Saturday, March 26, 2016

Abortion choice

An online acquaintance of Ma Lei's told her one of the most horrible stories I've ever heard. She sprung this on me at dinner in a wonton soup restaurant on the ground floor of our apartment building, and it was all I could do to maintain my composure. I didn't entirely succeed.

Ma Lei was somewhat surprised by my emotiveness — but sometimes, the Chinese can be just stunningly blind to emotions.

The story came from another woman who has had to go to the fertility clinic for her pregnancy, so she and her husband hadn't just easily gotten hooked up with a little one: they'd worked hard for it, as Ma Lei and I can testify.

The woman is 6+ months pregnant, and she went in for her ultrasound test. The result was a nightmare.

Her son had a massive cleft palate — way more than any Chinese hospital is prepared to deal with.

I speak as a cleft-palate sufferer for whom my deformity has never amounted to much of an issue. 

But this woman's child was clearly seen to be missing not just some bone structure, but the entire left half of his nose and all the upper-palate structure that should have underlain it.

In America, perhaps this wouldn't have been such a horror story. American surgeons do incredible things.

My own dear, late Janusz Bardach — Soviet Gulag survivor and later University of Iowa surgeon — pioneered one of the many surgical techniques that allowed my upper lip to look relatively normal. And that was just one of the first among a long line of surgical developments in American treatment of midline cranial-development defects.

If you ask me, when I'm looking in my own mirror, I emerged from my own cleft palate and harelip as a stunningly handsome lady-charmer. :-) Apparently, my wife doesn't entirely disagree, since she's a very beautiful woman who somehow or other decided I was good enough. In my opinion, if I'm handsome enough to snag a woman that beautiful, I'm handsome enough.

I did suffer through a handful of relatively mild operations, years of braces, and a single experience when a bully rode his bike past me and said "Hey! Flat-nose!"

However, my first girlfriend's parents warned her that if she married me, our children would be "monsters." 

But other than that girlfriend, no one has ever held my mouth against me — and indeed, I credit much of my articulateness to the speech therapy I went through as a young cleft patient.

But China isn't America. It's not even the America of 1969, when my treatments began, and it's certainly not the America of today.

Even in America today, this baby's reconstruction would be on the extreme end of the current technology. It would be expensive and experimental, and it would require months of work. And then the results would be bad.

In China, it would probably be impossible. to fix a cleft this extreme. There are no hospitals doing this far-end work. (I almost said "cutting edge.") Even to get something done in China, anything at all, would be $20K or more — which they just don't have.

Now, suppose that they somehow managed to get the best work done for this child that's available in China. He will have a clearly deformed face, half a nose, and a gaping hole where the left-hand side of his nose should be.

How will he be treated in school?

Chinese teachers aren't schooled in sensitivity. They won't hesitate to tease him, abuse him, use him as a negative exemplar for other students. "You got that one wrong? You're almost as stupid as the kid with no nose." HAHA! Everyone laughs.

Suppose that the parents somehow or other manage to bring him up with a reasonable education, via private tutors who don't tease him mercilessly. Suppose he gets a good university degree in China. Now will he get a good job?

No. In China, a pretty face is part of one's qualifications for a good job, and an ugly face is grounds for denial from a good job. If you're SUPER-ugly, deformed of visage, then everyone you might have to work with will be made extremely uncomfortable. Hence, no one will want to hire you.

And in country in which there's already an imbalance between male and female, do you suppose that such a boy would ever get married and bring his parents a grandchild? Not on your life.

Ma Lei told me straight-up — with tears in my eyes, not so much in hers — that kid could never have a happy life in China. "It's not America," she said. "China is —" and then I think she said a word that means "hostile," or perhaps "inhospitable," but I don't exactly know. It definitely wasn't an endorsement of China.

Meanwhile, the woman made the very rational decision to have a late-term abortion. She made an appointment to go in the next morning and have her baby given a long needle that would put him painlessly to sleep. I cannot in any way, on any level, argue against her decision. I believe she made the exact right one, given the horrible circumstances of her life here in China.

But that whole night, the baby in her belly was acting the way any baby in his mother's belly will do. He swam around, he punched her, he kicked. He had no idea that his mother had decided to end his life.

Can you, for just one moment, imagine what it must have felt like for that woman to have had her fetus playing his fetile games inside her belly, feeling the connection with him that she must necessarily have felt — yet knowing that 10 hours later, she was going to nod her head to the doctor to inject the giant needle that would terminate his life?

Ma Lei's online acquaintances universally condemned the poor woman, as if she weren't already suffering enough. 

Ma Lei stamped her online foot — which I have the feeling bears a lot of weight, because Ma Lei is the kind of woman who makes people take notice of her opinions — and told them to shut the hell up. The others probably fell in line, because in my experience it's only a very few hearty souls who can withstand the wrath of Ma Lei. And in this case, it's not as though that woman had made a light and transient decision.

