Thursday, March 15, 2007

Visa run

All the new teachers are having to go, one by one, to Fukoaka, Japan, for our E-2 work visas. I am the first to go, and I was very nervous about it. For all that people tend to think I am brave, I am quite the weenie. I do not do things that frighten me unless forced to do so. Like this: going into a country where I do not speak the language at all and they do not use the same alphabet and there would be nobody to meet me at the airport and put me where I was supposed to be. But go I must. Go I did. Here I am, unable to find the apostrophe and the quotes on a Japanese keyboard in the hotel lobby.

First matter was getting to the bus to get to the airport. Mr. Bang told me to take a taxi to Sang Ne(sp?) station to catch the 302 bus. So I went and caught the 5:10 a.m. bus -- only to have it cruise past The Mall, a few blocks behind our apartment building! So I will tell the other teachers where to walk to catch the bus and save themselves the taxi fare. The time to get there will probably be about the same.

I ran into an Aussie at the airport who was also making a visa run, and he told me how much cash to exchange -- WAY too much. I can pass the extra along to Alberto, who is the next teacher slated to go. In all there seemed to be about 40 expats on the flight all making the visa run. Adam, the Aussie, had indicated that he would show me how to get where I was going but I lost him. I fell in with some girls from Canada, and as they waited for a guy they had met at the airport and promised to help some more of us accumulated, eight in all. Hannah became Mama Duck and kept a head count for where we all were as we went from Point A to Point B.

Hannah knew to take a shuttle bus to the domestic terminal to catch the subway. The shuttle is free and you need it -- the two terminals are pretty far apart. Finding the subway was easy enough, and a nice Japanese fellow, seeing our confusion, showed us how to find our fare and buy our subway tickets. Then down the steps to the tracks -- past a huge sign for a gynecology clinic called TOON -- and the double Os looked just like a pair of boobs! It was hilarious! I will try to get a picture tomorrow. We were hurrying today to get to the consulate before it closed for lunch. God willing I will not be in a huge hurry tomorrow.

Hannah had no trouble getting us on the right train, though how she knew it was the right train was beyond me. Maybe because it is the end of the line and there is only one train to take! Makes sense!

The stop for the consulate is on that line, so all we had to do was watch for our stop. Each stop has a little symbol -- the one for the consulate (I forget the name) is a little brown jug. Hannah knew where to go after getting off the subway, but it is pretty easy -- straight down, turn right. There the Korean consulate sits. From the front it looks sort of like a traditional Korean building, but from the side it looks very odd. I may get a picture tomorrow when I go back to pick up my visa.

It was pouring rain and those with no hoods were getting pretty soaked. Then we had to fill out papers to go inside and show our passports. I guess tomorrow I show my receipt to get in.

I had seen online to expect a massive queue, but there really was no crowd until the eight of us arrived. I had already printed out my application with all my info on it except I had forgotten to write my work permit number, which I had because I had reminded Mr. Bang that I would need it. Easily fixed. So I just stepped to the desk and got taken care of pronto. It cost me 5,400 Yen, less than I had expected. I had been told to expect to pay between 6,000 and 8,000. That would be 60 to 80 dollars, roughly.

I waited for the rest of my new found friends, who were still filling out their paperwork. One poor girl had to get on the phone back to Korea -- her administrator had not given her the work permit number! She spent twenty minutes getting through, then they told her to go call back in half an hour -- then she found out that the consulate staff could look it up for her! What an ordeal for her! This really good looking guy was near the vending machine next to the pay phone so I chatted with him and the girl (who was spending a lot of time on hold) while I waited for my group. The vending machine had some interesting looking drinks. I bought a Soda Planet soda. The taste was vaguely familiar and I had a hard time placing it and finally realized that the soda tastes like Sprite with a banana Popsickle melted into it. Not bad, really. I bought it mainly for the can, which is cute. I can hardly wait to see what security thinks of it when I get to the airport.

Speaking of vending machines, they are everyplace here! Mostly soda and coffee, but a lot of cigarette machines, too. Then it struck me that it has been ages since I have seen a cigarette machine, maybe when I was living in Germany. Since the US tightened up tobacco sales laws the cigarette machines have become a thing of the past but since I do not smoke I never noticed they had gone.

After we all got taken care of we went across the street to a sort of mall to look for someplace to eat. We found a pizza place that was fairly reasonable. For about 880 Yen each (about $9 -- I found the dollar sign!) we got pasta or pizza. I had a white pizza with broccoli -- and sausage that turned out to be sort of a sliced cocktail weenie. Tasty, though.

A couple of the girls set into shopping so I headed back to the subway with Phil and Mary from our group. Mary got us on the right train, again I do not know how. She got off a few stops ahead of Phil and me. Phil was paying more attention and noticed that we were supposed to change trains.

