Nanji Braai 2017: A Taste of SA in the ROK

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the Nanji Braai, an event hosted by the owners of the fantastic South African restaurant Braai Republic, at the Nanji camping grounds in Seoul. For those amongst you who are not aware, braai is the South African version of what Americans would call a barbecue or grill. While I did do some braaing on my recent trip to Geoje island, the Nanji braai was the most authentic braai experience I’ve had in Korea so far. For an afternoon, I felt as if I were spending an afternoon back in South Africa, and all it took was a tent, a fire, some raw meat, and some of my best friends in Korea.

A braai is not a complicated event. There are not a lot of airs and graces, and the food that is prepared is not elegant or complex. It is in its simplicity that the bonding power of the braai lies. For my group at the Nanji Braai, all we brought with us were drinks. The Nanji camping grounds rented us some tents, chairs, and a braai. The camping grounds also had a convenience store, where we could buy necessaries like charcoal, ice, and snacks, without having to cart them with us around Seoul. The most important aspect of any braai is the meat, which we pre-ordered and was given to us upon arrival. Within an hour of arriving at the camping grounds, we had a fire going, music playing, and memories in the making.

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Tending to the meat in the early stages of the braai.

The braai that we had been supplied with was large and sturdy, but the same could not be said for the metal grills that covered it. The two pieces of grill were only just large enough to cover the braai, and they were prone to slipping off the edge if they were nudged too hard. This made flipping the meat difficult. More than once, we had to save a rough piece of boerewors (brown sausage) or lamb chop that had slipped through a gap in the grill and onto the coals. However, apart from meat falling into the fire, the actual cooking went smoothly. The ease of preparation allowed everyone to simply kick back and enjoy the sunny afternoon and good company.

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More meat meant more hands needed on deck.

I have missed the experience of a braai during my time in Korea. The unique combination of a gathering of friends around a fire with music blaring over light-hearted conversation followed by everyone stuffing their faces full of well-cooked meat is something that happened so often when I was in South Africa. Going out for Korean barbecue should be similar, as most of the ingredients are there, but it’s just not quite the same. I thoroughly enjoyed the Nanji Braai, and Kris and I are eagerly awaiting the next installment.

ROK-U Spring 2017 Season Wrap-Up

This past weekend saw the end of another season of the recreational Ultimate in Korea. Spring 2017 was an interesting season for me, as I began to take Ultimate more seriously than I have in the past. I saw great growth in myself and the team I play for, the Wonju Knights, even if the playoffs didn’t quite go as planned. We may not have won the league or even the consolation bracket, but we certainly had a good time and looked damn good doing it.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my wife Kris has been in recovery from a torn ACL that she unfortunately picked up earlier this year. Despite this, she stoically remained captain of our team for the season. She didn’t miss a weekend, and gave the team encouragement and hearty cheers from the sideline. Her presence was inimitable, and boosted our morale immeasurably. Sadly, she could not add that fire onto the playing field itself. This left a gap in our handlers (essentially the playmakers of Ultimate) which I had to step up and fill. While I had played handler for the past few seasons, I was now required to play it for every point that I was on the field, and I was needed on the field far more than I was in previous seasons. I felt a lot of pressure at first, but the more I played, the more confident I became in my own play. The increased need for my mediocre skill helped me push past my previous skill ceilings. I am by no means anywhere near a good player, but I am on the road to getting there. My skills are no longer the weak point of my game – that is now my fitness, which I will work on in the coming months of downtime.

Beyond my own improvements, I saw great progress from every single person on our team. Newer players began to throw throws that they would not have done last season, and gained a greater understanding of how Ultimate works. Even experienced players on the team threw fewer risky, flashy throws. Off of the field, most of the players on the team were already friends before the season, and we tried our best to include the new players to the team into our fold. After play concluded on Saturday, we held a fines and awards evening to acknowledge everyone’s contribution to the team, and to have a few drinks together. Everyone received an award from the team, reflecting on some aspect of their play, attitude, or pretty much anything. Mine was the following:

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Even though I improved this season, I had a tendency to get a tad grumpy at myself whenever I made a clear error on the field. This may have involved outbursts on the sideline at no-one other than me. Over and above this, my defense style is quite passionate. Hence, the Super Saiyan award.

