Not All Vogons are Created Equal

Since I’m staying in Taiwan for a year as a student, I am supposed to go to the Immigration Office and get an Alien Resident Card (ARC), that would work as my official ID in Taiwan for the upcoming year. I went to get that paperwork done today. I had the chance to experience first hand a cultural perspective that my old man has tried to instill in me for years, but it wasn’t until today that I could finally understand it.

First, let me give you a bit of historical background. According to my dad, In the old days (as in the times of Confucius), everyone made a living with farming. There were not as many professions like nowadays, and doctors, for instance, were pretty much crazy old guys that tried different “natural remedies” and figured out that drinking some type of soup worked a bit better for fevers than other types of soup… The only really prestigious profession was holding a position in public office like mayor or advisor to the king. To get one of these positions, you actually had to study very hard and pass extremely difficult exams. If you made it as a public officer, it was a huge honor because you proved that you were educated and knew enough about politics, history, and philosophy to be a good leader in your community.

(A side note – There are actually a whole lot of Chinese soap operas and movies whose central theme revolve around this very topic. Usually the story goes something like this. “The richest guy in town has a very pretty daughter. I’m a nobody, and there’s no chance in hell I could ever marry her. Oh! I know! I’ll study hard, run for office, and when I’m important and famous, her father will have no option but to agree when I ask for her hand!” Of course, a bunch of silly things happen then, usually including some rich kid who wants to marry the same girl… obviously, there is no drama without a triangle of love.)

Today, I believe I had the chance to observe this cultural mindset as it’s portrayed in today’s Chinese society. As I approached the office, a security guard signaled me from a distance to let me know that I couldn’t get into the building through that door and that I had to walk around the corner. When I walked into the building, I found a lady sitting on the front desk. I thought, “She probably doesn’t speak English. She’s not that young; speaking English is more common among younger people.” I was proved wrong. She told me what form I had to fill in and told me what line I had to make to get my paperwork done, all in perfect English. As I filled in the form, I realized I had to give them my address, but the only version of it I had was in Chinese of which I couldn’t understand half of it. I asked another lady who worked there to help me out, and she kindly wrote it down for me in the form.

While I waited for my turn, I soon realized that there were about 25 people ahead of me waiting for theirs. However, there were about 15 clerks helping people, and I only had to wait for about 20 minutes for my turn! The guy who took care of my paperwork wasn’t that young either, but he also spoke perfect English. He explained that I needed to make some copies and pointed me to a machine where I could get the required photos for my ID and application form. When I came back with the missing stuff, he filled the form, processed the payment for my paperwork, and told me when I needed to come back to get my ARC, all in less than 5 minutes. And that was that. Efficient, easy, and painless. Maybe, the only way that that could be more efficient would be if they put my ARC in the mail, so I don’t have to go there again.

While the clerk was working on my paperwork, I noticed that right next to him there was a weird looking box with a few buttons on top. The front the box said, “Our staff forgetting their smiles? Remind them. If you are satisfied with our service, please press a button to let us know.” I’m very disappointed to say that I wasn’t curious enough to read the labels on the buttons, nor did I press any of them. :( 

Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I honestly have never seen a public office run as smoothly.  They obviously hire competent people. Of course, I’m assuming all the other clerks spoke English too. Why would they even hire people who don’t speak English to work in an office where you have to deal with people who don’t speak Chinese on a daily basis? And they are expected to smile! And if they don’t, there’s a system in place to file complains right away automatically??? Is that millenary cultural awesomeness or what?! Now I understand when I was starting college a few years ago and my old man use to tell me, “You should pick a career with which you can serve society and your country and make them better.” I used to think that was a utopia, but it’s no joke. These people put their hearts into their jobs, and look how far they’ve come. This also reminds me why Panama is so fucked up in so many ways. We gotta chance our mindset in order to improve. If we keep telling ourselves that we’re surrounded by idiots of whom we can take advantage, we will continue to be stuck in shitty limbo forever.

(Another side note – This is how I think this story would have turned out in Panama: As the security guard sees me approaching the wrong door, he probably waits until I get there to tell me I can’t go in that way. Yes, wasting my time has no consequence to him, so why bother tell me before I get there? As I walk into the office, I would probably have to wait 10 minutes while the lady at the front desk finishes telling another lady why she’s mad about something retarded or until she’s done selling lottery tickets. When I finally get an answer and assuming there are 25 people ahead of me, I’d probably have to wait for 2 hours for my turn since out of 5 clerks, 1 is out sick, 1 is late stuck in traffic, and 2 are in a coffee break.  When the clerk realizes I don’t have the required photos or copies, I would have to waste another 30 minutes in traffic while I drive to the pharmacy or the grocery store to get the missing stuff. When I finally make it back to the office, there are two possible scenarios. In the best-case scenario, I have to make a 30-minute line to pay for the paperwork, and then wait for the clerk to have a chance to finalize my paperwork. In the worst-case scenario, I have to waste another hour in traffic to go to a government-run bank to pay for the paperwork and come back to the office with the receipt to finalize my paperwork. All in all, that would be pretty much a whole day gone to waste.)