We found the tourist information booth upstairs at the Hakata Station (which is huge, like Bupyong Station in Incheon), and the girl there told us how to get to our hotels. Phil wanted to go get some shut-eye so we parted ways. I went to Sunlife Hotel #1 like Mr. Bang had told me, only to have the girl at the desk tell me I wanted Sun Life Hotel #2-3, across the street. I walked what seemed like a little far for just across the street, and finally asked a cop where the hotel was only to learn that I was standing in front of it.

The room is tiny, tiny, tiny, but clean and comfortable enough. But as soon as I got in they rang up from the front desk and asked me if I had a voucher, that I was supposed to have a voucher from a travel agency. I told them Mr. Bang had told me it was all paid for and gave them his phone number and have had no problems so I assume it is all sorted out.

I had fun playing with the hi-tech Japanese toilet with spray and bidet. It made me remember my sitz bath from after Lisa was born and how my husband teased me that I certainly was making myself at home on it. Enough said on that score!

It was pouring rain so I could not really sight-see so I went back to the Hakata Station (directly across the street -- how convenient!) and cruised the underground shops. I found a subway guide in English and got a couple of English booklets and guides for tourists but I really had too little time and energy for them to be much use for me. I found a bakery with English signs and got a couple of snack breads with cheese, meat, and veggies, which they heated for me. One of them would have been enough! They were very filling and tasty. I found an Italian Tomato restaurant with English menu and reasonable prices that I thought I might go back to for supper, or recommend to the other teachers.

And naughty me, I also bought a cream puff. Yum!

Back to the hotel. I got online and looked for Yahoo! Stadium, which is right near the consulate, thinking maybe I would be able to get a better map for the teachers who come after me. Yes! Success! I printed it out, for no charge, it turns out. The net and the printing are free. Then upstairs for a nap. But I channel-surfed a bit first and watched some sumo. Nothing like two fat guys in colored diapers shoving each other around. When I woke up it was around 8 p.m. and the rain had stopped. I went out and looked around the area. I have never seen such a place for vending machines and bicycles! Bicycles galore! Parked all over the place! Ridden on the sidewalks by neatly dressed Japanese business women from the look of some of them.

I was looking for someplace interesting to eat, with the Italian Tomato in my mind as back-up. Since I hate Japanese food this was a challenge, but I noticed a sign indicating that on the fourth floor of some sort of electronics mart there were restaurants. I figured, what the heck. Up I went and found an Indian restaurant with English menu and kicking food. I got mutton and spinach, with flat bread. It did not look like a lot of food when I got it but it smelled fantastic. The waiter seemed to want to converse with me a lot. Evidently despite the English menu not a lot of us make our way to that restaurant.

I ate Ethiopian-style, tearing off bits of bread and using it to scoop up my spinach. Spicy and with a grilled flavor that just could not be beat. And it was far more filling than I expected. I ate about half and had them wrap the rest and it will be my lunch tomorrow, since I will be pressed for time most likely. My flight leaves at 3:35 and the consulate supposedly only gives you your passport and visa after 11. Very tight to make it back to the airport, since it took us about two hours from the time the plane landed to arrive at the consulate, what with immigration and figuring out where we were going. I will go to the consulate at 9 a.m. and see if showing them my e-ticket speeds them up.

And so here I am, back at the hotel with my leftover spinach and mutton stuff with about a third of my bread. (Okay, I really pigged out on the bread!) It set me back about $11, but it is giving me two meals.

I am thinking of going to a mini mart and getting a cocktail, just for the experience and to help me sleep. It would set me back a little under two bucks. Funny, I do not feel much as if I have left Korea. Japan looks pretty much the same. Even the school girls wear similar uniforms and hair cuts. Other than the bicycles and vending machines, I might be in Seoul. (Both the Japanese and the Korean will hate me for saying that, but Phil agreed with me!)


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a tame enough adventure! I have sent you an email - you probably can't see it until you return "home". It's a happy ending story.

L. said...

Wow.....hang in there! Hope it`s all settled now!

Japan can be a freaky place, even for those of us who consider it home.

Christina Dunigan said...

Naughty me, L, I completely forgot that's where you were! Then when you mentioned it I was like, DUH!

You ought to put a bug in somebody's ear -- there's a great business opportunity in all these visa runs. Somebody with the wherewithall could either make a deal with an existing hotel, or establish a hostel, and run a service that meets the expats at the airport, runs them to the consulate (even if only by herding them en-masse on public transist!), assists with the paperwork, then runs them to the hotel and provides maps indicating where the clubs are, good shopping, restaurants with menus in English, cheap food for those traveling entirely at their own expense, etc. We would have been delighted to have all been at one hotel together so we could hang out and blab.

Anonymous said...

Christina, did you get my email? Maybe I don't have the correct email address . ..

Christina Dunigan said...

I don't think I got an email from you, Monica. But be careful to put something in the subject line that lets me know it's not spam! When somebody who isn't in my usual correspondents email me I take it for spam most of the time.