Let Me In!

The people who know me well - and even a fair few people that know me not-so-well - might have noticed that I am a tiny bit on the disorganised side. I'm regularly late, for example. I don't like to pack long before a trip, either. When I first came to Korea, I sold my car literally 24 hours before I left in order to pay for my flight. I lose my keys daily.

Things have changed slightly since I started seeing the Canadian. I'm better with my money (because she steals it from me then loans it back to me at extortionate rates), I've been known to plan the odd lesson and I'm currently in the process of boxing up my winter clothes to ship to England in advance of our arrival. Me! Sorting clothes into boxes!

It was with this new-found sense of organisation that I began researching my visa requirements prior to booking my flights to China. The Chinese embassy in Seoul does not have an English language section, but there are some regularly updated pages on another site that tell a foreigner all (!) they need to know about the sometimes tricky process for acquiring a tourist visa. I found no reasons to worry. I booked my flights.

2 weeks after booking and 3 weeks before I was due to fly, I dropped in to one of the licensed travel agents in Seoul who handle Chinese visa applications. The embassy doesn't take applications directly you see. This is one of a number of annoying rules. The agent there told me that there was a new annoying rule - foreign nationals in Korea needed at least 6 months remaining on their ARC (Alien Registration Card - it always annoys me that it is called this, as I am constantly reminded of Sting's 'Englishman in New York' whenever I say it, and also of the fact that I, for many years, thought the lyrics were 'I'm an alien, I'm a little alien, I'm an Englishman in New York') in order to apply for a visa. My ARC expires on September 2nd. I have just less than 2 months left.

I was gutted. I couldn't believe it. I was so excited for this trip, I was fulfilling a life-long dream in many ways, and it was being taken away from me because of some stupid red tape. What was the reasoning anyway? Do the Chinese think I'm going to stay there or something? Do they not realise how much I miss roast beef?? I want to go home in September!

As well as this, there were the more fiscal issues of our potentially non-refundable flights and the fact that one of those flights was an uber-expensive epic monster from London. My flights were nothing compared to the price of my mate's. I couldn't give up there.

I began ringing around travel agents and kept being told the same thing, that there was nothing I could do. I posted on Dave's ESL Cafe, the largest collection of idiots on the Internet and, shockingly, got some decent advice. There was an agency in Itaewon that would try for me. I went the next day, Wednesday July 1st. I got my passport back the next day having been refused by the Chinese embassy due to the new regulations coming into play. Oh, and when did these new regulations come into play?

Wednesday July 1st.

The dream was dead. There was simply no way that I could get a visa in Korea, besides applying for a new job and having my ARC extended to cover my new employment. Obviously this wasn't an option. Then, we started getting fantastical.

Maybe I could apply to the Chinese embassy in England? Maybe one visa is the same as the next, and what would the Chinese embassy in London care if I was nearly done in Korea? They'd issue me one, surely! Well, not surely but, you know, worth a shot at least. I had just shy of 3 weeks.

I posted my passport and my application form on Saturday. FedEx promised to have it on Adam's desk by Tuesday lunchtime. I booked Adam an appointment at the Chinese embassy for 1:30pm on Tuesday. It had to be there before then.

Since then, I've been tracking it online. It really is a fantastic service. I just pop my little code into the box and it tells me, to the second, where my package is! It's amazing! To my surprise, they sent it east. This was the first part of the journey:
Seoul - Incheon
Incheon - Anchorage, Alaska
So I'm thinking, that's pretty cool, it's in Alaska. I always wanted to go there! My passports been there, that pretty much means that I've been there! 

8 hours later it was on the move again.
Anchorage, Alaska - Newark, New Jersey
This allowed me to demonstrate my accent skills to the Canadian,

"Hey, buddy! I'm in New Jawsey. Get me a cworfee, buddy!"
"Get your own fucking coffee."

It hung around in New Jersey until 2pm the following afternoon. I spent the morning hitting refresh on the tracking screen, anxiously waiting for it to take off to the Motherland. Finally, I saw those beautiful words on the screen.
Newark, New Jersey - Stansted, United Kingdom

Ah, Stansted. The runt of the litter. Never before had I had such affection for such a pathetic little airport. My passport was in London! A day early no less. Adam might even have it on his desk the day before the meeting, giving him plenty of time to make snarky comments about my picture. Or to try and sell it to a Polack.

