Sunday, March 22, 2015

Homeward Bound

After spending 2 years in Korea, it was finally time to return home to Australia. I took a gamble booking some dirt cheap tickets with Asiana Airlines about 10 months ago, but luckily Jihyen's 309 partner visa came through in time with 8 days to spare ^^. 


I had read some mixed reports about Asiana Airlines, so I was a little worried about what the 10 hour flight to Australia would be like. We flew with Asiana Airlines about a month prior from Korea to Singapore and it was a fairly modern aircraft. The plane we caught to Australia however.... I think it was from the 1990's. There was a decent normal (for economy) amount of space between the seats, but the in flight entertainment was very limited and didn't use touch screen control. You had to use the remote attached to your seat to navigate the menu's, and you had to tune into the 4 or 5 movies that played every 3 hours. But, that didn't dampen my spirits. The tickets, as I said, were dirt cheap AND I WAS FLYING HOME TO AUSTRALIA!!!


The meal they provided wasn't bad for airline food.


After spending 5 hours trying to get some sleep, I opened my window shade to see this... my first Australian sunrise in 2 years.


We have been back a little over a week now and are settling into a new routine. Please drive carefully, we now live here too! 


I'll update this blog from time to time, but I'd say this will be my last post for quite a while. Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Master Switch

Modern Korean apartments have all sorts of gadgets, one of which is a master switch conveniently located by the front door that can call the elevator, turn off the gas or all the lights before leaving the apartment.


We are crashing at Jihyeon's parents apartment all packed and ready to fly to Australia tomorrow. I just got up to get a drink of water from the kitchen. It was pitch dark in the hallway, so I tried to turn the hallway light on.... it didn't work. I pushed the button again... still not working. I then started repeatedly pressing it only to find out it isn't the hallway light switch. It is the master light switch for the whole unit and I was turning the bedroom lights on and off! Sorry everyone! The apartment must have looked like a Christmas tree from the outside. Just spent the last 5 minutes laughing hysterically with Jihyeon. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review - Happiness Tuk Tuk in Siem Reap

My wife and I recently traveled to Siem Reap - Cambodia for a week to escape winter in Korea and check out the ancient temples Cambodia has to offer. We hired a Tuk Tuk for 4 days and it was absolutely the best decision. I was originally thinking about riding push bikes  as I love cycling, but i'm happy we didn't. The weather was very very hot and humid and the temple complexes are massive. We wouldn't have been able to see half as much as we did if we rode push bikes, not to mention we wouldn't have known were to find air conditioned restaurants for lunch.



I read a glowing review about Mr Sarorn and his Happiness Tuk Tuk on a expat forum, so decided to book him for the week to drive us around Siem Reap. It is my pleasure to add another glowing review for his services to the internet in the hope that it will help him get more business so he can improve his standard of living and put his two children through school. 

If you hire Mr Sarorn and his Happiness Tuk Tuk, you will get:

  1. A driver who can speak English.
  2. A driver who is fully licensed, safe and cautious on the road.
  3. A driver who is on time and never late.
  4. A driver who is honest and won't try to rip you off.
  5. A driver who won't try to sell you stuff.
  6. A driver who will keep an eye out for you when you finish exploring the temple and give you a friendly wave, helping you to identify him and his Tuk Tuk among a sea of identical Tuk Tuk's outside each temple. 
  7. A driver who will greet you with FREE bottles of cold water when you return from exploring temples. 
To hire him for the full day will cost between US$15 and US$30 depending on how far you want to travel and the price of fuel (which is quite expensive in Cambodia). 

You can contact Mr Sarorn though his website www.happinesstuktuk.com. By hiring him directly yourself and not through a travel agent or hotel, you will get a better price AND ensure that every dollar you pay him goes to him. Many hotels and travel agents will take as much as 75% of the money you pay as a commission. 

If you are traveling to Siem Reap, hire Mr Sarorn and his Happiness Tuk Tuk. By hiring him you will help him provide a brighter future for his two children and improve his poor standard of living while enjoying your stress free holiday. 

