Saga of Chinese Tennis Star Serves Up Concern and Controversy

No one cares where Waldo is anymore. The new buzz phrase is “Where’s Peng Shuai?” Concern about the Chinese tennis player’s whereabouts has been a hot topic in the media since early November. After Peng Shuai posted a #MeToo accusation on social media alleging a sexual assault by a high-ranking Chinese government official, she dropped out of sight. Where was Peng Shuai? Nowhere to be found.

Unless you are a tennis buff (not raising my hand), you may not know who Peng Shuai is much less where she is. The 35 year old was the first ever Chinese tennis player to achieve a #1 ranking. Learning to play tennis at age 8, Peng mastered the game and rose to become a three-time Olympian, a #1 ranked doubles player, and the winner of Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.

Peng’s visibility in the media skyrocketed after a social media post she made November 2nd on Weibo. The tennis star accused Zhang Gaoli, a former Chinese government official with whom she previously had a consensual relationship, of sexually assaulting her at his home in 2018. Her lengthy post stated she was forced to have sex with Zhang despite her repeated refusals as his wife stood guard at the bedroom door. Isn’t that taking the idea of a supportive spouse a tad too far?

Peng’s accusations were the first #MeToo charge ever leveled against a high-ranking Chinese government official. The alleged perpetrator served as one of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the top tier of political power in China. Now 75, Zhang left public life about three years ago.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, within minutes of Peng’s post about Zhang, it was removed from China’s heavily censored internet. The tennis player herself disappeared from the public sphere, and online conversations about what she had alleged were likewise censored in the ensuing days. The Chinese government gave no indication it was investigating these accusations. Perhaps it was too busy ramping up military operations in the South China Sea to bother with claims of wrongdoing made against a long-retired government official.

While the Chinese government seemingly ignored the situation, professional athletes and sports associations were quite concerned. A clamor arose over the plight of the missing tennis player. No one from the World Tennis Association (“WTA”) was able to reach Peng to confirm her status. Stars such as Naomi Osaka, Andy Murray, and Serena Williams spoke publicly about the need to obtain information on Peng’s location and well-being. The hashtag #whereispengshuai trended on Twitter. The women’s professional tennis tour threatened to pull out of events in China unless the safety of the Chinese star was assured.

The Chinese government pushed back on the worldwide hue and cry about Peng Shuai. It characterized concerns about her as being “maliciously hyped up” and “politicized.” But, of course, sports stars and sports associations have nothing better to do than get involved in international politics; they’d be WAY more concerned about that than the safety of a fellow player/tour member.

The situation escalated with calls to boycott the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing set to begin on February 2nd. Money talks, and the Olympic Games are BIG money. All of a sudden China’s state media released an email allegedly from Peng. This email stated her previous allegations about Zhang were false and that she was fine–just “resting at home.” In “Hamlet,” something was rotten in the state of Denmark. However, when it comes to Peng Shuai, chances are good there’s something rotten in the state of China. Why was the government disseminating this message instead of Peng Shuai herself?

As controversy and concern continued to swirl, the Chinese government then posted two videos on Saturday which appeared to show Peng at a restaurant with friends. The next day brought pictures of Peng appearing at a youth tournament in Beijing. So much for resting at home….And why would she be out at a restaurant or at a public event? Wouldn’t this be a good time to lay low to avoid poking the government bear any further after her bombshell allegations?

A 30-minute video call between Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Peng also took place. However, the interview produced little in the way of details and simply gave rise to more questions. Despite the interaction IOC had with Peng, the WTA is still worried about Peng’s well-being and whether she is able to communicate without censorship or coercion. Steve Simon, the WTA Chairman stated, “While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take action on her own without coercion and external influence.”

While the Chinese government posted videos and photos of Peng in order to quell worldwide concern about her location, it has been mum on any action it has taken or will take to investigate Peng’s accusations. The U.N. Human Rights Office has called for a “fully-transparent” investigation into the tennis player’s claims. In contrast, the IOC appears to be pursuing “quiet diplomacy.” The latter certainly doesn’t want to rock the boat before the cash cow Winter Olympics have concluded.

