Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lessons We're Learning from Travelling

by Tom and Courtney

Here's a collection of some of the things that Courtney and I are hoping to take away from our travel experiences so far. It's an incomplete list of lessons we've been taught, but not necessarily learned! If you have any lessons you've been taught, or even lessons you've learned, please share.

1) It's easier to sort stuff out at home than abroad
A sealed transcript for a Korean E-2 visa costs £5 in the UK and they do it while you wait. Trying to get it (and other documents) to you in Bangkok led to Lesson 2.

2) It takes longer and costs more than you think it will
 Train rides, visas, meals and taxis have all taught us this lesson in whole or in part

3) Tom doesn't need to go to Bangkok again
Over a month here is fine by me. Been there, got two t-shirts.

4) Courtney finds pedestrian sidewalks great
Not having to check that a tuk-tuk is going to run you down from behind is great. Not having to worry that while you're checking for tuk-tuks behind you, a moped might crash into your front is even better. That's why they're called sidewalks.

5) Eat and drink before you get crabby
Courtney and I are fairly simple creatures. Three things will get us crabby: being hungry, thirsty or tired, hence Lesson 6

6) Nap
Not only does it stop us from getting crabby, it gets really hot around midday here. A siesta under the air-con can be a great way to escape the heat.

7) What they tell you might not be true 
Funny story here. After getting our Thai visas extended at the Cambodian border we were told we would have to wait until 4:30pm (almost 2 hours) before our mini bus would leave, so we scarpered off, had an iced coffee and started this list. We got back to the pick-up point around 3:50pm to find that the bus had already left. Fortunately it hadn't gone too far so was able to turn round and pick us up. We were able to laugh and quote this rule to each other. 

8) Carry tissues
For the bathroom, for minor slips and spills, for writing things on, for tinder when lighting a fire, as a tiny signaling device. The list goes on...

9) Take salted nuts into the jungle
A good way to replace the salt lost through perspiration, a source of protein and a handy way to remove leeches when they latch onto your ankle. Rub some salt on them and they detach. Don't try to pull them off, you might break a part of them off that could lead to your cut getting infected. 

10) If you get a visa in Cambodia, wait in line
We got stung for 500 baht each so that we could get the visa processed quicker, but then had to wait an hour for our bus.

11) Fed-Ex accounts are great
When you have to send a request for a document, then have that document sent to a different agency for authentication, then have them send it on to you, it's so much easier with your own Fed-Ex account.

13) It's probably possible, but remember Lesson 2
We've had some fairly serious road blocks thrown up in front of us but have managed to overcome them so far, but you really need to want it to get it.

14) Don't pretend like you know the rules
Just because you've done something similar once before, it doesn't mean it'll be the same this time. If someone tells you what did or didn't work for them, might not be the same for you. Read the instructions before opening the box.

15) Don't back-to-back 12+ hour train rides
We took a sleeper train from Phuket to Bangkok then a daytime one from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We were smelly, tired and pretty darn loopy by the time we got to Chiang Mai.

16) Try food you can't pronounce 
It's probably quite delicious and even if it isn't then you know for future reference.

17) Trust your instincts
They're probably right.

18) Try to have a 'Plan B'
It makes you feel better while pursuing a kinda crazy 'Plan A'.

19) Choose your battles
There are people you can

20) Going home isn't giving up
It's not a bad Plan B and you get to fight another day.

21) There are always more options than you can see
Don't get discouraged when you suffer a setback. Go for a walk, sit and have a coffee and options tend to start presenting themselves. 

22) Don't mix business with pleasure
If you're on holiday, then holiday. Don't try and get a job in a different country and expect to continue the holiday experience. 

Feel free to add Lessons 23+

Monday, December 21, 2009

Family and the Holidays

Just got off skype after a great chat with my family back in the UK. I've been doing alright here in Bangkok, not really missing home all that much. I mean, its cold there! Having talked to the folks back home however, I remember how nice it is to be somewhere you feel as though you really belong.
Fortunately I feel as though Courtney and I create a similar atmosphere with each other. Which is probably how we've spent two months in each others constant company without even coming close to ripping each others' throats out. But we've created that atmosphere with so many factors working against us. We're in a foreign country, staying in an area that is very transient in nature. People come, stay for a week or two, then generally move on. They don't stay and learn the names of the people who serve them breakfast (Pang and Mit). The people that do live here are generally interested in you as a potential source of income. So when I was talking to my parents and little sister it was both heart warming and heart wrenching to see a place where I belong. So much more than here at least.
I guess it's no surprise that, after three kind of tough months here, close to the holidays, I'm feeling a little homesick.
Watching 'The Grinch' and 'Fred Claus' earlier today probably didn't help much.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Life Update

