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The Mongolian visa part #1

Let's just skip back in time a few days..... (hum so the screen goes wobbly)

This is what I wanted to be saying yesterday but never got round to it as I was interrupted. The lead-up was thus. Bits in brackets are what I thought:

Me: Hello?
Woman at the Mongol embassy: Yes, hello?
Me: Hi, yes. I want a tourist visa to visit Mongolia but I'm not sure what I need and what I have to do.
WATME: Well, how will you be entering the country?
Me: By train, from China.
WATME: You'll need your passport, a passport photo, 4,400yen and a form which we will give you when you get here.
Me: (Whoa there! I thought I could do it by post.) I have to come in person?
Me: And I can't do it by post? (It will cost about 200pounds and take about three days for each trip to Tokyo to accomplish this.)
WATME: You could have a proxy do it.
Me: I don't know anyone in Tokyo. Is there no other way?
WATME: No, sorry.
Me: So I have to go all the way to Tokyo to sort it out?
Me: Can I get the (damn) visa in Beijing? Can they do it in three days like you can?
WATME: I don't know.
Me, resignedly: And there is no other way to do it in Japan?
Me: (Please God! Please!) And there is no other place in Japan that I can put my hands on a visa? Nowhere I can get to in under half a day?
WATME: Hang on. Where do you live?
Me: (No way am I telling her Shiga. Muddy the waters even further... Let's go for) Kyoto.
WATME: Just a second. OK, here is the number for our honorary consulate in Osaka.

So it came out in the end, once I had prized he information from her clutches, that I could get a visa from an office in Osaka. A mere two stops on the subway from where I was going anyway to pick up my passport and Chinese visa.

So the moral of the story, or an amoral in this case, is to keep hammering away no matter what. Normally I hate people who do that, but who knows? Perhaps that is a part of the local culture?

Me: I want to go.
Her: No way!
Me: Oh, go-on!
Her: I don't think you really want to. Not really.
Me: No, I do! A lot!
Her, fingers held apart: About this much?
Me: No, more! I haven't got big enough hands to show you.
Her: Well, OK then....

To think I nearly spent tons of money sorting it out. So if anyone ever needs it, there is a consulate of Mongolia in Osaka.

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China visa Gettoh

That is what they say on Japanese TV when they receive something on a TV show or in a quiz or something. I got my visa for China today, and handed my passport straight on to the "Honorary" Mongolian Consulate. I assume that meant that I actually handed it over to a private company. Oh well, over with the helm and trust in God. If it doesn't come back then I am screwed!


Meeting myself coming the other way

No word from me for such a long time can only mean one thing - busy as hell.

The good news is that I have broken it's back. In order of importance:
I have finished working.
I have moved house.
I have started the ball rolling towards getting home.
I have finished the first draft of my book.

Finishing Work
I have finished what must, surely be the loneliest three years of my life. Learning to separate the issues has been one of the great challenges of my time here but I have never really got to the bottom of why things have been so hard. Work was definitely at the root of it. Three years in the Japanese education system have not treated me kindly.

It might seem strange that some one could be lonely whilst working with and around seven-hundred people or so. Again, separate the issues: Working with the kids was very rewarding and I enjoyed it. Largely, that was what got me through the day, week or month - whichever I was looking to clear. Working with the teachers was a problem for me.

I don't really know what the issue was. I worked hard, I made it easy for them to take part in my lessons and kept my temper under control. I learned Japanese. I brought bits of foreign food to school for them to try. I kept my ethnocentricity at home (for those of you who don't know the word, it means that one looks at the world from the point of view of ones own cultural or ethnic group) and tried to do it their way. Which got me no-where, really. As a group, the teachers were off-hand and barely polite at best. I don't know if I screwed something up somewhere or what, but I feel like I never really had the chance to become a part of the schools, which is what I wanted.

On the last day I had to be there for a ceremony, first with the teachers, then with the kids. The teacher's bit was a quick speech from each teacher that was leaving. Most of them went along the lines of "thanks for everything. Hopefully see you again." Mine was more along the lines of "I'm not sure what it was but it's been emotional" with that last bit ripped-off from a film. I wanted to tell them how I really felt (upset, used, angry) but I managed to be English to the last, dignified in defeat.

