Select Page
Becoming bulgogi

Becoming bulgogi

It didn’t start with the bulgogi, but I realized what was happening with the bulgogi: I was shedding my self-image of being an indifferent cook. I was — could it be? — enjoying myself. I was now … a different cook. I might even start cooking for other people more now, despite my historic performance anxiety.

For a few days before I moved to Scotland, after I sold my condo, I stayed in a hotel and cooked my meals in a microwave or ate out. For six weeks after I arrived in Scotland, I stayed in an AirBnB with a tiny fridge, no freezer, and few cooking implements, so I ate a lot of very simple or prepared meals (pasta and the Marks and Spencer food hall are lifesavers).

When I moved to my current apartment (I mean, flat) in November, I was giddy at the prospect of a large kitchen complete with a full-sized fridge with freezer compartment — not entirely common in rentals here. Working mostly from home and making my own hours meant I didn’t get home exhausted and hungry at 6 pm. I could plan. I could cook.

Starved (not literally) for all my favourite home-cooked foods, I planned out meals, stocked up on the necessary ingredients – delivered by ASDA or Tesco because I don’t have a car and was starting from zero — and ordered whatever cookware I needed from Argos or Amazon. (My furnished flat came with dishes but not cutlery, a toaster but not pots and pans.)

In the relative paradise that was my new kitchen, I made my favourite one-pot recipes: Moroccan chicken, a vaguely Mexican pork stew called Mancha Manteles, my random chilli that uses up all the produce that would soon go bad, and quasi-Thai chicken lettuce wraps. I made Christmas morning wife saver and a fig and brie pizza similar to one I loved at Vancouver’s Rocky Mountain Flatbread. I made the Chicken Milanese from Chrissy Teigen’s Instagram stories.

Nothing out of the ordinary, really, but I was making more recipes more often than usual for me. The bonus of having no friends in a new country, and of not working in an office where I could forget to bring a packed lunch? I was eating out less.

And then one evening, struck with a craving for bulgogi, I got Korean takeout. I’m not normally a food snob, but the whole point of bulgogi is that sharp, vinegary, sesame oily taste, the crunch of spring onions and toasted sesame seeds on top of thinly sliced beef. Not plain old chunks of beef on rice in a Styrofoam container.

I learned that restaurant food here, especially Asian food, doesn’t taste quite like I’m used to. Not the Korean, not the Chinese, not the Japanese. I’m used to the Canadian version of inauthentic, not the Scottish. And in the case of bulgogi, I’ve had bulgogi in Korea, and whatever I had here was not bulgogi. If I wanted it, I’d have to make it.

I have actually made it before. One of my favourite things to do when traveling is taking a local cooking class. But I can count on one hand, and have about four fingers left over, how many times I’ve continued to make the recipes once I return home. I took a class in Thailand, for example, and am now an expert in adding a protein to Blue Dragon kits. Quick and delicious. It’s enough for me.

In the absence of similar cheats for Korean food, I found a bulgogi recipe online that was similar to what I made in that Seoul cooking class, and that didn’t seem too onerous. Still, I’d normally blow past any recipe that wanted me to gather so many ingredients on my kitchen island and marinade the thinly sliced beef in the vinegar/sesame mixture overnight – with a caveat that I could, if I was willing to risk the bulgogi being less flavourful, keep it to an hour. The blogger was in love with cast iron, too, saying that’s the only way to get the authentic taste.  I wanted flavourful. I wanted authentic. I marinated. I cast ironed.

There was something therapeutic about massaging the thin sheets of beef in the marinade mixture. Something satisfying about searing the bits in a hot frying pan the next day. Something wonderful about eating a meal I put effort into, that tasted exactly how I wanted it to taste. I could get used to this cooking thing.

I’m not a fantastic cook. But I’ve finally realized I have to stop disparaging my cooking and allowing others to do so. I’m not bad. I never was. At least I know it now.

