Tag Archives: travel

Waking Up in Hanoi

On my first full day in Hanoi, I got up fairly early and grabbed breakfast before I headed out for a massage. This is something I had been looking forward to for a long time. In the last decade I’ve probably had two massages, as I’ve not had the cash for real ones and my husband doesn’t like to give them (should be a divorceable offense, good thing he’s awesome in other ways).

Breakfast was at the hotel on the main floor. It includes eggs, toast, coffee (or tea) and fresh fruit. It isn’t a spectacular breakfast, but it is free and fills the spot. I’ve been pleased with it each morning. Belly full, it was time to head out into the heat (oh the heat!) to a massage place I had read about online. Unfortunately, I had awoken too early and the place wasn’t open yet. Not sure what to do with myself, I headed on to grab some “egg coffee“, a specialty in Vietnam.

I went to Cafe Giảng to give this a try. It is supposed to be one of the older cafes and still run by the same family. I was ushered upstairs to a small table and ordered my coffee. It came quickly and looked much better than it sounded.

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I gave it a stir and gave it a sip. I know it sounds strange, but it was honestly delicious. To me, someone who usually drinks their coffee black, this isn’t something to drink every morning. But I would definitely get another cup of it. And at just 25,000d (about $1.10usd), it was a reasonably priced treat.

From Cafe Giảng I headed back towards Van Xuan on Ly Quoc Su in the Old Quarter. I did some research and I wanted cheap but awesome. Which is what I got. My hour long full-body massage was only $9. It was definitely not fancy; there is no spa music and I was in a room with other beds and other people getting their massages, too. But the girl doing the massaging did a great job and I was happy with it. I think next time I would go for just a foot massage instead, as it looks like it would be just a thorough with more focus on the feet, which is always so heavenly.

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After the massage I went back to the hotel for a shower. To say the least, I have showered a tonne this week because I am the sweatiest person on the planet. I certainly hope I acclimatise to the heat and humidity here before it really kicks off next month.

I was met at the hotel by Zach, a friend of a friend from Korea. An American teacher having lived in Hanoi for nearly a decade, my Korean friend thought he would be a good person to be in touch with. She was right; Zach was awesome.

We went for lunch at Xôi Yến, which is apparently well-known for its sticky rice. It was a very tasty dish.

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Xôi Yến was extremely busy, so once we finished eating we went across the street to Cộng Càphê for coffee, which I have since found out is a chain in Hanoi. It is very cool inside, but I only nabbed one quick picture before we sat down with our coffees and started chatting about everything I could think to ask questions for, from sorting garbage to which district to look for housing in.

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Zach put up with me for over two hours and was an amazing source of information. I was very reassured after speaking with him about getting on in Hanoi. I was feeling guilty for taking up all of his day, however, so I said my good-byes. He offered to give me a ride back to the hotel, but I was happy enough to walk as I am still trying to get a map of Hanoi etched in my head.

I walked about the Old Quarter for a bit, looking for a pharmacy. I had woken up with a severe headache (no doubt brought on by travel, dehydration, and lack of sleep) and wanted some tablets. Pharmacies here are everywhere though, once you know what to look for. There’s not standard symbol so it took me awhile to recognise them. I bought my tablets (which happily I haven’t even needed since) and walked on.

I decided that I would get a manicure and pedicure. My nails were a mess as I hadn’t dealt with them all the time I had been travelling. I was hopeful for upcoming interviews, and I didn’t want to be a mess for them (what a great excuse!) so I did some quick looking online to find a decent place to get them done.

In one of my numurous Hanoi Facebook groups, someone had recommended Van Nguyen Hair Salon, so I headed there. When I saw the prices, I decided to get a hair cut (also desperately need) as well.

For a pedicure, manicure, sweet-ass head massaging shampoo of awesomeness, and a haircut I spent less than $18. With a tip. I’m enjoying this city!

Back to the hotel and grabbed another shower. Then out again to meet my friend Juu and her family, who just happened to be travelling through Vietnam and had arrived the day after I did. They invited me out to dinner, and had chosen Avalon BBQ Garden. It was delicious and the night views of the lake were amazing.


