Around 20 years ago, my late mother began making regular visits to China, after her cousin was posted there as the Brazilian Ambassador to Beijing. My mother loved China so much, she started a little jewelry business to give her an excuse to go there twice a year.
In 2011, my brother and I went with her on one of her business trips and Beijing was really an exciting place. I had visited Hong Kong and Shenzhen in the early 1980s and the transformation of China during this period was unbelievable. There was an energy there that reminded me of how my grandparents described what America was like after World War II, when anything seemed possible and the sky was the limit.
Landing in LA on our return, America looked like a Third World country by comparison to China.
Because of these experiences, I got sucked into a powerful vortex two years ago that had me binge-watching the whimsical videos of these two young men with a combined total of 4 YouTube channels, Winston Sterzel (aka “SerpentZA”) from South Africa and American, Matthew Tye (aka “Laowhy86”). They’ve each been living and working in China for about a decade and they’re both married to Chinese women.
For years, they’ve been posting their amusing slices of life that offer a full immersion into China. They’ve shared their love of that country and offered advice to Westerners interested in living there. They also set up shop, producing hand-built motorcycles and making road trip documentaries in the Chinese outback.
Well, tensions have escalated to such a degree that they’ve both now relocated to Southern California with their wives and Matthew’s two infant daughters. They’ve been relatively quiet about this development because 1. their wives are Chinese and didn’t want to leave their close-knit families 2. their wives’ families remain in China and any public criticism of China that they make could cause problems for their in-laws.
That’s why this video, in which Matthew Tye explains what’s been going on is momentous. He had moved to China a decade ago because there was amazing energy and things were happening, unlike in his Rust Belt hometown of Binghamton, New York.
He shares the arc of the past decade with amazing images he’s filmed all over the country, talking about how he can no longer purchase train tickets without a Chinese government ID and that Chinese policy would never enable him to become a citizen.
He concludes, “The open tap for dialogue with other people from other countries has effectively been shut off and they’ve created an army of soft-power Internet trolls and government initiatives to try and prove to the world that it’s not only ‘us versus them’ but that ‘our system is best’…
“When you look at your language experience, the people you know and love, the things around you, the place that you bought a house, in the place that you started a family and everything around you is shifting towards the negative, everything around you is being clamped-down and tightened-up and people’s freedom of expression and ideas that once flourished in the early years of me moving to China are now squashed, you realize that in these past 10 years, you’ve started to understand actually how things are working – and not only that, how things are potentially going – and it doesn’t feel good.
“Now, when I go back home to my tiny little town on the forest, it all makes sense and it feels fantastic.”