Friday, May 19, 2006

Ah, the pain of being unwanted.....

Taiwan is a very small island. So small that it would fit right in the space between my old home in Magalia, California and the big city of San Francisco. Yup, that small. Consequently, the Taiwan government isn't too keen on people moving over here and taking up space; and so they have adopted some rules.

If one wishes to stay in Taiwan more than one month, one must have a visa. How does one get this? Well, one must either have a confirmed job here and a work permit to go with it, or one must obtain a special student visa. The catch is that only certain schools are on the government-approved list, and if one does not attend one of those schools, one is S.O.L. Hey, no worries, my school is on that list.

Let me rephrase: my school was on that list. In April the government revised their list, and for reasons completely unknown to us normal people, they removed two of the language centers which have been popular for years. Right, you know it, one of those was mine. I think about 95% of the students at my school are here on student visas. They are not people with jobs who are studying Chinese in their free time, not foreign spouses of people who are here working in Taiwan for a long term. Granted, there are a few of those, but the school makes its living from those of us who need student visas.

We knew there was a problem, but the gals at the desk kept assuring us that the boss was in negotiations with the government, and the issues would all be resolved in May. Some students decided to play it safe and transferred to other schools that had the big thumbs up from the government. Other, more optimistic sorts (like me!), decided to wait and see. And last week I got the news: there is absolutely no way to extend my visa if I continue to study at this school.

Wah! I like my school. The tuition is lower than at other schools, the staff is great, the teachers (well, most of them) are wonderful, and I've made a lot of friends there. I'm comfortable there, and I don't want to change. Crap.

Never mind, I must make some choices. What will I do? I will have to leave Taiwan temporarily, because I can't overstay my current visa. No problem, I had already been planning a summer trip back to California for visiting and shopping. But how can I come back? I have to make some decisions.

I'm in a much better position than some of the students, because I already have money. So, if I choose, I can come back to Taiwan on my passport for a 30-day visit, and at the end of 30 days I just make a short hop over to Hong Kong for a day or two (and I don't even need to leave the airport; I can just wait there a couple of hours and catch a flight back). If I take the passport-only route, I must leave Taiwan every 30 days, and every time I go out of the country, I have to have already purchased the next plane ticket out, because you don't get back in unless you show proof that you have a reservation to leave again!

Second choice: I could hurry up and switch to another language center, getting my current school to give me a referral. New adventures with new classmates. But, my current Alien Residency Certificate is tied to my current school, so I have to start the process all over: be in Taiwan for four months without leaving, and consistently attending class. That would shoot my planned US trip right in the heart and kill it dead.

Third choice: attend university now, instead of a year from now, as I had planned. But, I still feel my ability to listen to and understand Chinese is quite lacking. I'm not sure I'd be able to pass my courses if I enter university now, and I wanted another year of language study first.

After much mulling it over, I have made my decision. I will, at least for a time, use only my passport to come back from my US visit, and I will go to Hong Kong once a month. Hey, I have friends there, it's a good excuse to visit them. Or I might even go to Singapore or Japan and see some places I've never seen. Thailand and Vietnam are also popular spots for the folks who make the regular trips out. I figure if I'm not paying tuition (which would be around $18,000NT at a new school), I can use that money for plane tickets. The price varies - in June one can go to Hong Kong for $4,100NT, but on July 1 the price leaps to $8,100. But that's just one airline, and there are always travel packages available.

Also, if I'm not going to school every morning, I can teach more English. Right now I have a lot of students! And they all like me so much that they keep telling their friends, and more people are asking me about sessions. It's been difficult juggling some of them, but I'd have a lot more flexibility if I didn't have a two-hour class every day.

Finally, the school I've been doing recording for has asked me if I want a job teaching conversational English. I gave a demo lesson yesterday, which went so well that they asked me if I would consider teaching TOEFL classes as well, which are more difficult that the conversation classes. They said if I get a job with them, they can apply for a work permit and ARC for me. Now, this would be absolutely wonderful, but since I've been consistently told that if one has no BA degree, one cannot teach (legally) in Taiwan. The government will not authorize work permits for teachers without degrees. The woman at the school did not seem to know this. I asked her to please check before either of us wasted any more of our time. This is Taiwan, and many times the "official" government regs don't seem to apply, and there are stories of work permits being issued to those sans that little piece of paper, but I certainly won't hold my breath. But I will do a happy dance if I get a thumbs up from the government! Easy job, only one day a week to start, three-hour class, $600NT per hour. The TOEFL class pays $700NT per hour. And, they are evening classes, which leaves the day free for more English tutoring :)

I spent five years getting to Taiwan, and I'm not leaving. Where there's a will, there's a way, right? However much I'm looking forward to seeing all my friends when I head back for the visit, there's no way I ever want to live in the US again. This bullheaded Irish/Italian/American Indian chick won't go down without a fight!

I'll keep ya'll posted on happenings, plans, etc.

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