It was a great first full day in Vietnam. So much good food and good company.

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.

Next Stop: Vietnam

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post in an airport. I think the first time was also the last time, when I was collecting my thoughts in the Vancouver International Airport when I first flew to Korea in 2005.

My situation back then was a lot different than it is now, but a lot of the feelings where the same. Then, I had never flown outside of North America and had never lived anywhere except in BC. I was also just freshly on my own from a long-term relationship and had thoughts that I would be back when my one-year contract was finished with new insight into what I really wanted to be doing and such with my life.

This time, I’ve traveled to nearly 30 different countries, have lived in 3 different countries on 3 different continents, and I’m a married woman moving ahead without my husband and cats, who will follow as soon as they can. And I definitely have no delusions about figuring out what I am doing with my life. I doubt I will ever figure that one out.

But there is a lot the same. I suppose it doesn’t matter which cliff you are standing on the edge of, the tightness in your chest and the butterflies in your stomach are still the same. I had some safety in place then (a job and housing on arrival, pre-arranged) and I have some safety now (mostly in the form of experience and my husband’s support). I had fears then and I have fears now. Everything changes, yet everything stays the same.

Overall, I’m excited and terrified. I don’t think I have all that much to be truly worried (pretty sure I’m going to survive) but at the same time, this is another huge risk. I’m just very hopeful that because the last jump worked so well, this one has a lot of potential for greatness, too.

Clicking Memories

Before I got back, if you had asked me to describe Incheon International to you, I don’t think I could have. It has been such a long time since I was last there, but I’ve been to Incheon more often than any other airport in the world. You’d think I’d remember more of it.

My beloved Team Six, part of which I met for the first time in that airport and have seen off in that airport, asked me to take a picture of the Gloria Jean’s coffee shop if I had the chance.

So I had a good look around when I landed, even though I was hurrying through.

Some places had changed, and I couldn’t find Gloria Jeans (Gone? Or did I just not see it?) but other places were there and the geography of the building clicked into place.

Click. And it’s like I was never away.

And that keeps happening, even though I’m in a part of Korea I’d never been to before.

But there are chains – Emart, FaceShop, Paris Baguette – that are the same everywhere. And things that I had forgotten, like using tongs to put your bread selection on your tray in Paris Baguette just – click – come back. And it’s like the past seven years away never happened.

How to communicate without language. Click.

The way vehicles look and traffic flows. Click.

Sidewalk stands of street food you find everywhere with oodang, mandu… even those weird fish-shaped things full of… was it red bean paste? Click.

How Korea smells. Sometimes great, sometimes horrifying. But even its neutral smell is uniquely Korea. Click.

Not understanding advertising. Click.

How hard people try to be helpful even though you don’t speak each other’s language. Click.

And it’s like I’ve never been gone.

And it’s so very strange how so very at home I can feel in a country that is fundamentally so foreign to what home actually is for me.

Blurring Borders

I was just thinking about how last time I was in Korea no one was using Twitter yet and people I knew were just starting to use Facebook. Instagram wasn’t a thing. Tumblr was, but I didn’t know anyone using it.

No one had a smartphone. Or a tablet. Wifi wasn’t everywhere because there was no need for it to be everywhere. We weren’t nearly as connected in 2007 as we are now.

My blog, emails and Skype calls of the shittiest quality (so bad that video was pretty much useless then) were the only ways I could share my experiences. It usually meant taking photos and notes and waiting for a block of time when I felt like uploading photos from my camera and sitting down to write out blog posts lengthy enough to actually be blog posts.

Now, I can share on the fly. In real time. And with pictures or videos, no less! Quickly, easily, and from just about anywhere as Korea is rocking the WIFI IN ALL THE PLACES thing.

It’s both wonderful and strange.

There is a bit of a downside to all this sharing shizzle though, I think. Even when I was here in Asia seven years ago, I was thinking then about how much of the mystery – the romance, if you will – of travel has dissipated. With how much easier it is to get a flight these days than it was 50 years ago, it’s much less strange to know someone who’s travelled most of the way around the world.

