“Theatricality and Deception…”

“…are powerful Agents to the uninitiated. But we are initiated […]”

BaneThe Dark Knight Rises” (2012)

We left for Taiwan early Thursday afternoon. Everything at the airport went really smoothly: checking in, going through security (it took all 14 of us less than 20 min), and finding our departure gate. I even got to meet up with my old friend Jack Daniels, before the flight. The flight (China Southern Airlines) was just as enjoyable: decent food, pleasant flight attendants, and I had a seat by the window, right behind the turbines (my favorite because I can see both the wings in motion, and everything below us). I really enjoyed spotting the numerous ships traveling below us. We landed 2 hours later and I had to wait for all the passengers to disembark the aircraft because I had store my carryon in one of the back overhead bins since the front ones were full (due to a crowded flight). So naturally, I was one of the last people to reach immigration.

Just for clarification and enlightenment: while Taiwan is considered a state of its own, it doesn’t have its own seat at the United Nations General Assembly: it officially belongs to the People’s Republic of China. How does that work? It doesn’t. That is why some people/countries believe Taiwan should be its own country, while others don’t: big debate in International Politics. The United States do not diplomatically recognize Taiwan as a state of its own… probably because it would strain their relationship with China; but that’s a whole other story. All this to say that despite China officially governing Taiwan, the latter still operates autonomously.

The fact that we had to go through immigration even though we came from China, should trigger your sensors. And it did… it even broke them. By the time it was my turn to actually go through the immigration booth, the whole Davidson group (including Fuji, the program director) had already made it through. The lady flipped through my passport endlessly (something I’m now used to because I bet people in this part of the world don’t often see my country’s passports) and then finally asked me why I don’t have a visa. At this point, I already knew I wasn’t going to be able to enter Taiwan. So I immediately signaled Fuji who came and started trying to reason with the immigration officers, in vain.

Why was I pessimistic about my going through? I wasn’t being pessimistic… Just realistic. Indeed, as I explained earlier the whole Taiwan vis-à-vis China issue is a sensitive topic. I put myself in their shoes and this is probably what they were thinking: “who the hell does this 老外 (“laowai”, foreigner) think he is, coming into Taiwan like it’s his bathroom because he has a Chinese visa? There’s no way we’re letting him in: not only is he insulting our [already infringed] sovereignty but it’ll also allow to send a strong message to wherever he’s from, that Taiwan is not China!”.

I immediately realized this was going on and told Fuji to get the others and leave: I could already tell the immigration officers were just going to make me dance around and eventually tell me I can’t get into Taiwan. I’d have hated to 1, make everyone wait for me, just to 2, later be told that they waited for nothing. Fuji was panicked at the idea of leaving me there by myself but I reassured him that I would be more than okay: I’ve been through much, much worse in 3rd world airports; worse case scenario here was me going back to China.

I never get over the size of A380s…

After about an hour and 45 minutes of just standing there (no seat was offered to me or anything), China Southern Airlines representatives came and explained to me that I had to go back to China. Apparently, even though I am a permanent resident of the United States, only 3 countries’ residents have the right to enter Taiwan using American Green Cards; and the Comoros is not one of those 3.

So I asked them when the next flight for Shanghai was and they said “Five thirty”. I was assuming it was 5:30am. I complained and asked them if they could at least put me in a hotel because I wasn’t going to hang around their airport for 8 and half hours. “No it’s 5:30 pm, tomorrow Sir”. I actually laughed when she clarified because somehow the situation was actually a little funny (maybe I was just tired). But I quickly regained composure.

– Do you actually expect me to believe that there is no flight to Shanghai between now (9:00pm) and tomorrow, 5:30pm?

– Oh no Sir there are flights but there aren’t with our airlines so we cannot put you on there. You can purchase ticket for last flight out tonight at 10:00pm.

I immediately contacted Fuji and asked him if I could use my credit card on a ticket out tonight as opposed to waiting 20+ hours at the airport, and later get a refund from the program budget. He agreed without hesitation and I told the airline representatives to go ahead and book my flight out of Taiwan, 10:00pm that same night.

