Friday, April 26, 2024

Defining Ma Ying-jeou's "relevance"

He deserves an unflattering screenshot

I recently read with interest Donovan Smith's analysis of the continued relevance of former president and slightly burnt mannequin Ma Ying-jeou. Smith argued that despite being called "irrelevant" by the pan-green camp, that his power player position in the KMT meant he could not possibly be so. 

Donovan makes a good point. When it comes to shaping KMT policy and which puppet or inveterate Very Good Boy he'll trot out as his skin mask at rallies and for elections, and whose prior image he'll eviscerate in order to turn him (they're always male) into his next puppet, Ma is frighteningly relevant. 

In fact, I'd argue one cannot discuss KMT policies and directions without at some point discussing Ma. Even when he's not got his talons into this or that KMT candidate, his vision for what the KMT -- and Taiwan as a whole -- should be still shape the policies, platforms, desires and wet dreams of hardcore deep blue supporters. While their numbers may be dwindling, they're still a political force and not dismissed so lightly. 

So yes, in that sense, Smith is right. Perhaps, though, we should consider what these commentators mean when they call Ma "irrelevant" -- because it depends somewhat on how you define the term. 

The thing is, one might interpret political relevance as requiring being at least somewhat in touch with the general (or at least popular) consensus. You're relevant if your own ideas and commentary reflect the national mood, however roughly. If what you say resonates with the public and perhaps most importantly, the voters. 

In this sense, Ma is indeed irrelevant. It would be easy to point to his Deutsche Welle interview just before the election. He laid down some real whoppers here. Leaving aside "Taiwan can never win a war with China" (debatable, but I'll give him that based on the power imbalance), Ma stated that we should "trust" Xi Jinping, a point so ridiculous that it was basically an own goal for the KMT. I don't think it lost them the election, but it didn't help. However, if we're talking about Ma's relevance, I found this bit more alarming (and mendacious): 

Unification is something that our constitution says [sic]. So it's actually acceptable to Taiwan. But it has to be done peacefully, and through a democratic process. If that can be done, the chances are people in Taiwan may be interested in accepting this.

He says that again later on -- "if it is peaceful and democratic, the people of Taiwan will probably accept this." It's not a slip.

The constitution doesn't actually say that -- if it ever did, the series of amendments adopted from1990s through 2005 extirpated it -- but whatever.  It's not even the ludicrous notion that unification could possibly be peaceful or democratic when the government Taiwan would be unifying with openly doesn't care about democratic norms, and their massive military preparations indicate they don't care much about peace, either. 

What renders him irrelevant is the second half of that quote: the idea that because the constitution says it and theoretically it could be voted for (which would mean no immediate war), that "chances are" Taiwanese people would be "interested in" such a path. 

Every major poll, whether we're talking status quo or Taiwanese vs. Chinese identity, and the past three presidential elections have shown that the people of Taiwan are not interested in peaceful unification. Whether or not it's peaceful is not the point; they don't want unification period. They want to continue to govern themselves under the sovereignty Taiwan has as a result of the so-called 'status quo'. That is, a form of independence  (depending on how you define 'independence' -- my definition includes Taiwan's current state and so does President Tsai's). 

For such a thing to be "democratic", Taiwanese people would have to vote for it in a state of non-coercion and without political interference from China. Ma seems to think they might, if dialogue continues. The polls, however, say otherwise. If unification is deeply unpopular, and most Taiwanese don't even identify as Chinese, chances are that won't change. 

It wouldn't avoid a war, by the way. In the highly unlikely event that Taiwan chooses this path, once they see that they've quite literally used their democracy to vote away said democracy, and brought all sorts of oppression upon themselves the second they 'democratically' diverge from Beijing's plans for Taiwan, all hell will break loose. It will make Hong Kong look like a children's birthday party. There will be a war of some sort, and there will be violence and slaughter.

There is no such thing as peaceful unification with the PRC, because even if Taiwan 'agreed' to it (which they wouldn't, because most people are not that stupid), the mass death starts when they realize what they've lost and begin to resist. 

