Alternative Social Networks to Try… 1: MeWe

With all the little issues and niggles I am having lately with our first official online session, it has been hard to do much of my own online stuff, so I decided to do a series of brief introductions to alternative social network platforms.

Hi again everyone,

My attention was grabbed today by a link on Gab (of which more in a later article) to a piece over on ZDNet about MeWe, so that’s as good a place to start as any… I have been on MeWe for a couple of years now and it really seems to be a place where anything goes, which is fine with me.

https://www.zdnet.com/article/have-issues-with-facebook-data-collecting-privacy-first-alternative-mewe-surges-to-9m-users/

It has a typical three-column interface which (in its basic form) is rather bright, but the good news is that they will sell you a different skin for a couple of dollars. I don’t often spend money on social web sites, but after a few months on MeWe, it seemed like a good idea, and I have never looked back.

You have completely free speech here plus 8Gb free storage. They are constantly asking you to upgrade when you log in, but I am ignoring this (for now).

A point to be made here is that many of the people you know from FB are already on here, “just in case”. If not, perhaps you could persuade them?

You are invited to MeWe: http://www.mewe.com/i/andrewholmes2

You can also see MeWe on FB: https://www.facebook.com/mewenetwork/

Latest Check-up: November 4th 2019

Just this Saturday, the hospital’s automated messaging system texted me to let me know that it was time to see Prof. Kim again, and perhaps also render blood samples!

It’s hard to believe that it is now twenty-two months since part of my colon was excised and the two ends stitched together again; hard to believe that in that time I have actually had three jobs (although two of them are the same one) and gone from here to Jinju and back. As it happens, when asked by manager Jamie recently whether I wanted to stay, I gave her a “maybe” answer – until I remembered that too many students really want to teach kids, and this is something that no longer interests me. So later, the answer was “no”… probably because yes, it has been stressful. No kidding!

Another thing that hit me kinda hard – ouch! – was when I wondered if I could find my old domicile, back in the north of Miryang, on Google Street View (yes, unfortunately I still have uses for Google). That was back in March 2009 – ten years ago! – when I finally left Changwon, where I had been for my first six years in Korea, to take on my first public school job, and looking back, I now think that was a major error, especially considering that after I left the KDLI in 2014, I ended up working at the same place in Changwon again, although not for long, as Mr. Lee’s customer base was already shrinking.

Lo! and Behold! – it was still there, and although there had clearly been some more building in the area since I was living there; remarkably the unoccupied plot in front of the entrance was still rough ground with someone’s veggies growing on it. Some things never change!

Anyway, it’s been a long time, and I have been working in so many places around the country, but I still think that Changwon was the best place for actually living, largely I suspect because it has a more “human” scale than bigger places like Busan and Daegu, and actually walking to where you want to go physically rather than taking public transport, for example, is often not unrealistic, not to mention healthier. Miryang was also not actually bad – in fact, getting out of bed early and walking from my place across the island to the school, and walking back again afterwards, was by no means a drawback. Likewise, Changwon is a place where routine exercise (in the sense of getting plenty of walking in) is both easy and pleasurable.

Other changes to my Lost Geography have taken place within the last ten years – relatives, including, alas, my own mother – have passed on in that time and even returning to my own country appears extremely unpalatable; it’s unclear at the moment what the best option might be.

Now we return to today, and my latest conflab with Professor Kim. Since I last saw him, one interesting change has taken place: recently, I came off the generic Lopmin (Imodium) capsules that were prescribed for me as an antidiarrhoeal because I was finding that they were perhaps somewhat too effective (i.e. a bit too powerful for my own sensitive and residual gut); it was at times difficult to pass stools because they were so dry and stiff, so I experimented several times until I felt that I could be confident not to shit my pants at an inopportune moment, such as, for example, when shopping or in the middle of a lesson.

