11 | Angelica Oung, Taiwan and Taipology

My guest today is Angelica Oung (@AngelicaOung). Angelica is the author of Taipology, a substack based on Taiwan and is also a business reporter at Taipei Times.

In this conversation, we cover China’s relationship with Taiwan, Taiwanese Identity, and just Taiwan in general.

Show Notes:

[00:00:32] – [First question] – Background and Angelica’s history with Taiwan
[00:02:20] – What changed since Angelica left and came back
[00:04:39] – How does Taiwan build their brand?
[00:05:50] – How might this all play out?
[00:07:14] – Some insight into Xi
[00:08:23] – Taiwan’s relationship with China
[00:10:56] – How should Taiwan improve their odds of a good outcome?
[00:13:16] – Is the Taiwanese government underreacting or overreacting?
[00:15:59] – Is there CCP threat fatigue in Taiwan?
[00:17:47] – What do people get wrong about the cross-straits relationship
[00:22:04] – Hong Kong and how it affects Taiwan
[00:24:20] – Taiwan’s age demographics and what it means going forward
[00:27:35] – Any blowback to Angelica’s work?
[00:30:00] – Misconceptions or misunderstandings about Taiwan?
[00:32:39] – Reasons for Taiwan’s greater equality
[00:35:55] – Taiwan and Japan
[00:38:34] – Undervalued life skill or experience?
[00:41:01] – Plans and vision for the future

Connect with Angelica:

Mentioned Content:

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Kalani Scarrott (00:32): My guest today is Angelica Oung. Angelica is the author of Taipology, a Substack based on Taiwan and is also a business reporter at Taipei Times. In this conversation, we cover China’s relationship with Taiwan, Taiwanese identity and just Taiwan in general, basically. So I love this conversation and I hope you do too. So please enjoy my conversation with Angelica Oung.

Angelica, thank you so much for being here today. I think for me, a great place to start would be with your relationship with Taiwan. I’d just love to hear maybe why you left Taiwan for the US in 2010 and why you returned last year if I’ve got all my dates correct.

Angelica Oung (01:11): Yeah. Just about. I left Taiwan. I was a reporter at the time, actually working for a interesting outfit called Next Media Animation. We did all those wacky animated Taiwanese news, and I was writing those. It was the most fun job in my life. But then in the end I decided that Taiwan felt small for me.

At that time, in my life, I felt like I needed to do more, see more and I went back to the US and in the fullness of time, I actually went into food. So before the start of the COVID pandemic, I was actually the pastry chef at Michelin-rated Hinoki and the Bird in LA. So my life was completely different.

I had moved on from journalism. I was baking 40 chocolate pies for Valentine’s Day. We seated 325 covers and then boom, COVID. I came back to Taiwan and everything changed. I had a back injury, that meant I couldn’t go back into the kitchen. And so I went back to journalism and realized that actually Taiwan has really had a glow up while I was gone.

Kalani Scarrott (02:20): What have been the biggest things you’ve noticed that’s changed from leaving and coming back?

Angelica Oung (02:24): I think relevance. I think Taiwan has become a much more relevant place news-wise, much greater visibility, and also a renewed sense of itself, its pride. And I think that also our place in the supply chain is becoming re-evaluated. When I left, there was a sense that everything was moving to China, that’s the way it’s going to be.

And now there’s a sense that, no, Taiwan occupies a unique place in the world’s supply chain. And even when there was this US trade war, I remember. This was last year, there was some talk of Taiwan becoming less relevant or suffering because of the US-China trade war, but in fact, no. We’ve become more important if anything, because it turned out neither side of the supply chain, neither the US nor the Chinese side can do without the Taiwanese OEMs.

Kalani Scarrott (03:32): Yeah. I think it’s an anecdote for me. When I first went to Taiwan in 2015, I think a lot of people joked, they thought it was Thailand at first. You know what I mean? There wasn’t that relevance.

Angelica Oung (03:42): Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.

