Category Archives: Expat Life

The Expat Time Warp

This is the long overdue third part of my Old Fart Trilogy [see also: Here’s an Unpopular Opinion and GenX-pat]. I’d like to say that this will be the end of it, but experience teaches that old farts rarely recover from being old farts, still I’ll try to drift in other directions for awhile.

I once heard an expat lamenting that many of us living and working abroad forsake correctness in speech and behavior, taking advantage of no longer being attached to our home cultures, and not really being assimilated into local culture, to let our collective ya-yas out and act like a pack of ignorant frat boys [read: willfully politically incorrect]. That’s mostly wrong. It’s not that people move abroad and instantly turn into dicks, though I admit that does happen. Some people when first cut loose from the social constraints of their regular life become unmoored, and occasionally descend into assholery. Most long-term expats are past that stage and it’s not that they’re being willfully unenlightened, it’s more that the older ones are—largely by accident—preserving past norms and mores from home.

A large portion of long-term expats live in a veritable time warp. Everyone to some degree, as they age, falls out of touch with the world evolving behind them. It’s natural. Expat life exaggerates that entirely normal arc of a person’s lifecycle. When you live in another country, you lose contact with your home culture. You don’t evolve (devolve) in the same way as other members of your generation. You are simply too out of touch, even more so than the most malignant old fart back home.

Pre-Internet, time spent living abroad placed one totally outside developments, trends, and changes at home. There was very limited access to information. I first started living abroad in a small city in Korea long before the Internet. I couldn’t get English books, or magazines. I had to journey three-ish hours to Busan to find a bookstore with a couple small shelves of English books. Pop culture? Surely movies and music would keep one informed of cultural changes. No. Something many have forgotten: Hollywood movies did not release abroad until one or two years after their North American releases. English TV? Of course not. Phone calls home were the only hope of staying current. Also largely forgotten is the fact international calls were a fortune. Chatting enough to keep in touch with changing values back home was impossible, at least for my finances. My calls with family tended to be of the you’re-still-alive-ok-chat-next-week variety. When I moved to Taiwan it was the same, except I lived in a larger center, so there was some reading material.

The Internet has really changed life abroad. Now it is possible to stay in touch via online editions of newspapers and magazines, downloadable books, TV news channel’s online content, Netflix and other video streaming services, music streaming, online lectures and university courses, etc. The possibilities are endless. Despite all this, expat life remains one of estrangement from home. Keeping current with the changing way of life back home requires effort. The longer you live abroad, the more that your home country recedes into insignificance. Keeping up with trends there becomes unworthy of the effort.

It can become a real endeavor. A lot of the important social shifts and changes happen at universities. Even with the Internet, it is hard to stay in touch with the dynamism of campus life. Sure you can take an online course, but that’s not the same thing. You’re not living it, you’re not feeling it. It’s too distant, obscure, incidental, and inconsequential to your life overseas. Likewise, a lot of important social changes happen in the office. Internet or no Internet, how do you stay informed about shifts and changes in workplace culture while abroad? It’s impossible.

Even staying hooked into pop culture—the easiest thing to stay current with—is an undertaking. Personally I’ve never worked at it, consequently my life is surprisingly devoid of pop culture reference points. TV shows? I have no idea—how would I? Movies? I have little idea since most of the hype happens across Taiwanese media and often I miss it. Music? I’ve made scant effort and am shockingly out of it. I know that’s kind of normal as you get old, but the degree to which I know nothing is truly astounding—even music I should know. As a simple Canadian GenX example, when Gordon Downie of the Tragically Hip died my social media blew up with contemporaries asking me to share my remembrances. I had none. The Hip are supposed to be the soundtrack of my life, but they are not. I saw them a couple times in campus pubs, before they got famous, by the time they hit big, I was gone.

A-Mei and Wu Bai could have become the musical background to my life, but they didn’t. When expats leave home and lose contact with their home culture, that void isn’t automatically filled by current trends in the host country. Instead the expat lives a life with relatively few social and cultural inputs. Absorbing the host country’s social norms and mores is the journey of a lifetime. It takes time and effort, and I’m not convinced it ever totally happens. The relative lack of cultural or social inputs from home or host country means new developments can totally pass by the expat, making the expat a living archive of where society and culture was when they left. Home may change—but expats just stay the same. It’s the generational gap on crack cocaine.

