems weird to write about so many things that didn’t happen in the last two years. But they are important contexts to understand the significance of being a permanent resident of Canada. By no means Canada or Toronto is perfect. It has its own problems, but I’d rather live in a sociality where people can discuss the problems and hold the government accountable. So after moving to Toronto, I feel like this is a place that I can live and call home, and finally made it happen. Now, we’re having a baby on the way, which makes me excited and nervous at the same time.
Also because of the PR status, I was able to change the job without worrying about the visa. I left Amazon mainly because the on-call was too stressful to the point where it affected my personal life. I moved to a smaller company and started to do database related stuff again. The workload is much lighter than at Amazon, and I feel I have recovered a lot of energy because of it.
Outside of work, I continued to work on my side project which I mentioned in 2020’s year-end review. It’s now a usable product called RSS Brain. It’s an RSS reader. I’ve mentioned it in past blogs so I will not go into details again. But it has been the app that I use the most every day. And it feels so good to write software that meets my own needs and maybe able to help others at the same time. I will eventually open source it, but before that, I still have some plans that need to be finished first. So open source the code became a lower priority. The development has been slowed down after most of the features have been finished: that’s a pattern of my past projects. But for the past projects it often slowed down before they were actually usable. At least for RSS Brain, it’s a usable app now. Hopefully, I still have the passion to continue developing it and finish all of my planned features.
While developing RSS Brain, I also developed and open sourced a Scala library that makes writing gRPC service with Scala much easier. I’m very happy about the library because of its non-invasive nature. Even though I can see it’s controversial in some projects, I feel like it’s a very useful library that can help a lot in my future projects.
Another thing I want to review, which I value a lot, is this blog. In my opinion, ideas and the interaction of ideas are the most important factor for the advancement of human beings. The most important platforms that I can use to share ideas are open source projects and articles. Work is valuable, but I don’t think the work I’m doing can inspire lots of people because not a lot of people can see it. So I always treat this blog as an important platform for me to contribute to the world, even though it’s small, it shares ideas directly. Who knows if someone can get some inspiration from it, had some ideas on top of it then inspires someone else, and eventually create something revolutionary. In the past two years, I have posted a few articles. The frequency is neither too high nor too low. Quality is similar: neither too high nor too low overall. On some level, I’ve happy I left something, but at the same time, I feel like there is still a lot of room for improvement. There are some topics I wanted to write about but ended up not doing it. One factor is the RSS Brain project I was working on, but I still think there is still a lot of time I’ve wasted which can be used on writing articles.
Other than the output of knowledge and ideas, there is also the input part. One important source is reading books. My readings decreased a lot in the past two years in terms of both quantity and quality. Part of it may be because of working from home: I’ve read lots of books during my commute. I wasted too much time watching videos that didn’t even bring me relaxation or happiness in the end. I should be more aware of that and remember to find some books to read when I’m bored.
Other than the things that happened to me or around me, the events that happened in China also greatly affected me: the Covid restrictions became more and more extreme, preventing me from visiting my family for more than 3 years and greatly impacting the daily life of Chinese people. People were controlled by massive testing and surveillance in the guise of monitoring Covid cases. Cities implemented absurd lockdowns from time to time. The level of lockdown is so strict that lots of people were not able to get enough food or basic medicine. Some people were dead because of the lack of health care. Some people killed themselves because of depression. People are transferred into quarantine centers. Parents and kids were forcibly separated. The better quarantine centers are built from sports centers that have 24-hour overhead lights, the worse ones can be just outdoor parking lots or even public washrooms. During the transfer, some of them were packed onto trains without enough capacity, leading to people sleeping on luggage racks. There was even an incident that happened on a transfer bus, which killed more than 20 people. Government workers went into people’s homes to sterilize, which often destroys furniture and kills pets. Because of the lack of food and infrastructure, people fled lockdown regions on foot, walking tens of miles to airports and train stations, and in some cases, even hundreds of miles on the highway to their hometowns. Eventually, a fire broke out in Xinjiang and killed ten people, because they were locked into the building and were unable to escape. This tragedy sparked protests all around China. People held blank papers to protest without a word, but everyone, including the police and the government, knew what they wanted to say. So some of them were beaten and arrested. It’s like a dark Soviet Union joke but happened in real life China. Then, suddenly, all the Covid restrictions were lifted without any preparation. This led to a medicine shortage and a surge in Covid cases. Everyone I knew in China got Covid, except for those who stayed at home all the time. mRNA vaccines are still not approved because it’s not produced domestically. The strong government which controlled every aspect of people’s life during lockdowns are missing now, the cases and deaths are not even properly counted anymore. Everyone is left in the dark to fight for themselves.
There are so many tragedies that happened in China in the past two years that it’s impossible to write all of them down in this short article. Almost everyone’s life is affected by the bad economy if not by the Covid policies directly. Most of my friends and family members are in China, and my culture is also from there. Seeing the events unfold during the past two years has made me heartbroken. It also makes me frustrated because there is nothing much I can do. As the new year comes, hope everything can be better. And I’ll think more about what I can do, even if it’s just the smallest help.