Kalani Scarrott (03:44): But now everyone knows Taiwan and everyone knows what’s going on with semiconductors. It’s totally different.

Angelica Oung (03:49): Taiwan, so hot right now. I’m kidding. But really actually the amount of interest and curiosity and not just economically and not just geopolitically. I felt like Taiwan as a brand has really come up in the world. And I think a lot of it has to do with how well we’ve done during the COVID pandemic, for sure.

But also I think our leadership has done a lot right in terms of presenting ourselves in contrast with China’s Wolf Warrior diplomacy. We’re the cat warriors and we’re cute and we’re plucky and we try to help out as much as we can. Okay. That might not be true for cats actually, but analogies only get you so far in life.

Kalani Scarrott (04:39): No, I love the pictures. To get the ball rolling, how does Taiwan keep building on their brand? How do maybe they get more countries on their side or build more soft power? How do you think it goes from here?

Angelica Oung (04:49): I think it’s so tremendously important to do that. And this is heightened awareness within the government that this is not the ’90s anymore. We can’t just say, “Okay, US is going to protect us and that’s… And we’re good.” And they did that. We had the Taiwan Straits Crisis, Bill Clinton send out the aircraft carriers and the Chinese were beaten back.

And that was a ’90s solution to a ’90s problem. But now the Chinese Marines are, in terms of sheer number of vessels, on track to become the largest in the world. And the RAND Corporation in the US actually are doing more of these war games where even when the US go full out, team US Taiwan doesn’t win every time. So a multilateral approach is essential for Taiwan’s continued safety and prosperity in the world.

Kalani Scarrott (05:50): Yeah. I know you obviously can’t really predict sometimes, but you can prepare. But maybe if we’re thinking probabilistically, what do you think are the different ways that this China-Taiwan tension plays out, do you think? How do you see it long term? Or maybe just some of the ways, maybe just talk me through it.

Angelica Oung (06:06): That’s a very, very tricky question because a lot of it depends on what’s going on in one man’s brain. And Xi Jinping wields so much power in China right now. It’s unprecedented. Before, I felt like, even when we talk about China there were some checks and balances and there’s always somebody to go, “Hang on a minute. Is this really a good idea for China?”

And therefore we can get inside of China’s head as a rational actor, but we’ve gotten to this place where so much power has concentrated in Xi’s hands, that the real fear for me is a mad man surrounded by yes men kind of scenario, where the generals that are getting the promotions are the one that’s telling him he can get Taiwan done in two weeks and it’s going to be barely an inconvenience. And he’s going to make a terrible miscalculation for China, but Taiwan will get hurt worse.

Kalani Scarrott (07:14): Do you think there’s any way we can maybe have an insight into Xi’s head? I know you’ve mentioned in a previous podcast about his experience during the Cultural Revolution, and I think maybe how it affects that. Could you just maybe expand on that if you remember?

Angelica Oung (07:25): Yeah. Well he was a victim of the Cultural Revolution and still was actually a whole generation of Chinese leaders. They were victims and it all shaped them in different ways. And in the case of Wen Jiabao, for instance, he was actually determined that Mao’s style dictatorship never come to China again. And he actually declared on his first day of office that, “This is when I’m going to step down.” He wanted that orderly transition.

I think Xi took a different lesson. His family suffered horribly in the Cultural Revolution. I think the lesson he took is nobody’s safe unless you are the top dog. And I think he intends to remain the top dog for as long as it can and he will do whatever it takes.

Kalani Scarrott (08:23): Pretty worrying. But do you think the relationship between Taiwan and China can it ever be amicable? Or is it too far gone, maybe? Or what would have to change for it to be amicable? What do you think about that?

Angelica Oung (08:32): It’s very, very difficult to see us turning back the clock because the internal politics of both Taiwan and China have changed so much. I mean the thing that’s worrying is that probably the average Chinese is all for getting Taiwan done ASAP. They have gotten to the place where they’ve really stoked the nationalistic pride because more than any threat from without.

