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A shout to all my homeys trying to get legal status in the US

Oct. 7th, 2014 | 10:27 pm
mood: exanimateexanimate

When I did local news stories in California about foreigners trying to get green cards, some officer with what we called the Immigration the Naturalization Service would explain that cases tend to take time and extra energy because of applicant fraud. That was in the 1990s and I saw no reason to doubt the INS.
I’ve been one of those applicants for the past year. My wife and I have spent $2,280 plus document translation fees of $25 to $200 on having our adopted Taiwanese children recognized as next of kin. One process, called I-600, didn’t work even though the de facto US embassy in our hometown Taipei said it should. It’s for people who don’t have a kid yet or who just got one. We’ve had ours for three years less a quarter. Our agent also didn’t read our full documentation, couldn’t find the fingerprints we sent (another $85) and didn’t know the check had been cashed – probably because it was done so quickly upon arrival in the mail that she was blinded by the flash. We pulled out because we wouldn’t have met the deadline to compile three pages of required additional evidence, some of which didn’t exist. So we and lost all our money, $1,440 plus the fingerprint fee. Why? “Your application has been processed,” said the agent, Officer Higgins in Arkansas or maybe Tennessee or Texas, who never addressed us by name or any greeting when she sent e-mail. “Processed” must be a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services term for we-cashed-your-check-so-what’s-done-is-done. That department replaced the INS and its acronym is UCSIS, pronounced “uck-cyst.”
We later found out we qualified for a simpler, cheaper process, I-130, because the children had lived with us more than two years. Our $840 check was cashed on mailbox impact again but we were hopeful because the application called only for legal proof that we had cared for the children since the first day of trial adoption. That was easy – just the court record of legal guardianship and a professional translation, a mere $220 or so. The court record specified our children’s move-in date. Uck-cyst’s mid-August request for evidence letter proved they hadn’t read it. They asked for the court record. (If you said, hey wait, you’re right unless you work for Uck-cyst). They also wanted proof such as hospital and school receipts that show the kids have lived with us since February 2012. How does a receipt establish that we’re a family of four under a particular roof? If you work for Uck-cyst, it somehow makes sense.
Now I’d like a chance to be interviewed about the immigration service (we serve them) rather than do an interview with them.

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Taiwan: jack of all languages, master of none

Mar. 23rd, 2014 | 06:23 pm

Mandarin Daily News English class report card
How intense is language study in Taiwan? Here's my 7-year-old's weekend class report card.
An American friend is asking me about an article he saw in Taiwan Review, one of the government's English-language publications created to show off achievements for an ignorant, bored or skeptical foreign audience. The piece calls the relentless pursuit of foreign languages a source of pride for the students here. I told my friend that Taiwan's language study is a polyglot of waste. I said:
"Taiwan gets started from first grade (my child is already studying Mandarin, English and the local dialect Hokkien). Language education in public schools comes at the expense of social studies, science, arts and other coursework that would make people more aware, more educated in the ways of the world around them. In the absence of education, old hearsay becomes modern truth. Languages are also taught poorly - emphasis on the written word over spoken, on grammatical formula over linguistic dynamism (abbreviations, artistry, idioms, jokes, omissions, slang, conversational shortcuts, actual meaning, etc.). Naturally Taiwanese imagine that success overseas involves just mastery of the written, grammatically proven language of other countries. Oops. This dyslexic attitude traces back to Japan, where imperial leaders worried about invasion cultivated language study to 'know the enemy before the enemy knows us.' This state of mind also explains why Japanese and Chinese fret endlessly over how resident foreigners have managed to speak their local languages."

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Traffic behavior a mirror of Taiwan society

Dec. 19th, 2013 | 01:26 pm

Stop for pedestrians
False advertising in a Taipei metro station
Tourists in new countries like studying driving habits to analyze the population around them. Expats quickly laugh and call that approach too shallow.
I’m beginning to side with the tourists in Taipei. Let’s hit the road and see:
Speeding: Cars barrel down sides streets as fast as possible, slowing only when real obstacles loom in their paths as opposed to anticipating that another vehicle or pedestrian might appear in the road. Three point analysis: 1. Children do the same when running in public. 2. According to Confucian pecking order, fast over slow, big over small. 3. I was here first, get out of the way.</b>
Turning corners: Vehicles cut off pedestrians, who have the legal right of way, to make turns and if confronted usually pretend they don’t notice. Professional drivers, such as those operating taxis and utility trucks, are the most aggressive. Three-point analysis: 1. Children do the same thing when walking or running in public. 2. According to Confucian pecking order, fast over slow, big over small. 3. People here are not used to being regulated.</b>
Parking: Double-parking, bus-stop parking, driveway blockades and other illegal vehicle stoppages are enthusiastically tolerated. For example, people nonchalantly snake from the curb between cars in a bus stop to board the bus, which has double parked in traffic to receive passengers. Three-point analysis: 1. Children do the same thing when they feel like stopping in public. 2. People here are not used to being regulated. 3. I was here first, get out of the way.

