Thursday, May 25, 2006

Island Hopping

It has been a number of very busy months since I last blogged. A lot has happened:
  • I have now moved to England and am living in Hamphsire
  • My wife and son joined me last month
  • My son has started school at the local school, and is struggling with English
  • The company I worked for in Japan was sold off, and so I don't really have a return path (which I actually expected, to tell the truth)
  • The company I work for in England hasn't been sold off, but I now report to Germany, and that could be sold off at some point.
  • I have a new phone
  • My cat has died, only a few days after my wife left her in the care of a family friend. She didn't deal very well with change, and was rather sick, with kidney failure and diabetes. My wife blames me.
I guess those are the headlines, but if I am to continue to blog on this site (which I probably will, as I am rather busy, and not inclined at the moment to build a new blog site), it will need to be about what I am experiencing in England as a longtime resident of Japan, a citizen of the U.S., and a guy with a reasonable curiosity and intellect at work when viewing the world.

There is a lot to make up for, but I don't want to spend the next five months telling you about the last five months, so I will get it out of the way in this one post. Or at least most of it. Other things will probably occur to me as soon as I post this.

So, from the start. I came over here at the end of last year. I did that rather than enjoying the New Year holiday with my family in order to avoid paying one year's worth of residence tax in Japan. If you are in a certain location at New Years, you are expected to pay residence tax in that location. Actually, if you are registered in a certain location. In my case, this was a real issue. If I de-registered, I would have to give my alien registration card back, and would lose my permanent resident status, which took a long time to get, and which I really value. Luckily, I spoke with the local tax authority, explained the situation, and got them to agree to make a note on my record that I was no longer in the country, and not liable for residence tax (after confirming my story with my former employer). So, I get to be a permanent resident, and not pay residence tax! Not bad. I don't know if I will be returning to Japan, but if I do, I don't want to wait another five years for residence.
I rented a car, which was a little tricky, since I had always only kept my company credit card, which debited my own account, and was actually a charge card, which I had to pay back every month (which is why I liked it: It kept me out of debt). But I had handed it back. Renting a car without a credit card is a bit of a challenge. The thing is, actually driving the thing got me in trouble: About a week or two after I arrived, I had to make a trip to Dusseldorf, and the flight was a 7:30 flight. I was quite tired, I admit, but Heathrow has a lot of construction going on, and I could not, for the life of me, find the long-term parking lot. (I have since learned that there is no single long-term parking lot, but a bunch of private lots scattered around. This is nearly exactly the situation at Narita, but I had assumed somewhat more organisation in the UK. Silly me.) I accidentally drove into an employees parking lot. The only way to get out was in the bus lane, so I was in that lane, probably going a bit too fast for a parking lot (car park), but had right of way, when this older Indian woman came barrelling out of one of the rows, going the wrong direction, and ignoring the stop sign (because it was backwards maybe, since she was going the wrong direction). I smashed my almost-new Benz E280 right into her Golf. I totalled her car, did not have 'Super CDR' coverage on my own, and so had to pay 750 pounds deductible, even though it was certainly mostly her fault. (ok, ok, I was in a bus lane, and I was, probably illegally, in a secure airport employee car park, but her driving was definitely at fault). I also missed my appointments. Oh, and argued with the HR woman about insurance. In Japan, travel from home to work is always covered and is always liable by the employer. That is probably one reason that most employers highly discourage commuting by car: The liability is too high.
I also had some adventures just getting a bank account, but those are more of the absurdist sort. I had thought that only Japanese bureaucracy had this surreal fixation on checking everything four times, and sending things back as a matter of course. Wherever HSBC have their back office operations center, somewhere in South Asia, I think, the people seem to have a somewhat similar approach. I finally ended up going in to Barclays, and setting up an account on the same day, just using my U.S. driver's license.
Which reminds me of the other bit of stuff I had to do: Get my license changed. What a pain! U.S. license holders have to take the test, which I didn't really want to do, while Japanese license holders could 'simply' exchange their license for a U.K. one. I guess simplicity is relative. I had to first send in both my license and passport in to the Japanese embassy to get my license translated, paying 35 pounds for the privelege. I then had to take the translation, my license, my passport, two photos, and the application, and, oh don't forget (!), another 35 pounds, to the DVLA (don't ask, because I don't know). I was told that if I did this in Wimbledon, because I was a Japanese license holder, I could get my passport back on the same day. This turns out to not be the case if you happen to be a Japanese license holder who is American. And in any case, I found, when I got to Wimbledon, that I had forgotten to bring my Japanese license with me.
The reason this mattered is that I actually travel a fair bit for my job, and the DVLA said to expect not having your passport for two weeks. So, I had to time it just right. Again, I forgot something rather important, but luckily, they came through a little early. One thing, if you have a Japanese license, is that I actually only had an automatic license in Japan, and that was translated correctly by the embassy, but I still got a full license in the U.K. I don't know if this was just a fortuitous mistake by the DVLA, or whether everyone gets one. But I am happy!
Actually, if I would have known that beforehand, I might not have bought my wife an automatic. Finding a decent automatic car that is cheap in the UK is quite difficult. Mostly only higher end models seem to be automatic. Since my wife only has an automatic license, I looked hard for one. I finally ended up buying one on eBay for 880 pounds. It is a 1994 Vauxhall Corsa, otherwise known as an Opel Corsa, otherwise known as a Chevy Nova. I can't really say it was the best deal, but it runs. I did spend a lot to get it up to spec, though, which is not really a happy thing. Hopefully it passes it's MOT (Ministry of Transport) test in October. One thing I can say about Japan, is that you have lots of choices when buying a used car, most of them very cheap, and with plenty of automatics. In fact, some of the automatics that I found here were imports from Japan. The problem with that is that the insurance on imports is really high.
Well, I have sort of wandered around the last five months, and definitely not covered everything, but I have to go for now.


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