Sunday, January 22, 2006

Curbing the Threat of Forced Vacations

After residing in Taiwan since last August, I finally had the chance a few weeks ago to change my legal status in the eyes of the country. Whereas I had arrived in Taiwan under the auspices of a visitor's visa that allowed me to remain in the country for up to 180 days as long as I could justify my reason for being here, two weeks ago I began the taxing, and in my opinion bureaucrateriffic process of becoming an alien resident. Not only was I excited by having such a classy and exotic title, I was also encouraged by the practical advantages of being an alien resident [i.e. that are beyond being fodder for jokes about anal probes]. As an alien resident I now no longer have to leave the country to acquire a new visa. Without an ARC, many people, espescially teachers that are working under questionable circumstances are often forced to spend an afternoon in the Hong Kong airpot before coming back to Taiwan with a new visa. Obviously, the policy can use some work, but regardless, I am now an alien resident. In a startling short [by Taiwanese standards] two and half weeks during which I spent a sum total of nearly six hours in a few offices, I obtained my card. For me, the most exciting thing about this entire process had nothing to do with the new opportunities offered to me [e.g. being able to get a cell, phone, the ability to obtain legal employment, not being forced to spend an afternoon in some airport...], rather it has to do with my passport. In order to obatin an ARC, one must leave their passport at the Bureau of Consuleur Affairs. Take note, this IS NOT and SHOULD NOT be confused with the Foreign Affairs Police Bureau. Despite what some people tell you they are not the same place.... and while I the opportunity to peruse old magazines and assorted pamplets while waiting in government offices, I really don't need to do it that often. So, after leaving your passport at the correct office, they tell you to come back in 7-21 days to pick up your new visa that allows you to go to another office [actually, the Foreign Affairs Police Bureau], to obtain your ARC card. Upon picking of my passport, I did what any curious person would do upon engaging in some visa related issue, I flipped through my passport looking for any new and interesting markings left in the process. The first thing that struck me was the poor quality of my photo in my new visa. Although I had given them a clean copy, I feel that they had taken it upon themselves to scan it at a very low quality then make blurry black and white photocopies of it before inserting it into my visa. The end result bears a striking resemblance to one of those missing person pictures that is taken from a convenience store security camera. After shuddering briefly, I flipped back to my old visa and was immediately taken with it. Sadly, smitten can't really be used to described my feelings about it but give a close approximation of joy. Stamped in the middle of my old visa were the words:

without prejudice
I don't know if it is just the word choice or the physcial properties of the stamp but it really can't get much better than that.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I Guess it's Supposed to Be Cute

One particularly funny phenomenon of Taiwanese popular culture is the propensity for pet owners to dress their dogs in costumes. While dogs wearing sweaters are often ridiculed in the states, many pet owners here see it as a necessity. Ignoring the fact that she lives in a semi-tropical environment, my former Japanese classmate assured me that her Labrador need to be wearing a thick sweatshirt (with hood to boot) in order to go outside. Admittedly, small dogs that are not actually suited to this climate may require some additional padding but those are few and far between. The diffusion of pet clothes is such that while pursuing the night markets for entertaining takes on familiar brands [the most recent Adidas clone gives props to Mahmoud Abbas, yes, there are people wearing abbas track suits....], I occasionally find myself staring at a pile of shirts that are somewhat awkwardly proportioned. Upon realizing that they are not the latest kind of baby-tee, it becomes apparent that they are the winter line of pet fashion. While some are somewhat tasteful, a few are a little heavy on the glam. Do dogs really need to wear sequins? Or knock-off Dolce and Gabanna? The jury is still out on this one... Anyway, to make a long story short, I have grown fairly accustomed to seeing dogs dolled up in any variety of clothing. Sailor suits and tiny motorcycle helmets are all old hat. [Please forgive me for pun] It all honesty, I have gotten to the point that I really don't notice. That being said, a few days ago I was reminded just how strange costumed dogs are. On a recent run through one of Taibei's riverside park complexes, I ran into a pack of stray dogs. This in itself is not strange by any means; there are stray dogs all throughout the city and the parks are filled with them. That being said, amidst this pack of fifteen or so dogs was a mutt bedecked in a sailor suit. The contrast was brilliant and really made me wonder how the dog's owner ever lost him.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The More Interesting Side of Copyright Infringement