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Taiwan film director issues rare warning to his own people

Dec. 15th, 2013 | 12:05 pm

My children and I just watched “Beyond Beauty,” the half-baked English name of a 90-minute film shot from the air over Taiwan.
(Children got bored half way through and expected to go home early by whining, feigning hunger and starting to cry. They need to learn cinemetiquette before the next movie.)
For adults, this film tells the obvious story of factories, fish farms and high-mountain agriculture destroying Taiwan. It tells the less-obvious tale that Taiwanese themselves either A) don't notice or B) notice and blame their government or some god. The Taiwanese director suggests that his people A) give more rat's asses and B) blame themselves for environmental destruction. These two pieces of advice are seldom heard, let alone taken because people are way too cool and complacent ("we're better off than before and better than China").
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Observations upon leaving Taiwan for six days in Jakarta

Oct. 18th, 2013 | 10:58 am

Cisarua cycling club
Indonesian kids seeking limelight
I traveled to Jakarta and the nearby mountains this month to pursue several stories for my news media clients. Here’s what hit me once removed from Taiwan:
1. No facemasks. Just no one wears facemasks.
2. People talk. Those who I collared for vox populi interviews answered my questions with gusto and gave me full, real names. That wouldn’t happen in Taiwan without a lot of bristly back-and-forth ending in guarded comments and surnames only.
4. Language happens. Anyone is entitled to speak Bahasa. My expat friend in Jakarta speaks it in his own expat way, but I can tell from the expressions of people he meets that no one cares. He’s taken as seriously as the next guy. Obvious contrast to Chinese-speaking foreigners in Taiwan.
5. Food. It tastes good, smells good and I could chew all of it.

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Observations upon leaving Taiwan for two days

Sep. 10th, 2013 | 12:16 pm
mood: drunkdrunk

Spore1
I spent 43 hours in Singapore (see photo) this month to attend a Dell media event. Here’s what hit me once removed from Taiwan:
1. No facemasks. Just no one wears facemasks.
2. It's quiet. No scooters.
3. People talk. You get a pack of journalists, PR people and corporate types in a room, most of them strangers to one another, and within an hour we’re all laughing, asking questions, telling stories and even letting the odd s-word fly. In Taiwan we all sit stiffly and wait for whoever’s leading the event to take us wherever’s next.
4. Language happens. Anyone is entitled to speak anything. It’s not funny when a white guy speaks Chinese or an ethnic Chinese guy prefers English.
5. Space. Singapore may be just 39 kilometers across, but it feels roomier than Taiwan because you see space between buildings (likewise between pedestrians), landscaped road medians and sidewalks along every street.

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Promotion for Taiwan's favorite souvenir snack

Sep. 5th, 2013 | 10:36 pm

Taiwan says its local invention the compact, cubic pineapple cake makes the perfect souvenir for people back home. I’ve come up with this promotional slogan:
The outside crumbles apart and the inside makes you fart.

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Why it's hard to get anything done in Taiwan

