Saturday, August 30, 2008

Old dilemmas

After a couple of years with teenagers, I've discovered the difference between raising teenagers and raising children. As parents, when you raise children, you are always congratulating one another:
"Look honey, he can ride a bike!"
"Great work darling! I'm so proud of him"

"Darling! She's writing her ABCs already!"
"Wonderful! I know you put a lot of effort into teaching her that!"

"Did you see her beautiful drawing of a dinosaur?"
"Our daughter is soooo talented!"

But when you raise teenagers, you're always consoling one another:

"But he only eats meat and starches."
"It's ok. At least he's not bulimic."

"She made up her hair so she looks just like Avril Lavigne!"
"It could be worse, dear. It could be Britney Spears."

"He spends all his time on the computer making Lego videos!"
"Well, at least he isn't looking at Japanese bukkake porn."

However, reaching the age where we are taking care of teenagers means we are also reaching the age where we are racking our brains over what to do about our parents....

My wife's parents are salt-of-the-earth Taiwanese of their generation. My father in law was educated in electrical engineering under the Japanese and served in the Imperial Japanese Army. He then spent many years working for China Shipbuilding. Both are from old established families in Lukang. And both face dilemmas common to old people in Taiwan.

Like many Taiwanese their age, they were ripped off in the numerous Ponzi and pyramid schemes that proliferated in Taiwan during the bubble era of the late 1980s. In their case it was a 'friend' who ripped off their life savings for investment in the famous H scam (I'm not naming it publicly), served a brief prison sentence, and is now enjoying my in-laws' hard-earned cash. They used to go stand in front of his house periodically for years afterwards, silently begging him to return the cash...

...the H officials -- it was an established company -- recently met with the victims. They are unable to compensate them, but they did offer them spaces in the linguta, repositories where the ashes of the dead are kept (columbaria, I think they are called).

Immediately the scammers moved in. After all, the list of H victims is basically a list of people with proven ability to be scammed. For just NT$50K, they promised that they would sell the linguta spaces. My father in law immediately went for it, and another $50K vanished from his accounts. Finally my wife intervened and told him she would sell them on the internet. And sure enough, if you get on Yahoo and search for linguta spaces, you'll find the children of these victims selling the spaces so that 'their parents will have the peace of providing for their children' when they die. For the elderly burned in this and numerous other scams, the humiliation is double: not merely being victimized, but leaving nothing to the next generation as they are supposed to.

My in-laws also face another problem that many Taipei residents of their generation face: the pointlessness of a home sale. The luxury property they bought in Yungho the 1970s is now an aging, crappy, cramped house on a very expensive plot of land two minutes walk from the Dingxi metro stop. They could, in today's depressed markets, probably get $3.5-$3.8 million for the place. But because the land is so valuable, land taxes will eat over $2 million (land taxes are fixed by bureaucratic diktat in Taiwan). Hence there is no financial incentive for them to sell, since what they get after taxes would only support them for a couple of years. That is one reason why, in the heart of so many Taiwan cities, on valuable and useful urban land, sit row after row of ugly, downtrodden two and three story homes, unrenewed and unrebuilt.

Fortunately, a local development company has offered to purchase the property in a very common arrangement: they swap the house for a new flat in the apartment building that will be built on the spot. During the construction period, the company will pay for an apartment in the area for my in-laws. It's a sweet deal that benefits everyone, within the framework of a system rigged to favor developers and the construction industry.

Not all the elderly are so lucky, and so many of them face dilemmas like those of my in-laws.


Anonymous said...

I just woke up and saw you trying to compare raising teenagers with raising CHICKENS.

Well, I was wrong. But comparing teenagers with chickens would be interesting too.

Anonymous said...

Your inlaws must have a small plot of land. The usual deal is a developer will give an entire building or buildings to the landower as compensation for the land (of course, there must be a few buildings in the development). Many poor farmers became rich overnight under such an arrangement. My old landlord in Mucha was an old illiterate poor farmer until a developer bought his papaya patch and built two residential towers and gave him one of them. Now he owns a big ass Mercedes but he still walks around barefoot.

Your inlaws are getting no better than what Taiwan military families got in the 1980s, and they didn't even own the land. Back then, most Taiwan military officers in Taipei lived in "military villages." When Taipei RE got too expensive to house military families, the govt sold the land for high rise development but the developers were required to give apartments in the new high rises to the officers who lived in the villages. That was a pretty good deal since the "villages" were owned by the Taiwan govt but the new apartments became property of the officers themsleves.

In terms of getting scammed, I honestly do not know anyone in Taiwan over the age of 40 who has not been scammed. It's just a part of Taiwanese culture.