Sunday, November 8, 2009

Episode 31: In Which DFM Tries To Become An Alien (Again), And Ends Up Getting Lost In A Maze

On Tuesday I had the second of two days off from work (go "pig plu!"). I decided it was time to stop procrastinating and that I should make a trip to the proper immigration bureau in Seoul. I can't remember if I had mentioned this in my last post but, for any of you who were not aware, last week I had trekked across the city (and by "trekked" I mean I rode the subway) to apply for my Alien Registration Card, as per the instructions attached to my work visa. However, when my number was finally called I was told that I was in the wrong office, and that I had to go to the new office. Since I forgot the exact name of the office, it took me half an hour of searching on the HiKorea website to find the address. Even forgetting the name aside, I couldn't find the address of any immigration office for half an hour. Click the link and see if you can do better. While the HiKorea website is easily one of the worst organized government websites I have ever seen, even when I did find the address things did not get any better.

The website did include the address hidden deep in its bowels, but did not include even rudimentary directions on how to find the building. Now, I should add here that it wasn't the end of the world, because I was able to find the location of the building and its nearest subway exit, via the wonders of Google maps and some private websites/blogs, but why was that even necessary? As far as I can tell, the HiKorea website is set up with the sole purpose of helping foreigners, so why wouldn't the site help foreigners find the Immigration Building (a building designed specifically to deal with foreigners), without forcing them to search for possibly unreliable information elsewhere?

Fast forward to when I actually got to the subway station. Wouldn't you know it, and I did kind of expect this the way things had been going, there was absolutely no mention of how to get to the Immigration Office from the subway station. There's always a neighbourhood map in each station, and the building was about a block away, so you'd expect a building as important as the Immigration building for all residents North of the Han River to be on it. Later, when I finally found the building through information I had received from an blog, whose author had the same problem as me, there was again no information inside of the building on how to find the Immigration Office! The person manning the information desk also couldn't speak English, so he was of little help. After some time of searching the building I located the Immigration Office, but it had inconveniently required me to pass through a maze of hallways to the back of the building and take a hidden stairwell to the second floor.

Once inside the office, the requisite forms to fill out were located as far away from the door as humanly possibly, hidden in one of the corners at the back of the room, and blocked from view by the seating area. This is relevant because the same forms were located right in front of the entrance at the other office, which in turn was located right near the entrance to the building, which had signs outside on the street directing pedestrians to its front doors. Additionally, the machine that hands out your number in line was hidden on the other side of the pillar, facing away from the entrance and the waiting room chairs so no one could see it.

Lest I sound like one of the numerous whiny foreigner bloggers already clogging up the Internet, I want it noted that I am not complaining that there was a lack of English signage. Certainly that would have helped me, but my complaint is that there was a lack of signage of any meaningful kind, as far as I could tell. I had actually gone to the trouble to learn the name of the Immigration building in Korean so I could find a sign outside if it existed, but it just didn't exist (as far as I could tell). Now that I think of it though, if any building in Korean may want to include a sign or two to help English speaking foreigners it's the Immigration building, which requires all English teachers and other foreigners who stay in Korea for over three months to register at the Immigration building.

While I have even more complaints, I feel it would be responsible to list some of the positive aspects of the new building and the Immigration department of Korea. Once I did find my way inside the office, and got my number, I found the workers to be incredibly fast an efficient. Unlike the workers at Everland/Carribean Bay, who wait a day and a half before letting the next person in line start the ride, the officers at the Immigration building give you all of about ten seconds to get to the desk after your number is called before they skip past you to the next number. The result is of course very low wait times, and a very happy DFM. Also, unlike Alberta, where it takes over two weeks to get your new driver's licence back from the government, my new Alien Registration Card will take less than a week to process.

To recap, Go Korea! Keep doing things as efficiently as you are once I get inside of your government buildings, but give me and everyone else a little help so we can actually get there in the first place.

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