Category Archives: General

Beware the Cabbie (An Excerpt From My Book)

I apologize for being inconsistent about publishing. I’m struggling to write. So this week I’m doing something different. This is an excerpt from a novel I have been “writing”. Mostly it’s been laying on my shelf. The novel is fictional, but the event described here, did happen, more-or-less as portrayed. However, it took place at Kimpo airport in the early 1990s, not in Taiwan. I will be back to providing probing analyses of trivialities soon.

Here ya go….

          I arrived in Taiwan pre-internet, so there was no prearranging local accommodation and transportation, except at a small handful of expensive Western chains. As a very broke kid with a backpack this wasn’t an option. However, it was late at night, dark, and I was confused, jet-lagged and unsure how many days it had been since I slept. So, I went to the airport hotel kiosk, to get them to arrange a hotel for me, not the international backpacker’s solution. Their most valuable skill set was the ability to roll up in a foreign land, get into town, cheaply, and then find the cheapest possible accommodation. I suppose that sounds easy—it’s not! Of course, anyone can get a cab from the airport into town, and find a hotel, but a cab is not cheap, and a hotel is usually a budget-buster. No. Before the internet the accomplished international backpacker needed to be able to land in a foreign country cold, and immediately suss out how to get a bus into an area of the city they wanted to go, and figure out the cheapest form of accommodation. In most countries this is not a hotel, in many countries it’s not even a hostel, some places have unique forms of cheap accommodation. I always looked on in wonder at those able to arrive in a country and figure this all out while miserable and exhausted from travel. [Kickin’ It Old School with GenX].
          I wasn’t going that route. I wanted an evening to get my head together, before setting out to find a new life. When I rolled up on the kiosk, the staff asked me what kind of hotel I wanted. I expressed my needs succinctly, “The cheapest available room, my good man.” The head service person sniffed, looked down his nose at me, and tossed me a binder full of snapshots of hotels, ranging from expensive, at the front of the book, to relatively inexpensive at the back. I clawed my way to the back of the book and looked at the two or three hotels I could reasonably afford. Truthfully, I couldn’t afford even them, I needed to go off in search of a hostel or similar, but it was too much for jetlagged me to deal with.
         I pointed to the picture of a likely looking shithole. One of the counter-staff, a warm friendly young woman, quite the counterpoint to her supervisor, helped me phone the hotel, and ascertain that they did indeed have a vacancy. She reserved the room, gave me a name card for the hotel, and sent me on my way, with a warm smile.
         I got about three paces before spinning on my heels to get some follow up information. “Where can I get a taxi?”
         “If you go through that door,” pointing to a nearby exit, “you’ll find plenty of taxis waiting.”
          “How much should the taxi to cost?” That’s my international traveler experience coming to the fore.
          “Well,” she made a face clearly showing there might be some issues, “I usually pay seven or eight hundred NT.”
          Anticipating no problems, I gave Trina, according to her nametag, a winning smile, and a wave of the hotel’s name card. Trina only blanched slightly at the equine-like grin – I knew I’d like Taiwan.