As disturbing as this story is from a human rights perspective, at least it is different from the other news dominating the media. The alleged perpetrator lives in another country–not in the same town or even state as we do. No gun rights issues are involved. Whether or not anyone is vaccinated or has been wearing a face mask is irrelevant. While we can be thankful for a change of pace in news stories, let’s pray that this story of a human rights violation results in positive changes in a repressive country.

WONDER-ing Woman:

What role does the media play in this story–a positive or negative one? What type of future do you envision for Peng since she has made these allegations? Does it matter that Peng previously had a relationship with the alleged perpetrator if relations were forced?

The Incredible Shrinking Nation–Climate Change May Sink Tuvalu

“The Incredible Shrinking Man” was a 1957 American science fiction movie. Unfortunately, some shrinking going on today is fact rather than fiction. This time what is shrinking is not a human being but an entire country in which some 11,000 human beings live. Yes, due to climate change, rising seas may cause the small South Pacific nation of Tuvalu to disappear entirely.

Haven’t heard of Tuvalu? That’s not surprising. It is the fourth smallest country in the world and getting smaller as the days pass. In terms of land, Tuvalu is tiny with only 26 square kilometers comprising the entire nation. Due to its remote location mid-way between Hawaii and Australia, it is one of the least visited countries in the world. Having only one airport and not accepting any credit cards doesn’t help tourism either. But should Tuvalu sink beneath the ocean, it will become even less visited.

Before considering Tuvalu’s shrinking and sinking problem, let’s learn a bit more about this possibly soon to be extinct country. Tuvalu is a volcanic archipelago stretching for 420 miles on the outer western edge of Polynesian. The island chain, located west of the International Date Line just below the equator, consists of three reef islands and six atolls. The country is one of only four atoll nations in the world.

All of the Tuvaluan land is low-lying and narrow; most of the islands are barely three meters above sea level with the highest elevation only about 15 feet. No natural rivers or streams exist in Tuvalu. Residents are entirely reliant on collected rainwater for drinking water and agricultural purposes. Tuvaluans would happily sing “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” under these circumstances.

But while Tuvalu lacks fresh water, salt water is everywhere–literally. Not only is the country surrounded on all sides by the sea, but saltwater has begun intruding into its soil, impeding agricultural production and contaminating underground water supplies. And saltwater is intruding more and more as the seas rise. In 2018, sea levels at the nation’s only port, Funafuti, were rising twice as fast as global averages. As a result, two of the country’s islands are on the verge of being swallowed by the rising sea and coastal erosion. Scientists predict Tuvalu could be uninhabitable in the next 50 to 100 years.

Because the land is so low-lying, any rise in the sea level means that parts of some Tuvaluan islands will be washed away and other parts will become uninhabitable. Even now parts of the runway at the country’s only airport are sometimes under water during storms. Maybe Tuvalu needs to be investing in some sea planes the way things are going.

Sea levels in the country have been rising 0.2 inches per year eroding shorelines, contaminating water supplies, and harming essential subsistence food crops like coconuts, taro, and pulaka. If you haven’t heard of Tuvalu, you likely haven’t heard of pulaka a/k/a swamp taro, a staple in that country, either. [NOTE: Pulaka might taste good, but the name doesn’t sound very enticing.] The salt intruding into the soil has made the ground almost useless for planting as it destroys staple crops and decreasing crop yield. Accordingly, Tuvalu is almost entirely dependent on imports for food.

Scientists have identified the following impacts of climate change in Tuvalu: more intense and frequent storm surges; decreasing rainfall/more frequent droughts; inundation of low-lying coast areas; coral bleaching; acidification of sea water; and ciguatera poisoning. No! Not ciguatera poisoning! Which is…what? Ciguatera poisoning affects reef fish who ingest micro-algae expelled by bleached coral. And when did this poisoning begin to climb? It coincided with when the weather started to go crazy due to climate change.

