Honeymoon in Boracay: Five Days of the Fantastical

Holidays do not come often in our school year in Korea, and Kris and I made the most out of the most recent week break that we had over the end of July and beginning of August. Even though we were married in January, we had yet to have our honeymoon, so we made plans to visit Boracay, an island in the Philippines, to belatedly celebrate our nuptials. We could not have asked for a better week.

We chose Boracay for a number of reasons. First of all, a number of our friends have played Ultimate there in the past, and have raved about the island as a great place to get away. Second, the travel time from Korea was relatively short compared to returning home to South Africa. Third, the island is well-known for its beaches and water activities, which were exciting prospects to both of us. Finally, my mother had managed to find us free accommodation. Who says no to free accommodation?

After a five-hour flight, an irritatingly long 10-hour layover in Manila, another hour-long flight, a cab ride, a ferry, and another cab ride, we finally managed to dump our things and touch base in our hotel. The brief time spent in the cabs and ferries gave us a good idea of the general aura of Boracay: chaos. The island seemed cleft in two between stark poverty and lavish lifestyle. This dichotomy is familiar to us, as it is the dynamic of many cities in South Africa. We even commented how similar it felt to Durban, a coastal city from our home country.

Our first standout experience of the tour was scuba diving. Through help from staff at the hotel, we booked an outing with a seemingly reliable outfit, and woke up early on our second morning to squeeze into wetsuits and see what all the fuss was about. Scuba diving exceeded all of our expectations, and opened our eyes in a way I was not expecting at all. The concept of breathing underwater for more than 12.74 seconds was something I could not comprehend. Nevertheless, after a worryingly brief training explanation and an even more brief freakout on my part, I managed to get the hang out it.

We were led among several coral reefs and even got to feed fish. We generally took in the fact that we were several meters under the water and not simply inhaling water and dying. That was my perspective, anyway. Kris no doubt spent less time contemplating the logistics of it all and more time actually seeing the beauty around us. Luckily for me, there was enough time to get over the fact that I was actually breathing underwater and simply experience the wonder of it all. Scuba diving is something that we will certainly seek out again.  Sadly, whilst we were given a CD of photographs taken during our trip, it turned out to be blank, much to our disappointment. The experience will have to live on only in our memories.

20479632_10155674190361940_533591079274655971_n.jpg

Our next standout event was island hopping. A popular tradition for the many tourists of Boracay, we spent a day on a boat, zipping between different parts of Boracay and the surrounding islands. We drank from a coconut on the beach, we snorkeled (more marveling at breathing under water on my part), and we tossed a disc around at every opportunity.

The highlight of the island hopping was visiting a cliff diving park. We paid a small entry fee and were allowed to jump into the ocean from boards at varying heights. The jumps ranged from three metres all the way up to ten metres from the water. These sound like small numbers. They are far more terrifying when you look down between your feet and see every last centimetre between you and the safety of the waves below. We both tentatively started at the seven-metre jump (because we weren’t aware that the lower heights existed beforehand), plunging into the watery abyss little more than bundles of nerves falling into liquid. While it was terryifying, it was incredibly freeing to simply jump off of something high into water. We both worked our way up to higher platforms, eventually jumping off of the ten-metre jump with terror and triumph mixing together in our stomachs. I enjoyed it so much that I just kept on jumping for over an hour. Kris, still recovering from her knee surgery, elected to watch and make some new friends, and occasionally took a photo or two to capture the moment.

20526003_10155674195496940_7664193521116542540_n

The nine- and ten-metre cliff jumps

We also made new friends doing something that we love: playing Ultimate. Whilst we were walking down the beach one day, we happened to see some of the Boracay Dragons (a world-famous beach Ultimate team based on the island) playing some casual pickup. We initially sat on the sidelines and watched, marveling at their speed and accuracy, even in horrendously windy conditions. After a while, they noticed Kris and I on the sideline, and asked us if we would like to join. Whilst I was skeptical that Kris may injure herself and I was also a little tired and my eyes were acting up, we decided that the opportunity to play Ultimate on a beach in Boracay was one that we could not pass up. We spent more than an hour in what became a rainstorm playing the sport that we both love. The Boracay players were incredibly warm and friendly, and the spirit in which they played the game was light-hearted and joyous. They clearly loved every minute of running up and down the beach, trying to best the other team. They didn’t play to win. They just played to have fun, and we all had a wonderful time playing together.

20479723_10155674269126940_3139037015718143703_n.jpg

Not pictured: the litres of rain soaking through our clothing.