Join the dance

Join the dance

Before I moved to Edinburgh sight unseen, knowing no one, I knew I’d have to make an effort to create a social life from scratch. I had a plan: Meetup groups, volunteering, evening classes, pushing myself to get out as much as possible.

I’ve occasionally overdone it and am still finding the balance between pushing myself and honouring who I am: an introvert who often craves solitude. I’ve gotten down when the difference between the effort I’m making and what I’m getting back feels too vast. But the plan is solid, and I’m starting to feel more connected in my new home.

I make that sound easy, and it’s far from easy. I’ve done this before: I moved to New Brunswick, Calgary, Mexico City, Vancouver with few to no social ties, and it’s always difficult to forge them. It always requires huge reserves of energy to force myself to get out, to meet a group of strangers or near-strangers, or even acquaintances. I always cringe when I walk into a room alone. I do it anyway, because while I have hermit-like tendencies, I don’t want to be an actual hermit. I do it because I don’t think “easy” is the path to a fulfilling life.

In keeping with those hermit-like tendencies, I’m generally not a big New Year’s celebrant. But this was my first in Scotland, known for going all out for what they call Hogmanay, and when in Rome … or Edinburgh. Being so far away from friends and family, my options for the evening were limited if I wanted to join people I knew. Limited to one choice: the Snow Ball Ceilidh at the fancy schmancy Assembly Rooms.

The best description I’ve seen of a ceilidh (pronounce it like caylee and you’ve probably heard of it) comes from comedian Danny Bhoy. It’s like he captured documentary footage of my first foray into Scottish traditional dancing, except I went voluntarily:

Danny Bhoy wasn’t kidding about one thing: there are precise steps for these dances. The caller walks you through them at first, but that assumes my brain can translate directions like “set to your partner” or “reel of three” into actions for my body. 

Dancing in a pair or group is easier when at least one of you knows what you’re doing. At the Snow Ball, I assumed the men in kilts would know how to lead. It was not a reliable assumption. One of my partners claimed Scottish dancing was “fighting set to music” as he pushed me into place. The dance floor was crowded, many toes were stepped on, many mid-dance collisions occurred, many laughs ensued.

One woman in our group sat on the sidelines, stoically watching the dancers, asking “is this an easy one?” when anyone tried to entice her onto the floor. Newbie tip: there is no easy one. I danced anyway. One of us had fun.

It wasn’t the best New Year’s I’ve ever had. I felt acutely how far away I was from friends and familiarity. After we went outside to watch the fireworks, I slipped away to walk home, proud of myself for having made it past midnight. I joined the dance, and that’s enough for now.

Why Edinburgh?

Why Edinburgh?

Why Edinburgh? The border guard asked me that when I arrived in London, papers from the Home Office in hand.

In the four months I’ve lived here now, I get asked that a lot.

The short answer is “life adventure,” but that doesn’t really explain what drew me to Edinburgh specifically.  

I worked in London for the 2012 Olympics and was jealous of my colleagues who lived there full-time: “I went to Paris for the weekend.” “I went to Amsterdam for the weekend.”

In Canada, I can’t even go to most parts of Canada for the weekend.

I discovered I was eligible for an Ancestry Visa which allows me to live and work in the UK, so I’ve had that in mind for the last five years. When the timing felt right, a question remained: where, exactly?

I googled “best places to live in the UK,” and Edinburgh came up. I knew people who had lived here and visited here, and they loved it. I knew about the festivals; I grew up in Edmonton which has the second-biggest Fringe festival in the world. I knew Edinburgh was a city that valued literature, theatre, arts, history. I knew it had a castle on a rock overlooking the city centre. I knew it was beautiful. I knew I could move if I didn’t like it. So why not Edinburgh?

I tried to explain much of that to the friendly border guard, knowing I was rambling, knowing it didn’t sound like much more information than “life adventure.”

“So you closed your eyes, pointed to a map, and Edinburgh was it?” he asked with a laugh.

Ok, yeah, that’s a better story.

