The Horrors

As horrific as the news can be from time to time, I’m not sure I can think of any contemporary story that quite compares with the story of Delphine Lalaurie, of 19th century New Orleans.

On April 10, 1834, during another party, a fire broke out in the kitchen of the mansion. The kitchen, as was the norm in Spanish mansions, was separate from the home and located over the carriageway building across the courtyard. The firemen entered the building through the courtyard. To their surprise, there were two slaves chained to the stove in the kitchen. It appeared as though the slaves had set the fire themselves in order to attract attention.

However, the biggest surprise was to be found in the attic, where the fire brigade was directed by the other slaves. The door was bolted, and the fire brigade had to use a battering ram to open the door. What they found would make their stomachs wrench; inside the crawlspace attic was the stench of death. According to contemporary accounts, over a dozen disfigured and maimed slaves were manacled to the walls or floor. Several had been the subject of gruesome medical experiments.

The exact details are unclear; owing to the horrific nature of the crime, many details were either swept under the rug or embellished. One man looked as though he had been victim of some bizarre makeshift sex change. Another one, a woman, was trapped inside a small cage, where her arms and legs had been badly broken and then reset at odd angles, making her appear as some sort of “human crab.” Another woman had her arms and legs removed and patches of her flesh had been sliced off in a circular motion to make her appear as a giant caterpillar. Some had their mouths sewn shut and had then starved to death. Others had their hands sewn to different parts of their bodies. One woman had her entrails pulled out of her stomach and was secured to the floor by her own intestines. A small boy of about twelve had the flesh on half of his face peeled back, revealing muscle, veins, and so forth. The wound had since been infested with disease and insects. Most of the victims were found dead. Those who were still alive, begged to be put out of their misery and died shortly after.

Visas I have known

This is the first visa in my passport, the student visa from when I studied abroad at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan in 2002. Note that although it is a multiple entry vis, in Japan one still must obtain a re-entry permit sticker at the local immigration bureau to be placed in one’s passport before leaving the country, or the visa becomes invalid. Naturally, this is an extra fee.

This is my first tourist visa for the People’s Republic of China. Note that unlike the Japanese visa, it actually uses Chinese characters the fill out some of the fields, most notably the “Issued at” field, which is marked “Osaka.” In fact, I applied for this visa at a very strange “travel agency” office around the corner from the Japan immigration bureau in Kyoto, which in addition to accepting applications for visas to China also serves the role of selling the payment stamps which one must use to pay fees at the Japan immigration bureau in lieu of actual cash when paying for such things as reentry permits or visa extensions.

The only differences from the first one is that A: this one is double entry, so I could reenter China after my bus trip to Kazakhstan from Urumqi, and that it was glued to my passport in an extremely crooked fashion.

This is actually two separate, but related documents. The yellow thing is my tourist visa for Kazakhstan, and the blue thing above it is the “Registration Certificate” that non residents are required to keep in their passports until they leave the country. Notice that the visa is glues, and the certificate is stapled so it can be removed. It is, however, too cool to remove. The Kazakh visa is notable for a couple of things. First of all, it is handwritten-the only 21st century visa I have ever seen which is. Secondly, the “Inviting Organization” of “Sunrise Travel.” One cannot just apply for a Kazakh tourist visa like with most countries-instead you must have a letter of “invitation.” Tourist agencies, such as Sunrise Travel, will provide these letters for a small fee-I believe it was on the order of US $20.

There is an item I wish I could place right next to mine, and there is a story to it. My traveling companion on this particular trip was “Saru”, formerly also a contributor to this site. For some reason instead of indicating a one month span as I did on my visa application, he listed the exact seven-day period we had been planning to be there. Unfortunately, he got the range slightly off, so that if we had actually left on the date indicated on his passport we would just barely miss the local celebration of Nauryz-the biggest public holiday of the year! Obviously, this would have been extremely undesirable, so on the day after we arrived in Almaty, our local friends with whom we were staying took us to the office of this Sunrise Travel who had “invited” us to the country and asked how to resolve it.

Saru asked, “what happen if I overstay my visa?”

In reply, the tall, somewhat manly Russian woman with coarse black hair and a gigantic mole on her nose laughed heartily saying, “you go to jail!”

In the end, for a moderate fee she managed to work something out for Saru, but it was a rather odd solution. Instead of an extension to his tourist visa, or even a new tourist visa, she got him a business visa, which kicked in the day after the tourist visa ended. A one-day business visa. It looks much like the tourist visa, except for being blue, but I imagine that a single day business visa for Kazakhstan must be very nearly unique in the history of travel.

