davidn: (skull)
As Whitney is still somehow under the impression that I have ambitions to become a citizen of this country, I've been looking at the form that you have to fill in in order to apply. From what I can tell from the instructions, having gone through all of the fiancee visa and residence processes and paid a fee for them to look at each one, I'm now required to come in through the naturalization process, which costs $675. (Generously, there is also an "Application for Posthumous citizenship" that costs nothing to file if you only want to start becoming a citizen after you've died.)

Dealing with the immigration services or any of their forms is like a constant reminder of the futility of everything you do in life, but I've worked out that I fall under category 2 of the groups of people who can apply for citizenship, having been a permanent resident retroactively for three years AND married to the same US citizen for three years AND that citizen has also been a citizen for three years. Firefox is so disgusted by the pair of them that it just crashes when you try to view them in it (but it's Adobe Reader - this isn't exactly unusual for it), so after downloading the instructions (7 pages including Paperwork Reduction Act note) and form (14 sections, 10 pages), let's have a look at the questions that I have to answer this time...

The Great Inquisition )

That's a whole lot of money saved, then.
davidn: (Jam)
I've just noticed that the comments on the last entry are coming up on my LJ home page as "[Username] in Butter" like some sort of cannibalistic main course of the day, so I feel the need to push it off the recent list as soon as possible.

We got back to Boston early on Monday morning, after a flight that seemed positively heavenly compared to the last time - with the vast amount of electronics I was carrying, it didn't even feel like I needed to do anything to actively pass the time. The city welcomed me back by giving me a massive shock from the first remotely metallic-looking thing I touched on arrival at the luggage area.

That day passed quickly, as most of it was spent asleep, but instead of staying at home the next day as well for jetlag recovery I managed to drag my carcass into work for a meeting. I feel most companies would be in trouble when the lead consultant finishes off his list of items with "Oh, and I'm moving to Paris", but he's worked from the opposite end of the country for most of the time I've been there anyway, and the only effect will be that we're back to having only three people in the immediate office again. (When I told my brother about our work situation near the start of my employment he asked "So are you like The IT Crowd?". I'll just leave it to your imagination whether the answer is 'yes' or 'no'.)

I phoned the immigration office yesterday as well, and I was naturally delighted to hear that on top of the sixty days that were expected to process my fingerprints there's actually an expected eight-month waiting period for getting a Really Permanent Residence card. So that should arrive in about five months now, and if I want to get out of the country at any time before then, I need to use my old expired card and the letter that they sent saying that my Not Very Permanent Residence had been extended for a year. But seeing as they haven't called me in for an additional interview yet, that means things are probably going just about as smoothly as you could expect.
davidn: (savior)
The latest in the line of interviews for my residence process was yesterday, and even though it was one of the most pointless-seeming yet, I don't actually have a whole lot to say about it because it was also one of the most painless.

I was told in the appointment letter that recording equipment wasn't allowed in the Application Support Center (which still sounds like a name Microsoft would have come up with), and so left my phone behind and had a large amount of hesitation in even bringing a music player - but in the end they didn't even check me for them when I got there. In fact, the whole thing was a lot more friendly than I've ever experienced before - something no doubt helped by the way that the place was almost completely deserted, so it didn't feel like I was part of a process as much as before - they even let me through half an hour earlier than my appointment time, which is pretty much unheard of.

The process was exactly the same as the one that I'd gone through in California a couple of years ago - it involved filling out a form about my personal details and physical features, then being let through to the area where complete rolls of prints of my fingers were taken along with my photograph (which looked rather a lot better this time than on any other occasions). The Japanese technician chose to disagree with me on my hair colour, but the whole process was very smooth and easy - I was even assured that they didn't need my social security number if I was at all unsure of it (I completely blanked on it under pressure) and could easily just get it with my application number. As well they should, I imagine, given just how many times they've been sent all this information already.

So that was all that happened - on the way back I even got an unusually nice doughnut from the Dunkin Donuts outside the station.

On the train, Damn the Machine happened to come on my iPod. The level of appropriateness of the general sentiment of it was not lost on me, but halfway through it I had an astounding private revelation that it was actually about Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream - the lyrics make it very blatant, using several identical phrases to the short story, and I was completely oblivious to it until that moment. (By the way, don't click on that link if you want to have any hope of being in a good mood for the next two weeks. The same goes for trying to get residence in America, but for the next two years instead.)
davidn: (savior)
Before I start, I'd just like to mention that for the last week and a half there's been a newspaper on the desk next to mine with the most depressing front page headline ever. "3 die as plane carrying cancer patient crashes". You'd half expect the subtitle to be something like "...into the local orphanage, with one hundred puppies on board". If it doesn't vanish soon I'm going to take it out to the recycle bins myself.

But in better news, we received yet another package from the USCIS today, and instead of being all our evidence back with a rejection notice as per usual, this time it was a notice telling me of an appointment time for my interview. The most unusual thing about this latest in a long line of cross-examinations is that it's convenient to get to - for the interview at the embassy in Britain I had to go to the other end of the country, and as if that wasn't bad enough, for the American biometrics appointment I also had to go to the other end of the quite considerably larger country. In a break from this surely willful idiocy, this time it's not only in reasonably the same part of the world as the one I live in, it's actually at a place that's just over a bridge from where I work. It's in the middle of the day early in September, not even before normal human people get up in the morning like the previous two were.