I think the Chinese leadership fears instability from within. So that’s what explains a lot of what it is that they do. I don’t think they’re dummies. I don’t think they don’t know how they come across when they’re saying those insulting things on the international diplomatic stage. They’re doing it for domestic audience to project this China-is-strong image. And that is making things like war more worryingly popular among the people. And that is something I really worry about.

Meanwhile, when you turn to Taiwan, I think there’s a very, very disturbing trend away from evaluating geopolitics with a realist lens and towards this embrace of Taiwanese identity and… In a way it’s beautiful, of course. People are looking at the past and wanting to seek justice from…

Remember, Taiwan was under martial law until 1987. So they have legitimate grievances and there’s also distrust for the military because that’s apparatus that’s we inherited from the past dictatorship, but unfortunately no amount of truth and… I’m just going to say we don’t have time to work through all this and truth and reconciliation and Taiwanese identity building and all that is beautiful, but the wolf is literally at the door and we’re not doing the things we need to protect ourselves.

Kalani Scarrott (10:56): So how would you think Taiwan goes about then improving their odds or maximizing their chances of good outcome? Is that through building that soft power again and getting other countries on their side or maybe more self reliance?

Angelica Oung (11:06): I think it’s not an either/or. I think it has to be a both/and. The soft power building we’ve been A++ on, and we need to keep doing that, doing a great job of that. Our relationship with Japan is very staunch and I think the soft power really works well when it also align with realist incentives, right?

So our soft power friendship with Japan works really well because Japan also have… It has basically its asses on the line. If Taiwan gets taken, what I like to say is Japan will not be able to take a fart without Beijing’s permission. So you need that alignment. Just soft power, I don’t think it gets you that far because all you’ll get is thoughts and prayers when something bad happens to you, okay?

And we all know how thoughts and prayers are doing for the people of Afghanistan. It doesn’t work like that. We need to actually take that soft power friendship. And then I think of it as a chain, right? That soft power is a first strand that allows you to hook a rope, that allows you to pull a chain that will eventually be unbreakable.

And the web is soft power, the rope is economic connection and the chain will finally be concrete military alliance. So I see Taiwan as doing great on the soft power part and actually for several countries forming up surprisingly on the economic part. And now it’s a matter of keep doing that while trying to do more conversion of that, the rope of economic connection into the chain of military connection.

Kalani Scarrott (13:16): Yeah. I love that picture you painted. You posted on your Substack about Taiwan Straits Game theory. And you said, “Human beings have a very hard time dealing with low likelihood events with very high consequences. We either let it drive us bonkers and overreact a la 9/11, or we dismiss it out of hand, like the folks who insisted well into 2020, that COVID 19 is just like the flu.” Do you think the Taiwanese government and the people are overreacting or underreacting, do you think overall, in general, at the moment?

Angelica Oung (13:42): I think the problem is… Well, I also wrote another Substack article called The Green/Blue Line, which explains that there are two main political parties in Taiwan. The KMT, which is more China-aligned and the DPP, which is more pro-Taiwanese independence. Right now, the DPP is ascendant, and so the Taiwanese independence consciousness is ascendant.

And the problem is, I think it has gotten that idea into this head, that by beating KMT into the ground, you are defeating the CPP. You’re not. You’re not. You cannot destroy the China threat by destroying the KMT, although I think there is some valid fears that the KMT has been infiltrated at a certain level by the CCP.

There’s a former chairpersons of the KMT who has gone to China and basically kissed Xi’s ring. They’re basically auditioning to be Carrie Lam of Taiwan. So obviously that gets people very alarmed. I don’t blame them for it, but politically destroying the KMT will not help the China threat in any way.

And meanwhile I think the Taiwanese independence identity, while I personally would love it, and I would love it in my lifetime, if Taiwan can rejoin the United nations, be a part of the legitimate world as we so richly deserve. Unfortunately, the world is not about who deserves what. The world is about, what’s possible? What are the best outcomes we can achieve with our resources and given our position? And right now our position militarily is not excellent.

