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The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera 2020-09-26 09:11:41

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera


An air molecule is free. It flows anywhere. An air molecule is light. It is insignificant.

A giant stone is not free. It can’t move easily. A giant stone is heavy. It is significant.

One may be free. But he is light and insignificant.

The book is mostly about life under Soviet occupied Czech. But at a deeper level, it is a reflection about modern societies, represented by Western societies. The following are two passages from the book.

When a society is rich, its people don't need to work with their hands; they can devote themselves to activities of the spirit. We have more and more universities and more and more students. If students are going to earn degrees, they've got to come up with dissertation topics. And since dissertations can be written about everything under the sun, the number of topics is infinite. Sheets of paper covered with words pile up in archives sadder than cemeteries, because no one ever visits them, not even on All Souls' Day. Culture is perishing in overproduction, in an avalanche of words, in the madness of quantity. (P 53)

 This is more true today than when the book was published forty years ago.

The Grand March goes on, the world's indifference notwithstanding, but it is growing nervous and hectic: yesterday against the American occupation of Vietnam, today against the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia; yesterday for Israel, today for the Palestinians; yesterday for Cuba, tomorrow against Cuba— and always against America; at times against massacres and at times in support of other massacres; Europe marches on, and to keep up with events, to leave none of them out, its pace grows faster and faster, until finally the Grand March is a procession of rushing, galloping people and the platform is shrinking and shrinking until one day it will be reduced to a mere dimension-less dot. (P 140)

Again, today is even worse.

It is a great book. It was an extremely popular book in the 1980s, when the Soviet Block was still standing. But today its broader message makes the establishment in the Western societies uneasy. The book sinks into oblivion, at least in mainstream media.



Some quotes from the book

Part one

Beethoven apparently viewed weight as something positive. Since the German word schwer means both difficult and heavy, Beethoven's difficult resolution may also be construed as a heavy or weighty resolution. The weighty resolution is at one with the voice of Fate ( Es muss sein! ); necessity, weight, and value are three concepts inextricably bound: only necessity is heavy, and only what is heavy has value.

Part Two

Tereza's mother never stopped reminding her that being a mother meant sacrificing everything. Her words had the ring of truth, backed as they were by the experience of a woman who had lost everything because of her child. Tereza would listen and believe that being a mother was the highest value in life and that being a mother was a great sacrifice. If a mother was Sacrifice personified, then a daughter was Guilt, with no possibility of redress.

Anyone whose goal is something higher must expect some day to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? Then why do we feel it even when the observation tower comes equipped with a sturdy handrail? No, vertigo is something other than the fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.

Part three

Franz shook his head. When a society is rich, its people don't need to work with their hands; they can devote themselves to activities of the spirit. We have more and more universities and more and more students. If students are going to earn degrees, they've got to come up with dissertation topics. And since dissertations can be written about everything under the sun, the number of topics is infinite. Sheets of paper covered with words pile up in archives sadder than cemeteries, because no one ever visits them, not even on All Souls' Day. Culture is perishing in overproduction, in an avalanche of words, in the madness of quantity. (P 53)

There are things that can be accomplished only by violence. Physical love is unthinkable without violence. (P 58)

living in truth, lying neither to ourselves nor to others, was possible only away from the public: the moment someone keeps an eye on what we do, allowances for that eye, and nothing we do is truthful. Having a public, keeping a public in mind, means living in lies.

Part six   Grand march

Yes, said Franz to himself, the Grand March goes on, the world's indifference notwithstanding, but it is growing nervous and hectic: yesterday against the American occupation of Vietnam, today against the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia; yesterday for Israel, today for the Palestinians; yesterday for Cuba, tomorrow against Cuba— and always against America; at times against massacres and at times in support of other massacres; Europe marches on, and to keep up with events, to leave none of them out, its pace grows faster and faster, until finally the Grand March is a procession of rushing, galloping people and the platform is shrinking and shrinking until one day it will be reduced to a mere dimension-less dot. (P 140)

Part seven

The first years following the Russian invasion could not yet be characterized as a reign of terror. Because practically no one in the entire nation agreed with the occupation regime, the Russians had to ferret out the few exceptions and push them into power. But where could they look? All faith in Communism and love for Russia was dead. So they sought people who wished to get back at life for something, people with revenge on the brain. Then they had to focus, cultivate, and maintain those people's aggressiveness, give them a temporary substitute to practice on.

