Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Living in Korea: How I Got My Permanent Resident Visa

(Note: This post is NOT to be used as a reference for Korean Immigration policies. This is just to share my experience in applying for a permanent resident visa in Korea.)

After I finished my sixth year in South Korea, I was told I could already apply for a permanent visa since I held an E-7 visa continuously for six straight years. But at that time, I was required to present a TOPIK Level 2 certification, which I didn't have. TOPIK stands for Test of Proficiency in Korean, and I needed to pass at least Level 2.

But after my tenth year, that TOPIK Level 2 requirement was waived; I no longer needed it in my application for a permanent visa since I was told I completed a ten-year continuous stay in Korea under the same visa type.

So, I went to the Seoul Global Center in Jongno, Seoul, and with the help of the Filipino staff Robylyn, I was able to get the list of documents I needed. Robylyn helped me call the Immigration hotline 1345, who then enumerated to her the required documents and faxed to her the forms (other than the application form) I needed to accomplish. 

These are the standard requirements I submitted:

1. Application form with photo
(Download application form here.)

2. Passport and alien registration card

3. Current employment contract

4. Your employer's business registration 

5. Apartment rental contract (if the contract is not in your name, there's a document in Korean to be signed by the person who is the signatory to the lease contract of the apartment you live in).

6. Any postmarked letter addressed to you at the current address where you live. (The address should be the same as the one in the apartment rental contract.)

7. Letter of guarantee from a Korean citizen. (There's also a prescribed form for this letter written in the Korean language).

8. Latest income tax return (You can request this from any National Tax Service office. Your previous annual income in Korea should be 100% more than the per capita income in Korea.)

9. Transcript of records from my university with apostille. (In my case, I requested my transcript from my university and I had it apostilled with the Commission of Higher Education of the Philippines, which then sent it the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines (DFA) for authentication. After claiming it from the DFA, I asked a friend in Manila to bring it to the South Korean Embassy in Manila for authentication. I gave an authorization letter to that friend so she could request authentication on my behalf.)

10. Clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation of the Philippines (I applied for the clearance at the Philippine Embassy in Seoul and had the application sent to the Philippines. And when I flew home for a vacation that year, I visited the nearest NBI office to facilitate the process. The clearance was released days after and was claimed by someone whom I authorized.)

11. Processing fee of KRW230,000

Other than the standard documents required above, I also submitted these documents which I thought could help in the approval of my application:

12. Photocopy of my Korean bankbook (I photocopied the last page and the information page that included my name, signature and bank account number).

13. The latest statement of pension plan balance from the National Pension Service. (This statement is sent to any pension plan holder in South Korea, or you can visit their office and request for your latest statement).

14. The latest statement of investments from the securities firm to which my annual severance payments were deposited. 

15. Certificate of Award from the Seoul City Mayor when I won in the Seoul International Essay Writing Competition

16. Certificate of Appointment as a World Korea Blogger from the Director of Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS)

17. Letters of blood donation results from my numerous blood donation at the Korean Red Cross. (Since I didn't have any certification from the Korean Red Cross, I submitted these letters as proof that I was a regular blood donor. These letters are sent to the blood donor days after the actual bloodletting; it contains the blood tests done on your donated blood.)

Note: You can add more documents, e.g., scholastic diplomas from Korean schools/universities, certificates of awards in Korea, certifications from your volunteer work in Korea, certificates from competitions you won, and other achievements in Korea.

I submitted all those documents in mid-November and I received an SMS on my phone late December (about 36 days after) advising me that I could already get my new alien card. So in my case, it took about 36 days for the processing and approval of my application. 

                              *  *  *  *  *

As I mentioned above, this post is only to share my experience in applying for a permanent residency visa in Korea. Do visit the Korean Immigration website for official policies:

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Creative Masks @ Bacolod City's 2017 Masskara Festival

When elaborate masskaras start to be displayed around Bacolod City in the Philippines, it only means one thing: it's the Masskara Festival!