With all these negative things occurring in Tuvalu due to climate change, the recent Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland was eagerly anticipated by that country. It wanted to show the rest of the world what was happening to it and spur fellow countries to take action against further manmade actions negatively affecting the environment. Tuvaluan Foreign Minister filmed a picture is worth a thousand words message for the climate conference; he stood in a suit and tie knee-deep in sea water where there was once solid Tuvaluan ground to illustrate the immediate and dire threat to his nation. (Check out this video at Kofe’s “wet suit” is a real eye-opener.

Sadly, Minister Kofe and citizens of Tuvalu cannot afford to sit back and wait for others to take action. They are already considering what future action may be required if climate change cannot be controlled. Their last resort is to evacuate the islands these people have called home for untold generations and years. Such action would be a real life example of the new phrase “climate mobility,” meaning a movement of people forced out of their homes or livelihood because of the effects of global warming.

Minister Kofe’s video debunks any thought that Tuvaluans are being Chicken Littles claiming the sky is falling. While the sky isn’t falling, for them the sea is rising and Tuvalu is sinking. Doesn’t it give you a sinking feeling to know what man has done to the planet we call home? Let’s hope the real life drama of the incredible sinking nation has a happy ending.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Did you follow the events at the Climate Change Conference in Scotland? Should the loss to the sea of a small and insignificant country be of concern to Americans? Why or why not? How would you feel about traveling to a remote place with only one airport and no use of credit cards? Is that a dream or a nightmare?

Switched Before And After Birth–Embryo Mix-ups

Every scientific development has an Achilles’ heel attached. The problem is humans must carry out whatever the new process or technique is. But humans are inherently imperfect and prone to error. Some errors, like mixing up embryos in a lab, cause deep and permanent harm. Sadly, such mistakes during IVF treatment are wreaking havoc in people’s lives.

Exactly what is going wrong in fertility clinics resulting in the highly technical term of “mix-up?” The wrong embryos are transferred to the wrong uterus, i.e., a woman may be carrying a child that is not hers biologically. A pregnancy has been created that was not intended. It isn’t a true unplanned pregnancy, because pregnancy was indeed the ultimate goal; however, it wasn’t the pregnancy aimed for. A baby and heartbreak results.

Consider this unfortunately true story. Alexander and Daphna Cardinale, unsuccessfully tried to have a second child for several years. Ultimately, they decided to pursue IVF to achieve their dream of having another baby. But their dream took a nightmarish turn when Daphna gave birth to a baby girl in a Los Angeles hospital in September 2019. Alexander, who was in the delivery room, knew something was wrong the moment he laid eyes on the newborn. The child looked nothing like him or his wife. But they fell in love with the baby as did their 5 year old daughter.

For awhile the couple tried to brush the difference in looks off. Perhaps the child looked like some (distant) relative rather than them. But nagging doubts continued, so Daphna brought home a DNA test kit in November 2019. She and her husband learned their baby, then around two months old, was not genetically related to either of them. OOPS! The couple’s embryos had been mixed up with those of another couple. Daphna carried, gave birth to, and cared for a child who was not hers. That child’s embryo had mistakenly been switched prior to her birth.

So whose baby did this couple have? Additional DNA testing was conducted after investigation by the fertility clinic. (Not sure why anyone would trust a clinic who couldn’t even keep up with embryos to investigate, but I digress.) The Cardinales found out on Christmas Eve 2019 that they had given birth to the child of another couple who in turn had given birth to the Cardinales’ biological daughter. The embryos of the two couples had been switched. Not so Merry Christmas!

What do you do when you are raising a baby you have birthed and fallen in love with but she’s not your biological child and your own biological daughter is being raised by a non-related couple? The situation was an emotional nightmare, particularly for the Cardinales’ older daughter who, smitten with her baby sister, begged her parents not to switch babies with the other couple. Could anyone possibly win in this horrifying situation? A second switch then occurred in the lives of these baby girls. In January 2020, a few months after their birth, they were switched to the custody of their biological parents.

Kudos to the two couples who rose above unimaginable emotional hell to create a loving plan. They blended families and bonded. These families spend holidays and birthdays together. While neither is raising the child they birthed, each is still involved in that child’s life in a consistent and cooperative way.