Here’s my VoIP number, so call me maybe

Here’s my VoIP number, so call me maybe

With all its downsides highlighted lately (cesspool of political division, actual fake news calling real news fake, and violent trolling, anyone?) it can be easy to forget the Internet is magical, allowing the world to shrink in wonderful ways. In the roughly 18 years between my move to Mexico City and my recent move to Edinburgh, times have changed enough that we all have computers in our pockets, connected in sometimes too many ways with people around the world. My relationships with many people are no different here than they were in Vancouver, because of the ease of communicating online. And now I’ve set up my Vancouver phone number so calling me is no different for my fellow Canadians than it was before.

Even though I’ve never been a big fan of phone calls, when I was planning my big move from Canada to Scotland, one of my concerns was giving up my Canadian phone number. I’ve had it so long — since arriving in Vancouver from Mexico City — and it’s out there in ways I don’t always know with freelance clients as well as acquaintances (and spammers). So I explored Voice over Internet Protocol solutions that allow you to port your existing number, and luckily I discovered they do exist. You need a VoIP provider and then either an actual phone that allows for a VoIP connection or, as I’m doing, a “softphone” app.

I landed on using voip.ms as my VoIP provider but don’t remember what led me to them — a simple Google search, I think. The “.ms” is the country code for Montserrat, but they seem to target customers in the United States and Canada, don’t require a contract, allow you to use a wide range of devices and apps, and allow porting of your existing phone number. Not all numbers can be ported, but they have a search function that allows you to check before you sign up.

You can get a new phone number from them, but I was less concerned with having a Canadian number than with continuing to receive calls from my existing number. Today, for example, I have a phone meeting with a Canadian client and I could tell them to keep using my Vancouver number. No fuss over how to dial an international number, no long distance charges for them. (Friends and relatives, this applies to you too.) I always have the do not disturb function on so I don’t get notifications while I’m sleeping, so no one has to worry about forgetting about time zones and waking me up.

Setting it up is relatively easy, though I did have to send proof of my identify (as in scanning and uploading my passport with any private bits blacked out). If you’re not a telephony geek, don’t get bogged down in all the options and terminology in the dashboard; follow the step-by-step instructions provided in the Wiki. They have responsive chat help as well.

I’ve set it up so that calls to my Canadian number are automatically forwarded to my UK cell number, and I set up voicemail in case that number is busy or unreachable — and voicemails are sent to me as sound attachments to an email so I don’t have to sign in to hear them. Because of that, I haven’t missed a single scam voicemail telling me I owe the Canadian Revenue Service money and am going to jail.

I’m currently using the free version of an app called Zoiper to make outgoing calls from my cell phone or computer. The app does allow you to receive incoming calls but keeping it on in the background is a serious drain on battery life and doesn’t always seem to work. There are paid options to apparently make it work better which I’m avoiding given how little I believe I’ll use it. The voip.ms wiki has a list of actual phones you can use plus other apps, but I landed on Zoiper because the free version seems to provide all the features I need.

I can send and receive texts as well through the voip.ms app, and the texts can also arrive via email. They come in chopped up into 160 character segments, which feels archaic, and for my ease of use I would rather use iMessage, Messenger, or other ways of instant messaging instead. But the ability to receive texts I wasn’t expecting has already come in handy.

The cost is minimal. You have the option of a monthly plan that includes unlimited incoming calls, or pay 85 cents per month for each number plus less than one cent a minute for calls. Unless you’re setting this up for a business with multiple lines, or you’re superchatty, I can’t imagine the monthly plan being cheaper. Because I have my Canadian number forwarded to my UK number, I pay for both an incoming and outgoing call (incoming from my caller, outgoing to my UK number) but it’s still a negligible cost for the amount I will use it.

So even now that I’ve moved to Edinburgh, if you have my Vancouver number, you have my number. In the immortal words of Carly Rae Jepsen, call me maybe?