My mom and I stumbled upon this display of masskaras while we were at a local mall in Bacolod City, and were impressed with the creativity and ingenuity.
                (A feng shui masskara that would 
           probably balance the energies of your face)

The Masskara Festival was organized in 1980 when the city of Bacolod and the province of Negros Occidental needed 'something' to raise the spirit of the city and the province from the gloomy atmosphere brought about by the tragedy of the sinking of M/V Don Juan and the decline in the prices of sugar, which is the main product of the island.

The maritime vessel M/V Don Juan carrying passengers from Bacolod City and Negros Occidental sank upon its collision with a tanker. About 700 Bacolodnons and Negrenses perished. That time, everyone in Negros Occidental knew someone who knew someone who died in the tragedy. It was a very sad year.
        (This is the most elaborate masskara I have 
              ever seen, and probably the one that 
                 would break my neck if I wore it)

   (This one looks like an elegant peacock from afar)

              (Black feathers and gold motif)

Then came the idea of the Masskara Festival.

The organizers of the festival thought of naming it mass-kara, a combination of the word 'mass', meaning crowds, and 'cara', the Spanish word for face, because if you're attending the Festival, it will be crowd of smiling faces, capitalizing on Bacolod's reputation as the City of Smiles.

              (This looks very Carmen Miranda)

               (This masskara looks very irony)

And with the masks came the competitions such as masskara costume-making, street-dancing, and Masskara Queen, a beauty contest. All these inspired by Venice's masquerades, Rio de Janeiro's Carnival, and New Orlean's Mardi Gras.

    (This reminds me of a Venetian mask costume)

             (Looks like the creator used recycled 
               materials to create this masskara)

             (The creative masskaras on display at a 
                           Bacolod City mall)

So, if you're attending the Masskara Festival in Bacolod City this week, with or without a mask, you'll definitely be wearing a smile all week long!

Have fun!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Chicken Inasal @ Bacolod City's Masskara Festival!

It's the Masskara Festival again in Bacolod City in the Philippines next week. And aside from the colorful and creative masks that you'd definitely want to try on, the Negrense cuisine should also be in your must-try, or in this case, must-eat list!

And on top of that list should be chicken inasal!

And for every tourist that takes a bite of the most famous Negrense barbecue, I am sure that the memory of that bite - a bite of the chicken barbecue marinated in vinegar, lemongrass, soy sauce, calamansi, brown sugar, ginger, sweet lemon soda, and black pepper, and basted with annatto oil, salt, calamansi, and margarine will definitely stay on longer than the colorful mask.

So if you're like me who's dropping by Bacolod City soon for the Masskara Festival, you'll not only enjoy the flavors of the Negrense cuisine, but will also keep coming back for more! :-)

Friday, 29 September 2017

A Pinoy @ The Movies: American Assassin

Since the cinemas are about an hour's ride from where I live, I just had to make sure I was efficient with my time in the mall. I studied the screening hours of the movies that day, and watched two: American Made and American Assassin. (The ticketing ladies already recognize me; I'm their patron who watches more than one movie in a day.)

American Assassin is like the kindergarten's version of SALT. It had vengeance, a nuclear threat, and rigorous hand-to-hand combat training, but without the Angelina Jolie's killer action scenes. 

In the movie SALT, there's an endearment to Angelina Jolie's character. She was both a victim and a 'good guy'. Of course, more than anything, she was very gorgeous! (I have seen her in person, by the way. And my jaw dropped, too!)

Here in American Assassin, Dylan O'Brien's character was just a heartbroken guy, who joined the CIA because he wanted revenge for his girlfriend's death. 

Although I like the movie's multiple European locations, such as Ibiza, Istanbul, and Rome, because I felt like a tourist watching it, the film looked like it was just a walk-through on how bad guys organize a terror plot and how good guys respond to it. 

Dylan O'Brien looked like all aspiring actors in Los Angeles, and Michael Keaton's character as his trainer could have been played by a dozen other guys, too. But what surprised me though was Taylor Kitsch showing up as Ghost, a rogue agent who peddled weapons-grade uranium and double-crossed them in the end.

If you haven't seen Taylor in John Carter, he was the earthling who teleported between Earth and Mars half-naked. Here, in American Assassin, I initially didn't recognize them until he spoke in that husky "ock ohem ocktei wies Barsoom" voice. That movie, John Carter, had one amazing theme song, by the way.

