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By Jeff J. Brown
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Sixteen years on the streets, living and working with the people of China, Jeff
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Jeff J Brown (Host): Good afternoon, everybody. This is Jeff J. Brown China Rising Radio Sinoland on the D-day beaches of Normandy and I have a wonderful guest on the show today, Christopher Helali. How are you doing, Christopher?
Christopher Helali (Guest): I’m doing very well—a pleasure to be with you.
Jeff: I met Christopher on a show on Press TV and I liked what he said. He really presented himself well and I didn’t think anything about it. And then either we got, I think we were on another show together a couple of months later, and I said, Man, this guy is really good. I’ve got to get him on my show and pick his brains. So, I asked Press TV to ask you to give me your email, and we’ve had dickens of a time trying to hook up. We’re both busy and you’ve got family et cetera. So, anyway, welcome to the show.
Christopher: Thank you so much.
Jeff: All right. All I know I’ll be honest with you. This is a rather strange situation for me. I just know that Christopher lives in Vermont, which is up in New England and in the United States. And obviously, he’s politically aware because he’s been on Press TV and so he’s doing journalism. And so, I will just ask Christopher to tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, what about Vermont, where are you from, whatever, all that good stuff. And then just segue into how you became aware that maybe what you were taught in school was not true.
Christopher: Sure. So, my name is Christopher Helali. I’m a first-generation American. My mom is Greek, and my dad is Iranian. So, I come from a family that is immigrants to this country. I come from a left-wing family. My grandparents on my mom’s side fought in the Communist Party of Greece’s National Liberation Front against the Nazis. And we have a martyr. My grandfather’s brother, my great-uncle, was executed for being a communist.
So, we have a lot of history there. So, I was aware very young of politics, anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, the struggle of the Palestinians, the Sahrawis in Western Sahara, and the struggles of the global South. And so, I was born in Massachusetts, in Worcester, and raised in a very ethnic community. And then eventually I did my bachelor’s. I did my master’s degree in Marxist philosophy in China on a China government scholarship.
Jeff: Oh really?
Christopher: Yes. And then now I’m finishing my Ph.D. at Tongji University in Shanghai in philosophy in political philosophy in China.
Christopher: So, I have been in China for a few years.
Jeff: Oh, really? I didn’t know that. That’s incredible. But how are you doing your Ph.D. now? Are you doing it online?
Christopher: During the Covid pandemic, I did my coursework online, and now I’m doing my dissertation.
Jeff: Okay, great. It’s funny you bring that up, because my daughter went to Beijing Normal University and she was there because we moved back in 2010 and she went to high school there. Anyway, she came to visit us when we were in Thailand in 2020 in February. And of course, COVID and Beijing Normal would not let her back into the country. And so, she ended up because of COVID-19. And she had to actually argue her thesis to her committee online. So, are you going to go back to China physically for your Ph.D., or how is it going to work?
Christopher: I hope so. I mean, I hope at least to go back for my defense, because right now I have no more coursework. I finished all my coursework. I’ve passed all of that. So, now I’m just waiting to finalize everything. And then hopefully I will go back for a short period of time for the defense and to also visit with my professors.
Jeff: Cool. Wow. I was there for most of the month of May and I’m going back for a month, a full month, September, October. So, I’m really, really excited to start going back more regularly. So, what took you to Vermont from Massachusetts?
Christopher: So after I finished graduate school in China, I spent some time doing refugee work. I went to Syria to fight with the Kurds against ISIS for nine months with the YPG. And then after that, I went to graduate school at Dartmouth. So, Dartmouth, of course right on the Vermont border. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I met my now wife and mother of our kids. And so, she was living here in Vermont on land that her mom came to in the back-to-the-land-movement, sort of the time when Vermont was attractive to hippies and counter folks. So, we settled here and we have a big farm, a 300-acre farm.
Jeff: Really? Wow. Farmer Chris.
Christopher: That’s it. Peasant Revolution.
Jeff: How many kids do y’all have?
Christopher: We have two and one on the way. So, will have three.
Jeff: You’ve got one in the oven.
Christopher: That’s right.
Jeff: Oh, that’s incredible. Well, besides Press TV, are you getting the word out about your knowledge? Because obviously, you’re very, very knowledgeable about a lot of stuff and have a lot to share with your family’s experiences. Are there any other venues that you’ve been able to tap into?
