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Posts Tagged ‘visas’

On Monday, I had two interviews at kindergartens, one near Mia in northern Seoul and a second just round the corner from where I live. This latter seemed like the perfect location, at least, and the kindergarten seems like a very nice place. By the end of the interview, it was clear that they were happy with me and wanted me to sign a contract right away (as did the other place). I got an e-mail address from one of the foreign teachers (or ‘native teachers’ as Koreans generally refer to us) and sent her a few questions, later on. Her answers weren’t as flattering to the hagwon as the message I got before starting my last job, but it didn’t seem at all terrible; she’s been there for going on for three years.

The biggest problem I’m likely to face is ‘psycho parents’, specifically mothers – those who complain about every little thing they possibly can. At least they’ll generally only interact with the Korean staff – which sucks for them, but provides a useful buffer for native teachers. Some unpaid Saturday work seems to be part of the job, too, but only two or three times a year … or so I’ve been assured.

At the moment there are three foreigners working there, but they’re all leaving in the near future and five more – including me – will be hired. Whatever the problems, the convenience of the location will make up for a lot of them.

So, I went back on Tuesday to sign a contract and the boss and head teacher and I spent about three hours going through the contract, printing off various versions and figuring out what I had to do to get my visa transferred to my new employer. As the job is starting on the 6th of January and my E-2 visa from my previous job was due to expire on the 19th of December I had thought that I would need to transfer to the job-seeking visa, the D-10 visa, and then transfer again to my new teaching visa.

However, after another call to Immigration, the head teacher told me I should transfer my visa to a new E-2 sponsored by my new job immediately. This involved printing out a new contract for Immigration purposes that stated that I started that day. They gave me some business registration documents and I promised to go to Immigration right then.

Which I duly did and, after waiting in line for a good while – long enough for me to fill in a couple of forms, contact my old boss for her business registration number, and my landlady to clarify our address, and still hang around for a good while – I was able to hand over the documents and my passport and my Alien Registration Card and they changed my visa and my address details within five minutes or so. Free of charge, too, which I wasn’t expecting.

Unfortunately, I forgot to pick up a copy of my police subject access letter, which my employer apparently needs in order to register me with the education board. So I took care of that today, by heading back to Omokgyo Station and thence to the Immigration building, waiting for a much shorter while in the same place as before – the room for visa extensions and stuff – but, when I got to the desk, I was told I needed to go up to the seventh floor.

So up the stairs I went, found a likely looking room and went in. A young woman working at a desk near the door seemed to know exactly what I wanted before I even said anything. Sure enough, at the desk where she told me to sit was an English translation of the form I needed to fill in, with the relevant boxes highlighted and containing example information. A few minutes later, I had a copy of the police letter and my degree certificate, too.

The other thing I needed to do – my new supervisor informed me – was get a new health check. I did a search for hospitals with English-language services and found that the closest to my home is St Mary’s Catholic Hospital, so I went there to try to get the health check done. I found the English-speaking clinic, but I was told to go to a different department and was led most of the way by an older man who complained about the smog that’s apparently blown over Korea from China.

In the other building, I found a place with ‘Visa Health Checks’ or something equally apposite over the door. The young male doctor and female office worker seemed very confused by what I was asking and wanted me to come back the following week when their office manager would return. After more inquiries, they got on the phone and then eventually told me to go to a different St Mary’s Hospital, this one at Yeouido – close to the Immigration building – in the morning.

After I later updated the head teacher on my progress, she gave me a further hospital to go to – Hanaro Medical Foundation, not too far away near Seolleung Station (I used to work near there in 2010). So I’ll go and do that, hopefully, tomorrow morning.

I may have to wait a couple of weeks for the health test results to come back – which could be a problem, as I won’t be in the country in a couple of weeks. Last night I booked tickets to fly back to the UK for a fortnight from the 16th of December. It was something I had been thinking of doing during the coming summer, but with some money in the bank and a month of free time, I might as well do it now. I imagine I can have the results posted to my new kindergarten.

