In a few more days I'll be getting on a jet plane and leaving Yinzburg for a little time at home.
It has been about six years since I have been back home and over a decade since I had the opportunity to spend the Chinese New Year with people who actually partake in Chinese New Year festivities (Chinese New Year is the American cultural equivalent of Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas combined). So I guess at one level I am somewhat excited.
However, until mankind perfects teleportation technology, in order to get there, one has to spend nineteen and a half hours in a dry pressurized metal cylinder. That is a long time to spend watching family movies and enjoying the wonderful food and service offered by Delta Airlines followed by a two and a half hour bus ride from the airport (basically more than 24 hours door to door). Unfortunately I'm not 19 anymore and I get stiff, tired and cranky.
Also, one of the primary reasons why I'm making this trip back is to sort of um... see some older members of the family while I still can. So it is a rather somber trip.
Going back to the old country is a lot easier than leaving. In the United States, people go through customs and border controls for entering the country. But as long as you're not a criminal/terror suspect on some watch list, someone who has knowledge of information subject to export controls, or someone out on bail, you're free to leave pretty much whenever you want.
In Taiwan, the customs and border controls exist for people entering and leaving the country. In fact, in my experience, I have spent more time waiting for the customs official to permit me to leave the country than I have awaiting permission to enter the country.
The reasons for this peculiar setup is twofold. First, Taiwan was in a continuous state of martial law from 1949 until 1987. Law enforcement found it beneficial to be able to able to control departure since it made it hard for criminals (both genuine and political) from leaving the country.
Second, Taiwan still has a military draft. All males between the ages of 19 through 36 are subject to conscription for service in the armed forces. Those subject to the draft are not permitted to leave the country unless they fall within a few rather specific categories. The draft is being phased out in the coming years - but I'd imagine the departure inspection to continue for the foreseeable future (because frankly it is such a nice law enforcement tool).
So we'll see how this trip goes - hopefully it will be smooth sailing with plenty of joyous festivities, yummy food and wonderful Engrish of the Day blog posts.