To even imply that democratic and peaceful unification is possible, and that Taiwanese would be interested in it -- or that they'd be so gullible as to believe it were possible -- is such an extragalactically out-there thing to say with a straight face that I simply cannot reconcile it with any notion of "relevance". Ma's finger isn't even on his own pulse, if he has one, let alone the pulse of the nation. 

He doesn't stop the Chundertown Express at any point during this interview, by the way. When it's pointed out to him that Taiwanese don't identify as Chinese, especially among the youth, and reject unification and the 1992 Consensus, he says those young people need to "understand" what cross-strait relations and the 92 Consensus mean "to them" -- one China, respective interpretations. He takes it for granted that this interpretation (which China has never agreed with, they've never accepted the 'respective interpretations' aspect, so it's not a consensus at all) would be popular and accepted among Taiwanese. 

But it wouldn't, because to do so, they'd have to fundamentally believe they are Chinese, which they do not. (Ma does not engage with the poll results showing most Taiwanese do not identify as Chinese; most likely he believes that forcing pro-China changes to the education system will sufficiently brainwash that notion out of their minds). 

His off-the-rails commentary (or lack thereof) on public opinion and what Taiwanese "will probably accept" is so far removed from what Taiwanese seem to actually be thinking that I simply cannot call it "relevant". 

When the presidential candidate you taxidermied into your own little puppet boy publicly distances himself from your words, you might still be a political player but when it comes to public opinion and the path Taiwan is on, again, you're not exactly relevant. 

On that note, Ma only remains relevant within the KMT because their stance on China has not evolved to be more palatable in Taiwan. You might argue that they're hanging onto him because they have nothing better -- he's the last KMT candidate to win a presidential election. I'd argue the opposite: the KMT's platform is stuck in the dark ages because Ma has his talons in it; he won't let it evolve or modernize. 

I suppose that's a form of relevance, but not in the way most people likely mean.

To be truly relevant, you do indeed need to have some basic understanding of current public opinion, why it is what it is, and how to present your ideas in such a way that they might at least be considered in that light. Ma is constitutionally incapable of this -- pun intended.

It's not surprising, of course. This dude is deeply in love with Chinese-style authoritarianism and seems to wish more than anything that the KMT itself had the ability to be just as authoritarian. You know, like in the bad old days when they could just drag anyone who disagreed out back and shoot them.  

Looking at it another way, consider commentary about Ma's irrelevance to be a backlash against the way he acts every time he goes to China, and much of the resulting media coverage. He certainly traipsed around that country like he was some sort of ambassador on an official dialogue and peace mission. Whatever part of his brain had a stroke leaving him unable to empathize with Taiwanese people seems to have been filled with delusions of grandeur, that he can represent a side of the 'Republic of China' that China can talk to, because they agree they're part of some interpretation of China.

Even basic reporting on the visit implied (without saying outright) that his visit was somehow relevant to Taiwan's current government, even though Ma wasn't there in any official role. He was basically a glorified tourist-cum-useful-idiot. Other media make it sound like he is some sort of rational, peace-seeking emissary with the potential to "build ties" and -- again it is implied -- reduce tensions. That no serving Taiwan president has visited China is mentioned in such reports to imply that it matters to Taiwan if a former president does so. But I'm not sure it does, when his party doesn't even have the presidency. In terms of Taiwan's policy vis-à-vis China, he is irrelevant and his visit is irrelevant.

I even heard a radio segment in the Western media on his visit that I can't find again (so it's not linkable), but which astoundingly managed to get every basic fact right, while getting the story completely wrong. It implied again that he is some sort of peaceful messenger from Taiwan, creating hopeful dialogue and averting war unlike that dastardly Lai Ching-te whom Beijing dislikes for unspecified reasons. 

No discussion of how Ma's party had just lost the election in a historic third term for the DPP, possibly helped along a bit by that DW interview. No discussion of why Beijing dismisses Lai, or who exactly is refusing official dialogue (hint: it's not Lai). No mention of how unpopular Ma's opinions are in Taiwan, and how profoundly he misunderstands and outright ignores public opinion. 

