Sunday, August 27, 2023

A Paucity of “Blessings”: the KMT and what it means to be “credible opposition”


Screaming in stone?

It’s rare that I have not a single critical thing to say about the overall body of work of an expert or policy wonk focusing on Taiwan. However, a few people come close, and I’ve always admired the work of Kharis Templeman. He’s good at what he does, he’s clear and to the point, and he makes sense. I’ve never heard him say anything ridiculous about the US or Taiwan “provoking” China, among other claims I personally think are, well, deranged. He seems sensible. I’m on board.

So, I would like to begin this post by stating that all of it comes from a place of respect. I read his forthcoming “Blessings in Disguise: How Authoritarian Legacies and the China Factor Have Strengthened Democracy in Taiwan” and, well…to put it kindly, I was not entirely impressed. To be clear, most of the argumentation makes sense, and he doesn’t make any historical slips that I could find (you’d be surprised how often that happens with other scholars and researchers). 

That said, I have thoughts. I do think Taiwan needs at least two credible, stable, institutionalized parties. The DPP needs a strong rival to hold it accountable, and vice versa -- the DPP needs to hold its opposition accountable, as well. That other party is, and always has been, the KMT.

However, I see no reason why that strong opposition should necessarily continue to be the KMT. After reading Templeman's paper...

...I still don't. 

The core thesis is that the KMT is “good for Taiwanese democracy” by existing as an entrenched, institutionalized party with a core voting base and ability to govern within established systemic norms. 

This does make sense on its face: stability begets stability, and democracy is tied deeply enough to the will of the people that if there are not institutional factors at play, including disciplined, electable yet competitive parties, it’s easy for the whole thing to fall apart. It’s frightening how quickly one party might gain a stranglehold on power, or for the system to become so chaotic or unaccountable that it’s not clear what benefit ‘electing your leaders’ even has. 

Here's the thing, though: it’s just a little too close to ‘status quo for the sake of the status quo’ — what we have now is good because it’s stable, and change is to some extent inherently destabilizing. To be honest, there may be some truth to that. Not all change is good; even in the most flawed system, change can bring unfortunate consequences. 

But, as we’ve seen with Taiwan’s own democratic transition, change may be scary, chaotic and raw, and still need to happen. 

The DPP were once the outsiders, the upstarts, the ‘anti-system message’ guys. And now they’re institutionalized. 

In other words, upending the system, letting in newcomers and outsiders, destabilizing norms — these can be terrifying and have negative consequences alongside the positives. But a party may well only be an outsider or destabilizer…until it isn’t.

And a party may be a credible institutionalized rival...until it isn't

Thus, the argument that the KMT is good for Taiwan only holds for as long as they actually do have a strong voting base. It’s true only insofar as they remain competitive and can actually win every kind of election. That’s not assured: they can and do dominate at the local level, but nationally, their ability to actually win an election is, well, up for debate. At least for now. 

The second they lose their legitimacy, their base, their electability (especially at the national level), what then? Are they still “good for democracy” if they can’t provide a reasonable alternative to the DPP? I wouldn’t think so. 

Right now, the TPP, no matter how unclear their policies, seems to be presenting a credible threat to the KMT and is becoming truly competitive against the DPP. They’re “outsiders” now, but perhaps less so with an erstwhile Taipei mayoralty under their belt. They are already both in leadership and hot water in Hsinchu (corruption allegations), and Ko is giving the KMT's Hou a solid scare in the presidential race. 

What if the TPP actually makes it and becomes “institutionalized”? Will we need the KMT then? Or are they only a “blessing” for Taiwan as long as they’re credible? If the TPP actually does usurp the KMT’s competitiveness against the DPP, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s good or bad — just different, and indicative of how far the KMT would have fallen. Certainly not a loss of any ‘blessing’ stemming from the authoritarian era. 

It makes sense that stable political parties that respect the norms of governance and remain competitive are good for democracy in general. As long as the KMT and DPP fit this bill but no other parties do, I can understand the argument. However, the moment another party becomes ‘institutionalized’ — credible, prosperous, competitive — what exactly is the benefit of the KMT in particular? Why should it be them specifically?