Perhaps, I shouldn't be asking too much from this film. After all, I watched two films that day with one being worth the sitting. Okay, two were worth the sitting. But I only recommend Tom Cruise's American Made. Ha-ha-ha!

Now, when is the next movie day? Or rather, movies day? :-)

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A Pinoy @ The Movies: American Made

Although I am somewhat hesitant to spend two hours these days watching a Tom Cruise movie, I was thankful this one was worth the sitting.

The last time I saw a Tom Cruise movie, it was a comedy, The Mummy. Yes, it was supposed to be fantasy thingy, but it turned out to be a comedy of sorts.

I have seen Tom Cruise in person. It was sometime in 2009 when he went to Seoul to promote his movie, Valkyrie, a movie where his character died. 

He was having the Valkyrie premiere in the mall where I was getting some goodies to bring home to the Philippines as my flight was a day away. I never intended to squeeze myself with the thousands of his screaming Korean fans that night. But since I knew the mall's floor plan very well, I just positioned myself at the cinema floor next to an elevator. I figured, he would be going up the cinema level using the lift because it was freezing outside. I only sat on a bench nearby and observed the security personnel's movements. I guess I should have been a spy myself. Ha-ha-ha! Because when I noticed them looking jumpy, I stood up and stayed near the barricade. And I was right! 

A few moments later, Tom Cruise got out of the elevator along with his not-so-friendly-looking bodyguards, and he started shaking hands and having selfies with his fans. A Hollywood superstar was just an arm's length from where I stood and I could have shaken his right hand, but I did not. I didn't want to share the millions of viruses and bacteria in his hands after touching other people's. Ha-ha-ha! So I just took his photo, and left the chaos to get my grocery downstairs. I knew my priorities.

Another movie where he died was Collateral.

We can add another one, American Made.

American Made is a true story of Barry Seal, who was a commercial pilot before he got bored flying the usual routes. The story on how he ended up working for both the CIA and the Medellin Cartel is even more fascinating because it is a true story. 

I didn't know he was involved in that Iran-Contra affair that shook the White House! And I was even amazed he personally knew the legendary Pablo Escobar! And Tom Cruise spoke Spanish!

You'll like this film, too, not because Tom Cruise was sort of Jerry Maguire-ish smiling character, but because it was well made and very informative, especially on how CIA, the Medellin Cartel, and the rebels made this man very rich, so rich that he had to bury suitcases of cash in his backyard!

So, if you have time this week, you better catch Tom before the Medellin Cartel does. :-)

PS. Watch out for the last scene where his wife ends up working at KFC but wearing a thick diamond bracelet.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Eigasai Japanese Film Festival: Sweet Bean (An)

Fortunately for me, the local news carried a clip of its opening day at a local cinema. That got me interested. With a boring Hollywood film showing that week alongside some Filipino films I found corny, these very fine Japanese films courtesy of the EIGASAI, the annual Japanese film festival in the Philippines organized by the Japan Foundation in Manila, provided me my best cinema experience that week.

As I scrolled down the list of Japanese movies on their list, I zeroed in on the Saturday time slot, and was curious about the 4PM movie: Sweet Bean (An).

'An' is the Japanese word for sweet beans, and sweet beans are the ingredients of my favorite snacks in Seoul: patpingsu (red beans in shaved iced) and patpang (red bean bread). So what better way to enjoy the weekend than watching a Japanese film that features my favorite snack!

When I got to the SM Cinema in Bacolod City, the queue was already long, and they only had 300 seats available. My fellow Bacolodnons only waited for about 30 minutes before we were allowed in.

     (My pasta lunch in the mall before the movie)

(The long line for the Sweet Bean movie screening)

Sweet Bean is a story of how a middle-aged man struggling in his sweet bean bread business as well as in his miserable life learned both about life and a few culinary lessons from an old woman, who was discriminated by neighbors and society because she had leprosy.

Although the plot seemed simple, it was the dialogue that made me love this film. And with the help of the English translation of the Japanese actors' words, I sensed the soul of the film. Bravo to the translators!

