Asia | Korea, Republic of – Scandals and The Rising Sun
Before I begin what I really have to say, something that happened a few minutes ago: A guy was coming into the building as I was leaving my apartment just now. He wasn’t anyone I’ve ever spoken to or even seen before, but when I said hello, he spontaneously offered me half his dinner! Unfortunately I was forced to decline on account of the fact that I’d just had a bowl of noodles the size of Scotland, but anyway, that’s hopitality in anyone’s book!
So, onto recent events here. I finally got paid last Friday, which was an experience in itself, rather reminiscent of a crime thriller. The Director summoned me into his office and presented me with a brown envelope stuffed an inch thick (and that’s no exaggeration) with crisp, clean banknotes approximating 1000 pounds. Try to imagine 2000 in denominations of ten, and you’ll understand the quantity of notes I’m talking about. It was very weird, but thoroughly rewarding.
School has been thrown into disarray recently, because Greg the other native teacher did a moonlight flit at the weekend. He was obviously just waiting to get his money, and didn’t want to have to pay the penalty for breaking the contract, so he just did one without telling anyone. This means that the school has just wasted the money sending him to Japan for his work visa, and is now a teacher short. Thus we are having to combine classes, and cover as many of his as the three of us can. I have to say, it was a really shitty thing to do, especially when everyone has been so thoroughly nice, even when he was buggering them around a few weeks ago. The uncertainty about his future first arose then, and the school told him that if he wanted to leave he could just give them a month’s notice so that they could find someone else. He said he’d stay, but was obviously planning to do a bunk the whole time. Git!
Aside from that, and in happier news, I went to Japan myself yesterday. Due to an early flight, I had to get the bus to the airport at about 5.30am. The Director said he’d drive me to the bus station. In order to facilitate an early start, he decided to stay next door in Greg’s newly vacated apartment. We ended up getting royally plastered in my place, along with Mr.Lee the technical chief (computer guy, as I prefer to call him). Topics such as Bruce Lee, elephant’s genitalia and money being the root of all evil were covered before we finally called it a night. By this time it was gone 2am anyway, so I decided to give up on the idea of sleep, and just stay awake. Fortunately, and bizarrely, my TV had spontaneously gained about ten extra channels the night before, so I had plenty of early hours entertainment to keep me going. A few hours later and I was at Incheon airport. By the time I got on the plane my lack of sleep had caught up with me, and I managed to fall asleep at the very moment we left the tarmac..only awaking amongst the clouds. As we left the coast of Korea, we flew over some absolutely spectacular mountains which seemed to stretch for an eternity – I must go there at ground level, it looked amazing!
Shortly after take-off, the meal was served. It was unique in my culinary experience, being the only meal I have ever eaten in which I have been unable to identify a single recognisable ingredient. I’m pretty sure no meat or fish was involved, but as for what was…God only knows! It was quite tasty though whatever it was!
Arriving at Osaka, I was dealt with by a guy who will forever live on in my memory as the ‘Ohh!’ customs man. Allow me to illucidate…
‘Where have you come from today?’
‘Ohh! South Korea!’
‘How long have you been in Korea?’
‘About a month and a half.’
‘Ohh! A month and a half!’
‘How long will you be staying in Japan?’
‘Just one day.’
‘Ohh! Just one day!’
‘What is the purpose of your visit?’
‘To collect a work visa.’
(Can you guess what’s coming?!)…
‘Ohh! A work visa!’
‘Do you have anything to declare?’
‘Drugs or guns?’ (As if he expects me to say,’Oh yeah, now you come to mention it…’)
The airport station was spotless, and the train left precisely on time. Osaka airport appears to be on an island, because the train passes over the sea for some time before hitting the first of the suburbs. It’s an oddly peculiar experience crossing the sea on a train – I’d recommend it. Pleasingly, there seemed to be loudspeakers at each station playing bird song! I took to Osaka immediately. The architecture in the suburbs was a mix of old and new, solid and ramshackle, and was liberally dotted with trees that looked like full size bonsais. Entering Osaka city itself on foot was great. It was bustling, architecturally eclectic and covered in the ubiquitous neon. All over there were pokey side alleys, weird sights, and the phenomenon of the killer cyclist. For a long time throughout history, Japan’s only trade partner was The Netherlands. Evidently our laid-back European cousins also instructed the Japanese in the art of bike-riding for the apocalypse. Anyone who has ever found themselves leaping from the path of a rapidly oncoming homicidal Dutchman on a bicycle while in Amsterdam, will appreciate the pedal-driven peril that weaves at ludicrous speed through the crowds of pedestrians on every Osaka pavement. Pity the poor soul who can’t get out of the way. In the words of Michael Palin..’God help you if you’ve got a double bass and a set of golfclubs!’
I found the Korean consulate easily, thanks to a flag the size of a car hanging outside. Within, I joined the hoardes of other English teachers doing the visa-run. What followed was rather akin to musical chairs. First I joined the queue for the photo machine (which was kind enough to deliver me the single most psychopathic looking photograph I’ve ever had). Then I joined the queue for a visa application form. Having filled that out, I joined the queue to hand it in. Then I joned the queue at the window next door, to pay my fee. Then I rejoined the previous queue to show my receipt. I was then told to come back at four o’clock! Actually it was quite comical, because I kept meeting the same people in various different queues, all of whom were as bemused by the whole farcical process as I was.
I then had a few hours to wander round Osaka. It’s a great place for it. Round each corner lies something new and bizarre – buildings shaped like boats, golden ‘Hello Kitty’ statuettes, giant fibreglass crabs with moving legs, and so forth. If you want a place to get merrily bemused in, you’d be hard pushed to beat it.
I returned and was given the visa without further queueing, and began my journey back to Korea. It was a shame to have such a short time in such a potentially fascinating place, but fleeting glimpse as it may have been , I can still say in all truthfullness that I’ve been to Japan.
All I have to do now I’m back is find the immigration office (wherever THAT might be) and get my ‘alien registration certificate’. Then I’ll be a fully legitimised member of Korean society. I find the prospect very pleasing