I appreciate, so deeply, the fact that Ma Lei stood up for this woman. I can't say one way or the other about this woman's decision. In a better China, I would say she should have the baby and let him duke it out with his detractors. But there isn't a better China, there's only this China, in which it's acceptable for teachers to

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The question of citizenship

Our little Monkey, Roman Karl Garmong, is due in July, which is approaching with frightening rapidity. One question which an American would seldom understand, a Chinese person would never understand, but foreigners who live in China do, is this: which citizenship will we give him?

To Chinese people, the choice between US and Chinese citizenship seems like a complete no-brainer. With half of China dreaming and scheming to move to America, why on earth would any couple choose to give their child Chinese citizenship over and above American?

To Americans, it's perhaps even more incomprehensible: why would one choose any citizenship other than 'Murcuhn? After all, isn't America about to build a Great Wall on the Mexican border to keep out the waves and waves of invading foreigners?! Doesn't everyone in the world long to breathe free in America? Why throw him in with the huddled masses, when he could be born American?

But the question indeed is a real one, and here's why:

First, the legal background: while the US accepts dual citizenship (Ted Cruz can tell you about that), China does not. At birth, we must declare the Monkey's citizenship. If he's Chinese, he gets his papers immediately; if he's American, we have to dash to the US Consulate in Shenyang to get his passport within a certain number of days. Either way, it's a decision to be made immediately after his birth.

Once the choice is made, there's a huge difference in his future options. The US is rather flexible; China is not.

If we choose US citizenship, that's final: he can, as far as I know, never get Chinese citizenship. He will always be a foreigner in China.

He could get all the same visas available to any other foreigner: he could come on vacation with a tourist visa; he could get a residency permit if he someday got a job in China; he could get a three-year spousal visa if, like his father, he one day decided to marry a Chinese woman. (I recommend it.)

But he would always be a foreigner, and subject to the same restrictions as other foreigners in China. He could never own a home here, he would face very high barriers to starting a business here, he would have to register his every movement with the government, he couldn't stay in hotels that are restricted to Chinese-only, etc.

He would also always be regarded as foreign, even if he stayed in China and became a businessman. He would never have the same guanxi, relationships/connections, as someone with a Chinese passport. He would never be 100% accepted. If you think it's hard in America for a Northerner to move to Alabama and do business, in China it's a thousand times worse.

If, on the other hand, we choose Chinese citizenship, the US is more accommodating. With one American-citizen parent, he could always apply for, and get, US citizenship. His passport would be issued within a day.

There are some minor restrictions on it, the most important of which being that he must actually live in the US for a number of years before he turns 18. (I believe that number is two, but I could be mistaken.) So we would make sure to send him to boarding school in the US, just like so many other Chinese-born students. Once that restriction is met, he could — for the rest of his life — walk into any US embassy or consulate, anywhere in the world, and immediately claim US citizenship.

He would then be a Naturalized, not a Natural-Born citizen, which puts one and only one restriction on him: he could never run for President of the United States.

In my opinion this is a feature, not a bug.

The current prevailing wisdom seems to be that, if we declare him to be a US citizen from birth, he could one day be tempted to become one of those creeps running for President — just like Ted Cruz. I'd just as soon foreclose that option right from the start.

American parents love to tell their kids: "if you work hard enough, you can achieve any goal you want. You could even be President, if you work hard enough."

I'm kind of inclined to tell my little Roman Karl: "If you work hard enough, you can achieve any goal that's worth achieving. If you work hard enough, you could be the next Steve Jobs." But if you want to become President, you  need to drop it.

So you can perhaps see why it's an open question, not the done-deal that it might immediately have seemed. If there are any advantages to Chinese citizenship, then we should give it serious consideration.

Now, there's one giant disadvantage to Chinese citizenship: Chinese citizens have no recognized individual rights. Of course they have the same Natural Rights as every other man on earth, but their government systematically refuses to recognize those rights. They may have more permissions within this country than foreigners do, but a permission can be withdrawn — sometimes savagely — at any moment.

Another disadvantage to Chinese citizenship involves travel to other countries. The US passport is among the most widely-recognized in the world; the Chinese, among the least.

If he one day wants to travel to Russia, he'd be better off Chinese than American. Ditto, in the unlikely event he wants to move to North Korea to take a lucrative job there. (Hehe.) But pretty much anywhere else in the world, it's far better to present a US passport than a Chinese one.

However, there are some benefits to Chinese citizenship.

One is the "social services" he would get in China.

I regard this one as a minimal consideration, because a) there aren't very many social services in China — which is to the benefit of China, imo. And b) I don't believe in social services, so on a moral level I'd rather we/he pay his own way through life than rely upon them. But we have to consider the practicalities, especially with my low-paying job.

The most important thing is education. If we're still in China when he enters school, it's a whole lot more expensive to enroll a foreign citizen in a Chinese school than to enroll a Chinese citizen. (By the way, as I understand it the Chinese public schools in fact charge tuition — but the tuition is far higher for a foreign citizen.)