Bravo, too, to the main actors, Kirin Kiki, playing the old woman, and Masatoshe Nagase, playing the middle-aged man. This is what I love about Japanese actors. Just like their minimalist homes, their acting is about 'less is more'

And if you like cherry blossoms, you will love the scenes where the trees are abloom with the dainty petals decorating the streets and alleys of their neighborhood in Japan. It made me wonder where in Japan was the setting of the movie. 

Sweet Bean is both a culinary lesson and an existential reminder for me. 

The process on how sweet bean paste as shown by Kirin's character made me appreciate the effort put into making the paste made of beans that have seen the four seasons, and before they are turned into one of my favorite snacks (in Korea).

And the lines, especially those spoken by Kirin's character, reminded me that we all should live in the moment and appreciate the good things, however small.

And in case you have the chance to watch Sweet Bean, make sure you read the English subtitles carefully. Those words will not only make you appreciate the movie; they'll also make you appreciate your life.

Again, thank you to Eigasai!

Friday, 8 September 2017

Lucio and Merlita (A Short Story)

Introduction: As I watched the full moon rose tonight, I was inspired to write this piece about the interesting Philippine aswang. 

I hope you'll enjoy this, too. - ALD

                             *   *   *   *   *

Lucio, squatting on the ground, is continuously caressing the dark feathers of his prized rooster. Man and bird are reunited at a backyard surrounded by santol and marang trees. As dusk has passed, their reunion is lit only by the burning cigarette pinched between Lucio’s chapped, dark lips, creating a silhouette of the two farm creatures. Their relationship only involves monologues from the human, although it is difficult to tell if the bird agrees with everything he says.

Lucio thinks his feathered warrior should be ready in two weeks to battle other roosters at the bulangan, or cockpit. Feeling the bird’s muscled legs and sharp claws, Lucio already imagines the bloody fight scenes amidst shouts from the bettors. His imaginings of blood only make him drool. The sight of it somehow always creates a craving, whether it’s daytime or night fall. His interest in the bird suddenly ceases. He stands and leaves his rooster under his hut where it lodges. He is not worried about the bird getting away, nor is he worried about it being stolen.

Lucio and his wife, Merlita, work at the hacienda fields planting and harvesting sugarcane. That morning, they woke up just as the rooster crowed.  They had a restful sleep; last night was quiet and uneventful. They did not leave their kubo in the middle of the night.

But tonight is different. In the next hour, a full moon will rise over Mount Silay to the east and hover over the hacienda fields. Lucio and Merlita have been looking forward to this natural phenomenon. Natural to many, but to the couple, it will be more than just a moon.

Soon, the moon will illuminate the sugarcane fields, bathing all nocturnal creatures worshipping its ascent across the Visayan skies with its lunar light, Lucio and Merlita will join the others of their kind in celebrating their malevolent existence while covering themselves in unholy oil that they prepared in a mystical ceremony of diabolical incantations carried out in total darkness during the cuaresma.

Lucio and Merlita are aswang, creatures of the night whose kind has been talked about and feared in the countryside for generations. An aswang is notorious for feeding on human flesh, hunting its victim in the dead of the night while everyone is sleeping. The couple live a secret life among plantation workers in a hacienda of clustered huts, carabaos, and gossipy neighbors.

The moment is near. The couple can no longer contain their excitement. They hasten to finish their cold dinner of fish and rice. As their hut, lit only by a lone, oil-lamp light, stands far from a crowded cluster of other homes, no neighbor will see them welcome the red moon. They will squat on a sturdy santol branch drenched in oil and recite their Hiligaynon incantations without any worry of any neighbor seeing or hearing them.

And it is time.

The childless couple gets up from their small table leaving the dirty plastic plates behind. She quickly splashes her hands with water stored in a banga and goes to get their special oil, the lana secretly hidden in her small aparador. In a bottle that used to contain liquor, the lana starts to produce bubbles, a sign that an aswang is in the midst.

Lucio is still wearing his work clothes of brown camisa and dirtied pants, and Merlita is in her sleeveless daster, which made them look underdressed for the special occasion.

