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.
Dulan 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.
He 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.
He 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.
The 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.
He 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.
How it all started
Around 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.
His 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.
The 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.
Even 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.
"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]."
The 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."