And now with the changes to how we communicate, I feel as though we’ve lost even more of that mystery. Gone are the hand-written journals. The long letters sent home that would take months to arrive. You might still get a postcard these days, if you are lucky, but you’re more likely to get a Snapchat of someone pulling a duck face on a beach somewhere.

Borders are blurring as more people share their experiences more often, with more immediacy, with a much broader audience.

Banktastic

After ensuring I’m not a dirty foreigner and getting myself officially registered (part one and part two), the next big administrative thing to do was getting myself a Korean bank account.

It was important to get my account as quickly as I could, as my school won’t pay you until you have a Korean account and I’ve been broker than broke.

As soon as I had my Alien Registration Card (you cannot get an account without it) in hand, I took that, my passport, and a letter from the school to Woori Bank to open my account. Why Woori? Well, that’s what was recommended to me by my school. I don’t know much about the different banks in Korea anyway, so it seemed as good a choice as any.

I got in right for the bank open at 9am so I could get the account opened before school started. I was customer 001 so got started right away.

The woman who helped me didn’t speak much English, but she seemed to understand what I needed and got to work. She needed my ARC and my passport, and did have to call the school (thank goodness I had that letter, eh?) for some reason.

After typing a bunch of stuff into the computer, she printed out some forms and asked me for my “name and sign” in a few places. Again, nothing like signing a document where you don’t understand a single word on the page. You have to trust a lot when you are in Korea, to just trust that you are being steered in the right direction. And happily, you usually are in my experience.

The best part was that they have a card printer right in the bank. I think all banks should get on board with this. She popped my “foreigner debit card” (it literally says that on it) into the printer and it popped out with my name and stuff on it. She shoved it into another machine, I entered my “secret number” and it was active. How awesome is that?

So that was all there was to that. I took my passbook and my new debit card, and I was done. Took less than an hour to open my account and get a debit card. Well done, Korea!

A few interesting things about banking in Korea:

The Passbook

Remember when you had that paper book where you could update with all your transactions? Those are still really common here. You can pop it into the ATM to access your account and update your book. It’s actually pretty cool. I usually don’t look at my statements very often, but I find with the book I check out my transactions more regularly.

The Debit Card

The debit card I have cannot be used online, which is both good and bad for me. It means that if I want to buy anything off the Internetz (like games through Steam or apps for my iPhone or iPad… or shoes) I have to transfer money to the UK and then buy it. What a pain in the arse! Bad news bears if I want to buy something in terms of convenience, but probably for the best as that will really curb my impulse buying!

The Secret Number

One thing that is weird about the debit card system here in Korea is that you don’t always need your pin. In fact, you seem to only use it for the ATM to get out cash. In some shops, you have to “sign” (most people just seem to scribble… not very secure) for your debit card purchase. In some places you don’t have to do anything at all. They just take the cash for you. There doesn’t seem to be a rule for this, I paid for 44,000 won of postage yesterday and didn’t have to sign for it. Remind me to keep an eye on my card!

Getting to Korea

I started blogging in the summer of 2005, the first time I was heading to Korea. Around then, blogging seemed like a relatively new concept (as in, I didn’t know anyone else doing it) that would be better for sharing my experiences of teaching in Korea than sending bulk emails every once in awhile. And  even though we now have a billion more ways to share things than we did in 2005 (before smart phones!), I’m thinking the odd blog post will still be a great way of sharing some of my experiences in Korea.

As a first post written in Korea, I thought I would go into a bit of detail of what getting here was like. Not loads, because for most people it isn’t very interesting, but for anyone thinking about coming to the ROK to teach, they might find it fascinating.

Step One: Find a Recruiter that Doesn’t Suck

I sort of failed on this one. I found my recruiter through the forums on Dave’s ESL Cafe (and if you ARE thinking about going to Korea to teach, you should check out that site). The recruitment company came recommended, and maybe some of them are good. Unfortunately, the guy that I worked with was, at best, meh. It felt like he did the absolute minimum he could and getting information out of him was like pulling teeth. He would send me copypasta emails with erroneous and, at times, incorrect information. Scares me that if this had been my first time to Korea, I wouldn’t have been able to call him out on it. He basically went incommunicado the minute my visa was obtained and the flights were booked. I think my chances of having his support if something goes wrong here are slim to none (and slim just went home). But c’est la vie. I’m here now so it worked out despite his weinerness.

