When Scott Ezell, a US citizen, moved to Dulan, Taitung County, two and half years ago, his main purpose was to escape the distractions of Taipei and concentrate on his main goal in life, which is to make music.
\nDulan seemed the perfect place to give his dream a shot. The weather is agreeable, expenses are low, the locals are a colorful mix of Amis tribe Aborigines, Hakka and Chinese and the isolation of his tiny home in the mountains above the village would ensure against unwanted commotion, with the exception of the occasional poisonous snake.
\nHe set up a studio in one room of a tiny house that he rents from a widow whose husband drove his car off a cliff on the treacherous road that leads up the mountain, and settled into a lifestyle far removed from Taipei's hustle and bustle.
\nHe frequently ate food foraged from the area around his house and spent most of his time working on an album conceived for Taiwan Colors Music (TCM), which had graciously sponsored a translator's visa for him so that he could live in Taitung without having to teach English or be distracted with other work. When TCM had translation work, and it often does, they called Ezell.
\nThe arrangement worked well. Ezell completed several music projects and finally released the planned album of what he calls organic folk music, although ultimately it was with Taiwan's Wind Records and not with TCM.
\nHe also became increasingly involved with the Dulan Sugar Factory, an artist village at the foot of his mountain that has seen a remarkable transformation in the past two years from a run-down, abandoned set of buildings to a buzzing nexus of cultural activity.
\nHow it all started
\nAround Chinese New Year, Ezell initiated a schedule of shows at the sugar factory called the Dulan Organic Music Series, which now looks like it will be discontinued for the simple reason that Ezell faces imminent deportation for playing guitar at a press conference to promote the weekly events.
\nHis performance was in violation of the law that says holders of Alien Resident Cards are not permitted to perform on stage, whether for money or for free, without obtaining a performance permit.
\nThe illegality of foreign residents in Taiwan performing in a public venue without a specific permit is a fact that most club owners and promoters are either unaware of or choose to ignore.
\nEven the Taitung County Cultural Affairs Bureau, which lent its support to Ezell's concert series at the sugar factory, has found itself broadsided by the uncommonly resolute implementation of the Employment Services Act (就業服務法), Article 73, which prohibits work for an employer other than the one that sponsored the person's ARC. That law, clarified in two recent interpretations, covers musical performances, both paid and unpaid.
\n"If the government is going to call a performance of that nature work, and then kick someone out of the country for it, then it's really out of our hands," said the Cultural Affairs Bureau director Lin Yong-fa (林永發). "There should be some way to apply for a work permit retroactively instead of this. ? We feel it's a good thing to have foreigners doing cultural work here [in Taitung]."
\nThe head of TCM, Zhang 43 (張43), who sponsored Ezell's visa, is likewise confounded by the case. "We wouldn't have thought that the authorities would take the case this far. Usually it's just an issue of talking to the right people to smooth over matters."
\nGoing by the book
\nTo perform legally, foreign residents can obtain a permit through the Council for Labor Affairs in Taipei. The application process is free and takes about seven work days to complete. It's not complicated, but it's time consuming.
\nMost law enforcement officials won't regard performances by foreigners as criminal, anyway. This has created a dangerous assumption among musicians and club owners alike that the police have more pressing matters to attend to, which is not always the case.
\nA look at club listings in Taipei will include a long list of bands with foreign members and there is a strong possibility that neither the musicians nor the venue's managers have taken the first step to be certain of the legality of the show.
\nAt The Wall, Taipei's largest live-music venue, the managers have never bothered with permits for resident foreigner musicians, despite the fact that a police station is located directly across the street.
\nThe club is registered as a multi-functional commercial space with all the requisite permits to host performances and sell alcohol. "The police seem satisfied that we're not doing anything unsavory here, so they don't give us any problems," said Doris Yeh (葉湘怡), who helps manage the club. "Basically, the cops choose to look the other way."
\nIronically, perhaps, dance clubs, which enjoy little leeway from the police due to a major image problem, are especially wary of falling afoul of this law. Last year the popular nightclub Eden was raided and two popular DJs from England were deported when it was found they didn't have the proper permits. Having learned the hard way, music programmers at several of Taipei's most popular nightclubs said it's simply not worth rolling the dice on work permits.
\n"If it's just a friend who drops by to play some records, it's probably not an issue. But in principle we'll go through the process no matter who comes to DJ, whether it's a resident in Taiwan or a special guest. We just don't need the hassle," said Alex Liu (劉子葦), music programmer at Room18.
\nSmaller live-music venues and festivals that book amateur bands with foreign residents, however, have mostly escaped the close scrutiny endured by dance clubs, creating a carefree, bohemian-style aloofness with regard to the legal issues surrounding music performances.
\nThis atmosphere is prevalent in Taipei and, at least until Ezell's case, was the norm elsewhere. Nonetheless, the laws exist, ready to be enforced.
\n"As always, the problem is inconsistent enforcement of the laws," said Roger Wang
PHOTO COURTESY OF TCM
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