At first it was a bit dodgy, but I think it may have been helped by a couple of things: firstly, the fact that I tend not to drink a lot of water on work days, and secondly that when I do drink on work days, it tends to be quite strong coffee, especially for “breakfast”, which otherwise I normally leave out. On one hand, therefore, there is reduced water intake coupled with a strong diuretic (high-strength, “shoot-me-to-the-Moon” coffee), and on the other, there is the prevention of the gastrocolic reaction by, er, not eating. I think that this combination is assisting my truncated gut to perform its natural dehydration function more normally, as less digested food is passing through it, and secondly my body is running lean on water anyway. The result is mainly stools with normal colour and consistency, although exactly when they demand to be released still tends to be rather random like, say, two or three a.m. Generally, however, it is no longer so bad; I think the main thing is avoiding a large meal to prevent the gastrocolic reaction taking place at an unhelpful moment… I need hardly repeat Professor Kim’s admonition to lose weight.

He and I discussed this and the main problem is getting enough sunlight exposure for my skin to manufacture sufficient Vitamin D naturally. I take a number of supplements for this regularly but obviously, natural is better and my little “issue” here is that normally I have little exposure to sunlight due to the desk-bound work that I often perform (and also spending much of a working day indoors in any case), so getting enough daylight input is rather difficult.

Clearly, this means that the job itself (and the associated work) is therefore something of an “issue”. Another is the preponderance of mainly female prospective students who want to teach kids, something I lost interest in a long time ago. So the adverts are out and I am looking for something new (which I also mentioned to Professor Kim, as this would make routine checks more difficult). Some might complain that perhaps I protest too much and should just suck it up, but the fact remains that after all this time in Korea, some disillusionment has long since set in and the general teaching environment is demotivating for someone like myself. I need something more relevant and appropriate to find my mojo again. I used to teach kids for the purpose of survival, and not because I enjoyed it.

Shortly after my contract ends, I will have to go to the Gu Hospital again to have my colon inspected with a large and fearsome tool, and as I have elected not to re-sign before that time, I don’t know quite where I will be at that exact moment, but as always, I remain optimistic. Time and again a job has come along (sometimes almost too late) and I have been here for another year. I had hoped to have transitioned to something else a long time ago, but unfortunately circumstances have prevented this. Perhaps that is where I should be focusing for the remainder of my time in Korea.

It Pays to Be Solitary

This article from Disclose.tv was so close to the mark, I had to link it here:

Interesting article and I agree wholeheartedly with the comment by Spaghetti_Monster_02 below… shame about the TEDx vid (someone feels a suicidal need to associate themselves with arbitrary authority), but hey, there y’go…


https://www.disclose.tv/people-who-prefer-to-be-alone-are-total-badasses-new-study-shows-333939

The Love (and Lack) of Reading

With space dwindling on all my drives, I lost it this weekend and ordered a new 2TB hard drive for my main machine.

The fact that my new KT Internet keeps flipping out every morning is hardly pleasing me, either…

It seems to be one of those things these days… when I was younger and didn’t have the level of personal technology that I have now, you would routinely find me with my nose in a book or a magazine novels by Michael Moorcock, Fortean Times, that kind of thing. Alas, my needs these days, where moving between cities has been costing an arm, a leg and perhaps several other limbs over the years, things have contracted. I am not buying books routinely, not because I dislike books or even that I cannot afford them; no.

The trouble has been that I have encountered a number of impediments to relaxed and undisturbed reading. Many of the apartments have been unfurnished and without a bed to sleep on, never mind a comfortable reading chair; and when I got my last pair of glasses, the lenses (courtesy of Carl Zeiss, would you believe) came with a varifocal profile and two reading dimples placed in a position for an upright (rather than comfortably recumbent) head position. In addition, the kind of central room lighting here is terrible for extended sessions of reading, but I never seem to move between apartments without losing more appropriate reading lamps. My own personal preference is low-intensity ambient lighting, especially for reading, ideally from proper bulbs and not from LED shit, which is enriched in blue-wavelength emissions known to damage human eyesight [1]. So my actual domestic environment for reading has not been good for a long time. I really want to change that, and with a little reaasonable effort, that’s precisely what I aim to do over this coming winter.

In the meantime, however… ironically, the oldest working HD that I have is the original 80Gb drive I used to build my first machine in Korea back in 2004. The only reason I don’t use it any more is because all the new mobos I’ve seen don’t have IDE interfaces any more – only SATA.

If not for that, I’d still be using all my IDE drives because – so many years after I bought them – they are all still working. The biggest are 500Gb and they are now idle due to a preference on the part of the mobo manufacturers for SATA; go to Gmarket and, likewise, you will see that IDE drives are rarely new. This is the way the technology has gone since I arrived here.