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Don’t mind me. I just missed an easy catch. I’m fine, I swear.

This weekend may have been a great final bonding moment for the team, but it was not our most successful. We finished league play in the middle of the table, landing a solid seed for the playoffs. However, our team cohesion just wasn’t quite there this weekend. We all missed easy catches (there may have been a couple of Super Saiyan moments from me), our throws went to nowhere more often than any other time this season, and we just weren’t gelling. We didn’t manage to win a single game in the playoffs, losing to teams that we’d beaten during the season. Our heads were a little down after our first loss, but by the end of the day, most people had realized that it was the last chance for this iteration of the Knights to be together, and we just had some fun.

With spring season of 2017 over, all that lies ahead for the next few months is the off-season. There is a club tournament coming up, but I didn’t make the cut for that one. For Kris and I, we have a couple of months to decide whether we will play again in the autumn. Kris may still be too injured to play, and I will need to decide whether I’d rather spend time with her or play Ultimate. Judging my how quickly this year has flown by, we will need to decide before we know it. Until then, we’ll just keep on enjoying our life here in Korea, and seeing what the future holds for us.

 

Geoje Island, and Reflections on Trips Past

Over a week ago, my cousin departed after an all-too-short visit to our humble abode in Korea. In our time together, we showed her the usual sights: Kris did a bus tour with her, we ate jjimdak (our favourite Korean food) three times, and we scrambled to show her as much of the Seoul that we love in the couple of days that we had. For four of her days in Korea, Kris, Catherine, and I went on a trip with Waegook Travel to Geoje island, one of the most southerly points of Korea. This proved to be the highlight of Catherine’s stay. Between seeing the attractions of Geoje, eating more great food, and spending time bonding, Geoje reminded me of the things that I had enjoyed in the tours we took when we first arrived in Korea.

When we arrived in Geoje after almost six hours on a bus from Seoul, we laid our belongings down in the pension where we were staying, and were quickly whisked to a nearby beach for some kayaking. As an activity that we had done when Kris’ mother visited us in 2015, it brought back memories of that, both in the similarities and differences between the two scenarios. Thankfully, the kayaking in Geoje was on a sunny, relatively windless day, so Catherine and I were able to spend more time catching up and enjoying the view around us than frantically paddling. We paddled around an island at a leisurely pace before returning to shore.

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We found an island! Kris, our new friend Chris, myself, and Catherine

Later that evening, the tour offered us the option to go on a sunset cruise around the smaller islands surrounding Geoje, and we jumped at the opportunity. Drinks in hand, we took in the beauty of the surroundings with mediocre music (blaring from a speaker controlled by women with questionable music taste) and the gentle rocking of the boat to lull us into contentment. The ride lasted just over an hour. This was a good thing, as towards the end, the sun had set and the wind began to gust more intensely, and everyone on the boat was thankful to return to the warmth of the bus.

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The four of us enjoying the sunset cruise

After the whirlwind first day, our schedule settled down. One aspect of the trip that exceeded other trips before was the food. Every night was a culinary event. The first and last nights of the tour were spent braaiing (the South African term for barbecuing or grilling), which was a good mix of longing for home and succulent meat. Red meat is uncommon in Korea, so enjoying thick steaks and lamb chops were rare treats for Kris and I. On the second night, we ventured to an Indian restaurant called Bombay Brau, in the foreigner district of Geoje. There, we ate the best Indian food that we’ve had in Korea. While it was expensive, it was worth the price. Kris has already mentioned plans to return to Geoje simply to visit that restaurant again.

At night, we dined like kings, and during the day, we filled our time with activities, relaxation, and good conversation. We ziplined over a beachfront, we climbed up the side of a mountain to reach a disappointing waterfall, and we saw some more of Geoje’s natural attractions. We made new friends, and rekindled our friendship with Catherine. The lazy afternoons in Geoje were great times to find out what was going on in her life, and the lives of my family in Australia. Other trips that we’d been on before had kept our schedules jam-packed with stuff to do, but I quite enjoyed the fact that we had decent time to ourselves. As an introvert, being around a lot of people for long periods of time tires me out both emotionally and physically, so having the time to recharge in the middle of the day kept me cheerful for the most part. There was one stage where all 60-odd people on the tour were under one small roof braaiing, and the noise was too much for me, but I was mostly very happy to be with my wife and cousin, exploring somewhere new.