I have very little idea of what this appointment is for or what it's supposed to tell them that they don't know already, but the letter details that I just need to bring my acceptance notice and identification (which it worryingly refers to as an Alien Registration Card even though I have a Permanent Resident Card), and no recording equipment or mobile phones are allowed inside the building - in case you've hidden a Mooninite in either of them, presumably. Despite the usual huge forbidding paranoia, I have to quietly say that I'm now feeling as optimistic as could be expected about this.
davidn: (skull)
It - hurts. Just to keep this updated, I'd like it known that my petition to extend my residence to unconditionally permanent was rejected again yesterday (time to find that snooker cue), but this time it was a problem with us - in all the meticulous cross-checking of referenced dates and pieces of evidence submitted compared to how I was declaring them on the cover letter, I forgot one very obvious detail, and that was that the cheque did not have a written amount on it.

In their magnetic repellence of efficiency they sent the whole bundle back again with a note on it instead of just asking for a corrected cheque, and had once again stolen all our paperclips (perhaps they have a shortage). So this time we immediately added the few words needed, printed out a fresh I-Something form, and went back to the post office to send it for the third time. I hope that they would have mentioned any other problems at the same time if there were any other crippling ones, but I wouldn't be surprised if they just go through a procedure and reject it as soon as they come to the first problem. A bit like a BASIC interpreter.

At this rate I think I might have to start taking my pills again.
davidn: (skull)
しまった! The American Embassy has rejected our application for removal of conditions on my permanent residence status because it arrived too early and they expected it to get to them a maximum of "90 days before the second anniversary of the alien's resident status being approved". Where am I from, Neptune? Our efficiency (well, Whitney's efficiency - she organizes it all, I can't understand anything beyond the first line of the light blue letter they sent back to us) and anticipation of them taking too long again has been foiled by their willful safeguard against any efficiency taking place.

It is at least a fairly large mercy that they decided to send us the $545 cheque back instead of just cashing it and keeping quiet. Also included in the envelope were all the items of evidence of us living together that we gave them, the cut-out address section of the envelope we used, and the top sheets of the form with notes like "FSI 06squiggle02" written across them. The cover letter was noticeably absent, so we reprinted that and resisted the temptation to replace "All the best" at the end with "You're all idiots". I've been told to send it back on or after 7/27 (7th of Icosajuly), at which point they might get back to it.

At least our Economic Stimulus payment arrived yesterday. It's like an apology from the country to its population for being this useless for the last eight years.
davidn: (bald)
It's difficult to believe that it's the 7th of April again already. It doesn't seem anywhere near that long since I wrote that entry, or any of the entries in that month for that matter, but it means that I've now been living in America for nearly two years. And in that time I've still got used to virtually none of it. (The immigration papers for my removal of conditions have been sent off, by the way - we just have to wait for a reply.)

Living in Britain, we're taught from birth to sort of look down on Americans and their country for being loud and improper and making fun of our teeth, and I find it a complete comedy of fate that I ended up living there. But today I've been told that as it's the country's birthday I have to concentrate on the positive things that I've found in the last couple of years in Boston compared to my previously known life in Scotland. And after some not inconsiderable mental effort, I came up with some.
  • Cheaper in general
  • Though it doesn't directly affect me, extremely cheap petrol in particular (yes)
  • And I got a job in about a minute and a half, after all
  • Better public transport
  • Further away from France
  • And Whitney's aunt's flat
  • Sushi (admittedly from Japan)
  • Chow foon (admittedly from China)
  • Better Internet service
  • Jimmy Carr is not on television
  • Pizza delivery
  • Baby carrots
  • Decent chance of finding large stores closer than 15 miles away
  • Public toilets that are not utterly apocalyptic
  • Chavs have not yet been invented
  • Watermelon
  • Mythbusters
  • Waffles (batter type)
  • Actually, burritos are quite nice too
You'll probably notice that most of these are food-related, and while I am not particularly snobbish or picky about food (in fact, like all Scottish people I don't much care what bits of an animal I eat as long as they've been deep fried enough) it's one of the biggest things you notice when you move to a new country. As you'll have experienced if you've ever been to LiDL, everything is like a strange parallel universe where you think you recognize things but they have different names and don't taste quite how you remember them. But I'm having to realize that there are some things that you can get in America that are nowhere to be seen in Britain, even though I'm stranded without a significant amount of things common in Britain that America misses out on.

Although on one of our first trips to the local supermarket I was absolutely horrified to find cheese in a spray can. For pity's sake.
davidn: (skull)
Yes, it's time to open the "immigration" tag again. Hooray.

Part of why America and I have never got on is because as a complete entity it seems to resent me, either by dragging more and more money out of me with surprise fees like some sort of Nigerian scam or by trying to reject me altogether. And I'm one of the luckier ones that comes from a country that you'd think they got on with at the moment, being one of the few that doesn't actively hate them these days. It's now two months away from our second anniversary, meaning by extension four months until my not-so-permanent-after-all resident card expires, so we have to make contact with the unmatched incompetence of the Customs and Immigration Services again or they'll initiate "removal proceedings" with pointy sticks.