When I first came to study in Taiwan during the mid-1980s I was blown away to find foreigners here—mostly Boomers and Silent Generation—essentially living in the early 1960s. But now I’m living in approximately the mid-1990s, the time I moved here permanently, and I spend a lot of time with foreign Boomers stuck in the 1970s. Next time you see a klatch of elder foreigners sitting at the bar bleating like a bunch of politically incorrect cargo-short-wearing old goats don’t simply leap to the current default setting of immediate unthinking moral outrage. Instead recognize they are less engaged in purposeful incorrectness than perfectly correct behavior from their time and place back in the world.

I have seen these elder expats extending a similar courtesy to younger arrivals. I’ve never seen them outright dismiss the beliefs/concerns of new expats. I remember watching a group of Boomer and GenX expats at the bar, patiently listening to a younger millennial explaining why you can’t say this, dare not think that, and shouldn’t do the other thing. You know,… as millennials do. They kindly listened to all he had to say. They patiently ignored the inconsequentiality, never asking what it had to do with the price of tea in Taiwan, never pointing out it had nothing to do with his new life as a whitey in Asia. It was sweet, particularly since GenX has a proven proclivity to not give a rat’s @ss about socio-BS.

Certainly some new expats arrive and take advantage of the situation to enjoy a bit of  freedom and gratuitous douchebaggery. It’s understandable—if offensive—but the expat environment itself is not the result of purposeful expat shittiness. Most expats are not taking advantage of the situation, they’re just continuing to live the only way they know how. Not asses—just old style. Time warped.

 

I have to apologize again. I know some would prefer I just shut up and look pretty, but as others do enjoy my writing, and I haven’t been coming through for them. I’ve been dealing with health issues for a couple years now. I could have written more, but I just didn’t feel like it, and it gave me an excuse. I don’t see myself going back to dropping articles weekly or bimonthly, but I’ll try to publish a bit more frequently.

GenX-pat

Recently, I’ve been reading some demographers that are focused on generational studies. It has been interesting and sometimes enlightening for this GenXer. As part of an ignored generation there are things about my generational experiences I’ve not understood, since almost everything that gets written or discussed about generational topics is from a Boomer or Millennial viewpoint. These generational studies have shed a little light on some aspects of my life that I never completely understood, and surprisingly has taught me a bit about cross-cultural misunderstandings. This article is about a common GenX experience, that I thought was a universal Western experience, but turns out to be uniquely GenX, and has caused me to misunderstand Asian/Western cultural differences.

GenX’s childhood coincided with a time when children were, broadly speaking, socially despised. GenX children diverted Boomer and Silent Generation parent’s from their obsessive self-focus—and it wasn’t appreciated. It was not the time to be a child. Generally seen as burdensome, GenXers were history’s most frequently aborted children. Our upbringing reflected the period’s broader social trends and attitudes towards children. It wasn’t the fault of individual parents so much as a broad cultural trend, a societal decision to forsake childhood. Parenting books taught parents to value their needs over their child’s. A happy parent must be good for the child. TV and movies supported the primacy of parental needs over children’s, and academia lent its voice in support of the anti-childhood ethos. In the age of self-actualization, parents expected their children to self-actualize, essentially to comport themselves like small middle-agers. It was the time with the most broken marriages and broken families in history. So, GenX grew up neglected, and raised themselves like a pack of feral cats. [It’s the main reason we’re so awesome].

A typical slice of GenX life happened when I was in grade 9. A schoolmate came to class a bit pissed off, it seemed she’d arrived home the day before to find a note from her parents saying that—unbeknownst to her—they’d gone to Mexico for a week. The note said there was money on the table, Kraft Dinner in the cupboard, and that she should take care of herself and keep her brother alive. Apparently there’d have been hell to pay if he were dead when they got home. Looking back the weirdest thing is that nobody thought it was weird. Admittedly it was an extreme example, but her classmates all comforted her with their own very similar tales of parental neglect.

Raise yourself—we got no time for this shit.