Aug. 16th, 2013 | 08:39 pm

Here are the formal instructions from National Chengchi University on printing a master’s thesis to meet graduation requirements. (“Print” is one of the university’s favorite words. It hasn’t come to terms with 2013.) I have amended the instructions to indicate what my department missed because it lacks a sense of customer service, can’t think for the end-user and remains cloistered in a Qing Dynasty-style mini-bureaucracy that prohibits reaching out to non-department people who might know more. The difference between the italicized original brief and my additions in bold font is everything that’s wrong with doing business in Taiwan.
1. Upload your e-thesis onto the NCCU library system (URL given in parentheses). Remember to add watermark (from the library page) and transfer into .pdf.
You must download the watermark separately, from a different library webpage. The library doesn’t care if it’s in the uploaded thesis. It owns the watermark and can add it in as it sees fit. The print shop, to be discussed later, does require the watermark, so download it and save as an electronic file. The library requires filling out an online form with a number of questions about you and the thesis before uploading the text.
2. You will receive a confirmation letter within 24 hours from the librarian. If the format is correct, then you may proceed to make hard copies. If not, the library will notify you where to amend and you just upload it again.
A call to the library eases the suspense of waiting for an incorrect-format notification. Library staff people on the call can help find the upload form on their intricate website and walk you through the questions. The "letter" is actually an e-mail.
3. Print out the authorization form from the system mentioned above and attach it to your thesis when you make hard copies.
Do not use the e-mail confirmation, although it's identical to the authorization form that must be downloaded and printed. “Attach” means print, sign, scan and submit electronically to the print shop with the thesis text. When it’s time for hard copies, any print shop that binds books can do the job. One of the university’s favorites operates on B-1 under the campus breakfast bar and another just outside the main gate.
4. The main library needs two hard-back copies, while the IMICS Office needs two copies (one soft bond, one hard bond).
IMICS, the acronym referring to my communications department, needs blue covers for both, something one learns from talking with staffers at the print shop, which processes piles of these things every year. The department also requires a formal cover page, which appears on its list of graduation requirements, a scan of the thesis committee’s signed approval, a secondary introduction page and an acknowledgements page. The department does not provide other templates, so to make sure it’s done right ask fellow students for theirs or check a previously published thesis. This front matter must be given to the print shop electronically along with files of the signed and scanned library form and the thesis text itself. If not, the print shop will ask whether you’re sure it’s all OK. Presumably the department will reject it, as well. The three professors on your thesis committee don’t require separate copies of the bound thesis, but it’s considered protocol to send a nice copy to each. Total printing bill for library, department, profs and your own files comes to about US$60.
5. Print out your NCCU departure clearance from your I-NCCU system (in the icon Campus Info System). Bring the departure clearance form and your theses to the IMICS Office. The Office coordinator will give you a stamp on your departure form and then you go to other departments listed on your clearance form. Finally go to registration section to collect your certificate.
Contents of the clearance form vary from student to student. The form’s two printed pages must be hand-carried around campus for stamps from departments that have left notes in the far right column. Anyone in IMICS can give that department’s stamp. Whoever’s on duty in the main library (not the communications branch or any other) can receive the two thesis copies and give a stamp. The Office of International Cooperation, for foreign students, must slap down a stamp authorizing cancellation of health insurance, if you had it, and the registration section must stamp to void your student ID card unless it’s lost, in which case you get another form. If you have any incomplete grades, the clearance form will prompt you to settle up with the relevant professor before getting the registration section’s stamp. At the end, registration produces the actual diploma that means you’re finally out of this rat hole.
6. Any questions regarding to uploading your thesis to the library system, please contact with the librarian Huang Chun-hui (ext. 63192)
This advice belongs under instruction No. 1. This extension is also not the only one for thesis uploaders, nor is Huang the only person who can offer phone help.

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Some things I like about Taiwan

Jul. 15th, 2013 | 08:44 pm

Juansi Falls
After the last post, I should give this blog a scoop of editorial balance. Ey, so I dig the following Taiwanese creations:
1. Taipei metro
It enforces rules. It’s clean. Things work. Trains aren’t late. Ticketing and smart card recharge systems are self-explanatory. Staff members usually know what they’re talking about.
2. Ming Chuan University’s exam system
It’s standardized, not subject to a teacher’s whims of the day and the school has thought of everything to make students can concentrate and not cheat or even show up late. (Contrast this to the rest of Ming Chuan.)
3. Hot Americanos at 85C
I even like the aftertaste, which is rare for coffee. The sea salt tea is a runner-up.
4. Middle-aged businessmen
They understand that time is money, the value of publicity, how the world works outside Taiwan (as well as across the island) and how to get things done fearlessly on their own.
5. Ambassador Hotel in Taipei
Competent staff members treat customers as situations instead of subjects. They remember orders from one day to the next. Hotel is never under construction. Its tropical garden has a waterfall.
6. Chongqing Kindergarten
Teachers must follow batty, fear-driven city rules on who attends class when and put up with construction noise outside. But they didn’t create these obstacles. On their own, they help parents raise kids rather than just look after them. They don’t scold, express bias or pick favorites. Extra time, money, effort go into awards, events, outings and ceremonies.
7. Yangmingshan on a weekday
You hear the wind in the trees, spy the ocean and catch stands of conifers above 700 meters. (See photo.) The few other people up there go for the reasons I go: get out of town, get a workout.
8. Fellow Yangmingshan cyclists, hikers
They may dress for chemical warfare rather than nature, but they fear not exercise, nor do they pick stuff or trap butterflies like some urban peers. They bond easily with fellow hikers or bikers, even foreign ones.