          As soon I walked out of the terminal, I was enfolded in Taiwan’s warm moist air. It was rather like returning to a polluted womb. I arrived March 19, 1996, and I began sweating as soon as I stepped out of the airport, little known to me, I wouldn’t stop sweating until December.
          There was a long line of yellow taxis in front of the arrivals terminal. Departing passengers were forming a fairly orderly line, precariously balancing suitcases and knapsacks atop their trollies, as they tried to roll forward to where a cab would whisk them the 50 km. into Taipei. I joined the queue and patiently awaited my turn to get into a cab.
          When I got to the front of the line, I poked my head in the window, gave the cabdriver the hotel card, and was surprised when he said, “Yes, yes, I know that place, 40,000 NT.”
          And so the dance begins, I was glad I had the foresight to ask Trina the price of a cab into town, I gave him my best are-you-insane smile, and countered with, “No. How about 600 NT?”
          He shook his head and gave a quick foreigners-are-so-amusing laugh.
          “Well, let’s use the meter,” I said pointing to the dust-covered digital meter.
          The cab driver just shook his head, while jerking his thumb towards the rear of the line of cabs.
          I stood there, nonplussed, with my backpack hanging from my arms, like a dead albatross. I didn’t know what to do, apparently if a taxi driver waited in line until he got to the front, he expected to be compensated with a month’s pay. As I was standing there tired, confused and unsure, other equally befuddled—if less budget-minded travelers—took my cab. Others began aggressively spilling down the line jostling for cabs. There’s something about fighting to board a crowded local train, or cab, that turns even mild-mannered tourists into imps from Hell, bent on climbing over those around them, as long as it allows them the salvation of a ride.
          I began to get worried. Arriving exhausted, broke, and alone to a new country, where you know nothing, is scary. It gets even more nerve-racking when things begin to unravel. Right now the ball of nervous energy that had resided in the pit of my stomach for the entire flight was being scattered all over the pavement, as though it were a ball of yarn being played with by a sabre tooth tiger, and I hadn’t even made it a hundred paces into Taiwan. Worse—I wasn’t sure how to get further into the country.
          I hefted my knapsack onto my back and began trudging down the taxi line, occasionally leaning my head into taxis, asking for a reasonable price into Taipei. I just kept getting pointed to the end of the line. On the upside, the adrenaline allowed me to carry my ridiculously heavy bag like a true Sherpa.
          Finally, I reached the last taxi in line. The driver did not inspire much confidence in his integrity. He was of indeterminate age, either a hard-living 25 or a well-preserved 50, with a likewise non-descript wardrobe. He wore tatty slacks, and a brown plaid shirt that had that quality of having been new-old stock left over in some dusty recess of a general store since the 1950s, no socks, and blue rubber flip-flops. The inside of the cab was infused with pollution and eau d’old man.
          “How much to go here?” showing him the hotel name card. As I looked off to the side I noticed his dashboard. Never have I seen such a pile of crap blocking a driver’s view of the road. Taped or glued to the dash, he had at least fifteen statues of various gods. Hanging from the rearview mirror were prayer beads, garlands and amulets, a jingling mass of superstition and hope. With the statues rising up from the dash, and charms hanging down from the mirror, there was little actual window to peer through to get a sense of what imminent collision the gods were helping to avoid, and which god was better suited to the task.
          “8,000NT,” came his reply. I nearly choked. He was the last cab in the line, and his cab could best be described as a rolling trashcan.
          I hoped the utter desperation was not apparent in my voice as I countered with, “600NT.” I was beginning to have visions of spending the next week sleeping in the airport as I tried to figure out how to get into Taipei.
          “5,000NT.”
          Well, at least there was some movement, he wasn’t just telling me to bugger-off.
          “900NT,” I countered. Even at that rate, I was going to be grossly overpaying.
          He sighed, grunted and moaned, acting like I was driving a real hard bargain, and countered with 4,500NT.
          “Look, I know what a cab ride into Taipei is worth, I’ll give you 1,000NT, and that is nearly double what the trip is worth.”
          “Look, there is no way you’re getting a cab into Taipei for that price, but I like you,” – yeah, right!!! – “so, I’ll take you for 4,000NT, and that is as low as I’m going to go.”
          As I tried to get him lower, he simply stated the obvious, “All I have to do is wait a few more minutes, until I move further up the line, and then I’ll be able to get a customer for much more than 4,000NT.”
