Friday, 22 November 2013

What is happiness?

After #79 posts you'd figure that I'd have done everything interesting I could, but wait, there's more! In a flash of minor inspiration I wrote a poem tonight, and it was so rare - how often do you find uncommercialised happiness these days? - that I wanted to share it.

Happiness is a country
where we all live forever,
and fear and anger
are intellectual concepts only.
Happiness is a feeling
where you really don't want anything
except another hug
and the endless future.
Happiness is a rainbow
in the sky overhead
and the promise of rain - 
the kind which brings life.
Happy is how I want to feel,
every day and forever...
whichever comes first.
Happiness is like lightning at night.
There, but gone too quickly.
Rare. Amazing. Beautiful.
Happiness is a journey well-lived,
not a destination.
Happiness is blowing out the candles,
and daring to wish, just one more time.
I am happy.
As the world's smallest cog,
I have the Universe at my feet.
All I want is
a moment more to enjoy it.
Happiness is not a TV advert
with smiling people,
'happy' about chicken wings or toothpaste.
Happiness is seeing the difference,
and hoping upon a star,
that against endless negativity,
a flash of shared humanity,
will spark a smile in the most unlikely place,
and absolutely everything,
will be alright.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Flying to Bucharest? Know This.

Whoooo, over 6 000 views and almost 80 posts in (this is post #79), I'll celebrate with a random bit of  practical advice which might help people interested in flying to Romania.

I cannot say this for sure, but it looks like Emirates does not fly to Bucharest. However, you can book a flight there - in my case, between Johannesburg and Bucharest. So what's happening?

Well, you'll need to analyse your e-Ticket carefully to figure it out, because it's actually not that clear - the only indication that you're flying with somebody other than Emirates is found in these two facts:
1: Your flight onward from Dubai to Bucharest has a different flight number (FZ in my case, vs EK - which is Emirates), as does the return flight.
2: You cannot reserve the seats for this flight - your seat choices show up for the main leg you're flying with Emirates, but not the 'FZ' flights.

If you're like me, those facts concern you. Firstly, who is FZ operated by? Are they as safe as Emirates? Does Emirates care? And if you cannot reserve tickets and happen to be flying with your wife, will your tickets be adjacent?

Once again, Google came to the rescue. It identified the FZ flights as belonging to Fly Dubai. Although it's billed as a budget airline, and the Boeings are smaller, it actually seems above board - so phew!

On the second concern, about the reserved seats, I just e-mailed FlyDubai's main address with my concern, and they promptly responded by asking me where I'd like to sit, and then sent me an e-mail confirming that they had reserved adjacent seats for my wife and I! So simple, you wonder why it's not plugged in through Emirates' own website!

Maybe it's got something to do with the note on FlyDubai's website that if you want a reserved seat you need to pay for it. Only in my case, I was never billed ... maybe that's because it was an external booking through Emirates? Or a 21st Century headache caused by a simple lack of system integration?

Or maybe it's just a question of 'If you don't ask, you don't get.' And now you know...

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Ongoing Document Saga

Here's a little bit of genuine Romanian immigration advice and a couple of observations, based on recent experiences.

Firstly, it's not until you apply for anything in Romania that you realise you don't have all the documents you need. Not only do they all need to be original (see previous post), but they need to be unabridged - here in South Africa our birth and marriage certificates are issued in an abridged format, and unabridged can take months to receive - and a fair portion of them also need to be translated into Romanian AND have an Apostille Certificate (for countries under the Hague Convention).

So here I am in a fair little flurry of activity, trying to get our Department of Home Affairs to give me the unabridged documents I need (the real problem is that in South Africa you are NEVER asked for these, so you just go your whole life never applying for them). We've found a good Romanian translator nearby, and South Africa seems to have a fairly efficient department handling the Apostille side of things - the Legalisation Section - but none of that's going to happen if we don't even have the documents.

