Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Vacation Time Again

Well it's vacation time again. I have two days of teaching left and then it's time to head off to golf and drink and swim and relax in Thailand.

GOD! If only it were that easy for me! No, as you can read in my brief bio on this blog, travel adventures are my forte. In fact people sometimes ask to hear my travel nightmares even if they've heard them before. And to me they are like bad old memories: they suck when they happen but they're great stories. I've had luggage lost; I've been robbed; conned; stranded at the airport; forced to beg for money; picked up by a tranny; ripped off by fast-dealing money changers; snorkelling and lost my home apartment keys; sucked out to sea by rip tides; debilitatingly sunburned; confined to my hotel bathroom because of Bali Belly, Dengue Fever, West Nile disease, diarrhea, malaria or whatever; in the airport watching my plane take off ripping up my non-refundable ticket; air sick; hustled at pool; lost countless times, but sooooo many things can happen to a person while on a trip! That's why I keep going. Still no plane crashes or shark attacks. But my traveling days have just begun.

THIS time the troubles are starting before the trip. I guess since I didn't go on a trip during the last school break my travel curse has been dormant too long and is raring to erupt.

I have reservations to go to Bangkok on the 20th of July. I haven't paid for the ticket yet because I have been waiting for news on my passport. You see, my passport expires in November and customs officials "have the right to refuse service to you if you have less than 6 months remaining on your passport." What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

EVERYTHING about passports and customs and all things to do with them, (especially in Asia), are governed by hard, fast, written in stone rules. You know that if, (like me), your key chain is a tiny Swiss Army knife you forgot to put in your luggage, or like the lady who told the customs official that in her bag she had some knitting needles, yarn and a giant Afghan and was strip searched before she could explain.

Just look at the Canadian passport application someday. Photos must have neutral expression, have natural skin tones, chin to crown of head 31 mm. to 36 mm., no shadows, no hats, no texturing, have the name of photographer on the back and date taken, not date developed, and one must be signed by the guarantor indicating that the pic is a good likeness of the person they know as the above signed.

The guarantor! He/she must be easily contacted, have known you for 2 years, live within the juris diction of the issuing office, be notarizing your application for free, and be a doctor, lawyer or officer of the law, banker or politician because everyone knows these professions are chock-o-block full of the most veracious, ethical and unimpeachably honest citizens of any country. PPPPpbbbbbbbtttttthhhhhhbbbtttt!!! They might just as well ask you to get your application notarized by a car salesman, professional wrestler or a hagwon boss.

You must provide proof of citizenship, (I mean aside from the passport that is good enough proof of citizenship to every OTHER country in the world, (and which you had to provide plenty of proof of citizenship to get like birth certificate, SIN number, driver's license etc.)), like birth certificate, SIN number, driver's license etc.

BUT if you have less than 6 months left on your passport, the agent has full discretion. MAYBE he/she will pass you, or MAYBE he/she won't. This is the only thing about passports, customs etc. with any flexibility at all and it's obviously been perpetuated by customs officials for one reason: bribes. Don't kid yourself, you can't get into some countries without bribing customs officers.

And if they would just be clear about things like they are in Lonely Planet guides to places like Cambodia or Viet Nam and say the customs officials will expect a bribe of around... yada yada yada that would be cool. But I'm here thinking maybe they won't accept a bribe. Maybe I won't be able to go at all. Maybe I'll pay 800 bucks for tickets and not be able to fly to Thailand at all.

This is my kind of trip! Drama even BEFORE the get go!

But good news! Passport Canada is implementing a new "Simplified Passport Renewal Program". The program includes a shorter application form, no supplementary identification or proof of citizenship, and (halleluiah!), no friggin guarantor!

I was so excited when I read this! But it starts August 15th. And the criteria exclude anyone who has resided outside Canada on their previous passport. Basically it's for people who wanna go to the States.

HOWEVER, I also read on the Passport Canada webpage that there is a new guarantor policy! Yay, yippee,! Under the new rules a guarantor may be any passport holder. Even a relative or someone who lives with you! Boy was I relieved to read that! Cuz I was thinking pretty hard about who I could use as a guarantor here in Korea.

But then, I read, "Effective Oct. 1, 2007."

See what I mean? This is really sucking right now but I'm sure I'll get a kick out of this when I recall it someday.

So I HAVE thought of one possible guarantor. A doctor friend of mine here in Korea. I WILL have to make a 5 hour trip to get his autograph on the back of one of my photos but if I can do that, fill out the rest of the application, dig up my birth certificate, find a couple friends who are willing to be character references, find a Korean photographer who can a) understand the photo rules and b) perform his duties properly and get to the Canadian Embassy in Seoul between 8 and 11 am, I MIGHT be able to get a temporary passport. I think this might be more dependable at customs than my old passport.

However, I have a week and two days before my flight and the temporary passport takes a week...if there are no delays. I work for the next two days from noon to 3.

And, oh yeah, one more thing, (remember this is ME here!), the Canadian Embassy in Seoul is moving soon. They're closed from the 20th to the 23rd after which they will be operating out of their new office in Jeong dong, Jung gu, and not the old office at Mugyo dong, Jung gu. I just KNOW they are in the process of moving now and won't be operating at normal speed. Or if by some miracle I make it to their office with all my documents they will have already moved the passport lamination machine or the official seal of the Consular General or some damn thing. And who knows WHAT will happen with the move?

My timing is absolutely uncanny isn't it? So basically I'm fucked for getting a new passport, temporary passport, or passport extension. But I am giving serious consideration to the prospect of making a really great future blog entry and just trying to get to Thailand on my old passport. Given my travel record it's a ridiculous risk to take but this has the makings of a heck of a travel story!

Anybody know anything about foreign extradition?

STILL not finished. I briefly considered just traveling to Canada so I can get a passport in Vancouver. Surely they'd let me out of Korea and into my new country to do that! Last passport I got 5 years ago I went to the notary public across the streeet from the Vancouver passport office. He hadn't known me for 2 minutes never mind two years, and didn't do it for free but was able to be my guarantor anyway. That guarantor rule is so stupid! Then I paid extra money to have the passport done as soon as possible and got it the same day.

BUT, (again timing), since Canadians now have to have passports to get into the States, (a new rule cuz they don't want us spending too many of our strong dollars there), there are tremendous line-ups and backlogs at the passport offices. I've been reading posts about offices in Vancouver. People waiting in the rain in lines where there were 150 people in front of them OUTSIDE the office. Waiting 11 weeks for a rushed passport. It would be more expensive and slower to do this in Canada.

So it looks very much like the only choice I have is to cancel my reservations, get my temporary passport sometime in August, (if I can find the new embassy and if their schedule is not delayed), and spend maybe 2 weeks in Thailand instead of a month.

Still I guess it beats spending my entire 6 weeks of vacation time in tropical, hedonistic, exotic, action central, South Korea? It's bad enough I'll probly have to waste 4 weeks of it here farting around with my new passport. And even with the price of a ticket, golfing in Thailand is cheaper than downtime in Korea for me. Simply because golf, beer, and whatever else I will do here in Korea will be like 5x the price.

Updates will follow as events warrant.

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