– I’m sorry Sir but the airline refuse sell you ticket because you have visa problem.

– That doesn’t make any sense: I have no visa to enter Taiwan but I do have a re-entry visa for China. You can see it right there in my passport. Just tell them.

– I’m sorry Sir but they said no.

At this point I wished I were the Hulk and could just get mad and wreck the whole place; I even considered being rude but remembered that my mom taught me better, and decided to keep it cool.

– What time is the next flight I can actually take please?

– 9:00 AM. But we cannot put you in hotel because you do not have Taiwan visa. You have stay in airport.

– And do what for 12 hours?!? Are you going to stay with me and chat?

– Lol, no Sir just… look around. OR! We can put you in detention center: it has bed, bathroom, TV, very clean.

– I want to speak to the head of immigration services.

Turns out she (yes, it was a she) was right there and started chatting with me about where I was from, what I was doing in this part of the world, blah blah blah- your typical just-try-to-calm-down type of conversation. I didn’t like that. 1, because it makes it seems as if I was being an unreasonable person who just needed to be calmed down (when really my frustration was more than justified). And 2, because she was playing mind games with me, which was an insult to my intellect. So I decided to be that guy:

– Sir I understand you must be really frustrated and I’m very sorry.

– Oh I’m fine. It’s just that… My dad is going to be REALLY pissed. Yeah… when he finds out my school put me in a situation like this, only 1 week after making a 1 Million dollar donation to the school, he’s going to be very pissed… but oh well.

The look on her face? Priceless. For all the rest there’s MasterCard. Don’t ask me how, where and why I came up with that ‘cause quite frankly I don’t know. It sprung in my head and I just decided to use it, what’s the worse that could happen right? She was like “oh okay… I understand. Please excuse me”. She took her personal phone and made a phone call. I couldn’t quite grasp the vernacular but her tone was definitely urgent and pressing. As soon as she hang up:

– We have decided to make an exception and let you leave the airport so you can spend the night at a hotel. However, you will need to leave us with your passport and green card.

– Thank you very much but no shot: I am not parting with my travel documents. You have to understand that considering my current predicament, that would be an extremely stupid thing to do.

– … okay. You can keep your documents. But you have to promise you won’t leave the airport and you’ll stay in the hotel we designate.

–  Of course. Thank you very much.

I was assigned a very pretty “hostess” who insisted on carrying my luggage. She even stopped and bought me some of her favorite tea. She helped me check-in my hotel and escorted me all the way to my room and ensured everything was okay, before getting back to work.

– Here is your passport and everything. If you leave hotel, no one will know… Have a great night.

View from my hotel room

I took a long shower, and then decided to go to a bar I had noticed on the way to the hotel. Before that, I received 2 calls from Shanel and Dj who wanted to check on me (how nice of them).  I would have loved to be with the rest of the group and visit Taiwan but it just wasn’t meant. Who’s fault was it? Partly the program’s for not being thorough in checking visa requirements, partly mine for not doing my own homework on the matter. But it doesn’t matter. The little I saw of Taiwan (its airport) was enough to make want to come back one day and visit.

Visited a little museum in the Airport

Besides, there was something nice and almost cool about hanging out in airport bar late at night, by myself, watching cricket (super random by the way) while reminiscing past travels, experiences and relationships: I have friends in West Texas that I met when I unloaded trucks at Walmart and worked at a meat processing plant; I have friends in the projects in France that attended high school with me but are now drug dealers; I have friends deep in the Comorian jungle with whom I used to go hedgehog hunting with at 1:00 AM (best meat ever!); I have my phrat Brothers and my other friends at Davidson College all with whom I’ve had had great times… As I sat there with my friend Jack, I could only think about how lucky I am for all these wonderful experiences.

Had a succulent lunch… at Davidson’s expense naturally.

I decided to stay in the hotel all-day and CHILL. I caught the 5:30pm [free] flight they initially mentioned. Not only did I avoid the program spending $600 on a ticket for the 9:00AM, but I was also bumped into business class; so FNOH.