Contrast that with the stupid 1Tb Western Digital drive I bought the other year. Never worked. Until I came to Korea, WD drives never failed. I still have a ten-year-old WD 160Gb portable that works, even though the USB situation has changed since then. And back at home in the UK, I always bought WD and never. had. any. issues. with them.

That last one, however, I refused to exchange at the time because hey, if it fails you have to send it to their office in Malaysia (!!!) at your own expense (by which they mean by international courier, of course). Which meant that to get a replacement would cost more than buying the original, and when confronted by that and having therefore wasted the money on a dead loss, I ordered a replacement from Seagate and WTF, no. trouble. ever.

So this time it will be another Seagate, at a fair price, twice the size of the previous one, which has filled up to about 85% in the space of three years. Well, I can’t imagine why, of course, it’s another great Mystery of Asia… but in particular, I really think it’s about time to drain my fifteen-plus years of e-mails from Yahoo, which seems to have gone so far downhill (and seems to have become some kind of disgusting NWO shill, if much of its so-called “news” is anything to go by). That, however, is currently just under 290Gb in size, and it will have to be dumped somewhere, and if I decide to dump my Facebook, too… well, you can see where this is leading.

As for the cancer front, unbelievably (for an English bod like me) the next blood test is scheduled for Guy Fawkes’ Night – November 5th! The day when a pre-Elizabethan crowd failed to blow up the old Houses of Parliament with King James actually in attendance. That’s on a Monday, too; time to book a day off in advance! But as always, I’ll let all two of my readers know what happens…

1: https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/10/23/near-infrared-led-lighting.aspx

The Trials and Tribulations of a New Job

It frightens me sometimes to think how long I have been here… tonight I am back in the Pinot Wine Bar in Banpo, Seoul, not far from the Express Bus Terminal, and predictably, just like when I first started coming here all those years ago (when I was working in Korean public elementary schools, God help me!) I couldn’t remember the way (wrong exit from the Bus Terminal again) and ended up getting more early evening exercise than expected…

Right now, the early spring air in Seoul is something of a miasma, as the first clouds of the annual ‘Hwang sa’ (the ‘Floating Yellow Dust’ from the Gobi mentioned previously at times in this blog) waft their noisome way across the brief stretch of ocean separating the Korean peninsula from mainland China and combine with the indigenous smog of an early Seoul evening, and already, close to the end of March, the KTX train coming north from Daegu was filled with the sound of irritated lungs coughing; at both ends and all points in between, where the line of sight allows it, the distant hills are barely distinguishable from the grey, overcast sky. Happily, perhaps, the weather app on my phone is promising rain tomorrow, but towns in the south seem to be having surprisingly high levels of airborne dust. Thus it comes to pass that, as is the case every spring, the true harbinger of the coming summer is not the emerging green buds and leaves on the trees, but a grey sky and a constant cough in the throats of all of those unwise enough to venture out without a dust mask of some description, although some of us also take some dubious medication for it, too.

Alas, what brings me here on what should now be my odd weekend (the new job involves working from Wednesday to Sunday evenings each week; my ‘weekend’ is now Monday and Tuesday) was yet another visa screw-up – immediately after receiving copies of the countersigned contract and the other papers necessary to transfer sponsorship from the old employer to the new, I took the Seoul subway to the correct Immigration Office, and what did I discover? They had gone completely over to a reservation system the previous April, and no longer used the drop-in-take-a-ticket-and-wait-yer-turn method which, ironically perhaps, seems to work so well elsewhere. One might even point out that even when the old Busan office, which used to occupy a couple of floors of the Customs Building down near the harbour, was transplanted into a swanky, squeaky-clean new place a couple of blocks down the road, it was not necessary to enforce the new system because, as anyone who went there could see, customers occupied surprisingly few of the seats whilst waiting… which was quite a contrast with the previous situation, where you could hit the place on a weekday afternoon and find it full of Russian and Chinese sailors in nervous groups in the corners, Korean grannies looking after Filipino-Korean grandchildren as they ran around screaming and shouting, and various odd European and American English speakers regarding the melée with a mixture of confusion and amusement on their faces as they were waiting their turn.