The substitute they lit upon was animals.

All at once the papers started coming out with cycles of features and organized letters- to-the-editor campaigns demanding, for example, the extermination of all pigeons within city limits. And the pigeons would be exterminated. But the major drive was directed against dogs. People were still disconsolate over the catastrophe of the occupation, but radio, television, and the press went on and on about dogs: how they soil our streets and parks, endanger our children's health, fulfill no useful function, yet must be fed. They whipped up such a psychotic fever that Tereza had been afraid that the crazed mob would do harm to Karenin. Only after a year did the accumulated malice (which until then had been vented, for the sake of training, on animals) find its true goal: people. People started being removed from their jobs, arrested, put on trial. At last the animals could breathe freely. (P 150)

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On the origin of species by Charles Darwin 2020-09-10 20:51:05

On the origin of species by Charles Darwin


The book is about Struggle for Existence. You might say it is no more relevant today for we, at least people in the West, have passed the stage of Struggle for Existence. But wait! How did Darwin understand Struggle for Existence?


I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including … not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny. (P. 62)


From Darwin’s definition, the Western societies are doing terrible in the Struggle for Existence. For Darwin, unless the idea of struggle for life is thoroughly engrained in the mind, we can’t really understand the world.


Nothing is easier than to admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult--at least I have found it so--than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind. Yet unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, I am convinced that the whole economy of nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood. We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey; we do not always bear in mind, that though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year.  (P.62)


Even when our struggle for existence seems to direct toward external factors, such as climate, the struggle between our fellow living organisms are much more intense.


Even when climate, for instance extreme cold, acts directly, it will be the least vigorous, or those which have got least food through the advancing winter, which will suffer most. When we travel from south to north, or from a damp region to a dry, we invariably see some species gradually getting rarer and rarer, and finally disappearing; and the change of climate being conspicuous, we are tempted to attribute the whole effect to its direct action. But this is a very false view: we forget that each species, even where it most abounds, is constantly suffering enormous destruction at some period of its life, from enemies or from competitors for the same place and food; and if these enemies or competitors be in the least degree favoured by any slight change of climate, they will increase in numbers, and, as each area is already fully stocked with inhabitants, the other species will decrease. When we travel southward and see a species decreasing in numbers, we may feel sure that the cause lies quite as much in other species being favoured, as in this one being hurt. So it is when we travel northward, but in a somewhat lesser degree, for the number of species of all kinds, and therefore of competitors, decreases northwards; hence in going northward, or in ascending a mountain, we far oftener meet with stunted forms, due to the directly injurious action of climate, than we do in proceeding southwards or in descending a mountain. (P. 67)


All the above quotes are from Chapter three: Struggle for Existence. It is, in my opinion, the best written chapter. This chapter is worth reading again and again.

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Descent of Man, by Charles Darwin 2020-09-07 14:54:18

Descent of Man, by Charles Darwin


We often bemoan the lack of true intellectuals today. Let’s copy a passage from a true intellectual from a bygone age.


