Sunday, July 16, 2006

I like...

Sitting back in the saddle day after day, I have to say that taking in the horizon ahead is more than enough to keep one content. Don't think too much, better just enjoy the moment as it is. But travelling around with no timeline or concerns about money, and with no real sense of direction beyond a vague imaginary line you've drawn on that big map in your head seems to lead one to some serious existential questions. After months of not considering "the big picture" - and the innumerable ways that it could play out - thoughts of the future will suddenly take precedence over everything else.

It might be all that you think about 24/7 for a day or two. Maybe a week. Brett will confirm this for me.

What to do, and what's the point of doing that anyway?

So far I've approached the problem with a fairly simple formula. I've regularly asked myself, "What do I like?" and then I try to model the next few weeks around the answer.

Wow this is really wandering here... I'll get to the point.

You know I like yaks, but here in BeiJing be none. I like biking. I like Asia. I like boats.

And so here it is. I'm in BeiJing now, but on Wednesday I will be taking an international ferry to Korea. From the port in Incheon I will bus to a small city in the south called JinJu to teach english for 4 weeks. Should be nice. You know, I'll have a schedule. I've heard those build character or something.

Getting the Korean work visa is a story in itself... After TWO HOURS in the at times spectacularly badly designed BeiJing subway system, I popped out near the Korean Embassy. Close enough anyway. Inside, I confidently handed all the paperwork that my employers sent me, only to have it all handed back to me not five minutes later.

"I'm sorry, we only process visas for those people holding X or F visas."

Hmm, and I have a... whatnow? oh right, I have an L visa.

Although I had all the paperwork necessary, the Korean embassy here in BeiJing has arbitrarily decided that they will only deal with foreigners who already have a working relationship with the Chinese authorities by way of business or study.

I complained, and then complained some more. This situation really leaves me somewhere up the proverbial creek, because a guy has to get a work visa before he enters a country. My only option would be a trip to Tokyo, where it's said you can pick up the visa in two working days.

Tokyo is no BeiJing. It costs money to live there. A bed in a Youth Hostel starts at 50 dollars a night I've heard. It's a "third most expensive city in the world" kind of place.

Anyone who has ever dealt with beaurocrats can almost imagine my situation. Only those who have dealt with the people working the front counters in foreign embassies can truly understand. The people manning the front counter have no power; they are merely the puppets of the those behind the scenes. Sure they speak fluent Korean, but we know that they aren't real Koreans.

With this in mind I demanded to speak to a real Korean. The visa counsellor. Eventually I was given a requisition form on which I wrote my complaint. I finished the letter by writing PLEASE.

Amazingly enough, I was told that I could see the man as soon as he finished up whatever he was busy with. Two hours later I was still staring at the wall. During this time though, I came up with a strategy to deal with him. I was working in Taiwan for a long time, so I have a relationship with them...

Taiwan is a part of China, isn't it?

Yup, I decided to play it dirty. I figured this was sure to stump him.

It did.

What I thought would be something like boxing a brick wall turned out to be a fairly relaxed "personal interview" in which my qualities (I have more than one you know) were carefully assessed. I explained my work history, and argued that it would be ridiculous for me to fly to Tokyo to deal with the same folks over there. He was a friendly guy who actually entertained my logic. We also spoke of the fact that Canada and Korea were allies, and I pointed out that while Korea grants 30 day visa free entry to most western nations, it offered Canadians 180 days.

Clearly Korea and Canada are the best of friends. Bosom buddies I bet.

So in the end everything seems like everything is going to work out just peachy.

BeiJing has been all right so far. I'm not a fan of big cities (and at 14 million BeiJing certainly qualifies), but this one's got history... somewhere. I think I saw some, but they were selling something in front of it, so it was hard to make out. Tomorrow though I'm heading to a quiet section of the Great Wall with Patrick so I'm excited about that.

Pat is a friend of mine I met in Taiwan. He's been a student at the BeiJing University of Language and Culture for the past semester. Before that he illegally drove a motorcycle over 10000 km through the farthest reaches of western China. Before that he was my roomate in TW for a short stint. Next month he plans to go to Mongolia and, I quote, "buy a horse." He's an aspiring journalist, and if he ever posts his writing and pics on a blog like I've been telling him to do, I'll post the link.

Next posting from Korea I guess.

1 comment:

Tyrn said...

Hey Man,
I just wanted to say that although I seldom comment on your blog, I HIGHLY appreciate it. Sounds like you're developing some serious backbone and negotiating skills, given the last two posts. Maybe one day you'll work for CSIS.
I'm looking forward to hearing from you in Korea.