Friday, 26 December 2003

Japanese Visa Run

Number 4/5: Japanese Visa Run

Because I arrived in Korea just over a week after getting the job, I didn't have time to get a work visa and arrived in the country on a tourist visa. As you might imagine, it's illegal to work in Korea on a tourist visa, so this meant that I had to go to the Korean Embassy in Japan in what is known as the visa run.

I'm not exactly sure why it's necessary to leave the country to get a work visa, but it meant a day trip to Japan, so I wasn't complaining.

So Tuesday morning I got the train to Busan (4 million people, 2nd biggest city in Korea) and without much hassle got a return ferry ticket to Japan - the amalgamted city of Fukouku and Hakata. I'd opted for the slow overnight ferry, because it was much cheaper than the speedy 3 hour boat, and also meant I could save money on accommodation as my sleeping would be done on the ferry.

I had a couple of hours to kill in Busan so took a wander. Despite being vast and stretching forever, with just a few abrupt hills puncturing the endless sprawl of urban blocks, the city appealed to me and had a calm feel. It also had a big tower on a hill, a la Seoul, which I had to go up, of course, and got a good view.

The ferry then, leaving at 7pm. I'd gone for 2nd class, and I quickly found that they certainly didn't go overboard to spoil you in 2nd class. I was room 307, and room 307, like all the rooms neighbouring it, was just a big open space with lots of floormats laid out. We were given blankets too.

I was the only Westerner here, among an endless sea of jabbering Koreans, most of whom seemed to have huge boxes full of Pot Noodles or electronic stuff that I presume was for export to Japan to sell for inflated prices. There were quite a lot of schoolchildren too. I had a wander round the boat and quickly realised there was nothing to do whatsoever. Nothing. So I just went to sleep.

I slept alright, considering the conditions certainly, but was up at awake by 6am, and very hungry. But I'd only Korean Won with me and the boat, for some unfathomable reason, was only working in Japanese Yen. This seemed like somewhat of an oversight considering a good 90% of passengers were Korean.

The oversight was mine however regarding the currency situation. I had presumed that at the ferry terminal in Fukouku there would be a currency exchange place. It did seem a logical presumption. But there was nothing of the kind and as I wandered the ferry terminal in desperate search it dawned on me that I was in Japan with no usable money, and this was clearly not a desirable situation.

I was also very very hungry by now.

But I was resourceful, and with the help of a Japanese receptionist whose English mercifully stretched just far enough for basic communication, I got a taxi to a bank to change money, and then to the Korean Embassy. This cost me an absolute fortune, at least about 20UKP, but I had little choice.

My boat was leaving Japan at 5pm, but I reckoned I would need to be there to board about 2,30pm, so a speedy processing of my visa was vital. The scowling man behind the desk didn't seem to appreciate my urgency, but I managed to haggle him down from 4.30pm to 3pm. This gave me a good few hours to wander the Japanese streets.

It was pissing it down with rain most of the time, and I had nowhere to go, so I wandered round a giant baseball stadium, took a subway to the city centre and back, wandered round an HMV, and bought some food. At about 2pm I returned to the embassy and asked if my visa was ready yet. The scowling man wasn't happy about this, saying it would be ready for 3pm and wouldn't be negotiated with, so I sat watching him and trying to look pensive. Maybe it worked, because at 2.50pm he did whatever he needed to do (which probably took less than about 30 seconds) and gave me my work visa.

Time was of the essence now as if I missed boarding to the ferry I'd be well and trult screwed. My Yen was virtually out as well. I got a taxi and he dawdled through slow traffic, but very kindly agreed to take me all the way to the ferry terminal despite the fact that I didn't have enough money to pay him for the whole journey. Unfortunately he delivered me at the wrong ferry terminal, so I had to literally run to get to the correct one, deeply fearing I might be too late.

Fortunately, boarding wasn't till 4pm, so I had a good half hour clear.

The return journey was again spent mostly sleeping, and trying to avoid the only other Westerner there. I would have spoken to him, but he more or less ignored me initially so I decided to avoid him, despite the fact we were sharing the same 2nd class room.

I got to Busan for the morning, and quickly got a train back to Daegu, and back to my apartment where David was due to pass by and take me to the school for my first experience of English teaching.

View of Busan from a big tower.

My sleeping quarters in the ferry.

The Korean consulate in Fukuoka.

Sunrise from the ferry.

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