When I go home, I plan to take back some of my read books along with various Korean foods and maybe drinks (soju?) as gifts. And I plan to bring back more books and board games. I generally say that there’s not much that I miss about England, but I’m actually looking forward to going home again. My sister had a fake, November Christmas for me last year; it’ll be nice to spend time with family for the real thing this year. I plan to introduce my neice and nephew to my board game, Islands of the Azure Sea.

I’m not so much looking forward to leaving my cat by herself for two weeks, though. My friends who live in the neighbouring flats would be happy to feed her, but I would to find someone to stay here so she doesn’t get too lonely. It’s a difficult thing to judge: would she be more stressed by being left alone or by having a stranger move in? Fortunately, I have some good, cat-loving friends who I think would be willing to help out.

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The past month or so has been one of those transitional times – but it’s been good.

My job was always a pretty low-key affair. Many hagwons for elementary and middle school children put on events for Halloween and Christmas; apart from putting all of our kids into the one room to play games and have food, there was no great to-do this October. Nevertheless, I had most of my kids skip their studies for a class or two to make Halloween decorations – even the older kids who no longer have many opportunities for fun stuff in their schooling. I even played zombie (blindfold tick) in my classroom with my all-girl class (plus one boy, Brian, who always comes at the same time as the girls but usually studies separately – when he joins the female class, I call him Briana).

Some students produced some excellent artwork, too.

Emily's Witch

Seung-ho's Death

Tony's Vampire

And then my leaving date started to draw near. I was thrown three separate parties – one with my mixed elemetary school class plus the girls, one with my high-level middle school class and one with my younger middle school class. The middle one of these classes put up balloons and bought me a fancy quattro-style cake. In the other parties, we had fried chicken on Monday and pizza on Friday. It was probably the most fuss that’s ever been made over me for leaving a job. From what they tell me, Korean kids will spontaneously organise things like this with their own money; I don’t recall that ever happening when I was at school.

Leaving Party Balloons

In addition to leaving parties at work, I had a final coffee morning meeting and a meal and drinks (and games) with a bunch of friends from both inside and outside Cheonan. It wasn’t the mega-party of my birthday, but it was good fun and it was great to see people there.

It was my hope when I was looking for a job last year to find something in Seoul, but I had hardly any offers of interviews; one recruiter told me in an e-mail that he couldn’t really do anything for me as I didn’t live in Korea. The job that I eventually took in Cheonan was actually the first offer that I had, but it seemed like a very good place to work – and thus it proved. And it got me back into the country.

I am lucky enough to have really fallen on my feet when it comes to finding somewhere to live in Seoul. My two friends, Matthew and Zach live next door to each other and the flat next door to them has been empty for a long time. As the landlord kept the door unlocked, we were able to have a look around the place together a couple of times. It’s bigger than their places, although the bathroom is much smaller, so I was concerned that it would be too expensive. But they both disagreed and were enthusiastic about the prospect of me moving in there.

I asked them to ask the landlord what the rent would be and the answer was ₩650,000 (£375) a month with a key money deposit of ₩5,000,000 (£2,900) – the same as both of my friends’ places. And that pretty much settled it. I made arrangements to pay the landlord in a couple of phases, as I wouldn’t have all the money until I got my last month’s salary and bonus, and went and signed a contract.

I asked my friend Peter if he’d help me move if I paid his expenses, but his wife pointed out that it would be pretty expensive to drive from Daegu to Cheonan and on to Seoul and all the way back again. So she suggested that her father could do it for a reasonable fee (a third of the ₩300,000 my boss said it would cost to hire a small lorry). And he did. Shortly before I moved, I’d taken a few things up to leave at Zach’s place; if I’d been more assiduous I would have taken more on different occasions. It turned out to have been a good idea, as Peter’s father-in-law’s car got filled to the roof with all my stuff. My cat sat quietly in her case on my lap on the way up.