          He had me there, the price may have been unfair, but I couldn’t see how to get him any lower. I was tired, bone-weary, from a combination of the adrenaline that had been coursing through my veins for the last day, jet-lag, lack of sleep, and the enforced inactivity of international flight. I needed to get someplace where I could shower, de-stress, and try to sleep, before I had to wake up and face another stress-filled day of trying to settle into a foreign country.
          I finally agreed to the price, put my backpack into the trunk of the cab, crawled into the backseat, and laid my head back with a sigh.
          The driver, his name was Jimmy, Jimmy Chen, as it turned out, was very chatty. Indeed, throughout the whole nearly hour long ride, he barely stopped to draw breath. I’m quiet by nature, my natural reticience was compounded by tiredness and the surety that I was being ripped-off. At most I grunted or sighed in reaction to Jimmy’s dialog. I was vaguely amazed at his English level, he was able to keep up a running monologue in English that bordered on the amazing. I supposed that with the amount of money he was pulling in, he probably had hired an entire department of foreigners to act as English support staff at Jimmy’s Taxi LTD Corporate HQ.
          I occupied myself during the cab ride by lolling my head from side-to-side, looking out the window, and watching the lights and neon signs go by. If you’ve never seen an Asian city at night, it really is something to behold. Jimmy’s constant droning barely cracked my consciousness.
          Finally, about fifty minutes later, and a full four hours after my flight arrived, we pulled up in front of the hotel. The Hotel Palace, belying its grandiose title, was neither grand nor palatial. Its façade was little more than a nondescript doorway that opened straight onto the sidewalk, with none of the amenities normally associated with hotels, such as a place for cabs with arriving guests to park and unload their baggage. So, Jimmy had to double-park in front of the hotel. He popped the trunk and dodged through the whir of cars and scooters to unload my bag from the trunk. Mighty kind. Traffic in Taipei is unique for the number of scooters. Each of the city’s intersections seems to buzz with dozens of motorized bikes, some holding entire families along with the family pet. Once, during Chinese New Year, I saw a family of four—mother, father, and two preteen children—along with grandma, and the family dog riding through town on a 125cc scooter. The mass of scooters whirl and circle through traffic, ignoring any known traffic rules, simply following the path of least resistance as they drive between cars, on sidewalks, along crosswalks, etc. I’m sure if you could take an aerial view, they would look like a mass of angry hornets circling the nest.
         Jimmy lept, uncaring, into this swarm of traffic, and it simply flowed around him as he headed to the back of the car and gathered up my bag. As I stood on the sidewalk watching, Jimmy hefted the bag out of the trunk, to reveal a small pile of suspicious white powder that had fallen from the bag, or sifted through its porous material, to form a small mound in the trunk.
          Any bonhomie that had existed between Jimmy and I rapidly evaporated as he turned on me. “Hey! What is this? Huh?” There was genuine anger and accusation in his eyes.
          I was stymied. I really didn’t know what it was, but I was concerned, the anti-drug signs in the airport kept flashing through my head. I’d been saving meeting the bullet with my name for a much later date. Jimmy looked angry enough to act as judge, jury, and executioner.
          “Uhmmm,…” I said, shifting my gaze left and right, looking for a way out, which probably didn’t help me to look innocent. “I really don’t know what that is.”
          Of course, this did nothing to assuage Jimmy, as he scowled at me and firmly demanded that I don’t try to move. He picked up some of the powder and began rolling it around between his gloved fingers, he was wearing white work gloves, which was common among taxi drivers at the time. He was really carrying on, doing everything he had learned undoubtedly from watching re-runs of American TV cop dramas, he examined the powder closely, rolled it around some more, touched his tongue to it, took a bit and rubbed it against his gums, just like on Miami Vice.
          Meanwhile, I was rapidly reaching the end of my tether. I’d about had it. I was so exhausted I could barely stand, I was still sore about being ripped-off on the cab fare, I had barely been able to tolerate being in the same cab with Jimmy on the way into Taipei. Dealing with this scene in front of a slowly gathering mob of pedestrians pushed me over the edge.
          “I don’t know what that stuff is. It is not drugs! I guarantee that.” Then I reached out, grabbed my pack, threw it over my shoulder and turned around to walk away.
          Jimmy shouted something I couldn’t understand.
          As I turned my back, I heard Jimmy take some of the powder and snort it. Jimmy was overtaken by a violent fit of sneezing and wheezing as I walked towards the hotel’s front entrance. I could feel an evil grin spreading across my face. Whatever that powder was, I knew it didn’t belong in his sinus cavity. It served the bastard right for hosing me on the cab fare.

