Whatever doesn’t get published elsewhere will be posted here. I’ve been told that I should really knock it off with the novel-length Facebook status updates that I’m very partial to because let’s face it, who has that kind of attention span these days?

To America, the Beautiful

Dear America,

Thank you for being home. This is the last Fourth of July before my years lived on your soil would exceed the years I spent in my place of birth.

You were there for me when I came into my own as an adult. You were there for me when everything I thought I knew about the world came crashing down. Again and again. You were there when I first fell in love. You were there when I fell out of it. You were there when I thought I conquered the world. You were there when the illusion proved to be just that.

Now you’re on a precipice, an inflection point where some of the dark forces of history threaten to upend the entire American project. You’re in trouble. You’re plagued by sclerotic leadership so polarized that gridlock is the natural order of things. Trust in your institutions have been eroding. Your Fourth Estate has shown itself too eager to play Fifth Column. Your higher education system, whose degrees are most coveted in the world, have lost its global standing. And the people – the American people – are too divided, demoralized and ill-prepared to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.

But I still see you. I see your fundamentals etched into the Constitution and I still see glimpses of the American spirit more than any news media would like to acknowledge exists. I love every ideal you stand for. I love how easily we can reckon with our failures whenever we fall short of those ideals. I hope that you can be for others what you have always been to me, but to get there, there’s going to be a lot of work ahead.

Above all, I love you and won’t shy away from saying it. Because things have gotten so complicated that such a benign declaration is now treated with suspicion and contempt.

Happy birthday, America. And Happy Fourth of July to all of you!


On Tiananmen – the CCP’s Voldemort

Tiananmen – that which should not be named. A word so frightening and dangerous that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) goes to great lengths to purge from public consciousness. Yet another anniversary is about to pass us by, but this year’s is significant in one respect: it is the first time that Hong Kong has banned mass vigils.

Why is this a watershed moment?

For decades now, the CCP has scrupulously wiped out every single trace of Tiananmen from the collective knowledge of the Chinese people. This left the island of Hong Kong, operating as a semi-autonomous region 1900 km south of Beijing, as a keeper of its memories and a witness to its history. It was the one place in the People’s Republic where its human toll could be contemplated, where its grief could be expressed, and where the hopes for Chinese democracy could be aired.

This year, for the first time since 1989, no public memoriam of Tiananmen’s anniversary is legally allowed to take place in Hong Kong, essentially solidifying the growing impression of China’s increasing assertiveness. This comes at a time when Hong Kong has become a menace to China, as mass protests pushing for Beijing to honor its word and grant Hong Kongers their dignity and freedom, have posed a challenge that, for Xi’s government, is reminiscent of the same struggle symbolized by Tank Man.

Tank Man. 31 years later and his identity and fate remains a mystery. Why do we fetishize the image of this unknown hero so much?

In him, we see the power of an individual standing up to a militarized state. We see the spirit of punk rock, of rebellion. We see the juxtaposition of peaceful resistance against an instrument of war. Carrying two plastic bags full of groceries, we see this man as a symbol of Plebeian radicalism, with nothing but the enormous courage to stop not just one tank but an army. In him, we see the human soul’s yearning to be free.

The reasons we have elevated this image to iconic status are precisely the same reasons that compel the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to scrupulously scrub it from its firewalled internet, to purge all mention of the event that it is most closely associated with – the Tiananmen Square massacre. In many ways, China’s state-induced collective amnesia is unprecedented in our modern times and impressive at this massive scale. But why, why is Tiananmen so threatening to the Party and its new President for Life?

For starters, the events of June 4th exposes the CCP and would convince the people to doubt its legitimacy. How fragile is its authority and the social contract between the governed and the government that such knowledge has the potential to foment political instability? But even more insidiously, the total erasure of the memories of the Tiananmen massacre ensures that the desire of the Chinese people for freedom and democracy remain repressed, so that the myth of Chinese incompatibility with “Western-style” freedom remains firmly entrenched. This only serves to consolidate the CCP’s power, and as we have seen unfailingly, absolute power absolutely corrupts.

Will there be a day of reckoning, where the CCP will finally have to acknowledge the truth? And what of the fate of Tank Man, which only the regime has full knowledge of? Onto this enduring symbol of defiance and tragedy, all freedom-loving people are wont to project all hopes and convictions.

Inside China, history may be rewritten. The carriers of Tiananmen’s memory in Hong Kong may have gone dark. But it’s up to the rest of us outside who still have our voice to ensure it remains true, and is never forgotten. All that is good about the human spirit was captured in this one picture.

It’s time for pragmatism

What’s the difference between an idea and an ideology?

You have an idea. An ideology has you.

With covid19 coming to our shores, we’re seeing first hand where the rubber meets the road.