Kalani Scarrott (15:59): Overall, in Taiwan, is there a bit of CCP fatigue, I guess? Are Taiwanese maybe becoming a bit apathetic or are they just trying to live their life? What’s life like there towards that threat, I guess?

Angelica Oung (16:10): Well, I think a lot of people just forgot about the China threat, or you can only live under the sword of Damocles for so long before… A lot of people just say, “I can’t deal with it anymore. This is how I’ve grown up under the fear of missiles coming from China anytime and I don’t want to live like that anymore. I want to live with dignity. I want to live with my head held up high in the air.”

And so it’s difficult to say to them, “No, you can’t have that.” I feel bad when I say that. It’s like saying to somebody, “You deserve it, but you cannot have it,” and it pains my own heart. I want to be a proud Taiwanese. I want to stand up. I don’t… I want our Olympians not to go under the bullshit title of Chinese Taipei. Apologies if you have to beep that. I don’t know.

Kalani Scarrott (17:09): No, no, no. Keep going.

Angelica Oung (17:12): I hate all that kabuki dance, but at the same time, I think we are in more danger than ever. And I don’t think people quite internalized that. And I don’t want Taiwan to lose its real freedom because we’re too idealistic to let go of the dream of an independent Taiwan diplomatically, internationally recognized, which I don’t think is in the envelope of possibilities right now.

Kalani Scarrott (17:47): Yeah. Wow. I love that answer. Maybe, more generally as well, is there anything that you think people, especially outsiders, get wrong about the cross-strait relationship? Looking in, do you think there’s any fundamental misconception that people pick up?

Angelica Oung (18:02): Well, I’ll put it this way because I have an American side and a Taiwanese side. I think the Taiwanese feel very aggrieved about outsiders coming in and not really identifying with the amount of strain that we’re under. And I think it could be very easy even for myself to slip into that track, right? Because I’m also American.

So when you talk about things in a real politic way and you talk about, well, I would just say facts about the relative power of each player, it can come across as very hurtful and it can come across as very insensitive, cruel. Those are all things that I’ve been accused of being, and it’s hard. It’s hard because I can understand that feeling.

I think outsiders too often forget about Taiwanese feelings in this equation. It’s easy to divorce yourself from that, but when you live here, it’s not. And it is important because Taiwanese feelings will drive Taiwanese behavior and Taiwanese behavior will have consequences on how this game unfolds.

Kalani Scarrott (19:28): Yeah. Totally agree. And something I think about a lot, because people always talk about Taiwan and war games or whatever, but there’s a very real human element to all this that there’s human lives behind those. But people seem to maybe treat Taiwan as a pawn, maybe, I guess, do you feel like that?

Angelica Oung (19:42): Yes. People definitely do that. And I would say it’s almost like we’re a pawn. That is a role actually we should embrace because if you play chess, you know that your pawn moves are tremendously important and a well-positioned pawn can be very valuable. So we have to recognize our place in the world, which is a pawn that is placed on a very, very key part of the chess board.

So rather than the analogy of the pawn being dismissive, I would say Taiwan should embrace it. We are that pawn that is in that critical square of the Asian-Pacific. We’re basically holding down the first dial in chain. If we go, basically we’re blowing out all of Asia in terms of being a sphere of influence for China.

And I don’t think America can or should allow that. But again it’s like a Mexican standoff, right? There are so many different threads connecting China and Taiwan trade-wise, economy-wise and also China and the rest of the world. This is where the soft power comes in.

If everybody knows about Taiwan, if everybody relies on Taiwanese products, if people have Taiwanese customers, how are they going to take it when Taiwan is invaded, right? And how are they going to… I don’t know how far lower it can go, but what is the popularity of China going to be? Right? That’s one aspect.

But the other aspect is it’s not rational. The desire for China, the irredentist claim for China over Taiwan goes beyond what Taiwan can bring to China geopolitically or economically. It’s not for TSMC, It’s not for anything, but it’s in their national vision of who they are.

