Monday, 26 May 2014

Arriving in Korea!

So, the morning of May 26th arrived, and I was terrified. So many things had already been delayed and rejected, what if we fell at the final hurdle?

It was fine.

We arrived early, and thanks to our recruiter and the people at IMOE we were allowed to pick up in the morning rather than the afternoon. The lady behind the desk had our passports ready WITH VISAS as soon as we walked through the doors and I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I had to excuse myself to the bathroom before my makeup got wrecked.

Anyway, it was then a mad dash back to the subway, back to the airport, onto a plane, and off to Incheon. There was some faff with baggage (of course it was my suitcase that had to be searched) and with immigration (of course I wouldn't have the right information on my entry form) but THEN we found the man with a little sign saying "Nick and Marichelle" and we were off over the giant bridge, finally in Korea.

We were taken right to the Incheon City Hall and met Sarah from IMOE and got right down to signing contracts and setting up our bank accounts, which was a big relief considering we'd thought we'd have to set them up ourselves.

Embarrassingly, it took us far too long to realise that the people sat opposite us were in fact our head co-teachers.

Then, our co-teachers drove us straight to our new home! It's an officetel in Bupyeong, and it's wonderful. They kept apologising for it being so small but it's far bigger than I'd expected! It has a MEZZANINE!

It needed quite a bit of tidying and cleaning, and it took a while to get used to where everything was, how things worked and finding all the hidden cupboards, but it feels like ours now. There's aircon and a fan for the hot, hot summer, and an electric blanket and ondol (underfloor heating!) for the winter. A huge window with a lively view, and, most importantly...

A rice cooker.

I'll take some photos and do an officetel tour in another post. Just thought I'd put a little update and end to the Fukuoka blogs until then o/

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Fukuoka Visa Run: Day 7

The face of someone who is too hot and too tired
The final day! Since we'd gotten sidetracked on our walk starting in Hakata, we decided to finish it today.

As we'd already been to Hakata, we went straight to point 3 on the walk, which was Rakusui-en. It was very close to our hotel anyway, so it was quite convenient to be able to skip the walk to Hakata Station. For 300 yen we could look around the little oasis of calm, as well as partake in a little tea ceremony (with proper green tea and Japanese sweets).

It looked so funny, walking along a street lined with towering office blocks and apartments, to suddenly spot a cluster of trees bursting up towards the sky, just about hemmed in by a pretty wall all the way around. Hidden inside was the Teahouse. All of a sudden the painfully hot sun was blocked out and replaced by cool, leafy shade and pretty dappled patches of light. It looked deserted, but it turns out it's just the overall calm, quiet nature of the place, and two lovely ladies were waiting inside a little office ready to take our money and give us a green tea voucher to use whenever we were ready.

The garden is quite small, but just the right size to have a relaxing stroll, and there are benches dotted around that you can sit on while you watch the koi swim around and make comforting 'bloop' noises over the gentle rush of a small waterfall. It was fun to imagine people hundreds of years ago doing something similar.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Fukuoka Visa Run: Day 6

Day 6 started by moving hotel again, due to the fact most hotels (including the one we were in) were all booked up. After having a bit of a panic that we'd be homeless for the next couple of days, we found the Court Hotel Fukuoka Hakata. It's been slightly advantageous, having all these accommodation hops, as we've now experienced three quite different hotels.

The Fukuoka Hana was advertised as both a hotel and hostel, mainly for young people, backpackers, and those on a tight budget. The service was very personal and attentive, and overall great value for such a low price per night.

The Heiwadai Hotel 5 seemed to be more of a short-stay hotel, nicely sized rooms with friendly, attentive service, and the added bonus of it being a larger, newer building so there was a lift ;)

Finally, this new hotel which seemed to be more geared towards businessmen. It looked a lot more expensive and professional than the others, and there were a lot more reception staff.

The move itself was very simple, other than being tiring nothing bad happened. The Fukuoka subway is very easy to navigate and runs efficiently. We've also found out, after lugging all our enormous suitcases up a huge flight of stairs on the first night, that most (if not all) of the subway stations have elevator access to the surface. Sigh.

Once again, we'd overestimated how much time we would need (always a good thing to do) and could only check our bags in, leaving us with 3 hours exploration time in the Hakata area. In our ever-helpful map of Fukuoka there was another walking route marked down, starting at Hakata Station, which was where we'd just come from.