I’ve been there a while now and am very happy with the place. Having a bedroom in addition to the main area is quite a luxury. Even though the place is not massive, it’s still pretty big – so much so that it feels a little empty. Shortly after I moved in I invited a few people over for a flat-warming party; I made vegetable bolognese and we played games until two in the morning. My only real concern about the place was the mouldy smell – which is starting to fade, or at least be hidden, now that I’m cooking there. I’ll have to make sure the mould doesn’t get any worse.

The next step, of course, is to find a job. This has been going well. I had four interviews before I left my last job, travelling up to Seoul early in the morning on the subway and heading back to Cheonan by express bus at lunchtime, of which I was offered two positions. I turned them both down; in the case of the first, I didn’t like the boss, and the second was too far to commute every day.

After a slow start where I concentrated on cleaning and unpacking and buying a few extra things that I needed from the nearby Daiso (mmm, Daiso), I got my job search back on track again last week. By the end of the week, I was starting to get invitations to interviews – and I had two seemingly successful interviews on Monday, one of which was at a kindergarten very close to where I live. Even if nothing comes of these particular jobs, it leaves me feeling pretty confident about future prospects.

The only potential fly in the ointment now is getting a D-10 visa (my E-2 visa, sponsored by my last job, expires a month after I finished working, ie, mid- to late December). This is a ‘looking-for-work’ visa, and to qualify for it, I will probably need to prove that I can support myself in the country until I get a job. I can support myself – but my money is all in my British accounts and I don’t know if that will be a problem. It seems like getting the D-10 is usually not a big deal.

And that’s my life at the moment, work-wise. 2013 was a good year. I think expectations are the surest path to disappointment and frustration, but I have pretty high hopes for 2014.

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I now have an e-ticket for a Turkish Airlines flight to Korea via Istanbul, leaving on Sunday afternoon and arriving on Monday evening. I have no passport still – I’m hoping it’ll arrive on Saturday, but if it doesn’t, my recruiter will be able to reschedule my journey. Once at the airport, I’m to be met by a ‘pick-up man’, whose duty is to buy me a ticket for the bus (although I’ll have to pay for it) and see that I get on – and presumably let the recruiter know so that they can let the director know what time to pick me up from the bus station.

I’ve doing some partial packing to see how much stuff I can fit into my backpack and suitcase. My baggage allowance is 30kg, with 8kg carry-on. I may be making full use of this allowance – and leaving some stuff behind that I had hoped to take. When I launder my last clothes on Saturday, I’ll have a better idea.

The other day, I went to the doctor to ask about whether my medication, mesalazine, would trigger a false positive on the drugs test I’ll have to take as part of my official health exam, which will prove that I’m literally fit to teach in Korea. He said that it wouldn’t and neither would paracetamol (unless I took huge amounts of it) and similar pills; steroids and sleeping pills would – but I’m not going to be using either of those.

I also showed him a couple of photos of my back that I’d taken – at his recommendation – over the past couple of months. I have lots of moles and they’ve grown and multiplied over my life – it’s hard to say, as it’s such a slow process and, being mostly on my back, they’re hard to keep an eye on. I handed over my memory stick, on to which I’d copied the two photos. He connected it to his computer and had a look at the two pictures. The third picture turned out to be a saved soft porn picture I’d saved in a different folder – I never use the automatic slideshow option, so I wasn’t expecting that. Kind of embarrassing, but the doctor took it in his stride.

On the subject of my moles, he said he would have referred me to a specialist to check out two irregularly shaped moles espcially – if I wasn’t leaving the country. He recommended I see a skin specialist before too long.

After that, I headed off to Manchester on the train. I had been thinking about getting a couple of non-fiction books, but ended up just getting Robert Rankin’s new novel – The Educated Ape and Other Wonders of the Worlds. I’m not sure whether I should make this my in-flight reading or plump for something else, as I only recently read the book’s immediate predecessor, The Mechanical Messiah and Other Marvels of the Modern Age.