But the Big Kahuna — the #1 reason to worry about US citizenship, imo — is the ridiculous US tax system.

The United States is the only country I know of that claims the right to tax the income of its citizens, no matter where that income is earned and no matter whether it had anything to do with America itself.

Suppose, for example, I were to open a business in China, providing — let's say — educational services to Chinese students. Suppose I were to become unusually successful at that business, such that I made a million dollars at it. Now, this business has no connection to the US government: it falls entirely under the jurisdiction of Chinese law, the money circulates 100% inside China, and it impinges not one iota on the United States economy. I'm not even using a US bank. It's all China, all the way. Nevertheless, the US government would tax me just as if I'd made my money inside the United States.

This is, to me, crackpot, nut-job crazy. It is despicable. It is a gross violation of the original American idea that government exists as the servant of the people. If the person has left town, and the government is in no way serving him, then by what right does it demand his money? Only on the premise that the individual is the servant of his government. We once fought a Revolution against that notion, but we've brought it right back in again.

It is among a large and growing category of US government rules widely regarded overseas as — this is their term — "economic imperialism." And they're right: that's exactly what it is. It's the US government's way of taking over the world, not by force of arms, but by force of tax law and banking restrictions and controls on currency exchange.

If one happens to be financially successful, that US passport can be a very heavy burden, indeed.

Now I, personally, am in little danger of falling afoul of this problem. The first $80K of income is exempt from this confiscation, and I'm nowhere near that rate of pay. But I would love to think that my son will be. And given that much of the world — including the People's Republic of China — has massively lower income tax rates than the United States — that puts my son at a huge financial disadvantage.

Hence, as a purely rational calculation, I actually lean toward declaring him Chinese at birth.

On the other hand, there is the symbolism of it. Both among the Chinese themselves, and among other people of the world, it is symbolically better to be carrying an American passport in your back pocket than to be carrying a Chinese one.

It will be easier for us to bring him to America to visit his American family, if his passport is American. It might be somewhat easier for him to get into those US boarding schools and universities, if they don't have to treat him as a foreign student. (I'm not certain about that part.)

There's also a kind of bet on the future.

30 years ago, I'd never have considered Chinese citizenship for my child, no matter where he or she was born. But in the past 15 years or so, my country has lost much of its luster, while China has gained. Where will the economic opportunities be in the future? That is very much in question, right now.

I have dim hopes for the United States. We've lurched massively toward statism, and the inevitable closing down of thought and opportunity which that entails.

On the other hand, the Chinese government hasn't just lurched, it has willfully adopted statism as the policy of its future. For a nation with, supposedly, 5000 years of history, it's been acting with a glaring lack of historical awareness.

So in an age of uncertainty, perhaps the best bet is to opt for Chinese citizenship at birth.

I'm not sure I could do it, and I'm not sure my wife would allow me to do it. But that actually is the way I lean right at this moment.

Charged by a a Bull

Last Sunday was a first in my many years as a driver: my car was charged by a bull! He'd broken free of his tether at the house next to my in-laws'. When I rounded the corner from their long, narrow driveway he was standing in the middle of the lane. He didn't like our car one little bit.
They live on a very narrow road filled with obstacles — clearly not designed for vehicular traffic — and I it's not easy to reverse while (to paraphrase Tom Lehrer) staring down a half-ton of angry pot roast. I did my best to get our of his way, but he came at me very fast.
Luckily, he veered to the left just as he was about to hit the hood of my car. He was eyeing me with an ornery look, as if weighing the possibility of smashing in my side window to get to me, when I slammed it in gear and gunned it.
If he had gored the hood of my car, he'd have done some serious damage. It would have been the fitting end to a perfectly miserable day. We hadn't planned to go out to the farm today, but Ma Lei's mother had an attack of dementia and needed us to take her an urgent supply of medicine. It was sheer luck that I didn't have anything urgent to do today. I don't know what drug she's on, but it seems to control her symptoms. By the time of our encounter with the bull, she was lucid again. 
Next time, maybe we'll hire a delivery guy!

Incidentally, I will eventually post the dash cam video on YouTube, with the link here.

The Non-Answer Answer

A woman of Ma Lei's acquaintance went to the doctor for a new ultrasound. She asked the doctor what the sex is going to be. Chinese docs aren't allowed to say, but they often do anyway. In this case, however, either the doc was unusually law-abiding, or perhaps Ma Lei's acquaintance didn't know she's supposed to slip the doc some extra cash for the information. Maybe the doc just couldn't see, but in that case she probably would've just said so. 
So the woman asked the doctor whether she should buy blue baby clothes, or pink. 
"I think yellow is a nice color," said the doctor.
"Will my parents be disappointed, or happy?" (Older generation Chinese still strongly favor boys, though that attitude is fading among the young.)
"I'm sure they'll be very happy it's so healthy."
Finally, the woman asked in exasperation, "Will my baby be described as handsome, or beautiful?!"
"Actually, on a sonogram they all look pretty ugly!"
The patient finally gave up and went home without the desired information.