On Saturday, May 15, it started almost normally. Very few clients showed up, as media-induced panic had already sent most into a frenzy.
However, as I was waiting for students, the announcement came that there had been 180 new cases all in one day and Greater Taipei would be put under Level 3 restrictions, with all classes "canceled until further notice." At that point, it wasn’t the virus I was worried about — it was survival.
As a foreigner who has lived in Taiwan for several years and is less than a year from being eligible for an APRC, I am still sponsored by an employer so I can maintain legal residence and employment here. However; I would have never taken the path I did had I known it would pave the way for what happened over the next several weeks.
Immediately, I panicked and thought to myself, "Where is the support system everyone brags so much about here in Taiwan, especially for foreigners?" "You are my only legal employer here in Taiwan," I told my employer. "As a foreigner with no support network or other legal means of finding work, how will I pay my rent? How will I be able to eat, and how will I survive?"
My supervisor told me the situation would only last a couple of weeks and not to worry, "it will be just another two weeks," "it will be another two weeks," time and time again to keep me and other employees from finding out enough of what was clearly going on to get angry and demand fair solutions. All done to distance the supervisor and company they represent and deflect any responsibility whatsoever to their employees.
As we are nearly two months into the quasi-lockdown here in Taiwan, many, including myself, have not had the means to find legal work. Although we are sponsored by an employer, they are not giving us any work or any access to subsidies.
We've been abandoned by those we work for, and by the government here in Taiwan. Many of us foreigners are not taken seriously as human beings and are simply props to be used when needed, the same as Mickey Mouse, perhaps.
Fake Mickey Mouse statue in Budhha's World theme park. (Flickr, Panda Wu photo)
When Disneyland is forced to close, do you think the company, let alone any of the tourists, could care less what happens to the person wearing the costume? Exactly — none of them could care less.
Many of my students have contacted me ecstatically announcing that they would all be suspending their memberships and are happy to be taking prolonged breaks, without even considering the fact that I, as their instructor, am now completely out of a job.
Maybe when the pandemic subsides, Mickey Mouse won’t be there for their amusement, or be in a position to be trifled with anymore. Hopefully, many foreign teachers will leave Taiwan and search for better opportunities and abandon the system and students that abandoned them in their greatest hour of need.
The institute I worked for up until May 15 sponsors foreign employees who are not yet eligible for permanent residency, yet it does the bare minimum to help them or keep them informed of their rights and the resources available to them. This organization also deliberately gives their employees minimal hours so they don’t qualify as "full-time" workers. That way, the company doesn’t have to offer full-time benefits.
This was made very clear when my supervisor told me labor insurance wasn’t their responsibility or a legal requirement to work in this country, even under sponsorship.
My supervisor told me there would be no online classes, no alternative whatsoever, which left me mortified. I asked, "What am I supposed to do as someone who is literally stranded here in Taiwan? No legal means of employment, no support network, and completely abandoned?"
At this very moment, although I pay taxes, I am not eligible for any subsidy as a foreign worker simply because I do not yet have an APRC and am not a permanent resident. Also, with the company I worked for not giving us access to labor insurance, I am also ineligible for any resources that would assist me with living expenses.
To top it all off, my employer gave me absolutely no other alternative to the in-person job I had before Level 3. Shame on the institute, shame on my supervisors, and shame on the entire system that used and abandoned us.
Many companies in Taiwan that hire foreign workers operate in the same fashion. Many learning institutes that salivate over foreign faces or native speakers are showing their true colors.
When the restrictions ease, I will not be returning to my previous employer. Only in times like these do we get to see everyone's true colors and learn a great deal about their character.
I hope this informs others, so they do not end up in the same vulnerable situation.
At this point, I cannot disclose how I am surviving. I am, though, surviving. Desperate times have indeed called for desperate measures.
When the system abandons someone, that individual has no other choice than to abandon the system and its rules. If you see foreigners working jobs they not have permits for or doing things you may find questionable, just remember: you are as responsible for it as anybody else.
Don’t expect to be able to dismiss the suffering of your neighbors without it one day ending up in your front yard. Just a thought.
The thing is, there are others out there who I know personally who are truly suffering right now. At least we're learning and adapting, and we won't make the same mistake twice.
"Nathaniel M. Taylor" is originally from the U.S., but has been living and working in Taiwan for more than 11 years, long enough to consider it his second home. He is fluent in Mandarin, having formally studied the language for three years at National Taiwan University, and has worked for over 10 years as an instructor. Taiwan News has agreed to the writer using a pen name.