Monday, January 12, 2009

Florida: Swamps, Beaches, Gators and Poster Beds

I began the new year with a week in Florida which was just what I needed to thin my blood from a few months of Canadian winter. I know I haven't posted anything since the summer mainly because I had been shoulder deep in my studies. Now that I am back in Asia and enjoying some time to regroup, I thought I should get caught up. This trip was a nice transition from the snowbound tundra of Southwestern Ontario to the neonbound coast of Southeastern Korea.

As this guy was stretching his wings and soaking up the winter sun (Floridians kept using the word winter, it was kinda weird as they said it while wearing shorts and t-shirts), I was floating down a lazy stream in a canoe and dodging all kinds of natural no no's...

On the beach, this magnificent hotel somehow didn't stand out. This is from St. Pete's and a place called Passo-Grille.

No one was swimming as the water was apparently too cold. But it was still too hot for a t-shirt! I would have gone for it, but this sign scared me off.

Expert paddling techniques courtesy of 5 summers with the YMCA camp Stephens in Kenora.

These pictures were taken from a 2 hour canoe trip through a state park 20 minutes north of Tampa.

When I was a kid, I asked for a puppy and my folks gave me a turtle. Had I any idea my little Yurtle could have grown up to be a wild untamed beast like these two here, I might have given it a more intriguing name...I think I called it Chris.

We spotted 7 gators...awesome!

All of the vultures were hanging out right at the landing where we launched our canoes. They always seem to congregate where human activity is the most frequent. There is something to be said here about that...

This is a real picture I really took at a real place. Yes, you can rent a bed, four poster no less, to lounge about in on the beach.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Korea blog: Adieux

Well, thanks for the fish! I'm off but will be back (hopefully!?) in January to continue fighting the good fight.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Korea blog: parasol geometries, Haeundae, back again

I am now in London On, having returned a few weeks ago and currently in my last semester at UWO. A very intense and swift transition. I took most of these photos on my last few days in Korea while staying in a small motel near the beach.
Parasols and these generic tubes can be rented for the same addition to the cost of being generic. But what is really going on under this veil of parasol shaded homogeneity?
Black noodle eatin'!!
And some more black noodle eatin'!!
And some good ole' Korean style beach chillin'!!! (that is where one swims fully clothed with a swim suit on underneath) Beach blanket bingo!!

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Korea blog: Abbey Load

A 48 hour 6 day work week has severly limited my blogivity (new word?) and so I present a poorly timed photo of the renowned album cover with a double entendre load plus a poor pronunciation of road, get it? No, move on. I have seriously been teaching mornings, eating, trying to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason for a fall course I'm taking, teaching again, returning home to a few hours of internet TV and then sleep. I find myself back in class then next morning with the suspicion that I had just been there mere moments before. I am lucky in way that my school is right across the street from where I live and so the cross walk has a particular emblemic (new word?) status in my daily life. I can even see my classroom from the window of my one room officetel apartment.

Having only a few weeks left here before returning home and beginning classes, I have found my acclimatization period to be now eclipsing my "checking out" phase. Unlike previous and more extended forays here in Asia where I would spend the last few weeks (months) making up shopping lists and planning every restaurant trip I would make upon returning home, I now find myself wondering what kind of list I had in mind when I came here. All of the Korean foods I had missed and wanted to enjoy, the bars, temples and beaches I had hoped to see one more time. It seems that the hindsight of expectations is trumped by the anticipation of nostalgia. What the hell was that all about?

I have found that it is so much easier to be critical of a country that is not my own, and that people can really be vehement about it. It seems a little transparent in light of all the discontent we feel about our own homes and the screwed up ways we go about expressing it while trying not to soil our patriotic table clothes. Don't shit where you eat. Canadians in particular can be such passive aggressive tools. Look at me, I am flying between 1st and 3rd person like a fish flopping on a beach.

When it is all over and the passport has been stamped and tucked away, clothes unpacked and Wendy's burger wrappers once again smell guilty, there is always a creeping nostalgia that seems to last a lot longer than the relief of being home again. Just as the pleasure and excitement of being somewhere new never really lasts long enough to make you miss it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Korea blog: music, sleep, teach, immigration

Day 24/63...