Even Gundi, my well traveled childhood teddy bear had fun.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Australian Partner Visa

Applying for an Australian partner visa is a royal pain in the ass. Australian immigration will want to know every excruciating detail about your relationship and charge you thousands of dollars in the process. 



If you find this information useful, please share it with others. It can be a daunting process. If you have jumped through all the hoops, please feel free to leave a comment about your experience with Australian immigration below. 

Before we start, enjoy this funny immigration video. 

How much does a 309 or 820 temporary/permanent partner visa cost?
The Australian government bumps the price up every year, but in 2014 it was $3085 if you apply outside Australia, and a whopping $4575 if you apply in Australia. There are also a range of other costs which need to be considered too, such as medical checks, marriage certificates, document certifications, document translations, criminal record checks, postage and printing fees. I'll discuss these other expenses in further detail later, but the up to date visa pricing info can be found here

Entry to Australia date and partner visa expiry.
As you gather your documents and submit your visa application, there is one critical thing you need to be mindful of. Once you have jumped through all the immigration hoops and the visa is finally issued, on the visa will be a date which you MUST ENTER AUSTRALIA BEFORE otherwise your visa will be declared invalid. This date is tied to the validity dates of any health and character checks. When I inquired for more specific information, I was told it would be 12 months after the date on the medical check. You can request an extension, but this must be done at the time of the application and you will be asked to get a second medical check at a later date. You can find more info here, in the partner migration booklet issued by the department of immigration and border protection. 

Can I enter Australia before my 309 partner visa is granted?
If you have applied from outside Australia and some kind of emergency pops up requiring to be in Australia before your 309 partner visa has been granted, you can contact immigration/your case officer and ask them to put a hold on your application. This really is a last resort as you will have to leave Australia again in order for your visa to be granted. If you can't bare to be apart, plan accordingly. Apply from inside Australia or live together outside Australia until the visa is issued.

Can I leave Australia before my 309 partner visa is granted?
This is a similar deal to above. If you applied for your visa from within Australia but an emergency pops up (maybe a death in the family in your home country) requiring you to leave the country for a short time, you can ask immigration/your case officer to put a temporary hold on your application while you conduct your business outside of the country. 

What evidence do I need to provide?
There is a pretty long list of evidence you need to provide to prove that your relationship is genuine and ongoing. You can find more info here, in the partner migration booklet issued by the department of immigration and border protection, but here is a quick summary. 
  • Statements about the history of your relationship
  • Statutory declarations by people you know
  • Financial aspects of your relationship.
  • The nature of your household
  • The social context of your relationship
  • The nature of your commitment to each other. 
By the end, we compiled over 260 pages of evidence. We printed it all out and bought a cheap ring binder to hold it all. We probably went a little overboard with supporting evidence, but considering the application fee is over $3000, I didn't want to take any chances. I just went through the check list and included everything it asked for. This was the result. 


Who can I contact for help?
I found the Australian Embassy in Seoul to be very helpful. They responded to all my questions clearly and quickly. Website here. 

You could also use a migration agent, but if you are prepared to sit down and read all the information provided by Australian immigration there is no reason you can't do it yourself. If you do use a migration agent, make sure they are a certified migration agent for Australia. If you do use a migration agent, you are probably looking at a minimum of 4000 in extra fees, on top of the standard visa application fees, so taking the time to read and understand the the partner migration booklet is worthwhile. 

Where can I find the statutory declaration form for immigration. 
You want form no.888, which can be found here, statutory declaration by a supporting witness in relation to a Partner or Prospective Marriage visa application. 

How can I save some money on the visa documents?
In Australia you can get documents certified by a JP for free. In Korea we had to go to a lawyer to get documents certified. Happily though the service was very cheap. Only 25,000won ($25) compared to $150 in Australia. Jihyeon (my wife) did the translation from Korean to English herself, and then got the lawyer (who also offered a translation service for an additional 25,000won) to verify her translation as correct. 

How to apply for a Canadian criminal record check from overseas. 
Since my wife spent a couple of years living in Canada, we had to get a Canadian criminal record check too. I can recommend "Worldwide Forensic Services Inc". We got the local police station in Korea to take my wife's fingerprints, and then posted them to worldwide forensic services, who scanned them and forwarded them to the Canadian government for a criminal record check. All up it came to $120.