I also went to see Argo, which I thought was great – a tense, funny and apparently realistic depiction of the rescue of six embassy workers from revolutionary Iran. The stand-out feature of the film, though, was the period detail – the hairstyles and facial hair, the grainy footage, the vintage Warner Brothers logo at the start. This sense of authenticity was bolstered by snippets of historical footage intercut with the movie; it was especially powerful in the early scene when the US embassy is stormed by Iranian protesters. Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston were all great, along with the lesser know actors playing the six staff; Ben Affleck’s performance was understated to the point of being semi-somnolent. The climax of the film was drawn out too much for dramatic effect. Overall, a very fine movie.

The title of this post comes from a line in the film that becomes a catchphrase for some of the characters. Alan Arkin’s character, a producer, is being badgered by a journalist who wants to know the meaning of the title of the fake film within the film – Argo. Eventually, he snaps and says, ‘Argo fuck yourself.’

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Last week, after less than a week of waiting, I got my visa issuance number from my recruiter. The next step was to submit my application to the Korean embassy in London. I decided that I would go down to hand it in in person. This would allow the staff to see it first and let me know if there was any problem (for instance, I wasn’t sure whether I should also hand over my old passport with my previous visas in it) – and I would be able to see friends while I was there. I considered staying down in London so I could pick my passport up when it was ready, but it seemed likely that it would take the full five working days or longer to process (a British friend from Korea advised me that that was likely – he’d received his only shortly before he was due to leave the country) and London is expensive.

On Tuesday night, I stayed up to watch the BBC coverage of the US presidential election (elections to Congress weren’t covered in much detail). Americans got it right again – making up for electing George W Bush twice. Given that various Tea Party Republicans were voted out and liberal policies approved in referenda, I wonder whether Mitt Romney might have done a lot better if he’d been allowed to present himself as the moderate he supposedly really is. I eventually went to bed at 7am, meeting my sister and her kids on the way as they got up. I was able to rise again at the not unreasonable hour of midday.

The following night, I was in bed at about midnight and up again at five o’clock in order to get a 6:35 train to Manchester and an 8 o’clock coach to London (the outbound trip cost just £9 with National Express and the return £12.50 – which somehow managed to add up to £29.50 along with insurance, booking fee and so on).

The Korean embassy is on Buckingham Gate, just off Victoria and a short walk from Victoria Coach Station. The coach arrived at 13:20, so I got lunch from the Subway at the shopping mall adjacent to the railway station and arrived at the embassy just after 2pm, when they re-opened after lunch. The woman on duty at one of the windows inside told me assertively that the visa section was closed. I suggested to her that I could just hand my documents in, but that was unacceptable. As soon as I had this conversation, I realised that I’d been in exactly this situation some years ago, probably in 2008.

It wasn’t a problem though – except that my passport would be returned to me that little bit later and it would make planning my flight out that little bit trickier – I had time before my return coach in the morning to come back. I turned my thoughts to getting to my hostel down in the Isle of Dogs – the south-pointing peninsula bounded by a big loop of the Thames that is the location of Canary Wharf; it’s geographical feature that’s been familiar for many years because of the title sequence of EastEnders. I realised I’d forgotten to bring either of my Oyster cards with me, so, reasoning that I had plenty of time, I decided to walk.

I thought it might take a couple of hours – it took three. I got there a little after five o’clock, having walked along the north bank of the Thames for various parts of the way (and taken a few pictures of the attractively cloudy sky), and was starting to worry about meeting my friends on time (although we hadn’t actually set a time).

The Great Eastern Bestplace Inn turned out to be quite a pleasant place – very pubby downstairs, clean and whitewashed upstairs. Better still, my bed was £11.99 – half price. The shower, on the other hand was terrible: weak and uncertain in temperature.

I got the DLR and Tube back up to our rendezvous point in the general vicinity of Leicester Square. Drew met me as I was reading and drinking tea at McDonalds. We headed out shortly towards the big Odeon cinema, which has been our meeting place on more than one occasion – then headed back because Colin had gone to McDonalds looking for us.

Colin always has the information on where to eat, so we allowed him to guide us to an Indian restaurant. My Goa murg and mushroom rice was very tasty, but – shockingly – I couldn’t finish because I was getting a bit full. The meal came to around £55 for the three of us. Afterwards, we went to a Costa for coffee and more chit-chat. I introduced Drew and Colin to the pleasures of the Korean flower cards game, Go-Stop – or a simplified version thereof.