As you’d expect of a generation of self-parenting children, bullying reigned supreme. I gotta admit, I don’t know when bullying came to be seen as bad—I’m guessing when Millennials started getting bullied. During GenX’s childhood, adults were pretty ambivalent about bullying. Parents would tell the victims to find a way to fix the problem themselves. Bullying built character, taught conflict resolution, and forced you to stand up for yourself. The bully in his own way was teacher and parent, and many parents appreciated the help. It was Lord of the Flies out there.

Raise yourself—we got no time for this shit.

So that’s what childhood was like, and here’s how that screwed up my cross-cultural literacy. I didn’t realize that—as a GenXer—I was raised uniquely. I thought that each previous generation had essentially raised themselves as we had. Not true. Apparently the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, and Baby Boomers had comparatively idyllic childhoods, where they were cared for. I had no idea. I never saw Millennials grow up, as I was out of the country during their childhood and teens. I used to show up in Canada every couple years and see Millennials being molly-coddled, and there’d be some conversations with my contemporaries about how fucked up it all was. “How will they ever grow into functioning adults?” I had assumed that the Millennial’s childhood was a deviation from the norm. I didn’t know GenX was the aberration, and the Millennials were a return to normal values.

I always told my Taiwanese students and friends that rugged individualism and can-do spirit are essential cultural cornerstones in the West. No one is going to help you—you got to do it yourself. I’d explain how some of the things I commonly saw in Taiwan would not happen back home; parents lined up at schools to pick up their children, waiting for kids at the bus stop, coming and talking to the teachers, parents generally trying to fix their kids problems or provide guidance. For God’s sake, I’m a university teacher in Taiwan, and I have to deal with kid’s parents! By grade 3, I’d have been embarrassed to have my parents inserting themselves into my school life. I’d explain that these things just aren’t done in the West: we’re all about pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. You got a problem—figure it out. I was wrong, but interestingly, I misunderstood my own culture, not Taiwanese culture.

I didn’t realize not every Western teen has been expected to confront life with the maturity and independence required of GenX. I told one-and-all that if parents tried to pull this “Asian” crap in the West, their kids would get the shit beat out of them. I grew up with a kid, nice guy, but his parents raised him like a Boomer or Millennial. They cared for him—during GenX’s childhood years!?! That poor kid’s life was a raging hellscape, he got beat up daily. “Ha, ha [in the voice of Bart Simpson’s bully], your parents love you,” boom, crash, blam…. It wasn’t cool to have parents: adults should be neither seen, nor heard, certainly they should not be arriving at school to walk you home.

When I began seeing Millennials being raised back home, I thought the West had collectively decided to become more Asian. That we were adopting the parenting style and societal norms of Asia. I was shocked. Helicopter parents in the West? How could that happen? I now know that my generation’s experiences were unique. Western society is more communal, and “Asian”, than I ever dreamed. Of course, the stereotypical differences between Western individualism and Asian communalism do exist [see: Asian Child-Rearing and Elder Care]. It’s just the differences are smaller than I’d imagined.

I’ve come to these realizations quite late. When I started asking friends in Canada about these things, they were all like, “We’ve known this for decades, where have you been? Under a rock?” Nope. In Taiwan. Because of my expat life, I hadn’t seen Western children younger than myself being raised, so I didn’t know any of this. I guess it’s always good to learn a bit about yourself, no matter how late, there are no age limitations on self-awareness: kinda like stripping in Wyoming—you’re never too old.

Please pardon the expaticus oldfartitis evident in this article, and my previous article, Taipei Traffic. If you can’t relate to the GenX themes, I understand. I’m going to write one more article that features a bit of generational navel-gazing, and that’ll end my Old Fart Trilogy.

Here’s an Unpopular Opinion: Taipei Roadways Are Smooth, Safe, and Efficient…

well…relatively speaking.

I can already hear the expat Internet erupting, “How dare you. We’re totally united in our self-righteous condescension of Taiwanese drivers, traffic, and road rules”. Yeah—no we’re not. “But how can you possibly take such a stance?” Well, here’s how…

I have a case of expaticus oldfartitis. My perspective is longer than most the whiners online. I arrived here almost three decades ago, and found myself driving a scooter, helmetless, as was the way, through Taipei traffic in my first days. [See: Surviving Taiwan’s Traffic]. That was pre-MRT, when the streets were logarithmically more densely packed than Taipei’s current gentrified roadways.