Step Two: Rock a Skype Interview

The interview process for Korea is very simple. Speak clearly and try to not look like you hurt small children.  Add a winning smile and enthusiasm for teaching (even if you’re faking it) and your job offer is 98% in the bag.

Step Three: Obtain your E2 Visa

This isn’t hard, but it does take some time. Not as much time as it takes to NOT GET YOUR BRITISH VISA (haha) but still count on it taking about a month. It works like this:

a. Get a job
b. Send all your paperwork to Korea
c. Get a “visa reference number”
d. Put the aforementioned number on another application and send it to your local consulate
e. Win.

It’s a bit more complicated that than (if you want details, let me know in comments and I’ll help out if I can), but that’s the essence of it. Part C and D take at least 10 days a piece, which is where the delays come in.

::SIDE NOTE::

I ended up with further delays because by the time my visa came back, it was pretty close to the Christmas vacation. The school asked me to delay coming until January, and although it wasn’t ideal for me, I agreed.

What y’all should know about this is that it meant I was home for nearly three months. THREE MONTHS. And you know who put up with me hermiting in her house,  whinging about governmental paperwork and eating all her food? My blessed saint of a mother, that’s who. I’m still trying to figure out just how many flipping Anytime candies from Korea I’m going to have to send her to thank her fully.

::END SIDE NOTE::

Step Four: Get Your Booty on a Plane

My flights weren’t too bad this time around. They flew me (the school pays for the flights) the same as they did last time – Vancouver to Seattle, Seattle to Seoul. Which basically sucks balls because it is an extra 6 hours of travelling than a direct flight is. But whatevs. Free flight, amirite?

Last time I took this trip I ended up with a delayed Van > Seattle flight which meant SPRINTING across Seatac to catch the next flight. And then I had the centre seat in the centre set of five seats in a packed flight. I got up twice the entire flight and didn’t sleep a wink. It probably didn’t help that my back was a mess of agony (it turned out that I had herniated all the discs in my lower back, something I wouldn’t learn until I saw a doctor in Korea).

This time around I had a pleasurable stroll through Seatac and then an aisle seat with no one beside me for the long (12 hours!) portion of the flight. Heck. I even slept.

Once in country, a dude with a sign put me on a bus. This is pretty fucked up. I’m still not happy that I had to take a BUS after 20+ hours of travelling, but hey ho! I survived. The school director met me at the bus stop and took me to my flat. Which then lead to us going to the shop to buy cleaning supplies.

Which is a post for another day. I’m going to leave this here and start catching up with myself over the course of this week. I’ll post about the state of the flat I was given (here’s a spoiler: It was freaking filthy) and my first night in Korea. And tomorrow is the first day teaching, so I’ll have a thing or two to say about that.

That is, if I survive the first day. Cross your fingers for me. It’s been a while since I’ve done this.

The Fun Never Really Ends with the UKBA

I’ve been owing you guys a final update on the situation with the UKBA and as I sit here tonight all deported and stuff in my mother’s kitchen in Canada, I thought it was about time to give you one.

1. The “Interview”

I spoke a couple of times with some very polite (and understanding – whoo boy… because was I upset with them) people at Beckett House over the phone in my last few weeks in London. They are the ones that deal with getting folks out of the country once they had agreed to go. They were the ones that got blasted when they told me that a) I *had* to go back to Canada and b) I wasn’t going to get my passport back until I was at the airport. It would have been nice to know that much, much earlier.

They asked me to come in for an “interview” with the UKBA in the days prior to my flight. They told me I’d be able to explain my story and that perhaps my case would be escalated for review by a senior case worker. That I should bring my papers. That I should be ready to explain what happened.

What a crock.