Then it was time to say goodbye for another lengthy period and we headed to our respective homes.

In the morning, I checked out of the hostel after a complementary breakfast of cornflakes, bread and jam and tea. Well – I left, anyway. There were no keys, only door codes, and I’d already paid, so there was no actual checking out to do. There was no one on the reception desk, so I couldn’t even tell them, ‘I’m checking out now.’

I returned to the embassy shortly before 10 o’clock. I went to the passport window, where there was a young woman on duty (not the same woman as the day before) and, before the word ‘Hello’ had barely passed my lips, she snapped, ‘Visa window open at ten o’clock. Take a ticket and wait over there.’

There was one other person ahead of me – a courier, judging by his high-visibility jacket. Once the visa window opened and this guy had finished he handed me the next number ticket (he must have taken two by mistake) and I handed my stuff over to the young Korean chap manning the counter. When I asked, he indicated I didn’t need to submit my old passport. There was a moment of humour when he passed me my yellow plectrum that had got stuck inside my passport when it had been in my pocket. He looked over my documents, I paid £80, got a receipt and that was that. I didn’t actually ask again (I’d already spoken to someone on the phone two or three days earlier) how long it would take, but a notice on the window made it clear I should expect it to be five working days (to which I added another day for it to be posted).

Afterwards, I made my way to a nearby Starbucks, got a coffee and on the internet, realised at nearly eleven that I had a coach to catch in half an hour, so off I went.

I outlined my progress to my recruiter in an e-mail, but as it was pretty much already the weekend, I didn’t hear anything back and haven’t so far. The worst thing that’ll happen is that they’ll book me a flight and I’ll be forced to miss it because I don’t have my passport, then I’ll arrive in Korea later and the school will have to get someone to cover any class time I miss.

We’ll see what happens next weekend.

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I got an e-mail from my recruiter today detailing what I need to do now that my documents have been submitted to Immigration in Korea. Basically: wait for a visa issuance number then send or take my passport to the Korean embassy and get my visa. There’s a cost attached to this, and it’s different for different countries:

55 CAD (55 USD)
45 USD (28 GBP)
70 NZD (58 USD)
75 AUD (78 USD)
80 GBP (129 USD)

It’s nice to know that rip-off Britain trumps cheapo Korea.

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Coming home, I made a list of things I should do while I was back in the UK. It included things like learning to drive and getting a job. I’m not sure that I’ve done any of them – I haven’t even looked at the list since I returned. Blogging about my trip is at least complete – and getting up to date shouldn’t take too long because I haven’t really done that much. Selecting and uploading photos is another slow work in progress – at least it’s in progress. Driving lessons would have taken out my remaining savings in one fell swoop, so I knocked that idea on the head and I’ve been too comfortable to look for work.

My sister has been very kind to me, allowing me to stay here. It’s been good to be able to relax and have no responsibilities for a time. Hanging out with her kids has been great (I make them play Magic: The Gathering and other card games with me – they prefer Korean flower cards) and her youngest is at the cutest stage of life, so that’s a bonus, too.

I sent off for my police subject access request within a week or two of getting back; as soon as it came – a little earlier than I was expecting, given past experience – I made a copy of my degree certificate, got it certified as a true copy, sent the pair to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and received them back quite swiftly. Then I started looking for work. That hasn’t gone so well so far – I’ve spoken to a couple of recruiters; I’ve even been pretty much offered my previous job back, but they’re not going to spring for either a flight out or a proper E-2 visa. I may need to start broadening my search.

I had a dark moment a couple of nights ago when I started thinking that I would never get a job in Korea, that I would never get any worthwhile job again, that I wouldn’t get another girlfriend again, that I wouldn’t do anything with the rest of my life. I’m feeling better now, and today I sent off ten e-mails to recruiters asking after specific jobs or jobs in general. The jobs market is tighter now than in previous years, so getting a job could take a while, but if I don’t try then I certainly won’t get anything.