The thing with the kids was much nicer. There were twelve of us leaving and we had to walk through the middle of the kids in the main hall. I got lots of cheers and waves from the kids. I was struck yet again by the massive schism between what I got from the kids and what I got from the teachers. Make no mistake - I was there for the kids and that side of my job went really well. We each heard a speech from one of the kids, a representative from the teacher's class. I didn't have my own class but taught everyone in the school, so they could have chosen anyone. I was pleasantly surprised that it was Ren. We'd had problems the year before but had managed to smooth things out and re-establish a relationship. I felt that he was one of my bigger successes over the last year.

I listened to what he had to say. It was a shame it was only one hour a week. My lessons were fun and easy to understand. He was sorry I was leaving. He'd particularly enjoyed making paella and chili-con-carne with.

I made my reply to the whole school. I was going back to the UK and was probably not going to work with junior school children again. The best part of my time in Japan had been spent with them and that even for those who would never travel abroad I would take a little bit of them with me. I told them that they needed to take their chances and make sure that they did something extra special at least once in their lives.

I was quite pleased with my speech because it was all in Japanese and it made a lot of the teachers stop and think, too. I also managed to keep a rein on my temper, too. I got a few genes from my mum that gave me a penchant for the dramatic and they were pushing me to go out with a bang.

Anyway, that night there was the soubetsukai. This is Japanese for farewell party, sort of. This again didn't go awfully well for me. I know how it is supposed to be done, Japanese-style, and they didn't do it for me. Oh well, I thought, head down and be pleasant until I can go home. At them end of the night I waited until I could decently leave and left. I'd been sat with no-one talking to me for a while and thought I might as well do the same elsewhere.

"Right them, bye!"

A few people were like, "what, are you going?"

"Yep, see you never."

All of a sudden it dawned on them that I was going and not coming back. Now about five or ten people wanted to talk to me. I left anyway, with what grace I could muster after copious amounts of alkyhole. Onward and upward from here, I thought.

The reason I am writing all this for the world to see isn't for the sake of recrimination or anything like that. I was over it before I even finished the job or even started the last month. It is my wish and fervent prayer that they learn from it and treat the next English teacher much more kindly. Before I left I had a word with a couple of people to try and get that going.

So, work-wise, the last three years have been pretty taxing, emotionally. I'm though it and out the other side, stronger for the experience and happy within myself that it has been good and useful, if not exactly enjoyable, experience. All in all, it has left me with a stronger desire to help and look after people.

Moving House
Moving house at the same time as finishing my job was painful, but not nearly so bad as it could have been if I hadn't had a week off right before I moved. I have worked out that this was the fifteenth time I had moved house, with the subsequent move back to the UK being the sixteenth. Even with that much practice I am still no good at it and hate the damn process. I have a few friends at home that have moved once from home to their own newly-bought houses and I can't help but be jealous of them.

We had the usual issues of what to keep, what to sell, what to give away and what to chob in the garbage. I don't think that I have lost any important documents this time. In one of my moves from house to house at University I lost contact with my driver's license and also my birth certificate at some point. It is still early days and the Japanese dearly love a paper-trail. You virtually have to get things signed and stamped to go to the toilet. Only three weeks of that left now.

I have made myself a firm vow to stop buying so much stuff. I've decided that I am going to live in one of those ultra-modern houses with lots of right-angles and empty spaces. You know the ones I mean, often painted black and white and displayed in magazines. I've decided this not because I like the design but because I think you could probably move house in a mini.

Right at the end it emerged that we had been conned yet again. When we moved in the guy from the agency lied to us and said we could get another parking space close by. In fact this whole line of conversation had been spurious. When we went to the office of the company they told us that we couldn't rent a space from them, in no uncertain terms. We also had the guy tell us that we couldn't move in until the fifth and then tell us on the fifth that we could have moved in on the first and that rent was due from that date.

Well, we also paid a deposit of about seven-hundred and fifty pounds, from which we were told that damage would be subtracted. Well, that was a lie, too. Two thirds of that were a present for the landlord and only the remainder of the final third could come back to us. Time to re-adjust my finances.

Going Home
This is going on and on, so I will try and keep it brief. On April 23rd I will begin going home, kind of like this:

April 23 - Arrive in China and spend five days in and around Beijing.
April 28 - Stage #1 of the Trans-Siberia train journey to Mongolia.
April 29 - Arrive in Mongolia and spend four days on the Mongolian steps living with horse farmers and doing stuff like archery and so on.
May 3rd - Depart on Stage #2 of the TST to Russia.
May 5th - Arrive Irkutsk and spend three days around Lake Baikal.
May 8th - Leave Irkutsk for the final leg of the TST to Moscow
May 11th - Arrive for one day in Moscow.
May 12th - Moscow tourism followed by late departure for Latvia by train.
May 13th - Spend day in Riga, then fly to Liverpool.

