I hope those who know me think I am a patient and honest person. I also hope that you know that I’m not fabricating or exaggerating this story at all. Let me finally state that I apologize for the length, but in order to make it accurate and cover all my bases, I have had to sacrifice some journalistic pizzazz.
After two months of trying to live in
First let me say that I started this blog as kind of a travelogue for my time in
And before I go on, at the risk of sounding immodest, let me also note that this is not being written by a ‘newbie’. This September will be my 10 year anniversary of traveling to and living in
Okay, that being said, let me start by unraveling my story:
It all started when I visited
My first two degrees have focused on China-related topics and though Chinese competency was requisite for my degrees, I have always dreamt of really ‘mastering’ my Chinese. In 2002, I was awarded the China-Canada National Scholarship (CCSEP) in which I got to go to
Anyhow, I got in into my head that maybe I should give
There was nothing from the school for about two weeks after my application, so like any student anxious to get going, I wrote the school and told them that I needed to get going if I was going to arrive in Taiwan early enough to be there for registration, which was around February 21. It already stated that you should register as early as possible in order to get the proper classes, etc.
Anyhow, I had hoped to arrive a few days early—five, actually—so I could actually take my placement test without worrying about jet lag. So there I was writing in the second week of February saying that I had the application in a week before the deadline and should I be making plans to buy a plane ticket, etc. I received a short one-line email saying that I was indeed accepted and a letter of admission had been sent but might take a few weeks to arrive. Please remember that I had told them that I really needed to get going in order to make it in time. Also note that there was no mention of any specific visa processes that I needed to follow.
Knowing that I was accepted and had a formal letter on its way, I quickly booked my plane ticket and got about getting my visa application ready. Checking the university website, I read that once you had a formal letter of admission you could apply for a visa, so I hurried off to the ROC ‘underground’ consulate to get my visa.
I thought it was interesting that I entered the TECO (Taiwan Economic and Cultural Affairs Office) to the sounds of some white guy raving about being treated like a criminal. He told them he wanted all his visa materials back and there was no way he was going. It seems they had made him sign some sort of confession or something. Obviously, this guy was LOONIE…
Next, it was my turn. I walked up with my bank statements, air tickets and other requisite items for getting the visitor visa and laid out my application for the attendant. She looked it over and told me that I had to change my plane ticket because I could only stay in
“You must declare this statement on a piece of paper and sign it,” was the attendants response. Was this the ‘confession’ the loonie was talking about? Boy, was he touchy…
As I took a piece of paper and began writing ‘I LWB solemnly swear to leave
“Also, you must write that you will not work or study while you are in
Study, how? “Do you mean teach?” I asked her. “No, study… like study Chinese.” But that was why I was going!
“Do they change the visa once I get to
“I don’t know anything about that” was the attendant’s response. So standing there, pen in hand I had a choice. I surmised that this was just some legal red tape and that I would be instructed on what to do after registering at the university (after all, I wasn’t yet a registered student, so it still kind of made sense… you are visitor until you are a registered student.) So I took the pen and wrote, I understand that I cannot work or study under a visitor’s visa. And off the visa went to be processed. It was either that or don’t go at all. The visa was returned the three days later and off I went to
Around this time, it started to sink in what kind of a predicament I was in. I had hoped to live with my friends at the other end of the city and commute to school, at least part of the way, by scooter. Of course, to do that I would need to purchase a scooter and convert my license. This is where the first shoe dropped. I found out to do any of this—that is to register a scooter or even get a license to drive one—I needed to have an ARC. What was I going to do in the four months to get to school. ‘Drive illegally,’ I was told, ‘everyone else does’.
Determined to obey the laws, I started taking the bus to school, because it wasn’t really that difficult. It made the commute in just over one hour. I could leave around 11am and arrive just after noon.