Listeners abroad who don't follow these issues might take that hopeful note to heart -- oh look, a former Taiwan president is looking for dialogue with China, that can only mean a reduction in tensions! They'll completely miss the context that he's not speaking for the government, his trips are not affecting current policy, it's not even Taiwan who doesn't want dialogue but rather China gumming up the process, and his views do not enjoy broad social support.

That is, the take-home impression might be that Ma Ying-jeou is more relevant than he actually is.

When that's what the rest of the world is reporting about the guy who left office as the most unpopular elected president in Taiwan's history, like he's a beacon of hope in ever-escalating tensions (which are implied to be created by the DPP when in fact they are entirely manufactured by China), then perhaps one does want to call him irrelevant in response, no?

Because he's not an emissary. He has no official role. He's not in China to build ties between the two governments, because he no longer works for the Taiwanese government. He's not "building cultural and social ties" because his own views are completely out of tune with Taiwanese society and culture. He's promoting himself and the KMT to their support base.

While he's not quite sunk to the level of "local resident surnamed Ma" or "Taipei area man", he doesn't enjoy the broad social respect that a former president might expect. According to one poll, less than 40% of voters approved of his last trip to China in 2023, and that one was ostensibly of a more personal nature. 

Of course, it really wasn't: he was attempting to set the groundwork for the KMT's China policy, giving the KMT's presidential candidate less room to offer their own interpretation of cross-strait affairs. That worked for awhile, with Hou Yu-ih seeming to capitulate to Ma on matters of policy.

As we saw in the DW interview, however, Ma eventually seemed to take it a step too far and ended up with Hou declining to sign on to the broader Ma vision for the rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation.

Ma himself seems to think his actions, and especially these trips to China, have an effect on cross-strait relations, but from what I can tell, they don't. He seems to believe he can convince Taiwanese voters of the fundamental correctness of his vision, and their Chineseness. It has not worked. He tried to Frankenstein an opposition candidate to the DPP, and failed.

So when we say he's "not relevant", we mean that his actions do not reflect a broad social consensus and don't actually change much in Taiwan. When his actions are reported on as though he actually were the highly-respected elder statesman he believes himself to be, it gives the wrong impression to readers who don't know the whole context. 

When Ma actually has a policy success as an elder statesman that enjoys the support of the electorate, maybe we can talk about his return to relevance. When he lays out a groundwork for cross-strait policy that the ruling party doesn't feel they have to distance himself from, that might matter. And it would be unfair to dismiss him as completely irrelevant. His lightly-melted spectre haunted Hou's campaign and continues to rattle his chains in the halls of KMT headquarters too much for that to be true.

But if you define 'relevant' as "taking actions which have a tangible impact on Taiwan's governance", or as "engaging in statesmanship which enjoys broad support", he's not exactly relevant, either. If you include "has some understanding of public opinion and incorporates it into his actions and statements", he's so deep in left field that he's left the stadium and is wandering alone in the woods. He doesn't even seem to understand that public opinion exists, let alone that he should consider it.

And if a rando in the woods babbles on and on about how Taiwanese will choose "peaceful unification" and no-one's there to agree with him, did he really say anything at all?

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Would Xi Jinping congratulate a drag queen?

She'll be in your head all weekend

I, but let's talk about it. 

This past weekend, Taiwanese American drag queen Nymphia Wind won RuPaul's Drag Race, and everyone I know in Taiwan went mad with joy. From friends' pictures (I was at home, being boring), I could see Ximending erupting into a party. She is amazing, by the way.

It was also a massive soft power win for Taiwan. The type of soft power that a thousand politicians brainstorming in a thousand breakout sessions for a thousand years could not have engineered. Taiwan is in the international news right now on its own terms -- not amid rising tensions with China -- showing that we need drag queens, and black metal bands, theater festivals and the support of pro basketball players. No amount of ads on the side of buses will ever generate this much buzz.