Lucio heads out to their backyard followed by his wife who now starts to rub herself with the oil, which she then shares with Lucio, and both start to drool and scratch. The moment of total darkness before the moonrise creates the itchy sensation in an aswang.

In the dark, the two skillfully climb the santol tree like lizards and settled on a big branch high up the tree facing east. As they squat on the branch, the two continue to deliriously scratch with their finger nails grazing through oil and pungent body odor. Scratching their heads and back, and even their genitalia, they rub against the branch and slowly lose their humanity.

The moon’s tip now peeps through the mountain, and minute by minute, its size slow grows revealing a pale red light. The eerie silence in the hacienda is now ruined by dogs howling with Lucio and Merlita joining the chorus growling like rabid dogs.

Their appearance changes. Their eyes turn red and their disheveled hair stands like the wavering sugarcane leaves before a harvest. Staring at the moon, they produce inhuman sounds and gape as their odorous saliva drips from their mouth drenching their clothes already wet from oil and smelly sweat.

The huge red moon climbs above the mountain. It is now the brightest spectacle in the night sky, imposing its presence over humans and other beings, including the two squatting creatures whose silhouette on the tree is a sight as rare as the moon.

Lucio and Merlita, fully bathed in light and oil, are now stronger with all their senses heightened. They can smell the fragrance of all the plants around them as well as the stench of a neighbor’s pigsty far away. This enables them to tell which hut shelters a newborn baby or a pregnant woman. The flesh of a young human is always another reason to hunt.

Suddenly, they smell smoke. Although their lone lamp at home is lit, this smell is strong and is mixed with the smell they hate the most, garlic!

And instead of reciting the incantations, Lucio screams in pain. A wet, sharp object pierces through his dirty shirt and slicing his side. It was a spear made from sharpened bamboo wet with water boiled with salt and garlic, and blessed with an oracĂ­on. He loses his balance and grabs Merlita with him. Both fall down to the ground and unto the thick roots of the santol. 

The two realize they have unexpected company: a group of male humans carrying fire torches and determined to spoil their romantic moonlighting. Under the torches’ flickering lights, Lucio tries to get up from the ground still grimacing in pain. He fends off a second spear, while his wife gets her first. Their growling has turned into screams of pain as salty water drenches them on the ground.

Merlita crawls forward with her oily hands clawing the leafy ground screaming at the attackers, but before she is able to jump from her feet towards them, she is silenced by another sharpened bamboo that skewers her through her foul mouth and down her throat like a fattened pig being roasted. Her growling and salivating stop but her body still writhes and squirms on the dirt like a headless snake.

With blood streaming from his side, Lucio tries to get up, but instead gets a hack from an espading, the same type of cane knife he uses in the sugarcane fields. The weakened male aswang tries to protect himself from the blade with his crossed arms, but the burning pain from the aswang antidote of salt and garlic was too much, making him lose his strength, and as he rises to his feet, he gets bayonetted on the stomach by another wet bamboo spear.

The couple in the middle of a bloody retribution is no longer bathed in the red full moon’s light, but in blood.

The couple has been notorious in the hacienda and in the neighboring villages. They have been known all these years as aswang, and are blamed for the mysterious deaths of children and pregnant women. On a few times, they have been recognized when they hunted at the neighboring village. Word got around, and without the notorious couple knowing, the hacienda people and their watchmen planned to finally catch the two. And this was the perfect time, the time when their attention was all on the rare red full moon.

No longer in command of their will and senses, the two helplessly accept the relentless hacking from the watchmen like chicken being chopped in preparation for tinola.

By now, the moon has finally reached the pinnacle of the night sky and is shining its light on the lifeless Lucio and Merlita through the thick santol leaves. Other than the moonlight and oil, the two are surrounded by their murderers and are covered with dirt, blood, and disdain.

The two never expected their end to be as brutal and quick as this. The whole hacienda will be talking about them even before the sun rises the next morning, and the fear of the aswang will hopefully disappear.  

And under their hut, Lucio’s rooster is no more. At dawn, it will crow to awaken a new master.