China · Taiwan

Bleak outlook for the generation of 20- and 30-somethings

Vice has this crazy read about the current generation of British 20- and 3o-somethings, who just don’t and can’t stop partying and living like teenagers. Basically, for many of these people, life has gotten comfortable enough to the extent that people don’t have any meaningful purpose due to a lack of significant responsibilities like marriage, parenting and owning a home that our parents went through at the same age. As a result, a lot of people spent a lot of time partying and getting drunk and wasted, in other words, living like they did as teenagers and university students.

But it’s not all their fault because decent jobs are scarce while home prices have risen so much that most working- and middle-class young folks find it hard to buy their own home. I’m not British, and neither does my life resemble the worst parts of the article, but I can feel some sympathy. The problem is especially bad in London where a lot of “endies” – employed with no disposable income or savings – struggle to save money, especially to buy a home. Though one could wonder why young people in other parts of the Western world like the US, Canada or say, Western Europe aren’t engaging in the same kind of drunken antics frequently as well, despite facing similar problems of skyrocketing home prices, comfortable lives, and delayed marriages and birth rates.

The problems, socially though not behaviorally, exist in East Asia too, specifically Hong Kong and Taiwan with regards to the low levels of marriage (which includes myself as I’m single), births, and home ownership due to skyrocketing home prices. Japan also has this problem, and back in 2012, I came upon an FT article that described this problem with young people’s lack of ambition and chances.
In HK, the problem is especially acute because home prices are among the, if not the highest in the world and many of these homes are so tiny (and these aren’t even cheap). Affordable and public housing is sparse and a significant number of new developments are luxury apartments. A lot of young people are living with their parents, even young married couples working decent jobs like the couple mentioned in this article, incidentally about HKers escaping rising home prices by immigrating to Taiwan.

Yet home prices in Taiwan are not cheap for young Taiwanese either. The problem is especially serious in Taipei where rising home prices mean many young, middle-class people can’t afford homes and have been forced to rent or move out to surrounding areas. The recent local election saw the ruling KMT lose municipalities across Taiwan including Taipei due to problems like inequality and out-of-reach home prices (and what many perceive as a focus on boosting China economic ties that only benefit local tycoons while unable to benefit most people).
Incidentally I missed this news way back in August, but it’s an interesting development that mainlanders have been buying homes and property in Taiwan since 2002, mainly through Taiwanese middlemen or shell corporations set up in other places like Hong Kong. Hell, there’s even an apartment project in Tamsui that was built by a mainland developer (through its Singapore associate company). Allowing more mainland buyers in Taiwan to buy homes would also push prices up, or rather push developers to build more luxury apartments like Hong Kong, since these mainland buyers are mostly wealthy.

In Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, things are tough too when it comes to buying apartments (condominiums). So tough that for many 30-something couples, the main way they’re able to afford homes is the “Bank of Mom and Dad” – money from parents.
Frankly, this could be applied to Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. While I’ve yet to see articles that explicitly state this, I know from talking to people and family that many parents in East Asia pay for their children’s homes or at least pay off the deposit.

At the same time, it’s not as if young people can be spared all blame. There are other factors too such as that with the development of technology and materialism, there are so much more things to spend money on such as vacations, electronic devices and services. And as such, it’s harder to save up money and most young people don’t develop this habit.
In some countries like the US, this is exacerbated by a situation where things like say, health care and tuition are getting higher while clothes and electronic devices like TVs and computers are getting cheaper.
The problem is less so in East Asia, especially in Taiwan where health insurance is nationwide and extremely affordable.

This trend of home prices rising way beyond the reach of young, educated workers seems to be prevalent across the world, from the UK to Canada to East Asia to even China. And while it hardly gets mentioned, I’m certain housing markets and economies face a looming crisis down the road as societies age, birthrates drop, and 20- and 30-somethings are unable to continue buying homes at the same rate as their parents and grandparents.

Hopefully the future will not be as bleak for current 20- and 30-somethings in Asia like how the Vice article suggests it is in the UK.

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India’s second carrier and Toronto’s mayoral ‘show’

China might have one major aircraft carrier, but India now has two, though one is over 50 years old. However, India is building a new one which will come into service in 2017. India is clearly building up its navy which is shaping up to have blue-water (ocean) capabilities, and which in the past lagged behind its army and air force. India isn’t the only Asian nation that is making waves (pardon the pun) recently with its navy. Just a few months ago in August, Japan unveiled a massive destroyer which has a large flat deck that allows it to carry helicopters – a so-called helicopter destroyer or rather helicopter carrier/mini-carrier in disguise.

