Monthly Archives: June 2015

Echoes of the Military State

On my way to work today, I walked past Heping High School. There was a school assembly. The students sat in the field in the middle of the track, in the sun. (It is 34 deg C now, and no doubt hotter in the sun.) A man made a speech through a megaphone. There were some teachers standing on the periphery, and a man in a blue security guard’s uniform walking among the rows of sitting students.

Maybe there was no auditorium for the students to gather in. Maybe the officer was concerned as to whether the students would suffer heatstroke.

To me, though, it looked as if the students were being indoctrinated and presented for military inspection. When I described the scene to a coworker of mine, he said the officer was likely a Xiaojing – a school guard – essentially a member of the army posted to the school.

It was not long ago that Taiwan was a police state. It was a publicly discussed a few years ago, as to whether to do away with the Xiaojing system, but it since passed out of discussion, with no change in the status quo.

Kreativverlust der Identität

Ich lese noch einmal wieder die Jason Bourne Spionageromane, von Robert Ludlum, in denen ein Mann sein Gedächtnis verloren hat, der trotzdem hat alle die Geschicklichkeite eines Geheimagents. Ein zentrales Thema ist die Natur seiner Identität. Es gibt eine Identität als Attentäter, die er geschaffen hat, und auch als Geheimagent, die er war, der Schöpfer der Identität des Attentäters. Die zwei Identitäten entstehen sich allmälich, während er seine Vergangenheit untersucht, und überleben versucht, angesichts derer die ihn tod wollen. Bei der Amnesia und seelische Belastung gibt es kaum eine Linie zwischen den ursprünglichen und erstellten Egos. Um zu überleben, mußte er die Identität, die er geschaffen hatte, übernehmen, und sonst noch neue Rolle spielen.

Ich weiß schon daß es Bereiche gibt, in deren ich kämpfe, weil meine Gewohnheiten und Reaktionen sind im Gegensatz zu der Kultur der Taiwan. Diese Bereiche umfassen Strategien, die ich in meinem vorherigen Leben in Japan und den Vereinigten Staaten gerlernt habe. Viele Strategien laufen aber nicht hier. In Taiwan unterscheiden sich die Arbeitsweise. Zum Beispiel denkt man nicht besser, weniger, sicherer, klassischer, sondern billiger, mehr, schneller, neuer. Was früher für mich um etwas zu erreichen genug war, ist hier nicht mehr genug. Was früher jedoch notwendig war, ist hier nicht mehr notwendig. Hier zählt man Aufmerksamkeit auf andere Dinge. Ich muß nicht nur einfach eine neue Arbeitsweise lernen, sondern eine ganz neue Reihe von emotionalen Reaktionen verinnerlichen, neue Instinkte entwickeln. Ich muß eine neue Indentität übernehmen.

Deshalb habe ich wohl von unterbewußte Wissen vorige Woche die Bourne Spionageromane wieder aufgenommen. Beim Kreativverlust und Lernen wird die Linie zwischen dem Selbst und dem erstellten Ego verwischen, sogar verschwinden. Es wird eine Zeit kommen, wenn der Selbst ist weg, aber der neue
Ego noch nicht klar. Darauf habe ich angst. Darüber hat Jason Bourne auch abgemüht.

Ich muß ein Chamäleon sein: er wird alles und ist immer noch selbst.


我有個朋友, 有一次他跟我講他小時候去他奶奶家裡玩, 有鄰居會大常來, 明明已經來了太久該走也不會走. 他奶奶會說一句台語, 我已經記得不清楚了, 翻成國語好像是「磅稱少了一兩」比喻他們鄰居的頭腦還差點什麼的, 不玩整.

我聽到這個覺得很可愛, 同時覺得很可惜. 台語特有的比喻和世界觀, 台語保留著的上古漢語的發音, 將和台語一起消失. 我這個外國人的台語以經講得比台北的很多年輕人好了.

通過國語教育得到的很多, 但這不是沒有代價的.

Hearing the Music

Once, I was dancing salsa with someone who suddenly stopped mid-song.

“Are you dancing with the rock-step on one or on two?”
“On one, generally, but I’m not too concerned about it.”
We danced for a little more, and then she stopped again, and said “One.”

Generally, I dance with the rock-step on one because that’s where the clave falls, and not stepping there feels odd. However, certain moves or certain songs or phrases have a strong syncopation, making stepping on two feel more natural. On-one and on-two are merely teaching constructs that don’t exist in real life. In real life, you follow the music and do what feels natural. The pedagogical construct is not the reality.

One of my friends introduced me to a Kizomba teacher whom I have fallen in love with (as a student) and unprompted from me she mentioned this very aspect of some schools – that some schools teach people to count in their heads, thinking about the form, but not really hearing the music.