The top picture was taken in December 1987 out a hallway window at the Flowers Hotel in Downtown Taipei. The picture is of Hankou St. (漢口街) and Liaoning St. (遼寧街). The bottom picture was taken from the same window 3月13日, 2016.

 

With the higher viscosity of 1990’s traffic came a greater frequency of poor driving decisions. More people making choices meant more errors. Endless traffic jams encouraged outside-the-box thinking in order to arrive at work on time. I rarely went a week without riding up on a serious accident, my brain didn’t even process all the minor ones. I come across a lot less accidents now, I can’t really remember the last serious one. Taipei’s road conditions have improved a lot.

I’m actually legitimately surprised by the fuss over Taipei traffic that gets kicked up periodically by expats online. I guess people are arriving from whatever bucolic pasture spit them out and can’t cope. “Well, this isn’t how we do it back in good ol’ Bumblefuck”. Of course not, You can’t compare Taipei to a place with 4 vehicles per 1,000 sq. acres, a pair of which are consistently stopped in the middle of the road chatting. Be fair. How does Taipei’s traffic and road safety compare with Hanoi, Tianjin, Seoul, Hong Kong, or Jakarta? Pretty favorably.

Part of the that’s-not-how-we-do-it-back-home attitude is a tendency to deprecate or disbelieve in any traffic law that doesn’t exist back home. Hence there’s a certain expat opposition to the two-stage left turn. For readers that don’t know, a two-stage left turn can be executed by scooters. If a scooter were to make a “normal” left turn, it would need to traverse multiple lanes of traffic, from the right lane (where scooters drive), to the left turning lane. Once stopped in mid-intersection, the high volume of oncoming traffic and the large number of scooters clumped there waiting to turn left, would insure a dangerous situation. With the two-stage left turn, scooters stay in the scooter lane (on the right), drive halfway through the intersection, and halt at the front of the traffic stopped at the red light, waiting to go in the direction the scooter would have went had it turned left. There is often a box painted on the road reserving stopping space for scooters making a two-stage left. When the light turns green, the scooter heads off in the desired direction. “Computer modelling has indicated that hook turns [two-stage left turns] have the potential to significantly reduce delays and congestion in most situations, especially where overaltraffic flow is high.”* As a commuter, in my opinion, it works great. If it makes the traffic racists feel better, two-stage turns are a provision allowed cyclists in many bike-friendly Western cities.

The that’s-not-how-we-do-it-back-home crowd is also likely to complain about people driving on sidewalks. But, you do have to account for Taipei’s scooter density, the location of scooter parking (on the sidewalk), and cultural differences in proxemics. Taiwanese are more comfortable with less personal space, that extends to interactions with vehicles. The situation is similar to many Asian cities. You wanted to live in another culture, so suck it up Buttercup, and check both ways before crossing the sidewalk.

Taipei driving isn’t all sunshine and lollipops, there are some problems. On market day mornings every octogenarian in Taipei seems to hop on their bicycle and wobble unheedingly into traffic, but that’s not a Taiwanese problem—it’s an octogenarian problem. Admittedly Taiwanese 祖嬤們 do seem to have raised crotchety-and-oblivious to an art form, but it’s not a big deal, just calm down and go around. That’s the answer to most problems you might have with Taipei traffic. Driving back in the West is about order, but in Asia it’s about flow. 

I think some newer expat’s horror over Taipei traffic reflects a generational shift. Millennials and a few GenZers have arrived. They were raised with different expectations of personal safety, generally believing in a social contract where society endeavors to protect them. I’m GenX and that has most definitely not been my experience. Examples abound: did you know there were more school shootings during GenX’s teen years than Millennial’s. It didn’t start with Columbine. It’s just society didn’t give a shit—presumably because it was GenX teens shooting GenX teens. More on point would be changes to transportation that happened in the 1980s as a direct result of society’s desire to protect Millennial children. Car seats became de rigeur and minivans were developed to ensure an appropriate place to buckle that precious cargo. Is it any wonder the bubble wrapped Babies-on-Board generation would have different expectations of personal safety than the generation that played tag in uncovered pickup truck beds while bouncing down grid roads at high speed.

