Life in Chiayi

· 5 min read

It was early September. My visa was three weeks from expiry and my final Mandarin exam was rapidly approaching.

I was beginning to feel the weight of the world on my shoulders as months flew by with little perceived progress towards my coding projects. I completely underestimated the difficulty of learning a foreign language.

After class, I wanted nothing more than to give my full attention to my work but alas I needed to deal with my visa. I needed to see my current options and figure out what I wanted.

I didn’t feel like my time in Taiwan was done and another international move would only serve as a distraction. After a brief spike in cases, Taiwan was approaching zero daily cases. Cafes, restaurants, and night markets were re-opening, and the plastic dividers were coming down. I had made the decision that staying was my best option.

I called the Canadian embassy in Taiwan several times, giving my passport number so they can confirm my situation, and I was repeatedly told that my only options for staying were to get married or find a job.

I didn’t want a job but opted against the shotgun wedding. I narrowed my focus to reluctantly finding a job that can sponsor a visa with the minimum amount of hours. Any software position requires 45 hours a week, overtime, and is paid significantly less than remote positions that are unable to sponsor visas. I’d rather go back to Canada.

I learned that 14 hour weeks are considered full time for teaching English. I thought that maybe it would be a good experience and it’s only temporary. After careful but prompt consideration, I decided that this was my best option with the information I had available.

I only had three weeks to find a job and process a work permit. I met a man in Chiayi while cycling around the island. He had mentioned that he runs a few cram schools. “If you ever need to stay in Taiwan longer, contact me,” he said as we parted ways. I called in the favour and he pulled through.

I packed my bags, shipped a few small boxes through 7-Eleven, and moved to Chiayi. I never expected to move closer to the equator during the summer but sometimes life takes unexpected turns.

After scrambling for a health check and RCMP background check, my would-be employer was able to work with immigration to process my work permit. All I needed to do was use said permit to change my current visa to a working visa and then I could stay in Taiwan. I figured I’d ride it out until borders open up. There was just one problem…

I need to leave the country to change to any other visa, but I can’t re-enter. Re-entry is permitted on the Gold Card, but I can’t apply for it from within the country on this visa and out of country passport inspection is halted.

I learned that I can extend my visa by making monthly visits to my local immigration office one week before expiry with proof of an airline-cancelled flight to my home country.

Hello, 你好, good morning! I’m looking to book the flight with the lowest demand to Canada — most likely to be cancelled.

Okay, sir. Vancouver? Toronto?

Anywhere in Canada.

This was a real conversation I had with an airline before I realized that immigration would accept any printed cancellation — even if I hadn’t actually booked the flight. I’m not sure if this is intentional but it has consistently worked with proof of address and a passport photo to glue to the form. I bought six and I’ve already used three.

I’m not looking forward to the day when there are no airline-cancelled flights or this exceptional extension is otherwise no longer granted. I’m just hoping that when the day comes, I’ll be able to do a half day visa run to a nearby country without quarantine on either side like the good ol’ days.

After all of that, I’m no longer working in Chiayi but choose to stay. I’m enjoying the different pace of life and I’m conveniently close to Tainan, Taichung, Alishan, and more. Taipei is still only a few hours away.

I’ve been in Chiayi coincidentally for exactly two months at time of writing. I left formal language study behind me and my focus has shifted to my coding projects and decompressing enough to not burn out, but I practice Mandarin every day through life experiences.

When I started class, my goal was to reach a point where I had enough of a foundation to learn through daily life. I frequently find myself in conversations with locals and we usually get by entirely in Mandarin, strengthening my existing vocabulary, tones, and grammar while picking up new vocabulary and phrases along the way.

While I’ve had a lot of fun here, what have I really done in the last year and a half? It wasn’t until I had the spaciousness of being done with external commitments, finding comfort in the discomfort of never knowing where I’ll be in the following month, and nearing the first major milestone for my projects that I realized… I’ve done a lot.

In the last year and a half: I finalized my divorce, sold most of my personal belongings, fought for months to arrive in this beautiful country, cycled around the island, learned enough Mandarin to communicate like a five year old child, and built a software product with my bare hands.