So we're still in Bangkok. On Tuesday, Courtney's newly Apostilled Criminal Record Background will arrive in Korea. Hopefully it'll be given to immigration the next day. We then have up to 10 days to wait for our visa number to be processed. Unfortunately for us, Christmas and New Years might slow down the processing time a little. In anticipation of this, we've booked ourselves in to extend our Thai visas by taking a jaunt across the Cambodian border on the 28th. That'll give us an extra 15 days. During which we'll get our visa number, wander down to the Korean embassy, get our E-2 visa and blow this joint!
Before that, we're expecting some visitors. A few friends from Korea will be joining us in the land of smiles, so that's something to look forward too.
As for our current day to day activities, they're pretty mundane. We've gotten friendly with a couple of the staff at the place we always have breakfast. It's kind of shocking that we've been here long enough to be able to order 'the usual' (muesli and yoghurt, toast butter jam, omlette and rice, two coffees). We usually enter the digital world at least once a day. Mainly to check up on the status of documents and job offers. We read, go for walks and take naps. Recently we've tried to play cards, but neither of us can fully remember the rules to any games suitable for two people. Us trying to play poker was hilarious. We usually end up playing Snap.
Currently, I'm looking into submitting my growing collection of photos into a stock photography agency. It's not as straight forward as I originally thought. First, you need to decide which agency you'd like to apply to. There are three big agencies: Getty, Corbis and Alamy. They deal with a whole range of images. Then there are a whole plethora of smaller, more specialised agencies each covering certain topic areas. The big agencies have the advantage of being big: more reach to get my images 'out there'. They also have the disadvantage of being big: more images to compete against. The smaller agencies have the advantage of recognising specialized imagery (they see a picture and see an IRC super zero maxi, others see a boat). However they might lack the reach of the bigger agencies. It's a full on business agreement I'd be signing up to. Most agencies want you to stay with them for at least 3 years. Some want an exclusive relationship, others don't mind. The advice that I'm getting doesn't seem too clear. One photographer submitted similar images to both a specialist agency and to Alamy. He made a lot more from Alamy apparently. Another photographer advised me to go with a specialist agency as they're more likely to see value in, and accept more, images from me. So there's something for me to ponder on. At the moment I'm leaning towards Alamy, as they're non-exclusive, so I could submit to another, non-exclusive, specialist agency.
Just gotta get accepted!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bronze Award in the International Aperture Awards 2009

Just got an email informing me that, with a total average score of 78, I've won a Bronze award in the category of Science and Nature in the International Aperture Awards 2009.
I'd completely forgotten that I'd entered that competition, but I'm glad that I did. I'm not entirely sure what winning a Bronze Award means. It might be an 'thanks for taking part' award, but it shows that I did better than some of the people who entered. I don't, however, think it means that I came third!
Still, better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

More Bangkok Birds

Javan Myna (?)
Canon 30D, 300mm IS f2.8
1/1600sec f2.8 ISO100

 Common Myna
Canon 30D, 300mm IS f2.8
1/640sec f2.8 ISO100
 Asian Pied Starling
Canon 30D, 300mm IS f2.8

1/1000sec f2.8 ISO100

I was back in the same park yesterday. I was hoping to catch some birds in flight but I'm gonna need to give it more thought as the feathery buggers are a little too quick for me at the moment. As they're park birds I'm thinking of perhaps putting some food on a tree branch and try and catch the birds flying in for the goodies. I tried something like that yesterday, unfortunately I picked the wrong kind of food. I got a 10 baht ham sandwich. I thought that would be great, a bit of bread, a little meat, got most dietary bases covered. However when I noticed that the ants weren't interested in it I realized that the price was the only good thing about that sandwich!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ah, the waiting game.

We've had a couple of lucky breaks. After finding out that we no longer had jobs, we started spamming the Korean job market again. Court decided to call the recruiter offering a nice looking couple position in Incheon. She managed to actually catch him on the way out to the school with other people's applications, so he added ours to the pile for their consideration. Apparently the school liked what they saw and will be sending us contracts! But once bitten is twice shy, so we're still making applications. We've got an interview with a school that might be a regular hagwon or it might be an English Village. I've never been to an English Village but Courtney assures me that they're kinda creepy. You don't teach regular classes, instead you role-play with visiting students. She says its like a 'foreigner zoo'. However the recruiter doesn't know which it is so we have to wait until our interview on Monday to find out.
We've also had some other not so satisfactory offers. One school wanted to pay me less than Courtney because I'm not American. That kinda pissed Courtney off, I found it mildly amusing, having never really been subject to that kind of casual racism before. We also have a job on offer, but only for one of us full time, another part time until February. Another offer also starts in February for both of us and they're looking for winter camp positions to tide us over. Hopefully everything will work out with the Incheon position a) because it looks good and b) it's our only decent offer. That said, we managed to get most of these offers within a day of finding out that we'd lost our first job offer. So that's heartening.
So now we start the visa process over again. Once we get the contracts we'll send off all the documents we need to let the school get started on the visa process. We hope against hope that it'll go smoothly this time. If it does we could be out of Thailand before our visas run out at the end of the month. If not, we'll probably look at doing a visa run to stay in Thailand a little longer. It's not ideal, as we hoped to be out of here before Christmas, but even if we do have to stay longer at least we'll end up in Korea, with jobs.
Fingers crossed.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gosh darn it.