Anyway… so… I then began a furious KakaoTalk chat session from my cell phone with the recruiter who was involved this time and who – alas – did not seem to understand that it was no longer possible to take a ticket and wait – you had to go online and make a reservation for some time in the near(ish) future, and – double alas! – it seems that the Seoul office already had no less than an eighteen-day backlog of applicants. It rapidly became apparent, also, that I was far from the only foreigner with this problem, as the enquiry desk off to the right-hand side of the office was swamped and just to add unwanted fuel to the already blazing fire, after talking with the female member of staff there (via my own cell phone) the recruiter demanded that I get the name of the office staff member so that she could lodge an official complaint because “she is so rude!”. I had to talk her down from her state of High Dudgeon (is there such a thing as Low Dudgeon???), and she went online and reserved a time slot for me, which (as I sit here writing) is tomorrow afternoon. And then back home and lessons on Wednesday, possibly after being up for hours with little sleep prepping up.

It’s one of the stranger aspects of being in a country for a long time, and travelling between towns to wherever the next job takes you, that you realise one day, with something approaching (let’s call it) amusement, that you could probably write a whole raft of blog entries about your experience with the Immigration Offices alone; it could be a whole series. Likewise, the strange emergence of the requirement for an annual medical check, something not deemed a necessity when you arrived here with an entry visa stamped in your passport, a suitcase and a couple of large wheelie bags full of books and stuff, and a slow trail of boxes sent by surface mail from Taiwan for cheapness, but which was suddenly applied by the customs people immediately after Lee Myung-bak was elected President at the the of 2007. Somewhere, when it was out of your sight, that nice square wheelie bag that you purchased new in Taipei was ripped apart at the seams, presumably by a Customs minion, and had to be unceremoniously discarded once ensconced in one’s new home. And not a word about compensation…

The documentary requirements quickly accumulated: first, they wanted you to take a health check each year; simultaneously, they started demanding criminal record printouts, in my case from the Metropolitan Police Database, which alone took at least two months. But pretty soon, this was considered insufficient – next, they wanted the copy of your original Degree deposited with the offices to be apostilled (and since it was a copy rather than the original, this meant that it first had to be notarised. In England. And then apostilled!), and finally, they wanted the (original) criminal record to be apostilled, too!

This made the provision of documents an expensive venture in insanity, both in terms of total price and in the amount of time required (as procuring a fresh criminal record printout could take upward of three months). For myself, I think the final straw came when I signed the contract for the year at the KDLI outside of Icheon in Gyyeonggi-do. It seems that they had decided that they should also have their own copies of the same documents provided by the applicants, and this could not have happened at a worse time for me personally, as the cost of relocation had crippled me financially and resulted in my new five-million-won credit card being commuted to (a more sensible) two million limit; it took an agonising FIVE MONTHS to get the CRC (from the Met in London) apostilled and with a notarised, apostilled Degree copy into the hands of Captain Lee, who was the foreigner liaison officer (the Korean Army were in charge of the place, or so it seemed; I never did quite figure that part out).

Even worse, two years after I graduated from what was originally CCAT in Cambridge (now the Anglia Ruskin University), the government of the time (Conservative) decided that it was appropriate for all of the former colleges and polytechnics, who used to issue Degrees on behalf of the CNAA (Council for the National Accreditation of Awards) or other existing universities should now become self-accrediting in their own right. This had the unfortunate consequence of consigning past CNAA records into the care of the Open University somewhere in north London, from whence (the last time I asked) it was not possible to obtain copies or reproductions in the event of loss or destruction. So I became very panicky at the prospect of having to send my one copy of my Degree back to England for whatever reason… even worse, institutions like EPIK (English Program In Korea) also demanded at least two sealed transcripts from said university, which the changes since my graduation have likewise rendered impossible, thus limiting opportunities for employment here, although I would have to say that I would not, nowadays and at my age, consider a new EPIK position to be appropriate or desirable. Those days are over!