It actively selects against bad ideas at very high stakes. The political ramifications of this public health crisis ignore our arbitrary left/right policy bundles. In the flurry of op-ed pieces that have since followed, we’ve read how coronavirus could “destroy liberalism” or “be bad for conservatism.” The truth is, the cultural psychology and favored policies that are likely to emerge run the gamut:

  • Border controls
  • Socialized medicine
  • Xenophobia
  • UBI
  • Paid leave policies for workers
  • Anti-globalization
  • Fast-track testing and vaccine approval
  • Reduced hurdles for occupational licensing in medical fields
  • Bio-surveillance and contact tracing
  • Increased spending on biomedical and public health research
  • Impetus for building strong local communities and divil society
  • Social conservatism

Look at that list. There’s something for everyone – Republican, Democrat, Libertarian (sorry anarchists). The cynical way to put it is that whichever party was early to the crisis could’ve milked it for their own agenda. Our government leaders totally failed to “capitalize” because they missed all the signs and were woefully inept.

Talking about “when all this is over” is a moot point. If it’s not clear to you by now, it really should be. Covid19 is part of our world in the near future and we’re going to have to learn how to live with it. It’s going to stoke other sociopolitical forces that would have very significant long-term consequences – it might put an end to in-person voting, the work-from-home (distributed work) phenomenon might decrease innovation clusters as people don’t have to live in urban centers (huge political effect), and don’t forget the demographic changes that would arise.

Real world changes almost never map neatly to our entrenched political tribes and maps. I’m glad people are slowly waking up to this reality.

This is where pragmatism is going to be valued above ideology. It has to. If not, lives will be lost.

The Rogan Bump

It’s been a week since I went through the looking glass of the most popular podcast in the world. Two and a half million people have wondered “who the hell is this Melissa Chen” and then googled me only to find doctors by the same name in their area.

They were also treated to a very public freakout that was partly triggered by the energy drink I was using as a crutch and scapegoat because it’s too embarrassing to admit that I, a fullt grown adult, have chronic fear of public speaking. My Twitter follower count has already increased by 100% which isn’t as flattering as you think. I’m haunted by the thought of what proportion of these new followers are avid offense archeologists, studying my Twitter feed with a microaggression magnifying glass? To be sure, nothing has ever prepared me to deal with this level of attention and exposure.

First things first, a big thank you to Mr. Joe Rogan. Almost all JRE guests are widely-recognized household names that include politicians, CEOs, celebrities, athletes and scientists. I can’t remember the last time Joe introduced a total unknown to the world, can you? Well on Valentine’s Day 2020, he did. He took a big risk on me and for that, I am so grateful.

Joe was also really smooth and instrumental in calming me down after the panic attack hit. It takes a lot of professionalism to make sure that a 2.5 hour conversation doesn’t get derailed and I came away more impressed with what Joe does with his show than before I entered the lair.

Speaking of which, what a man cave it is. It’s basically a Disneyland for Bros who are bicurious about wellness trends. Where else would you have a gym with Captain America barbell plates alongside a sensory deprivation tank in a large warehouse that boasts a multi-car garage and a kitchen with tumeric latte-making functionality?

Needless to say, once I found my groove (I was still nervous throughout, just hid it better), Joe and I were vibing based on the common denominators of mutual dude energy, curiosity and a disdain for the crazy and woke.

The Reactions & Aftermath

This maybe giving too much fodder to all the armchair psychiatrists out there, but I have always adopted self-loathing as a defense mechanism. The idea is that there’s just no way that anyone else can hate me any more than I already hate myself so all the insults hurled my way could do no harm to my teflon-coated stoicism. It works pretty well, although the major draw back is having to navigate life with crippling self-doubt.

I was well aware of the degenerative cesspool of vitriol that is the YouTube comments section and expected the worst. The next morning after the interview went live, I got a text from Joe himself that read:

“This is a friendly reminder not to read the comments”

Naturally, I read the comments, because the Thug Life Chose Me ™. Overwhelmingly, it was nothing but an eruption of goodwill and outright flattery. Don’t get me wrong, there was the occasional nutbag comment that makes you seriously question the wisdom of democracy, but overall the tone was gracious and even adulatory.

To say I’m still shell-shocked at how likeable I come across on camera is very understated. I’ve always had a disagreeable disposition. In fact, sometimes I think that’s where my humor comes from. To be funny requires the ability to be a bit of an asshole and believe me, I have plenty of that in reserve.

One week on and I’m still mired in the Sisyphean task of chipping away at the emails that have piled up in my inbox. Many people sent heartfelt messages offering their time and skills to help build the website I described below in the video clip (at 3’34”), a portal to track how the Free World is selling its soul to the Chinese Communist Party (both inside and out of China) and monitor the ways in which a growing number of companies are becoming complicit in Chinese censorship.