Kalani Scarrott (22:04): Has the recent events in Hong Kong been a bit of a wake up call, do you think? Or maybe a premonition for things to come? How have you seen the events in Hong Kong play out? How does that affect you in Taiwan, do you think?

Angelica Oung (22:15): I think it flabbergasted everybody that things went south that fast that far, and that completely. It definitely changed the fate of the Taiwanese election to my understanding. So our current president, Tsai Ing-wen, won in a landslide in the early 2020 elections. But to my understanding, actually her opponent of the KMT was building up quite a head of steam and he could have been a contender had it not been for the Hong Kong…

So really, Tsai Ing-wen has to thank to Xi Jinping for her presidency right now. Because Han was telling a completely different story about Taiwan. One that has very little currency right now, but it’s a vision of Taiwan where we can be prosperous by getting rich with China.

And the idea is Taiwanese identity is inbred, but if we do more business with China, as China gets rich, we will get rich with them. And at some point, some point in the future, this is the unspoken part. And I’m speaking the unspoken part out loud.

I’m not saying I want this to happen, but this was a theory that sometime in the future, China will be so wealthy, so prosperous that Taiwan would want to join the motherland just out of pecuniary considerations. I think after Hong Kong, that dream was completely shattered. That vision became not operable because even the most materialistically-minded person don’t want that degree of unfreedom foisted upon them. The dream of one country, two system has been destroyed, or maybe it’s better to say it’s been exposed as a lie.

Kalani Scarrott (24:20): Do you think the feelings differ between age demographics in Taiwan? Maybe younger Taiwanese more identify as Taiwanese, whereas older maybe have a softer relationship with China, do you think, maybe? How does that…

Angelica Oung (24:33): Oh, the demographics is definitely quite a key element. I would say I don’t know. I hardly know anybody under the age of 45 who supports the KMT, but our elders are very spry and elderly people everywhere they turn up much more at the ballot box. I would say the young people have much more of a Taiwanese consciousness and they tend to…

It doesn’t matter whether their ancestors came to Taiwan 300 years ago, or after the Second World War. This is the land they’ve ever known. This is the only land they’ve ever known, and they feel Taiwanese. And here’s a tricky predicament that the KMT is in. It knows that it is a party without a future, unless it can make itself a Taiwanese party, but its most diehard supporters are the ones who still dream of greater China.

They’re the ones that came over with the dictator Chiang Kai-shek and they’re the ones that were taught, “In a war, we’re going to retake China,” which of course was not a thing.

Kalani Scarrott (25:55): Yeah. You answered a little bit of my next question there, but the longer this plays out, assuming nothing happens, what happens to the KMT? Do they try and pivot or how do you think they go about it maybe?

Angelica Oung (26:04): Well, I think there’s actually a lot of hidden support for the KMT right now. It’s going to come out in the next local elections. They’re going to win a lot on the local level because even if somebody’s not particularly pro-KMT, since there’s only two parties, when they feel dissatisfied with the leading party, the governing party, they would take it out by voting for the other party.

And in Taiwan you get this funny phenomenon where this big silent middle, they don’t say anything. Right now, if you’re pro-KMT, apart from a few online safe spaces, you are shouted down, you’re basically really, truly, truly just attacked terribly. I’m not even KMT, I get attacked. I’ve been attacked as pro-KMT. I’ve been attacked as a CCP plant. It’s just ridiculous.

it’s actually truly, truly insane. So you have the silent majority who don’t want to pop their head up in public discourse, but their votes are changeable. And so never count out the KMT. Never count out the KMT in Taiwanese politics. They always seem like they’re going the way of the dodo and then they stage a combat.

Kalani Scarrott (27:35): You touched on a little bit of the abuse, I guess, you get. I was going to ask as well with your writing, do you copy it maybe from CCP, like the wumao, like 50 Cent Army as well? I’m just wondering curiously.