One reason I love Aikido is that the objective reality of right or wrong can be imposed on someone when they are resisting flow. When they are not hearing the music, so to speak. Once at Honbu Dojo I was feeling contrary, and kept resisting my partner’s technique.
“You’re resisting.” he laughed.
“Do you want me not to resist?” I asked.
“No, it’s okay. It’ll just be more painful for you! Hahaha!”
What followed was one of the most satisfying practices I have ever had. His technique was either so clean that resistance was futile, or so adaptable that he utilized my resistance.

In Aikido people of all levels can practice together because we practice forms, but yet we can also achieve flow and response, much like dance.

Another time, I went to a new dojo and practiced with another black belt. The technique was nikyo from two-handed grab. My entry was imperfect, and left my partner an opening. My partner resisted, and although I could muscle through, I decided not to. Then, my partner made a smug “hah!” sound. If she had been a white belt, I would have left it at that.

But she was a black belt.

I reversed the force that I had been applying to do the nikyo lock, blended into the direction of her resistance, executing a kotaegaeshi throw. This happened in an instant. No sooner had she laughed than she was falling, and no sooner had she made a face of terror mid-fall that and she was on her back looking up. Her face turned from terror, to confusion, to anger.

We went again. I was still trying to see just how little force I can use. Because my entry was still imperfect, she was again able to resist the nikyo. I blended into kotegaeshi again, but she anticipated this. I reverted back into a nikyo lock and pinned her to the ground. All of this without force, but with speed. Faster, in fact, because I was using her own resistance.

We went again. Same nikyo, to kotegaeshi, to nikyo as before, only this time she expected the return to nikyo, and resisted. I blended with her force again and transitioned to kokyunage. Again, she was on her back.

We stood and faced each other again. She blinked in rapid succession. Her eyes are wild, looking at the ground, at my left shoulder, my right shoulder, at the ground, my hands. I took a step back and sat seiza to wait for her to calm down.

It’s not that I don’t like advice. It’s that I hate nitpicking about forms. Nitpicking that stops action and flow. The pedagogical construct is not the reality.

Once I took Japanese in college, and skipped two semesters after studying intensely over spring break. My Japanese teacher told me I should be more humble and that I was still making mistakes. She advised against skipping two semesters. I decided to skip anyway, then skipped another four semesters when I got back to school after half a year of study in Japan, then got a sales job in Japan. My range of expression and mobility would have been severely constrained if I had preoccupied with grammar mistakes.

What matters is whether you’re stepping or dancing.






After Kizomba class, the dance teacher and I did some sparring. She knows some Taekwondo and I know some Aikido. After exchanging some moves, she did a forward kick with her right leg, which I avoided while at the same time entering to her right side. As I did this I caught her right leg from the underneath, and placed my left arm on her waist to immobilize her. This placed me in a position to transition to a variety of throws, but of course I didn’t really want to throw her.

She then placed her arms around my shoulders and lifted her left leg on top of her right leg, turned her head, and smiled at the teachers and students who were looking at us.

I was very impressed, but managed a “how nice!” How creative and smart of my friend to have taken advantage of the moment, turning the sparring into a partners-in-fun smiling at an audience situation.

I later reflected that the other amazing thing was Aikido itself. (Warning: long martial arts tangent.) Instead of blocking the kick (as one might do with a karate gedan-uke), I stepped to avoid it and entered as in an aikido iriminage, and I did this without thinking. When this happened, our positions changed from facing-off to standing close together with me facing her cheek. Psychologically, this is not a fighting position. What’s more, I had ended the movement with perfect balance and posture, such that I hardly noticed when she let me support her full weight. (Quando lo spippolo è saltato in braccio!)

People have asked me how Aikido is different from other martial arts. The reply I have often given is that with dedicated training, it is possible to become proficient in any martial art.

But, I’m discovering that what makes aikido different is that it trains entering to a position beside or behind our partner: a position of non-opposition. In fact, there is a non-aggressive quality to all of the techniques.

Once, I was training at a Korinkai Sunnyvale, and the teacher said to me that what I was doing was effective, but it wasn’t the best because it was done in such a way that I was exciting my partner’s “will to fight.” At that time, I was doing iriminage with a bit of muscling, and may have even been including an upward chin strike as part of the kuzushi (balance-breaking). He demonstrated a kuzushi without a strike, and indeed without any sense that I was being pushed. His point was that physically effective technique will accomplish a throw or pin, but psychologically effective technique will do this without exciting the will to fight.

This video is a good example of aikido principles in application:

The defender did a clean sumi-otoshi, surprising his aggressor without the psychological escalation that might have resulted from a strike or push.

