Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On my wait again.

It has been a long arduous journey to get to India. It's still not finished, but it's drawing closer.

It started this summer, applying for a job in late July, receiving an invitation to proceed further in early August and a preliminary contract the middle of August. The plan was that I would be in India by September 4th. That obviously didn't transpire.

When all the paperwork eventually made it's way from office to office to me, I received it the end of September and applied online for my visa on Labor Day.

The processing time as stated on their website is 3-5 days. That seemed remarkable but wonderful. When I applied for my Korean visa I received it in 4 days even though the processing time was 7-10 days. I eagerly waited those 3-5 days, waiting for the email requesting the remainder of the necessary paperwork and my passport photo. After 6 days I tried to call and find out what was happening because I had heard nothing. I couldn't reach anyone. I tried for weeks but got no where. Finally, I called and someone answered. They asked why I hadn't made an appointment and had I not received an email asking for any additional documents. I hadn't.

I made an appointment for the very next day. This was the middle week of September. When I got there, I was informed I'd filed the wrong visa application so I refiled at the office. Then they needed my resume. I'm fortunate that I have it online so I printed off a copy at the office. Then they looked at my passport which had over six months on it when I first applied but was now just under. They refused me.

Previously, I had gone to the Atlanta Passport Agency and been declined to have an expedited visa because I didn't have an international ticket proving travel. I explained this to them at the Indian agency but they would not take my application so I went to the Chicago passport agency. Luck was with me there and the lady took my passport renewal form even without proof of travel.

A week later, I returned to Chicago, picked up my passport, and reapplied again for my visa. This day was September 23rd. After a week I was again requested for more paperwork. The Indian company emailed it to me right away and I submitted it. Another week passed and I received a call from the consulate (which you can't call btw) stating that they had received the email with the paperwork but it was still processing. Why they couldn't say. They asked if I wanted my passport back. I declined. I didn't know if it was a trick to decline my visa since they can't process it without my passport or if someone was just trying to be nice, but I didn't want them to have any reason not to grant me my visa.

Another week passed and they asked for a future schedule. One doesn't exist because I'm in the entertainment business and gigs get booked as the are requested. And the Indian company definitely isn't going to book me if I don't have my visa yet, so there was no future schedule to provide. The Indian company provided other paperwork to prove the validity of the performances and venues, etc. The Indian consulate was not appeased however, and requested the future schedule a second time another week later.

During all this time I would spend hours on hold trying to call the agencies' call center. The people there couldn't really do much unfortunately, but they did advance my case in the system and put it on "urgency" and whatnot. It's frustrating because the Indian consulates in the United States don't deal directly with the public. You have to go through an outsourcing agency called Cox and Kings Global Services and neither the consulate nor the agency have phone numbers. Only the call center is reachable and you have to wait for hours to speak with someone, which probably won't result in actually knowing more or doing anything.

The second week of November on Friday the 14th. I received the previously forethought unattainable email stating my visa had been approved and was sent to the agency for pickup or delivery. I had already prepaid for the delivery so I started making plans to get to Chicago so I could fly out early the next week when the visa should have arrived. But the visa didn't arrive. I called every day asking where it was and why it hadn't been mailed. The call center didn't know why and could only put my file on urgent. I waited over a week and then decided it was time to take action myself. Monday the 24th, I drove to Chicago to pick up my visa in person.

I walked in at 2:30 p.m. and verified that the agency did indeed have my passport and they had not mailed it off while I was driving there. So I waited around until the 4:00 p.m. designated pick up time. At that time, no line formed, to order ensued, no numbers were given. We all just randomly sat and were randomly called as the workers dug through a pile randomly. And I do mean randomly. There was no organization to it at all.

But there is wonderful news at the end of it all...


However, now I sit in Chicago, awaiting an unknown flight. Thankfully, I have an awesome friend who's letting me crash and wear her cold weather clothes since I only have warm weather ones packed for India. It's from one waiting game to another. The process is moving though....slowly....

Now I just have to get my flight and it will finally happen. I'll finally be in India, performing Bollywood tunes and traveling again!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Traveling Korea/ Japan 2014

Long ago I promised an informative blog with travel links and tips that I spent many days of my life hunting down, translating, calling and sorting conflicting data to travel between South Korea and Japan.

The first thing that I did to really help me was make a spreadsheet with all the information from the various sources. This is a link to that and the picture below gives you a sample.

While I was traveling between Korea and Japan there were some smartphone apps that were extremely helpful. They are also all free!!! I tried lots of different apps and these were my favorite.

Currency ~ Most of the time I didn't need to use a conversion app, but this one would retain the numbers that I'd looked up even once I left an internet source. Most other apps would try to refresh and therefore lose the data I'd previously had. This app came in most handy when someone tried to rip me off and I could show them that I knew what they should be giving me.

Korean Builder ~ My favorite Korean language app. There are the general categories you can click on but you can also start typing (in English) and optional phrases and words in romanticized letters and in Hangul will appear so you can show someone the sentence or word even if you can't say it. It also has the option to use honorific, formal or polite forms. It is a free app so there aren't all the words you'll look up but there are plenty enough to get your point across and you can also update to a full version. This app also does not require internet access which in Korea isn't a huge problem, but nice to know none the less.

Korean Flashcards ~ A nice app for a few of those basics. You can choose whether you see romanticized letter or Hangul or both. And since no internet is required it's also an easy app to use when you're desperate to communicate.

Learn Korean Numbers ~ My favorite Korean numbers app. Korean numbers are tricky because there's two different sets and they use each set for different things and both for telling time, so it's important to be able to reference both quickly. Most apps only have the Sino-Korean set. This app is free and you can practice the numbers as well as practice telling time in the app. Super helpful!

Maps With Me ~ This app lets you download maps of a specific city or country to your phone so you don't have to have a wi-fi connection to see where you are. This app was really really really helpful in Japan where wi-fi is scarce and never free.

Subway ~ This is the number one app for using the subway system in Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon and Gwangju. The system is super easy to maneuver anyway with color coded number systems posted everywhere below as well as above ground. I travel a little bit and Seoul is an easy place to get around. I did not have the opportunity to use this app outside of Seoul so I can't comment on its effective in the other cities. However, this app is a must have as you can pull up the subway map with romanticized stop names so you can figure out where you are if you don't read or speak Hangul. You do have the option to use it in Hangul as well as Japanese too. The app gives you the fastest route to and from where you'd like to go and timetables for departures. I can't say enough about how good this app is!

Talking Translator ~ One of the translator apps I liked using but it does require an internet connection. It gives you options to hear the translated word or phrase, keeps your history and will even give you daily words in a language of your choice.

Translate ~ Of course Google translate is also a go to translator option but beware to only use it for basic sentences and words because it doesn't translate larger sentences correctly at all. I'm being very serious and have had ample experience when I first moved to Korea and couldn't speak a word, nor could my neighbors speak a word of English. Hours were spent trying to communicate through translator apps and Google doesn't work with anything remotely complex. Talking Translator often did better with longer sentences than Google.