Templeman tries to make the argument that the KMT itself is “indispensable” as the opposition to the DPP, but this is where I found the paper weakest. 

Again, it is only ‘indispensable’ for as long as it remains stable, credible and competitive. And outsiders are only outsiders until they’re inside — like, oh, the DPP. And insiders only remain inside for as long as they can hold their place. On those fronts, Templeman seems more optimistic about the KMT’s future at the national level than I am. 

Let’s look a little deeper at the two points made here: one is that the KMT’s own disciplined party core forced the opposition, which lacked the KMT’s resources and institutional entrenchment, to also create a disciplined, organized hierarchy that (ironically, as he correctly notes) this meant that the DPP’s organizational structures mimicked the KMT, both of which are founded, basically, on Leninist norms of party structure. 

This is an accurate telling of history, but whether it’s a “blessing” depends on whether you think that particular party structure is ideal, or a good choice. I’m not an expert in Leninist party structures, so I’ll save that question for someone else, but in general I am not a fan of Leninist praxis. I do wonder if Taiwanese parties could perhaps do better than the model they were handed. 

I doubt the DPP is going anywhere, seeing as they hold both the presidency and the lead in the  upcoming election (keeping in mind that a lead this early on is not always easily kept). Furthermore, their general orientation regarding Taiwan’s sovereignty is much more in line with the general consensus. Whether or not Taiwan should — or even can — have “better relations” with Beijing is still up for debate, though I tend to think Beijing’s own attitude makes that impossible, not any specific policies of the DPP or KMT. However, on unification vs. independence and national identity, the DPP seems to be much closer to what a greater share of the electorate wants

As for the KMT? Well, would it be so bad if a party that was disciplined but had a novel party structure that didn’t follow the old China-imported Leninist paradigm usurped their position as chief competitor? Crucially, would political parties in Taiwan have been able to form disciplined institutional cores if the KMT had never come and shoved their ideology down Taiwan’s throat? 

I don’t know. Perhaps not. Assuming, however, that what happened was a ‘blessing’ sounds to me like making excuses for colonization. It’s along the lines of “the British Raj was terrible, but without them India wouldn’t have all that infrastructure, like railroads”. As though Indians would certainly not have been able to figure out railroads on their own. Perhaps geopolitical factors would have made such things harder to accomplish, but whether we’re discussing Taiwanese political parties or Indian railroads, they were by no means impossible without all the horrors that accompanied them. The horrors of the White Terror were not definitively necessary for Taiwan to blossom into the democracy it is today.

Templeman then focuses on the “China factor” — the fact that differing views on China remain the primary divide in Taiwanese politics. There’s nothing incorrect in this assessment, and the historical review was on-point. 

Well, on point with one caveat: the KMT doesn't continue to be one of the major opposition parties because of the "China factor", wherein there are two main poles to Taiwanese political affiliation, one pro-China and pro-Chinese identity and one wary of Beijing and Taiwan as part of some concept of "China". Rather, "the China Factor" exists because the KMT brought it to Taiwan. That, however, is a topic for another post.

However, the rise of the TPP in the current election cycle, ephemeral as their competitiveness may (or may not) be, was completely ignored. I’m not pro-TPP by any means, but this felt like a glaring omission when parties such as the NPP garnered mentions. The TPP doesn’t have a clear China policy, but then, neither did the KMT’s Hou You-yih until fairly recently. 

The China factor certainly matters, as much as we may wish it didn’t. However, it only matters for as long as it matters: if the electorate ever settles on a general consensus vis-a-vis China, that “divide” will suddenly boost the ability of one party to dominate. Although partisan identification shows some interesting changes, looking at fundamental support for pro-China policies vs. against them, my bet on where any such dominance might land is squarely in the pan-green camp. 

It’s not like support for unification is on the rise, and even DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te has said he would be open to dialogue with Beijing. The DPP openly states that Taiwan is “independent”, adding in a little “called the Republic of China” coda delivered with everything short of a wink wink, nudge nudge.