Our final unforgettable experience from Boracay was mermaid swimming, which is exactly what it sounds like. We put on special swimsuits that wrapped our feet together like a mermaids, took some photos, and proceeded to have a lesson in how to make the most of our altered swimming state. We learned several ways to kick, a couple of tumbles, and even failed at doing handstands. We looked less like the majestic creatures of myth and legend and more like drunken seals flailing around in the water. But damn, was it fun. It was uniquely challenging to modify our swimming styles to best suit the mermaid tails, and we both relished learning something new. Our instructor was so impressed with us that she certified us as level 2 mermaids (out of a possible 5), even though we should by all rights have only been level 1. She was very gracious.

20525186_10155674269046940_954284429179674824_n.jpg

D’aww. So cute.

Permeating all of these experiences was food of a constantly high quality. Boracay can quite easily be called a tourist trap, and there was no shortage of food that was far from traditional Filipino cuisine. We gorged on delicious burgers which rivaled those of Brooklyn Burger Joint for quality of ingredients. We ate local variations on pizza. Where possible, we tried to experience local cuisine, and all of it was reasonably-priced and delectable.

20525921_10155674235171940_1425121782076539805_n.jpg

A delcious Filipino oxtail stew.

Our experience in Boracay was well worth the wait. We did things that we had never done before. We relaxed and simply recharged after several months of draining teaching. We ate delicious food. We reveled in the warmth and friendliness of the Filipino people. We played Ultimate on the beach with some of the best players in the world. We honestly did not want to leave. Our honeymoon was exactly what we had hoped it would be, and more.

20525712_10155674249656940_8820848258061378407_n.jpg

Sheer majesty

Murder at Apt. 404: My Debut Escape Room Experience (Spoiler-free)

Escape rooms are a growing form of entertainment where groups of people come together to solve a series of mental and object-related puzzles with one sole goal in mind: escaping the room. I have been intrigued by the concept for some time, and jumped at the opportunity to tackle one when a friend suggested attempting it recently. This review/experience piece is entirely spoiler-free (beyond the basic premise/theme of the room, which is available online). I wouldn’t want to give away the game of the room!

3eaca631813129-566160d53e991

The gritty poster for our particular escape experience.

When our group had assembled at Seoul Escape Room‘s Itaewon location, we were greeted by helpful staff, who gave us handouts detailing the story behind how we came to be trapped in the very particular room. Essentially, the story behind Murder at Apt. 404 is that we were framed by a serial killer, and the cops were arriving in one hour. We could either solve all of the puzzles and run away to freedom, or fail, get arrested and rot in jail for the rest of our miserable lives. I enjoyed that there was a narrative explanation for why we were in the room, and it helped me to feel very involved and tense even before we entered the room.

We were then instructed to place all of our personal belongings, including cellphones, into lockers where we would retrieve them once our hour was up. No checking Google for answers! Once we had all done that, we were blindfolded and led into the room, with very well-chosen music playing in the passage that led there. We were told to sit down, and start once we heard the door close. We sat and waited, the tension palpable between the bouts of nervous laughter. The door slammed, and our hour of madness began.

The first ten minutes began with frantically searching the room for anything that could resemble a clue. Mundane objects were gifted with deeper meaning. Could this be a clue? Could the exact placement of that be a hint at the answer to one of the many riddles we had to solve? No-one knew, and everything dissolved into a state of mildly organised panic, with people shouting new information at the two people trusted with clipboards, who took extensive notes with a system known only to them. All the while, a screen on the wall of the room showed our time as the minutes ticked away.

tumblr_nk0rj7skus1u66cglo1_500

Once we had drained the room of all possible clues (or so we thought), we tried to solve as many of the puzzles that had been thrown at us as possible. Whenever we would succeed, it would open up another riddle or problem to solve. Again, again, and again. Whenever we thought that the end had to be near, it darted around a corner and laughed at us.

Along the way, we were allotted three hints from the staff watching us from the outside. We indicated our desire to use these hints by everyone getting up and dancing. If we weren’t enthusiastic enough, we wouldn’t get the hint. Luckily, they played very loose with what they defined to be ‘dancing’. We used these whenever we hadn’t made progress for a few minutes, and they prevented us from completely losing hope with a lot of time remaining. While a game purist might say ‘Well, if you beat it with hints, you didn’t beat it at all!’, I felt that they were a great addition to the game. They prevented the atmosphere from shifting to one of resigned despair, as every hint offered a glimmer of hope. However, they weren’t so numerous as to detract from the difficulty of the room.