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Life’s a beach sometimes. Yes, I went there.

All three of us look back fondly on our time in Geoje. The balance between exploration and relaxation, the quality of the food, and the decent level of organization all aided our ability to kick back and enjoy a rare long weekend in Korea. Catherine may only have been gone for a few days, but we already miss her. The next major holiday to look forward to is at the end of July, where we take summer vacation. It might be a tough few weeks, but we’ll stick it out for the chance to have another holiday like our one to Geoje.

All images in this post credit of our friend Chris McMaster, except for the final picture.

Pre-Guest Prep

Later today, a cousin of mine will be visiting Kris and I in Seoul. It will be the first visitor that we’ve had in a long while, and it is a visit that we have been looking forward to ever since the plans were first forged at our wedding in January. By now, we are well-drilled in getting ready to have someone over, having had quite a few of our family at our various houses in Korea over the years that we’ve spent here.

The first thing that we did was try to make a rough plan of what we will do whilst my cousin is here. Luckily for us, there is a long weekend coming (Kris actually has this whole week off, while I still have to work 2 of the 5 days), so there were a number of tour group trips available. We selected one that we thought sounded the most exciting – a trip to visit Geoje island (the home of the beautiful beach in the featured image of this post). There were options to visit Jeju island, the Hawaii of Korea, but we’ve already been there, and the itinerary of those trips was identical to that which we had been on before, so we decided against that. We are all excited for Geoje, as it is a new place for all three of us, and the activities sound intriguing.

With four of the seven full days dedicated to Geoje, we only had to fill the remaining three days, which will be spent exploring the vibrant culture and sights within Seoul itself. This is much easier this year than in previous visits, as we actually live here now. While I’m working, Kris will play tour guide, giving my cousin Catherine an idea of what Seoul has to offer. Once we return from the trip on Saturday, we can revisit those attractions that she found most interesting and take her to some of our own personal favourite places.

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Beyond planning the days out, we have made sure to keep the house clean. Instead of the normal piles of dishes in the sink and dirty clothes festering in the laundry basket, we have maintained empty vessels for discarded cutlery, crockery, and clothing. We have vacuumed the house three times this week. We have even deep-cleaned the couch that our cat Catsby loves to sleep on, returning it to its original royal blue form from a mixture of blue upholstery and white fur.

Even though we have been busy with two Ultimate tournaments in the past two weeks, Catherine’s upcoming visit has been the event that we have been most looking forward to for a long while. We cannot wait to show her a glimpse of the country that we have called home for a time far longer than we expected to. Between going on an adventure to Geoje together and seeing as much of Seoul as we can squeeze into the all-too-short time we have, we hope to craft an experience that we will all remember and talk about for years to come.

Two Weeks of Tension

The past few weeks in Korea have been less blissful paradise and more hard work and effort. Between working hard to improve my fitness for Ultimate, to getting mild food poisoning, to running thin on money for the month, it has been a couple of weeks that Kris and I are be glad to have put behind us.

The major contributor to stress from the past while has been money. While we have never been in danger of not having enough, we have needed to be scrupulous to ensure that we can pay all of our bills. We have had to sacrifice some of the nicer luxuries like exploring Seoul’s food culture, travelling on the KTX to Ultimate, and visiting our friends. These are by no means monumental things to lose, but the sheer number of bills from March 2017 made sure that we had little choice but to give them up for a while until we receive our first paycheck.

Luckily (or perhaps unluckily for me), one activity that I did not have to eliminate is visiting the gym. We are fortunate enough to have a gym in our building that is available free of charge. This past week, I took it upon myself to work on my fitness in order to excel on the Ultimate field. This decision was wholeheartedly supported by Kris, and she made sure that I committed to going every day. This did mean giving up time that I would otherwise be spending playing games and gathering my thoughts before school. However, my short stint of working out has allowed me to feel more competent on the Ultimate field, and I will continue to work out going ahead. I might even reach my lowest recorded weight if I keep persevering. But for now, I shall keep it up and keep striving to meet my goals.

