Tue, Feb 03, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Getting the boot

Expats can usually take the stage in Taiwan without fear of being deported. But there are exceptions and the law doesn’t favor those who do

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

A headshot of actor Stewart Glen during his Vancouver days. He is now represented by V&L International Models in Taiwan.

Photo Courtesy of Stewart Glen

Scott Ezell is as calm and laid-back in real life as he sounds in his bluesy, drifty studio recordings. Wearing horn-rimmed glasses, the California-born experimental folk musician looks more bookish than the type who would seriously jam out — which makes sense since he’s also a poet as well as the author of the forthcoming memoir A Far Corner about living in the remote village of Dulan (都蘭) in Taitung County (台東) with a community of Amis Aboriginal woodcarvers and musicians.

As we wander the back alleys of Taipei in search of low-key experimental music venues, Ezell tells me that it is his first trip back to the city since his deportation in 2004 for performing without a permit at the Dulan Sugar Factory.

After 10 years of traveling around Asia and the US while compiling research on Taiwanese history and anthropology, Ezell is back in Dulan doing an artist residency. In fact, he is currently living a few miles north from his old recording studio which he built from driftwood and analog tape machines.

“When I returned, one of my friends said, ‘we’ve been waiting so long for you to come home!’” Ezell says.


Ezell’s story, while intriguing, is not that unique. There are many expat performers who, for various reasons ranging from the country’s thriving artistic scene and its friendly people to the inspirational natural environment, have made Taiwan their home. They’ve learned Mandarin and integrated with local communities — and it’s through singing, dancing or acting that they are able to share and make sense of their hybrid experiences.

The only difference with his case, Ezell says, is that a local cop with a known antagonism for foreigners reported his actions to his superiors who had no choice but to open an investigation. What could have been settled with some minor paperwork and a fine, snowballed into a national media maelstrom. A deportation order was issued, but with the help of a lawyer, he won the right to stay in Taiwan during the appeal process — though he chose not to.

“I made a free choice to end my residence in Taiwan,” Ezell says. “In many ways, I had an idealistic life in Dulan … I had an old farmhouse, my rent was NT$2,000 a month, the best community in the world was here and yet, I felt like my creative life had plateaued a bit.”

It was a convergence of different factors that influenced his decision to leave — including a failed relationship and the death of his dog — but the thought of living under constant surveillance and threat of deportation sealed his decision.

“This was the only place that was home in the world,” Ezell says about Dulan.

Although Ezell has family in the US, it was in Taiwan — and specifically with members of the Open Circle Tribe, most of whom are Amis — where he had fermented long-lasting friendships and evolved as a musician. Ezell’s time in Dulan sparked his interest in Aboriginal issues like questions of identity, land rights and reconciling ancient tradition with the modern industrial economy. All of this is evident in his music which contains inflections of earthy tones infused with lyrics that hint at social issues.

Recalling his departure, Ezell says, “I had to disconnect from the people here in order to leave so I stopped seeing my friends; I wasn’t going to be able to get out of here if I saw them and they asked me what was going on.”

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