I’ve been focussing on kindergarten work, because that’s been my favourite work so far, but I have scope to broaden my search to the typical after-school type of hagwon, or even to public schools; and I could also look at other cities than Seoul and its satellites and Daegu, where my friend Peter lives. And then there’s China, if I’m really stuck, or other parts of Asia. I could even look for random where around Europe. But I find it difficult to imagine myself living and working in the UK.

At the same time as getting all the Korea visa documents, I applied for a new passport. I asked my retired friends from Runcorn, Liz and Roger – two of the most respectable people I know – to countersign my application. This was only necessary because my appearance has changed a lot in the past eight years – well, I no longer have long hair. Although I thought I may have screwed it up by not using black biro as specified, but a different kind of black pen, it turned out to be fine and I got a brand new, jumbo-sized passport back within two or three weeks. It feels a bit flimsier than the old one, and (apparently controversially) the identity page is at the front rather than the back; but the BBC-style weather symbols and British landscape on each page are a nice touch.

I’ve been staying in a lot. Went through a phase of playing video games – Halo Something-or-other, Fable 2 and Fable 3; within the last few days I completed Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. Also been helping my sister with housework and stuff – I put loft panels in the central part of her attic; recently we put shelves up in her dining room.

I went to Runcorn to retrieve stuff from my parents’ attic, go through it and stack it all neatly in my sister’s loft. Opening the boxes was kind of like getting a load of birthday presents – from my past self. There were clothes that I’ve happily taken to wearing again (and some I’ve given away to charity); my previous collection of coins and bank notes – that I’ve combined with the new; a few unread books – mostly editions of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I like having collections of things.

Runcorn really is a hive of scum and villainy. Not including when I visited with Habiba, it’s been a few years since I was there. The kids who live there can be little scumbags who hate anyone who doesn’t look like them. I assumed, with my no-longer-long hair (actually, I’d recently given myself a very short haircut with my sister’s clippers), that I wouldn’t attract any untoward attention. Walking along a street near my parents’ place, one of a group of three or four boys said to me, ‘Are you Polish?’ I said, ‘No. Are you?’ He asked his friend, ‘Am I Polish?’ I’ve repressed whatever he said to me next, but I ignored him. It wasn’t explicitly insulting or malicious, but it wasn’t exactly respectful.

Back at my sister’s, she dug out my collection of Magic: The Gathering cards. I’ve been making and remaking decks – I’ve even bought a handful of specific cards for this purpose – with a view to playing with them in Korea (not that I played with them much last time; I could never get Habiba to have a game with me).

I remember, last time I stayed with my sister, buying lots of CDs on the internet, I’ve tried to restrain myself this time, but I did get a handful of novelty dice – a nice pair of d7s, a somewhat disappointing set of 12 polydice including the unusual d3, d5, d14, d16 and d24, and a d100. The latter – a so-called Zocchihedron, after its inventor – was broken when it arrived (simply receiving the package cost me £12 in customs duty and Post Offices charges), but the company in the States is sending a free replacement (that arrived today). I also got a pack of 200 blank cards with a view to making a card game of my own.

Having sold my old massive suitcase back in Korea, I’ve bought a smaller one to use as a carry on bag, while my large backpack will serve as my check-in bag. For their first time in their lives, I washed both of my backpacks. Exciting times.

I spent a very pleasurable week in the south-west, staying alternately with my friends Lawrence (and one night at his girlfriends’) and Alex. Last time I saw them (with Habiba), while great, was only for a fleeting visit. We hung out a lot more this time. Lawrence, Yi-vei and I ate out at a couple of good restaurants; we played table tennis on a public table tennis table at St James Barton Roundabout.

Alex and I played Magic. A lot. We went to Forbidden Planet in Bristol and each bought a box of 285 card; Alex later bought specific cards on-line and updated his decks – finally removing his printed off, poxy proxies. We dipped into a couple of Xbox games (including the MtG one). We saw Dredd 3D, which I thought was pretty bloody brilliant (the Slo-Mo sequences were also pretty bloody and bloody pretty); Alex wasn’t so impressed, for some reason. Watched a DVD of a strange, French sf film called Eden Log.