The Third Arrow

The Japanese government messed up. Low interest rates and high currency were not a problem. Low interest rates are a consequence of high competition for capital. After all the low-hanging fruit has been picked, what’s left is the opportunities that offer lower rates of return. Low rates are a natural occurrence in a developed market. Even negative rates are not that unusual – the Swiss just issued their first negative-rate government bond. The Euro is so volatile that people are willing to pay the Swiss to keep their money safe. The same status had formerly been accorded to the yen as a reserve currency. Higher inflation rates in Asian economies lead people and governments to be willing to pay in the form of negative interest rates to have their money safe.

Reducing the value of the yen by 50% puts money on the balance sheets of exporters and big companies that already have high overseas sales, but hinders companies from making overseas investments. The economy previously grew through exporting, and the Japanese government is trying to promote growth by promoting exports. This is an inefficient way of promoting export, at that, since all production inputs that must be imported end up costing more. Yet, by simply doing nothing, the high yen would have encouraged foreign investment, as foreign assets looked cheap and banks and companies sought a higher rate of return.

Companies in Japan were dependent on domestic consumption, failed to generate enough demand for products overseas, and failed to invest in production capacity overseas. Companies like HGST, Sony, or Toyota that invested in overseas sales and production capacity continued to do well through the period of high yen and low interest rates. Companies like NTT, dependent on a declining domestic market, have not done well. The effect of inflating the currency has been to benefit those companies who were already doing well, while at the same time to discourage foreign investment by making foreign assets more expensive.

Politically, as China is expanding its soft power with its launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Japan is decreasing its ability to lend or invest abroad by devaluing its currency.

With domestic consumption saturated, no amount of domestic investment will create a larger rate of return. Japan has an excess of capital. It is squandering it by devaluing the currency. Stop. The government should not be concerned with trying to grow the domestic economy, which is already saturated. People already throw away expensive items like large screen TVs in order to make room for new ones. How many more TVs can they use? Instead of playing with numbers and destroying capital with QE, the government should be concerned with enabling the profitable employment of capital.

MNCs get higher return on capital by outsourcing production in developing economies and investing in production capacity there. Think Intel, Apple, Toyota. Allowing the yen to remain high would continue to encourage companies to invest overseas.

Domestically, the government could improve the way capital is employed.

  1. It should be made easier to fire people (companies are ever-hesitant to hire people because it’s hard to get rid of them).
  2. Bankruptcy law should be reformed so that entrepreneurs have true limited-liability. Wide experimentation necessarily leads to a few successes and many failures, as Silicon Valley can attest to.
  3. Retirement age should be raised in order to relieve strain on the pension system. It is currently 60.
  4. Labor practices should be reformed so that it is easier to be a parent, including making it easier to take paternity leave and making it easier for women to rejoin the work-force if they take time off to raise children.
  5. There is a shortage of daycare centers. Access to daycare should be improved by allowing the easier conversion of defunct elementary schools to publicly-subsidized daycare centers.
  6. The cost of raising a child should be reduced by making high-school free. Why spend billions in QE when the same billions can be spent to improve education?

It’s time to learn new tricks. What got Japan here was domestic consumption and domestic investment. Forget about the numbers. What’s important is to keep things interesting for young people. Otherwise, who’s going to have children? I met a college graduate recently who decided to take a job as a hotel concierge. That’s what it’s come to. The system is so locked, there is so little opportunity for experimentation and growth, there are so few positions in society open for people who are coming of age, that college graduates are deciding to take jobs as hotel concierges. The government must make structural reforms to remove obstacles toward the natural redeployment of capital, instead of caffeinating the economy to continue to run in the way of the past.

As for young people with a college education, I would say: leave and get experience elsewhere. A concierge job is fine, if it’s what you want to do, but it was definitely not what the guy I met was hoping for. Why fight in a little world with other college-educated people for a little job that is entirely confined to Shinjuku, doesn’t require a college education, and doesn’t teach you to be anything else? Leave. Is it better to be a concierge in Japan business development manager overseas? You get to choose: comfort or experience? Directly apply to the overseas branch and get some experience at a job that you actually want to do. There are so few people doing this sort of thing that you will actually face no competition.

And after you have gotten foreign language and cultural experience, the long-term demographic trend in Japan will still not have changed. The domestic market will still be shrinking. The excess of Japanese capital will still be looking for higher returns. Companies will be looking for linguistically and culturally competent people to be their face to the outside. You will have new ideas and ways of thinking that you would not have learned if you had stayed behind. It will be hard, but you will have a greater appreciation for what is good and bad about Japan after spending some time on the outside. You will be ready. There will be no competition.