Though not too many people will admit it, Taiwan's oversight of copyrights is sketchy at best and downright hilarious on the other end of the spectrum. After nearly colliding with a man decked out in a bona-fide "Adidos" track suit this morning, I felt that it was time to comment on this important aspect of contemporary Taiwanese society. Unlike many other countries that have questionable oversight with regard to brand names and other copyrights, Taiwan is slightly paradoxical in that it is fully equipped with stores of the goods that are being counterfeited. In a brief walk, you can get from the Louis Vuitton store in SOGO to a nearby night market that will, without fail be offering a whole array to knock-offs, some that even defy reason. Ever wanted a re-usable Chanel or LV grocery bag? Well thanks to the night markets, you can now shop in style at a fraction of the cost. In a particularly hilarious twist, many of the sellers of the counterfeit products will set out mats in high traffic areas, e.g. right in front of the Louis Vuitton store. Though I find this funny, it's the knock-off brands that really make me chuckle. Sometimes you think, oh, what a nice Lacoste shirt and then you realize that the alligator [yes, it is an alligator, which was, for some reason, was the nickname of a French tennis player] is breathing a small plume of fire and the brand is actually called Laceste. While this is more tragic than anything else, a few other brands are just baffling to try to parse out. One of the most often copied brand names, or themes, is the Polo brand. While I strongly doubt Ralph Lauren is licensing everything under the sun in Taiwan, I bet he would at least get a laugh or two out of a few of the manifestations. A few of the more common ones are U.S. Polo, the U.S. Polo Association, Worldwide Polo, etc. Admittedly, these aren't that interesting. It wasn't til I was buying groceries at a somewhat rundown grocery store that I ran across a brand that made me drop my basket. Walking down the highly generic hygiene aisle, I was amazed to see that there was a super sale on hair dye from none other than the U.N. Polo Association. Immediately, the image of a multi-national team all wearing matching white uniforms with blue helmets to boot playing a match while assorted leaders of the world watched idly, sipping champagne and talking about the fate of the free world has stuck with me to this day. Sadly, I haven't found any other products manufactured by this company but if I do, I'm writing Kofi a letter.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Christmas...sans Burl Ives

It's amazing but I have, once again, managed to get pictures on the site.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Brief Glimpse into the Puritanical Aspects of Taiwan

Yes, I am, once again, ignoring the fact that the holidays occurred in order to focus on something vastly significant to my very being..... kind of....

One thing that has consistently nagged at me throughout my time on this island has to do with Taiwanese bathrooms. No, I am not going to wax poetically about the sanitary qualities of American facilities or the inherent differences between the two systems but rather focus on one thing that always puzzles me slightly. Before getting to this unique aspect let me reassure that Taiwanese bathrooms, like any country's, come in all levels of quality from the immaculate to the downright horrifying. To add to their charm, many of Taiwan's public restrooms are adorned with small paintings, decals, plastic flowers that would not be out of place in the Michael's 90% off bin. I think they spared quite a bit of expense on the decorating, but getting to stare at a picture of a semi-metallic dolphin jumping over a smattering of crazy-glued shells while you're queuing at a urinal is somehow [quite possibly disturbingly] reassuring. Anyhow, enough about the nuances of interior decorating. As with many other countries, it is often a gamble whether the bathrooms will come with toilet paper. While this may be frustrating to some, I like to think that it adds a certain level of danger to a routine action. Yes, it's amazing how one can revise history. Now, unlike many other places that the lack of toilet paper would leave you ruing the day you left your copy of Entertainment Weekly on the flight over, nearly every bathroom in Taiwan comes equipped with a vending machine that for 10 NT (about 30 cents) dispenses two tiny packets. These tissue-sized packets are often bedecked with pictures of kittens, cartoon babies, nautical scenes, etc. In addition, in order to maintain their shape, they come with a cardboard insert that is sometimes covered in advertisements, quotes , or horoscopes. My personal favorite, however, were the packets sold at Taibei's public library that came fully equipped with tiny Magic Eye of dinosaurs and bowling pins. Now, there are a number of bad ideas out there, but having someone focus intensely to try to find a seemingly three-dimensional representation of a koala while simultaneously attempting to navigate the complex physics of operating a squat toilet successfully seems like one of them. But I digressed once again and have you all thinking about the terrible learning curve involved in this operation. To this day, I cannot manage to stifle my laughter when I hear another foreign student cry out from the stall "Not Again!" or the abundantly clear cry of "NOOOOO!" Sadly, base humor is still incredibly effective and crosses nearly every cultural boundary. So, back to the rambling point that I have been trying to make, unsuccessfully, thus far. The strange thing about the packets for sale at almost every facility is that not one of them classifies itself as toilet paper. No, you cannot buy toilet paper in Taiwanese restrooms, it is physically impossible. Instead, you have to buy facial tissue. Now, deep down somewhere I can begin to grasp how it may be easier for some people to say to themselves "Oh, I never leave the house without a packet of tissue," but I think that it is absurd that they machines stationed mere feet from the bathrooms only sell "facial tissue." Was it really ever that offensive? Did a couple of angry parents start a letter writing campaign to suspend the sale of loathsome toilet paper in public restrooms? I understand the highly conservative nature of the word choice but it borders on the downright absurd area of the linguistic spectrum. Sadly, no one has been able to give me a cogent or convincing answer to this aspect.