After getting half-way through Salman Rushdie’s Grimus before returning home, I stopped reading it for a few weeks. More recently, I’ve been trying to crack on with my reading; I’m reading my biggest books first so I don’t have to take them with me to Korea. Which hopefully won’t be too far into the future. Better get a move on with The Art of War and The Hydrogen Sonata, then.

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Several weeks ago, now, shortly after my appendicectomy, I went to the Japanese island of Tsushima in order to get a fresh, three-month tourist visa in Korea. Tsushima (or Daemado, in Korean) is mid-way between Korea and Japan, and also about mid-way between the Sea of Japan to the north-east and the Korea Strait to the south-west. My friend Matthew had given me the details of a tour company that ran trips there, so I took gratefully advantage of that.

Early on Saturday morning, I took the bullet train down to Busan, caught the conveniently located and timed shuttle bus to the ferry terminal a short distance away, met a chubby, slightly cross-eyed young woman from the travel agency there, got my tickets and boarded the ferry.

There was a typhoon in the vicinity, so the voyage across was a bit of a roller-coaster ride, and it took longer than expected – so much so that its leaving time was brought ahead an hour so people returning to Korea could get back on time.

I arrived in Tsushima with plenty of daylight left, however. Once out of the ferry terminal there I didn’t really know what to do. I had the name of a hotel, so I asked directions (forgetting for a moment that the Japanese are culturally disinclined to given negative responses – which makes asking direction in Japan a hit-and-miss affair) and found the place a little later.

Then I had the problem that the receptionist, a middle-aged woman, didn’t speak any English at all and apparently wasn’t expecting a clueless westerner. Eventually, I was able to give her the phone number from the travel agency and she checked me in. Once I got to my room, I realised I had no adapter for the sockets – I asked in various shops and was even led to other places by a woman and a young boy, but with no luck. My laptop’s battery was almost flat, so no blogging, writing, films, TV or porn for me.

The town that I found myself in – Izuhara – was a pleasant little place that had a small channel running through it with lots of bridges and trees along its length, reminding me of Amsterdam. I spent some time wandering round. There was a little temple complex and a pretty, hillside cemetery.

The following morning, I was due to hook up with a Korean tour group, with whom I would travel across the island to the other town – from where we would take the ferry back to Busan. I was expecting to just be bussed across and to have the rest of the day to myself, but we stopped at various places of interest along the way – a fish farm, a Mount Eboshidake, Watazumi Shrine, which has five gates running in a line from the land to the sea (and where a young boy with the group was encouraged to talk to me – his family took photos of us), a restaurant for lunch (I was segregated from the group here and had sweet potato noodles with the staff) and a lookout point by the sea.

The Koreans were pretty friendly and tried to engage me in conversation – they might have had better luck with someone more outgoing. Some of them were wearing badges that said that Daemado and Dokdo (also known as the Liancourt Rocks, where a couple of Korean fishers live guarded by 37 police officers – the island is a cause célèbre of territorial contention between South Korea and Japan) are Korean land.

The tour guide was a Japanese man who spoke fluent Korean and spent the entire bus journey shouting at us over the PA system – often to rounds of applause from the Koreans.

The ferry departure time had been brought forward, and we got to the terminal at Hitakatsu with not too much time to spare. The ride back was as bumpy as the previous day’s, but was, at least, a lot shorter. The key part of the trip – getting a new visa – went without a hitch. I had been worried about getting back in time for my return train, but, in the event, I had plenty of time to spare.

I returned to Habiba with a few little gifts – some snacks (which I don’t think we’ve even touched yet) and a couple of things from the Japanese equivalent of a pound shop (a 100 yen shop): a pair-of-tongs-like device for squeezing as much as possible out of a sachet of, say, curry, and a square of black, spongey rubber about two and a half inches on a side for rubbing cat hair off fabric. They both work quite well.

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