I went into their office, which felt a lot like going into a Job Centre. Dire. So very dire. My “interview” took place at one of the windows through a pane of glass. The guy asked me a couple of questions, one of which was how I had been supporting myself whilst in the UK. And a few others that were on my flipping application. Then he disappeared for a good 10 minutes.

When he returned, he gave me all my supporting documentation (like birth certificates, etc) except my passport. He gave me a letter to give to the ticket counter at the airport and said that they would give me my passport. The letter said I could be “detained at any time” and really didn’t make me feel very safe.

He also gave me a form to fill out to appeal the decision of “overstayer” which had to be sent in from out of the country. That’s what I filled in tonight. More on that below.

2. The Airport

First, if you are going through this: TAKE A COPY OF YOUR PASSPORT PICTURE PAGE TO THE AIRPORT WITH YOU. No one told me that. I just did as my passport is my only ID, so I always have that copy with me. Without it, I don’t think I would have received my boarding pass.

I also didn’t get my passport at that time. I had to go through security first, and then call immigration on a phone at the other side. Several times. Because first the person on extension 2019 told me to call extension 7026. There was no answer. So I called 2019 back. They asked my name. They asked me to hold. They asked me to call them back in 10 minutes. I feeling panicky at this point. I mean, after everything I’d been through with immigration, I didn’t really trust them to actually get my passport to the correct airport.

I called them back after 10 minutes. They put me through to another line that rang and rang and rang. So I hung up and called them back. They said that the “department” that had my passport wasn’t in until 9:00 (just about the same time as my flight!) but they would see what they could do. Then I was told to hang on, someone would be there in 15 minutes with my passport.

Once the immigration officer finally showed up with my passport, she actually escorted me through to the waiting area where all the food and stuff is. And boy oh boy… for someone who knew fuck all about my situation was she ever condescending. She already had her mind made up that my deportation was all my fault. I would have been a lot more argumentative with that bitch but I was still nervous about getting detained, as they said I may be in their vaguely threatening letter. So I kept my mouth shut and got on my plane.

3. The Appeal

I now have a final option where I can send a bunch of information (again) to the Tribunal to ask them to overturn the decision that I’m an Overstayer. I don’t even care about getting chucked out and a 12 month re-entry ban at this point: I have my year-long job to do in Korea now. HOWEVER… not having to claim on any future applications to the UK that I “overstayed” (with a lengthy explanation) would be nice. So I filled out their form.  In a last little bit of awesomeness though, the directions included with the form had a) the wrong website given for you to access for information,  b) spelling error on the form (it said “her” instead of “here”), and c) they had the sections that needed to be filled in for non-asylum appeals incorrectly labeled. Amazing.

Hopefully there are only two more things I will have to endure in what has been a stressful, long-running, agonising and ridiculous process: 1) waiting for the decision regarding my appeal from the Tribunal and 2) the re-application process 13 months from now if I choose to go back to the UK. 🙂

As always: If there is anyone out there that is reading this that is going through their own nightmare with the UKBA… you are not alone. Reach out to others online. There are some really great resources. Share your stories. Every situation is different and there may be someone out there that could benefit from knowing what you went through, just as you may benefit from reading someone else’s story. Get legal advice. I recommend Gary McIndoe of Latitude Law (www.latitudelaw.com) who gave me great advice and was so much help.

Thanks to everyone for reading this saga and your support throughout it. Hopefully as my new adventures kick off (more on that soon!) my blog will be much more entertaining and a hell of a lot less gloomy going forward.

Eleventh Hour Fun with the UKBA

Every time I think that this nightmare with the UKBA must be over, something else happens.

As you might know if you read this blog, it’s been about six weeks since I told the courts I wouldn’t be fighting the UKBA’s decision any longer. They told me they would tell the UKBA. After a few weeks  of hearing nothing from the UKBA, I contacted them to formally request my documents back because, at this point, I’m anxious to get moving and get on with things. This past year has been no way to live.

This “request” was yet another faceless, voiceless form to fill in; the UKBA is nothing if not consistent in avoiding all contact with the plebs. Oh, and also that it could take up to another 20 working days to get my documentation back and to not contact them until 20 days had passed.

Friday was 20 days.