This is my “Visitor Visa” for Taiwan (legal name, “Republic of China”). I went there to study Mandarin in Taipei immediately following my undergraduate graduation from Rutgers University on a Taiwan government Summer term scholarship for Mandarin study, originally planning only to stay for the three-month Summer term. You may notice that the Duration of Stay is only 60 days. This is because a Visitor Visa has a term of only 60 days, which may be extended twice, for a total stay of 180 days. Why was I on a Visitor Visa instead of a Student Visa? Due to a very peculiar visa system, Taiwan does not actually HAVE such a thing as a Student Visa-only Visitor and Resident. Although a full time university student from abroad would qualify for a Resident Visa, since ordinary Chinese language schools there only enroll on a quarterly basis, language students are issued Visitor Visas. But what if you want to stay and study for longer than 180 days? The answer is below.

This is my Resident Visa for The Republic of China (Taiwan). After studying in Taiwan on a Visitor Visa for four months, one is eligible to apply for a Resident Visa. Once you have a Resident Visa, you are then eligible to apply for the ARC (Alien Registration Card) and upon having that, to the national health system (which incidentally works very much like the one in Japan).

The entire system is absurdly cumbersome, with Visitor Visa extensions and ARC applications being handled by an office of the county or city police, but the Resident Visa application being handled by the immigration department, in an entirely different part of the city (at least in the case of Taipei). Visitor visa extensions for language study also require the submission of an attendance tracking form, which one obtains from the administrative office of the language school. If a student has more than a couple of absences, they may then be subject to questioning and browbeating by a member of the foreigner registration section of the Taiwan police.

All in all, it is extremely bureaucratic, containing a number of overly complex and supervisory elements which I suspect (but do not know) are based in the former police state period of Chiang Kai Shek’s regime.

After leaving Taiwan, I got a job working in the office of the College of Information Science and Engineering at Ritsumeikan University’s Biwako Kusatsu Campus, near Kyoto. Although the contract was technically only for one year, it was of a type commonly renewed twice, which I suppose explains why I was granted a 3-year visa.

This is the one I got yesterday.

Another Seattle anecdote from my notebook

March 10

Stop in a local cafe across from the Pike Street Market. Need some cash. As I use the exorbitantly overpriced transaction fee laden ATM a man sitting at a table located directly between the dor and the counter begins speaking. He is somewhat indistinct, but he is saying something like:

“I used to get three hundred dollars a day out of these cash machines. [[something about buying or selling cocaine, unclear]] and you could get out $300 a day without a transaction fee. You got a transaction fee on that one?”

Long white hair and beard, flannel shirt and jeans. 55-65 years age, long slightly pointed nails, with visible dirt underneath. From California originally, he has been in Seattle for 7 years. No matter how one responds, he continues his stream of consciousness elocutions, your own contribution affecting the flow of monologue barely more than a pebble tossed into an actual stream.

“Are you a local?”

“No, I’m visiting some friends here. From New Jersey.’

“Oh,  year Jersey- interesting state. My dad was from outside Toronto, little place near a farm seven miles outside of town.”


During the 3-5 minutes I am in the cafe, he tells me his favorite pie is key lime blackberry but recommends against carbanero-the hot pepper. I am unclear if this is somehow pie related, but if so I must admit it sounds like a terrible recipe. His favorite restaurant had some sort of meal platter involving a rosemary chicken breast for only $7.50, he sometimes eats two for 13 dollars. He offers to treat me to this lunch as I am already trying to pleasantly say goodbye and head out the door, which I am slowly inching towards. There is no recognition whatsoever of my attempts to politely break off conversation, so I walk out the door, words at my back.

The coconut chai is delicious.

Later, I meet my friend Brian for lunch as he takes his break from work a couple of blocks away. We eat at an Ethiopian/African restaurant which I notice has a dish involving rosemary chicken for $7.50, but I am more in a fish mood. For $8 is it excellent, with some sort of green sauce which looks like, but does not taste like pesto.

Green solidarity? Emphasize the white

One of my best friends in college was a Taiwanese guy firmly in the “green” (pro-independence) camp. We had many conversations about the symbolism of green in the independence movements of both Ireland and Taiwan. We were also both into vexillology, the study of flags, and we often compared the evolution of Irish flags to the evolution of flags in Taiwan.