          The mystery was solved when I got into my room, opened my bag and found all my clothes covered in white powder. The can of Desenex I was carrying had exploded. Desenex is an anti-fungal powder to combat crotch rot. Jimmy shouldn’t need to worry about contracting a case of jock-nose for the rest of his life.

 

The Wuhan Epidemic and the Mandate of Heaven

I’m going a bit off-topic to talk about China, but I’m currently on extended vacation due to the coronavirus out of Wuhan, so in some ways it feels on-topic. I won’t talk about why these viruses so frequently develop in China, but rather why they have a tendency to spiral out of control.

Emperors have ruled China since the murky depths of prehistory. Each dynasty derived its legitimacy—the right to rule—from the Mandate of Heaven. Essentially each dynasty’s rulers have served at the pleasure of heaven. Part of their role was to intercede with the gods to ensure good crops and protect against natural calamities. When a dynasty collapses it is marked by a great tragedy, usually a natural disaster—the signal for political change. This is why when a natural disaster strikes Taiwan, the Chinese leadership usually offers snippy comments on Taiwanese politics. They’re assholes—sure. But, they’re assholes with a political philosophy.

The Mandate of Heaven is an anachronism; but, in many ways so is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP doesn’t have a very clear mandate to rule. Nobody voted for them. The Party is atheistic, so presumably they weren’t chosen by the gods, and do not serve heaven. Why are they there?

I often see Western media talk about the CCP deriving its legitimacy from its ability to ensure continued prosperity. That’s true, but it misses the broader point. In a real sense, the CCP is just the latest dynasty to rule China. The majority of China is still undereducated and segregated from the world. The old ways hold sway, whether in technology, agriculture, medicine, or politics. CCP rule operates under the Mandate of Heaven, whether they like it or not.

If a cataclysm and chaos mark the end of a reign, then the opposite—periods of calm—must show heaven’s continued support. Prosperity and a relative lack of natural catastrophes are indicators the CCP continues to hold the Mandate of Heaven. The natural result—and visible sign—of such silky smooth trouble-free rule is social order and harmony. That’s one reason maintaining social order is the most important feature of Chinese governance.

In addition, the Chinese government has  a top-down centralized structure. A characteristic of such organizational structures is officials don’t want to risk their boss’s ire by kicking bad news up the chain. That’s just the way it is. (Soviet Russia was the same, watch Chernobyl).

When something happens that threatens social order, the instinct is to sweep it under the rug. Outbreak? What Outbreak? During SARS, the last epidemic that started in China, doctors were told by top provincial authorities not to educate the public about the virus. Hospitals just sent patients home for bed rest. Most knew nothing about Western medicine, ignored the advice, and simply continued daily life, infecting others. The current 2019-nCoV outbreak in Wuhan has followed a similar trajectory. Wuhan authorities initially tried to keep a lid on information regarding the epidemic. They literally preferred to let people die than acknowledge the true situation.

So vital is preserving a sense of social order and harmony, combined with the strong desire not to be the bearer of bad news, that during Spring Festival celebrations, Wuhan party officials did nothing to mitigate the worst effects of the public revelry.  A particularly egregious example was authorities, knowing about the epidemic, allowed state television to promote a municipal banquet—in the infected zone—where a hundred thousand guests ate together, dipping their chopsticks into the communal food, Chinese style. Also, at the beginning of the holiday hundreds of thousands were allowed to board trains and planes to infect other passengers, and then to spread the virus throughout China, and to a lesser degree the world. It wasn’t until the virus went international, and Wuhan authorities could no longer turn a blind eye, that measures to control the spread of the virus began to be taken.

When I was a child, a family friend, who was an epidemiologist, [drunkenly] contented that the thing that would eventually take out humanity was a virus—and that it would come from China.  Thus far I’ve seen nothing that contradicts his prediction.

A Guided Tour

The Salty Egg is getting a bit large and unwieldy. [That’s what she said]. Please feel free to surf around the back catalog—they’re all diamonds. If the serendipitous approach doesn’t appeal, here are a few starting points.

It was a surprise to me, but my most popular post by a very wide margin is Don’t Marry a Foreigner. One of my earliest posts, Marrying Taiwanese, is a perennial favorite, garnering daily views. It is unsurprising that intercultural dating/marriage are popular topics among my expat readers, but there are a few articles on the subject that are less widely trafficked: The Hot-Crazy-Taiwanese Matrix and Taiwan’s Marriage Market.

If you’re more of a tourist than a resident of Taiwan, you could try Snakes & Whores, or some of my food writing; The Taiwanese Hamburger, Oyster Omelette, or Oyster Vermicelli. One of my favorite food articles is actually Gross-Out Porn for the Armchair Traveler.