I am hoping against all previous evidence that we can do this in Massachusetts like any normal sane humans would do rather than booking a round-trip flight over to California to have a photograph taken as before, because it's the start of a different process and we can choose the office we want to deal with again instead of sticking with the same one despite our location. The process is said to take 120 days, and apparently involves paying them the modest fee of $465 (plus $80 "biometrics", whatever those are) for them to take a look at a two-page form with a mountain of documents that are supposed to prove we're still married, followed by an interview to make sure I'm not a Russian mail-order bride, and possibly something else (depending on whether we have a Quality Control Check) to begin the Naturalization process. Doesn't this sound slightly like I'm a carton of milk?

We do, of course, still have the immigration lawyer from last time we had to go through all this - the last I heard of her we paid $3000 to her to help me finally get conditional permanent residence, and the government office then decided that as I had gone through the fiancee visa process I could get one at increased speed anyway. So I think we may still have some of that fee left over to pay for the form I mentioned above and any other nonsense we have to submit just so I can stay here.

But I wouldn't be too hopeful.
davidn: (savior)
I took Whitney to have her blood drawn today. She nearly fainted survived it remarkably well despite her phobia of needles.

But anyway, look at this.

Receipt Number: msc-dadedadeda
Application Type: I485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status

Current Status:

This case has been approved. On November 2, 2006, an approval notice was mailed. If 30 days have passed and you have not received this notice, you may wish to verify or update your address. To update your address, please speak to an Immigration Information Officer during business hours.

That was quick, considering I didn't even know that I'd applied for that yet. Usually it takes six to eight months for things like this to squeeze its way through the USCIS system, but someone must have hit an "approve" button early by mistake. So it looks like I don't need to bother with the hassle of the interim work permit after all, because I've now been made American semi-permanently.

As great as this news is, I have a suspicion that we're going to find some sort of disastrous drawback soon, just because anything that involves the USCIS inevitably does.
davidn: (Default)
It has struck me that I should really be tagging all these entries to do with immigration in case anyone else on my friends list has to go through the same thing in years to come, so that people have some idea of what to expect from the immigration services. But I think that the whole process would just seem so ghastly that if I highlighted the steps it would put everyone off trying to get into America ever again. This is the latest step in the sequence.

I woke up at 5am (which I am still thinking of as 8am because of the time difference) and dragged myself out of bed shortly later so that I would have time to prepare myself for the coming appointment. At about 7:40, Malcolm and I arrived at a building named the Application Support Center, which sounds like part of a Microsoft help file. There was already a queue outside - nowhere near as bad as the one at the Embassy, but it still seemed like we were going to have to wait a while. Surprisingly the place opened at exactly 8am and we were given a form to fill out as we sat and waited for my number to be called.

There's another surprise here. The people doing this part of the immigration process were really quite efficient. The form was admittedly quite difficult to fill out because there were questions about hair and eye colour (and Malcolm is colourblind as well so he couldn't help). I only just about had enough time to finish filling it out before I was called up, showed my passport and appointment letter and was asked to hold out my hands for examination. After confirming that they looked like hands, I was sent upstairs to Level 2, with a slightly more challenging layout and the addition of purple monsters.

Actually, what was up there was another waiting area, with a TV showing Mr Bean for entertainment as the queue waited. Not that I had to wait long - they were still keeping up, and there were only three people in front of me before I was called over to a computer wired up to a large scary-looking machine.

The fingerprinting was not as pointless as I had first thought. This time, my prints were taken in groups as well as individually, with full rolls of each of my fingers being taken. The box "Fingerprints and biometrics" had been ticked on my form by the receptionist, and evidently "Biometrics" meant "Having my photo taken". That was all that was needed, and there was even a feedback form that I was given to tell them how efficient I thought they were. So I am now part of the system forever.

I must have been in and out of the place in half an hour, which is a huge improvement from any other step in this far too long and torturous process.

Now the only thing worrying me - and this might sound a bit strange - is Richard Hammond. It isn't as bad as when I found out about Richard Whiteley last year, but it's not far off... with many British television presenters you tend to get the feeling you know them far more than you really do after listening to them for a number of years. The response from the entirety of Britain has been amazing, and the people at the Final Gear forums are getting together a fund for a custom crash helmet to be made as a get-well-soon gift.

If the protestors succeed in putting pressure on to cancel the programme because of this, I may have to be a bit annoyed.

Mixed news

Sep. 15th, 2006 12:00 am
davidn: (Default)
There are three items of news here. One is good. One is very good. One is good but actually seems like bad news. For the sake of simplicity I'll do that one first.

A letter arrived at Whitney's parents' house this morning. It was from the US Immigration Something, giving me an appointment to have my biometrics taken (whatever those are) on the 23rd - that's next Saturday. So this is good, because it means that things are going ahead with the work permit and I won't have to become a Civ 4 timewaster by profession. But it's such an inconvenience to get an early morning flight next weekend and work out transport to the airport, and it just seems like being in transit again just when we were beginning to settle down and forget about this whole thing. This is survivable, but I'm not looking forward to it.