On the other side, I consistently see the KMT try to hide its more pro-China tendencies: they don’t dare openly state that they’re pro-unification, nor did they dare to speak against the 2019 Hong Kong protestors resisting the exact same government that they, the KMT, want to be closer to. They talk about the fake 92 Consensus, but can't admit that China never agreed to their interpretation that there are "differing interpretations". 

In fact, the KMT/DPP dichotomy, riven along pro/anti-China lines, has given rise to a large group of voters who simply dislike both parties. There are those disillusioned by the KMT but can’t fathom voting for the DPP, often due to a lifetime of pan-blue media inculcation that the DPP are “riffraff” and “troublemakers” — that is, they still don’t believe that the DPP are “institutionalized”. 

There are also those who are angry at the DPP’s failings, and to be sure it is not a perfect party. However, they’re adamant that Taiwan is certainly not part of China, and the thought of voting for the pro-China KMT, with its lingering scent of the authoritarian era, is an anathema to them. Basically, “the party I would typically vote for sucks, but the alternative is even worse!” 

(If that sounds a lot like some Americans pissed at both the Democrats and Republicans, well, it should.) 

If it’s a “blessing” for the two dominant parties to be the imperfect “they’re corrupt too!” DPP and the “but they murdered my uncle and insist I’m Chinese” KMT, then I’m not as optimistic for Taiwan’s future as Templeman is. I don’t think Taiwan’s democracy is in dire straits -- far from it -- but thinking of it in these terms makes it seem more troubled than I would otherwise believe, not less. 

Templeman continues by noting that the KMT is the “indispensable” foil to the DPP not only because they’ve managed to survive into the democratic era, but because they continue to have huge resources at their command. Is this actually true? As Donovan Smith recently noted, they’re still reporting funds effectively frozen by the transitional justice committee, and might actually be in danger of bankruptcy. I’ve heard multiple rumors over the past few years that they struggle to pay their own people. They have a legacy as one of the wealthiest political parties in the world, and certainly the wealthiest in Taiwan, but that may be more a memory than current fact. 

I’m deeply unconvinced by the next section: 

Commentators and academics in Taiwan, especially those sympathetic to the DPP, frequently bemoan the fact that the KMT survived into the democratic era and continues to play a leading role in politics (e.g. Baum & van der Wees, 2012; Hwang, 2016; Schafferer, 2010). In this view, the KMT’s authoritarian inheritance, including a murky collection of businesses, investment holding companies, buildings and land plots, and other assets that it acquired during the authoritarian era, have given the party an unfair advantage in contested elections; if the electoral playing field were really level, it would have faded into oblivion a long time ago. Thus, the current DPP government is justified in seeking to force the KMT to provide a full account of its finances and disgorge any ‘ill-gotten assets’ back to the state from which it acquired them. Yet the persistence of the KMT as a major electoral force, and in particular as a credible threat to retake power even after it lost control over the central government in 2000, has also had unambiguously positive consequences for the party system, and thus for democratic accountability. And if reformers push too hard to disrupt the current party system in a misguided attempt to resolve these ‘distortions’, they might end up doing more harm than good to Taiwan’s democracy in the long run. 

There’s a very obvious disconnect here: Templeman acknowledges that the KMT had (and has) “assets that it acquired during the authoritarian era, [giving] the party an unfair advantage in contested elections”, but then states that they are a legitimate party because they’re still “a credible threat to retake power”. Yes, they are — in great part because of all of those (erstwhile?) assets giving them an unfair advantage! That’s the whole point. 

It’s like saying “Yes, Brockton Squinglehopper III had some unfair advantages from his family’s massive wealth and privilege, but the fact that he is an adult now and is also massively wealthy and privileged is a sign that he earned it, and that’s positive!” How is it positive, exactly?

As for clientelism, both parties engage in it, but to me at least, it seems the KMT is the far more serious offender. Far from being held accountable, several years on they still don’t understand why preferential pension schemes for their major voting blocs had to be done away with. 