You might be tempted to leave China's ongoing bullying of Taiwan out of all this, but Nymphia doesn't seem to be. After winning she exclaimed "Taiwan, this is for you" and openly calls Taiwan a country. In her acceptance, she said to "live fearlessly" -- perhaps not intended as a nod to Taiwan's refusal to give in to China's threats, but it sure felt relevant.

Notably, even the international media who reported her win, identity and calling Taiwan a 'country' continued in their own writing to label Taiwan as merely an island. They couldn't bring themselves to call Taiwan what their subject herself calls it. 

The media is incorrect, by the way: yes, the main island is also 'Taiwan', but Taiwan as a country is not an island, it's an archipelago. Editors, get your act together. Reporters, chastise your editors! 

I've already tweeted that we can all see how culturally different China and Taiwan are by the fact that President Tsai congratulated Nymphia on Twitter (the only thing I will deadname) -- something Xi Jinping would never do if a Chinese or Chinese-American drag queen had won. 

Even if they said "China, this is for you!" Especially if they said that, I bet. He'd hate the notion that China or Chinese culture might be associated with drag.

In fact, the very idea that Xi or the CCP would embrace drag or anything associated with the LGBTQIA+ community almost does not compute. It would never happen. Beijing, which certainly wants to dominate the world both culturally and literally, doesn't even seem to be aware that these spaces and communities exist and are vectors of soft power, let alone want big soft power wins or representation. 

Of course, discussions of her win are, according to the Washington Post, being downplayed in China: 

In fact, Chinese fans of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” seem to be going out of their way to avoid talking about Nymphia Wind’s success, apparently afraid of being caught up in the escalating tensions across the Taiwan Strait. “Drag Race” fan accounts on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo said they would minimize discussions about Nymphia to “protect their nascent drag scene.”

I can understand wanting to protect China's drag scene, but I genuinely do not think LGBTQIA+ equality in Taiwan can be divorced from China's aggression. China insists that Taiwan is Chinese, but this is one way in which China and Taiwan culturally are very, very different. There are many others. 

Perhaps this is an unfair assertion. It's not like queerness is unheard of in China, even historically. It's impossible to know with much certainty what most Chinese citizens think about LGBTQIA+ issues, because it's impossible to conduct such polls in totalitarian systems which oppress those communities from the top down. I would surmise that if you did ask, most Chinese would express some form of disapproval, but it's also unfair to ignore the state's active and intentional quashing of discussion of the issue. It's like that ridiculous poll finding 95% approval ratings for the CCP -- as though it were even possible to conduct such a poll and get a valid result in China! 

In other words, we won't know whether Chinese society might evolve to be tolerant of, or even embrace, LGBTQIA+ communities until the government is no longer a dictatorial nightmare. If China ever democratizes, then we'll see. 

But for now, though? The CCP is trying very hard to control the Chinese cultural narrative -- to be the sole arbiters of what is and is not "Chinese culture". At this moment, that does not include anything that Nymphia Wind represents. 

Taking it even further, those who want to force Chinese identity on Taiwan -- cultural or otherwise -- similarly do not have room in their tiny, sad worldviews for people like Nymphia Wind. Could you imagine CCP bootlicker Ma Ying-jeou congratulating her the way President Tsai did, were he still president? I can't. People like him, including everyone who shakes their cane and yells at clouds insisting that Taiwan is Chinese, ancient Chinese culture, 5,000 years, etc. etc. whatever shut up, simply do not understand Taiwan.

No matter what people like Ma and Xi shriek about Taiwan and China sharing a culture, they fundamentally misunderstand what culture is. Either they think it's just blood and DNA (it isn't), or that every nation or culture requires an associated ethnicity (they don't), or they point to fairly superficial manifestations of culture like architecture or holidays or even language. 

Culture is so much more than that: it's the means by which a group of people understand the world. Metaphorically speaking, it's a lens. And not just the outside world: culture is the lens through which you see your own community's touchstones, including architecture, holidays and language. It's what those things mean to you. It's how you relate to others, and how you treat others. In this case, it's how your country generally sees and treats its LGBTQIA+ community. In this, China and Taiwan are simply not the same. 