Nevertheless, emotional scars and issues remain. In an effort to prevent anything similar happening to other couples already struggling with childbearing issues, Alexander and Daphna sued the fertility clinic, the California Center for Reproductive Health, and its owner, Dr. Eliran Mor. No amount of money recovered will ever heal the broken hearts experienced by both couples in this sad story. But if being careful simply because human lives are literally hanging in the balance isn’t sufficient for clinic personnel, then the threat of economic consequences should spur them to pay more attention.

While no embryo mix-up situation can ever be said to end “happily,” at least the Cardinales made the best of a bad situation and connected with the other family. The same cannot be said of an earlier case in New York. In 1998, a white woman gave birth to twins, one white and one black. To no one’s surprise, the black child was not related to this woman or her husband. Instead, he was related to a black couple, also clients of the fertility clinic; the clinic (oops!) had made a mistake. Both couples sued for custody of the child in a contentious case. In the end, the judge sided with the genetic parents. A decision like King Solomon might have issued was apparently not utilized.

In another New York case, an Asian couple ended up with empty arms as well as an empty womb. The wife gave birth to another couple’s twin boys (who were clearly not Asian) and were required to return them to their biological parents. No one has any idea what happened to the Asian couple’s embryos. Consequently, the bereft couple sued the co-owners of CHA Fertility Center for this “unimaginable mishap.” (Just me, but “mishap” seems pretty innocuous. How about screw-up?)

With over 1 million babies having been born in the U.S. from IVF or similar technologies, the danger of “mix-ups” is real and scary. The painstaking IVF process involves some 200 steps to grow embryos, which are developing humans in the very early stages after fertilization. That lengthy process provides ample opportunity for mistakes to be made.

The personal cost of embryo mix-ups is bad enough, but the IVF process also opens the door for difficult legal issues to be addressed. With in vitro fertilization (commonly referred to as “IVF”), eggs are extracted, sperm is retrieved, eggs and sperm are manually combined in a lab dish, and embryos are transferred to a woman’s uterus. This process allows motherly functions to be divided between two different women, i.e., one supplies the egg (the genetic material) while the other carries the child. Who is the mother for legal purposes when a woman is implanted with another woman’s fertilized egg?

Clearly, scientific progress can be a double-edged sword as illustrated by embryo mix-up stories. Things can be wonderful if IVF treatment results in a baby for the right couple. It can be hell on earth if embryos are lost or given to the wrong couple. And we thought the biggest question people need to ask when a baby is born is “It is a boy or a girl?” Perhaps we should start with the question, “Is it your child?”

WONDER-ing Woman:

Would stricter regulation of fertility clinics overcome the possibility of human error in the IVF process? How do you define a mother? Is she the carrier of the baby or the genetic source? Do you know anyone who has utilized the IVF process? What was their assessment of its risks and benefits?

Royal Wedding With A Common(er) Ending–Japanese Princess’ Marriage Terminates Her Royal Status

When a woman marries, her single status terminates. But for a Japanese princess, an October 26th marriage to her long-time boyfriend ended not only her status as a single woman but also as a member of the royal household. Sadly, for Princess Mako to marry her non-royal Prince Charming, she had to give up being a princess. The two may live happily ever after, but it will be as commoners.

Princess Mako, age 30, is the niece of Emperor Naruhito, and the oldest child of the emperor’s younger brother. Her father is first in line to succeed to the Chrysanthemum Throne. And where is (oops, was) Princess Mako in the line of succession? Nowhere, that’s where. What? Japan’s Imperial Household Law, in effect since 1947, recognizes only male heirs descended from a male line. Apparently the Japanese royal womenfolk are only good for birthing babies, hopefully males who can get in line to take the throne.

On the bright side, Japanese royal women are allowed to get an education. (Former) Princess Mako graduated from International Christian University in Tokyo with a B.A. in Art and Cultural Heritage. She then obtained an M.A. in Art Museum Gallery Studies at the U.K.’s University of Leicester.