Good news. Our sofas are being delivered tomorrow. We were meant to get them yesterday, but the van driver was injured on his round by being squashed flat by a refrigerator and they had to take him to hospital to inflate him again, so he never got round to us. With the addition of the sofas, the large gap at the other side of our living room will be filled, and I will finally be able to post pictures of the flat here that aren't the floor or bits of my desk.

Really, really, extremely good news. But only if you're British. You can now download a few episodes of Bad Influence from the official fansite (I think there are four, spread over all four series of the programme). I've already watched the one that featured Ecco the Dolphin, and not once did they mention that the game would render you unable to sleep for several days after playing. Like I said, it's only truly valuable for the nostalgia if you saw it when it was originally on, but I think it's still interesting to look at what was in the game/technology related news ten years ago - don't miss the bit where the CD-i is featured as the future of home entertainment.
davidn: (Default)
Whitney and I have just arrived in the flat. You just wouldn't believe how huge it is. And the best bit is that someone has a wireless network set up next door and hasn't secured it.

It's looking a bit empty at the moment, though. Objective for today: Get a bed.
davidn: (skull)
Extreme warning, team, this topic's draining your life force!

I recall hearing a (quite possibly fictional) story of someone who was annoyed with his bank for refusing him a loan, so he went off and changed his name to "Yorkshire Bank Plc Are Fascist Bastards". It seemed quite an extreme solution, but after dealing with the Berkeley Health Centre I'm beginning to understand how he felt.

Last Monday I went in with a heap of medical papers from my examination in Britain, only needing them to sign a bit of paper saying that I had had all the vaccinations I needed. During the appointment, a blood sample was taken from me (which had been happening so much recently that I didn't question why it was being done) and a tuberculin test was given, even though I'd explained to the nurse about eight times that I had been vaccinated against BCG.

The Wednesday after, I came back to the health centre to have the ghastly bump that had developed on my arm read. Naturally it was a positive, and I thought that it would not be a problem - but instead the doctor told me that I then had to go and get an X-ray just to verify that I hadn't got tuberculosis, and that the test had been unneccessary. That cost us $120, as it happens.

I had the X-ray done immediately, on the understanding that they would receive it and have my form ready in three days.

On Monday, they hadn't received it.

On Wednesday, they still hadn't received it. Then they told me that it wouldn't be ready until Friday anyway, and if not that, next Tuesday. When I'm at the other end of the country.

This morning, they phoned Whitney's father saying that they had received them. I phoned them to verify it, and they couldn't find them at all. However, Malcolm (who is an absolutely terrifying man when he wants to be) had annoyed them enough to drag the civil surgeon in to the clinic, and they said that he would be in later in the morning.

I phoned them at noon. The civil surgeon hadn't been in and they had no idea where he was.

After going to lunch, we finally got a phone call from the health centre. They said that I hadn't filled out one of the forms and couldn't get it signed. So Whitney and I had to drive straight there to get it signed before he left.

I arrived at the health centre as the civil surgeon (who was a hundred years old) was talking with the receptionist about my papers. He clarified the receptionist's story about the form, saying that he couldn't sign my papers because I hadn't had a medical examination in America.

I showed him the letters from our immigration lawyer, and repeatedly explained to him that I only needed the vaccination supplement. He understood absolutely none of it, and Whitney couldn't get hold of the lawyer. Eventually Whitney managed to convince him that we only needed one sheet of paper, and he suddenly seemed to understand perfectly. "But," he asked confusedly, "If you only needed that, why did you have the blood sample and X-rays?"

I'm beginning to understand why Americans enjoy shooting each other so much.
davidn: (skull)
Medical form

If the level of competence of the US health service is normally at the level I've experienced over the last couple of days, I really hope I don't get ill any time in the next three or four years.
davidn: (savior)
Well, I survived. Despite Whitney's best efforts at keeping me up (I managed until 9:30), I was exhausted at the end of my 24-hour day. I thought I would sleep better, but woke up at 2am and again at 6am. Now I don't feel very tired, but am in an almost Jack Dee-like state of annoyance and can only shout at inanimate objects and sit here watching Television for the Terminally Stupid.

Yesterday, or two days ago, or something, I had dreams about little things in the hotel room eating me and woke up at six. After repacking my suitcase I got out of the hotel at seven and dragged the whole lot down to Bayswater station before the heat boiled me alive. The Heathrow express, which was jammed in a tunnel for fifteen minutes, eventually got me to the airport.

I was slightly worried about my luggage because I was carrying an X-ray film of my chest in it - I thought it would go through the airport security, they'd see a ribcage and think that I had a body in my bag. (There's also the issue of carrying about fifteen thousand years' worth of copyright theft across the Atlantic on my hard drives, but that didn't come to anything either.) I did ask about upgrading my economy ticket, but on Virgin you even have to pay if you want an exit row.

I've been on a different route virtually every time I've travelled to the USA, and my memories of the airports and what's in them seems to blur. As soon as I got past security, though, I recognised Heathrow as one of the duller waiting areas that I had previously experienced. After burning my mouth on an absolutely volcanic breakfast bagel from Bagel Street, I went into the newsagent and bought the Top Gear magazine, mainly for the free book being given away with it as I needed reading material for the plane. It must have made everyone think I was a detestable boy racer when I carried the magazine through the flight gate, though.