It's not like LGBTQIA+ acceptance is incompatible with various Asian cultures. Thailand is inching closer to being the second Asian country to recognize marriage equality. We may see it within the year. Singapore, which pretends it's a full democracy but, well, isn't, has finally been making moves in the right direction. Even Japan is figuring this out, with most Japanese supporting marriage equality. There are already openly-operating activist networks there. With luck, we'll see it happen there within the next decade. With a lot of luck, in the next five years. A girl can hope, anyway. 

In Taiwan, the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage no matter how much WaPo wants to demote it to an island, it's not necessarily just the young anymore: 

While Nymphia Wind is a role model for younger queens, she’s trying to reach a wider — and older — audience in Taiwan.

She hosted a groundbreaking drag show at a Taoist temple in Taipei in October, unfurling a giant rainbow flag from a pagoda-like stage as young and old celebrated a queen who, as she put it, had “descended from heaven to bless the queer mortals.”

“Old people are my target audience. I just feel like they could have a bit more fun, you know?” she said in an interview after the temple performance.

Such an evolution is clearly possible in China, it's just not likely as long as the country is ruled by brutal, reactionary genocidaires who want to control not only their own country's cultural narrative, but also Taiwan's. 

Remember that famous line from Princess Leia? The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers. The more the CCP insists on defining Chinese culture and then demanding that Taiwan follow along, the more Taiwanese will continue to live fearlessly.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Teacups vs. Plate Tectonics

All of us two weeks ago, on the Buluowan Suspension Bridge, which probably no longer exists

Like just about everyone in Taiwan last week, my Wednesday morning started with a massive shake-up. I sat on the couch drinking my morning coffee with a hefty dollop of doomscrolling and thinking about an upcoming workday which, at 7:57am, was about one minute away from not being a workday at all. 

When the alert hit my phone, my half-caffeinated brain took about two seconds to register that it was not only telling me in English to a coming quake and the need to take cover, but also in Mandarin that it was "significant", with "strong" shaking. I don't know how common it is for alerts to state so clearly the expectation of a major seismic event, but it did give me about three seconds to dive under my dining table and hold on. 

I don't have a particularly interesting story to tell: in fact, the most notable thing about my big earthquake experience is how little I was affected. My clients asked to postpone that day as we were all pretty stunned, and a few cracks appeared in my walls. That's about it. I continued with my plans to go camping the next day, after the organizers of the group confirmed the safety of the site and the tricky road to get there.

Even my teacups survived, and they were adhered to their curio shelf with nothing more than tiny globs of Blue-Tack. This was a particular surprise: one of my thoughts as I crouched under that table afraid for my life had been oh man, those teacups are goners!

Not everyone was so lucky; though no one I know was injured, many others were, and for the rest of the day I watched pictures of my friends' trashed apartments roll across my feed.

And yet, I spent the rest of the day -- now suddenly free to let my mind wander -- in low-grade freakout mode. 

Of course I was worried for Hualien, but this went beyond concern for the welfare of a nearby city. It was something personal; it came from the core. 

These teacups survived the 2024 earthquake

While I crouched under the dining table, my husband (wisely) stayed right where he was in bed, seeing as the frame is too low for either of us to fit underneath it. It was indeed scary to be in two different rooms, able to communicate but not see or help one another. Both of our cats bolted to their favorite inaccessible hiding places; in a truly life-threatening emergency, I would not have been able to grab them. 

Was this the source of my slow-rolling panic attack? Was I spooked that I'd be separated from my core family in Taiwan if the roof literally or figuratively caved in?

That surely played a part, but my gut knew that wasn't the whole of it. 

In Taipei the quake felt like it could have been a real emergency, but in the end it wasn't one. Countless articles have already been written on the surprising resilience of Taiwan, when other countries hit by seismic disasters of similar magnitudes have been devastated. Turkey comes to mind: the Antakya earthquake killed many more. (This strikes a nerve with me as my ancestry weaves through Antakya. I'd been hoping to return).