A most important obstacle in civilized countries to an increase in the number of men of a superior class has been strongly urged by Mr. Greg and Mr. Galton, namely, the fact that the very poor and reckless, who are often degraded by vice, almost invariably marry early, whilst the careful and frugal, who are generally otherwise virtuous, marry late in life, so that they may be able to support themselves and their children in comfort. Those who marry early produce with a given period not only a greater number of generations, but, as shewn by Dr. Duncan, they produce many more children. The children, moreover, that are born by mothers during the prime of life are heavier and larger, and therefore probably more vigorous, than those born at other periods. Thus the reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members. Or as Mr. Greg puts the case: “The careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits: the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence, passed his best years in struggle and in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him. Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts --- and in a dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five-sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one-sixth of Saxons that remained. In the eternal ‘struggle for existence,’ it would be the inferior and less favoured race that had prevailed --- and prevailed by virtue not of its good qualities but of its faults.” (p. 174)


Today, many people can write the same passage. But will we respect the author of such a passage, as people had respected Darwin in his day? Today there are true intellectuals, just like in Darwin’s day. But we trash them, condemn them, or at best, ignore them. Then we lament the lack of true intellectuals.


Today’s situation is not unique. It is rather common in human history, as recorded in the following passage in the same book.


The Holy Inquisition selected with extreme care the freest and boldest men in order to burn or imprison them. In Spain alone some of the best men— those who doubted and questioned, and without doubting there can be no progress—were eliminated during three centuries at the rate of a thousand a year. (P. 179)


In any stable society, the most important work for the ruling class is to eliminate or marginalize the freest and boldest men. In Holy Inquisition and today, those who doubted and questioned are round up and broken down.



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Entropy: In intuitive Introduction 2020-08-25 17:41:38

Entropy: In intuitive Introduction


Entropy law is the most universal law in nature. Entropy must be very relevant to our life. Indeed, we frequently use this concept in our writings. However, we often don’t feel comfortable with this concept. What is entropy?


In short, entropy is probability. If so, why don’t we just say probability? Why do we create another term? Entropy is in a sense a total probability. What does that mean? If we say there is a 30% chance raining tomorrow, there is also a 70% chance not raining. When we talk about entropy, we will put both probabilities together. If so, everything adds up to 100%. Why would we even bother?


Suppose in one place, there is 50% chance raining everyday, 50% chance not raining. In another place, there is 1% chance raining everyday, 99% chance not raining. The situation can be very different. When there is 50% chance raining, you probably will prepare for raining everyday. When there is only 1% chance raining, you probably won’t prepare for raining at all. That is where entropy comes into use. In the first case, we say entropy is high. In the second case, we say entropy is low. One way to think about entropy is uncertainty. When there is 50% raining, 50% not raining, uncertainty is high. Actually, this situation has the highest uncertainty. When there is 1% raining, 99% not raining, uncertainty is low. Most of time, we prefer less uncertainty, or lower entropy.


Entropy not only gives a qualitative concept, but also a quantitative measure. Let’s return to the raining, not raining case. Suppose the chance of raining is p, chance of not raining is q. p+q = 1. Then the entropy of the situation is

            p*(-log p)+q*(-log q)

Now you see a math formula, you see a log function. You want to quit. Don’t! You are going to understand the most important concept in the world, the most important concept in the universe.


p and q are the probabilities of two events (rain or not rain). -log p and -log q are the values of these probabilities. What does value of a probability mean? Suppose it rains often in a place. If weather man on TV says it is going to rain tomorrow, it is really no big deal. You are well prepared anyway. Suppose it rarely rains in another place, If weather man on TV says it is going to rain tomorrow, it helps a lot. You can put off your camping trip to another day. The graph of – log p looks like this.








If the probability is 1, -log 1 = 0. The value of this information is zero. You already know it anyway. On the other hand, if the probability is very small, the value of information is very high.


You might say. All this look nice. But what’s the big deal?


We call our age information age. A big milestone of information age is the publication of Shannon’s information theory in 1948. What is in that paper? The most important result is his definition of information as entropy.  


I = p*(-log p) +q*(-log q)


Why is this result important? Let us look at the graph of this function.



You find that when p is around 0.5, information cost is very high. When p is around 0.01 or 0.99, information cost is very low. That is natural. When p = 0.01, there is not much uncertainty. Shannon’s formula gives the lowest possible cost for information transmission. Why is this formula so important?