Sadly, these efforts have been impeded by the final significant event to happen these past few weeks – my acquisition of food poisoning on Wednesday. I spent a morning making friends with my apartment’s toilet and groaning on the bed. Whilst it was not the most severe food poisoning I can imagine, it was certainly enough to make my teaching day the most difficult and uncomfortable one that I’ve had in Korea. Why didn’t I just take the day off? Because I only get 3 sick days in the entire year, and I’d rather save them for a time if, like Kristen, something serious and unexpected happens that makes it impossible for me to work, not simply difficult.

So, between worrying about finances, making my body incredibly sore, and eating a dodgy burger, the last few days in Korea have been challenging. Nevertheless, we’ve pushed on and made it through. There are several good things on the horizon to look forward to, including a visit from a relative, a long weekend, lots of Ultimate, and finally getting paid, so the next few weeks look more promising than the last few!

Torn

Almost two weeks ago, my wife injured herself pursuing her favourite hobby – playing Ultimate. At first, we thought the injury to be minor. As time progressed, it became clear that it was more than just a niggle. As she went to daily physiotherapy sessions and eventual MRI scans, the projections got worse. Yesterday, she had to have surgery to fix the problem – a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). She is in recovery and the surgery seems to have gone well, but it’s been a tough few days for us.

In the middle of a club practice just under two weeks ago, Kris came down hard on her left leg and immediately cried out in pain. She had the presence of mind to stop playing for the rest of the practice. At that point, no-one was exactly sure of the extent of the injury. There had not been the popping sound most commonly heard when an ACL is torn, so the general conjecture was a sprain or something less severe. Our friends recommended to take it easy, and if it didn’t feel any better in the next few days, to go see a doctor.

When it didn’t get any better, Kris did exactly that. The doctor sided with the theory that it was most likely not a tear, but a sprain, and set Kris up with daily appointments at a physiotherapist to work the injured knee and try diminish pain and regain range of motion. After a week, the doctor re-assessed Kris, and found that she was not progressing as would be expected. He scheduled an MRI scan to get a better look at what was going on.

After a tense weekend of waiting for the results, we were floored to be told that it was an ACL tear after all. This type of injury is not uncommon in Ultimate, and can put a player out of commission for more than a year in severe cases. While it is possible to live with the injury without surgery, Kris would never be able to play Ultimate again. This was ruled out instantly, and we elected to have ACL reconstructive surgery. The surgery is said to be very painful and quite expensive, but the alternative was simply not an option.

In the few days between the decision to go through with surgery and the day of the surgery itself, Kris was a hive of fluttering emotional states. When I asked her how she was feeling, she broke down, saying that she felt guilty for wasting so much money. In response, I told her:

“Look. You’re my wife. I will spend any amount of money just to see you smile one more time.”

This is one of those lines that may strike you as trite and obsequious, nothing more than a punt to try help her feel better. As I was saying it, I was worried that I would feel the same way. However, when I had said it and I looked at her, head curled into my shoulder to hide her tears, I knew that it was the honest truth. This is a woman that I have traveled halfway across the world with. A woman that I have sworn to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part. And I honestly would do anything if it meant her happiness.

When the day of the surgery came around, we went together to the hospital. I helped to comfort her in the hours before the surgery, but I cannot imagine the fear that she was feeling. As someone as afraid of needles as she is, as someone that has never had a major surgery before, for her to do so in a foreign country where the doctors were giving her instructions in another language, fills me with admiration and awe. She held back tears when they inserted the IV, something that she believed would be worse for her than the surgery itself. When I had to leave her side to go to work, I held back tears of my own. I knew that the doctors would do everything they could for her, but the fear of complications fogged my experience of the day.

When I had finished my classes for the day, I rushed back to the hospital. I ran to catch the train as it left the station, just to shave precious minutes off the journey. I did take time to stop to pick up chocolate muffins from a bakery near the hospital, though. She had mentioned them before and I thought that it would cheer her up.

