Tag Archives: Korea

Good-bye Korea; Hello Hanoi

It was a long trip from Korea to Vietnam. The flight itself was only 5 hours, but because I couldn’t get a bus early enough to get to the airport, my trip took much longer.

On the evening before my flight, I took the bus from Cheongju (where I had lived) to Incheon airport. It was a good thing I went early, as the traffic was super congested and it took ages.

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Once we arrived, I took the opportunity to weigh my suitcase even before I headed to the hotel. I had thought ahead enough to buy extra weight allowance – up to 30kg – on it, but I was still worried, so I hit those scales ASAP so I could redistribute if necessary once in the hotel. At 27.6kg, I had reason to be a little worried! There was definitely room for nothing else in there. After weighing my bag, I bought it some pajamas. It is a plain black bag, and I wanted to make it more recognizable on the luggage-go-round. The jammies definitely did that.

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Suitcase Space Jams

It was finally time to take me and my beast of a bag to the hotel. I stayed in the Darakhyu capsule hotel by Walkerhill in the airport. As in – legits IN the airport. It was only $60 a night because it was tiny. Tiny but nicely done and definitely comfortable. And 100% worth it.


What was amazing about staying at this hotel is that I was able to wake up at 7:30am for a 8:10am check-in. I’ve never appreciated having a hotel so much in my life! If you have an early check in (Note: 8am isn’t *that* early, but it is when you live more than 2 hours from the airport, like I was) I would really recommend staying at this place. It made my travel day a LOT less exhausting.

Check in and security were super fast and easy at Incheon. But before I headed to my gate (132 – the very last gate), I decided to see how much of my “funny money” I could exchange.

I have always hung onto my extra currency when I traveled, as a kind of souvenir. But as I’ve been reducing my belongings over the last year, I decided it was high time to switch that money to a currency I could use. When all was said and done, that three-inch stack of multiple currencies gave me about $75usd, which I was grateful to get for this part of my adventure.

Money in hand, I headed all the way to the other end of the airport to find my gate, which turned out to be the last possible gate. It’s in the basement. As I awaited my seriously “no frills” flight with VietJet Air, I kept trying to get a hold of my sleeping husband to say goodbye and to download a couple of films on Netflix before I boarded. Neither of those things worked out for me.


Seeing the back of that chair with no screen made me wish I had known that Netflix takes 20 million hours to download something. I would have started the night before. I had been spoiled on my flights to and from Canada, but for how wonderfully cheap the flight was, I should have known I couldn’t be expecting much.

The flight was absolutely uneventful. Not even food happened for me, because I refused to buy anything as soon as I realised they weren’t even going to toss some peanuts and water my way. The flight was five hours. I could wait.

The flight was good – we got to Noi Bai (the airport nearest Hanoi) earlier than expected and it was a smooth flight. I got off the plane and did the immigration thing.

::SIDE NOTE::

Some of the posts are going to be like this – nonsense ramblings about what each day was like so I can look back and remember how life overall was when I first got here. However, there will be other posts that I’m hoping may be helpful for others looking for information on coming to Vietnam, such as details about what to expect at immigration.

::END SIDE NOTE::

Once I had my visa (which took about 40 minutes) and bounced through immigration, I was able to pick up my pajama’d suitcase no problem and breezed through the nothing-to-declare line at border control. So far, so good. There was some sort of excitement going on when I came into the arrival hall, apparently some celebrity was walking out at the same time I was.

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Who could it be?

Once the crowd cleared, I looked around for some rando holding a sign with my name on it. Yikes. I knew this couldn’t all be this easy. Even though I had booked a ride with my hotel (I have read multiple times that if you are going to get ripped off in a taxi, from the airport is where it was going to happen), there was definitely no one there at A2 arrivals waiting for me. So I walked down to the other end of the thankfully tiny airport to see if my man was at A1. No such luck. Dang it!

With my spotty wifi connection, I was finally able to ring the hotel via Skype. They gave the driver a call and I had to call them back. When I did, I was asked to wait 10 minutes, as my driver had had a fight with the police and was running late. Of course.

I picked up a sim card for my phone in anticipation of further bungling, but the driver was there in the requested 10 minutes and we were on our way. He was a good driver and, other than his constant nose picking and then (gag) nail biting OF THE SAME HAND, it was a perfectly pleasant journey.

Traffic in Hanoi was mental, as expected, but there was no incident on the way to the hotel. I was looking around trying to see if I would recognise anything, but either the city has massively changed or my memory has faded more than I realised in the past decade. Probably both.

My hotel is lovely. It isn’t fancy, but for under $20usd a night, I don’t expect fancy. The people who run the hotel are a family and they are very kind.

 

After I had checked in and showered, it was time to finally eat. The hotel recommended I go to Pho 10, and they weren’t wrong. It was a delicious (and, at $3, cheap) first meal in Vietnam.

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Belly full, it was time to walk back to the hotel. On the way, I saw St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which was finally a familiar sight. My memory wasn’t completely shot and Hanoi wasn’t completely changed.