Now you are watching a movie online. How is it possible to transmit so much information so fast? This is because in movie, the difference in consecutive pictures is very small. In other words, the uncertainty level is very small. From the above graph, you can transmit information at a very low cost. Usually, a movie file can achieve one hundred times compression because of coding. You don’t mind one second delay in movie. But one hundred second is a long time to wait. Information theory is a great help in information age. The main result of information theory is to define information as entropy.


You might say. This is very useful. But this is far from being fundamental and universal.


What is entropy? Entropy is essentially probability. The world is moving from a low probability state to high probability state. In formal jargon, the world is moving from low entropy state to high entropy state. This is the entropy law, or the second law of thermodynamics. This is the most universal law in the nature. But why is this law important to our life?


Many of us have visited hydro dams. The water levels at both sides of a dam are different. This difference generates the tendency for water to flow from one side to another. This directional flow can generate electricity and other useful energy.


In general, the entropy flow generates most of the directional flows in this world. All living systems, including human beings, owe our life to entropy flows. Entropy flow is the fountain of life. This understanding is the opposite of entropy as a symbol of death. The concept of entropy is vital to understand life and human societies.


Because the concept of entropy is so universal, many prominent economists tried to apply it in economic analysis as well. However, early attempts don’t always yield fruitful results. When this happened, their attitude towards entropy became very negative. Paul Samuelson, the most powerful economist of our time, once stated,


And I may add that the sign of a crank or half-baked speculator in the social sciences is his search for something in the social system that corresponds to the physicist’s notion of “entropy”.


Few want to be a crank or half-baked speculator. Modern economic theory has since largely detached from physics in general and entropy in particular. But our life is intricately connected to our physical environment. An economic theory that is detached from physical foundation has flamed out for a long time. We need some cranks to crank start the engine again.


In Shannon’s information theory, the value of information is defined as


-log2 (p)


The base of the logarithm is two. This is because information is transmitted through a binary system {0, 1}. In economic activities, there can be a number of producers making the same product. We can define the value of economic product to be


-log b (p)


Here b is the number of producers. Value of a product is the function of scarcity and the number of producers. We have already seen the graph how value changes with scarcity (probability). Now we draw a graph to show the relation between value and number of producers.




When the number of producers approach one, the value of the product approaches infinity. This is the value of true monopoly. This is why governments, the most dominant social organizations, are organized as monopolies. This is why most highly paid workers are unionized so they will have monopoly power in bargaining. This is why most successful religions are monotheistic.  Indeed, to achieve and maintain monopoly is the strongest motivation in many human activities.


As we have seen, entropy function, a logarithm function, is very simple. Yet it contains many fascinating properties that influence our life profoundly.



For more detailed discussion about entropy, you might want to read

Jing Chen, 2015, The Unity of Science and Economics: A New Foundation of Economic Theory, Springer









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Lee and leeway 2020-08-18 08:15:52

Lee and leeway

Tik Tok is in trouble, allegedly due to national security concern. Some other high tech companies seem to have more leeway. Students can use Microsoft Office for free. But Microsoft isn’t punished for dumping. Google pays little tax. There is little problem with that. Why do some companies get leeway while others don’t?

Lee side means sheltered side. In Chinese, inside (里) is pronounced lee. So lee side means inside. If you are an insider, you are at the lee side and you get leeway. If you are an outsider, you are not at the lee side and you don’t get leeway.

Almost all successful high tech companies are in the US, the only superpower in the world. It is not that everyone else is stupid. But if you want to have leeway, you have to be at the lee side.

This situation is not restricted to the US, nor restricted to the high tech industry. Everywhere you go, if you want to gain some leeway, you had better stay at the lee side.

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We and Zamyatin 2020-08-17 06:42:12

We and Zamyatin

Huxley’s The Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984 are the best-known dystopian novels. Before them, was We by Zamyatin.

We was written in 1920, shortly after the October Revolution. As usual, a man and a woman fell in love. The following is an abridged conversation of them, mostly lifted from Orwell’s review.

Man: “Do you realise that what you are suggesting is revolution?”