But, I’m not a very serious guy, and tend to like the lighter things. Three of my favorite pieces have no deeper meaning than a chuckle; Sperm Donation and the White Guy, Harmonicas and Public Humiliation, and Are You Gay? A very fun, if off-topic, read is Profound Musings. Check it out.

For those times when you’re not feeling quite so irreverent, try my articles on cultural linguistics. There’s quite a few, but the starting point is The Unified Field Theory of Culture Shock and A Low-Context Dude in High-Context Places.

Or, if you’re just looking for information on intercultural interaction and culture shock, try these; Guanxi, Humor’s Intercultural Perils, Taiwan’s Social Hierarchy, and Symbolic, Parabolic, Metaphorical,  Allegorical,... The entire blog’s theme is culture shock, so just surf around. There are lots of good things to find.

I’ve found the Internet enjoys nothing more than to be morally indignant. If being outraged floats your boat (no judgement) try: The Whiny Women of Taiwan, Humor’s Intercultural Perils, White Privilege in Asia, and The Problem with Asian Christians. Each has created a kerfuffle in its own way. The article that’s caused the most copious outpouring of cyber-acrimony is The Hot-Pot Conundrum Explained. It’s about soup.

Reflecting on Canada: Reverse Culture Shock (Pt. II—The Niggling Little Issues)

Canada’s larger paradigm shifts while I was away are dealt with in Part I. There are also the seemingly small things about Canada that might cause reverse culture shock. Though uncomplicated, these changes in yourself, or your home country, really hit you where you live. It is the reverse culture equivalent of simple culture shock—why do you eat that? You think karaoke is fun? How is that joke insulting?

The first of these simple reverse culture shocks would undoubtedly be the weather. I remember watching an expat friend return to Saskatchewan from Taiwan for a visit in winter. He’d been living in Taiwan for a decade and arrived during a cold snap. The skin on his hands dried up and fell off, leaving red, itchy, gross appendages. I wouldn’t look forward to dealing with a real Canadian winter.

One of the most bizarre changes to Canadian cultural norms that happened while I was gone—and totally blows me away—is Tim Hortons. When did that place become THE Canadian food experience? When I lived there it was little more than a place to go for crap coffee if you were out in the wee hours and nothing good was open. Ironically, it became an iconic piece of Canadiana when it was sold to an American group. If I ever consume that crap and pronounce it wonderfully Canadian, shoot me.

Growing up in a cold climate I cocooned myself in layers of blankets and quilts to sleep. It was a wonderfully secure and relaxing feeling to poke your nose into the cool air from under a mountain of blankets, very like swaddling. When I first moved to Taiwan, one of the adjustment problems I endured for years was being unable to get a really good sleep without the weight of a pile of bed covers pressing down on me. After decades, I’ve finally habituated to sleeping semi-nude upon the bed, under the air conditioner, with no covers. Try getting that out of your mind. Of course, why would you want to? Now when I visit Canada, I struggle to sleep under all those covers. I feel claustrophobic, like I’m suffocating.

One advantage of living in a foreign language environment is you have a fair expectation the people around you will not understand what you’re saying. I have become used to saying whatever I think whenever I want. It is becoming a problem as more people in Taipei understand and tune in, but my social habits were set in an earlier time. This assumed privacy has made many of my generation of Asian-based expats excessively direct and often rude. [See: The Benefits of Being Misunderstood]. Canada, during my time abroad, has gone in the opposite direction, becoming less verbally freewheeling. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize my mouth getting me into trouble upon returning to Canada.

Most Canadians would be surprised to learn that they have a reputation for being aloof and borderline unfriendly. Though I understand the Canadian perspective on personal space, privacy, and amiability, after spending most of my adult life in Taiwan, I don’t share it. My personality tends towards introversion and quietness, but when you throw over all your friends and family to live as an expat, being an introvert doesn’t work. [See: Expat Friendships]. You need to be gregarious, meet strangers, and form new connections. I’ve gotten used to committing random acts of friendliness that fall totally flat in Canada. Once walking down the street in Saskatoon, I spotted a shop girl, in a store window, with a full-sleeve tattoo. It was impressive. So, like the Canadian-Taiwanese that I am, I spun around and went into the store to talk to her about her tattoo. You would have thought I was a mass murderer hell-bent on raping her in the middle of the store. It was a Canadian moment. I didn’t enjoy it, and it has repeated itself with both men and women when in Canada.