Angelica Oung (27:46): It’s just… There’s nothing I hate more than being accused of being pro-CCP or wumao, because then the wumaos who follow me on Twitter are like, “They’re munching popcorn.” One, because we’ve got one, a Taiwanese circular firing squad forming before their eyes and they just love it. So I really hate it when that happens. And I think there’s fault on both sides.

I think there should be much, much, much more tolerance for different points of view in Taiwanese online spaces. Right now, it’s not just a Taiwan problem. We know, of course, in the US you get all those online social media bubbles that form, and they just reinforce each other, they’re echo chambers and there can be no real growth in discourse that way.

But it’s bad in Taiwan. And it’s bad. It’s like being a centrist, being a realist. It’s like wandering around no man’s land. Everybody else is so entrenched in their positions. And both in the green and the blue spaces. The blue spaces are even more deranged, if anything, because they’re smaller and they’re more downtrodden and so their conspiracy gets even crazier.

I mean, there’s some talk of, “The government’s forcing the Medigen vaccine on us,” literally. They might use blow darts. So cover your arms, cover your necks. I wish I were joking, but the level of conspiracy theory and Tsai Ing-wen derangement is truly a sight to behold.

Kalani Scarrott (29:40): Yeah. Yeah. I don’t even know how to answer that. It’s just, yeah. Insane.

Angelica Oung (29:48): Yeah. I mean, that’s coming from an American. We’ve got our own wackos, right? So when I say that in Taiwan, the political polarization is worse than in the United States, you know it’s bad.

Kalani Scarrott (30:00): Yeah. So maybe that plays well into my next question. Do you think there’s any common misconceptions about Taiwan or Taiwanese people or maybe misunderstandings, like you mentioned with the political standings, I guess, but anything else?

Angelica Oung (30:10): I think people don’t even know enough Taiwan to have proper misunderstandings. They’re just so confused and we’re still in the place where there’s just so little awareness and what little awareness there is, I want to foster. You have to know we exist before you can even misunderstand us and I don’t think the world even know… We’re just like TSMC, gay marriage, happy little democratic island and-

Kalani Scarrott (30:43): Bubble tea.

Angelica Oung (30:45): … bubble tea, and well, that’s good. I think that’s good for now. I would love for the world to know Taiwan more. I think if there’s anything, instead of talking about misconceptions, let’s talk about positive conception of who we are. We are tremendously resilient, tremendously entrepreneurial with somewhat of a conservative bent when it comes to things like the economy.

We’re very export-oriented economy. And we really try to get to that next stage where we’re a knowledge economy and I think we’re on our way there and we have our geopolitical challenges. I think we’re on our way there too. So hopefully the world should support Taiwan, not just because we are friendly, even though we are, but because we’re a bullwork of freedom in this worldwide slide towards authoritarianism.

You notice in different places just within Asia, if you look at Hong Kong, you look at Myanmar, even places like, I hate to say it, Thailand and Singapore, the slide is away from democracy and into authoritarianism and Taiwan is a living example that it doesn’t have to be that way. And it’s also a living stopper towards a further tide of authoritarianism from sweeping the region and then perhaps the world.

Kalani Scarrott (32:30): Yeah. There’s so much to learn from Taiwan and I highly encourage anyone to do plenty more research on it because there’s just so much you can take away.

Angelica Oung (32:37): More than bubble tea.

Kalani Scarrott (32:39): Exactly. 100%. You write in your Substack that 40% of managerial positions in the country are held by women, 42% of legislators are women and of course President Tsai Ing-wen is a woman. Is there any particular reason do you think? And what could other countries learn from this do you reckon maybe?

Angelica Oung (32:57): Well, there’s lots of different theories out there, but for me, probably the most likely one is because we’re so entrepreneurial and we are entrepreneurial in a different way than very entrepreneurial in this small tight knit family way. And so it becomes very common, for instance, for the dad to be the boss of the family company, for the mom to keep the books.

