Half-day trip to Osaka for iPhone 7 (2/2)

Starting out from Namba Station

I had about four and a half hours to go around Osaka once I bought my iPhone 7. That's not much of a time to see this city, but since I've been here quite a few times before, I didn't have a specific place I wanted to go to. So instead I decided to see if I could reach most of the major areas and take snapshots as some sort of a time-limited challenge. First, I started off from the Namba Station at the Minami ("South") area, where this started and ended.

Gate to Dotonbori

Walking up a bit north, I reached Dotonbori, the flashy shopping and entertainment district along the namesake canal. This place is quite a sight to see in the night, but I didn't have the luxury of staying that late this time.
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Half-day trip to Osaka for iPhone 7 (1/2)

Leaving for Osaka from Busan Gimhae Int'l Airport

Visiting Japan to buy the new iPhone on the launch day seems like it's become a regular thing, but a lot of luck is needed to make it happen Thankfully, I was still fortunate enough to make a quick visit to Osaka for an in-store pick-up. As my family was visiting Ulsan for the Chuseok holidays, I rode on the plane that departed from the nearby Busan Gimhae International Airport.

Nankai Railway ticket counter at Osaka Kansai Int'l Airport

A 75-minute flight later, I was at the Kansai International Airport. I moved quickly to ride on the Airport Express serviced by Nankai Railway because I had to make it to the Apple Store downtown before the reserved time was over.
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Renewing my U.S. visa

The first time I traveled to United States since I left North America in the mid 1990's was back in 2006. South Korea was not on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) at the time. So I, like most of the Korean nationals, first needed to come to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to submit an application for a B1/B2 non-immigrant (visitor) visa and go through an interview. I wrote about the entire experience in detail, including the long lines.

The resulting visa has served me well for the past decade, even after South Korea was admitted into the VWP on November 17, 2008. This was because valid visa holders don't need to get the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) clearance. But it ultimately expired and because I have an upcoming business trip to the States, it was time to renew it.

Old passport on the left, new "biometric" passport on the right

There have been considerable changes in preparation. In 2006, the "electronic" aspect was that the application forms (DS-156 & 157) were downloadable and that the interview could be scheduled online. As I write this, the form was changed to DS-160 and the entirety of it could be entered online (including the photo), needing only a simple "confirmation page" to bring in instead of the entire form. Also, payment process became simpler. There are no separate interview fee and processing fee anymore - it's all included in the processing fee now. And depositing the fee online to a uniquely generated account number (doubling as a "proof of payment") became possible in addition to the traditional option of having to visit a bank branch. However, the price has risen from $112 total to $160 for the B1/B2 visa.

Once the payment was made and the form was filled, the next step was to schedule an appointment for the interview. But since I was renewing the visa, I was apparently eligible for the Interview Waiver Program (IWP). Thanks to this, I was allowed to use the drop-box service at the interview reservation page after answering several questions to confirm my IWP eligibility.

Naju branch of Ilyang Logis and Hanjin Express

Drop-box service basically means I can "drop off" the necessary documents (passport, confirmation page, etc.) at a branch office of a contracted courier (Ilyang Logis, in this case) and it would be shipped to the embassy for processing at no extra cost. There was one such office at the small town I live in (Naju), so I decided to pay a visit. But as you can see here, it was expectedly small and the staff had no idea that such service existed. Apparently, I must have been the first person to try this at the place. After contacting the head office and getting the instructions, the staff collected the documents I brought and promised me that they would be sent soon. They had to be put into a special packaging that had to come from the head office, so in reality it took about three business days instead of going out the same day.
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Got my iPhone 6S Plus Rose Gold at Osaka

That's 128GB version... and the official dock

The title says it all. I got my preordered iPhone 6S Plus at Osaka Shinsaibashi Apple Store on the launch day. Review coming soon!
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Returning to Korean Air Morning Calm Club

Morning Calm membership card
Or, Will OK Cashbag Points Help or Not?

I used to fly on airplanes a lot to visit my home in Ulsan from Seoul, so it was relatively easy to attain and keep the Morning Calm elite frequent flyer membership at Korean Air. This gives you the same level of benefits as SkyTeam Elite. But with the introduction of high-speed rail (KTX) service to Ulsan in 2010, flights suddenly lost competitiveness and I switched to trains entirely for the visits since. I lost my Morning Calm status in 2011.

But Korean Air restores Morning Calm status to the ex-members if the person fulfills 30 thousand miles during a repeating two-year period which starts after the demotion. The first period for me was April 2011 to March 2013, but nothing came of it. The second period, April 2013 to March 2015, was different. In 2014, shifting responsibilities at my company meant I'd be travelling internationally once in a while instead of not at all. And indeed I racked up more than 20 thousand miles at Korean Air during the year.

The miles could be either be exclusively from Korean Air flights, or at least 20 thousand of those flight miles with the rest coming from affiliate companies. The latter is tentatively valid until 2016, but the offer had been extending for a long time. With the minimum Korean Air flight miles fulfilled, I checked for ways to fill the affiliate miles before my period was up. The most viable ways for me were the conversion of reward points from Shinhan Card and OK Cashbag to miles.
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