Thanks, Grandpa Wild

Thanks, Grandpa Wild

I don’t remember how I heard about the UK Ancestry Visa, but it was when I was working in London for a month on the 2012 Olympics, hearing my local coworkers talk about their weekend trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, etc. So my desire to take advantage of an easy live/work visa thanks to my Grandpa Wild’s birthplace was fueled by jealousy and wanderlust. I gathered the paperwork I’d need back then, thinking I’d want an escape after my brother’s death, but it took me another six years to want to break out of my comfort zone after that profound destabilization.

Finally realizing I was ready to proceed was the first major decision that kicked off a series of seemingly endless major decisions, so I plan to explain here some of the more complex or interesting logistics I’ve faced as I approach The Big Move. The logical place to start is with acquiring the visa itself — a process that both made me feel lucky to have such an “easy” method of living and working in another country, and made me feel like the universe was conspiring against me to make my life difficult.

One thing I learned was that other people’s experiences are only so instructive. Specific processes change over time, and some seem to differ depending on where you’re applying from. So keep in mind this was my experience in mid-2018, applying from Vancouver.

Am I eligible?

The requirements for the Ancestry visa are reasonably straightforward. You need to be a Commonwealth citizen who has a grandparent, living or dead, who was born in the UK (you or your parent can be adopted and still qualify, but step-relationships don’t qualify). You have to apply from outside the UK, be able and intending to work in the UK, and have enough money to support yourself and any dependants. You don’t need to have a job lined up already. It allows you to live and work in the UK for up to five years, which you can renew for another five years. At the end of the five or ten years you can choose to apply for indefinite leave to remain and eventually, if you want, citizenship.

If you have a parent born in the UK your path is easier. If you have a great-grandparent or beyond who was born in the UK, your ancestry won’t help you get you a visa, but there are other visa categories you could check out.

The devil is in the details, of course. How much money is enough money to land with? How do you prove you’re able and planning to work? Google was my best friend through this, leading me to visa services, expat forums, and the guidance document on the UK government website, intended for the officers who review applications. None of them offer concrete answers, but visa services and other applicants provided estimated amounts to have on hand and for how long, and advice on documents to provide to prove your employability, among other things.

If you have questions, it seems like UK immigration charges you to answer emails or phone calls, and others suggest the information was less comprehensive than what they found on expat forums, so I managed my questions on my own.

The process

To apply for the visa, you fill out an online application form and then go to a “biometric appointment” where they take your fingerprints and picture, as well as your passport and the documents you will include in support of your application. They do tell you to have everything you need at that appointment, but I had read elsewhere that you left the appointment with your documents to courier them yourself. That wasn’t true at least at this time and place — they took everything and submitted it for me. You then wait up to three weeks for your passport to be returned with — or without — the entry clearance inside.

Others online talked about getting an email saying a decision had been made and the passport was being couriered back (with no information on whether the application was successful or not), but I didn’t get that email – I just got an email a week after my appointment to say they received it and would start to process the application, and then a courier at my door after a couple of weeks, luckily with the stamped passport and a letter I need to show the UK immigration officer on arrival. From there, I pick up my “Biometric Residence Permit” at a post office in Edinburgh close to the address I provided in my application form.

Birth certificates

When I first learned of the visa, I gathered the birth certificates I’d need — the long form that includes parentage are essential. Getting my grandfather’s was surprisingly easy. I ordered it online, paid a nominal fee, and it arrived in the mail. Getting my father’s was more difficult – at least at the time (2012), Alberta required you to go to a Service Alberta location in person or jump through hoops that were even less convenient. I didn’t live in Alberta but was there a lot that summer, so I stopped by and had to sign an affidavit that I was his daughter and he was dead before they would release it to me. I’ve seen enough crime shows to know that people use dead people’s birth certificates to create new identities so I get it. I think.

Because my ancestry is on the paternal line and my last name is the same as my grandfather’s, and the birth certificates include parents’ names, my line of decent was clear without submitting marriage certificates. Some people will need to supply those too, if that’s not the case.