It’s not that the KMT has no true supporters: they do. But they have also had so many unfair advantages, from resources to control of the education system and media to actually being a long-term established party when Taiwan democratized, unlike the DPP. That they continued to win elections is, in part, evidence of how steeply the playing field was pitched — not an argument that it’s inconsequential.

It convinces me of two points only. First, that Taiwan needs credible opposition parties that are stable, disciplined and hold each other accountable. In the past, that has been the DPP and KMT. There is no reason, however, why it would be best for the KMT to continue to dominate over newer parties. The best I can say is that they historically have done so; I don't see a solid argument for why it would be best for that to continue, if the newer party can be just as credible, competitive and respectful of democratic norms. 

Again, a party is only “institutionalized” while it remains competitive, and it’s only an “outsider” until it’s inside. 

Certainly, the KMT cannot be forcibly done away with, and not all third-party opposition is necessarily positive. I see no problem, however, with the KMT dying a slow, natural death as its pro-China views simply fail to garner sufficient support to remain competitive, and its stolen assets are rightfully given back to the nation.

I also have a problem with the idea that both parties are equally committed to Taiwanese democracy. Templeman doesn't say this, but he seems to assume it as a prerequisite for all those "blessings". The KMT kicked out the guy who played the biggest role in democratizing Taiwan (Lee Teng-hui), and plenty of the deepest blue KMTers would happily sell Taiwan to China tomorrow. "You can't eat democracy" and all that. Are they really committed to Taiwan, by any name, as a sovereign nation not united with the PRC? Are they really committed to democracy? I remain unconvinced, because the KMT's own actions have been unconvincing.

I do not think Taiwan’s democracy is rotting away, and I don’t think the KMT should be — or needs to be — actively excised from the political system. But I do not see the authoritarian era as much of a “blessing”. And certainly, I agree that not all change is good, not all outsiders are positive forces, and political parties need credible rivals so that each side may be held accountable to good governance and institutional norms. I agree that the China divide is the primary dividing point in Taiwanese politics. 

However, the KMT’s pro-China orientation, especially the unificationism they try and fail so hard to hide, rapid loss of once-stolen resources, continuing clientelist tendencies and and inability to be accountable for their own authoritarian past all point to one thing: the DPP needs credible opposition, but there is still no reason whatsoever why that has to be the KMT. 

The KMT holds that position right now, but I see no good argument for why they should continue to do so, especially if they die a natural death at the hands of public opinion and a new credible party arises to take their place. 

Templeman's paper is an excellent argument for the historical and political forces that help explain why Taiwanese democracy is the way it is -- everything that's led the country to its present political state, and the benefits of it. It is not a strong argument for the KMT continuing to hold its current status. Even if some of the past they inflicted on Taiwan turned out to have benefits, that’s not an argument for their continued position as one of the two main parties in Taiwan. That position can only be conferred by one force: the electorate. I don’t know which way that current will carry us, but my money’s not on the KMT. 

Sunday, August 6, 2023

An Audio-Visual Garden of Weeds

Fun fact: the original title was "an audio-visual weed garden" but that would have raised questions not answered by the post.

Outside my window I have a weird little garden. Two under-pruned and overgrown money trees, a bougainvillea, lemon balm started from a cutting that fell onto my casement from an upstairs neighbor and is now taking over my house. Hipster-approved succulents because I can keep those alive. A snake plant because they're difficult to kill.

And weeds: I'll sometimes leave out pots of unplanted soil and see what blows in. On one side I have a big ol' fern because a fern seed decided to grow there. On the other edge, I have an unruly crown-of-thorns, again just a weary traveling seed that likes my windowsill enough to stick around.

I don't have any specific goal for this window or these weeds, for whom I am now an adoptive plant mom. I figure that if a random plant is going to choose my window as a good place to grow, it's probably going to be very easy to grow. As a black thumb, that works out great for me. 

I'll let you decide what this has to do with language learning, but in my own weedy head, there is a connection. 

Soon after I wrote my last post on learning Armenian and Taiwanese at the same time, I signed up with the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) free online beginner Armenian class. Brendan joked that I could fuse both languages into some sort of new tongue, and that one language would be more efficient to study, but I thought taking an online course would be easier. 