And let’s say when the dad is out there with his sample in a suitcase, mom is manning the store, right? So women in power became very accepted. Maybe you don’t have a son, you passed your family business to your daughter. And that kind of culture, that family business is very different from…

Let’s do a contrast with Japan, right? At a certain age, you’re on the pink-collar track. You’re expected to be married off to one of your colleagues. Or at a certain age, you’re just expected to disappear and have kids. That never happened in Taiwan because we needed our women. We needed our women because the way our corporate structure works.

So when it comes down to it, I would say working women’s rights in Taiwan isn’t more enlightened. We just needed the labor force. It’s economics. And I think the best proof of that is within the family unit, the woman is still very, very put upon.

So if you’re a working woman, you can be kicking ass at the office, you can be making an equal wage to your husband, and you’re still expected to come back and do the bulk of the childcare and the emotional labor and even the care of the in-laws. And that has contributed to many women saying, “No, no, no, I don’t want any of that.” And that has led Taiwan to have the rock bottom, lowest birth rate in the world.

I just wrote an article about this for 2000, the latest figures we have available. It’s gone down to one child per woman on average. Replacement is 2.1 children. We’re at one. So that is just impossible to balance, right? On the one hand, you have this workplace where you can shine as a woman, you’re given the opportunity, you’re given authority.

I’m not saying there’s no discrimination, but Taiwanese lady bosses kick ass, but at home you’re still treated like a servant. And when you have that choice, how many people are going to sign up for the latter?

Kalani Scarrott (35:55): Yeah. And that’s totally a fair call. And it’s interesting you brought up that comparison with Japan as well, because obviously Japan and Taiwan have a bit of history, I guess, you could call it. But it’s so strange how things have played out. And it’s very much polar opposites now.

Angelica Oung (36:06): I wouldn’t say polar opposites. I would say that the Japanese left a legacy on Taiwan, but Taiwan is very different. We basically… Even though most of us are Hong-Chinese ancestry in some way, we are the product of wave after wave of immigration. And we’ve had to live with people who are different, have different ways, speak different dialects, and of course we have the aborigine.

We were colonized by so many people. So we’ve become a people that might be invisible from the outside, but we are a society of immigrants. And it’s caused us to be more adaptable, scrappy, and tolerant. And another way we can see that is Taiwan is the first country in the region to legalize gay marriage.

And again, you get this viewed like a tolerance in the public sphere versus still a lot of pressure within the private sphere, right? I still have friends who have real problems coming out to their families, but at least society-wise, there’s more tolerance.

Kalani Scarrott (37:30): Okay. So maybe legally things have been more tolerant, but culturally it’s still catching up?

Angelica Oung (37:30): I think it’s the difference between minding that what’s going on within your family versus minding what your neighbor is doing, right? Because in America you have people who feel so strongly that they won’t bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, right? That would never happen. Please give us the money, we’ll bake your cake, right?

Literal intolerance in that outward directed I want society to be a certain way and that doesn’t exist. But what does exist and is very powerful and can be very, very suffocating is within your family, the expectations within your family is tremendously strong. It’s almost hard to explain.

And that contradiction, that freedom outside of the family, and then pressure from within the family, it drives a lot of people bonkers, and I hope that that’s something that Taiwan can slowly normalize over the next generations.

Kalani Scarrott (38:34): Yeah. I think that’s a great answer. And if I could move into my closing questions, what do you think is the most undervalued life experience that university-aged students don’t give weight to? What’s an underrated skill or experience do you think they should have, or what’s something you wish you had when you were younger, I guess?

Angelica Oung (38:50): Oh, wow. I did university so wrong that it’s hard to… Let me put this question in a different form. I wish that Taiwan would move its military service to, first of all, expand it back to one year, second of all, expand it to both genders, and then third make it before university.

I think that a meaningful stint in the military, being asked to have discipline, being inculcated with values about sacrifice and bravery and all those things will give people the maturity to take college as the gift it actually is. Whereas college, I would say… Well, I went to college in the US, I can’t speak to the Taiwanese experience, which is dysfunctional in its own way.