Employment

This visa category doesn’t require you to have a job before you arrive, just to prove that you’re able and planning to work. Previous applicants indicated that a resume and registration with a job search website was adequate. I want to continue as self-employed and a business plan and possibly business finances are apparently the ticket to prove that, but at the time I was waffling and ended up applying for a couple of jobs, and I submitted an invitation to a Skype interview. That single email printout gave me confidence in my application and also in my ability to job search once I was settled if that’s the direction I decided to go.

Finances

No one will give you a concrete answer about how much money you’re supposed to have on hand, unlike some other visa categories. Based on advice I read from previous successful applicants and from the websites of companies that charge people to assist with visa applications, I felt around $5000 would be sufficient and that it should be in your account at least 3 months prior to your application date — they want to make sure the money is truly accessible savings. I put that money into a separate account in March, and added to it in the intervening 3 months, so I ended up with just over $6000 earmarked for the move by the time I applied. I went into the bank to get a stamped and signed statement of the last three months (you can’t just print out your online banking statement) to prove how much I had, and how long I had it.

I did let them know in my application that I was only accounting for money on hand but I would also have proceeds from the sale of my condo, and gave a lowball estimate of that. But since I didn’t offer any proof, and the bank statements for that savings account should have been enough, I doubt they took that into account.

Some of the information on the official site is vague, which I suppose gives immigration agents more leeway to consider each application as a whole. But would it kill them to give more guidance on the kind of bank statements needed, for example?

Application form surprises

You can apply for the visa up to three months before you want to arrive. I had originally aimed for May or June but ended up postponing until September, so had to wait until June to apply. It was a happy day when I discovered you can fill in the online application and wait to submit, because seeing the actual questions answered a lot of my questions. Even after consulting with Google, Ph.D., I was surprised by some of them, so not having to/being able to rush the process was a benefit.

Date

The first surprise was that, despite warnings that you shouldn’t book travel until you were accepted, the application form asked for a specific date of arrival and the address of where you would be staying. I’d been thinking mid- to late-September, depending on plane fares and availability of a pet-friendly AirBnB where I could stay until I found a permanent place. Since I couldn’t work backwards like that, I had to pick a date.

I plucked a date out of thinnish air — September 22 — and booked a week at a pet-friendly hotel with a generous cancellation policy. What I wish I’d known, or looked into or pondered logically better, was what that specific date meant. I wanted to make sure I’d be ready to go by then, thinking it might be a deadline if it wasn’t just a guideline for them. In reality, you’re provided with an entry clearance in your passport that is valid from that date for one month. So I couldn’t arrive until Saturday, September 22, and have until October 22 — but that first date is already the last date I wanted to arrive, and it turns out because of shipping the cats, I needed to leave on a weekday. So September 24 it is, arriving September 25 thanks to the magic of time zones.

Travel history

The other surprise was that I had to list every trip I’d taken out of Canada in the last 10 years. My love of travel was less of an issue than the fact that I’ve been living within a short drive of the US border. I ended up going through my passport stamps, Facebook pictures, and then cross-checking my email for etickets to ensure I got at least the trips that went beyond an afternoon of shopping.

Work history

You have to provide your work history, including answering if you’ve ever worked in media, civil service, etc. Those don’t seem to rule you out — I answered yes to media — but depending on the circumstances maybe it would raise a flag for them? Even though they consider self-employment sufficient for their work requirements, and in fact you can be unemployed as long as you are looking for work and have sufficient funds, I had a moment of concern wondering if my freelance status would hurt me. However, there are ample free text boxes and I used one to explain that I had quit a permanent job of many years in order to work on the Olympics and then make this move.

Finances

Because they’re so vague on how much money they want you to have, I was startled to see how much detail they wanted on your current living expenses, projected living expenses in the UK, income, and move costs. It doesn’t say great things about my financial acumen that I found it difficult to fill out my current living expenses, but some of that is complicated by overthinking the definition. For example, in one of the sections they broke out accommodation, and in the other they didn’t. I did the best I could with my current expenses and was grateful for the University of Edinburgh’s cost of living estimates for their foreign students. I added a certain percentage as an “I don’t want to live like a student” bonus.