While imperfect -- there was a lot of Audiolingual style drilling, some of the language and grammar points went by far too quickly with inadequate practice, the tests were far easier than the content, and I hardly had to speak at all -- it was something I had to do every week, which pushed me to commit to studying. It improved my letter recognition quite a bit. It was highly audio-based: pictures, yes, but mostly listening to other people speak Armenian and choosing appropriate words, pictures, or sentence completion items. There were online meetings, but it turns out that Yerevan time is not very convenient for me in Taipei. I still scored 100%, because again, the tests were too easy. 

Հայերեն շատ դժվար է, բայց ես լավ ուսանող էի:

For much of my class, however, I wondered one thing.

Why isn't there a free online Taiwanese course? Why aren't there several at different levels?

I could imagine the descendants of Taiwanese who immigrated abroad might have some interest in that, if they didn't learn the language at home, or didn't learn it very well. Foreigners who live in Taiwan or those around the world married to Taiwanese might also find it of interest. Perhaps not many will go on to seriously study the language to gain high-level proficiency, but perhaps that isn't the point.

It's doubtful that the AGBU expects everyone who takes its free courses to go on and become fluent speakers of Armenian. Most of my cohort were, like me, diaspora with an interest in the language of their ancestors that they did not speak. Will some association that parallels the AGBU in Taiwan ever decide to offer this for anyone who wants to sign up?

It wouldn't result in a cohort of fluent speakers, but it might help with awareness that Mandarin is not the only language in Taiwan, and in fact is the newest language to be introduced (forced) here. It would promote Taiwanese identity as something separate from Chinese identity, and help clarify that Taiwanese is not a "dialect" of Mandarin; it is a language, mutually unintelligible with Mandarin.

This would serve slightly different purposes to the AGBU courses: nobody except perhaps Azerbaijan is going around saying Armenians are not a distinct group of people with their own history and culture. I don't mean that in an ethno-nationalist way; whatever you think about borders, it's just true. AGBU is trying to connect սփյուռքահայ like me with their roots. While anyone is welcome to join, they don't seem to necessarily expect that non-Armenians will do so in great numbers.

A free Taiwanese course could have this goal as well, but also attract non-Taiwanese (like me!), spreading cultural awareness beyond Taiwanese communities here and abroad. Again, to offer a first step for people who are beginning to realize that Mandarin is not the end-all and be-all of language in Taiwan, and is certainly not the only option. And it would probably be more effective than ICRT's We Love Hakka for the Hakka language!

It would be amazing if other languages of Taiwan could start this up too. A free Hakka course? Cool. A free Amis For Beginners course? I would take that, honestly. I'd sign up for Atayal, Paiwan, or any of the others, as well. Language preservation efforts are underfoot in those communities already; I'll let the experts speak about whether or not that would be feasible or useful. 

I suspect most foreigners who come to Taiwan would still learn Mandarin, because it is a lingua franca, at least in Taipei. And many don't quite have the anti-CCP sentiment that I do; they likely figure Mandarin will be more useful globally than Taiwanese. And they're not wrong! But wouldn't it be great to give people more of a choice and get that minority who isn't learning a language purely for its utility? 

Beyond that, I just think Taiwanese sounds better. Goa khòa* Tâi-gí bō sim-míh ho-kóng, m-ku chīn ho-thia*! Words like koai* (to close) and cha-hng (yesterday) are fun to say because they're almost entirely pronounced in the nose. It's also much better than Mandarin at short replies. I don't know how to write these, but the ho, heh and hei-a are much more fun than “是的” and "好"! And I'd much rather say chhong-sía than 幹嘛. It packs more of a punch.

Honestly, for Taiwanese, the hardest part was finding a teacher. I started when I did because that was when a freelance teacher was recommended to me. Some of the Mandarin centers offer Taiwanese -- a friend of mine took a course at TMI, but they aren't widely advertised and I can't vouch for their methods.