Fast forward a few years. Today was the St Patrick’s Day parade down Omotesando in Tokyo. Much to my curiosity, there were a couple of elderly Taiwan independence protesters out with their green Taiwan independence flags, which made for an interesting comparison with the Irish tricolors hung from flagpoles farther down the avenue. It was also an interesting contrast with the typical crowd of subculture groupies and bemused foreigners that hang out by the entrance to Yoyogi Park.

Green nationalist solidarity

Despite being color-coordinated for the occasion, they seemed rather lonely at their posts. Apparently getting Taiwan admitted to the UN is not high on the political priority list of most Tokyo residents.

Taiwan independence movement

For whatever reason, green is an underused national flag color once you go east of the Indian subcontinent and the extensive Islamic influence in that half of Asia. Macau has a nice green flag (as does Tokyo), but the nations of East and Southeast Asia have generally adopted red, white and blue in varying proportions, with yellow stars sprinkled here and there.

The consensus among books I’ve read and people I’ve spoken to is that green became associated with Ireland (and its native Catholics) simply because Ireland is a very green country–they don’t call it the “Emerald Isle” for nothing. (Although green is prominent in the flags of other Catholic countries–Italy, Portugal, Mexico and Brazil for instance–it doesn’t have religious significance in the stories behind any of these flags.)

Wikipedia’s explanation for the Taiwanese independence movement’s use of green is that the Democratic Progressive Party adopted green because environmentalism was a major part of its agenda, and the color eventually became associated with everything else the DPP advocated.

In both cases, it seems that green took on another meaning: it drew a sharp contrast to powerful adversaries who flew red and blue flags, namely the British in Ireland and the communists and Kuomintang in China and Taiwan. Then you have the United States, where the Green Party is the most popular (if you can call it that) alternative to the “red” and “blue” parties.

I’m not sure if there is really a point to these parallels, besides that people will find ways to divide themselves by color even when they’re all the same color to begin with. The Irish flag acknowledges this in its own way–it stands for peace (the white mid-section) between two opposing sides (the green Catholics and orange Protestants). Ireland eventually got this peace after a few decades of faking it. Who knows where Taiwan is headed–all I know is that I will support a green flag in Asia, because this part of the world is crying out for vexillological diversity.

Some initial notes on Seattle

After spending five days visiting my grandparents in the retirement district of Florida-an area which I can definitively say is, out of all the locales in this world where I have spent even a single entire day, the least appealing in virtually every way-I find myself gradually approaching the tail end of a six day long visit to some friends from my years as an undergraduate at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey who have since graduation moved out to Seattle.

Here is a selection of brief notes on Seattle jotted down in my pocket notebook as I wandered around the city for a couple of days.

March 5

Flight to Seattle.

British stewardess, maybe 50 years old & doughty, shortish red curly hair and thick, thick black glasses-to young woman sitting in starboard aisle seat.  “Are you with them?” She is referring to the two persons sitting between the aisle seat and the window. “No,” is the reply. “Well then, why not sit over there?” says the stewardess referring to the entirely empty port-side half of the row. “Why look like a sardine when you can swim upstream like a salmon?”

March 6

In front of the Space Needle, homeless man in blue sweatshirt is silently gesturing to all passing vehicles that he will crush their bones, rend their fles, and devour them-in the “fee fi fo fum” style of the Jack and the Beanstalk giant.

Distressingly, the Science Fiction Museum is located down the street from the Space Needle, instead of inside of it, which I consider to be the obviously fitting location. In protest of this reckless and selfish offence against common sense, I enter neither of them.

Later in the day, somewhere in the downtown area not far from Pioneer Square, a girl (moderately hipster looking, ginormous sunglasses) waiting behind me in line to order at a Starbucks is shocked that “Tall” size is in fact rather short. She is from Alabama, were they do not have Starbucks. She promised her friends she would boycott it after moving to Seattle, but it’s right on her way to work.

March 7

Much like the apocryphal German spy unmasked in WW2-era Britain due to his habit of looking the wrong way before crossing the street, my most obvious “tell” as an out-of-towner in Seattle is easily my uncertain approach to traffic crossing. Never have I seen such a combination of pedestrians uniformly waiting for traffic lights and drivers uniformly yielding to pedestrians without pause. How is a New Jerseyan to react?

Back in high school I was friends with this girl who hated the taste of coffee, but thought she should be a coffee drinker for image purposes. To wean herself onto the vile drink, she drank mocha (coffee mixed with hot chocolate), gradually increasing the coffee to chocolate ratio. After I finished high school we lost tough and the last I heard she was a heroin addict living somewhere on the west coast.

As I write this, I am drinking hot chocolate. Not mixed with coffee. I hate the stuff. This is not a good town to be anti-coffee.