Immigration woes are almost at and end. I completed my comprehensive health check-up and although it felt like I was trying to get retirement health insurance, I managed to pass everything (although I found out I needed glasses, and my heart rate is higher in hospitals then it is after I run marathons).
I went to the immigration office last week to submit all of the required documents (health form, visa application, passport) and found myself waiting for 30 or so minutes for my number to be called. Then, with 5 people ahead of me, the strangest thing happened...all of the immigration officials just stood up, put these little signs on their kiosks which read "away on business", and left the room. I looked around and no one had stirred. What the hell was going on? Then I looked at the time...12:00...lunch break. Made sense I guess.

So I booked it down to Nampo Dong (the immigration is by the international ferry terminal in the harbour, nampo dong is a big open market one subway stop away) and hit the black market for some bacon and cigars, necessarycommodities which cannot be bought freely. Made it back at exactly 12:58 to see all of the officials return to their posts and call out the 5 numbers preceding mine without a response. I was out by 1:10! visa should be ready by the 30th.

On to sleep, well music is the reason I have to sleep. I stayed out until 6:00am last wednesday jamming it up in an old haunt with some old and new friends and ended up in a cut throat game of darts and...when better judgement finally took hold the sun had already come up. I don't have to be at work until 3pm... but all of that effort to align my circadiun rhythym had been undone in one eveing of debauchery. It has taken me until now to get over it...and well, who am I kidding! I'll need to get over that in 4 weeks when I go back home so, what the hell!?! sleep when I'm dead they say. Why don't they snore?

the dead that is...

Teaching, there is nothing like being a small 15/20ft room with yourself and 12 little people aged 8-11 who love nothing more than to yell your name (my name is TEACHER!!) and grab your arm/leg/shirtsleeve/whatever they can get a hold of and beckon your attention...all at once. I've been trying to work on a theme in my approach to my methodology and lesson implementation...Thomas, dark and merciless lord of his dark and merciless classdom...the airconditioning is always at maximum and a reign/rain of terror/comprehension questions pummel my students at nearly every moment of our 180(-2 five minute break)minute classes.

No one has yet to seem intimidated.

I blame video games

and Oprah

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Korean Blog: Needles and X-rays

This week is my second of 9 weeks over the summer vacation. I have finally been given a home of my own that was even furnished. Feeling better, settled down a bit, work is going well too...but that's another story.

Current Korean immigrations laws require that foreigners applying for work visas must submit, upon arrival, to a series of olympic events in order to obtain their ARC (Alien Resident Card) which will entitle them open bank accounts and have internet and cell phone plans. Today I underwent the first task; a medical back ground check.

I had to climb up a pretty steep road to get to the hospital from the subway station. Later, during the heartrate portion of my exam, this would later prove to be a mistake. I was fortunate to have been assigned an interpreter at the information desk who led me through each portion of the check up. See, I was told by the government website that I would have to submit a blood and urine test in order to show that I didn't have "the HIV" or what I wasn't "on the marijuana". It turned out that I was to enjoy a complete medical check-up which had me visit several different wards in the hospital.

Eyes, ears and heart was first. I run, so I am always checking my heart rate for cardio training. It is usually around 65...but I couldn't get it down below 90 because of nerves and the exertion of climbing up the mountain to get there. Oh, and I also found out I need glasses. Damn it! Blood work was done over the counter, fortunately the urine sample was not. I did have to get an x-ray which was a little freaky...are you supposed to feel an electric shock from those things?

I will need to return on monday to collect the paperwork for immigration. If they find any traces of drugs or disease I will be deported, that shouldn't happen...

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Korea blog: new comer's melancholy

This photo was taken from the 21st floor of an officetel where I've been squatting for the past week. The teacher whose classes I have been covering will return tomorrow, and my apartment won't be ready until tuesday so I had to go and book a room in another "love" motel for tomorrow. That was a chilling experience. I tried the Lotte Hotel which is a huge luxury deal in the center of downtown. Rates ranged from 350$ USD for the "superior" room, to 7200$ USD for the presidential suite. So, I moved on...

I tried a motel around the corner and walked into a creepy foyer with a cinema style wicket that was all blacked out. A woman removed a block of wood that was covering the half circle ticket/money exchange portal along the counter and asked what I wanted. Using my sublime grasp of Korean, I asked her "tomorrow, reservation, one room, possible?". I then made the mistake of hunching over to offer a weak smile. "Jigum optseo" she said and replaced the block. I guess they were booked up...or they rent by the hour. I ended up getting something next door in a more "family" oriented establishment for 40$.