There wasn’t a line where selling my condo fit, so I added it to the “anything else you’d like us to consider” open-ended questions.

Other

One multiple choice question was if you have friends or family in the UK, to which I answered no. Thanks for making me feel like a loser, UK Immigration. There wasn’t a “well, I know some people but calling us friends would stretch the meaning of the word” option so in the open-ended question about what I planned to do once I arrived, I mentioned knowing some people but not well, hoping to settle in Edinburgh, integrating into the community by using coworking spaces and joining Meetup-like groups, blah blah blah to give them a sense that I have considered the practical and social aspects of moving to a new country.

Supporting documents I submitted

What I submitted erred on the side of minimalism, but my philosophy was I would give them what they asked for and no more. Easier said than done in some cases where their ask is vague, but that’s where some research came in handy. I submitted:

  • Birth certificates
  • Passport
  • Resume
  • Job interview invitation
  • Savings account bank statements of the last three months

Supporting documents I wish I’d submitted though I obviously didn’t need them but they would have eased my mind

After attending my biometric appointment I had my confidence shaken by employees who didn’t seem to know what they were doing. (It’s a contracted facility to gather your information, not UK immigration officers with decision-making power, and they were in training. One didn’t recognize that I had the right birth certificates.) So naturally I went home and googled “U.K. ancestry visa declined.” More than once. In various permutations.

I only came across two stories: one woman whose sister was rejected because she had around $2 in her bank account. Duh. The other gave me more cause for concern — it was a man applying with three dependents who was rejected for not having enough funds, and for not proving that his accommodation — a family member’s home — was sufficient to house an additional four people for an extended period of time.

I also discovered fellow paranoid people who listed what they’d submitted to ask if it was enough. What I submitted in comparison was definitely minimalist.

In what should have been a comforting discovery, I found statistics for one quarter from last year that indicated only around 5% of ancestry visa applications were denied. But someone has to be in that 5%. I knew I was eligible; the question was did I adequately prove my case, or did I make some random error in my application? If I’d searched for denial fears and stories before submitting my application, I might have beefed it up to ease my mind with some of these things:

  • A printout of the hotel booking, with an added explanation in the application form about my accommodation plan. It seems so obvious that a hotel would be a short term solution while looking for a long term rental, I didn’t explicitly say that. So the story of the rejected man had me worried. Maybe he thought it was obvious that staying with his family member was a short term solution. (Or maybe it wasn’t supposed to be short term and he had made it clear that was his long term solution, but without knowing more, my imagination took hold of me.) This is the one item I would have submitted if I’d thought of it. It certainly couldn’t have hurt.
  • Proof of current income. I deliberately didn’t submit this because they don’t ask for it and I worried I’d be penalized for being self-employed, despite knowing that’s a legitimate status for this visa. Still, I was unsure if, say, the statements for my chequing account would help by showing I was earning enough money, or hurt, by showing irregular payments. Because the application form asks for your current job information, they knew I was self employed, so it likely wouldn’t have hurt. But going with my “give them only what they ask for” philosophy, I chose not to.
  • Overall financial picture. Related to the above, I actually had two printouts from the bank, only one of which I used (the savings account to show I had sufficient funds to get settled). The teller also printed off an overall picture of my accounts, including chequing, mortgage, credit card and registered savings accounts, but again I shied away from providing more detail than asked for. (Then again, the UK visa site only says “bank statements” — the information that it’s savings they’re interested in came from third-party sources). I could have overthought this to death: if I showed my mortgage, shouldn’t I prove that I was selling the condo (but it wasn’t listed yet)? The answer is likely no, it wouldn’t matter since I already said I was selling it, but my uncertainty even now reinforces my minimalist policy: why give them information they didn’t seem to need, when it might raise more questions? I had the printout at my biometric appointment and I’d meant to ask there if I should submit it … until I realized the employees knew less than I did about the process.

So that was my experience, leading to a successful visa application. Questions? Fire away. Want to share your own experience? Please do!