Then after that I will head down to London for a job interview for a teaching position over the summer.

May 21st - Fly to Krakow in Poland to do a CELTA certificate. This will take a month.
June 21st - Finally arrive back in the UK for the foreseeable future.

This whole thing is going to take money and visas in equal proportion, though I think it is all in hand. My only worry is the payment that I sent using the post office. Particularly the train ticket and package, for which I had to send the best part of a thousand pounds by international transfer without myself, the travel company or the post office knowing exactly what combination of codes and details were needed to get the damn thing through. I'll consider this year's share of luck used if it goes through first time.

This process is what I am in the middle of now - I am heading into Osaka tomorrow to retrieve my passport with Chinese visa and sending it straight off to Tokyo for the Mongolian Embassy to put their stamp on. Then I will be waiting on payment being received in Hong Kong for the train ticket purchased in Beijing for the ticket to Russia. I need a letter of invitation, you see. Once I have that I can get my Russian visa from the consulate in Osaka and I am set. Sorry, I forgot to mention my new passport which I received last weekend after I found out I needed six months left on the damn thing to get the visas in the first place. It couldn't be easier.

The Book
First off I should say that the book may never actually be read by anyone but myself. I'm still not convinced that the concept is good enough and the style is in any way entertaining. The whole project was a test to see if I could actually write a novel. I'm happy to say that I have done it. At least to the first draft.

There is an inch and a half of A4 sat up stairs in our room. It is one thing to have it saved on disk and another entirely to have it in your hands. If I am lucky I might even start reading through it tonight. I need to get it checked and re-written before I leave the country because their is absolutely no way I am going to carry hard copy and computer the full length of Asia and Europe.

The Big Picture
So if you all have been wondering why I haven't been emailing / writing online, well, now you know. I either didn't have time because I was busy or didn't feel like it much because I was down about work. Hopefully, I am back with a bit of time on my hands.

So I have what, nineteen days left in the country? And this is about where I am up to. Looking back over what I have written here I am aware that it all seems pretty negative. In fact I am pretty happy and positive about things in general. I think I have enough time to get everything done and plough straight back into life in the UK.


I think I am going to make it!

It is all going to end good. Cue the fat lady! Then ball and chalk her as well.

I'm gong to finish my four hundred days, though I was in doubt for some considerable time. Let me tell you why:

I'm going through an extended period of lasts at the moment. I had my last upper school classes at one school the other day. I've bought my last tub of kerosene for the heater. We're having our last house party before moving tomorrow. Incidentally, it is my birthday, too. Hopefully not my last one, though.

I've had my last meetings, taught the fifth years for the final time seen off the second years at a different school. Today was my last lesson with the fourth years at my bigger school. I woke up with a sore throat this morning, a headache (I had the last beer last night) and felt pretty poorly. I've got two sick days left. You do the maths. In he end I decided that I would go in and teach the kids because it was their last lesson.

In to school, print off some vocab sheets, blank game boards, sort out some dice. Next I head up to my classroom with a box full of stuff. I am the one who always has tons of stuff to carry so it is logical that I get the classroom furthest from the door on the top floor. Change the date and weather cards (Last time I'll see the February card), cut the vocab sheets into pieces to give to the students. We are making English boardgames today. Suddenly I remember: I have to tell the classes they need their glue and scissors.

Long story short: I go down to tell them and they are getting changed ready for PE. I check the timetable. It says they are coming. I ask the teacher, she says they have changed the days. Thanks for sharing that with me guys. A day with no classes and I am not feeling very well. I could have stayed at home.

I battled it out and saw the day out writing my book and doing little bits of stuff. I don't really have any work right now. I leave feeling pretty rotten, and angry to boot because I have had my time and efforts wasted. I went to the supermarket to get supplies for the party tomorrow. It was here that the clouds parted.

I just bumbled into the DVD rental place in the grip of one of my hopelessly optimistic spasms. I didn't expect to see anything I actually wanted to see. Weelllll, we were off to a good start when the romantic comedy section simply wasn't there any more. A quick glance, a double take, a treble eye-rubbing take. Tsutaya (the shop name) has got the whole of The League of Gentlemen on DVD! And a bunch of other TV shows from England.

There is just enough new material in there, if you include the mental chewing gum of those endless Sci-Fi series that are on sky all the time, to fill my every spare waking hour until I leave. And when I say "spare" I mean that is the way I am going at the moment. Let the party begin.

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