Upset by the sight of children on scooters? When I arrived it didn’t occur to me to be mortified. What X’er child hasn’t sailed along—unhelmeted—clinging for dear life on the back of some motorized contraption? The assumption always was that if you fell off you’d bounce. Those were just the skinned knees and broken bones of childhood. If you didn’t bounce, well, “Don’t worry, we can always make another of you,” was the familiar parental refrain. At least now children in Taipei are helmeted, they didn’t use to be.

From my (GenX) perspective if something crazy happens when going 30-50 kmh on a scooter, while helmeted,… well, it’s just not that bad. Some expats have expressed confusion online as to why the death rate on Taipei’s roads isn’t higher. Of course, the death rate is too high, as it is in any city, but from a North American perspective it’s confusingly low on a per accident basis. The reason is speed—speed kills. Most accidents in Taipei happen at relatively low speeds. When it comes to survivability on the roads, speed is more of a factor than drivers that set your teeth on edge.

Next time you’re driving around Taipei and find yourself cursing the drivers or traffic, ask yourself is the anger really justified, or are you just suffering from a privileged sense of your own safety? Do you simply have a touch of millenialitis or the newer variant genz-eitgeist?

 

I’ve been dealing with health issues, along with a general lassitude that’s kept me from writing. Apologies if you’ve been a reader and wondered what happened. Some friends and acquaintances have pointed out I should start writing again since I’m in my 50s and these are my prime wisdom-giving years. I do hope under the snark, contrarianism, and sarcasm of my writings some of you find something of some value. I’ll try to overcome my general distaste for writing and publish a bit more regularly.

 

* Hounsell, Nicholas; Yap, Yok Hoe (14 August 2013). “Hook Turns as a Solution to the Right-Turning Traffic Problem”. Transportation Science. 49 (1): 1–12. [The article is written from the perspective of countries that drive on the left].

Don’t Use Logic to Argue in Chinese: High-context Arguments

My Chinese ain’t great—and that ain’t great—but it’s shielded me from making some egregious cross-cultural faux pas, while allowing a front row seat to watch many with excellent Chinese totally fail to communicate and seemingly never realize the problem. Most of my expat friends, with truly high-level Chinese language skills, are surprisingly dumb about how they communicate in Chinese. They endlessly use their superior language skills to [unintentionally] alienate, frustrate, and exasperate the Taiwanese. They understand what they are saying at the nuts-and-bolts, vocabulary and sentence pattern level, while being tone-deaf to what they are conveying at the higher distal level. When it comes to languages, I may be an underachiever, but I’m not an idiot. So let me tell ya, one of the most common mistakes many expats make when speaking Chinese is their insistence on using logic.

The Enlightenment was absorbed into Western culture over two centuries ago, and now logic is core to how most Westerners comprehend the world. If something cannot be proven logically then it is wrong—it’s that simple. Most regard this as an objective, irrefutable, truth, and can get kind of pissy when Taiwanese just simply disregard their carefully constructed A + B = C arguments as irrelevant fluffery. It is provable reality after all, and thus by definition the central truth at the core of whatever is being discussed.

Not so fast whitey.

Asia experienced the Scientific Revolution differently than the West. The Scientific Revolution is generally considered to have reached China by the 18th century, but it didn’t have such a revolutionary effect. Society just kind of putzed along largely unchanged. Historians debate why the Scientific Revolution didn’t originate in China, and why its impact on Chinese society was relatively small. Was it that Chinese society already had an advanced system for explaining natural phenomena and didn’t feel a need for scientific enlightenment? Was it that Western knowledge was only allowed limited freedom to spread outside court? Whatever the reasons, for our purposes it’s good enough to know that scientific logic holds a different—less preeminent—place in the minds of a large percentage of present day Taiwanese.