In fact, a big problem with both Armenian and Taiwanese is that teaching methods are quite outdated. TESOL has been going on for years about communicative approaches -- this is a broad set of methodological principles that can involve Natural Approach, immersion, lexis-based or task-based methods -- and Mandarin seems to have just now figured out that communicative approaches work better over time than drills and tests. You may remember (?) that I quit Shi-da's Mandarin Training Center many years ago, mostly for this reason. I simply could not with those old Practical Audio-visual Chinese textbooks, lack of authentic speaking practice and demented over-testing. Nevermind their blue bent, and  that I got sick of the heavy lean towards standard PRC Mandarin. 

But my Armenian textbook, which I'm working through now that my course is over, is still a fully grammar-based notional syllabus that only hints at certain functional uses for the language. The design makes it readable, it doesn't overload with new vocabulary, it explains grammar fairly clearly, and has review built-in. But fundamentally you're still doing exercises and translations before creating your own sentences. The dialogues are inane ("How are you today?" "I'm not good." "I am good. And where is the French Embassy?") but it still hasn't taught me useful things for actually visiting Armenia like, say, "how much is it?" or "I'd like lahmaçun, sarma and a Coke Zero, please". 

My Taiwanese textbook is even worse, made bearable only by my lovely teacher, who adds as much actual language practice as she can and only tests rarely. It was typed out, likely by hand, sometime in perhaps the 1980s and doesn't appear to have been updated. It's Maryknoll, created by Christians to teach missionaries, and as such it does weird things like teach you the words for minister, priest, nun and monk before you ever learn how to address a woman (the minister's wife, however, makes an appearance early on. Lots of wives in this book, not many single women who aren't nuns).

There are essentially no comprehension tasks; it's composed almost entirely of a dialogue (some weirder than others), extensive vocabulary notes, and then some grammar notes. There are a few translation exercises at the end of most units. My comprehension is tested only because my teacher tests it. The book never does. 

The actual materials are really no better (and are in some ways worse) than the old Practical Audio-visual Chinese books that I hated so much, but I'm more motivated to learn Taiwanese -- yes, it's political -- and I like my teacher more. She doesn't go around like my old MTC teacher being all "我們中國人"! In fact, I think she'd rather drop dead than say anything of the sort.

Though the whole "we Chinese" business was my MTC teacher's right to say -- we can all identify how we please -- that's not how I feel about Taiwan, and to me that's not a helpful way to gain a closer perspective into Taiwanese culture, society and language. 

Other materials exist: my friend who took a Taiwanese course at TMI used 生活台語 and called it "okay". Chieh-ting Yeh (a friend of mine) and Alice Yeh wrote Harvard Taiwanese 101. Phillip Lin's highly inconcise Taiwanese Grammar: A Concise Reference is a solid reference material. 

Not a lot beyond my Eastern Armenian coursebook exists for Armenian. Reviews call it "innovative", and I was touched that when you buy it, the author mails you a copy herself from Yerevan. But really, it's just the best of a very limited field of otherwise terrible textbooks. 

Neither textbook, Armenian or Taiwanese, seems to have much in the way of visual aids. For Taiwanese, it's a good thing I speak Mandarin, as my teacher won't use English, because the book will pretty much never support you with pictures. On the upside, learning Taiwanese has been the biggest boost to my Mandarin in years. Have you tried to learn a third language through your second language? It's a real trip.  You get better at both. It helps that my teacher is a fierce gossip, offering all of her political opinions and deets on her annoying neighbors.

The result of these two modes of study -- one online weekly with a teacher, and one almost entirely at home or in a cafe by myself -- have led to two very different areas of proficiency in each language. My Armenian writing is so much better because all I really do is write. I have a much bigger lexicon because it's easier to look up whatever I want to know. With Taiwanese it's always a question of whether and how a tone changes, and whether it's rendered in some obscure character I can't really read, or Pėh-ōe-jī. I'm more limited to whatever is covered in the unit. 

And the current Taiwanese unit, by the way? "Would you like a smoke?" "No thanks, I don't smoke." "If you won't smoke, then please have a banana!" 