On the unabridged front, I applied for my unabridged marriage certificate almost three months ago, and I'm still waiting for it. The only thing I can do is try phoning the local branch I submitted my application to, and if I'm lucky somebody answers the phone and tells me that The Great Computer informs them that the document is still 'in process' (i.e. we've got no clue how long it'll take so don't bother asking), but most of the time I don't even get that far because nobody answers the phone.

With time rapidly running out I'm now trying to shake some trees through the Department of Home Affairs' senior hierarchy - amazingly there are e-mail addresses with real people's names and photos on the official website (score one for transparency!) - so now we just need to see if the Powers That Be are able to assist.

I feel doubly cursed here: I'm dealing with possibly one of the most thorough European countries in terms of requiring documents, while living in one of the least reliable countries in the world in terms of a Government actually able to supply documents on time (you'll get the documents, probably, maybe, if you follow up enough times). Wish me luck!

Document hassles aside, I have also been investigating the cost of living in Romania, and have unearthed a few useful sites, namely: NumbeoExpat-Blog and Salary Explorer. It doesn't take you too long to play around with the numbers and figure that you'll need 'only' RON 6000 to get buy fairly comfortably with moderate expenses (reliant on public transport, not a private car), but the 'average' salary scale for skilled workers is RON 3000. Problem, yes indeed.

And so the journey continues....

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Sneak Preview: Get Involved!

Ok, I've been talking a big game on this website, but here's a chance for you to get involved in the first phase of real action!

If you've been following this blog you'll know that I'm going to be in Romania this December. However, what you won't know is that I'm also the proud owner of the brand spanking new domain!

This is where YOU come in. As you'll see from the homepage - there's a lot of frantic activity going on behind the scenes, trust me - there's something new coming, and if you can speak English and are interested in Romania (and I'm guessing you are if you're following this blog), then there's a chance for you to get involved in this exciting component of the website.

Remember the launch of Facebook, and Gmail? Remember how access wasn't granted right away, and that was all part of the fun? Well, that's the idea here - follow the @HelloRom Twitter account (on the homepage) and I'll grant you preview access to this component months before it goes public.

So what's the website, then? It's actually a distribution channel for one of the reasons I'm going to be in Romania this December: my research project for the Instititutul Cultural Roman. This whole opportunity I'm mentioning above is something I've created as a bolt-on, because, you know, I want more contact with you. Don't worry, the great pay-off for you here isn't just access to some research!

Go on then, click click:

PS: If you REALLY don't have Twitter or some kind of rare social media aversion, a comment below will give you the same invite ;)

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Still On Track!

Ok, I realise I've been horribly silent here, and I apologise for that. That's because it's not terribly exciting to report on visa application processes, especially when as in my case they've been a rollercoaster.

Let's just say that strange things can and do happen, and here are some lessons learned:
  1. If you need any documents for a Romanian embassy, know that you will need them in original. Scanned .pdfs, no matter whether they're stamped or not, are not accepted. The reason given is that even if they accept it, it might not be accepted at the Romanian border and you could risk being sent back home. Depending on where you live, therefore, allow time for the mail to reach you from Romania (e.g. in the case of an original letter of invitation).
  2. If you buy a plane ticket in advance, do make sure to keep checking the ticket's status through the website! I was surprised to discover that one of my connecting flights had been cancelled - the only reason being 'Flight not operating' - and that I had been re-booked onto another flight two days later, and all without being contacted first (that would have been one nasty surprise in Dubai!). I'd never have expected that from Emirates (and never had that before when flying with them), but there's a first time for everything. Luckily after a few phonecalls I was re-booked onto a different flight, with a connecting time measured in hours instead of days.
  3. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. From everything seeming hopelessly grim (letter never going to arrive in time, local Romanian embassy not cooperating, flight cancelled without warning), things turned around completely for me with a bit of persistence and continued engagement with amazingly helpful people.
I'm also excited to say that I've taken some big steps towards the launch of my Romanian research project - there are some awesome components to it which I think will really get people talking and involved, so be sure to keep checking back! By January 2014 at the latest, everything will be revealed.

Wish me luck as I apply for my visa this week (finally)!