On to the melancholy...

I think that word implies a sadness without name, a deeper confusion of bad feelings unaccounted for. It always feels better when the doctor tells you what causes the symptoms, even though they don't abate. Just the knowledge, the knowing gives some kind of control.

I have been feeling that way, I am guessing it is because I have no home yet and haven't had a chance to settle. I am also temping at a school too and have felt generally excluded. I know short termers aren't worth the effort and people are busy, but what upsets me the most is that on deeper reflection, I recall the many times I was on the other side and avoided engagement because of shyness or discomfort with new people. Lessons learned...I start at a new location on Tuesday and will try to be more understanding.

It runs much deeper than that though, I felt so happy to have a furnished apartment, car, and class schedule waiting for me in London when I return in september. To not have to reduce my life to 46kg and a carry on and put the rest in storage was such a joy. I think that was the preparatory phase and now that I have been here for a week I have this chunk of malaise that sits inside of me all the time.

Don't misunderstand me, I have had an awesome week. I've reconnected with great friends, been to parties and watched a lot live music. I've even played with old bandmates. There is no isolation or loneliness. The job is great, better than I remember it to have been. There is nothing like being in the middle of a sea of shouting elementary school children and holding their rapt attention (for 20 seconds!). I have no anxieties about work. I remember all of my Korean and have navigated my way through daily life with ease (although it did take 3 cold showers before I remembered that you have to turn the hot water on in this country).

Maybe it is the absence of anxiety and stress, and the absence of any need to connect, engage or settle down for the duration. I hoped I would have made a better nomad.

This is a long post...

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Korea blog: conveyor sushi and Run DMC

I took this picture from a tv in my hotel...scratch that, motel tonight. They even had the adidas on, but they were laced up...Korean rap, you should've heard it.

I've been staying in this small room for the past 3 days waiting to move into a another place and begin work. The motel is close to the beach which is nice; I did swim in the ocean today, but I'm starting to feel like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, where he goes nuts in that hotel room in Hanoi waiting for his mission. Fortunately I move out tomorrow and begin work so I might get away without any smashed mirrors or cold showers.

The problem with motels is that you have every means of shelter with the exception of food, I had to leave 3 times a day to forage. Tonight being my last one, I wanted to get something more original than 7-11 ramen. So, I went to an automated sushi bar. This is a Japanese innovation on the traditional sushi bar...a bar you sit at and the "bartender" slices raw fish and serves it to you. The cooks placed the dishes on this conveyor belt which cycled around the restaurant. You simply pick up the dishes you wish to eat and stack them beside you afterwards.

The dishes are actually color coded so that you know which ones are the premium and which are economy. They even had bottles of booze making the rotation. Must be a Korean innovation.

I was so full....

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fly by Night

9:30 am Thursday, June 28th Columbus, Ohio to Atlanta - 1:25 hrs... 3 hour layover. Atlanta to Incheon, South Korea - 14:30 hrs...2 hour layover. Incheon to Busan - 1 hour 9:05pm Friday, June 29th.

I had forgotten how excrutiatingly boring trans-pacific air travel is. They now have those on-demand style screens behind every seat where you can choose from a balanced selection of hollywood currents and classics. I think that makes it worse! By the third movie I become very much aware that it is my third movie in a row and I have no interest, concern or even reaction to Cate Blanchet's sublime portrayal of Bob Dylan (I am not there...great movie, I had to turn it off so I could actually enjoy it in the proper frame of mind).

Anyway, ... where was I going again? Oh yeah, Korea.

So, I'm on the beach at Haeundae by 10:30 having a beer and remarking on the fact that everything is completely unremarkable. Like I had never left. I mean, the honeymoon period ended before I collected my bags in the airport. By the time I got to the cab I had remembered how to give directions in Korean. By the time I got to the hotel, I had remembered how to say thank you. Today, I took the subway to the school I'll start at next tuesday without even thinking twice on how to get there. I even did all of my prep and photocopying for the week. S'like I never left.

It is for only two months, and I do have a residence and a class schedule waiting for me come autumn.