Australian immigration interview
We have not been asked in for an interview yet. If/when we are, I'll post an update. There is however a lot of good information on Australian immigration interviews here. Check it out.

Australian partner visa processing times/How long does it take to get a 309 visa?
You can find the official line on processing times on the immigration departments website here, but I've found that in 2014/2015 the processing times have blown way out. We applied outside of Australia through the Australian Embassy in Seoul. Korea is classified as a low risk country, so it should have taken about 5 months. We were told the queue was 9 to 12 months. In the end, our visa was issued after 9 months and 1 week. I have friends in Australia who applied for a partner visa from inside Australia for their Korean wife/partner and their applications took a whopping 18 months to be processed. 

Should I use a migration agent?
If you have the time, doing all the research and paperwork yourself is definitely doable and can save you thousands of dollars (i.e. at least $4000). The information booklet is a great source of information and I found my answers were always answered promptly by the Australian embassy in Seoul. If you are short on time/lazy/flush with cash, there are a list of registered migration agents you can choose from. I didn't spend a lot of time investigating the migration agent rout though, so I can't comment on it any further. 

Where do I go for the Australian Visa Health Check/Medical Exam?
If you are outside Australia, check out the Australian embassy website for your country for a list of hospitals that you can go for a medical checkup for. In Korea there are a handful of hospitals you can go to (see here for the list), but they are all in either Seoul or Busan. We went to Severance Hospital in Seoul since it was open on Saturdays. 




Do I need to fast for my Australian Visa Health Check/Medical Exam?
No, you don't need to fast. It is OK to eat or drink before going for your visa health check. My guess is that it is because the blood test is just checking if you are positive for HIV, A test for which it doesn't matter if you eat before hand. 

List of useful links
Here are some websites I found useful for reading up on the visa application/migration process and what is involved. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Singapore

Flying to Singapore for a few days was kind of a spur of the moment plan. I was suffering from the winter blues in Korea so Jihyeon convinced me into going to Singapore, a place I've wanted to visit ever since I watched a documentary on the construction of Gardens by the Bay

Daejeon has a limousine bus (it has super comfortable spacious seats) that goes directly to the Incheon airport. The trip takes about 3 hours and is much easier than catching the train. 


Incheon airport was crazy busy. It took us 2 hours to get through security. Lots of Koreans were traveling in the lead up to Seollal (the lunar new year in Korea) which generally falls on the same day as the Chinese new year. Seollal is a 3 day celebration where many Koreans gather with their families and (depending on their religious leanings) perform an ancestral ritual called charye



We knew there was a long delay to get through security and allowed buckets of time. Once through security we had a couple of hours to kill, so we stopped in at an airport lounge where Jihyeon has free membership with her credit card. 



The buffet was ok, not great. I think I would rather just stop in at McDonald's in future....



But we made the most of it...



and enjoyed looking down on the peasants walking past. 



After eating as much fried chicken as I could at the buffet, we made our way to our gate. 



We arrived in Singapore around 1am and quickly headed to our hotel. The next morning we got up and started to explore Singapore. We started walking towards the Marina Bay Sands hotel which we could see in the distance, towering above the city. Below are some pictures of Clarke Quay, a dining and shopping hot spot along the river on the way to the bay. 

Singapore had done well to maintain a lot of their older heritage buildings. 





Marina Bay Sands hotel in the distance with their iconic infinity pool on the roof. 



It was really nice to get out in the sun again. I could already feel the winter blues getting blasted away and my body working overtime producing vitamin D. 



Lots of seafood in Singapore. 







We finally reached Marina Bay. 



Preparations for Chinese New Year were in full swing. 



Across the helix pedestrian bridge is the Marina Bay Sands hotel (left) and the ArtScience Museum (right). 

In the shade of the ArtScience Museum is an awesome water lily garden. A great place to rest from the baking Singapore sun. 











Hungry, we entered the huge shopping center adjacent to the Marina Bay Sands hotel looking for somewhere to eat. On the basement level you can take a boat ride! Or as the guy in the picture did, take a boat ride with your son while staring hypnotically at your phone the entire time. 