Beyond historical explanations, I believe the structure of the Chinese language itself has led to a certain distrust, and possibly disdain, for pure scientific logic. Here we’re back to that old bugaboo, high-context versus low-context cultures and languages. If you don’t know what this means—you should—it is helpful for contextualizing cultural differences between Asia and the West. You can review these ideas by reading The Unified Field Theory of Culture Shock followed by A Low-Context Dude in High-Context Places. [There are several other articles on this topic that aren’t as on point for this discussion, but are worth a read: Help I’m Living in a High-Context Family and It’s Totally Ontological, Dude! etc.]

In the broadest sense, the structure and layout of low-context languages [English, German, etc.] is logical. Everything in the language strives to convey—as clearly and directly as possible—the logic of each thought or feeling. The entirety of English is focused towards that goal. English language by nature is dry, clinical, and technical; perfect for expressing fine gradations of meaning, and very precisely dicing the logic of any situation. Chinese, as a high-context language, is more about face, hiding true intent, and preserving surface calm, to maintain at least an illusion of congeniality. Chinese is the opposite of English, it’s poetic. It’s great for beautifully expressing the ephemeral, in a fuzzy elegiac way.  English lends itself to communicating the technical, logical, and precise; while Chinese lends itself to art and feeling.

It’s all just a cute quirk of cultural linguistics until you find yourself living in a high-context culture, speaking a high-context language, while thinking with your low-context brain. Many Western expats have an unwavering commitment to cold-hearted logic that amounts to little more than self-flagellation when living in Asia. Ahh, the life of an Asian-based expat. 😉

Arguing seems to be the point where most foreigners really drive their heads into the wall. They have their point-of-view which they try to explain with clear simple logic. It’s obviously correct—anyone can see the logic, aaannd the Taiwanese person doesn’t give a flying crap on a stick. Screw your logic—what does that have to do with how I feel? When Taiwanese get into an angry argument, they are usually trying to express their feelings about something. If they’re unfortunate enough to find themselves arguing with a foreigner, then that foreigner is likely—equally angrily—trying to express the logic of the situation, and how that shows that they are CORRECT, GODDAMNIT!!!

It’s like a chicken and a duck talking [雞同鴨講], or perhaps a more useful analogy is that it’s a bit like a man and a woman talking. You, as a foreigner, may clearly and logically explicate on your point, outlining exactly why you did what you did, hold that point-of-view, or whatever, with irrefutable logic, and all you’re going to do is piss off your Taiwanese opponent, because, of course, that has absolutely nothing to do with their feelings. When they are talking angrily, they are usually not talking about who’s logically right or wrong, they are instead expressing perceptions and emotions. How they feel about whether something is right or wrong.

I know. It’s annoying. Get used to it. The number of foreigners I’ve seen with excellent Chinese language ability, absolutely fail to comprehend these cultural/linguistic differences, and act like utter tube steaks while speaking Chinese is stunning. Don’t waste time in an argument you can’t win. It has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with perceptions and feelings. There is nothing for you to win—don’t try. By engaging in an argument, you’re breaking the surface calm that’s treasured in high-context cultures, and thus you’re the ass right from the get-go. The best thing to do is to listen quietly, acknowledge their feelings, and just go to your happy place in your mind, as they express their clearly wrongheaded points-of-view. At the end, nod and say something like that’s interesting, or that you appreciate their perspective, and then move on with your day, otherwise you’ll just annoy yourself and the Taiwanese person to no avail. [I’m 55—these are my prime wisdom-giving years].

Will China Invade Taiwan?

A couple of readers have asked me to write this article in light of recent cross-strait tensions. I have always avoided political and geostrategic topics because there are other better people to read on the topic. Besides, I enjoy my little niche, writing about insignificant aspects of daily expat life. Politics is not my forte, so take what I say as little more than one opinion. If nothing else, hopefully it will give some insight into the feelings of being an expat in Taiwan at this time, which is this blog’s purpose.

Nobody—not even experts—have any real idea if China will invade Taiwan. Here’s the problem: President Xi, in China, has created a massive cult of personality, systematically eliminating any sources of information that might act as reality checks to his perceptions. He’s even more isolated than President Putin, and we all know how that’s worked out. So, anything I say here has no meaning if one day President Xi wakes up constipated and decides he needs to invade Taiwan to clear his bowels. If he says so, then it will happen.