So there you go. My first day back in Vietnam, and the first day of Hanoi as home.

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Finding more questions than answers

What I’m learning most in trying to prepare myself for this move from Korea to Vietnam is that everyone on the internet is an idiot. Including me, adding this drivel to an already information-laden cauldron of steaming mixed messages.

Side note: Took an embarrassingly large number of attempts to spell “cauldron” correctly. With Google’s help.

There is so many places to look for advice, but there are some really key pieces missing. For example, I have NO IDEA what an actual day teaching in Vietnam looks like. I hear stories (like 50 kids in an un-airconditioned room all screaming for your attention for an hour), but that can’t be the same experience for everyone or NO ONE would ever stay there. Or at least, any sane person. You can do “cover classes” (rock into a school last minute to fill in for a teacher that has the day off), but I don’t know what that experience is like either.

And does everyone work every day? Is finding a job (or jobs, as it seems to go in Vietnam) with two consecutive days off just a myth? Then what about the people I hear about that only work three days out of the seven? HOW DID THEY DO THAT?

Worse than the missing information is the conflicting messages. Hooooo-boy, howdy. From visas to expectations, there is a lot of differing opinions out there. From whether or not you should even go (from “job market is saturated – don’t bother”, through to “it’s a job-seekers paradise”), to where to go in Vietnam (not just Saigon vs. Hanoi, but toss in all the wee places in between), and anything else you can imagine.

Everyone’s experience is different, even when it is the same. I’m trying to keep that in mind as I sort through all the websites, posts, and whatever else I get my mitts on to try and figure out what I’m doing here.

I’m going to try my best to keep the blog all diary-style for the first bit that I’m in Vietnam. It may be useful as a) my memory isn’t what it used to be, and looking back could be awesome, b) my husband won’t be with me so I’ll have a full account of what I’m going through so he’s forewarned before he arrives, and c) maybe there are others out there that are curious what it feels like to take this journey from the plane landing to the point at which you sort of relax into it and think “okay, this is my life now”.

 

Korean Immigration Update

I only just realised that I didn’t update on the extension of my ARC card with the complication of the new passport.

Turns out the only complications where due to the information I got from immigration.

Now, I’m not saying the hotline lady was wrong, but I didn’t need all the stuff that she thought I needed, and I needed stuff that she didn’t tell me that I needed. Apparently, if a Korean calls, the requirements are different. I dunno why.

In the end, Mr. Money and I went to immigration together. I had to bring my passports (old and new), my ARC card (Side Note: I know technically that “ARC card” is “Alien Registration Card Card”, along the lines of an “ATM Machine” being an “Automated Teller Machine Machine”, but I don’t care. Everyone says “ARC card”, because just saying “ARC” as in “Bring your ARC” sounds hella weird.), and proof that I had my flights out of Korea booked.

That’s right. I needed to bring proof that I was leaving the country, something that the hotline lady failed to tell me.

However, those three things where all I needed to bring. There was a form filled out (Mr. Money did that for me) and then he like… invented? some sort of certificate (as in ‘hand-written’) that I signed (it was in Korean and he doesn’t speak English, so I signed that blind).

That was it. Didn’t cost me any money and the entire time in the immigration office was about 12 minutes. And now my ARC card is sorted until the end of May. Awesome.

One other thing to note: The officer at the immigration office didn’t seem to care one iota that my passport had been updated or whatever. So being beyond the “14 days” that you have to let immigration know that you’ve gotten a new passport isn’t nearly as bad a situation as hotline lady made it sound.

ARC Extensions and New Passports

For my next adventure…

So today I called Korea’s immigration helpline for foreigners on 1345 (3* for English). She was very helpful and I realise that my employer really isn’t.

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If you get a new passport, you must inform immigration within 14 days. Yikes. I’m beyond that time frame already. First, I didn’t know. I thought you could roam around with both passports. Yes, I know I should have looked into it. Bah. Second, the issue date on my passport is 24 March but I didn’t receive it until 04 April, just six days ago. I didn’t think I had proof of that, but I might… an email from the Consular saying they didn’t send it until 03 April. So I’ll print that and see if it helps. It means I’ve got to go and get all this done this week. Let’s see if I can get Mr. Money on that one.

ARC (Alien Registration Card) Extension

For this, I need a contract extension and to go to immigration. The issue with this one is that I never got a copy of my contract in the first place. I’m not sure what the dates on them are. I think they are much earlier than what I actually worked, in order to avoid having to get an extension last year. So I need to sort that out. In the meantime, I need to try and get a contract extension done and get Mr. Money to immigration. Before Friday.

 

Decisions Made

Last week we had a quick meeting with the bosses. There was no “offer”.  We aren’t even sure why we had to meet with Mr. Money, he had nothing to add to the meeting. But we have come to a decision.

I will be leaving in May to move to Hanoi, Vietnam. Dan will follow when his visa is finished in September, as long as there is no monkey-business that prompts him to leave earlier.