As a long term expat, one problem I have returning to Canada is finding everything unreasonably expensive. I think this is as much a psychological issue as economics.  My sense of Canadian value was set as a student 25-30 years ago. At the time, I might have reasonably, tried to eat and entertain myself for a week on $5-$15. Now when I go home and find a beer and burger kicking the crap out of a twenty dollar bill, I start channeling my grandfather: “$17.50!?! $17.50?!? That’s outrageous! Why in my day a lad could live for two weeks on $17.50, and still have enough change leftover for a blowjob”. It might just be age and psychology. I wasn’t present for many changes in Canadian society, including a period of hyperinflation during the oil boom, so I keep getting blindsided by costs. It’s like the normal aging process amped up on crystal meth.

Finally, no discussion of reverse culture shock would be complete without talking about driving. When I drove in Canada, before coming to Taiwan, I was a cautious and patient driver. I do drive in Taiwan and have the whole time I’ve lived here. I am , also, a very cautious and patient driver in Taiwan. But, when you take that careful and patient Taiwanese driver, and drop him onto a Canadian road—he’s the most aggressive asshole out there. I struggle with this every time I return to Canada. Usually before driving, I take the car out and drive around quiet streets, trying to redevelop a sense of Canadian timing. Even so, I struggle not to turn left as soon as a light turns green, to beat oncoming traffic. I find it hard not to dive the car into the smallest of spaces when changing lanes. I have a totally non-Canadian idea of proxemics as related to traffic. Most streets in Canadian cities seem like giant empty parking lots to me.

I could keep this list going for much longer. I haven’t touched on tipping, meat portions, socially acceptable sweat levels, etc., but I’ve run long.

Reflecting on Canada: Reverse Culture Shock (Pt. I—Big Things)

After I posted my article on transnationalism, someone wrote and asked me to expand on what I’d said, and I thought to myself…fuck off. Just kidding. I thought who knows. Maybe. My articles on the Taiwanese generation gap and Taiwanese reverse culture shock got me thinking more about alienation from home and globalization, so maybe I have more to say. This article is in two parts; the first part is somewhat serious and deals with bigger issues, the second part is lighter and discusses small things.

Friends and family tell me that I’ve changed and wouldn’t fit back into Canadian society. From my perspective, I haven’t changed much, but Canada and Canadians have changed a lot. I’m a perfectly preserved specimen of 1994 L.B. canadianeis. Some of Canada’s evolution matches global trends, others are uniquely Canadian. Either way, we’re in agreement that I wouldn’t fit in anymore.

I’ve been pretty continuously outside Canada since 1994. When I left, the internet existed, but it was totally different than it is now. There were no browsers. Very few people had even heard of it. It certainly was not putting the world at your fingertips. I’ve written a bit (here) about how the internet has internationalized life in Taiwan. It has also internationalized Canada, particularly in rural area. Fads, fashions and trends are instantaneously global now. Growing up in Saskatchewan, we used to be able to watch a fashion trend arrive. It followed a certain pattern. If the trend was coming from Europe or New York, it would hit Toronto first. In a couple years it would arrive in Saskatchewan. If the trend came from Los Angeles or Asia, it would hit Vancouver first, and make its way to Saskatchewan in a year or less. Via travel and TV we’d be aware of what was happening in the major centers, it’s just that it would seem stupid until the fad actually swept over Saskatchewan.

The internet has changed my home for good and bad. Almost anything that is available anywhere in the world is also available in Saskatchewan which is more a part of the wider world. However, some of the more lunatic ideas sweeping social media have found fertile soil in Western Canada.