Christopher: I appreciate your kind words. I go on RT often, so I go on press TV RT. I write for CGTN at some points and then also just a podcast for people who are interested. I’ve been on local media here for some of the work that I do locally, our activism. But yeah, I’ve written a few articles for Covert Action Magazine.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jeremy Kuzmarov and the big boss of mine. His name is Chris. And I’ve written several for them too, but it’s been a while. So, what kind of work do you do? Do you have a salaried job or are you?
Christopher: Yeah, I’m a teacher. I’m a Social Studies teacher.
Jeff: Okay. What grades?
Christopher: Nine through 12. So, high school.
Jeff: So high school. Okay. All right. At a public high school there?
Christopher: At a public high school there.
Jeff: Great. And does your wife work, too?
Christopher: Yep. She works for Dartmouth College.
Jeff: Okay, for Dartmouth. Okay. Wow. Okay. All right. Yeah, I’ve been on the Dartmouth campus before. That whole area is just really spectacular.
Christopher: It is. It is.
Jeff: So, what do you teach in your social studies? Do you teach how the English used chemical weapons against the Greek Communists, dropping napalm on them and wiping out the communist movement in Greece too and the English put in a fascist monarch? Do you teach that?
Christopher: I do, actually. I took my students in March to Greece for a ten-day study abroad. So, I took 17 students with two other teachers. We went to Greece, went to Athens, and then we went down to my area of Greece. We stayed in a Byzantine fortress, so it was quite spectacular for them. But during that time, I talked about the history of the Civil War, how the Americans and the British turned on their former allies who had fought in the anti-fascist resistance, and the first real widespread use of napalm, and chemical weapons.
Jeff: Chemical weapons. They use chemical weapons against them.
Christopher: So, I talked about that and my students were shocked. They were horrified. And they had an opportunity to speak to left-wing MPs from Meta 25, which is Yanis Varoufakis’s party. And so, they had an opportunity to sit down and hear about the perspectives of Greeks on what they think about the US and US imperialism. Also, it was very eye-opening to hear the perspective of somebody on the periphery of Europe experiencing the refugee crisis, the wars in the Middle East, and North Africa and saying you’re to blame for this.
And the students were like, I had no idea that my tax dollars were going to do that to do all this devastation. So, it was a very good opportunity for them to realize what it’s like to see the US from the outside and to not have sort of an exceptionalist and sort of a very narrow view of what it is to be an American. So, that was great. Really fantastic.
Jeff: When you were raised as a child with your parents, did they teach you Farsi and Greek?
Christopher: So, I learned Greek and a little bit of Farsi, because my dad was the only one who came from Iran on his side of the family. He came to study in the US and then with the revolution and everything, he got stuck. So, he stayed here and I would communicate with broken Farsi with my family. But Greek, of course, because my grandparents had emigrated as well. And we had a big Greek community. I’m nearly fluent, I’ve graduated also from the University of Athens. I did my Master’s in Greece.
Jeff: Oh wow.
Christopher: I had a great opportunity. I’m a dual citizen of both, actually.
Jeff: It’s like, I’m a dual citizen of France and the United States. So, you’re a dual citizen of Greece and the United States.
Christopher: That’s right.
Jeff: All right. So, if all hell breaks loose in one place or the other, we’ve got a refuge.
Christopher: That’s right. That’s right. We do.
Jeff: You mentioned how you took your students; I don’t want to get into it because I want to hear your stories, but I did I just set up a foundation called Seek Truth From Facts. And one of my goals is it’s a nonprofit. One of my goals is to arrange tours into China like what you did, not go to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the National Museum but to go see historically significant places in China that reflect the voice of the Chinese people, especially from the Opium Wars on and really hear from their point of view what went on in their history, especially, like I said, from 1839 with the first Opium War. So, I think that’s wonderful. Your kids must be very, very, very proud of themselves and happy that they got to go with you to do that. That’s amazing.
Christopher: Certainly. Certainly. And I look forward to hearing more about this because this is a way we can collaborate. One thing I’d like to do is take my students to China.
Jeff: Okay, good. Yes. www.seektruthfromfacts.org. And who paid for all that? Did the parents pony up the money?
Christopher: They did. They did. We’re thankful that the area that we live in is very affluent. The school has one of the biggest school budgets. And the parents are a lot of them are professors at Dartmouth or doctors, medical professionals at Dartmouth Health Care, the hospital nearby. And so, they were able to pay. And then for other trips, we’ve had private foundations that have given money, as well, to help the students to travel. So, I think it’s very important to open their eyes, because the classroom can only do so much but going and meeting with people and talking to them can really change lives.