At first glance, the plane didn't look too good - thin seats and not a lot of legroom, but that never bothers me because I'm too short to actually get my knees to touch the chair in front of me anyway. However, Virgin airlines certainly beats all other airlines I've flown with for the value of their in-flight entertainment, which is far more than you'd ever need. Because they're rather proud of it, they're not just screens in the back of the seats - they're IFE consoles. A massive list of films and TV programmes are provided, along with a selection of games that can be played against other passengers. The TV programmes are mostly rubbish - for the "UK Comedy" section there's no sign of true quality like Black Books or Blackadder, the airline instead having opted for Little Britain and the Catherine Tate show - but I did spend a while watching The Simpsons and Scrubs.

I appreciate that the IFEs have to be built cheap, but my HCI student side forces me to mention some points about the controller. For a start, there are several places the Cancel/Quit button could be, and in the middle of the D-pad wouldn't exactly be my first choice. Secondly, many people (quite rightly, I suppose) mentioned that the PS controller's buttons are hopelessly wrongly named - Square, Triangle, Cross and Circle are less quick to remember or say than X, Y, A, B - and because the IFE controller doubles up as a VCR-type control, the buttons would probably be named Square, Triangle, Two Triangles, and Two Triangles But Backwards.

The game hosting architecture is a bit wrong as well - the only way to host a game is to sit and wait at a game's listing screen until someone else happens to turn up, rather than being able to see the number of active players and invite them yourself. It seemed I was the only one on the plane bright enough to play chess (even though I kept losing to the computer), so I tried one of the solo games that was bound to turn up - Sudoku.

I should mention that I'm not particularly into Sudoku - I'm not like [livejournal.com profile] kingradix, whose burning hatred for the game is almost equivalent to mine for buses, but I just hadn't really tried it before. The only problem I had with it is far too computer-sciencey to be mentioned, but I'll do it anyway - logically it should be solved subtractively by elimination, but all the help files about it recommend that it's solved by adding possibilities instead. By ignoring the advice and working out a system myself, I was able to solve most things fairly easily (if in a time-consuming way) even on the Hyper-Extreme-Death difficulty. I found myself wondering whether it was always possible to solve the games algorithmically. Then I stopped all of that line of thought, because I realized that I had just invented a senior honours project.

Audio channels are also provided in the IFE, though their collection of metal was inevitably non-existent. I wouldn't mind too much, but they had genres of Awful Pop, "Urban", Soul, Classical and all other major shelves that you would expect to find at a Virgin Megastore, so why my genre of choice is underrepresented is a mystery. There are also a couple of specialist and relaxation tracks - I put on one that was supposed to help stop smoking. It sounded like normal lift music to me, but I suppose I didn't feel like having a cigarette at the end of it, so you could say that it works in some way.

Even with all that (and I apologize for going on about it for fully five paragraphs) the flight began to drag a bit after seven hours, but soon we arrived and the last hurdle was to go through Customs and Immigration. I was pleased to see there were hardly any queues, and went right up to a woman at one of the Visitor desks. Unfortunately this woman turned out to be totally useless, and had to keep asking another official over her shoulder what to do with a K-visa. After confirming that I needed US-VISIT done, my passport was stamped and I thought that was the end of it, but I was then directed into an office at the end of the corridor.

Passing under a sign saying "Secondary processing", I emerged in a terrifying pristine white room with a row of chairs and a group of shifty-looking people. I went up to the front and handed my gigantic bundle of forms to the official, who looked decidedly like Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid, then sat down to wait as people were called into the interview rooms or up to the desk. Curiously, I didn't see anyone who went into the interview rooms come out again, but I tried not to think about it. Instead, I watched my distinctive pile of paper being shifted along places in the toastrack-like counter leading towards the computer, all the while thinking that something was disastrously wrong with my visa.

The student in front of me was using a visa that expired six months ago, so I had to watch them trying to sort him out before they eventually got round to me. I had to watch the officials looking at the computer, then at me and back again, shaking their heads and talking amongst themselves - it was clear that none of them had any idea why I was there.

Eventually I was called up to the desk, and was asked if Whitney or I had any children, then the normal questions about how we met all over again. The official seemed happy enough, stamped my passport and visa then stuck my 90-day ticket into it, and I was finally free to leave. I thought that customs would give me a hard time about bringing $1500 worth of wedding rings into the country, but fortunately I was waved straight through to the all but deserted Arrivals area, where Whitney and her mother were still holding their greeting sign up for me. And so ended the scariest experience of my life (apart from the driving test).

So that was the end of the journey, but I still have a vast amount of text written during the period of limbo in London. I'm going to put it up over the next few days and re-date the entries so that they're recorded on the days that I wrote them - they might appear in the Friends pages, they might not. They're all absolutely immense, but I think they're quite good.
davidn: (savior)
(Written on July 17th)

This was the big day - the moment of arrival of the visa. After another 7am start, I left my huge and unwieldy suitcase at the hotel and set off to Jean's again, at the time just before the sun began beating down and frying everybody again. To pass the time, I sat and looked up flights for the day after phoning the courier service again to make sure that it would be delivered that morning and that they hadn't given me a visa to Australia by mistake. They said that it would arrive today, but couldn't be more specific than 9am to 5pm. Incompetents.

