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Friday, September 9, 2011

Products of our Culture

We are products of where we come from.

I consider myself one of the most non-Kiwi New Zealanders I know, and when I visited home last year I kept being asked what part of America I came from. But yesterday, being the opening of the Rugby World Cup in Aotearoa/New Zealand, I found myself in a sports bar watching the game. I cheered the Tongan Sipi Tau, had shivers down my spine at the All Blacks' Haka and drooled along with every other female and a few males as Sonny Bill changed his shirt. And learned a little about our culture viewed through other eyes.

I was sitting with a couple of Irish guys (my other nationality, so I felt at home) and they were talking about New Zealanders. Apparently the rest of the world thinks it strange that when you tell a Kiwi to come stay if ever they're in town, they do. Being a Kiwi, it had never ever occurred to me that people would offer you a place to stay if they didn't mean it. In Aotearoa, we tend not to say things we don't mean. Apparently, in other parts of the world, people say things just to be polite (yes, even in Ireland, which is not the first country that springs to mind when one thinks of polite gentility). The Irish boys told me that in Ireland you have to say no the first time anyone offers you something and wait for them to offer again before accepting. They also said they miss out on a lot of things because of that.

The conversation left me feeling defensive, uncomfortable and wondering how many people I'd inflicted my presence on when they hadn't actually meant the invitation they'd extended. We're a very literal people and believe what people say - and I hope I don't begin to question that because I prefer to believe people. But I just found out that the rest of the world doesn't necessarily work that way.

It's a very strange thing to feel I need to apologize to people for taking what they say as truth, but that's how I feel right now. So, to anyone I have inflicted my presence on in the misguided belief that an invitation meant a welcome, I humbly apologize. Though I do advise you to think before you say things that you don't mean.

THIS JUST IN: I have been advised by a number of American friends and my Australian guru that they all mean it when they invite someone to visit - perhaps it's just an Irish thing?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Life in Limbo

I'm not very good at doing nothing. I like to be moving, working, traveling, exploring - being busy is my natural state. But a moment of inattention two weeks ago has resulted in an enforced period of frustrated waiting, and I'm finding it hard to take.

I returned to Seoul, South Korea, at the beginning of August to take up an editing position with Yonhap News Agency - the national wire service here. Before I could begin though, I had to wait for my visa application to be processed and approved, something that did not happen until midway through the month. That was only the visa application however, and I still needed to go to another country to actually get my visa as per the rules in South Korea.

August being school holidays and the summer season, flights everywhere were scarce, as were ferries, but I managed to book a trip to Fukuoka, Japan, for my visa run. It involved an overnight train to Busan, a ferry to Fukuoka and an overnight stay there before reversing the trip and coming back to start work - something I was eager to do after eight months on the road.

I prepared everything I needed for the trip, including passport, tickets and cash in Japanese yen to pay the visa costs once there. But then came the moment of inattention. I had taken a cab to the railway station and got caught in traffic so was running close to departure time once we arrived. I paid the driver, grabbed my backpack and started running up the station steps. About five steps up, I realized I had left my purse in the taxi, but by then it had pulled away. With my passport, wallet, cards, tickets, cell-phone and cash.

Koreans are very honest people and I know of many instances in which people have lost important items here and had them turned in untouched so I hoped for the best. Or at least hoped that my passport would be turned in, even if my wallet and cash was not. I filed a police report, notified my embassy and my employer and waited to see if luck would smile on me this time. I also visited my bank to cancel my cards, and found I could not get new ones reissued immediately without a passport for identification. I instead had to wait a week to have them delivered to my home address.

I arranged to have some money sent to me so I could pay for a replacement passport and, as I waited for that and my bank cards to arrive, pestered the police and embassy each day in the hope my  passport would show up. It not having done so in a week, I applied for a replacement, which has to be processed in New Zealand and then couriered. I hope it will arrive this week but can't book tickets until I have it in hand, and next week is the Chuseok Thanksgiving Holiday here in Korea so I will have to wait for that to be over before  I can travel to an overseas embassy anyway.

I also can't replace my cell-phone as my old contract was for a 2G phone and the service provider no longer has those. I need to start a new contract for a 3G or 4G phone, but I can't sign a contract here until I have my visa. It feels as if my life is on hold as I wait.

Fortunately, my new employer has been very understanding and is waiting patiently for me to have all my documents again in hand. But I'm finding that being in limbo is something that I am personally very bad at. I am trying to make the most of this unexpected free time to write and did finish a feature article last week, but it's difficult being creative while feeling stressed, frustrated and mad at myself. I am getting a lot of exercise taking my roommate's dog on long walks and catching up on a few years of television series while I have the time.

And I know it's only a matter of time and there's nothing I can do to speed up the process, but I really want to get to work at my new job and I'm not very good at waiting.

I do know I'm going to be very, very careful with my new passport once it arrives.