So I arrived at school fresh from my commute the first day for orientation. ‘Visas’ our cheery, church-going, mandarin-speaking, white-guy host informed us, ‘are so complicated here. You can talk to our visa specialist if you have any questions.’ So I cued up, well, mauled up with the throng of others who were trying to figure out what the hell was going on. After a moment, I was told that my ‘visitor’ visa, needed to have a note saying that I was allowed to study. That’s funny: that was what I was told not to do when I got the visa in the first place.
Oh well, so I went up to the ‘visa specialist’ and asked him how to get the little note.
“I’m very sorry,” he apologized, bowing his head, “but you must leave
“So you let me enroll here illegally?” I asked him. He didn’t seem to like the tone of my question and that was the end of our conversation. So there I was, an illegal student in
The rest of the orientation was a blur. The good thing was I was allowed to miss 10 hours of class a month, and since classes were two hours long, I could probably take a week and go to
Anyhow, I figured, since I was illegal, but enrolled, I would take a few weeks and then escape to
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, er, university, I realized I had been assigned classes that started at 8:10 in the morning. My heart sunk thinking of the one hour or so commute plus the bus schedule. I was going to have to be getting up at 5:30 in order to avoid rush hour and get to class on time. Grueling.
‘Classes cannot be changed without a valid reason. Work schedules are not a valid reason’ said the sheet. I supposed commute times and busses wouldn’t be either. Anyway after a few classes, I kind of liked my teacher and the small class (no one comes that early) so I decided to stick with it.
After about a week of being packed at the break of dawn into an over-crowded, unsafe bus that was standing room only, it was much easier to start driving illegally. Hey, I was an illegal student, so why shouldn’t I be an illegal driver? So I bought a scooter registered to someone who had already left
After about a week driving downtown, I was much more rested and could actually form words in class, but the polluted air was beginning to take its toll. No longer was I just sitting in class tasting exhaust fumes, but I was starting to cough too. I started driving the scooter to the nearest subway (MRT) station instead. Less polluted, way less dangerous, and hey, between driving illegally and attending class illegally, I don’t think I was violating any law taking the subway.
Anyhow, the week after I bought the scooter, the friend I live with had an accident. He was pretty wrecked up so I stayed home to help him that (Monday) morning and ended up going in to teach his class as well. So that was two hours off my ten. Oh well, I had holidays coming up so I could use those to go to HK and get a ticket.
The next day, however, after six hours of teaching in a small sauna, I was so washed out that I missed another class. I was just totally exhausted. On Wednesday I made it in to class but really didn’t do too well because my voice was too deep to understand. Thursday, I woke up with a fever and trouble breathing. Friday I knew I had bronchitis.
Next Monday, I missed class because the bronchitis had turned into rales (pronounced rawls, I’m told). This is when your lungs fill up with putrid sputum and you get that bubbling effect. It’s kind of like breathing through a hookah or a sponge. I had this problem once before when I had viral pneumonia. I knew this was not good, because only severe bronchitis has this kind of problem. Anyhow the rest of the week was spent going to doctors, taking antibiotics and just generally feeling like crap. I didn’t lose the fever that weekend. Twenty hours of class missed.
The third week of this lung infection was my holidays and brings us to the present. In case you are wondering, how this related to my illegal problems, I woke up this Tuesday to realize that I had already stayed in Taiwan 60 days as a visitor and had to renew my visa before it was too late (you must check in at the police station every 60 days).
Meanwhile, I was faced with the fact that since I had already missed 20 hours of school, I couldn’t present the requisite attendance record and I was likely to be denied an extension. Luckily playing stupid at the police station got me the ‘we’ll do it this once but never again without the proper records’ treatment and I am renewed for another 60 days. However, since I have missed over 10 hours under ‘Ministry of Education’ stipulations, I should be booted out of school and never allowed to re-enrol. Also, my marks aren’t that hot either so I don’t have much to stand on.
So I don’t know whether to hop on my illegal scooter and illegally drive to school tomorrow and illegally attend class or just stay home and rest my lungs and wish I never, ever, even formed the thought of coming to
I’ll keep you posted.