It was 11am when the package arrived, while I was trying to solve an insurmountable musical puzzle in the Best of ZZT. I stepped into the hallway expecting a pristine uniformed officer waiting with it, but instead was greeted by a shabby-looking Middle Eastern man who looked like he'd just cycled a marathon. He handed me a far bigger package than I had been expecting and vanished back into the lift.

Naturally I opened it straight away, and phoned Whitney's family to wake everyone up and tell them that I could finally get on my way. The package contained a not-quite-A4-American-size folder that has to be opened by the customs officials (and it's almost as heavy as my laptop) and my passport, now complete with a second dreadful photo on the page headed "VISA".

I booked my flight immediately, going for one on Virgin Atlantic - partly because it was a cheap direct flight, but mostly because they're not Air France.

The real journey starts tomorrow, though, and finding a hotel proved to be a bigger problem. The one that I had been staying in couldn't extend my reservation because they were fully booked, and after looking online and asking at the travel agent, it seemed that so was the whole of London. I had planned to stay in a hotel at the airport itself, but they're all exceptionally expensive - I even found one that charged £3,000 a night, and I think it would have to provide at least a private jacuzzi and a decent-sized harem of furry girls to be worth that. But I went back to the flat to have another look, and finally found a hotel about two streets away from where I'd started that morning.

I had been rather fortunate to find a decent hotel for £50 a night last time, but this one is a bit of a dump to be honest. Cunningly, they took a photo of the hotel across the road rather than their own for the online advert. Not that the impression at the entranceway is bad - it's just that my room's in the basement, and it shows a bit. I couldn't help thinking of the "Get out of the lift" scene from The IT Crowd when the lift doors opened (and you should remember that, because it's one of only about three good bits from the whole series).

To give an impression of what it looks like, the walls in the corridor are made of cross-hatched metal, the door to my room has a heavy industrial-type lock on it, and the ceiling is composed of slowly wilting tiles that wouldn't look out of place in a school conference room. I have an ensuite bathroom and shower (just a spigot with a rusty sprayer attached, really), complete with a bit of crepe paper on the floor helpfully labelled "BATH MAT", as if it was trying to fool anybody.

What it lacks in polish it certainly makes up for in size, though - I thought I was going to get a tiny AMH-style room for my £49 like I had last time, but this one has three beds in two separate rooms. (I'm not going to go into discussion about quite why there are three beds in a twin room.) One's being used to store my suitcase, another for my clothes. And the advantage of being in the basement is that it's nice and cold, even in the sweltering heat that's blanketed over the rest of the city.

So here I am, with a visa and a purpose once again. Actually, the only purpose just now is to waste enough time before it's justifiable to go to bed.
davidn: (skull)
I have about 3,000 words' worth of LJ entries saved on my laptop, but there's no Internet access in London that allows me to use a USB drive, so they'll have to be put up at some point in the future. To summarize:
  1. The visa interview was on Thursday.
  2. I had to spend the weekend in London because of the courier service's incompetence.
  3. I now have the visa.
  4. I've got a flight as well.
  5. See you in San Francisco.
I feel somehow guilty about not closing li tags, but it works anyway.
davidn: (skull)
(Written on July 15th)

With an entry title that perfect, you might as well not bother reading the rest of this mega-entry, but I'm typing it out on my laptop's pretentious (and entirely self-inflicted) Dvorak keyboard, so you can at least appreciate the effort. Wonder when I'll get fed up of it. (Edited to add: Halfway down the third paragraph.)

I'll start off with brutal honesty - yesterday afternoon, I can comfortably say that I felt the worst I have done in my life. In fact I was going to post an entry saying exactly that, but talked myself out of it because I don't want to highlight the fact that this is, after all, a Livejournal.

I will instead begin the saga with a description of what my life goal is at the moment. My current objective is to obtain my visa and make it somehow to San Francisco, where I will eventually get married. One of the key steps in this process was the visa interview, and I went down to London on Thursday morning for the appointment on Friday.

The seven-hour train ride was actually one of the most comfortable journeys that I've taken - I had a table to myself for the whole trip despite there being reservation slips in the chairs all around me, so obviously I look too dangerous to be sat next to. There was even a socket in which I could use my laptop, and no journey seems too bad when you have about sixty ZZT games to keep you going.

On arrival at King's Cross, I hauled my huge unwieldy suitcase into a taxi and paid the extortionate £15 fare to get to Whitney's great-aunt's flat, where I was staying the night. I then learned that two other relatives were staying over as well, and only one of the two bathrooms was working. I really can't remember what I did to pass the time that evening, but fortunately the sleeping hours in that place are shifted forward a few hours from the rest of the country - I was provided with a camp bed in the living room.

Now, I don't want to seem ungrateful for the place to stay, but even without the accommodation problems, the flat is one of the most uncomfortable places in which to sleep I've ever experienced. For a start, the curtains on the full-wall living room window haven't closed for years, and it's the middle of summer, so there is no darkness apart from in the middle of the night. Added to this, her other great-nephew insisted on staying up in the living room with a light on reading while I was trying to sleep, and his phone kept on making noises. And occasionally, the land-line would go off as well, playing a supremely irritating rendition of "The Entertainer" every time someone phoned. It was, to sum up, absolutely ghastly.