Well that was unexpected. The school withdrew their offer. Courtney and I are once again without jobs. It wasn't great to received that news, but it was better than just waiting to hear back from them. We've now been galvanized into action and have once again started to spam the Korean job market. If anyone knows of any positions teaching kindergarten and/or elementary, or even Winter camp positions, that would be great!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Today we find out... I hope

After a long and often frustrating struggle to get an E-2 teaching visa for Korea it seems that today we might finally find out if our school will have us do the Japan visa run (what we thought we were going to have to do from the beginning).
It's been a tumultuous affair. First we had the difficulty of me trying to get my university transcripts delivered and my criminal background check apostile stamped. That went smoothly enough, until my criminal background check went missing. That was a major worry. It would have taken well over a month to get a new one and would have completely scuppered our plans. Fortunately it didn't go too far. It was left undelivered and so was returned to the UK. From there I had it couriered back out to Korea. We tracked it online and saw that it was signed for by our recruitment office. So imagine my surprise when I called them to check everything was in order and they said that they didn't have it. Eventually it turned out that it had been sent on to our school by someone else in the office.
With that catastrophe averted, another one duly rose to take it's place. Apparently something was wrong with Courtney's criminal background check. We had no idea what, as it's the same document she's successfully used to gain two visas previously. Anyway, that meant running off to the American embassy to see if they could do anything, then calling the American embassy in Seoul and finding out they could do the same service there. It is this recent development that will hopefully lead to us going to Korea and then do the Japan visa run.
Unfortunately, this will be done at our prospective employer's expense. Our recruiter has talked to the school's supervisor, but the supervisor has to discuss it with the director. We were hoping to have an answer either way earlier this morning but our recruiter has told us that the decision will (if all goes well) be made early this afternoon.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Park birds

Black-Naped Oriole

Myna bird

On Saturday morning I got up bright and early to take pictures of the birds that frequent a riverside park that Courtney and I enjoy watching the sunset from. There is a very wide variety of bird species there. Certainly more than I'm used to. Aside from the usual city pigeons and sparrow flocks I managed to spot: common mynas, Asian koels, black-naped orioles, Asian pied starlings, white vented mynas, oriental magpie robins, some sort of barbet, swallows, a night heron and a few others I don't really know.
It was amazing how much wildlife there is in and around that little park, stuck in the middle of congested Bangkok. As well as what I saw on Saturday, Courtney and I also saw a moderately sized monitor lizard sunning itself near the park's toilets. That was a bit of a surprise!
Unfortunately, as it was Saturday, the park was very busy. There were people practicing tai chi, others doing various fitness regimes and a Buddhist sermon of sorts was also being conducted. All of this around 6-7 a.m. Not quite what I'm used to, but apparently Bangkok has the least amount of park space per person for any major city (1.8m² per person). So the fact that it was busy shouldn't have been too much of a shock. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stuck in Bangkok

It looks like we're stuck in Bangkok for at least a couple more weeks. Still, there are worse places to find oneself stranded.
Having secured ourselves jobs in Daejeon, Courtney and I have found ourselves stuck in Bangkok waiting for our E2 visas to be processed. We were hoping that we would be able to go to Korea, then do a visa run from there to Japan, but that would cost the school money so we've been told to wait it out here. To be fair on Bangkok, its a pretty good place to be stuck. It's cheap to live and the weather is great. On the downside, we're both pretty travel weary so were looking forward to having a proper place of our own. The room we're in at the moment is fine, but we're still right on top of each other and living out of our bags.
We hit a bit of a snag last week. I was having visa documents sent from the UK to a friend in Seoul. One of those documents was my criminal background check that was Apostille stamped. The background check takes up to a month to get and the Apostille check a further week. All my other documents had arrived apart from that. If that got lost, it would have been game over and we would would had to have gone back to our respective homes and worked crappy jobs. Fortunately, the reason that my friend hadn't received it was because it had to be signed for and the 'failure to deliver' notice had been stuck on her neighbour's door. My friend popped along to the post office to pick it up but it had already been sent back to the UK. That was a bit of a blow for us as it would mean waiting another week or so for it to reach the UK then get sent back to Korea before the visa processing could even begin. Fortunately I had been in touch with the Apostille service people so they knew that it was on the way back to them and would resend it as soon as they received it. To our great surprise that happened yesterday, so it will be back in Korea before the week is out and hopefully we will have our visa numbers in a week or two.
As we're on a budget, we're being quite creative with how we spend our time. Our current favourite way to pass the time is to go for a walk and give each other things to lookout for. The first to spot it wins a point. Some things are easy to find, like an image of Buddha, while some take a lot longer, like finding a peacock in one form or another. At the moment, we're tied but Courtney has had the lead for most of the time. It's a fun little game that we're kind of constantly playing as we forget that we were looking for something, then one of us spots it and the game is back on!
On a more productive note, I want to see what I can do about really blitzing Bangkok photographically. The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, the National museum, Khao San Road and a bunch of other big sights are right on my door step, so I should try to get the best images of them as I can while I'm still here.
As always I'll show you the finest selection of the shots that I take :)