So what do you do when 20 days goes by? It’s the UKBA, kids. So of course you have to fill out another fucking form. It would be funny if it wasn’t so ridiculous.

I don’t know if sending the second form triggered this or if it was just a coincidence… but someone from the UKBA called me today. They did not have good news. I am not a happy person at the moment.

You might know or remember that I had planned on going straight to Korea from the UK. Well, the UKBA has managed to fuck up all of that as well.

What I Learned Today that is
Making me Unhappy/Blind Raging Mad

  1. It is going to be another 5 – 14 working days until something called “Becket House” has my passport.
  2. They will email me when they have it so I can book a last-minute flight to Canada.
  3. I’m not allowed to fly anywhere else.
  4. I won’t actually be given my passport until I’m at the airport.
  5. This is the first time I’ve heard about any of this.

This means that I can’t get my Korean visa before I leave the UK. It means I have to pay the price of a last minute ticket to Vancouver. If I book 8 months in advance that’s a £700+ flight. I’m terrified what this is going to cost. In what was already a horrible, stressful process, now I have an extra 10 hour flight and huge cost to deal with. Never mind what I’m going to do with my extra stuff or what I’m going to do with myself in BC once I’m there and trying to sort out my Korean visa. All without an income, because I can’t work here and I won’t be able to work in Canada as (with any luck) I’ll only be there a few weeks.

What the living fuck, UK? Can anyone explain to me why I can’t get my passport before I have to leave so I can make my travel arrangements? Can anyone explain why the UK has the right to tell me where I go as long as I go? And don’t say “policy”. If one more person says “policy” to me today I’ll lose my fucking mind.

Not only am I furious about the (continuous) lack of information, the additional stress and hassle this will cause and the considerable amount of money (I don’t have) that this is going to cost; they’ve also stolen any joy I might have had in going home and seeing my friends and family there. I won’t ever forgive them for that.

For a year now this has been a never-ending cluster-fuck. I should have known that it wouldn’t end any better than it all started. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the pub.

How do you fight the UKBA when they’re wrong?

After my plea yesterday on Facebook for any advice or help regarding the recent devastating UKBA (UK Border Agency) decision to remove me from the UK based on what I see as a technicality, many people have requested more thorough details regarding my situation so they can offer further suggestions and pass along the details to others who may be able to help.

After posting these details online, I am going to respond to the UKBA “case worker” who sent the rejection letter (as I was advised by the UKBA) with these details and copies of everything I have. Unfortunately, because this should have been a simple case, I did not take thorough copies of everything. I am hoping against hope that what I do have will be enough.

I am also going to reach out to my MP (Rushanara Ali), the local Citizens Advice Bureau and the local Law Centre. Additionally, I’m going to try reaching out to Ben Hammersley to see if he is able to help – a long shot but one I have been urged to take. What I will not be able to do is hire a lawyer; sadly that is beyond my means. Any other suggestions or advice would be wonderful; this really feels like being the littlest guy having to take on the biggest, scariest guy in the room in a fight.

Thanks, everyone. For reading, for the support, for the help. You’ve been amazing and I will keep you informed on how things are going.

TL;DR version: I applied for the renewal before the expiration of a UK visa I am still absolutely eligible for, but due to UKBA not being able to process payment – I believe their errors, not mine – I have had to send in a total of four applications. The first three were ignored by the most recent case worker, and they are rejecting my renewal because the most recent application was submitted more than 28 days after the expiry of my visa. I’m being told to leave the UK with “no right to appeal”.

My application to stay in the UK, a process which began on 30 October 2012, has been rejected as invalid because I am being considered an “overstayer” and in violation of 189(iii) of UK Immigration Law. The letter outlining the reasons for the refusal clearly shows that the case worker completely disregarded any of the circumstances leading up to the most current application, as outlined in this reasoning in the letter:

“Your leave to remain expired on 1 November 2012. A valid application was received on the 1 February 2013, therefore your leave had expired for a period greater than 28 days and therefore your application falls for refusal under Paragraph 191 with reference to 189(iii) of the Immigration Rules as you did not have leave to remain at the time of your application.”

