Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chapter 2: The Underground Consulate

The term 'underground' consulate came to me from a Taiwan academic friend. At the time, I was not aware of the depth of its meaning, but after learning more of Taiwan's situation and the fact that it could not have an embassy of its own, the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) was a front for an agency that provided consular services to those traveling to the island. Call it de facto or underground, it did seem a little strange that the place was so unofficially official.

I thought it was interesting that as I entered the TECO I was met with 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 would ever think of going to Taiwan now. He was obviously an English teacher of some sort, raving about how his grandfather fought against communism and how only communists did things like this (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 items for 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 Taiwan for a maximum of 180 days. I told her I had intended on studying for two semesters so I booked a September return, but I understood and I would arrange another ticket to leave Taiwan, probably to visit some friends in Hong Kong.

“You must declare this statement on a piece of paper and sign it,” was the attendant's response. Was this the ‘confession’ the other loonie was talking about? Boy, was he touchy…

As I took a piece of paper and began writing ‘I solemnly swear to leave Taiwan before 180 days’, the attendant quickly added:

“Also, you must write that you will not work or study while you are in Taiwan.”

Study, how? “You mean teach?” I asked her. “No, study… like study Chinese.” But that was why I was going!

“So if I want to study, do they change the visa once I get to Taiwan?” I asked. It seemed reasonable after my experience in British Hong Kong, the HKSAR and Mainland China. Most of these places make you enter as a visitor and then you have to go and register to become a permanent resident, student, or whatever. I’ve done this a lot of times on HK and the mainland. This prevents people from getting in on a student visa and then not showing up. Plus, the university website had mentioned about after 4 months of study you must apply for a resident visa.

“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… I could reapply at the proper government office when I got there. So I took the pen and wrote, "I understand that I cannot work or study under a visitor’s visa" and then handed her the form.

And off the visa went to be processed. My friends assured me that everything was fine. In fact so many foriegners are working illegally there, they were bound to be very lax on students. Plus, it was either that or don’t go at all.

The visa was returned the three days later and after a great deal of stupidity from Air Canada, off I went to Taipei.

On to Chapter 3: "Rude Awakenings" -->

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