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.

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.

Jenkins book finally available in English

For those of you who have been waiting for it, the story of the famous Vietnam war era deserter to North Korea, Charles Jenkins, is finally out in English. Normally I would explicitly avoid promoting something I was notified about through spam from the publisher, but I think I can safely say that a clear majority of people who would be reading this blog want to read Jenkins’ story.

I’m sure it’s on Amazon etc. but here’s the official book web page at the University of California Press site.

I can’t wait to read this book. I just hope there’s a special edition, in which Jenkins’ impenetrable southern drawl is transcribed phonetically, like an Irvine Welsh novel.

One foreigner’s perspective on American and Japanese immigration security procedures

Jade OC, a long time reader and commenter of MFT, has graciously posted a detailed comparison of his experiences passing through both US and Japanese airline security and immigration checkpoints as a comment on an earlier blog post on the subject. As I suspect that many of our readers look only at the actual posts and not the comments, I thought I would promote this one to the front page.

As promised, here is my short report on the fingerprinting-immigration process in the US and Japan from the POV of a non-citizen of either (though a resident of Japan).

First big complaint. I never wanted to go to the US at all, at least not the first time. But you cannot bloody transit in the US – there’s no such thing as a transit lounge. Everyone who enters a US airport from outside the country, even if, like me, you are just taking a flight to Canada in about 90 minutes, needs to go through Immigration and Customs. This is seriously Fucked Up.

Continue reading One foreigner’s perspective on American and Japanese immigration security procedures

Real life first stories of modern first contact

First contact with previously unknown societies is not just the stuff of science fiction and the distant past, but still happens from time in some of the remotest parts of the world. The Washington Post has a fantastic long feature chronicling the adventurous life of one man who had made it his life’s work to discover, and aid, these isolated tribes-a unique Brazilian profession known as a “sertanista.” A sample passage:

It had been just over a year since they had made first contact with Purá, the only adult male in the five-member Kanoe tribe. Marcelo and Altair had sat for hours with Purá, patiently communicating with hand gestures. Eventually, an elderly Indian from the other side of Rondonia who spoke Portuguese and a related tribal language was brought in to translate the stories of Purá and his mother, Tutuá. Slowly, the team pieced together the Kanoe tribe’s grim history.

In the 1970s, when the group numbered about 50, all of the tribe’s adult males ventured out of their tiny village together in search of different Indian groups in the hope of arranging marriages. After several days, the men didn’t return, so a small group of women formed a search party. They found the men massacred, killed by unknown assailants. The women panicked, convinced they couldn’t survive and care for their children on their own. So they made a pact: All of them — women and children — would drink a deadly poison derived from the timbo plant and commit collective suicide. But Purá’s mother, Tutuá, refused to swallow. As she vomited fiercely, she rid herself of the traces of poison and was able to stop her two children, her sister and her niece from sipping the fatal brew.

The tiny tribe had lived on its own for nearly two decades — until Marcelo and Altair encountered Purá and his sister on a jungle trail in September 1995. The team members figured that if anyone could help them find the lone Indian, an Indian who had been in a similar situation until very recently might be their best bet.

Joe enrolls in the MOJ Gaijin Hanzai File

Tonight I returned to Japan from a personal/business trip to the US, and got to experience the new fingerprinting system for the first time.

My flight was United 883, one of the later inbound flights from the US (it arrives around 5:30 PM). I was in the mid-section of economy so there were quite a few people getting off the plane ahead of me. I phoned Curzon as I was walking down the concourse to immigration and told him I would give a postgame report in “maybe 30 minutes.”

But when I reached immigration, there was practically no line for anyone. The area was separated into four zones: citizens, special permanent residents, re-entrants and other foreigners. Those using the new “fast track” card (which I did not bother to get before leaving Japan) were lumped in with the random foreigner category. There were two dedicated re-entrant stations open, and only one was in use when I arrived, so I went straight to the waiting officer who took my passport.

The fingerprinting machine is surprisingly simple, consisting of two fingerprinting pads (made of some sort of metal), an LCD screen and a tiny camera not unlike the built-in webcams that come with laptops these days. The machine says INSERT FINGERS and you put your two forefingers in. Then the immigration officer points the little webcam at you and snaps your photo (which, thankfully, is not displayed on the screen: I don’t need to know what I look like after nearly 24 hours of traveling).

So I was done with immigration in about 30 seconds, which I think is close to a personal record. This didn’t keep United from losing my luggage, though…

“Detain this man! His ID is too weird!”

I’m currently on a business trip in New York, nested within a personal trip to see my family in South Carolina.

I didn’t bring my driver’s license to the US because I had no plans to drive anywhere. And I left my passport at my parents’ house because I didn’t need it to travel to New York.

So when I got to the security checkpoint at the podunk airport in South Carolina, the only photo ID I had with me was… my gaijin card. (For the uninitiated, this is a Japanese alien registration card. Most of the data on it is printed in Japanese, except for name, nationality and birthplace, with really tiny English subtitles on the labels).

Here’s how it went:

ME: Hi there, how ya doin’? (hands over boarding pass and gaijin card, acting natural)
ID CHECKER LADY: (furrows brow) What is this?
ME: It’s, uh, a Japanese government issued ID.
ID CHECKER LADY: Huh? (stares at it some more) Don’t you have a driver’s license?
ME: Unfortunately no, I didn’t drive here. This is the only ID I have.
ID CHECKER LADY: Um…. (calls over to lady at neighboring checkpoint) Hey, what am I supposed to do with this?
ID CHECKER LADY 2: What is it?
(They confer.)
ID CHECKER LADY: Should I send him back to ticketing to get the S’s? (Note to the uninitiated: They print “SSSS” on your boarding pass as a signal that you require “additional screening,” which includes a pat-down search, explosives swabbing and whatever else the TSA thinks is relevant.)
ID CHECKER LADY 2: I’m not sure.
ME: (noticing that the line is about 20 deep behind him) Ma’am, it’s issued by the government of Japan. Do you see the fine print in the corner there?
ID CHECKER LADY 2: (to Lady 1) It’s up to you.
ID CHECKER LADY: Do you have any other ID?
ME: Besides credit cards and my mileage card…
ID CHECKER LADY 2: Oh, that’s fine!
ME: Um, okay. (hands over mileage card, wondering how this is supposed to make things any more secure)

For what it’s worth, I have since used my gaijin card as ID with several different doormen in New York, and none have batted an eyelash. Maybe the South just has issues with “them weird squiggly Oriental pictures.”

Most exotic tourist spot

Until today I had thought that it might be Antarctica or the Aral Sea, but there’s a new contender: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

A looming environmental threat the size of Texas should be hard to miss, but when that threat is floating in a rarely-visited section of the Pacific Ocean and composed of a diffuse mass of plastic, it’s easy for it to avoid public attention. The recent establishment of a marine preserve north of the Hawaiian Islands has refocused attention on this floating refuse heap, which has picked up the moniker the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

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