I went about the rest of my day with a spring in my step. It was far from guaranteed that I would even get a visa granted in London, but at least I was giving myself the best possible chance. I patted myself on the back for being so organised as to get it to him early, and began mentally drafting my letter of gratitude to FedEx, congratulating them on a job well done and a truly remarkable service.

I woke up this morning and checked again. Maybe it will say delivered? Or maybe it's 'on the van', that old chestnut? What did I see?
 Stansted, United Kingdom - Paris, France
The fucking French. Again. I've still not forgiven them for keeping me off an Easyjet flight from Paris when I was 16. Now they've stolen my passport. There'll be hell to pay now, Frenchie. I got on the phone.

"안녕하십니까? 페덱스 입니다. "
"The French have nicked my passport!"
"한국어는 1번을 누르세요. For English press 2."
I pressed 2.
"The French have nicked my passport!"

This went on for some time. The conclusion at the end of it, according to my friend Su Min on the end of the line, was that "Maybe there is a problem with your package". She would call me straight back. This took over 5 hours to happen.

In the meantime, I hopped onto the FedEx website and noticed they have a Customer Service chatroom. Cool! I gave it a go, and copied and pasted the conversation for your pleasure.
A FedEx agent will be right with you...

You have been connected to Kee-Suk .

Kee-Suk :  Hello Smithy. thanks for visiting FedEx.com, I am researching your question now...
Smithy:  okay
Smithy: tracking number is 8691 4625 7828
Kee-Suk :  I will be happy to help you Smithy. May I have your tracking number, please?
Smithy: yes. its 8691 4625 7828
Kee-Suk :  Maybe this pkg arrived in London already . So we will monitor this pkg's status on 06 July local time.
Smithy:  but it says that it is in paris
Kee-Suk :  yes...
Kee-Suk :  not paris
Smithy:  it isn't in paris?
Kee-Suk :  yes..
Smithy: yes it is in paris?
Kee-Suk: This pkg has been held in GB for delivery on 06 july....Please tracking again after 1800pm today..
Smithy:  okie dokie
Smithy:  thanks
Kee-Suk: Thank you for using FedEx.com, Smithy. Have a great day!
Smithy: i will if my passport isn’t in paris.
Anyway, I went about the rest of my day sweltering in 30° heat and worrying about my passport. I felt uncomfortable enough being on the other side of the world without a passport without the French getting their grubby little fingers on it. And then I got an e-mail.

- Adam

It was in his little hand. As we speak, he is at the Chinese embassy delivering my passport and offering sexual favours to whoever makes the decisions around there. There's nothing I can do but hope and trust in his ability.

And according to FedEx.com, my package spent only 1 hour 24 minutes in France. Which is about 1 hour 23 minutes more than I'd ever want it to.

Just playing, The French. You know I love you.

Billy doesn't though.

Love, Smithy x


Billy said...

I really don't.

Good luck with the visa. Adams a lawyer, and a handsome Jewish one at that, he'll sort it I'm sure! If you get to China get me a present! X

Anonymous said...

Haha, well crafted Smithy. My laughter is only subdued by my empathy for your frustration. Seems like a rather round-about way for a document to get to England, but at least it's there. I do hope China lets you in; otherwise you may have to tunnel in from North Korea...

Postman said...

Wow, you worked your magic New Jersey imitation on Miss Canadia, and she responded in kind! Well done the both of you!

Darn, I knew I should've moved to Anchorage right after I got back from Korea like I wanted to. Then I could've said hello at you as you passed by...

Bloody French. The line "There'll be hell to pay, Frenchie" had me chuckling. Great post, Smithy, one of the best, I'd say. Your satirical mastery of languages and accents and your own unique tone are a synergistic combo.

Good luck on the passport thingy, and I hope you achieve your dream of going to

[hard swallow]



Lady Hwa-Hwa said...

In my humble opinion, Beijing is worth it.

smorphie said...

Good luck. You failed to mention that the French aren't allowed to get visas in Korea, no matter how much longer they have on their residency. Guess they were just trying to sabotage your attempts out of spite.

cyphecks said...

Just stumbled across your blog.

I'm in a similar situation, but planning on traveling through Russia and China. I was furious about the ARC red tape, but I talked to many people that still got their visas for various countries with very little time left on their ARCs, despite what travel agents have told me.

My Russian visa is currently processing, and judging by my friend's experience of getting both Russian and Chinese visas about a month before he left, I'm thinking things will work out.

Good luck to us both.