In something that seems more like a bad comedy movie than reality, Canada’s largest city Toronto has moved into the international spotlight as it remains locked in a tense state of affairs with its ranting, raving, cracksmoking, football-coaching mayor Rob Ford. So much so, the Toronto Star has a complete section “devoted” to him. All the hilarity and smirking aside, it’s unfortunate that this has happened to Toronto, which is a very fine city, and that Rob Ford has turned into this. He was a city councilor when I was in university, and he had a reputation for being outspoken and frugal, especially in hardly using up his office budget which every councilor gets, presumably because he thought it was extravagant and unnecessary. It’s good to be a straightalker when it comes to talking about policies and helping the city, but another to be going on about beating up people, smoking illegal drugs, or even oral sex (not exaggerating).

In sad news, the World’s Biggest Bookstore will close next February. This giant bookstore, which fully occupies a 3-story, former theater in Toronto’s downtown near the landmark Eaton Center, was a favorite place of mine to go to whenever I went downtown. The store was chockfull of novels, nonfiction, comics, magazines and it was a good place to browse and read in. Its great location is precisely what will see it close down since the building is being sold off to a property developer, no doubt to be converted into something much more meaningful such as a 5-star hotel, restaurants or office building.

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A little Toronto reading

Came across this blog post on Toronto FC that gives an interesting take of the city and its decline and rise. It’s too bad that Toronto FC’s onfield “achievements” have been in complete contrast to its rabid fan support, one of the league’s best. It’s kind of like the Maple Leafs, the NHL’s most famous franchise but which has endured 5 or 6 straight non-playoff seasons, which is sad. I’m hoping next MLS season, Toronto FC will get better.

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The tough streets of …

When I studied in Toronto, I volunteered with a homeless youth outreach team for a couple of years and several summers. What Light Patrol does is go out onto the streets and expressways of the city weekday nights in a giant red mobile home (they also have a small camper van) and visit homeless and poor people, letting them come onboard and serving them food, hot drinks as well as clothes and minor medical and cosmetic supplies. It was a really eye-opening and humbling experience, seeing the destitution and bleakness involving young people in one of Canada’s and the world’s most prosperous cities. It was also a rewarding experience, not trying to be vain or anything, in serving with the staff and other volunteers to interact with those people and help them in various ways. This is a fine piece about Light Patrol, showing how it came about and describing what it does.

I know I said young people above, but our street friends as we referred to them, were actually a mix of ages, backgrounds and circumstances, though the majority were usually less than 25. There were teenagers, 20 and 30-somethings, seniors and people aged in between. You had youngsters who had run away from home or had been on the streets for less than a year, the odd number of older teens or 20-somethings who were just drifting around the country for the summer playing at being homeless, the street vets, from 20-something to 50-something, some of whom had spent decades homeless or living in shelters, and then there were those who lived in cheap subsidised housing and were jobless and struggling to pay for food and other necessities (needless to say many of them had  addictions to alcohol or drugs or the like). The thing about Light Patrol is that in “prowling” the streets and expressways and parks at night, the type of people they helped weren’t mostly the kinds of people who lived in shelters. Whether young or middle-aged or even old (living on the streets really ages you so people look and have health similar to those much older than they really are), many folks simply hated being confined inside a building, not to mention harboring a strong dislike and suspicion towards authority and rules and regulations. Not exactly a practical attitude to life, I know, but it’s a little more understandable if you knew the circumstances and experiences of some of these guys.

The reasons for these people being on the streets aren’t really surprising. There was a small minority of people who were on the streets due to a kind of recklessness and daredevil attitude, but for the vast majority, there was a lot of horror stories and tragedies involved. Whether it was being abused or neglected by alcoholic step-parents or growing up bouncing around from foster home to foster home or being sexually harassed by a parent or growing up on reservations surrounded by alcoholism, suicides and physical abuse, our street friends certainly had some terrible circumstances that they wanted to escape from.