It's absolutely HUGE and I've now realised that I didn't take any pictures of it. The first floor and some below are all dedicated to the transport aspect of the station, and are very spacious but busy. The other 9 or 10 floors above, however, were filled with a shopping mall.

Our first stop was Starbucks, for a quick drink that we knew how to order without holding anyone up. There were some clothes shops around it, but more interestingly, as we explored, was a cooking school that looked like something straight out of an episode of Cardcaptor Sakura. There was a big "NO PHOTOS" sign, so I'll just say it looked something like this:

There was also a huge bookstore with more Attack On Titan stuff proudly displayed at the front of the shop, which distracted me long enough, until I saw this:


Friday, 23 May 2014

Fukuoka Visa Run: Day 5

Today we went to the other side of where we were staying, and explored the Momochi area! It looks like a pretty touristy area, with lots of big, expensive hotels (including an absolutely ridiculous-looking Hilton). Unsurprising considering it's right next to the seaside and two of Fukuoka's big tourist traps: the Yahoo! Stadium and Fukuoka Tower.

Again, it was only about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. The weather was gorgeous, and as we got closer to the beach, it all suddenly got very... Mediterranean?

Having skipped breakfast, our main prerogative was to find food. After circling the small shopping area, utilising our usual trick of "can we see any romaji?", we settled on a little restaurant-cum-grocery store, where we were drawn in by two salesmen with calls of "IRASSHAI" and "JAPANESE DONATSU!"

The lady inside, whom I assume was the owner, was very lovely despite claiming to not know much English, calling over one of her younger assistants when my stumbling Japanese proved to be less than useful for ordering food.

Being by the seaside, I started channelling my Iwatobi feels and ordered a mackerel meal set, while Nick went for Miso Buta. Mm, buta.

[More after the jump!]

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Fukuoka Visa Run: Day 4

Exploration day! Having sorted out the adjustment of our flights and hotels for the rest of the week, we decided to just let ourselves relax and go for a wander. We were given a map by a lady at the front desk, which rather wonderfully has a couple of points of interest marked, as well as sightseeing walking routes that take you to mostly free or cheap locations that still let you soak up the best of what Fukuoka has to offer.
But first, breakfast.
We had breakfast in the hotel to save time. Fun fact: Japanese breakfast does not resemble a continental breakfast at all. In the interest of not having bad manners or offending anyone, we were totally unsure what to do, or what went with what. I've never had a more terrifying breakfast, haha. On the plus side, it was delicious! I don't know what any of it was (past raisukaree and miso) but I was happy to eat it anyway. The motto of our food attitude this week.

Having a whole day and some lovely weather for wandering, we decided to take a walk to the nearby Fukuoka Castle ruins and Ohori Park.

Click through the jump for more! Lots of photos in this post~

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Fukuoka Visa Run: Day 3

As planned, we got up early on Wednesday morning to go to the South Korean Consulate. Again, doing a lot of research beforehand made this journey a lot less daunting than it could have been. So there's my advice to you if you're about to make the run: Do your research! Look at blogs and Google Streetview so that you know the way before you even get there!

Breakfast was a meronpan that I excitedly picked up at a 7-Eleven. So tasty! Very sweet, fluffy bread, with a sweet cream and melon flavoured filling.
At the consulate there are some guards that hang around outside, and a little booth that you need to sign in at, much like you would have done at the airport. I wasn't sure if I should speak in Japanese or Korean, but the guard just looked up at us and put us out of our stumbling, mumbling misery with a single muttering of "visa?" at which point we nodded and bowed furiously, and had a pair of forms slipped towards us.

This is where the drama happened. We got told that, contrary to what our recruiter (who had previously phoned the same consulate to check processing times) had been told, our Visas wouldn't be ready for collection until Monday. Not Friday as we had been told and planned.

A panicked (and presumably expensive) phonecall to Korvia led to either Korvia or IMOE (everything was conducted in Korean so I'm not sure) contacting the consulate and miraculously bailing us out to some degree. The amount of effort and assistance given to us by these organisations has been unreal, and I'm very grateful. Anyway, in the end we were told that we could pick up our Visas at 9:30 Monday, rather than the usual late afternoon slot, so that we would get to Incheon only a few hours late (as opposed to the day or two late that staying at home would have achieved).

So, we handed our bags into our new hotel, the Heiwadai Hotel 5 (we chose the week of a big Hawks game at the Yahoo! Stadium, so most of the hotels were fully booked for the entirety of our stay, hence the hotel-hopping), and looked around the Tojinmachi area. It was quite refreshing to be out in the daytime without any bags, especially as the weather has been HOT. Having a few hours to kill before we could check in properly, we went to get lunch.