Mostly the Taiwanese are blasé about any threat of invasion, as you would expect of people that have dealt with this intimidation for generations. The Ukrainians also didn’t pay much attention as the Russian army rolled up to their border. It is perhaps a normal reaction.

Most of my expat friends living in Taiwan are rather less unconcerned, but comfort themselves with logical arguments why it couldn’t happen, usually centered on the idea that the Chinese military is incapable of successfully invading Taiwan. They are right. The PLA is massively corrupt, making the Russian army’s venal general staff look like little more than morally ambiguous street urchins. Broader Chinese society looks down on soldiers as uneducated hicks, causing morale problems. The amount of naval and air power required to get an invasion force across the Taiwan Straits is stunning. The times of year that the Straits are navigable by troop carriers is small. Once you get to Taiwan, where do you land? There are only a few places that might be suitable for landing an army. It is relatively easy to concentrate defensive forces at those beaches. The PLA would need to take, hold, and resupply those beaches before moving inland, where they would quickly run into mountainous terrain. Maintaining supply chains from China to troops fighting in Taiwan would be a logistical nightmare. How many casualties would the Chinese public accept? The actual fighting would, after all, fall upon the little emperors created by China’s One-Child Policy. With my limited military background, and without taxing my brain at all, I came up with these very obvious problems facing the Chinese military. I’m sure there are multitudes more obstacles facing a Chinese invasion.

I do not believe that China can successfully invade and take over Taiwan. Here’s what scares me—just because they can’t do it doesn’t mean they won’t. Even if unsuccessful, it sure as hell would ruin my life. All these larger reasons for why it couldn’t happen have no meaning if President Xi is responding to a different “logic”, and the stimuli shaping his outlook are different than for Westerners.

China has huge problems; socially, economically, politically, demographically, environmentally,…. But, let’s just look at what I think is China’s biggest problem—demographic collapse. Urbanization causes demographic decline as city dwellers no longer need kids for labor, nor can afford them. China just came through a period of the most vast and rapid urbanization in world history. There have been the expected declines in birthrate and the problem has been compounded by China’s One-Child Policy. Chinese society will not be able to sustain itself within the next 10-15 years. There simply won’t be enough people of productive age. Demographics is at the root of most of China’s other problems. Population contraction is being faced around the world, but is particularly acute in China. Barring massive immigration to China [not going to happen], China is facing monumental societal upheaval.

The CCP hates that. They’re all about control and maintaining power, whatever it takes. As social stability and the Chinese people’s ability to generate and maintain wealth declines the CCP finds itself in jeopardy. Their justification for holding power has been they’d keep citizens safe and provide a chance at wealth. Demographics, COVID, and CCP mismanagement have laid waste to that social contract. So, how can the CCP justify maintaining power? They have just one card to play—enflaming rabid ultranationalist sentiment. And that’s why I’m not so nonchalant about the threat posed by the Chinese military. Invasion might end up being the only option.

However, if China has any dreams of invading, they are on a timeline. They likely have to accomplish it within the next 10 years before demographic collapse makes it a nonstarter. Also, China has had a large military buildup over the last decade, and it’s unclear if they’ll be able to sustain that level of acquisition. They may need to use their toys or risk them decaying unused and irreplaceable. Sure invasion wouldn’t be “logical”, but the CCP does all kinds of things that defy [our] logic. They didn’t need to ruin Hong Kong. It wasn’t logical. But, they did it anyway, largely because of internal political struggles within the CCP. Those forces are still in play, and trying to use the Taiwan issue for political gain.

Personally I do not believe an invasion is imminent. I’ve always thought a blockade is a more likely scenario. I do think there was probably an invasion plan in place, for the near-term, that was made obsolete by the Ukraine war and the world’s response. President Xi undoubtedly expected a weak-kneed reaction from the anemic democracies of the world when faced with the military might of an authoritarian powerhouse bent on getting things done. [Remember Xi is drinking his own Kool Aid]. Now he needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with an alternate plan, but most his planners and freethinkers have been disappeared, so it’s a task.