Still, we need to calm down

This marks day 9 of working from home. From what I can see via my little window (ah, bless computers), the Western world has trudged, albeit sluggishly and begrudgingly, from a state of denial to making acceptance’s acquaintance.

Early Morning. Wednesday, March 25 2020

I sent my adopted aunt, M, a message on LINE, a Japanese messaging map that I use exclusively to stay connected with my relatives in Taiwan. A simple “Aunt M, is everything well?“. I had trouble falling asleep the night prior, because I was thinking of her, along with twelve other medical professionals in my family, but her especially, due to her already worrisome health. (I have a mixture of Taiwanese and Japanese culture to thank for my family’s fetish with raising their children to become doctors.) Two minutes later, she video-called me.

As soon as I picked up, she asked me how I was. In her mind, she was in a safer place than I, and I would agree. Half jokingly, I said the Taiwanese government reacted fast, whereas most western governments are just too slow, so we had to resort to more extreme measures (nationwide quarantine) before it was too late. She looked at me and said, “Yeah, but we’ve been preparing for this for years.”

She went on to explain, “We do drills every month. Everyone in the hospital knows what to do when they hear code name ‘3434‘”, named after SARS due to how it’s pronounced in mandarin. “We don’t let the patient into the hospital – relevant personnel immediately rush out to meet the patient instead and the doctor performs his/her diagnosis in a designated gazebo clad in single-use full-body coverings. The patient is then sent home with his/her prescription.” Regardless of whether or not there is an actual looming pandemic, readiness is prioritized.

Back to present.

I don’t think any country, any culture is just naturally better-positioned to manage a pandemic. Someone lost their life in order for Taiwan to wake up. And I don’t think it will ever be easy to divert resources to put into place measures for an “unlikely event” instead of flashier projects say, increasing minimum wage, fighting over abortion, legalizing pot, re-drafting trade agreements, and so on. These projects are important, and definitely worth putting time and tax dollars into, but these are not issues of survival.

In my field there are four types of risks:

Known knowns are risks whose existence are widely recognized and for which there are recognized ways of mitigation due to ample data and experience. Paraphrased: You would need to be an idiot to the nth degree if you do not prepare for these.

Known unknowns are risks whose existence are widely recognized but for which there are no existing ways of mitigation due to lack of data and experience. Paraphrased: You would need to be one lazy idiot if you do not prepare for these.

Unknown knowns are risks whose existence are not recognized but for which there are recognized ways of mitigation due to data and experience. Paraphrased: People are unlikely to call you an idiot if you don’t prepare for these, but they would call you an idiot for failing at the basics of life.

Unknown unknowns are risks whose existence are not recognized and for which there are no existing ways of mitigation due to lack of data and experience. Paraphrased: People are highly unlikely to call you an idiot for not preparing for these because they too are idiots.

Prior 2003, SARS and other viral pandemics was an unknown unknown for Taiwan. After the pandemic, it moved from an unknown unknown to a known unknown. Over the next 17 years, the government and various institutions made determined and systematic efforts to nudge it ever closer toward the zone of known knowns. This is how risk management works. For the layman, it’s called learning from your mistakes.

My hope is, Canada, and the rest of the world. Learn. You missed the lesson SARS had to offer – you’ve been a lazy idiot for the last 17 years. You thought SARS was an Asian countries’ problem, like you thought COVID-19 is an Asian Countries’ problem. Learn. You thought preparedness was a reaction, instead of the status quo. Learn. You thought toilet paper would save you. Learn.

And for your learning pleasure, I’ve picked out a few articles to proudly plug my Motherland:

  1. Bloomberg Opinion: Skip the Coronavirus Denial and Stop the Dying
  2. TIME: What We Can Learn From Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong About Handling Coronavirus
  3. FORTUNE: SARS taught Taiwan how to contain the coronavirus outbreak
  4. Business Insider: Taiwan has only 77 coronavirus cases. Its response to the crisis shows that swift action and widespread healthcare can prevent an outbreak.
  5. CBC: Inside Taiwan during COVID-19: How the country kept schools and businesses open throughout pandemic

Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their kinsmen were at their command.

1 Chronicles 12:32

Peanut Tofu with Wasabi and Soy Sauce
Peanut Tofu with Wasabi and Soy Sauce

This is, in my opinion, the most elegant way to use peanut butter. It is much greater than the sum of its parts, which are rather few, but it is a dish that commands your attention. There are dishes like that. They slow you down and make you close your eyes. They steady your breathing and make you sit up straighter, even if just for a moment. The flavours sing. I don’t say this of very, very few things. The only other is possibly the combination of Don Perignon and amaebi, though that just seems like a happy coincidence.

Peanut tofu, or 花生豆腐 is a Hakka-Okinawan dish popularized in southern Taiwan, where my mother grew up and where I spent most of my childhood summers. It’s served chilled, usually with thick soy sauce, or 醬油膏. Some places add grated garlic to the soy sauce, some serve it with a smudge of wasabi. Not many people know, but wasabi is native to Taiwanese mountains as it is to Japan. Alishan produces some of the highest quality wasabi roots available, so Taiwanese people also frequently use it in their cuisine.

Peanut Tofu with Wasabi and Soy Sauce

  • 400 ml filtered water
  • 8 g powdered agar
  • 800 ml unsweetened soy milk (NOT the type you put in coffee – you’ll need to get it from a Chinese grocery store)
  • 4 tbsp plain natural peanut butter (literally just blitzed up peanuts – check the ingredients. If yours has salt, that’s no big deal, but it absolutely should not have hydrogenated oils or sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  1. In a small sauce pan set over medium high heat, whisk together the water and agar powder until the agar is completely dissolved. Keep warm.
  2. In a blender, combine the rest of the ingredients and blend on high speed until completely smooth.
  3. Pour the blended mixture and warm agar mixture into a large sauce pan and whisk over medium high heat until thickened (coate the back of a spoon).
  4. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the froth and any unblended bits of peanut.
  5. Pour the mixture into small bowls or ramekins and chill until completely set. Cover if not serving immediately. (Keeps in the fridge for up to 3-4 days).
  6. Serve with a dollop of freshly grated or reconstituted wasabi and some really good thick soy sauce.

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