Last Friday I drove Manyu to the airport for her annual trip to Taiwan. She wanted me to go with her even more than usual, but our elderly dog has become increasingly dependent on me, and I wasn’t willing to leave him with someone else at this stage in his life. Manyu will be gone for three months, while I stay in La Crosse to care for Jack and watch for signs of spring.
As I drove away from the terminal, my mind wandered back to the first couple years of Manyu’s and my relationship. My thoughts were not so much about romance as about some of the obstacles we faced during those early times. A few of them were the same difficulties all couples face. Most were because we came from two different worlds. For example:
I was living in Asia in the early 1990s. To legally marry a Taiwanese woman at that time, I had to establish I did not already have a wife in the United States. Manyu, on the other hand, didn’t have to prove anything. While this policy demonstrated a double standard, I did not disagree with it. I was an American, I was male, and I was seven years older than Manyu. I wouldn’t have trusted my intentions either.
I’d left all of my important papers (other than my passport) with my mom in Wisconsin, so I asked her to send me my divorce papers. When they arrived in Taipei, Manyu and I took them to Taipei City Hall. A guy at the marriage license window perused the documents and then said, “This doesn’t prove you’re not married. It only shows you’ve been divorced.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I replied. “How can anyone prove he’s not married? The only person in the whole world I can prove I’m not married to is the woman I used to be married to.”
The bureaucrat at the window was not helpful in telling me what I needed to do, but he finally suggested I talk to someone at AIT. AIT is the American Institute in Taiwan. The US does not recognize Taiwan as a country, so we don’t have an embassy there. If we did have an embassy, it would be AIT. When I walked into the main lobby on Xin Yi Road, there were more than a hundred Taiwanese citizens cued up for visas to the United States.* As soon as one of the security guards saw my Western face enter the room, he pulled me aside and escorted me to a side door for Americans. Once within the inner sanctum, there was no line and I walked right up to a guy sitting at a desk.
I explained my situation. He nodded and said, ”Raise your right hand.” I did, and then he asked, “Are you married?”
When I answered, “No,” he asked to see my passport, which fortunately I’d brought along with me. He used my name, birthdate, and passport number to fill in the blanks on a boilerplate form. He signed the form, authorized it with an embossed stamp, and gave it to me.
“That’s it?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, “It’s a statement of non-marriage. How else you gonna prove you’re not married?”
* Since my time in Taipei, AIT has moved from its offices in the heart of the city to a more exclusive location in the city’s Neihu District. Also the United States has loosened many of its travel restrictions, so Taiwanese no longer need tourist visas to enter the US.