After a while wandering up and down a lovely little shopping arcade, we realised we were probably going to have to actually talk to someone in order to get some food. We went with a deduction of "if they have romaji on their sign they might be more likely to know some English" added to "eigo-ga wakarimasu ka?" ("do you understand English?" which has proven to save us on more than one occasion, thank you Pimsleur). This led us to COCOKARA, a cute little cafe/restaurant with the loveliest people inside. They were very patient with us and explained the lunch menu for us, and overall served us very well. We went for a set lunch, as it looked enormous for the price, as well as delicious.

We weren't wrong.
At ¥980 each, which is about £5.70 (including a drink and a bowl of miso) I think that's a pretty sweet deal. It felt varied and relatively healthy in contrast to most things you can get at home. As a side note, it took me a while to work out that a lot of signs in Japan use 円 instead of ¥, which can be helpful to know when you're frantically scanning a board of hiragana looking for a price. But whoever it was that had been saying "oooh, Japan is so expensive!", I don't know where you're from or possibly where you're going, but to me everything is SO reasonably priced.

Stuffed and tired, we thanked the staff of COCOKARA, and went back to our hotel where it was finally about time to check in. I asked a few questions using my scant knowledge of Japanese and, seemingly, I'm a bit too convincing as I was met with a long string of information as a response. Poor girl looked disheartened by my horrified/blank stare before realising I just had no idea what she'd said.

Anyway. We finished up by budgeting out our food and transport money for the rest of the week, as well as having an ill-timed nap (read: 7-hour sleep).

I'm really bad at ending these posts in any way other than just...stopping. Sorry.

Visa Run Posts:

Fukuoka Visa Run: Day 2

Thanks to some of the great blog posts out there re: the Fukuoka Visa Run (especially Conleys Overseas and American in Seoul) I felt fairly confident in my ability to get on the airport shuttle bus, through the subway system, to our hotel. I'd definitely prefer this little trip if it were a renewal run. Believe me, trying to do this with a year's worth of luggage, not fun at all.

It was pouring with rain when we arrived. Great. 12 years of waiting, and it RAINS when I get to Japan? Not even a bit of drizzle, but a full on downpour?

Cute little sign at the front desk of our hostel

Not to worry, the next day it was as though nothing had ever happened. Blue skies and temperatures of 22˚C and up. Hooo~ Until then, though, we had some lovely people stop to help the two lost and wet-looking gaijin, and the lady at the hostel kindly gave us some towels to rub down with. We stayed at the Fukuoka Hana Hostel, near Kushida shrine and Canal City. I'll post a proper review in a separate blog entry because I have so many wonderful words to say about it!

Late-night food and exploration under the jump!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Fukuoka Visa Run: Day 1

So, today is the day!

I'm off to Japan!

12 or so years of dreaming that one day I could go to Japan, plus nearly a month of setbacks, stress, and paperwork, equals me somehow ending up in Fukuoka (Kyushu).

My first question: How do you pack a year's worth of life into one suitcase, one carry-on, and keep it all within the weight limit? Apparently this question was so difficult that I spent ALL night worrying over it, adding and removing things from my new suitcase which, while originally praised with "I can fit everything in here!" now became "Dear God this weighs a ton, what do I do?!"

Sleepless and freaking out, my parents were met with borderline shrieks and hair-tearing (sorry parents), before I was finally on my way. Hugs and kisses before we rip that plaster off for a whole year, eh.

At Nick's, another panicked re-pack along with a multitude of other errands, my only respite being the knowledge that my Notice of Appointment and Visa Code had in fact arrived. Yay~

Off to Heathrow! Time for a photo break, and a jump because long and image-heavy.

Nick looking pensive.
Goodbye England!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Welcome! | いらっしゃいませ!| 어서오세요!


Right, I'll try and keep this brief, considering most of you know me in real life (and thus should have a fair idea of what's going on with me at the moment), or have found me through a search (and thus should have the ability to read my little sidebar bio), haha.

Anyway, after what is fast becoming half a year of training, application, and stress, I am on my way to Incheon in South Korea, to teach English with my lovely boyfriend Nick (whose blog you can find here).

I've written a summary of how I came to have this job, but in the interest of shortness I've added a jump below (opens in a new tab). If you want to bail now, here's your chance! I won't judge you.

blogger template by lovebird