I woke up at seven in the morning, which is surprising considering I didn't get any sleep. The morning routine wasn't as awkward as I had first anticipated, but I still got my suit on and my documents together ready for the appointment two hours before the interview was due to start. I set off on foot across Hyde Park, anxious to not get in the way any further.

(Now, unlike the rest of this entry, this next section could actually come in useful. If you're applying for a visa, this is what happens. It's not very pleasant, but you can read it to scare yourself anyway.)

I arrived at the embassy expecting something similar to the medical appointment - announcement of my arrival to reception, a wait in an upmarket waiting room, then a call to interview. Instead, I walked across the inexplicably-pronounced Grosvenor Square three quarters of an hour early for my appointment to be greeted with the sight of two queues stretching across the side of the building. I walked up to the front to ask which queue to join, and a guard with a gun that would have made Arnold Schwarzenegger proud directed me to the right place.

During a standing wait of over an hour, I was talking to Leann in the queue next to me, who was a teacher applying for the same type of visa as mine. We had time to exchange virtually all our life histories while propped up against the barrier fence, while a bottle-shaped guard with a beard lumbered up and down the queues shouting happily that people could pay him £20 to get in. Once we reached the head of the first queue, everyone with 10:30 appointments were then herded over to the second one, after a check of the visa letter and passport.

People from the second queue were slowly being called forwards to have another check of their documents before being let through to the security check in front of the embassy building. I always take ages at scanners like these because of the vast amount of things that I feel necessary to carry in my pockets at all times, and Leann was beginning to think that something dreadful had happened to me when I eventually got out of the portacabin.

So after a queue to get into a queue, then another queue for a security check, we had finally got into the building. This was another queue, but in a different sense - we each had to take a ticket and sit around waiting for our number and service window to be called, making it disturbingly like a supermarket delicatessen counter. Fortunately, immigrant (and near-immigrant) visas weren't terribly popular that day, and both of us were called within about half an hour.

I had expected the interview room to be slightly more private. Instead, it resembled the kind of thing you'd see at the post office. On arriving at window 13 (good sign or what?), I had to hand over the immense amount of forms that had been prepared for the day. The woman behind the desk made a comment about what a huge amount of paperwork I had, which I found rather insulting because I only had what the embassy had told me to bring with me. There was a moment of panic when she couldn't find one of the forms, but discovered it attached to the bottom of something else. I had to hand in my passport and return to the waiting room for the real interview.

Even though the sheet I had been given said that I could expect to wait several hours for an interview, I was called back almost immediately. This time it was to a different window, where I had to raise my right hand and swear an oath that I would tell the truth (being awkwardly unsure of what to say back, I answered "I do", which seemed vaguely inappropriate) before being asked a variety of questions about my relationship.

How did you first meet? - I had been expecting this one, but the whole story is so long-winded that I'm sure she had given up listening by the time I was finished.
How long have you known each other? - Any kind of mental arithmetic, no matter how simple, becomes an impossible task under pressure of time or interview. I had to count on my fingers.
Do you have plans for a job in Boston? - I stumbled over my words a bit here because I wanted to say that I'd been in contact with a number of companies without actually saying that none of them had replied to me. However, she seemed fine with my situation. She asked me what kind of degree I had, and on my reply of "Computer Science", told me that I would have no problems getting a job whatsoever. This was the effect I was hoping for, as everyone else who I've ever told that has had exactly the same reaction.
How do your parents like her, and when did they first meet? - I had absolutely no idea about when Whitney first met my family, and had to fob her off with saying that they had liked her and were happy with me marrying. I think it could possibly have been Easter 2004, but I'm not certain even now.

All of these are just to check that you do indeed know your fiancee. She said that she was pleased with my answers, and that unless my fingerprints came back showing I was a major criminal, I was assured a visa and could take my pink sheet of paper to the courier service. I did ask about picking up the visa myself, but their stupid system has now made that totally impossible. (My words, not hers.) I was also given back a large envelope containing an X-ray of my chest, which I have put in my suitcase, having absolutely no idea what else to do with it.

I rejoined Leann in yet another queue, this time for the courier service. She was told that her visa would arrive in five working days, which sent my blood pressure sky-rocketing because I had previously been told 24 hours, and had put down Whitney's great-aunt's address on my form. It turned out that my projected time was slightly better, being only 48 hours because they already had my medical results. I was told the visa would arrive on Friday, Saturday or, at worst, Monday. With my receipt, I headed off to find some lunch and phone Whitney with the neither good nor bad news.

It wasn't until I returned to the flat and asked if I could stay another couple of nights that I realised how limbo-like my current state was. I was practically housebound until the visa arrived, but being optimistic, I thought that Friday would be a good time to expect it to arrive as I was just around the corner from the embassy. It turned out that I was wrong.

After another torturous night being driven mad by sunlight and Scott Joplin's best-known work, I woke up at seven again despite meaning to sleep later. It's just totally impossible to get any sort of rest there, because things start happening at seven in the morning.