Here is the background story.

I arrived in the UK in November 2007 with a valid UK Ancestry Visa and have continuously resided in London since that time. For those who are not aware, there are essentially two criteria that need to be met (other than the obvious ones that you would expect) to be eligible for an Ancestry visa: You have to be a national of a Commonwealth country and you have to have a grandparent born in the UK. I am a Canadian with a paternal grandmother born in Scotland. As neither of those circumstances had changed, I expected the renewal process to be simple. I was wrong.

That visa was due to expire on 01 November 2012. Having been warned countless times that the UKBA punishes people for applying early, I waited until just before the expiration to submit my application by registered post on 30 October 2012. I received a letter dated 01 November 2012 confirming the receipt of my application. There is no doubt that it was submitted well within the 28 day window the UKBA affords applicants.

In December 2012 I received a package containing all my documentation and my application with a letter dated 18 December 2012 stating that my application was invalid as I had “not made any payment and have not completed the payment page of the application form”. It then stated that I should ensure “the payment page is completed before returning” the application. (emphasis mine)

I am absolutely certain that the payment page had been filled in both completely and correctly. Anyone who has been through a similar process will understand how meticulous you are to ensure there will be no issues whatsoever with such an important piece of paperwork. However, I did not take a copy of my completed application at the time before submitting it and the payment page was never returned to me so I am unable to prove beyond any doubt that this was indeed the situation.

I returned my application with a new payment page included on or around 20 December 2012 with a covering letter explaining why I was returning my application. Yes, this was beyond the 28 day window, but a) they had not notified me until beyond the 28 day period and b) because of the wording on the letter (to wit “returning your application”) I was lead to believe that I was still within the rights of my original visa as the application was still in progress.

I received notification on 31 December 2012 that my application had been received by UKBA. In a letter dated 12 January 2013, which was included with the return of all my documentation once again, I was informed that “the fee transaction accompanied with the application has been declined”. No such transaction is recorded against my bank account and no proof of such an attempt exists. Again, the payment page was not returned with my documentation.

I submitted my application – this time an entirely fresh copy as the form had changed since the previous resubmission – yet again which was received on 21 January 2013, confirmed in a letter of receipt dated 22 January 2013. This application was returned with a letter dated 29 January 2013, stating once again that I had “not made any payment and have not completed the payment page of the application form”. As with the first return letter, this also stated that I should ensure “the payment page is completed before returning” the application. (emphasis again mine)

So I returned the application yet again, which was received on 01 February 2013, as confirmed in a letter dated 02 February 2013.  This time when I submitted the application, I took photos of myself including the payment page (I was getting very paranoid by this time) and included yet another cover letter referencing all the case and reference numbers I had been given as well as a full outline of the situation to date. On 18 February 2013 I sent a complaint email to ukbacustomercomplaints@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk outlining the issues and poor service I had experienced. Other than the automated response stating that I would have a reply from them “within 20 working days”, I still have heard nothing from that department.

You can imagine my relief when I saw that £561 had been charged to my MasterCard by “The Home Office UK” on 07 February 2013. As payment had been the only obstacle in obtaining my visa renewal, I expected I was finally reaching the end of this ordeal. When I received a letter dated 05 March 2013 instructing me to have my biometrics taken, I was certain that the next correspondence from the UKBA would be my passport with my renewed visa.

Instead, on 22 March 2013 I received a letter dated 15 March 2013 which outlined why I was refused leave to remain, the reason stated referred to Paragraph 191 with reference to 189(iii) of HC 395 (as amended) which reads, “189.(iii) he is not in the UK in breach of immigration laws except that any period of overstaying for a period of 28 days or less will be disregarded.”  In brief, because my first three applications had not been considered one continuous process dragged on because of internal payment issues, the letter stated that I had now “overstayed”, a violation of the UK Immigration Law.

But have I “overstayed”?