We found a food court and set about choosing something to eat. 



Lots of choice. 





Nom nom nom. 





With stomachs full, we headed over to the Flower Dome in Gardens By The Bay. It's pretty crazy. The entire 3 acre 38 meter high greenhouse is air-conditioned and even on the hottest days maintains a temperature of between 23 and 25 degrees Celsius. That I thought was just unbelievably crazy, but cool (no pun intended). 




The conservatories are made with special glass that simultaneously allows light for plants and reduces heat with a sensor-equipped roof that is able to provide shade for the plants if it gets too warm. 



Lower levels are cooled through water pipes while the warm air rises and is vented out at higher levels. 



Before the air is cooled, it is first de-humidified with a liquid desiccant. This reduces the amount of energy required to cool the air. The desiccant is then recycled using the waste heat from the burning of the biomass. 



Electricity is generated to cool the conservatories. This is achieved with a combined heat power steam turbine which, fed by horticultural waste from the Gardens. 



The Supertrees (huge man made trees I have pictures of below) have solar cells on their canopies which also generate electricity. There are also solar panels integrated with the conservatories. 



Put it all together, and you get not one but two massive air-conditioned greenhouses that are environmentally sustainable. 



Smell those flowers!





With the Chinese New Year just around the corner, the Flower Dome featured all the animals on the Chinese lunar calendar. Mine is Ox. 



Jihyeon's sign is rat. 





This year is year of the goat. 





The garden replicates a mild, dry climate and features plants found in the Mediterranean and other semi-arid tropical regions (e.g. parts of Australia, South America, South Africa).





You can faintly see the Marina Bay Sands through the roof on the right. 







Next to the Flower Dome is another monstrous air-conditioned greenhouse called the Cloud Forest. 



Its claim to fame is a 35 meter waterfall, the world's tallest indoor waterfall. Gundi (my teddy bear) also decided to make an appearance. 



The Cloud Forest dome is slightly smaller (only 2 acres) than the flower dome, but it is the taller of the two domes. 



The Cloud Forest dome houses a 42 meter high "Cloud Mountain" which is accessible by elevator. 



A new garden display under construction, featuring Lego plants. 




Once you reach the top by elevator, you descend the mountain by a walkway that....



wraps itself around the mountain. 



The mountain is clad epiphytes such as orchids, ferns, peacock ferns, spike- and clubmossesbromeliads and anthuriums. It consists of a number of levels, each with a different theme.




"Cloud Mountain" replicates the cool moist conditions found in tropical mountain regions between 1,000 and 3,000 meters above sea level, found in South-East Asia, Middle- and South America.





Outside, the greenhouses are just as spectacular. 



The Supertrees are tree-like structures that tower above the Gardens' landscape with heights that range between 25 and 50 meters. 


The Supertrees are vertical gardens that perform multiple functions within the garden, the most obvious being shade. 



Gundi decided to make another appearance. 



Adjacent to the Supertrees is a large lake which incorporates key ecological processes. It acts as a filtration system for water from the gardens, reducing the water flow and filtering out sediments and absorbing nutrients such as nitrogen. It also provides habitats for biodiversity such as fishes and dragonflies. Water from the lake is also used to irrigate the garden. 



Strung between the supertrees is an elevated walkway called the OCBC Skyway, offering a panoramic aerial view of the garden and the bay. 




Walking around the supertrees is free, but if you want to go up on the OCBC Skyway you need to purchase a S$5 ticket. 



At 22 meters above the ground, it gives you a birds eye view of the garden.




The 128 meter walkway is a large arc passing between two of the biggest supertrees in the garden.



Beautiful blue sky. I recommend coming here in the afternoon after the hottest part of the day has passed. 






Back on the ground, we had a rest in the shade of a supertree. 



I'd love to come back in a few years when the vines have completely covered the supertree structures. 



We grabbed a bite to eat at a restaurant in the garden. Damn, it was expensive. The part that stung most was the 17% tax (7% GST + 10% service tax) that was not included on the menu price.



With stomach's full, we went back to see the supertree's at night. 