I went out for a walk in the hope of finding something to do, but it was Kensington, so there were nothing but clothing shops and Marks and Spencers as far as the eye could see. In addition to that, the weather has been incredibly hot for the last few days, and I feel as if I'm slowly melting every time I set foot outside.

Finding a park, I sat down to look at the receipt I'd been given, which told me that Secure Mail Services don't deliver on Saturdays. The woman at the embassy had misinformed me, and committed me to an entire weekend of blankness.

I was also beginning to feel very guilty for staying longer than I'd originally asked, and expressed that feeling to Whitney's great-aunt in the afternoon. She suggested that I could go home for a couple of days, and I phoned my parents with the idea.

When I started out the journey, I thought I could cope with a wait, but I couldn't - I was stuck with nothing happening at all, no companionship or activity other than being stuck inside, having to wait. It was at this point that I was at my all-time low. All journeys back up North seemed impossibly expensive or just plain impossible.

My mother phoned back with a suggestion that I would never have considered if I was in a steady frame of mind - to take the Megabus back up the road that night and rejoin my family, having my visaed passport posted up to me via special delivery on the day that it arrived at the flat. At the time it seemed fantastic, and I was willing even to overcome my bus-hate to book a £25 trip that night. I had weighed the options, and decided that 12 hours of hell was better than an indeterminate number of days of it. Besides, I've now seen hell, and it's a Scott Joplin ringtone.

The lunacy of this plan was eventually pointed out to me when Whitney (who has featured surprisingly little in this story so far) phoned me that night, and I sadly informed her that the visa hadn't come, wouldn't come on Saturday, and that I'd probably be dead by then anyway. But it took a phone call from Whitney's father to eventually convince me that my parents' plan (like many of their plans before that) was insane, and that I couldn't give up and delay it again when I was so close.

So I am now in a very reasonably-priced hotel just off Bayswater road. Even though it would seem my situation has changed very little, I feel much more comfortable here - it's somewhere that I don't feel I'm cluttering up all the time, and somewhere in which I have time to pass, rather than being forced to pass time for the sake of it. Well, it makes sense to me. The advertised "internet connection" is just a second phone line with exorbitant rates, and the shower shoots out water in all directions rather than the commonly accepted downward method, but other than that, things are looking much, much better.

I've already done an immensely shameful thing - I bought the The Sun, Newspaper for Idiots. (I needed something with a TV guide in it, and it was the cheapest one at the garage at the bottom of the road.) The headline is "The Lowest of the Low", which appropriately enough is what I feel like for contributing 55p to their cause.

I phoned the courier service yesterday to see if I could change the delivery address for the visa, but they said that they couldn't change it unless a delivery had already failed. That made virtually no sense to me, but being used to this kind of thing from anyone related to the Embassy, I just asked them if they had any record of my case. Surprisingly, they knew exactly where it was, and it's ready to be delivered on Monday. So that morning, I'm going to drag my suitcase back down to Kensington and sit and wait once again. Then it'll arrive, and I will rush down to the travel agent to get out of this place as soon as possible. And then, the whole visa saga will finally, not a moment too soon, draw to a close.
davidn: (bald)
So far, the visa process has progressed with all the ease and comfort of swallowing a harpsichord. We sent the first forms off in February, and after that, the cycle of worrying for months, filling out forms and sending more information in inch-thick binders literally began to gradually kill me. I'm now on two types of medication (three if you count the bananas), I've stopped keeping the budget spreadsheet because my expenses are now entirely fees after charges after travel tickets, and it looks like it's approaching the end of it all. I have a ticket down to London, a visa interview on the 13th, have arranged to stay at Whitney's aunt's again, and will be able eventually to get a plane ticket to California from there. And then there's just organizing the wedding, citizenship, and the rest of our lives to worry about.

The only thing that I'm finding difficult now is packing. I'm going to have to leave the flat this weekend and stay at my parents' house for a short time before the incredible journey begins, and I can't think of much that I actually want to take with me apart from clothes and the bits of my computer that I can salvage. What's worrying me most are the forms that I musn't forget - the living room is covered in paper. I've reserved one sofa for the vital interview documents, another for the things left over for my medical, and the table for everything else. It was only after digging through one of the piles and sorting all the photocopies of tax returns, legal forms, passport photo pages and evidence of financial support into a large envelope that I began to see the pattern of the cushions emerge again.

It's strange - everyone in Britain who hears of my immigration is excited and says to me that they want to do the same thing. The reaction from Americans is more along the lines of "Why do you want to come here? Americans are idiots." (N.B. This is a direct quote, with eccentric punctuation having been corrected. Actually, he then went on to ask me how much a castle costs, so maybe he's not the best source.)

Right - I'm going to write my packing list here, because I'd have to move the mouse all the way across the screen to get to Notepad2. Clothes, all forms weighing under 1cwt, graphics card, rabbits, shaver, toothbrush, ears, hard drives, $45. I think I can easily fit all those into a suitcase.
davidn: (Default)
I was immensely surprised to find a letter from the Embassy on my doormat today. I've been given an appointment on the 13th, in just over a week - I may be able to get out of the country yet.

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