Paragraph 6 of the Immigration Rules defines “Overstayed” and “Overstaying”. It reads:

6. In these Rules the following interpretations apply:

“Overstayed” or “Overstaying” means the applicant has stayed in the UK beyond the latest of:

(i) the time limit attached to the last period of leave granted, or
(ii) beyond the period that his leave was extended under sections 3C or 3D of the Immigration Act 1971, or
(iii) the date that an applicant receives the notice of invalidity declaring that an application for leave to remain is not a valid application, provided the application was submitted before the time limit attached to the last period of leave expired.

Emphasis is mine to illustrate that the 28 days in this situation should be calculated from the date of the notice of invalidity; in my case the three notices of invalidity. In each case, I responded as requested immediately and with all the details requested. At no point have I had an application submitted for processing beyond 28 days from the receipt of most recent notice of invalidity, and my original application was submitted before the visa expired. Further, paragraph 6 does not state that should there be multiple re-applications and notices of invalidity that the date considered as the start of the 28 day period will be reverted to the expiry of the visa.

Additionally, it should be clear that there are exceptional circumstances surrounding my application process. That there were issues with the payment process three times before I sent a covering letter stating that I had flagged the payment page and took pictures of its submission on the fourth application suggests that there are internal processing errors. That the “incomplete” payment page was never returned for review also suggests that the UKBA may have marked the page as “incomplete” in error. Especially telling is the return of the second application for a declined payment of which there is no record; a story that you can find told again and again online. My research has uncovered that legal advisors are telling applicants to send in cheques or bank orders, despite the larger costs, because of the high volume of applications returned due to UKBA payment retrieval errors.

I feel I am a victim of a broken process. To illustrate, I have received three barcode numbers, four case IDs and six reference numbers. Despite being told to “return” applications, each reapplication was treated by the UKBA as though we were starting again. It is clear that not one person referenced early barcode numbers, case IDs or reference numbers, even though I had included these each and every time I had corresponded with the UKBA.

That twice my application, containing my passport, birth certificate, banking information and other personal details was pushed through a shared letterbox into an unsecured hallway is also indicative that the UK immigration process is not functioning to a standard that one should be able to expect from the Home Office.

And finally, the lack of clarity around the visa renewal process and the extreme difficulty in trying to reach anyone within the UKBA also hinders the process; and I am an educated, native English speaker. I can only imagine the difficulty others must face in trying to effectively navigate their way through this jargon-ladened and frightening process. There is no help to be had directly from the UKBA; I never received a “case worker” name until my application had been already been rejected each time and even then there was no direct contact details offered. My email to the complaints department has gone unanswered.

I understand why there is a need to maintain a firm yet fair immigration system to deter and prohibit those who would try to enter and remain in the United Kingdom under false pretences or without entry clearance. However, there is no question in my case that I came to this country entire legally and with entry clearance. I have been in the UK for more than five years and at this point the only reason why my continued presence here is being deemed ‘not lawful’ is the fact that the UKBA was incapable of processing payment. It is one thing to have a firm immigration system, it is another thing entirely to have an immigration policy that is utterly inflexible and does not take into the slightest consideration the particular circumstances of the individual situation.

What has happened here is sadly a classic example of a thoroughly unreasonable, disproportionate, and inflexible application of policy without the slightest regard for the facts burdened by a system which encourages a lack of any common sense or humanity. We have case workers “just doing their jobs”; forced into making decisions which have immeasurable impact on people’s lives without being allowed the space for compassion or intelligence to fully consider the circumstances; driven instead by the policy makers, managers and others who expect them to reach and/or maintain specific numbers.

I believe I am due to be given a discretion based on the circumstances of my application, and that this decision be reviewed and a discretion granted on the basis that it will be exercised with a modicum of intelligence, common sense and humanity. We must ask what possible reason there could have been for not already exercising discretion in my favour by the case worker who reviewed my file.  Certainly it is apparent from the letter of 15 March 2013 that no consideration whatsoever was given to the impact of forcing me to leave a country in which I have made my home for more than five years now.

Because my application was simply not logically regarded as one continuous process and because the UKBA returns applications as invalid instead of more reasonably requesting the submission of just the allegedly “incomplete” payment details, I am the one now looking to pay the ultimate price if this cannot be rectified: I am being asked to forfeit my life in the UK.