Still, despite it all I am far from indifference. I must have that fresh "new carpet" smell about me as I have noticed some odd things today. For instance, I enjoyed a sideways glance from everyone around me on the subway. Maybe that was always the case before and I had just become oblivious. Also, people here make weird noises and it smells funny. And they act super awkward around me when I need to deal with them (cell phone store, super mart, PC room...etc), and no one watches where they are going.

None of this bothers all. Jet lag rules!!

This smile is for the Delta agent at the check-in counter at the Columbus, OH. (CMH). I think his name was Dave or Derek, or Dumbassed Dickhead...whatever! The guy who told me my bags would go all the way to my final destination and I wouldn't have to collect them and re-check them after clearing customs in Seoul. I even asked you twice Dave, or David...I'll just call you Dick.

Dick, have you any idea what re-entering a secure customs area in a foreign airport to collect your unclaimed baggage because you didn't collect because you told me it would go to my final destination involves??

Do you?

(Actually, it took me all of five minutes. I just told security that the Americans lied to me and they laughed and gave me a personal escort...but the point is that you can get bent!)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

South Korean E-2 Visa: A Step by Step Guide to the New Rules

I have decided to return this summer to South Korea and have spent the past month undergoing the new visa application procedure which is remarkably more tedious than the 3 visas I had acquired on previous contracts in SK. It used to be a matter of a single visit to any consulate and a 24 hour waiting period. I decided to post my personal experience with this new process

(Please note that the regulations seem to be in a state of flux and this only represents a chronology of my own efforts to obtain a visa from the South Korean Consulate in Toronto, Canada. Also, all days are business days and exclude weekends and holidays)

Day 1

Request Police background check and a vulnerable sector check.

This should be done before even thinking about anything else (what school to work for or agency to emply). The background check is easy, but the vulnerable sector check is time consuming. It must be done in person in a city you can prove your residence (driver's lisence, bell bill, or lease will do the trick). I did mine in London which took 7 days, I've heard it can take from 2 to 6 weeks depending on the city. Check the police websites.

Request transcripts (4) from university and original diploma (if necessary).

Day 6

Obtained police and vulnerable sector check. (transcripts were rushed and available on day 3)

Day 7

Arrived in the South Korean Consulate with:

  • notarized police/vulnerable sector background check
  • notarized copy of degree
  • sealed and signed transcript

The consulate notarized the documents with their offical seal (2.20$/doc)

(any lawyer can notarize these documents, they usually charge 20$ a can even show up at the consulate and they will give you a business card which will direct you to a lawyer's office 10 minutes down St. Clair where they'll do it on the don't need to notarize your diploma if you are willing to send the original, but it might get folded up or damaged)

This is definitely the first hurdle, but to progress any farther you will need to have found a school to work for. The school will give you a contract to sign and request that you send them the documents you had notarized (a second time!) from the consulate in addition to a signed contract, 2 sealed and signed transcripts, 2 passport signed photos (you'll need 5 total).

Day 7 (con't)

Purolated the documents to the school/agency.

Don't do it online, go to one of their offices and if you can your original diploma to fit into one of their document pouches (I couldn't hence the notarized copy), you can save a lot of time by having them officialize the package as "documents only". This will fast track the package through customs in SK.

Day 10

Purolator package arrives at the school in SK, they take it to the local immigration office. It is said to take 3-4 days to process.

Day 13

Package arrives.

Day 17

School e-mails me a confirmation number. This number belongs on the top right of the visa application form you can download from the consulate site:

Filled in the form and affixed my 3rd passport photo to the box on the top right hand side (the other two photos will be needed upon arrival for your ID card). Arrived at the SK consulate with:

  • completed visa application form
  • passport with 6 months validity left
  • sealed/signed transcript
  • 55.00$ visa process fee

At this time I was given an appointment for an interview and an interview checklist to fill out along with a receipt (Don't lose the receipt, you'll need it to retrieve you passport).

Day 21

Arrived at the consulate for my interview with my checklist completed. The interview was short and...well, I was asked 3 questions; the first two concerned my name and birthdate.

Day 22

Checked my visa status on-line and it said it was ready to be picked up!! Now I just need to make my 4th trip to consulate and I am ready for legal employment in South Korea.

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