Woman:  “Of course, it’s revolution. Why not?”

M: “Because there can’t be a revolution. Our revolution was the last and there can never be another. Everybody knows that.”

W: “My dear, you’re a mathematician: tell me, which is the last number?”

M: “What do you mean, the last number?”

W: “Well, then, the biggest number!”

M: “But that’s absurd. Numbers are infinite. There can’t be a last one.”

W: “Then why do you talk about the last revolution?”

W: Don’t you as a mathematician know that only differences-only differences-in temperature, only thermic contrasts make for life? And if all over the world there are evenly warm or evenly cold bodies, they must be smashed against each other! in order to get flame, explosions! And we shall smash! "


Zamyatin was trained as an engineer. He has deep understanding about mathematics and thermodynamics. That makes his writing fascinating. The book is pro revolution, violent revolution. Only violence can break loose the ossified society. Only violence can cut deep into the soil to aerate the land.  Yet it was the first book banned by the young Soviet government. The Soviet government was just born out of a revolution. But it definitely was not interested in a new revolution.


No authority or would be authority is interested in further revolution. Mohamod was the last prophet in Islam. Jesus was God's only son in Christianity. Jehovah was the only God in Judaism. It takes only one final fight to achieve communism in Marxism. Rich countries are at the End of History. Rich countries are developed countries and poor countries are developing. The dominant economic theory is general equilibrium theory. All popular social theories are sophisticated versions of "happily ever after" fairy tales. Men and women don’t mind working hard for a few days. But they demand eternal rewards. Any promise short of eternity is not worth biting.


The book is titled We. The following sentence from the book might give us some idea why the book is so titled. “And the natural road from nothingness to greatness is to forget that one is a gram and to feel that one is one millionth of a ton!” Being part of a giant machine, each of us becomes more powerful. Each also becomes less individualistic. The key to happiness is for each individual to become part of we. We are fans of the same football team. We are members of the same respected profession. We fight the same enemy. But to some people, becoming part of we can be suffocating.


Zamyatin couldn't get his writings published in Soviet Union. He pleaded to Stalin for emigration and got his permit. Zamyatin left for Paris in 1931. But life abroad wasn't happy. He died in 1937 in poverty, at the age of 53. While in Paris, he refrained from criticizing Soviet policies, hoping to return to Soviet Union some day. I couldn't find more detail about his life abroad. 




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Is it healthy to sterilize our environment a lot? 2020-08-15 14:03:02

Is it healthy to sterilize our environment a lot?

About one thousand years ago, there was a dynasty in China, called Song Dynasty. It was the most prosperous dynasty in Chinese history. China was the most prosperous country in the world at that time.

Like any other prosperous society, Song Dynasty faced constant threats of looting and other disturbances from its poorer neighbors. Being a prosperous dynasty, it can muster enough resources to defeat looters. But looters won’t go away. For people living close to wealthy societies, looting is their best strategy. In the end, Song Dynasty paid regular tributes to its northern neighbor, Liao, in exchange for peace. The peace had lasted for about one hundred years, with only occasional skirmishes.

Later, the northern neighbor’s further northern neighbor, Jin, rose in power. Song Dynasty saw an opportunity to revenge for the earlier humiliation. Song Dynasty made an alliance with the deep north state to destroy the state in the middle. They succeeded in eliminating the middle state, Liao. But the buffer zone in the middle is gone. The very next year, the capital city of Song Dynasty was captured by the rising state, Jin.

We might laugh at the stupidity of Song Dynasty. Liao has been the neighbor of Song for more than one hundred years. Each is quite adapted to the existence of the other. Why take an extraordinary effort to eliminate your old neighbor to expose yourself to unpredictable and aggressive newcomers?

We are all surrounded by germs, on our hands, on our skin, inside our bodies. Most of these germs are our old neighbors. They eke out a living from our bodies. We know them well. Our immune systems are very familiar with them. Whenever their numbers increase rapidly, our immune systems can react rapidly to curb their growth. At the same time, these germs are our best defenders against other new and unknown germs. To these old germs, any newcomers are trespassers who should be eliminated actively. In fact, most antibiotics are produced by germs in fighting against other germs. For example, penicillin is originally produced by Penicillium, a type of fungi.