Jeff: Yes. And so, they paid for your plane ticket too and all the per diem and the hotels and everything. Wow.
Jeff: Did you have any chaperons or did you have to take care of 17 kids on the trip?
Christopher: No, I had two other teachers, thankfully.
Jeff: Yeah. Okay.
Jeff: So, after you finish your Ph.D., have you got any other plans? Have you thought about writing a book or have you thought about starting a website or a blog or anything?
Christopher: I’ve thought about that. The issue with sort of my life is that I’ll find periods of time when I can do a lot of work and then periods of time when I am overwhelmed with everything else going on. So, I’ve tried to maintain some consistency and the wonderful thing is going on Press TV or on RT and being able to talk and to express some ideas there. I have thought about, of course, a book. I published my first book on the Greek community of Worcester two years ago.
Jeff: Okay, So, you have published your first book. That’s always the hardest one. That’s the hardest one is the first one.
Christopher: Yes. I’m busy with a lot of ideas now.
Jeff: Did you self-publish or did you find a publisher?
Christopher: Well, I found a publisher, so I don’t know if you know the Images of America series. It’s these books that are like different towns or different communities. So, I did it about the community where I grew up with archival photographs and documents and things. It was really fantastic. It was very well received as well. So, that was great.
Jeff: You’ve got all the Greeks in Chicago and New York and everybody and everywhere else around the United States to buy the book.
Christopher: Exactly. Exactly.
Jeff: So, what do you do with your 300 acres? Do you lease?
Christopher: We have a farm here. We have hay that we, of course, cut and bale and sell to farmers who need it or people who have horses. We have a sugarbush, so we do some sugaring on a small scale for us. We have chickens and goats. We had sheep and pigs, but they’re in the freezer for the most part. We have a diverse farm here where we’re able to do quite a bit. We’re able to sustain ourselves to a great extent.
And we have down the hill, my in-laws, they plant the corn, potatoes, the peas, all the good veggies down there. We have blueberry bushes, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. So, we have a really good spread here and it’s really nice. We’re certified organic. So, we really care about the environment, stewarding the land, and taking care of ourselves and nature. So, we do the best that we can.
Jeff: Have you ever run a steer so you can fatten up a steer to fill the freezer full of beef? Or have you ever done that?
Christopher: So, I haven’t yet done that, but my neighbors do that. And so, I’ve helped them with that. And it’s been quite amazing to see that.
Jeff: Well, you’re an amazing guy. What town do you live in?
Christopher: So, I live in Vershire, Vermont, which is about a half an hour’s drive up from on the Vermont side from Hanover, New Hampshire, from where Dartmouth is.
Jeff: Yeah, from Hanover. Okay. Well, we need to get back together again. I’d like to talk to you about it again, maybe trying to come up with some sort of a travel thing to China and maybe we can collaborate and if you can find some other foundation money. And it’d be wonderful if we could take a group of people to China and show them the real China and not just the Great Wall and the Bund in Shanghai.
I mean, there’s all these places that everybody goes and then they don’t see anything else. They don’t see anything else. They don’t see anything about the history and the revolution and the civil war and the Opium Wars and everything. And it’s so fascinating and so inspiring and so uplifting. So, I’m going to put on my thinking cap so that we can maybe do some more work together.
Jeff: So, you don’t have a website?
Christopher: I have a website, but it’s still in construction. I’m updating it now.
Jeff: Okay, you’re updating it. Okay. Well, if you have a website that you can give me for people to find I had no idea you had all that China experience. That’s incredible.
Christopher: Oh, yeah.
Jeff: Oh, that’s incredible. You got the Ph.D. but I got the Mandarin.
Christopher: There you go. Together, we are a powerful force.
Jeff: And my daughter, she went bonkers over Chinese when we got there in 2010, she was in eighth grade and she went totally nuts over Chinese. And then after she graduated from high school, she did a year of intensive Chinese and her Chinese was so fluent that she actually got her Bachelor’s Degree at Beijing Normal University in Human Resources. I don’t want this to sound racist, but she was the only white girl in her cohort, she took all of her classes in Chinese.
Christopher: That is amazing.
Jeff: And she got her Bachelor’s in Human Resources, and she did it all in Chinese.
Christopher: You know what’s fascinating? So actually, I’ve been pushing a lot of the schools that are reluctant now with the political climate to have Chinese language instruction and with all of the propaganda against the former Confucius Institutes and things like that. Everybody has gone on the attack, but I am a major proponent of moving away from, okay, I like I was trained as a classicist. I like ancient Greek and Latin.
