i rang in y2k in taichung, taiwan. i graduated from college on december 17, 1999, spent Christmas at home with family, and was in taiwan before the new year dawned.
an aside: this post might be tmi for everybody. as i’m writing it, i’m not even sure if i will hit send, as they say. because you might never speak to me again or come back to my blog. so if you like reading my posts and want to read my posts in the future, consider the title before you read this one.
i went to taiwan to be an english teacher for 6 months. my contract was for only six months (it was apparently typical to commit to a 1-year contract) because i was technically finishing out the contract vacated by the previous teacher when a gimonstrous earthquake scared him or her off.
everything was going to be legit. as in, i would not be in the country illegally but would instead have a work visa. holla.
here’s what becoming legit in taiwan meant.
1. arrive in the country and get a stamp in your passport that’s good for 30 days.
2. leave the country after 30 days (absolutely had to leave or you couldn’t be legal), which meant spending the weekend in hong kong. (have i told you how much i love that city and how excited i was to get to go there again?)
3. come back.
4. get a medical exam.
5. get your work visa and resident status. word.
let me tell you the story of my medical exam.
i spoke this much chinese at the time. so it was left to the bosses to make appointments and then explain what was going on. which they sometimes did.
one morning (i probably have the date written in my taiwan journal – which exists, shockingly enough) i got up and went about my business. shower. brush teeth. morning pee pee and bowel movement. the usual.
when i got to work i found out that i had my medical exam for visa purposes that morning.
okay, no biggie. even if i don’t speak chinese and this doctor doesn’t speak english, a body is a body. blood pressure and temperature are blood pressure and temperature. what preparation was necessary for going to see a doctor, so what did i care if i had no notice about the appointment?
i found out soon enough how much i cared. a whole lot. why oh why did no one tell me ahead of time? i am still traumatized by the memory.
you probably don’t know this (and i certainly didn’t), but the visa medical exam in taiwan includes some sort of analysis and testing of the would-be visa holder’s stool.
that’s right. i got to the doctor’s office that morning and was handed a small cup and miniscule plastic spork. and was horrified to learn that they wanted me to go into the bathroom stall and come out having filled the cup up to the approprate line with poop.
second aside: the philippines also requires a stool sample from resident/worker visa applicants. i know because i have applied for a visa there before, too. i think in that instance i knew about the requirement something like 3 months ahead of time. not 3 minutes.
not horrified at the thought of having to hand over my poop to someone else for his or her perusal. i had done that before, as i said in my second aside.
no, not horrified for that reason. horrified because i had just come from pooping – something i do just about once a day – and could not conceive of how i was going reach the fill line. right then.
yes, everybody poops. but not on command.
in my experience at least.
third aside: i read “everybody poops” in a bookstore in taiwan.
this is where i remind everyone that i didn’t speak chinese. the staff at the doctor’s office didn’t speak english. i saw no way of getting the idea across that i was not in a position to seal the deal and needed to come back another day.
i remind you of that because i know you’re wondering why i didn’t just tell someone i needed to come back and try again.
consider yourself reminded.
i felt stuck. what could i do?
go in the stall and find a way to make it happen, that’s what.
you don’t want details, i’m sure.
suffice it to say that there was a lot of hard work, discomfort and other unpleasantness that culminated in the abandonment of the spork as the tool for fishing out of the toilet bowl the pathetic pellets that i hoped would pass for poop.
i know you didn’t want details, but trust me, that wasn’t details.
even though no one knew what went on behind the stall door (and no one would ever know unless i said something and you still don’t really know), what went on behind that stall door had the (dis)honor of being my most embarrassing moment for a number of years. i was that humiliated.
i am happy to report that i never had occasion to visit that doctor’s office again. i’m calling it a tender mercy. i don’t know. it’s like revisiting the place of such trauma would have proven my undoing.
i also am happy to report that i haven’t had to apply for a resident visa since then. what if every country has the same stringent standards. what if every country wants proof that you’re just like everybody else before they let you stay a while.
i don’t want to find out. not without notice at least.