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During my time in Toronto, one of the most infuriating things to deal with was the TTC, the city’s public transit service. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s quite inefficient, antiquated and miles behind Taipei’s or Hong Kong’s public transit services. But what was really bad was the attitude of quite a number of drivers, who thought it was cool to squeeze passengers into already-full buses, drive off quickly from stops while ignoring onrushing passengers and behave surly. Apparently even this pales in comparison to what many TTC passengers have faced, as this Star article reports. Granted, the majority of TTC staff and drivers probably do a good job and are decent employees, but the number of ignorant and callous employees is not insignificant.

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What a shocker in Toronto. I went onto the Toronto Star’s site and instantly saw the top story was that a top mayoral candidate was ending his campaign due to a sex scandal. Following in the wake of high-profile politicians like John Edwards, Elliot Spitzer, and Mark Sanford being felled by controversies involving mistresses and hookers, Adam Giambrone, a Toronto city councillor and the head of the city’s public transit, the TTC, admitted to having sexual relations with several women “throughout most of last year” on Tuesday, including a university student. Giambrone, 32, is the youngest city councilor and has already served for over 6 years. He has been the head of the city transit body since Dec. 2006. Whilst he has faced criticism over the TTC, he has an impressive political record and can be considered a rising star. This scandal will obviously have a big effect on this.

I had the privilege of conducting a brief interview with him for a transit story for Excal, York’s campus paper, a few years back and I came away with the impression that he was a really decent and intelligent guy. One of my colleagues was even ready to swoon over him knowing that I was set to interview to him over the phone.

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The Toronto Star is a great newspaper and up until recently its website was also just as great. With its new revamp, not anymore. Apparently in an attempt to modernize the site, they’ve added some new features and changed up the design significantly. Maybe some people like it a lot but the page looks so boring, complicated and the great length of the page, from top to bottom, really makes it inconvenient to go to much of the content. It’s still in the beta stage so hopefully the final version will be much better.

Here’s an article that raises compelling issues and facts on Toronto. It was obvious over the years that there were some things that could be improved – youth crime, the TTC-  but  I didn’t know things were really so dire  that only 29 percent of neighborhoods were considered middle-income.

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Toronto-Tamil protests, reactions revealing

Tamil protesters in Toronto recently converged onto the Gardiner Expressway, an elevated highway along the Toronto shore, closing it down for several hours and engaging in a standoff with police. They did this in a desperate way to bring attention to the war in Sri Lanka, and hopefully though not promisingly, cause the Canadian government to intervene in some way to end it. As most know, the Sri Lankan government military has been steadily advancing and defeating the Tamil Tigers, eroding their territory to the point where they now hold a tiny piece of land near the coast. Heavy civilian casualties have been allegedly caused by government  army bombardment and this is what is driving many Tamils to despair. Not only in Toronto, but also in London and other cities worldwide, the Tamil diaspora has marched and held rallies in public places. In Toronto, the Tamils have been causing a lot of aggravation and anger among many other Torontonians for their public shows of protests and the Gardiner highway protest, which is a crazy act that I’ve never seen before done by any other group in any country, may have been over the line for many Toronto natives. A few columnists have been sympathetic including the Toronto Star’s Joe Fiorito and Royson James, but the bulk of the comments left on these articles show that sentiments felt by many are the opposite.

Whether one believes in the Tamil’s right to protest or the righteousness of their cause, OR the feeling held by many Torontonians that the Toronto Tamils should not overstep the boundaries and laws of their new home, this is a striking example of the clash between mindsets and perspectives of the developing world and the developed world. The latter one is  a prosperous, safe, stable and attractive world, for the most part, such as Canada, Australia, Western Europe etc. The other is one that while in some parts rising, and rising fast I should say, a good part of it is driven by desperation, conflict, chaos and dare I say it, poverty. The Tamil protesters in Toronto, while they have embraced the laws and customs of their new home society, have not forgotten their original homeland which has been undergoing a civil war for almost two decades, and the suffering and deaths  of their families, relatives and friends in this past year has driven them to basically stretch the limits of Toronto’s laws in their desperation to get something done.

While I’m not too supportive at the extent of their protests nor their struggle, I do feel for many of them who’ve lost relatives, friends, and more, especially the idea of an actual homeland. The audacity and desperation of their Toronto protests may not have been conventional or considerate to others, but the situation of their people was not conventional at all compared to mostof their fellow Torontonians.