Thursday, September 1, 2011

It Took Long Enough...

After sending out the last email with out contact info, I figured it would just be best to bite the bullet and start a blog. I don't particularly like the idea of doing this for various reasons, but it appears to be more effective than creating an email list. My self-centered fear causes me to think a) no one wants the emails and b) I'll forget to add someone to the email and hurt their feelings (despite them not wanting the email in the first place).

McKenzie and I are beginning to get comfortable in our new place. It's a one bedroom apartment in Camberwell, which is in south London. We're in the building that has the blue fronts. South London isn't "known" for any kind of tourist attraction, but it's still London - still big, still loud, still ... different than what we're used to. I've grown tired of verbalizing cultural differences and don't have the energy to illustrate much at the moment. In short, the biggest disconfirmed expectation is about the food - it's not bad. Maybe we just don't have sophisticated palates.

It's been a long few weeks. I'll spend the next few days posting bits of our move to date.

Applying for Visas (an expensive comedy of errors):

What Kenz and I found out quickly was that we were alone in our experience. Not too many people really understand how to apply for a visa - no matter what type of visa it's going to be. Government websites are hard to understand and nobody knows their own country's immigration laws, much less some other country's.

McKenzie and I had to pay for her full first year's tuition in order for her to get some number that allowed us to begin the application process, which was a swift kick to the gut. It took 2 months for that paperwork to get processed, and we received this CAS number 3 days before the UK's immigration law changed (which happened to be on July 4th - I think somebody's still holding on to a resentment that is well over 200 years old). We had 3 days to begin our applications to ensure I would have the best opportunity to be legal as well. Of course, the applications are more intricate and challenging than most standardized tests, and timed - we only had an hour to finish the application once we started it online!

One question was whether or not we had been "convicted of a crime (including traffic violations)," which we thought meant speeding tickets. Turns out we were idiots, and there's a difference between speeding tickets and, say, vehicular manslaughter. We got an email saying we needed to provide more documentation for the speeding tickets - that they had been paid and whatnot. We sent more info, but never heard back. In the meantime, we were running out of days in America; we had booked our flights about two months ahead of time so that we could get cheap tickets. There was no way we would be leaving on time because the visa application included our passports, original marriage certificate, bank statements, diplomas, promise of our firstborn child, and the kitchen sink.

One cancelled flight and five emails to the British Consulate General later, we get confirmation about our visas.

We went to re-schedule our flights with the company that we used in the first place because we had "credit" with them - so long as we booked the same route and airline, we would only have to pay some penalties and the fare difference and we'd be fine. Bullshit. We booked the flight (or so we thought), but got an email the next morning saying they'd have to push us back to the next month. I called the company. There were seats open, but they refused to put us in them. I lost my cool, began yelling into the phone while in my in-law's garage (out of earshot, I thought), and wound up cursing at the man. I had the force of logic behind me, yet my yelling was in vain. I opened the door to come back inside to see McKenzie and her parents standing wide-eyed and horrified in the kitchen. Apparently I wasn't out of earshot. Her parents had not heard me yell before; I was mortified.

We couldn't wait that long, so went directly to the airliner's website. Of course, flights had doubled in the meantime.

About ten minutes later, we got our visas in the mail, but I was still so embarrassed about yelling that I couldn't get too excited. I wound up going to get the car appraised at Carmax. I wound up debating politics with the salesman while we waited for 45 minutes to get the car appraisal back. Their appraisals are good for seven days - after that, you have to go through the whole process again.

Well, I get home to find Kenz disconcerted: our visas don't actually go into effect until August 26th. We don't know what, exactly, that means - will we be able to rent a place? What about a bank account? Do we have to wait until they go into effect before we can do anything in the country?

But we just bought these expensive plane tickets! Again!

And I only have 7 days to sell the car at this price!

Why the Hell did they put an activation date for these visas that much later in the month?!


We wind up talking to a few different people and calming down. We find out that we'll be fine once we get there, but will have to leave the country for a day and return on or after the 26th in order to "activate" our visas. Otherwise, we will have "overstayed" the tourist visas we will be coming in on. My brain is already melting from frustration, fear, and confusion.

We are scheduled to leave Monday evening, August 9th. That day, Kenz and I are out running some last minute errands when a horrific thunderstorm engulfs us. We see a bolt of lightning strike a power line, shooting a blanket of sparks out into the street about 100 feet in front of us. I turn to Kenz:

"Are we practicing perseverance or are we just not getting the message?"

I was talking about the thunderstorm with my mom before we boarded the plane:

"Well, you know before Jesus died, there was a bad thunderstorm!"

I don't know what is more confusing/hilarious:

1. My mom is comparing me to Jesus
2. My mom assumes I (or anyone) would know that there was a bad thunderstorm before Jesus died.
3. My mom is assuming correlation implies causation.
4. The death of Christ is the first thing she thought of when I told her I saw a lightning bolt hit a power line while talking to her in the airport before I board a plane that will take me to London, England.

I used to kid around with her - telling her I was her "only begotten son." It was all fun and games till she brought up the crucifixion immediately before I get on this 8 hour flight.

Kenz and I set an over/under on how much we're going to have to pay for our extra (and extra heavy) luggage. I'm pretty sure I won. It was a lot.

Kenz's sister, Whitney, and parents, Patti and Michael, came with to send us off. My sister, Kara, hustled out to the airport after work as well - she gave us a photo album that had a bunch of cool pictures in it. We hugged it out and were on our way.

Arriving in London: 

The day before we left was when the rioting began. The day we were leaving, the rioting was gaining international coverage, but my friend Owen told me not to worry about it. He lives in London, so I trust his judgement. During our flight, the rioting got much more intense and spread to different boroughs. We had no idea, however, because we were on the plane watching movies and sleeping (Kenz had her headphones on when we hit a particularly disturbing bit of turbulence - she threw her hands up and yelped "WOOO" until she realized what she was doing. She blamed it on the fact that she'd forgotten she was wearing headphones - I blamed it on the double bloody mary she had right before boarding the plane. Either way, it was pretty hilarious.).

I spent most of the flight saying to myself "What the fuck did we just do?"

We landed, grumpy, and tried to get a cab to our hotel. Everyone looked at us as if we were crazy when we told them our hotel was in Peckham. Even the cab driver said, "I don't know if I can make it all the way there, but I'll try." We didn't understand what was going on until the driver told us that the rioting had spread to Peckham the night before. Two cabs had been burned that night in Peckham. 


So, we have no experience in the city, the country, no phone, no plan, no allies outside of our friend Owen, and way too much cash to be ok with getting mugged.

It's cool - not like there were riots outside our hotel the night before... oh, wait - that's right... there were. 

(I'll update one or two more times this weekend to get caught up. Pictures will be forthcoming as well.)