The final nail in the coffin of EPIK applications, however, is that applicants from the UK and Australia now also have to submit copies of their birth certificates (why is that, I wonder???), something rather difficult because (a) I would have to fly back to find the silly thing because it is doubtful that my parents would be able to locate it, and (b) Korean employers tend to be rather mean with allowances for time off and it would, in any case, probably cost the equivalent of two months’ salary payments just for the air tickets! It might be possible to do this between jobs but it might also mean having to produce fresh apostilled documents, adding more cost in terms of money and time, the regulation here being that an applicant is not required to submit new documents provided that they are out of Korea for a period of less than three months.

Anyway, getting back to the main story… the odd factor in the equation in fact takes me back to a brief few minutes at the Suwon Immigration Office at the start of my time with the KDLI in 2013, which I had to travel to by public transport (seems like that’s something of a theme here, too) and at my own expense after a morning session of four lessons. I had no idea whether things would be okay, but I was assured by Mr. Han from Busan, the recruiter who brought me here from Taiwan all those years ago, that all I needed to transfer my visa was a set of four documents: passport, ARC, Letter of Release and a copy of the signed contract, and of course, I was well informed by his experience. And as it transpired, the process took no more than about fifteen minutes, tops, and the staff there turned out to be a pleasant group of girls who liked a laugh, although they did express surprise at the fact that I had resigned suddenly from the last position, which was (sadly) the seventeen-month extended contract offered to me by the same public elementary school who had employed me before I went to Busan to work for YBM… but I have mentioned this before…

“Ohhh, it was terrible!” I told them. Well, I think they believed me…

But we should consider from this anecdote that there was no actual problem with the Suwon Immigration Office themselves; the necessary documents had been deposited when I moved from Yangsan to Seomyeon, Busan in 2011 (and in fact, as I sit here writing this, these documents are still current, because circumstances have, yet again, prevented me from leaving the country since I did a visa run to Fukuoka in 2010), and the only documentary change they required was essentially notification of the new employer and the contract to prove it. No, it was the KDLI insisting that they were entitled to their own set of apostilled docs that caused so much grief; paying for them involved giving money to a friend so that I could use their credit cards. And the whole thing had to be done one afternoon in a PC room in Changwon – we had to find one where we could print the receipt web pages as proof of purchase. I kid you not!

So we should perhaps also include a nod of gratitude to the staff at the Immigration Offices, who often have to work with fractious and volatile foreigners with whom communication is difficult. I have never forgotten that it was one of their number, Mr. Kang, who at that time was working at the airport on Jeju Island, who came to my rescue when I landed there after flying out from Taiwan with only a wedge of New Taiwan Dollars in my wallet and none of the local currency, having received my final salary payment from Carol Hui, the secretary of my dubious employer and then left in something of a hurry; I actually had to overstay my visa AGAIN because I was waiting for someone to deliver the ticket before I could pay the overstay fine at the customs office and fly out. Despite the fact that it was late at night and the currency bod had already closed shop for the evening, Mr. Kang persuaded him to Do The Dirty Deed for me. Likewise, much more recently, my stint down in Geoje was cut short by the unavailablity of a new position from my then-employer, who actually sent my Letter of Release to the Geoje Immigration Office the same day as the semester ended, but somehow didn’t think to tell me about it immediately (and why was that, I wonder???); I was then going backwards and forwards between the Geoje and Masan offices for days while they worked out which one was responsible for handling me, and which was finally resolved when Masan allowed me an extra month thereafter to find a new job. They might have offered me even more time, but sometimes, perhaps, a beggar can’t be a chooser. Or cheeky, come to that…

After my visa experiences in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea, I’m sure that my readers could share many similar ones of their own. Suffice it to say that the root of these procedures is the security of their countries, and while we may complain at the levels of inconvenience that they impose upon us, they are not usually trying to treat us unfairly; one could hardly blame them if they had a stereotype of an eternally-complaining (and usually, I don’t know, kind of pale-skinned?) foreigner who somehow seems to have an unreasonable belief that they have an automatic right of abode just because they happened to be there. It might be a good idea to step back for a moment and ponder the situation which finally evolved vis-a-vis the required documents here, because in the end, it seems to have reached an equitable balance between establishing the probity of the applicant and not imposing unnecessarily regular demands for new apostilled papers. Once the documents have been submitted to the local Immigration Office, they are scanned and retained in their database; thereafter, they remain current until such a time as the visa holder leaves the country for three months or more – meaning that it is now possible to leave the country for an extended period and still retain the visa, resuming legal activities here upon your return. It is also possible to stay in the country for up to six months between jobs by transferring to a D-10 (Jobseeker) visa and then (in my own case) transferring back to an E-2 once a new contract is signed. This is not a cheap process, however.