Several have commented on how brave I am to be speaking about this subject on a popular podcast. This isn’t bravery for a few reasons:

1. I don’t have family in China. I can’t trace my ancestry to a single living relative currently living in China, so the CCP cannot use familial ties as leverage on me

2. I grew up in a culture steeped in Confucian values, so I understand the cultural mindset of the Chinese on an almost visceral level

3. It helps to have a Chinese face talking about China (lest you’re accused of racism)

Bravery is what propels the activists and dissidents *inside* China, the ones who dare to speak out against the CCP from within, where the stakes are “disappearances” or imprisonment. I’m safe. I’m doing it from within the most comfortable, freest place on the planet.

I suspect that one of the other reasons that I resonated so much with Joe’s audience is that the main theme that ties in my origins story and the various strands of my life’s work is in preserving or fighting for a world without limits, deficits or access to information and knowledge. That means fighting censorship and the structural reasons why gaps in access exist and figuring out how to democratize it.

One of the most common themes of emails I received was from military vets who served in the Middle East. Many shared their experience of deployment, their observations and variations of the following:

“if we only dropped less bombs and fired less bullets, and gave them laptops and books instead, we would’ve achieved the goal of cultivating a society in which democracy and freedom can take root.”

The Ideas Beyond Borders website was also flooded with messages from volunteers offering to translate Wikipedia articles and books with us, and Arabic readers who were delighted that we were generating and disseminating verboten knowledge. I’m floored by the enthusiasm people seem to have for wanting to be a part of this – to be brutally frank, I don’t think I sold the idea very well. There were a lot of things I left out or wished I had said differently but in the moment, was too angst-ridden to think clearly.

There were a few other take-aways:

Had to google. Uh thanks, I guess?

An eternal face chair. So generous!

Apparently I am a spy

Just to recap I’m a half Asa Akira, half Alex Jones hybrid who works for the CIA

Ultimately, my faith in humanity has been restored. I did not receive a single dick pic (this isn’t a challenge). Once again, thank you to all who persevered through the first few distressing minutes or so, stuck around till I found my stride, and then listened to the contents of my stream of consciousness and then bothered to comment or write. I appreciate all the letters, and I promise I will respond to each and every one of them.

For now, the only downside to the Rogan Bump is having to explain to the new followers all my insider-jokes that I used to just throw around casually with my smaller community of followers and friends. If you see me spouting anything weird (something about being a proto-fascist, say), you’re just going to have to accept that this is just who I am as a person. 🙏

Sounding Off on Seattle

If Silicon Valley and Portland had a moody lovechild with an obsession for grunge, it would be Seattle. The unassuming cloud-covered city may have an outsized footprint in the world of business (Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, UPS all started here) but it still somehow manages to maintain its countercultural edge: tattoo and piercing parlors sit alongside artisanal coffee shops, a sophisticated and innovative culinary scene and eclectic art galleries.

Its vibrant startup ecosystem, no doubt catalyzed by the presence of tech giants and the intellectual environs of nearby “U-dub,” birthed online marketplaces such as Avvo and Zillow which, together with satellite campuses from the likes of Google and Facebook, justifies its new title as “Silicon Forest.” All of this commerce lies amid a bustling port surrounded by lush evergreen trees as the imposing peak of the perennially snow-capped Mount Rainier looms overhead. It boasts, in many ways, one of the most iconic postcard-worthy cityscapes.

Seattle’s political DNA is unabashedly leftist. It was the first city to push for $15 minimum wage in 2014, currently requires all property developers to include lower-cost units in their projects or face a fine, and most recently, legalized marijuana on a ballot measure.

Environmentalism is the main religion here, evidenced by frequent paroxysms of street activism, the ubiquity of recycling bins and overrepresentation of Patagonia jackets, though fortunately, it seems to largely work in concert with pro-business policies. Ride-share pickups had their own distinct area at the airport, and Uber, barely tolerated and outright restricted in the more left-leaning cities, even had staffed counters where tourists or anyone without smart phones can order cars in person. As I waited in the passenger pickup lot that was clearly optimized for efficiency, I noticed that every single car was a freakin’ Toyota Prius. It turns out that the city mandates that any Uber/Lyft driver who wants to do pickups at SEA-TAC airport has to drive a car with over 47 mpg rating.

When I got into my ride, the friendly driver asked if I wanted to karaoke which didn’t strike me as odd at all on account of my unapologetically Asian face; naturally, it is usually rebuffed because of my sheer disdain for communal singing. This was no ordinary ride-share experience: my driver was a web developer by day, but was inspired by James Corden’s carpool karaoke to launch Seattle Car Karaoke where passengers can sing karaoke to any song of their choice and have it live-streamed on social media. Had I not been suffering from a severe sleep debt, I would’ve absolutely rapped to “Baby Got Back,” a decision I would surely regret later when an anonymous hack tries to shatter my political ambitions or attempts to humiliate me in a montage video. The concept alone is so delightfully weird, for who could, after expecting nothing more than the drudgery of a routine commute, not find pure joy in a moment of silliness and wild abandon?

Oh and here’s the kicker: this is the brainchild of a, wait for it…. Filipino. You cannot make this stuff up.