When I saw her for the first time after the surgery, my heart was filled with joy and sadness. She was in pain, sleepy, and thirsty, but she wasn’t allowed to sleep or drink water yet. There was a very kind Korean lady in the ward who had stayed with her, made sure that she did not sleep, and kept Kris as comfortable as possible. I sat down by her side and stayed there, distracting her mind from the passage of time and making sure that she stayed awake until the time for rest came. Those minutes were hard for us. We were happy to be together, but what Kris truly wanted was not to be awake, but asleep, away from the pain and discomfort. I shared with her the encouraging messages that friends had sent her. I told her about my mundane day at work. We just looked at each other, held hands, and smiled.

When the time came that she could rest, she smiled broadly, told me to wake her up when she could drink water, and drifted away into a peaceful nap. I sat by her side, marveling at her strength. Shortly afterwards, I woke her, gave her some fresh water and a bit of food, and helped her get to sleep once more.

The road to recovery is long. Kris will be on crutches for a month, and unable to play sport for four months at least. Thankfully, with the help of our friends and the doctors at the hospital, the injury was picked up early so treatment could begin early as well. While I wish that there was more I could do for her, we will walk the road ahead together, as we have done for the past years. The months ahead may be tough, but Kris is tougher!

Subway Book Club

In my recent move to Seoul, many things about my job and my life have changed. One of the aspects that I notice every day is my commute. Previously, I would walk, cycle, or take a cab to work, depending on how lazy I was feeling or how cold the weather was. Now, I take a 4-stop subway ride every day. One problem quickly arose – how do I fill this time? I am currently without a cellphone, so mobile games or browsing the Internet are not an option. I certainly don’t want to just stand and watch the time fly by. I settled on an old pastime of mine that I have let fall by the wayside in recent years – reading.

When deciding on a book to read on the subway, I have four main factors to consider: the size of the book (if it’s not an eBook), the length of the chapters/scenes, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, and the overall mental capacity required by the book. All of these factors play a role in determining whether I think a book is well-suited to my own particular subway reading situation.

The size of the book is the first feature I consider. I don’t want to be lugging around a massive hardcover book every day. As I am most often standing on the subway, reading such a book could be awkward and uncomfortable, leaving me less motivated to actually read the damn thing and more likely to twiddle my thumbs and wait for my stop. This is obviously not a consideration if my options are eBooks which, now that I have found and charged my Kindle, open up books that I previously would have excluded because WHY IS THIS SO HEAVY AND LARGE.

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Just a bit of light reading

Once I deem a book physically fit for my needs, I flick through the pages and see how long the average chapter is. As my commute only lends itself to about 15-20 minutes of solid reading time, depending on the wait for the subway, I like to read to the end of a scene or chapter and then stop. I’m not someone that can put a book down in the middle of even the most inane conversation between characters. I found that this feature was less of a significant detractor than I thought, as for the most part, it is possible to find a break between scenes at a regular interval.

The penultimate factor I consider is whether the book is fiction or non-fiction. I see fiction as the only type I want to read whilst on the subway. This is because I use the act of reading as a divider between the different phases of my day. I have my morning phase, I get ready for work, I read, I have my work phase, I read, and then I am at home spending quality time with Kris. As of this moment in my life, I like the break from reality that reading a fiction book gives in order to properly compartmentalize my day.

Finally, I consider how much mental capacity I need to read the book. I don’t exactly want to be getting deeply engaged with metaphysical anomalies and words containing twelve syllables on a regular basis when I also need to make sure I don’t bump into people and don’t miss my stop. While I can read most books, ones that are incredibly layered and require the full use of my entire brain whilst reading are not ideal for subway reading.

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From all of these considerations, I determined that the first book I would read would be Tom Robbin’s Still Life With Woodpecker. It is a book that the best man at my wedding has been recommending for a long time, so I thought I would finally get around to it. I burned through it far quicker than I thought i would, and have already moved on to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, another book that has been on my radar for years.

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While a commute is little more than an unfortunate reality for most, I see it as a chance to briefly engage with another world and prepare my mind for the assault of small children ahead. Not every book is suited to my current reading style, and my requirements are most likely not a general rule applicable to everyone, but they certainly helped me narrow down the list of books I could potentially be reading on my trips to and from work.