Friday, January 23, 2009

Chapter 3: Rude Awakenings

Returning to Taipei was nice, except that on arrival I had some bad dumplings served to me (a friend was too cheap to replace his broken fridge) and that laid me up with food poisoning for about 5 days—lost about 10 lbs. Oh well, I needed to lose weight anyway. Since I was spending most of my time on the porcelain throne, I phoned the school and told them my difficulty about getting down to registration. No problem, they said, just come in the same week and register late. Nice enough.

Around this time, it started to sink in what kind of a locational 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 resident visa and an ARC (kind of like a SIN number). 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 let's be honest, 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. Perfect to have lunch and then get to an afternoon class!

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, mobbed 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 at the university. That’s funny: that was what I was told not to do when I got the visa in the first place. Oh well, I'd have to go down to the government buildings and fix that.

So I asked the ‘visa specialist’, "how do I get the 'little note'?"

“I’m very sorry,” he apologized hatter-of-factly, “but you have to leave Taiwan and apply for another visa.”

I stood looking at him dumbfounded.

“Sorry,” he said again, “so many students are in this same situation.” Also, I was told that the ‘four months’required to get the resident visa would not start until I had the little note on my visitor’s visa.

How was I supposed to know that the visitor's visa was supposed to have a note in it? What was this crazy half-way between visitor and student?

It took a minute before the logic kicked in…you see in Taiwan, students studying Chinese are not considered real students. They are not permitted to be residents until they study for four months, unlike university students who enrol and are accepted at a university and given an ARC for the duration. I had no idea about this strange 'visitorness' of Chinese students at home in Canada where I taught and when I studiedin Hong Kong it was very different. Stupidly, I had assumed that the residency issue would be handled, like many places, once I got here. I was learning the hard way.

Then the frustration began: How could this university let me walk in and register without the proper visa? I mean, I wasn’t even told until I actually asked! Were they just going to let me study there without a proper visa? Didn't they care that I was illegal? Why wasn't there a big red warning about this? Flashing lights?

“So you let me enroll here illegally?” I asked him. He didn’t seem to like the tone of my question and went on to someone else. So there I was, an illegal student in Taiwan. The concept of illegal student seemed so funny to me. Like if I was caught at an intersection with a dictionary or Chinese book, the policeman upon examining my passport would yell out, “you can’t be learning here! You’re not allowed!”

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 Hong Kong and reapply for a visa. Considerable expense, that: preparing a whole new application and then buying a ticket, hotel, etc. not to mention missing class I had paid for. Again, I wondered why all this wasn't clear.

Anyhow, I figured, since I was illegal, but enrolled, I would take a few weeks and then escape to Hong Kong to become a bona fide, legal, quasi-student-visitor. Now I was getting the hang of it. I didn't want to skip the first week of class, because of course everyone had happily taken all my money and I just kind of assumed they weren't going to give it back because I had screwed up my visa.

On to Chapter 4: "School Daze" -->

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