But in the US, I went to a liberal arts college and I was like, “Well, let me do a little bit of this. Let me do a little bit of that. Let me find myself.” You don’t find yourself if you haven’t done anything yet. And I think that is actually a problem with college in general.

Kalani Scarrott (40:13): Just curious, what was the current military rules? Is it four months just for men only?

Angelica Oung (40:17): Yes. Four month men only and it’s pretty useless from what I’ve heard. Basically you might get to work with live ammunition once in that time and that’s really not very good, is it? The rest of the time you’re doing yard work. Sometimes they happen to just move stuff from one building to another, and then back again.

Kalani Scarrott (40:38): For the sake of it.

Angelica Oung (40:41): And that’s really not helpful in terms of… You don’t even get the mindset adjustment that we’re under threat.

Kalani Scarrott (40:50): Yeah. Because how much can you get done in four months? Yeah.

Angelica Oung (40:53): How much can you get done in four months of… And it’s like, how much can you get in four months of weed whacking. I’m sorry. That’s all it is.

Kalani Scarrott (41:01): Love it. Final question. What plans or visions do you have for the next five to 10 years, do you think? Or what areas are you most curious about going forward? Is it focus on your writing?

Angelica Oung (41:10): I am focused on energy. I think whether it’s energy in Taiwan or worldwide, we are heading straight into a wall of incongruity. Okay. Maybe a small wall at 2030 and a huge one at 2050, because there’s all these things that we say we’re going to do. We want to electrify everything. We’re all going to drive EVs. Steelmaking is going to go to green steel with no coking coal.

Now, where is this energy going to come from? People don’t have a clue because 2050 is just far away enough for politicians to think to themselves, “Well, that’ll be somebody else’s problem by then.” Within Taiwan, I think it’s tremendously interesting to see what we’re going to come up against, because President Tsai, who I admire in so many ways, really screwed the pooch on energy policy.

We are going to 50% natural gas, 30% steel coal, and then 20% renewable energy, which I don’t know we’re going to get to 20%. But if we do, it’s already going to be a problem because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

Meanwhile, natural gas is getting super expensive all over the world because we all want it as a bridge fuel and it’s also super infrastructure-dependent and we don’t have enough infrastructure to receive the natural gas, even if we’re willing to pay through the nose for it.

Kalani Scarrott (42:48): Yeah. Well, Angelica, I’ve absolutely loved today. I might have to get you on again to do all this energy talk because yeah, it’s so great.

Angelica Oung (42:55): Energy talk, anytime. I just want to tell you I’m pro-nuclear all the way and I think that we are… if I can end on just one note, if America, nay, if the west is serious about competing as a civilization, then we cannot leave nuclear power on the table. We cannot let Russia and China basically have a clear lane on nuclear development and that is exactly what’s happening right now.

Kalani Scarrott (43:26): Yeah. I’m going to agree with you on that one. Anything else you want to plug?

Angelica Oung (43:29): No, that’s it, man. Thanks so much. It’s been great.

Kalani Scarrott (43:32): No. It’s all right. Pleasure. Anywhere people can find you. You want to plug your Twitter, Substack, Taipology?

Angelica Oung (43:37): I’m on Twitter, just Angelica Oung. You can follow me on Twitter or you can follow me on LinkedIn. That’s O-U-N-G, and go to my Substack, taipology.substack.com.

Kalani Scarrott (43:49): Awesome. Thank you, Angelica. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Angelica Oung (43:52): Thanks. Wonderful talking to you.

Kalani Scarrott (43:56): If you enjoyed this podcast episode, be sure to check the website, compoundingpodcast.com. On the website you’ll find every episode complete with transcripts, show notes and other related resources. Also be sure to sign up to my weekly newsletter, Curated by Kalani, where I share what I’ve been reading, learning, and watching for that week. Same as the podcast, it’s compressed to impress and I aim for maximal return in the time invested. So sign up at kalanis.substack.com. You can also connect with me on Twitter @ScarrottKalani. But until next time, have a good one.