Friday, June 25, 2010

Adventures with Visas!

Taiwanese visa obtained!

It took almost a month but I finally have a visa for Taiwan which is terrific because I'm leaving in less than a week.

For some reason the Taiwanese government is afraid that someone with my profile (a recent college graduate, unemployed, native English speaker) is going to be attempting to work illegally in Taiwan if they stay for over 30 days. And since the Watson situation is sooooo weird and I don't really have an institution that can give me a letter saying I'm studying with them, Taiwan freaked out and denied my first visa application.

So two weeks ago I called the embassy and got on the line with a lady who spoke very broken English. She was having a hard time explaining it to me in English so I told her to just speak Chinese and I'd try to understand her. And those turned out to be the magic words! She said, 真的吗?!你会说普通话啊!? Really? You can speak Chinese? For some reason she decided she liked me then and cut through all the red tape for me. She said all I had to do was get to the embassy in Chicago the next Friday and see her before she went on vacation.

So I decided to visit my fellow Carl, Amanda, in Milwaukee on Thursday and have her drive me to Chicago on Friday. Unfortunately a ridiculous race to the embassy ensued when her mother took the car to a 15 minute job interview that ended up lasting 4 hours. Why? Because the interviewer forgot he needed to take his wife to the hospital for a doctor's appointment and Amanda's mother, being prone to ridiculous decision making, decided to accompany him there. So, I was stuck in Cudahy, WI with no ride. Luckily, Amanda's friend Rita had a car and offered to drive. Unluckily, the car was a very cheap 1994 model that wasn't supposed to leave town because the tranny had issues. But I was desperate so we drove it 90 mph all the way to the first toll.

When we slowed down at the line, we noticed that there was a lot of smoke coming out of the engine. The toll operators gave us very odd looks, but that may just be because Amanda and Rita were both in their swimsuits because they decided they had to jump in Lake Michigan before leaving. We made it to one more toll before the car died. After a bit, it cooled down enough to restart and we drove down the shoulder (at 90mph) until the speedometer crapped out and we had no gauge for speed. There was a lot of traffic but we were making good time going down the shoulder and no one was stopping us because our car was on fire. We made it to Evanston before the car's flames became too high to see and the temperature in the vehicle became unbearably hot. (We couldn't open the windows to cool down because of all the smoke.) We coasted to a stop at a strip mall where Amanda jumped out of the car and began shimming and dancing like a madwoman. Suddenly the heavens opened up and I realized what was going on. Amanda is half Native American and she was doing some sort of disco version of a rain dance. I don't know if Amanda checked the forecast or what, but before we knew it, it was raining heavily and the car's fire was extinguished.

But because of all the delays it was now too late to reach the embassy so I phoned my Taiwanese pengyou and told her of our plight. While I was speaking Chinese on the phone with the Taiwanese embassy I was very distracted watching Amanda dance in the rain and her friend Rita carry stolen watermelon after stolen watermelon to her car murmuring, If they aren't guarding them then we are allowed to take them. . . I realized that this was not what high school Andrew expected to be doing after he graduated from college. It was sooo much better.

Anywho, the embassy lady told me to send my passport on to her friend in Washington, DC and hope for the best, so I visited the post office and sent it off.

Once the rain and Amanda's dancing had both run their courses and Rita had committed 8 minor melon misdemeanors, we started the car again and made it to Kenosha before breaking down again.

The Washington friend called me on Monday and told me she didn't think my visa would be approved so she told me to apply for a multiple entry 60 day visa which she thought I could get. A week later I now have it. Basically what this means is that on day 59 I need to leave the country and come back. So I've booked a 75 dollar roundtrip flight from Taipei to Malaysia. I'm not really sure why a 36 hour excursion to Malaysia makes me less likely to be an illegal alien working in Taiwan, but I'll accept it since the flight is cheaper and easier than applying for an extension. Ridiculous!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Am I Going to China? A Ranty Clarification

"Have fun in China, Andrew!"

These were the most common parting words I heard during senior week and graduation, and since I try not to be too much of a tool I just accepted them because clarifying where exactly I'm going is way too complicated when there are hundreds of other good byes to be said. Also it just didn't seem right to have my parting words be, "Ahem, well actually my prestigious fellowship won't allow me to return to China because I have previously summered there." It was just a little frustrating because China's the one place I'm not allowed to go on the Watson.

The first thing to sort out is that I'm actually going on two separate Asian music trips. Who the hell has ever heard of one "Asian music trip?" and I'm supposed to explain that I'm going on two. It's a bit much for people to accept when they just wanted to hear a one sentence response to "So what are you doing this summer/next year?" The first Asian music trip is a Freeman grant that sends students to study something in Asia in conjunction with a faculty member. In this case, Shao Min (physics and math major and erhu player), Ava (biology major and dizi player) and I are going with Gao Hong (world-class pipa master and professor at Carleton) to study, record, transcribe and analyze temple music in Kyoto, Seoul, and Beijing. This will be in July and we'll spend about 10 days in each location. So yes, I am heading to China, but only for 10 days! I consider this my practice Watson since I'll be with people and they will be people who know what they are doing. Then I fly off on my own. . .

The Watson begins August 1st when I fly to Taiwan. For the Watson you can't go to any country you have been before so China is out, but Watson says that if a place has a different visa then it is a different country. So, Taiwan is a different country. EXCEPT you can't say that in Mainland China! The politics are sticky and saying that you'll be going to a different country and that foreign country is Taiwan is likely to get you into very heated argument about lies in the Western press. The airports in China are even divided into Domestic and International plus Taiwan. So. . . I guess I'm kind of also in China from August to October.

Then I head off to Hong Kong for 3 months. Part of China? Well, yes! Ever since the British handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997 Hong Kong has been part of China, but as a special administrative region, the government still works very differently than in the Mainland. So okay I'm in special China from November to February.

But then I'm off to Japan which is definitely NOT China. And then I fly to the equator for Singapore which although it has plenty of ethnic Chinese and Chinese speakers is also definitely NOT China.

But as I've written this I've come to realize that I am going to be in China or China for about half of the next 13 months. Huh, what do you know?