But with Armenian, I can hardly speak. I know what it should sound like from growing up hearing it, but I don't have anyone to practice with, and I won't for awhile. The grammar is complex enough (it has cases! Like Latin! Murder me, please!) that I have to stop and think before I create even a sentence. Taiwanese as fairly smooth grammar, so it tumbles out more easily. It helps that I can use it on a mostly daily basis.

My Taiwanese lexicon is much smaller, but I'm a far more proficient speaker. And yes, I know how to ask how much something costs, and I'll likely understand the answer. 

The main issue as I navigate my two baby languages is lack of extensive reading. I'm not exactly a Krashenite; I don't believe that extensive reading and listening are the only keys to fluency. But they are one very important key to fluency, and one I'll also admit I've fallen down on vis-à-vis Mandarin. In Taiwanese it's just a lack of literature I can read. My Armenian reading is much better,  but nowhere near the ability to actually read what interests me -- a key issue with the idea that extensive reading for pleasure is the only meaningful way to gain fluency. What if you can't yet read what you would normally read for pleasure? It's the eternal question of adult beginners who aren't engaged by materials for children but can't yet read, say, a novel. 

As I wrote the last time I covered this subject, I fill that void with music. It does work; I can look up lyrics so I know what is being said, and gain a clear idea of how the language sounds and flows together. It's not enough, but it'll do for now. It's a good thing I genuinely like the sound of Fire EX, because they comprise most of my Taiwanese listening practice now, with Ladaniva doing a lot of heavy lifting for Armenian. 

All of this leads me down a winding, weedy path of where to go next, and why. Like a pot of dirt left out to the elements, I don't have specific goals for either language. Whatever grows there, grows. I'm learning one language for heritage reasons, the other mostly for political and cultural ones. Or rather, both are political, if you take the view that choosing to learn a language at all, especially not for utilitarian reasons, is a fundamentally political act. If I wanted to learn a language that would be helpful in Armenia but more broadly useful, I'd have chosen Russian. Any foreigner in Taiwan can tell you that the language of greatest utility is Mandarin. I've decided I don't care. 

Even my Taiwanese friends will sometimes say they aren't concerned with whether their children learn Taiwanese because it's "not useful". It is, though! What about befriending your elderly neighbors? Getting people to like you in the south? Sealing a sale or contract where relationships matter? Making a clear point about the cultural and historical distinctness of Taiwan? Not necessarily wanting to be understood by Mandarin speakers? Those are all technically uses.

One language I might be able to use in daily life soon (I've already started incorporating it), the other may never be used that way. For Taiwanese, I may never achieve full fluency, but I might be able to use it in a majority of my daily interactions, and it does make a point. Maybe that point is this white lady is crazy. Maybe it's hey, there are foreigners in Taiwan who care about the country beyond a place to live well and make money. Maybe. After all, my Taiwanese teacher has said all of her students are foreigners. None are local Taiwanese. She charges a bit more than a typical tutor, and still has clients. Clearly, the interest is there. 

For Armenian, who knows. I find myself at a խաչմերուկ -- an intersection. There are a lot of weird things about this language that I want to better understand. Which bits seem to have non-Indo-European origins. Words like խնձոր (khndzor, or apple) came from somewhere, and no one knows exactly what the Hayasa/Urartu/Ararat people spoke. Why does every other language in the region call a couch a sofa, divan, settee or canapé, but Armenian calls it a բազմոց (bazmots)?  

Here's what I envision: perhaps never full fluency, but online classes once I get my dental situation sorted out (don't even ask). Then, a savings account. Approximately ten to fifteen thousand dollars. In...let's say...2025? I hop a flight to Yerevan, rent a short-term apartment, sign up for language classes and a conversation partner, and go live my life in Armenian for three months. If I save, I can probably afford three months, no? There are all sorts of things I missed the last time I went to Armenia, including the extremely old and fascinating dragon stones, cuneiform tablets, petroglyphs and weedy, overgrown fortresses.

I have a hankering for the unspeakably ancient, and now I can do that հայերենով --  in Armenian. 

Brendan's already on board with this, and would come to see me off. After all, he liked Armenia too.