Saturday night, after we were done putting together Sunday’s edition of the Times, those of us who were up for it grabbed a cab and headed for a bar. The main reason why we went was to wish good luck to a copy editor who was leaving the Times after two years there so that he could concentrate full-time on learning Mandarin.
After we found a place where we could sit and hear each other talk (the first bar was packed for “South Africa Day,” an occasion that even the South African among us couldn't figure out the reason for), we ordered our drinks and inevitably launched into rather opinionated conversations. Much of the humor touched on two subjects: Taiwanese politics, and the Commonwealth, of which, with a few exceptions, we were all representatives (there were two Australians, one New Zealander, one South African, two Brits, one Canadian, two Americans and a Taiwanese). I soon discovered that in certain ways, New Zealand is to Canada what Australia is to the United States, in that the latter appropriates for itself much of what is, in reality, the smaller state’s. One could say as much about trade, culture, diplomacy, security and everything else.
Ultimately, though, what I retained from the hours we spent chatting was the sense of anger that most of us have towards our home governments. The great majority of us are very much opposed to what is going on back home, mostly in terms of antiterrorism and how that quixotic adventure is defacing the democracies we call home. The greatest anger seemed to be expressed by the Brits and the Americans. The latter, one of whom was in the US military for a while and spent some time in Japan, reserved the most scathing of language for their president and could only shake their heads with dejection at what their country is doing in the name of security (the bill granting the CIA interrogation powers that undermine the Geneva Conventions had just been passed). We all seemed to agree that the NATO mission in Afghanistan was slowly but inexorably turning into a fiasco and that our soldiers who were dying there had not originally signed up for a war against the Taliban — a war that has now spread to the entire country — but rather peace building and reconstruction.
Many learned expatriates I have met in Taiwan share this sense that home, right now, is not the place to be. For many, politics are the principal reason. In a way, this is a forced exile, a need to breathe new, cleaner air. I came out of the bar having realized that one cannot fully understand his country without having stepped outside of it for a while. I had heard that before, and it is true. Never had I spent so much time thinking about what Canada is and what it means to the world than I do now, thousands of kilometers away. Even as I try — one of my main objectives for moving here — to demystify the complex security situation in East Asia, I cannot but also look over my shoulder, across the ocean, and wonder what’s going on back home. Sadly, what I see worries me. And that is something else that I saw in the eyes of most people at table that night: worry.