Category Archives: General

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.

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.

To All The Women I’ve Offended Before…

I should’ve included this with my previous post: Have I Butthurt You? I’m making my posts shorter for the moment [The SicklyEgg], so women get their own separate post. Lucky.

I piss off women. I know. It’s a gift. I’ve had it since I was knee-high to a turd. With the wonder of the Internet no longer am I limited to annoying friends, family, wives, and girlfriends; now you—dear stranger—can take that ride too. What an age we live in!

My writing is very self-deprecating. I poke fun at a lot of people and social foibles, but it is mostly self-directed. The closer the group is to me, the more likely they’ll get teased. If you’re a handicapable  black woman living in the American south there’s no way for me to say anything in a self-deprecating  anger about your life, so I have nothing to say, and will do my best to observe all the social niceties—mind my p’s, and dot my q’s. If you’re part of my Taiwanese or Canadian family obviously you’re fair game. [I catch shit for this on the regular from Taiwanese family who find it hard to see the affection implied in teasing]. If you’re an expat or Taiwanese don’t expect any special consideration—we’re too close. You’re  going to get hit with the self-deprecating splash back. If you’re a woman of course I’ll tweak your sensibilities, after all  I’m half woman myself, on my mother’s side. It just doesn’t get any closer than that.

If you are an expat white woman living in Asia,… well what can I say, you’re practically me. [Mortifying, isn’t it!?!] And, I hate to break it to you sister, but we are definitely not a protected class. I admire the moxie of white women for trying; but let’s be honest, when our expat forbearers were colonizing the world, the wife was right there alongside the husband enjoying her half of the slave-provided couple’s massage. So, though not deliberately hurtful of female sensibilities, I’m also not very mindful of them.

I don’t try to offend anyone, but when I cause offense it’s usually a result of a disregard for the group-based sensitivities of those closest to me. If you have a lot of sacred cows TheSaltyEgg isn’t for you. I don’t know what I would write if I wasn’t free to write about the things and people closest to me.  Of course, the irreverence of how I do it can be offputting. I recognize that, but cheekiness is a fundamental part of who I am.  I always pick the ass of those closest to me—it’s my love language. I try to keep some personality in my writing to avoid that dry academic ickiness, but then you’re stuck with my temperament . It’s not for everyone.

Have I Butthurt You?

Approximately yearly I remind readers of this blog’s purpose and limitations in a vain attempt to reduce reader outrage and unflattering emails. I’m hoping to ramp up my writing schedule again, so now seems an opportune moment to revisit the topic. Since I do this with some regularity you can find more complete answers to criticism here: State of the Blog and Answer to Critics and A Bigot Abroad?

TheSaltyEgg is a very quirky and highly personal look at life as an expat in Taiwan. It’s my life as I understand it. I consider myself the voice of white, middle-aged, married to Taiwanese women, out-of-shape, Taiwan-based, Canadian, scotch-loving, wine-putt’er-upp’er-with, 9”-or-more [at least a thick-8], unconventionally handsome expat men, who’ve been in Taiwan around 25 years. If that doesn’t describe you, please read TheSaltyEgg anyway, there’s lots of good stuff here, but you may find some of what I say will not describe your Taiwanese experience. That’s valid: but so is my experience.

I present a lot of topics and issues in a highly personal manner, with anecdotes, personal escapades, and humor. It can appear I’m overgeneralizing from my experience. Maybe. Often, however, I’m employing personal experience to illustrate points made by cultural-linguists, cultural-anthropologists, historians, and other academics. I’m just trying to make the information more digestible. All academic writing is inductive, so it is reasonable to argue they are overgeneralizing, and by extension so am I. You have to decide, but I’m usually not just randomly spewing things off the top of my head.

One of my weaknesses as a content creator is I don’t really interact online. I’m happy if something I wrote creates a conversation, even if it’s angry, however I can’t read it, or it’d inhibit my writing. Some people really get off on stirring the pot—believe it or not—I don’t. I’m too happy-go-lucky and it’d harsh my mellow.

It should be obvious by now, but if you don’t enjoy my sense of humor you’ll hate this blog. There’s just no way around that.

If you’ve been entertained by TheSaltyEgg in the past, I hope you’ll continue. If you detest TheSaltyEgg, but can’t help yourself, please continue hate-reading. I understand. [My entire sex life used to rely on those emotions]. And if you’re new to Taiwan or TheSaltyEgg, please look around, there really is some good stuff to explore. Here are some starting points: Tips for New Expats and A Guided Tour.

Read on, Macduff.

Health Problems and The Sickly Egg

I’ve had a few fans—yup I have a handful of those—ask me what’s going on, why haven’t I been publishing much, and to please post. If you’ve been missing your irascible dose of saltiness, I apologize. I’ve been laid low by health issues for the better part of a year, and the last 6-7 months have been difficult. I haven’t had the energy for anything. Believe it or not, I don’t like writing, so I didn’t want to pour my limited stamina into something I find draining at the best of times. I believe I’ve gotten over the hump [knock wood]. You can expect to soon be delighted, enlightened, annoyed, amused, shocked, or just plain pissed off by me. Hopefully all six at the same time; that’d mean I’m feeling pretty good and back to my old self.

I’ll probably start slowly with some smaller topics. In the meantime read Channel Z. I know it’s a vignette, but it’s longer than usual, and quite entertaining….I’ll have something new for you next week.