As you can see, they take on an awesome Avartar glow at night. 



Periodically the colours change.







We said goodbye to the garden and stared heading back to our hotel.



But not before one last photo.



Just as we left, we were treated to a fireworks show in the garden.




Back by the Marina Bay Sands hotel we stopped to find people gathering for some kind of show.



It was some kind of fire, laser and water show.




Merlion park across the water in the distance. 



The next day we dropped by china town for a visit. It was in full swing preparing for the Chinese New Year. 




This guy was painting in gold (Jihyeon said there was real gold in the paint).




One of the many stores packed with Chinese nick-nacks. 




It was a hot day, so we stopped by a juice bar for some juice. 



mmmm, mango juice. 



We stumbled across this food street which was packed with restaurants.



This place looked nice, so we headed in. 



This was probably the best meal we had in singapore. It tasted great! We ordered the beef and chicken noodle dishes with some lamb kebabs on the side. Happily, we didn't get hit with the 17% tax here. 




No! Don't take my photo!



Stop it!



Gotcha!


  

Hanging laundry out your window to dry seems to be the norm in Singapore. I've never seen this in Korea, even though apartment space is limited. 



I thought this was some kind of really old temple, but it turns out it isn't. The temple is based on the Tang dynasty architectural style, but was constructed in 2007 at a cost of S$62 million. It doesn't make it any less amazing though. 



It is free to visit, but you have to follow a few rules. One of which being that women must cover their legs. There are some skirts you can borrow (for free) as you enter. 



It was a lot different to the Buddhist temples in Korea.


Everything was so "golden" in colour and there were hundreds of unique small Buddhas lining the walls that worshipers could drop money in bowls for.   





One of the hundreds of unique Buddhas set into the wall.




After checking out China town we had some time to kill so we wanted around the marina again. That night we were planning to ride the Singapore Flyer, the giant ferris wheel in the picture below..



We rested in the shade by the lily pond again.



And then found a street market to have a bite to eat.



nom nom nom. No 17% tax here!



Once night fell, we headed to the Singapore Flyer for a night view of the city. It was the world's tallest ferris wheel, topping out at 165 meters, until one in Vegas beat it by 2.6 meters. 



You can see the Singapore Marina Barrage, a dam built at the confluence of 5 rivers across the marina channel. By keeping seawater out, it provides water storage and flood control. When it rains heavily during low-tide, the barrage’s crest gates will be lowered to release excess water from the reservoir into the sea. If heavy rain falls during high-tide, the crest gates remain closed and giant drainage pumps are activated to pump excess water out to sea.




Marina Bay Sands on the left, and the Singapore CBD on the right. 



Oh, I forgot to mention that today was Jihyeon's Birthday! After riding on the Singapore Flyer, we stopped to buy some ice cream.



I made sure to mention to the girl serving us that it was Jihyeons birthday and she should stuff as much ice cream in the cup as possible ^^.



nom nom nom.



It's delicious! You should have some!



Oh no. It's melting!

Quickly!



Ahh, It's on my hand!



We found a place to sit and eat the ice cream with a view of the gardens across on the other side of the bay.




On the way back to our hotel, we stopped by in China Town to take a photo of the Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple at night.




and the famous Chinese food street at night.



The next morning before heading to the airport, we stopped off at the Marina Bay Sands hotel to go up to the observation deck and check out the city one last time.




Singapore still has close ties with it's heritage as a port city. Adjacent to the CBD is the shipping terminal.






One last sunset.



We then jumped on the subway to go to the airport. It was ridiculously cheap! Only about $3. Some cities (cough Brisbane... cough Sydney) could take a page out of Singapore's book. 



The subway system in Singapore is still quite new and, like the rest of Singapore, is very clean.



We bought a ticket and jumped on the train.



It has awesome maps with lights showing what station you are at and where you will stop next.



AND THE TRAINS ARE FULLY AUTOMATED! NO DRIVERS! I'm standing where the driver would normally be. 



Once at the airport, we checked in and headed for our gate. We had some time to kill, so we stopped off to have a FREE foot massage in one of the massage stations dotted around Changi Airport. 



What a way to finish the trip.