TAIPEI CITY — A rainy and grey Monday morning set the backdrop for my first official day of work in Taipei. The task? A decidedly bureaucratic one–my first meeting with the Foundation for Scholarly Exchange to arrange for my Alien Resident Card (ARC). It’s an important step in the process, but if my experiences in the United States are any indicator … it’s not one that I was looking forward to. In the back of my mind, I keep thinking about my only other two immigration experiences: the time I spent an hour getting myself off the “no-fly” list at O’Hare International (Chicago, USA) after booking back-to-back flights to different continents, and the time that I was detained with a German national in Detroit when we found out that her visa had expired. Neither were enjoyable experiences, and as much as I respect the nuances and importance of the job, neither left me feeling much dignity: the presumption of threat set the tone for abrasive rather than amicable encounters with Transportation Security Agency officers.
Residue of 9/11, still felt years later.
NOTE: All said, I’ve also had fantastic routine experiences with TSA, especially those agents at Lubbock Preston International. More dedicated folks, you’ll likely not find.
The rain halts a bit for the morning commute on the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (MRT). No matter how crowded the trains are, they’re always quiet. Eerily quiet. Folks are careful not to disrupt the tranquility of the morning commute, so it’s pretty easy to relax en route.
A transfer from Brown Line to Blue Line has me to Ximen Station, and a short walk to the Fulbright offices to grab my immigration paperwork For me, this is a dangerous stop, as it’s right near Ximending Youth Shopping District and there, manga and toys and pop culture abound. We’ll be back here, no doubt. For now, it’s a quick “Hello!” to the folks at FSE, and on to my next stop: immigration
The staff at FSE having expertly manicured my paperwork, I’m able to walk into the immigration offices confident that at least, I’ve dotted my Is and crossed my Ts. Of course, that only works if you enter the right door: I bumble through the sealed entrances, and security puts a stop to this.
As I walk through the (now, obviously) wrong door, I’m stopped by a guard. He smiles, and asks me (in English, no doubt) if I need assistance. I explain that I’m here for my ARC, and he kindly walks me around the block to the correct entrance.
Here, he hands me off to another woman, who explains the ticketing system and extracts a number for me: 628.
From security to concierge, I’m shown to a waiting room not too unlike the Division of Motor Vehicles offices at home. Perhaps a few core differences: nearly nobody in this room speaks the native language, and we all take glances at each other, perhaps we’re trying to decipher where each other are from, but it’s a remarkably diverse tapestry. English is lingua franca in the room and I suspect, there’s more than a bit of white privilege in the room–something that I sit oddly in the center of, and something that I’m reading a bit more about.
Yet, just as the subway stations and trains were crowded-yet-calm, the atmosphere in this room is similar: oddly quiet, comfortable, and orderly. Numbers are called in rather quick succession, and disorganized folks aren’t met with scorn but instead, assistance: copy machines for duplicates and triplicates, photo booths for ID badges, and any number of “floating folks” to help make sense of it all.
There’s no shouting. There’s no crying. There’s no anger. There doesn’t seem to be any fear. Just a large group of folks eager to come to Taipei for any one of several personal reasons, and a nation–and an immigration office–ready and (seemingly) eager to process their paperwork.
Dignity seems to guide every interaction in the office. As my own number is called (“六百二十八” said ” Liùbǎi èrshíbā”–I listen intensely to the Chinese numbers, to get some more practice in), I proudly hand over my paperwork. A slight error, as I’ve not yet secured a printed copy of my apartment lease, but a quick phone call takes care of it. The agent explains to me how the ARC process works, and cheerfully answers my own questions.
In 15 minutes, I’m made to feel welcome in a new land.
In 15 days, I’ll have my ARC card.
The process is dignified, and this feels good. It’s a lesson that I hope to take home with me.