Her college education was the beginning of the end of royal status for (Former) Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako. In 2012, she met her now husband, Kei Komuro, a fellow ICU student. Love blossomed like a Japanese cherry tree, and the two began dating. The relationship continued strong, and an engagement was announced in May 2017.

The planned marriage was met with disapproval by her family, the Japanese public, and the media. Why? Because, Mako’s beloved was a (GASP!) commoner–and one raised by a single parent at that. [Brief pause while I check my calendar. Yup! It is 2021.] Mr. Komuro would probably meet with approval from most families. He is a well-educated young man, also age 30, who in May 2021 attained a law degree from Fordham University and is now working at a NYC law firm. He should, thus, be able to provide more than adequately for a wife. But the sentiment in Japan is that he is “unworthy” of a Japanese princess.

Drama in the fiance’s family delayed the nuptials originally planned for 2017. A financial dispute arose about funds Mr. Komuro’s mother used to pay his college tuition. The money had been received from a then fiance of hers. Was it a loan? A gift? Controversy swirled. Mr. Komuro gallantly stepped up to the plate to defend his mother and offer to repay the money which they believed had been a gift. Still wondering why what Komuro’s mother did or didn’t do in her personal life has to do with Mako and Kei. Guess I’m just slow. But the imperial family, the media, and the Japanese public disapproved of the match even more.

As if a delayed wedding and overwhelming disapproval of the marriage weren’t bad enough, Kei then left Japan for three years to pursue his law degree in the U.S. His 2018 departure kept him out of the country until the end of September 2021 when he returned to marry the love of his life. The lovebirds were separated by thousands of miles, but their love for and commitment to each other was undiminished.

Life without Kei in Japan was no picnic for Princess Mako. The relentless, strong criticism of her marital plans took its toll on her. Several weeks before her October 26th wedding, it was announced she’d been diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. Perhaps she and Meghan Markle could form a mental health support group; it seems they both experienced family drama, media intrusion, and royal family disputes.

Further drama arose when Kei returned to Japan for the marriage. He sported a ponytail, causing a media frenzy. Apparently suitors of a Japanese princess don’t look suitable with their hair in that style. Overlooked was the fact Kei was wearing a suit jacket and button down shirt, not torn jeans and a t-shirt displaying some crass statement.

So controversial was the marriage between Princess Mako and Kei Komuro that the couple decided to forgo a formal wedding ceremony or any reception. Instead, the two merely went to a local government office and registered their union. Thereafter, they held a press conference at a hotel, a venue they paid for to avoid criticism of tax dollars being spent on anything to do with their marriage. And…surprise, surprise. Kei had cut off his ponytail for the big event.

As a result of the marriage, Princess Mako is now simply (and probably more happily) Mrs. Kei Komuro. Her royal status was terminated; now she is “just” a commoner. According to Japan’s Imperial Household law, an imperial daughter’s marriage to a man outside the royal family demotes her to her husband’s status. But the Japanese government is not totally heartless. It provides a dowry of $1.3 million dollars to royal women leaving the imperial family. Princess Mako admirably turned down this generous offer.

After a relationship lasting almost a decade (an accomplishment in and of itself these days), Kei and Mako are FINALLY married. What now? The couple will again be separated, but just temporarily. Kei will return to New York to work as a law clerk in the corporate and tech groups of Lowenstein Sandler, LLP. while he awaits the results (expected in December) of the bar exam he took in July. Mako has basically been kicked out of the palace (she’s no longer a royal you know) and has moved into her own apartment while she awaits the processing of her visa. She will move to N.Y. to join her husband as the couple plans to make their home in the U.S.

Will Mako and Kei live happily ever after? After all they’ve been through together, let’s hope so. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they had a daughter born in the U.S. who grew up to be president? Being a princess is nice, but being a U.S. President would be a way for any woman to make a statement about women’s capabilities. They can produce heirs AND run countries.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Why was there so little U.S. media attention to Princess Mako’s story when we were saturated with the details of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s relationship and marriage? How do you feel about Princess Mako choosing her private life over her public life? Does Prince Charming actually have to be a prince to be “worthy” of a real princess?