I suppose we could say that what often seems to happen in the case of immigration arrangements is that everything seems almost perfect, when all of a sudden, we find that there’s an annoying fly in the ointment, except that where immigration is concerned, the fly tends to involve an awful lot of financial and temporal expense. In addition, because a negative result vis-a-vis a visa (my God, I’m alliterating again!) could be catastrophic, the foreigner feels nervous and therefore, despite probably the best efforts and intentions of the Immigration Office staff, the whole thing collapses – like when (I was told) a loud American at an Immigration Office one day lost it and started abusing (verbally) the staff who were attending him, so they cancelled his visa right there and then, and he was out. As I found out first with my experience at Suwon and then more recently in Daegu, a little patience and humour goes a long way.

In the event, it took a huge amount of said ‘patience’ to get the thing sorted. Why? Because when I went up to the Immigration desk at the allotted time, the first thing the (lady) officer said was to ask where the Proof of Residence was; as it turned out, the new company had not included this in the original bundle that they gave me. Secondly, I was told at the time that it should be in my Inbox because it was sent by e-mail, but when I returned home that night, before sitting down to do at least some minimal prep before hitting the sack, I checked both of the e-mail accounts to which documents had been sent by the company, and could find said attachment in neither of them. Finally, it just so happened that the company manager was in the US at the time (!!!), and it took some four hours to get a copy of the housing contract faxed directly to the Immigration Office to complete the process. Again: I kid you not.

What we can observe here is the contrast between a straightforward transfer of visa sponsorship (because that’s what it was, and that’s how it should have been) and one compounded by inattentiveness on the part of one (or both) parties… there was at least one other complicating factor here, but I will not labour the point. I think it’s fair to say that in this particular case, difficulties arose because of the habit amongst the natives to not discuss with (or to make aware) their co-workers about what they are doing in the event that a crisis emerges and the co-worker has to (however temporarily) carry the can for them (a point which, oddly enough, figures large in the “Lesson Planning” component at my new employer…). I’ve seen it so many times, but this time it was almost catastrophic… you can’t mess about with Immigration, no matter how sympathetic they themselves may be.

As for myself… sometimes it feels as if I have a huge pot of ointment, the top is always open and it’s always so clogged with flies that it looks like a good old Spotted Dick pudding (but where’s the fucking CUSTARD???); but even though their involvement in my life is so fundamental and potentially life-changing, it would be wrong to single the Immigration Offices and the Ministry of Justice out because they are not the only insects trapped in my personal pot of cream. The ‘trouble’ is that they require a stack of documents for compliance, and so many things can go wrong along the way; this is my main point here.

As an illustration of other complicating factors in my life here, recently, a letter arrived which (I was told) was an invitation to partake in cancer screening, as I am now in my (ahem) fifties , and It’s The Done Thing (meaning, there is probably a legal requirement involved); Joseph, my manager in the previous position, hinted that it might be free (well, whoopee…). And I have been lamenting for a long time now that the requirement to plan lessons and find or design materials (and seek out materials online) involves a lot of sitting down; the lifestyle is simply not healthy, so I have been adjusting my diet accordingly, but this sedentary occupation also means that losing weight is not easy.

And the involvement of the Seoul Immigration Office in the Big Picture does seem to complicate things further, but in the end, like myself, the staff there are merely small units within the big machine, and patience and politeness are the lubricants for all of the dubious cogwheels; and as I adumbrated long ago, whether we like (or understand) it or not, when we arrive upon the shores of Korea we are the real ambassadors of our peoples; if our complaint with regard to peoples such as the Koreans is that we are seen through eyes that cannot see us afresh, maybe we should remember that actions speak louder than words, and maybe the actions of those belonging to our own nations here, in the past, may not have been as good or as beneficial as we might like, and the only way to counter the negatives is to be positive ourselves.

Peeling Secrets…

Saw this on Yahoo this morning and the scales fell from my eyes… just goes to prove you’re never too old to learn something new!