But to be honest, people should be learning Chinese, Arabic, and Russian. That’s what is needed right now to communicate the dialog with people, of course, in addition to Spanish and French. But I don’t think that it’s necessary to have some of these unless you want to be a classicist and you can do it later on in university but you can imagine the pushback from some people for Chinese language instruction given the propaganda and given the current political climate.
Jeff: Well about ten years ago, there was the Confucius Institutes were opening up across the United States. And there was this big movement. And even back in Oklahoma, they were starting to teach Chinese in public schools in Oklahoma City and stuff and all over. And of course, then with Hillary Clinton and Obama with their pivot to Asia in 2012, that was the end of that. I mean, they just completely, China has become so demonized and so despised. And you can see it in the polls now the people in the United States who like China, the numbers are just going down and down and down. And the Western Big Lie Propaganda Machine works.
Christopher: Oh, it does. And they’re putting a lot of resources into it.
Yeah. Actually, have you seen a change in terms because you’ve lived there longer than I have? You have a little bit more experience than I do there. Have you seen a change since you’ve gone back in how many quote-unquote expats are there? How many people from the West are living there? Do you see more people from the global South living in China versus your classic It used to be Americans Brits and Australians.
Jeff: Well, there was a big exodus of foreigners, period, because of Covid. So, a lot of foreigners left. I am going back and doing more traveling. There’s a huge number of Africans in Guangzhou about two hours to the east of Shenzhen because it’s a massive export-import port. And so, they’re doing a lot of trading just like they did from 500 AD to 1,500 AD before colonialism with the Chinese and Zanzibar and Mombasa and everywhere else with Iran and Arabia and everywhere else.
And we had Russian and African neighbors when we were living in Beijing. I’ll be honest with you, someone else asked me that while I was back in Shenzhen and I think maybe the whole time I was there, I did go to Changsha in Hunan for a few days, and I went to Zhuhai, which is across the Pearl River Delta from Shenzhen, a 30-minute catamaran ride across. I don’t think I saw the whole time I was there and I was putting in 5 to 10km a day walking around. I don’t think I probably I don’t think I saw five foreigners.
Jeff: Yeah. Well, let me just put it this way, five Caucasians or people who were who would be manifestly non-Chinese. I mean, there may have been a Korean that walked behind me or a Japanese or something like that or a Chinese Malay person or something like that. But no, I think there’s a lot fewer foreigners now than there were before Covid, that’s for sure. And they’ve just liberalized and reopened the visas on March 9th.
So, we’re talking March, April, May, June, July. Just only five months that you can get a visa. I just got my business visa for September, October and so I’ll be able to start going back without having to go down to Paris to show up to get a visa every time I get a multiple-entry visa. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do to introduce China to the rest of the world, Chris.
Christopher: We do. We do.
Jeff: Well, listen, you send me your website and also anything you want to share, like with the fans out there. I mean, I don’t know how much of it, some of my guests do not want to give out their email, some do, some don’t. Anything you do to get people to contact Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram, and any of your social.
Jeff: Yeah, WeChat. Yeah, send me your WeChat and I’ll add you to my China Rising Radio Sinoland group.
Christopher: Awesome. That’d be great.
Jeff: We got 187 people. Well, listen, this is amazing. Who would have thought that I would meet a Greek Iranian in Vermont on Press TV who has an incredible story to tell? I’m very impressed with what you’re doing and wish you and your wife the best with child number three. And let’s stay in touch. Okay?
Christopher: Absolutely. Look forward to collaborating and hopefully meeting you soon in person.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. That would be a blast.
Jeff: This is Jeff J. Brown China Rising Radio Sinoland talking to Chris or Christopher Helali in Vermont and thank you very much for coming to the show.
Do yourself, your friends, family and colleagues a favor, to make sure all of you are Sino-smart:
Google ebooks (Epub) and audiobooks:
44 Days Backpacking in China: The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=YBKHEAAAQBAJ
China Rising: Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=YNmLEAAAQBAJ
BIG Red Book on China: Chinese History, Culture and Revolution
Amazon print and ebooks (Kindle):
44 Days Backpacking in China: The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass
China Rising: Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations
BIG Red Book on China: Chinese History, Culture and Revolution
Praise for The China Trilogy:
Why and How China works: With a Mirror to Our Own History
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