In particular a kind of anti-science—anti-fact—ethos pervades. The root cause would seem to be oil. Much of Western Canada really profited from the oil boom when China ramped up industry. At the national level a pro-oil Albertan Prime Minister was elected. He did what he could to stifle the spread of facts. He went to war with Environment Canada and tried to muzzle scientists. It had a Dark Ages feel—we can’t stand the light of knowledge, it scours the flesh so. Judging from social media, Western Canada is a sucker for every piece of unsubstantiated, nonscientific, BS that gets posted. I think the root cause is a strong desire to deny climate change in an attempt to help the oil industry. There is room for legitimate scientific debate on climate change. However, the people filling my social media with climate change denials don’t know anything about climatology. They back themselves up with pseudoscience and fallacious arguments: It flooded a hundred years ago, so all the flooding now cannot be caused by climate change; it snowed, climate change is a hoax. I know nothing about climate change, so I’m going to take the word of oil executives and the politicians they pay. Of course poor scientific education and a lack of critical thinking are partly to blame, but largely it is economic self-interest. In the words of Upton Sinclair:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

The same thing is happening around the world, President Trump is trying to destroy the EPA and crash global climate change accords, because it’s all a hoax the world’s scientists concocted. His single-digit IQ and empirical research tells him so. Canada actually beat Trump down the path of ignorance.

I left Canada before the last oil-boom really got going. People didn’t try so desperately to deny science. There was always a kind of anti-intellectualism that I assume is common in farm communities, however no one was trying to say the earth is flat, vaccines are harmful, or that scientific knowledge must be stopped—it’s all bunkum. Now when I go home I do meet people desperate to be freed from knowledge’s oppressiveness. It’s weird.

Another area where Canada is following global trends is the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment. As essentially an immigrant myself, I find this one especially execrable. My contact with Canada mostly comes through family and friends in Western Canada. This may be skewing my understanding, the politics of Western Canada can be particularly vile. Maybe I’m looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, but during the last major refugee crisis to hit Canada, we took a lot of Vietnamese boat people. I don’t think there was so much negativity around the refugees. We didn’t have a direct role in creating that crisis. Canadian military operations helped create the Syrian refugee crisis. Bomb the shit out of people and they’re going to run. I suppose the difference with Vietnamese refugees is Syrian refugees are a little too brown, and a lot too Muslim.

I guess I came of age in a much kinder and more humanistic Canada. Since I’ve been gone Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, and he brought Alberta’s political culture to the nation. Alberta politics has been borderline insane since 1935 when a right-wing populist party took control of the Provincial government and held it for almost forty years. Right-wing populism always has aimed to exploit voter’s fear and bigotry. That this political culture spread to the rest of Western Canada, and with the election of Stephen Harper, infected the national body politic, places me outside Canada’s Overton Window. National and provincial politics, and Canadian political discourse,  would undoubtedly cause reverse culture shock as 1994-Canadian meets 2019-Canadian.

The rise of endless war in the Middle East parallels my expat experience. Desert Storm I: The Genesis broke out while I was in Thailand, my first extended stay in Asia. Canadian troops were there for the original, the sequel, and all other messes in the Middle East, up to and including the Syrian crisis’s early days. I believe this continual war footing has had a strong effect on Canadian identity and psyche. It has been a slow moving change, so it seems like Canadians living in Canada are unaware of the changes. Blind patriotism, jingoism, my country—right or wrong—has increased since I’ve been gone. The Canada I grew up in hated this attitude. It was part of the reason Canadians feared being misidentified as American. To me opposite to blind patriotism partly defines Canada’s national identity. Seeing Canadians acting like Americans is disconcerting. This attitude also contributed to the rise of right-wing populism. The hate engendered in these politics were part of the lunatic fringe in my Canada. It is a lot more mainstream now.

During return trips to Canada the thing that has caused serious reverse culture shock has been massive inflation brought on by the oil boom. The Canadian dollar’s value rose dramatically without a commiserate drop in prices. Most Canadians were unaware of this inflation, because the prices they paid remained stable, but there was approximately a 25%-30% rise in the real cost of products. (The equivalent to how much the dollar rose in value). I sure noticed the difference as my Taiwanese money went much less far. The price of a trip home rose precipitously. The cost of servicing my Canadian student loan debt became very onerous.

Despite all these changes, it is nice to note that some things are shockingly consistent. Growing up in Western Canada was a continual political battle with Trudeau. Forty years later and it is—amazingly—the same. Kind of warms the heart.

Part II talks about some of the fun little sources of reverse culture shock. [See: Reflecting on Canada Part II]