I’m going to try and chronicle what we are going through a little with this transition. I was very curious what others in a similar situation (moving from Korea to Vietnam, moving as a couple, moving with pets) have gone through and there isn’t a lot out there. Or, rather, there is a lot, but trying to get through all the (often conflicting) information is a nightmare. So this will be our simple story about what we had to do.

Waiting (really is) the Hardest Part

We are definitely a couple on edge right now. Yesterday I went in to ask my director if we could meet this week to finalise what will be happening, especially in regards to dates. She said that she knows we need to meet, but she was waiting because her husband (the ‘money guy’) wants to make us an offer.

We have NO idea what this could be.

When all this started, I was told that my contract wasn’t being renewed, end of story. In a nice way. She doesn’t really want us to go, and I believe that. But the business can’t support as much staff as they have now, etc., so a couple of teachers are getting the axe.

When she told me that they could only keep one foreigner, I asked if she had considered keeping me and losing Dan. That was kindness to him, by the way, not cruelty. He has only worked at the same school in his nearly three years here and has often expressed a want to get some experience in another school. It would also buy us another year’s time, as was our original plan. I also suggested that Dan and I could both go in May, but she didn’t bite on that idea. “I can’t find a new teacher that quickly,” she laughed. I wasn’t laughing; she expected me to find another job that quickly. But anyway. She *did* like the idea of keeping me a year and said she would talk it over with Mr. Money.

The next day we met again and nothing was finalised. She was still mulling over the “keeping Jodi for another year” idea, but by that point Dan and I had already decided it was not a good idea for us, for multiple reasons. We said in that meeting that the options had been reduced to two: Either we both leave at our contract ends (May for me and then September for Dan) or they could let us both go at the same time at any point between when my contract ends and when Dan’s contract ends. And nothing was decided. We believe she still thinks me staying another year is an option. It’s not.

So now we are still waiting. We are giving them until Friday and if we hear nothing by then we will tell them what we are doing – I’m gone in May and Dan is gone in September. But in the meantime we are left puzzling over what this offer could possibly be. We aren’t holding out hope, any offer they make will be for their benefit, not ours. But we can’t help but be curious, and talk it over. And over. And over.

So we drink too much coffee. And think too much. And sleep too little. We start making plans and then have to stop as we don’t want to go too far down a path that isn’t going to take us anywhere.

Waiting. It’s a frustrating time, but at least it isn’t a boring one. Too much to think about!

Movin’ On

We (my husband and I) have been chatting for months now about what we are going to do when our current contracts run out. We’ve been thinking about trying somewhere other than Korea, you see. We enjoy teaching ESL in Asia, but Korea is no longer the best place to be doing it in my opinion. I may write a post on why I feel that way another day, but for now: recent events.

We’ve mostly decided that we would like to give Hanoi, Vietnam a try. From everything we’ve read, it sounds equally exciting, trying, and interesting. There are definitely good points (like making your own schedule and not being tied to one school) and bad (like not getting a bank account or being able to send money overseas unless you are with one school). But it sounds like it could be a great experience.

Before making a move, we wanted to be financially ready. All our debts will be paid off this year (Korea has been great for that – eliminating my debt is something that would have been very difficult had I stayed in London) so we were going to take some time to save to be really steady before we made a move… which would have been at my contract end in May 2018 or even Dan’s in September 2018.

Looks like that wanted delay has been taken from us.

I found out last week that my contract isn’t being renewed. Like many hogwans (private academies) all over Korea, our school’s enrolment numbers are down and so our director has decided to make some staffing cuts. Namely a bus driver, a Korean teacher (who was hired not even two months ago), and a foreign teacher. My contract is due up, so that foreigner is me.

We think that they (the director and her husband, the ‘money man’) are being reactionary and not really thinking through beyond freeing up some cash asap. But hey. It is their business.

I feel more for Dan (my husband and I worked at the same hogwan) – they may combine classes and drop the ‘speaking’ portion of a few so he is still not teaching more than 30 hours a week – but there is still going to be double the amount of kids. Double the amount of books. And he’s going to be the only foreigner at the school. Not fun.

We have had a stressful week thinking about what to do next. We thought through every possible scenario. We’ve tried to think how we could make our original plan of being in Korea another 18 months work. And we’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t worth trying to stay here.

So it looks like sometime in May this year, I’ll be moving to Hanoi. Yikes. I have so much to figure out (and do, like that TEFL course!) before then. And I’m not too excited about going on alone to do something Dan and I were going to do together. In short: I’m terrified.

But the positive is this: If I go first, I can see if it is going to be something we actually want to do before we fly the cats over. I can get an apartment ready (with a litter box in it – the cats are a major complication in this scenario). I can see how easy it is to get jobs. I can start the network.

I’m scared about this one. It’s a bigger adventure than I was looking for in 2017. But the last time life shoved me around it worked out for the best. I moved to Korea, met Dan, and got my money in order. I’ve been more happy and relaxed than I have in years. I just got to stay hopeful that life is pushing me in the right direction again.