Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The DMV From Hell (or Jenny Visits the Suwon Immigration Office. And Then Eats Korean McDonalds.)

What do you get when you take thousands of foreigners, bring them to South Korea, and withhold cell phones and bank accounts without domestic identification?

Really long lines at the Immigration Offices.

* * * *

So, I'm sitting at my desk on Monday, minding my own business, and then Mrs. Kim saunters up. It's always something, and this day was no exception. "JINIPAH! You need to go to Suwon. To get your Alien Card! Tomorrow! No school!"


Now, I understand that they want us teachers to, you know, not have criminal records and HIV, and I have no problem with this conceptually. But then she drops the real bomb: that I will be going on this little adventure.... alone. Because the other teachers have things to do, and on Tuesdays I'm pretty expendable, so this voyage will be solo.

Now. I know where Suwon is, geographically. Sort of. It's pretty much directly west of Icheon. But I have only used the Icheon Bus Terminal a grand total of one time, and that was on the way in two weeks ago. When I was jet-lagged and half-asleep. So I am not very confident in my skills here. Basically, my mission is this:

Take a bus you've never used, to a city you've never been to, to an office you've never seen, fill out forms you don't understand, wait for two hours, and then come home. By yourself. Love, Mrs. Kim.

I was feeling pessimistic.

As it turned out though, getting on the bus was not the difficult part. Basically, you just walk up to the window, say the city you're trying to get to, pray you're pronouncing it right, and then fork over some cash. They give you a ticket, and then you wander through the platform trying to decipher the different signs, although they have switched it up just to spite you, and these signs, you discover, are written VERTICALLY. So, this takes about fifteen minutes, until some merciful soul comes over and spins you in the right direction. Suwon is station #8, if you were wondering.

The bus ride was about an hour long, and goes through some smaller areas on the way, like Yongin and others I can't remember. It's very mountainous, and the views are amazing. We went through a lot of long tunnels. Getting to Suwon is not quite as picturesque. It is a much bigger city than mine (Icheon is about 200,000 and Suwon is about a million) so the roads are enormous- lots of four-lane highways. Mrs. Kim has instructed me to get off at "Yeongtongdong" which turns out to basically be a bus stop on the side of the highway.

This presents issue #2: how does one hail a cab when they are all going 80 km/hour?

At first I wasn't even seeing any cabs, so I started walking down the street a ways, but then one finally popped up. I stuck my hand out, and honest to God, this taxi crossed three lanes of traffic and missed a metro bus by about a foot to brake right in front of me. Okay. Taxi: obtained. My Korean is only modestly less terrible than it was last week, but still does not include any casual taxi chitchat, so it was a quiet ride to the Immigration Office. It hasn't been made clear to me whether or not you're supposed to tip cab drivers here, so I didn't. There may or may not be two Suwon cabbies with a very poor impression of Americans now; I hope they do not take this out on any foreigners that may be reading this. My bad. (Have just consulted my co-teacher, Mr. Hyun, on this point: the answer is no, you don't tip them. Interesting.)

So, the Suwon Immigration Office. If I never have to go back there for the rest of my life, I'll be very happy. This brief moment of hope was immediately extinguished however; I have to return in two weeks to pick up my stuff. You can't just get the card on the spot. Argh.

Basically, a very very very long story short: it's exactly like the DMV. You grab a number, fill out a form, and wait in a room with hundreds of people waiting for the two government workers to get through everyone. When I got there, they were at #51. My number was 123. I made a lot of progress in my novel and eavesdropped on the languages I could understand. There was one hilarious, pissed-off Brit in the corner who kept stage-whispering European profanities, which was probably only for our benefit, because the workers seemed completely non-plussed by the huge and ever-increasing crowd of people.

When it was finally my turn, the man just took my forms, muttered to himself for a few minutes, and said to come back in two weeks. Gave me a receipt, and I was done.

Pretty anticlimactic, I know. Welcome to Korea's red tape.

On the plus side, the week has gotten a lot better from there. Gustie and I have managed to find Pizza Hut and a working ATM (over-joyed about this particular discovery) and there is some bar exploration planned for the future. Finding good beer would be quite a coup. But more on that later.

<3 from Korea. Jenny

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