Sadly, even with three hints and good group communication, we fell a couple of steps short of completing the room. The time on the screen reached 00:00, a police siren sounded, and the door crashed open. The lady who had briefed us declared that we had come close, but failed to escape. She revealed what we still had to do in order to escape, and we let out a collective groan as to how close we came. According to our guide, the room has a success rate of between 25 and 30 percent, and we weren’t quite lucky and sharp enough to count ourselves amongst that elite group.

escape room sadness

The sadness at being so close was real…or was it?

Nevertheless, we had a fantastic hour of fun trying to upturn everything in the room, solve every conundrum thrown at us, and escape apartment 404. There are moments from our time in the room, particularly as the tension mounted towards the end, that will be joked about for a long time to come. I will most certainly try the other rooms that Seoul Escape Room has to offer, and would highly recommend the escape room experience to you all. Maybe you will be better than we were, and will taste the sweetness of freedom!

Brooklyn Burger Joint: Still Korea’s Best Burger

Last week, Kris and I returned to a restaurant that we hadn’t eaten at since our first year in Korea: Brooklyn Burger Joint. Located in the French district of Seoul, Seorae, it was too far removed from any other attractions for us to visit in our time in Wonju. However, now that we call Seoul our home, it is far less of an expedition. We found ourselves in the area to collect a television, so we decided to see if Brooklyn’s burgers were still the finest in the country.

Unbeknownst to us, Brookly Burger Joint had actually changed locations in the time since our last visit. Even though the new location is situated a couple of hundred metres from the old one, we initially thought that the location online was incorrect. Then we saw the glowing neon sign heralding that we had in fact reached our destination.

19829893_10154494590155563_454461163_o

Upon entering, we were struck by how much bigger the new location is compared to the old one. The counter area was massive, and there were over a dozen tables leisurely spaced out over the interior, American pop-culture references carefully spaced out on the walls. The old location had the air of a frenzied haven for burger fanatics, with the few tables there were squeezed in as tight as possible, with the energy and heat from the kitchen flowing through to the diners and references covering every possible surface. The new location has a feel much closer to that of an average, generic downtown burger joint. Edgy alternative music gently played in the background of the cozy atmosphere, occasionally punctuated by a chime from the pinball machine sitting in the corner. The old location felt like a hardcore burger lover’s oasis in the sea of average fare, and the new location feels more like the neighbourhood restaurant you are happy going to three times a week to get your burger fix. It’s more comfortable, but has lost a lot of that zest and identity that the old location had.

After settling into our snug, cushioned chairs, we placed our shake and burger orders and eagerly awaited their arrival. We did not have to wait too long before the shakes arrived. Kris ordered an Oreo mint flavoured one, whilst I was intrigued by the cherry chocolate. They arrived, tall glasses filled with delectable, sweet goodness. The milkshakes exceeded our expectations. However, we knew that the true test would be the burgers themselves. Kris awaited her Brooklyn Works, and I was eager to test the Napkin, Please (a burger topped with American chili and mince).

19840288_10154494590055563_61350407_o

A satisfied Kris politely sipping her Oreo mint milkshake

The burgers were placed on our table as we were finishing our milkshakes, and they looked delectable. Looks were not deceiving. My burger was incredibly well-made. The bun was clearly fresh, and the burger melted in the mouth. Whilst the Napkin Please may not have been the best choice, it was still a wonderful taste experience. Kris devoured her burger feverishly, always a good sign. Afterwards, she confirmed that it was just as good as last time, a sentiment I shared.

19807913_10154494589990563_826971847_o.jpg

Kris’ Brooklyn Works (top) and my Napkin Please (bottom)

Overall, we were glad to find that Brooklyn Burger still serves the best burger we have eaten in Korea. The prices are too high to make it a regular outing for us, but it was a welcome treat. We were disappointed that the atmosphere and decor had become more bland and indistinct, but the food and milkshakes have lost none of their lustre. We will certainly be returning for another glimpse into how good a burger can truly be.

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.

19274929_10155506268156940_8672879743868332057_n

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.

19146227_10155458196408809_3009688608154467251_n.jpg

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:

19024468_10154406240500563_782839451_o

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.

tumblr_mttvhl00r71s7eo7fo1_500

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.

18341713_10155488496083706_879651349297461510_n

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.

18301966_10155488495538706_164723399872666543_n

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.

18222454_10155363904406940_7994154229533398654_n

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.

disney-cleaning-meme

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.