(also banks, but that wasn’t alliterative)
Getting a library card in Taipei is way easier than I’d anticipated. To get one in the US you need to provide proof of residency such as rental paperwork or recent mail. In Taipei, you don’t even need to be a resident get a library card. The minimum requirements are permanent and temporary addresses, your passport, and a phone number where they can contact you. It’s not a problem if you don’t have a Taiwanese phone number — I gave them my mandarin center’s phone since I didn’t have a cell phone.
You can check out five books at a time for up to three months (!!) with renewals. At the Da’an park branch there’s almost an entire floor of English language books and tons of study space. I’ve already spent hours there.
I was so ready to sign my rental agreement. My flatmate had gone over the Mandarin paperwork with me and had translated all of the landlady’s requests (“you can smoke and drink but not too much”, “please sing while we sign the papers”). Then:
“Do you have a stamp?”
To which I replied with an undignified giggle that, no, I didn’t have a stamp, why would I have a stamp?
Well, this is awkward, my housemate tells me. I need a Chinese name stamp to sign this document.
“I can’t just…sign it?”
Nope, apparently not. I must have a Chinese name stamp.
This was news to me. (I studied abroad in Taiwan and I hadn’t even heard of this concept.) The landlady meeting happened at nearly 11 at night which is past my bedtime, so I postponed Googling until the next day. After consulting the omniscient expat forums and my Mandarin teacher, I learned that these stamps are called “chops”, they cost less than 2 USD to get at any key shop, and nowadays they’re legally binding but really not required. (“Some older people insist on them,” my Mandarin teacher explained with a shrug.)
Like most expats in Taiwan, I have a Chinese name. These days it gets used more than my given name. I put it on my homework, I put it on my government paperwork, I answer to it. But it’s still just an alias. I’m no lawyer, but I feel like stamping a document with something other than my legal name could put me in hot water. I figure that as long as my building doesn’t burn down and I pay my rent on time, it can’t be too big of an issue.
I’d never set foot in a bank before I went into a Taiwanese bank last month. There was an actual safe! And people were handing huge wads of money across the counter! It was all very exciting except for the paperwork part, which was 90% of my Taiwanese banking experience. (I wrote more about red tape and copious paperwork in my last boots on the ground post.)
Epilogue: I Defeat The HES Paperwork Final Boss
Although I explained my I-arrived-late-and-I’m-doing-my-best-please-be-patient situation to the MLC office several times, they kept emailing me or coming to class to ask about missing documents. I had to explain multiple times that no, there was no way I could get my ARC faster and it actually wasn’t my fault and no, I couldn’t get the early-bird discount on classes because I didn’t have any scholarship money because I didn’t have my ARC.
Anyway. I can’t blame the folks in the office, since they’re just trying their best to help me get money. I knew when I got into this that everything in Taiwan involves surprise deadlines and strange requests and way too much paperwork. But I’m finally done! Until the office tells me otherwise, I’ve successfully conquered the paperwork final boss.