Or perhaps it's not so surprising: Taiwan also impressed the world with its COVID response, and has built a successful, developed nation despite the world's lack of recognition and the unceasing threat from China.

A death toll that stands at 13 -- though I think it's likely to go up in coming days -- is indeed impressive: like Taiwan's COVID response, it shows that when the country goes through a humanitarian disaster, whether the 1999 earthquake or 2003 SARS epidemic, it learns from it and does better next time. 

Knowing this doesn't seem to have improved my mental state, however.

Perhaps my inability to calm down and face the day stemmed from a trip we'd taken two weeks previously. We took visiting family on a 環島, or 'round the island' journey by train and car -- starting in Hualien. 14 days before the earthquake, almost to the hour, we were in Taroko National Park, navigating the cliff overhangs on the Shakadang Trail. You know, the one where some hikers were killed. We walked on the suspension bridge that appears to no longer exist. We drove over the bit of Suhua Highway that collapsed. Our driver for the day dropped us off at Dongdaemun Night Market to kill time between our day at Taroko Gorge and our dinner reservations; she waited for us across the street from the Uranus Building

Was it that? Having been in the exact location of all of these calamities so recently that I hadn't even shared pictures with my in-laws yet? Realizing that I saw Taroko Gorge just two weeks prior to its indefinite closure?

That certainly had something to do with it. It is unnerving to look at a bit of landslid trail or collapsed infrastructure and realize you were just there. But no, that was an insufficient explanation and deep down, I knew it. After all, those who were actually there when the quake happened either didn't survive, or had it immeasurably worse.

Unable to comprehend my own reaction, I sat on my couch, drank tea and stared at my teacups. Almost all of them were Taiwan-made, either by local artisans or a Taiwanese company. Two have a floral pattern commonly associated with Hakka culture (although I'm not sure how accurate the connection is). A few are Japanese and one came from an import store in New York. They're all very delicate, but they've survived up there for longer than anyone could reasonably expect them to. Any number of earthquakes should have brought them crashing to the floor by now. 

I stared at them and dreamed up an alternative reality, or a possible future, where I sit on that same couch drinking that same kind of tea, hearing an alert pop up on my phone as air raid sirens start a horrifying crescendo. I conjured fictitious (for now) Chinese missiles landing nearby. They create more cracks in my walls. My husband is somewhere else; I can't reach him. The cats flee to their secret spots. The cement crumbles, the furniture shakes, and the first teacup is forced free from the sticky tack holding it in place. Then another, and another. 

In this other world, they all eventually tumble and shatter. There is nothing I can do about it. 

It's not quite the same as an earthquake. The missiles are man-made; they're not the result of a natural process. They're not entirely random, and they're not inevitable. Tectonic plates move because that's just what they do. For them to behave differently, Earth would have to be a fundamentally different planet. These missiles I imagined were decided by someone. Earth didn't decide to kill 13 people this past week; it moved because it moves, and 13 people died. But missiles don't just fall on a city; someone fires them. A leader orders them. They are part of a chain of events in which some people choose to kill others.

And yet it is sort of the same as an earthquake, too. In Taiwan, a Chinese attack, like an earthquake, is an ever-present danger. There is little I will be able to do if it happens except dive under my table and hang on. If my husband isn't with me there will be no way to change that.

There's also nothing I can do to stop it from happening in the first place. Sure, someone decides to make bombs fall, but in that moment, what will matter to my life is that, like the earth shaking, bombs are falling.

There's not much Taiwan can do about it either. Diplomacy doesn't work when the other side doesn't keep promises and won't even come to the table unless their counterpart renounces their sovereignty, as China is insisting Taiwan do. Dialogue doesn't work when China isn't interested in hearing Taiwan's utter lack of interest in unification. Assurances don't work when the only assurance China wants -- that unification is possible -- isn't one that Taiwan can sincerely or reasonably offer. 

China will attack Taiwan when it thinks it can win, and no amount of playing nice will change their calculus. Only making the odds of winning less favorable will stop it, and there's only so much Taiwan can do in that regard. 

