After the successful performances by all the summer school classes and the amazing rendition of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" by Rex and Yuta, summer school is dismissed and the crowded lobby begins to clear as students are whisked away by parents and school buses. The Chinese teachers stay and continue working, preparing for the arrival of the new semester. I stay as well, along with Connie, in order to try and book an upcoming flight to a different country so that I may, eventually, have the appropriate paperwork to legally work in Taiwan. Let me explain.
Before leaving for Taiwan, I did quite a bit of research to determine exactly what I NEEDED to bring so that everything would go smoothly. I didn't want there to be any hang-ups; in my mind, I only got one shot at this thing, and if it didn't work I wouldn't have the money (or the secured job) to try and do it again. I discovered that the list of required documentation was pretty short, but some of the items weren't necessarily easily obtained. I will enumerate the checklist that hung like a bladed pendulum over my head for the final month before I left, inching closer and closer as the days counted down.
1. Passport - Thankfully, I had already gotten my U.S. Passport LAST summer when I thought that this trip was a possibility then, but dragged my feet too much to follow through and ended up wandering around the United States for 12 months. Although I still have the better part of a decade before mine expires, anyone coming to work overseas should be sure to have at least two years before expiration.
2. Passport Photos - Of course, I waited until four days before I left to have these taken, but the process was easy and inexpensive. Several websites informed me to bring at least 12, which I did. However, since I got here several other teachers have expressed that this is probably not going to be enough, so I may have to find some way to have more taken or forge copies. If I could set back the clock, I'd get twenty, just to be safe.
3. University Diploma - For most, this item would probably be pretty easy to come by. Just go in the bathroom (where I WOULD have hung my diploma), take it out of the frame, fold it neatly and put it in your wallet. However, for me, this item took over a year to secure, and was one of the largest factors that went into me NOT going to Taiwan immediately following graduation (as was the original plan). See, instead of using my student loans to pay my tuition expenses, I decided that I needed a new computer. This is a decision that I still do NOT regret (for I use this purchase roughly 3-4 hours a day), but because of it I owed an outstanding debt to the University of Missouri which I didn't have the means to pay until shortly before I fled the country. It did feel mighty satisfying, I must admit, to stroll into the Cashiers Office at Mizzou and finally get that $40,000 unimpressive piece of paper. (Keep in mind that everyone in Taiwan requires your ACTUAL diploma, not a copy - however, as soon as you give it to them, they make a copy and give it back to you).
4. Travel Visa - Procuring this, by far, was the most arduous task of all. Growing up in the U.S., I never had to think about visas or borders; I just drove for hours, catching glimpses of state signs as the sun was rising out of the misty summer half-light. (For example: "Welcome to Kansas - We're Sorry" or "The Lone Star State - Drive Friendly" where the word "friendly" is not actually an adverb...the correct way to say this would be "Drive Friendily", but "friendily" is not a word at all...so there IS no correct way to say it.) Even Mexico was always just a short drive and a hassel-free border stop away. However, now that my world was being broadened to an international scope, I had to consider how to get INTO these nationalities without swimming or hiding amid a herd of goats in the back of an old toothless man's trailer. Luckily, for almost all countries, the U.S. Passport will allow one to visit for up to 30 days without any kind of problems. Unluckily, This did me no good because it would take longer than 30 days to process my Alien Resident Card, which means that the government would have put me on a flight home before I became a legal alien resident. To solve this problem, I needed a 60-day visitors visa, which would require a special application process.
This application process demanded that I produce all documentation showing WHY ON EARTH would anyone, especially I, need to stay in the country of Taiwan for longer than 30 days, as well as explicit proof that I would be leaving before my 60 day visa expired. I needed a letter explaining what I was going to do and see in Taiwan. I needed a bank account statement showing I had sufficient funds to do and see all the things in my letter (which was tricky because I didn't actually HAVE any money). I needed an actual ticket or itinerary showing my departure flight and date from Taipei back home to the U.S. Naturally, I didn't have any of these things - I had no travel plans, no money, and a one-way ticket - so I lied.
Less than a week before I was scheduled to leave, I forged bank account statements and round-trip flight itinerary, and constructed a letter detailing my fake travel plans (which prompted my father to ask if I majored in "bullshit"). I sent these, along with my passport and $360 U.S. (for rush service and application fee) off to Washington D.C. to have them processed by VisaHQ, an online visa service that seemed reliable enough and promised my visa and passport would be returned in time for my departure. My other option, instead of going through a visa processing service like VisaHQ, was to drive to Houston and visit the Republic Of China (R.O.C.) Embassy in person, which I imagined to be like the DMV only without fluent English speakers. The online service seemed like the logical choice.
Sure enough, two days before I was set to leave (which would have been impossible without my passport), a FedEx Express envelope was found leaning against the front door of my dad's house. I opened it with anticipation, excited to see my visa and finally be free from the stress of this whole complicated situation, and instead found a letter apologizing; "Your visa application has been denied..." Damnit. Apparently, my forged itinerary had fabricated my "return" date for only 26 days after my arrival, and the letter cheerfully informed me that, because I would be staying less than 30 days, I wouldn't need a 60-day visa after all! I knew that sucking at math would come back to haunt me eventually....what was I thinking?
So now, back in the teacher's area of Miro, Connie and I must book a flight for me to LEAVE the country, then re-enter with a 60-day travel visa. This process is actually quite common and is called a "visa run", but at the moment I am sweating because I am almost out of money and truly cannot afford to go gallivanting around Asia, even if it IS necessary for my prolonged stay. One of the Chinese teachers, Mia, who is very nice but seems extremely busy, finds a cheap round-trip flight to Macao through a travel agent for a little over $6000 NT (just about $200 U.S.) that leaves the following Thursday, and I tell her to book it. My options are either Macao or Honk Kong, and rumor has it that the Taiwan Embassy in Macao is a piece of cake, so that's where I will go. I thank Connie and tell Mia I will bring the money and my passport next week, and head home, wondering how I am going to make it to payday (September 5th) without going completely broke. "Oh well" I think, "You can always do what you did in Colorado, and not eat for a week or so". I suppose I COULD lose a little weight, and now I get to travel to yet ANOTHER country - even if it is for only two days. Besides, what fun would this adventure be if everything went according to plan and I didn't have to tiptoe on the edge of survival for a while? All good stories must find the protagonist up against the odds so that he may eventually overcome and emerge the hero that everyone believed he could be. Or, you know, starve to death. Whichever comes first.