TAIWAN’S BAWUHOU (People born after 1985)*
(Part I): THE BIGGEST CHANGE, THE BEST FEATURE
“And how was your day?”
“Interesting,” said SH, age 30. “I met with my friend, then sent her to the psychology doctor.”
“That does sound interesting. Tell me more.”
And as SH told me, I realized something: though English teachers can be privy to a lot of stories from students and many teachers swap “greatest hits” stories, even with these “advantages” it had been over six months since I’d seen or heard of wingnut, fundamentalist-brand filial piety. Ten years ago, not a month would pass without my hearing a story about it. Twenty years ago, not a week would pass. Did the decline mean Taiwan had become much more open-minded – had mostly seen through and moved beyond filial piety’s dumber dogmas? Or did it merely mean that I had succeeded in positioning myself and my life here beyond the ambit of halfwit folly – had effectively insulated myself from a still-legion cretinism?
SH’s friend was depressed. She was depressed because she couldn’t have a baby and her mother-in-law constantly harangued and insulted her for this. That the reason she couldn’t have a baby was, according to medical doctors, because her husband’s sperm count was too low was a fact her mother-in-law refused to admit into evidence. In support of his mother, and probably to protect male ego, too, the husband also refused to admit this fact into evidence.
“Your friend should get a divorce,” I said. “She’s mixed up with people who are willfully psychotic. Having to deal with and repeatedly getting blamed by people like this would make anyone depressed… or violent.”
“Yeah, I wanted to say ‘Get a divorce,’” exclaimed SH, “but I was afraid to.”
“Well, if you’re really her friend, I think you should say it. But honestly: She would have to be brain dead to not already realize that divorce – or at least separation — are the only sensible options. So she realizes it, but she doesn’t do it. Because she’s afraid, right? Well then guess what? I’m glad she’s depressed. She deserves to be depressed. It’s good she’s depressed! Depression is trying to help her! It’s telling her ‘You’re running your life poorly: you’re hating yourself, not respecting yourself, not choosing well for yourself, letting fear run your life. You need to do better and you of course can do better.’ Everyone’s brain turns against them and produces depression if they abandon self-responsibility like this.”
I felt a mix of self-loathing and gratitude as I spoke. Self-loathing because I used to involve myself in delivering this kind of message to people directly – was for many years willing to waste time trying to enlighten self-willed morons and self-willed victims — people of normal IQ who preferred to stonewall reality or default on self-responsibility. Driven by a need to have something smart to say – which I guess I believed would make me “matter” –, I stupidly spoke smart words, never heeding that real intelligence wouldn’t, in most cases, have bothered – would generally have heeded Jim Rohn’s compelling words and just walked away.
Which, thank the heavens, I nearly always do now.
And I felt gratitude for a second reason. I’ve been in Taiwan 23 years, and for most of that time I didn’t like Taiwanese culture, and I hated teaching English. In the last couple years, that’s all changed. No, this following sentence is not going to contain a proselyte’s exclamation that I now love Taiwan, because I hope I care more and am more careful in my thinking than to go around valorizing solipsism by declaring love for a country, be it my own or another. I wish to say, rather, with that solipsism to which we are all subject well in mind, that I’ve developed a great appreciation for the experience of, and understanding of, Life that Taiwan and Taiwanese have given me.
Hearing SH’s tale of imbecility and cowardice belied none of this, either; such stories had lost all power, I realized, to diminish that appreciation. The food, convenience, friendly and helpful people… yes, yes, yes, I appreciate all of that, but citing these items – and these items only – is the snap, knee-jerk cliche-mongering that Westerners make a charade of parroting and that Taiwanese make a charade of gladdening to (though I gotta admit that the convenience factor in Taiwan really is outstanding). My own view is we’d all be better off if we professed impatient boredom with such boilerplate, because Taiwan has more important advantages than these. It has stunning scenery. It has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. And the people are more than merely friendly and helpful; to answer the question that I posed to myself above, I don’t believe that the decreasing incidence of stories such as SH’s reaching my ears is a result of insulating my life. I think Taiwan really has become more open-minded and that the degree is increasing monthly, even weekly. Indeed, if there were a scientific means of measuring, I bet we’d find Taiwan now has a higher percent of open-minded people than just about any place in the world.
Put another way, how recently have you stumbled across a Taiwanese who labeled global warming a myth; told you the world is only 6,000 yeas old; or insisted Barack Obama wasn’t born on American soil?
Ballooning open-mindedness is Taiwan’s most praiseworthy aspect. But what and who have caused this change? The answers are pretty obvious, I’d say: reduced employment and wage opportunities; increased (for both better and worse) tertiary education; Web 2.0 and 3-G/4-G technology; and the arguably strongest-minded generation Taiwan has seen since 1947’s 2/28 Massacre: the so-called Strawberry Generation.
“Yes, Taiwan has changed,” a doctoral-degree-holder student of mine, a mother in her 40s, agreed. “All the generations have changed, because young people have forced them to.”
Next: (Part II) That Name is Bullshit
*This series is inspired by James Palmer’s recent article The balinghou on Chinese youth.