Twofish's Blog

August 1, 2006

Learning to fly

Filed under: china, personal, quantitative finance, taiwan, wikipedia — twofish @ 11:24 pm

One of the interesting experiences is watching a baby learn to walk. They start out with extremely jerky uncoordinated movements, but over time the movements become more and more coordinated, and eventually they reach a point where everything becomes smooth and graceful.

I’m learning to fly right now….

More accurately, I’m learning all of the little random pieces of knowledge that go with air travel. Like how to pack so that you move through the security checkpoint quickly, or the fact that you should remember not to park your car in the close-in parking. (OUCH!!!!)  There are literally hundreds of little things, that make travel less frustrating (like carry two pieces of government ID in case one goes missing, how to say “to go” in Mandarin so that you can order something in Flushing, and the weird and bizarre customs involved with
parking a car in Manhattan), that people pick up unconsciously.

It’s very stressful right now, just like I’m sure it is messy for a baby learning to walk. It’s not just learning about air travel, every skill (like how to be an engineer, how to develop software, how to barbeque, how to trade bonds, how to fix an engine, how to drive in Boston) has this mess of implicit knowledge that practioners pick up over time.

There is a reason why I’m learning to fly right now….

After the Taiwan legislation election of 2005 and the county elections of 2006, and Chen Shui-Bian’s recent meltdown, I have become convinced that “hard independence” won’t ever win in Taiwan and cause a crisis
that will trigger another family-splitting war. Sure, pan-Green will regroup, and even if pan-Blue wins in 2008, in a decade, we’ll all be talking about how corrupt and arrogant pan-Blue has become and the
pendulum will change, and pan-Green will have their moment in power again.

But I’m hoping that the situation has changed so that the nature of Taiwan politics has changed so that whatever happens it will be a compromise that I find “merely annoying” rather than something that I find hugely painful or which triggers a war. There have been a set of quiet understandings that have been negotiated between Beijing, Taipei, and Washington over the last two years, and it is reasonable to hope that the understandings are strong enough so that they will provide some stability for another two or three decades.

I was thinking about this in fall of 2004, when I was laid off, and looking for work in NYC. At the time, pan-Green was talking about gaining control of the legislature, having a constitutional referendum, and then who knows what would have happened afterward. I was thinking about what I’d do if the missiles did start falling, and I imagined myself in a trading floor in midtown Manhattan, looking at the television screen and seeing pictures of Taipei that look like the ones in Beirut, and just keeping myself busy as hell on a bond trading floor so that I wouldn’t have to think about what was going on.

The nice thing about the United States is that it is sometime of a lifeboat where you can at least try to escape for the turmoil in the rest of the world. The fact is that there was good chance that I’d have to find myself permanently in the cocoon, trying to get away as far as possible from the war.

If the war had broken out then one of the thoughts that I would be trying hard not to think of whether it was a good idea to have married my wife, who is from Taiwan, because it would have meant that I married to a war rather than marrying someone who would have gotten me away from the war and deeper into the cocoon.

But things, thankfully, didn’t work out that way, and with Chen Shui-Bian having self-destructed, and “hard independence” in shambles, I’m now more comfortable at putting my soul and energy into Taiwan.  My kids are coming back from Taiwan with a whole bunch of tapes so that they can learn practice their Taiwanese in the United States.

(I should point out that this is the reason I’ve stayed out of the China flame wars, recently. Fate seems for now to have given me whatI wanted, and those flame wars don’t matter any more in the grand
scheme of things.)

So I’m learning the intracies of airline travel, so that I can leave the cocoon, and learn how to fly….


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