Like an earthquake, you can prepare, and analyze, and improve the nation's resiliency. A Chinese invasion is not inevitable simply because China could choose not to invade, but sitting here in Taipei, does it matter? It doesn't feel like Taiwan can truly stop China, just as it can't stop an earthquake. If China is determined to start a war because Taiwan can't give it the only thing it wants, there isn't much Taiwan can do to avert it. As with earthquakes, it can only make itself and its public institutions much harder to topple. 

I didn't do anything wrong on Wednesday morning: I dropped, covered and held on when it seemed like it really mattered. Sure, I repeatedly shouted "fucksnacks!" through the whole thing, but that's an understandable reaction. When the shaking stopped, I forced myself to get up, check on my husband, locate my cats' hiding places, survey the apartment to make sure there was no obvious major damage, and start messaging people that we were okay. 

The fear and anxiety didn't subside, though, and I wasn't particularly proud of the fact that all I really wanted was to cower under that table for awhile longer. I didn't want to get up, dust off, check for damage and start communications; I wanted to curl up and hide. That desire amplified the anxiety. Then I started to feel anxious specifically about the anxiety, which made the original anxiety worse. That deterioration led to more anxiety, which accelerated the spiral, and so on.

That's really what drove it: I experienced an almost-emergency over which I had no control. This was as close a taste as I'm likely to get of what it would feel like if China attacked Taiwan without warning. And I did everything right, but I still had a panic attack, and then I had a panic attack about my initial panic attack.

My insistence that I'm going to stay and fight suddenly felt like a hollow gasconade. That I did everything right didn't feel like proof that I have steel nerves, because it was necessary to force myself to accomplish any of it. What if I'm a liability rather than a help because I can't get it together?

That helplessness is utterly terrifying, and it does not matter whether it's a severe earthquake in progress or bombs from some brutal genocidal regime that might kill you.

Like most people who live in Taiwan, I'm always aware of the threats faced by the country I call home. I don't usually let them get to me; a life lived in fear is not really a life. At some point you have to get up, dust off, and go to work. Pay your bills, see your friends, do your chores, do your job, drink your drinks, cook your food, take your trips, read your books, call your parents, feed your cats. 

The Commentariat sometimes fires up this weird narrative that Taiwanese people don't care enough about the threat from China, that they're complacent or ignorant, and thus unprepared. While Taiwan could probably be spending more time and effort on this, the notion that its citizens are blissfully unaware of the looming threat isn't just nonsense, it's a funhouse-mirror distortion of reality. 

People living in Taiwan are aware of the threat pretty much all the time, as they are for earthquakes. But it's not healthy to live in a constant state of heightened anxiety -- that leads to real mental health problems, and I would know. It's also not possible to maintain, and not helpful. 

Living with it for just a day affected my mental state all weekend. Imagine living it every day in a war zone. Some people are living it now, and someone, somewhere, has lived it every single day any one of us has been alive.

Now imagine that, but you're not even in a war zone. You're at the supermarket, or in a cubicle, or in class, hyper aware at all moments that your big bully neighbor could start raining death on everything you love. 

It's no way to live. 

Nobody expects people in an earthquake zone to live in constant fear; they know it pickles the brain. Yet they express surprise that Taiwanese people don't do so as a response to the threat from China. Why?

Taiwan has survived for longer than many thought it would, showing the world the benefits of learning from mistakes and having a plan, as well as taking practical steps so that when disaster strikes and the plan must be executed, it actually works -- Democratic norms, public institutions and civil society must all be robust and well-maintained. Budgets approved, regulations promulgated and double-checked.

These norms and institutions so often seem like abstractions, and the realpolitik crowd would like you to believe they are fragile, easily broken, no real defense against the inevitability of a subjugationist strongman. Yet at least in Taiwan, they appear to be both fragile and surprisingly resilient, at the same time. Teacups can survive an earthquake, if they're well-anchored. Porcelain can stand up to plate tectonics, and win.

I don't know if it's enough, but I suppose it has to be -- for everyone living here including myself.