When we take extraordinary effort to sterilize our environment, we eliminate most of our old neighbors around us. Few old germs are left to defend against new germs our immune systems are not familiar with. We are often unprepared for these aggressive new invaders and overwhelmed by them.

We are advised to wash our hands often and sterilize our environment often. Sterilization kills most of the old germs. But it also destroys the buffer zone that keeps most of the new germs away. Is it healthy to sterilize our environment a lot?

Medical professionals work in an environment with a lot of patients, a lot of germs. It makes sense for them to seek additional protection from generous dose of antiseptics. But for ordinary people, is it a good idea to replace a layer of natural and versatile antiseptics with artificial antiseptics?

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Natural vaccines 2020-08-13 08:02:56

Natural vaccines


Vaccines should be similar enough to original pathogens. They should induce our bodies to generate immune cells that are effective on original pathogens.


Vaccines should be dissimilar enough to original pathogens. They should not be as pathogenic as the original pathogens.


Researchers work hard in their labs to mutate the original pathogens in a proper way, with proper amount to generate the desired vaccines.


Nature is a gigantic lab. Mutations occur everywhere, all the time. Every pathogen has many siblings and cousins. They are the natural candidates for vaccines. The very first vaccine, a cow vaccine for smallpox, was a natural vaccine from cows.


Even new vaccines are often speed up natural vaccines. Researchers inject pathogens into chicken bodies, hoping to induce the desired mutations from the interactions between pathogens and chickens.


Do we really have to wait for the lab vaccine? Among people never exposed to novel coronavirus, 40% to 60% have the same kind of T cells (a type of immune cells) as those exposed to novel coronaviruses. Coronaviruses are a big family with many cousins. Some common cold are caused by coronaviruses. Probably many of us already got vaccinated by those cousin coronaviruses.

Those natural vaccines may not be effective enough. That may be true. But artificial vaccines may not be effective enough either. There is no guarantee that artificial vaccines are more effective than natural vaccines. There is guarantee that natural vaccines offer broader spectrum protection than artificial vaccines.


Nature is not our enemy. Nature is our sanctuary, spiritually and physically. It gives us vaccines. It gives us vitality.


P.S. A research paper finds 40% to 60% people never exposed to novel coronavirus have the same type of T cells as those exposed to novel coronaviruses.


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Pretend 2020-08-05 20:53:24



When life is harsh to you

When life is hopeless

You just pretend

Pretend life is hopeful

When you pretend

You become the pretender


When life is dull

When nothing happens

You just pretend

Pretend life goes on according to your script

When you pretend

You become the pretender


When the enemies are invincible

When their fortress is impregnable

You just pretend

Pretend you will storm their fortress

When you pretend

You become the pretender


When God is silent

When he is not answering your call

You just pretend

Pretend God is listening

When you pretend

You become the pretender

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Two different worlds 2020-08-02 16:22:46

Two different worlds


It is summer time, time to drive away from the official world, time to drive away from the pandemics.


While taking a rest in an information center, we take some tourism booklets. We find that Penticton is sandwiched between two lakes (Please forgive my ignorance.) It must be a beautiful place. We change our plan and drive toward Penticton. We first land by Skaha Lake, the southern lake. It is a beautiful lake with little development. The parking lot is completely full. We manage to find a place to park at a nearby street. Walking on the sunny beach is very relaxed. The only sign of pandemics is the signs reminding people for social distancing.


We decide to spend a night at Penticton. But the camping sites are all full. So We drive to another lake, the Okanagan Lake north of the city. Downtown Penticton is at the lakeside of Okanagan. Beach is very crowded, yet relaxed. There is a Japanese garden in the beach area, which we like very much.