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Challenges for Taiwan? Optical illusion

Jul. 10th, 2013 | 09:50 am

taxi parking
Taxi blocks crosswalk to wait for whores getting off work at gang-protected overnight clubs.
I’ve raised enough beefs about Taiwan on this blog to keep a slaughterhouse running. A brief beef recap:
A. Childishly competitive. Walking aggressively instead of moving aside to let strangers pass; driving through crosswalks packed with people. Lost and found, my dear dead rat’s ass. Finders keepers, losers weepers.
B. Afraid of everything, daffy ideas about how to manage fear. To wit, I saw a woman last month in the clear sunny mountain air wearing a surgical facemask, huge dark glasses, a floppy hat and enough clothes for winter. I didn’t ask, but sure her explanation would be “fraidy-fraidy pollution (怕怕污染).”Or fraidy-fraidy UV rays or non-snow white skin or poo from a dead rat's ass.
C. Agrarian social conservatism. Old people shouldn’t run. Men shouldn’t take care of children. Children shouldn’t be adopted. Married couples should live with and serve the man’s mom. Foreigners are batty, confused people who should be avoided. They can’t communicate.
D. Rules aren’t followed or enforced. Traffic cops stare at someone about to be hit by a car that’s illegally turning right and just keep staring. Building codes are for further study. What’s zoning?
E. Cult of the provider. People get treated well when they put food on your table. You'll do anything for bosses and parents. Other people are competitors or not worth attention.
F. Social avoidance. Hard to tell from a face whether someone just won a billion bucks or if a friend just died. Response to friendly after-hours banter with classmates or colleagues: nervous, single-word answers, gulps, averted eyes that scream “please, no more!”
G. Exclusivity. Make sure to find fellow Taiwanese and stick by them if you must venture off the island to barbaric wilds overseas. And family is your best friend. No need to shop outside.
H. Duplicitous duplicators. Copy, don’t create. It’s easier and what we’re taught from elementary school onward. If you’re at fault, claim you’re not. You’ll hear the list of common excuses and comebacks from your parents in the formative years of life.
I. Workers in agencies and institutions don’t collaborate across departments or think for the customer (user, student, defendant, new employee, et al). Result: simple processes are thick, complex, costly; explanations hard to get. People who are charged with answering questions don’t.
Let me correct my opening line. I don’t have a beef with these habits and mentalities per se. A lot are hallmarks of developing countries or the old dynastic-era Chinese culture that drives Taiwan.
My problem, none of this is actually happening. It's an optical illusion. Political and economic analysts tend to classify the place as “developed,” and locals brag about being influenced by a medley of races, not just Chinese. Oh and we’re friendly.
Funny how the same place is lagging Japan, South Korea and parts of Southeast Asia to keep up in world trade – the island’s economic staple. It doesn’t innovate; it copies (see H). The place is not foreign business friendly (see D, E, G, H, I). Just ask the two major Western chambers of commerce. Taiwan lacks the social and organizational skills to catch up.
Locals willing to talk about things that aren’t perfect usually return three conclusions:
1. Taiwan is doing better than it was before.
2. We’re better off than China.
3. The government, or someone in it, should be thrown out. If only so-and-so weren’t the mayor or if the ruling party changed, all would be well. (Mayors and parties have changed, of course, but the complaints haven’t.)
As far as I know, gay pride is Taiwan’s only social movement that asks society at large to reconsider its views. Other movements blame the government, some department therein, a company or an individual. Society is fine, just a few bad tea eggs.
My rebuttal to replies 1-3:
1. Taiwan could do better in the future but only if its people see the room for improvement.
2. Taiwan is doing shittilier than South Korea. China is catching up.
3. You can’t live here, claim to care and ignore responsibility. Nor can anyone else.
You’d think it’s safe to beef about a place to the expatriates. They don’t vote. Their expectations are grounded in another country. They can leave. They have the experience to take an anthropologist’s, not an apologist’s, point of view.
Yet nothing leaves you more isolated in expatriate company than talking about where Taiwan might be going wrong. You must be a Communist (look, he uses simplified characters!). Can’t he see how nice people are, I mean just the other day a 7-Eleven clerk gave me directions and a guy I met traveling on the east coast gave me a free drink (as if you’d never meet those people in other countries). And if you press on, the expat repeats the first list of 1-3. Then back to talking about baseball. Change the batter and your team will win the World Series. It'll at least be better than China.

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