We drive around and look around. We learn that many lakes along Okanagan Valley are connected by Okanagan River. When we drive along Okanagan River, many people are floating down, from Okanagan Lake to Skaha Lake, with beer in their hands. Look at the beaches. Look at the river. The whole city is in a festive mood.


The second day, we drive south along Route 97, flanked by endless orchards and vineyards. When we saw Osoyoos Lake, we take a detour toward the other side of the lake. This turns out to be the Osoyoos Indian Reserve. There is a huge residential development there. We take a tour of the site and drive out. Just outside the Indian Reserve, there is an ecological reserve. We take a walk into the reserve. This is a desert ecosystem, with hardy grasses and cactus. We are enamored about the cactus. We pick some and plan to bring them back home. But soon the bottom of our shoes, the side of our shoes and our pants are all cactus, sticking firmly on us with their prickles. We quickly abandon the cactus in our hands.   


We drive further south to Osoyoos. Osoyoos Lake is supposed to be the warmest freshwater lake in Canada. This makes Osoyoos a hot tourist destination. The name Osoyoos comes from soyos, a native word for narrow. Osoyoos Lake narrows down at Osoyoos. This makes a perfect residential area. We manage to find a parking spot, have lunch by the lakeside, and dip in the lake for some time. The water is not especially warm. But anyway, this is Canada. Downtown is quite crowded. As a tourist destination, it is full of hotels, which crowd out much else. We don’t hang around for long and keep driving east.


We stop at Greenwood, the smallest city in Canada. It used to be a booming mining town. When mines were exhausted, it became a ghost town. Then World War II started. The Japanese were interned. They were supposed to be sent east of Rockies. But the mayor of Greenwood volunteered to house them in their empty city. Twelve hundred Japanese found their home in Greenwood during the war. Many stayed after the war. An old Japanese lady volunteers at the information center. She gives us a detailed tour of the museum. Her parents were interned in Greenwood during World War II and stayed after the war. She has ten siblings. Surely it was a great place to raise a family.

We plan to spend the night at Christina Lake. The lake is indeed very beautiful. But the provincial park is day use only. Campgrounds are not by the beach. So we drive on further, arriving at Castlegar. At downtown is the Millennium Park. We stop there and ask for the direction of a campsite. A lady tells us to go to Syringa Provincial Park. It is a 17 km scenic drive along the mighty Columbia River, a real joyful ride. When we approach the campground gate, a sign says campground full. We ask the doorkeeper at the campground, an energetic young boy. He tells us to try Pass Creek Municipal Campground.


It was already pretty dark. We were getting nervous. We manage to find the campground before complete darkness. Unfortunately, it was completely full, as expected. But the lady was very sympathetic to our dire situation. She allowed us to park at the parking lot and set up a tent on the lawn nearby. She charged only ten dollars for our stay and apologized profusely for not having a fire pit and a dining table. But we don’t really need much amenity.


On the road, many of us are concerned about showers and other amenities. Sometimes, shower rooms are over crowded or shower facility is under repair. But most campgrounds are close to lakes or rivers. Instead of complaining about showers, we can brag about swimming in the Columbia River.


Back at home is equally relaxed. Public swimming pools are closed. We went to swim in the Sasamat Lake, the warmest lake in Vancouver. It seems to us that Sasamat lake is as warm as Osoyoos Lake, if not warmer. The first time we went there, it was so crowded. The park was closed to incoming cars. We manage to park on the road, along with many other cars. Later, we usually go there around 7pm, when some already left. We can always find parking easily. Even at the most crowded time, the lake is very quiet. Most people hang around by the shore or at the beach.


There are two different worlds. One is the official world of pandemic. The other is the unofficial world of normality. People are coming outdoor in record numbers.  Provincial Parks are so popular that some have to restrict entry. This has never happened before.


Many people are living a normal life. But few are willing to talk about it. Afterall, anyone could get sick, anyone could die. If one brags about his bravado and later gets vanquished, he becomes the laughingstock of the media. The public opinion is definitely one sided.  



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