For ESL teachers in Korea, Chuseok is a godsend. The variable-length break falls shortly after the start of the summer semester. It has allowed Kris and I to escape from child-induced madness for a few days every year. This year, Chuseok is even sweeter. Kris’ mother Dalene and her boyfriend Dave have visited us all the way from South Africa!
Dalene and Dave arrived last week, in the middle of our final week before Chuseok. Both Kris and I were strung out from the semester and looking forward to the visit and upcoming Chuseok break. Our batteries were drained, and we couldn’t wait to recharge. They arrived on a Saturday of an Ultimate weekend. Their first taste of Korea was the glorious insanity of a ROK-U weekend. While it wasn’t Dalene’s first time in Korea, Dave must have had a peculiar first picture of foreigners in the ROK.
In the following week, Dalene and Dave had to entertain themselves during the day. Kris and I still had five more days of child-wrangling before Chuseok. They took the Seoul city tour buses, zooting about between all the tourist attractions. In the evenings, we did our best to give Dave and Dalene a taste of Korean cuisine. We have eaten more different Korean dishes in the past few days than we had in the previous few months. By day, Dalene and Dave took in the sights. By night, we devoured our way across Seoul. There was a brief interlude in the Korean eating for a surprise birthday party for me. Kris and my friends in Seoul plotted behind my back. They gathered in secret to celebrate my birthday and that of Cam, another friend in the group. Dalene and Kris even managed to make and hide a birthday cake. I was surprised, and didn’t stop smiling the whole time at the party.
Once we had served our last remaining time at school, we packed up and headed on a day hike of Manisan, on Ganghwa island. The tour was organised by Seoul Hiking. We stopped at various cultural points of interest before hiking the mountain itself. We saw a medieval fortress, neolithic rock structures, and a cultural market. Then it was time to lace up our shoes and tackle Manisan. It took us an hour or so to reach the top, slowed by Kris’ recovering leg and sightings of squirrels. At the top, there sat an ceremonial alter and various cultural implements. It was a meditative reward for our hour’s exercise. It was a delightful day trip.
Next, we set our sights on Busan. Kris and I have been to Busan many times, but most of our visits have been for Ultimate. We hadn’t visited Busan as tourists since our second month in Korea. We were excited to explore a place where we were far less familiar than Seoul.
Our first destination in Busan was BIFF square, a massive street market. Like Myeongdong in Seoul, we wandered between the food carts and storefronts. We took in the wares and eats on sale. The selection rivaled that of Myeongdong, particularly in the food department. We ate Turkish kebabs and rolled ice cream, and bought more than we probably should have.
Our next major highlight was Gamcheon Culture Village. A large suburb in the hills on the edge of Busan, Gamcheon is a hub of shops and artists. It is famous for being mostly comprised of small, single-storey houses. This is in contrast to other areas, where houses are rare but apartment complexes litter the land. We thoroughly enjoyed walking among the colourful houses. We read stories of the area’s history and marveled at the artwork displayed in the streets.
Our last two days in Busan were mostly spent in the Haeundae area. The only major excursion not in this area was to Busan Tower, the beautiful building featured at the top of this piece. In Haeundae, we first visited Busan Aquarium, where we saw, amongst many other marvels, otters being fed. Kris squealed in delight at their cuteness. After leaving the aquarium, we walked the streets once more. We explored the hills on the edge of Haeundae’s famous beach. Then, we lazed about on the beach, reading books and taking in the beauty of the area. It was a good way to refresh our bodies after the running around that we had done in the previous few days.
Dalene and Dave’s time in Korea is drawing to a close. They leave on Friday afternoon, leaving only one more full day to show them what Korea’s got. Kris and I adore having family visit, as showing them what we love about Korea reminds us as well. Our hearts will be heavy when we say goodbye to them, but we will treasure the memories of the things we saw when we were all together. We will go forward refreshed and ready to face the months ahead.
Growing up in South Africa, having a fast Internet connection meant you could watch videos on YouTube without having to pre-load them. When I moved to Korea over two years ago, my definition of what fast Internet meant changed. Now I could download entire games in under an hour, and watch live streams in high quality. This movement to fast Internet changed the way I game drastically.
South Korea boasts the fastest average Internet connection speed in the world at 20.5 megabytes per second (Mbps). It also has the highest percentage of broadband higher than 10, 15, and 25 Mbps per second. South Africa’s average internet speed is a paltry 3.7 Mpbs, more than 6 times slower. South Africa’s peak connection of 18.9 Mbps doesn’t even breach Korea’s average speed. I had one of the better connections in the country, and I was still astounded at the difference.
A faster, more reliable connection to the Internet has meant many things for me as a gamer. I can download games much more quickly. A beefy triple-A game that I would have had to leave downloading overnight in South Africa is ready to go in under an hour in South Korea. As a result, I am now much more willing to purchase a game on sale. I want to play it on a whim, I can start a download and be playing it within the hour – there is no pre-planning required. Because I can download and play new games so rapidly, I am now much more cognizant of how much time I spend playing any particular game. I no longer put hours into a game because it’s better than waiting for a new game to download. I don’t play games past the point at which I stop enjoying them.
The most prominent example of this to me was my experience with Sukeban Games’ VA-11 Hall-A. I enjoyed the first couple of hours exploring the world of robotic cyberpunk bartending. The fact that it seemed to be a visual novel with a small bartending mini-game intrigued me. I spent a handful of hours happily serving a colourful host of robotic characters their desired alcoholic beverages. After a particularly long session of the game, I took stock in my head. I mentally assessed whether I had enjoyed that playing session. I decided I hadn’t. So I uninstalled it and browsed my embarrassingly large Steam library for a new fix. I was playing The Game Bakers’ Furi within 20 minutes.
I now spend less time invested in games that are not right for me. This means that I have more time to dive wholeheartedly into games I enjoy. I quickly establish whether I am interested enough in a game to stick with a game until I have completed it. Then, I act on that decision. I have finished more single-player games recently than I had in my last few years back home, without letting up my love affair with Dota 2’s unmatched online multiplayer experience.
Higher-quality internet also means better connections to the online gaming world. This includes online games, streaming sites like Twitch.tv, and video sites like YouTube. I am no longer worried that my connection will drop in the middle of a game of Dota 2 or Hearthstone. In the past, this would mean agonizing defeat unrelated to my mediocre skill level in both games. I lose enough because I’m a scrub, I don’t need technology acting against me as well. With Korea’s superb Internet, all my online gaming grief is a result of my skills, not my game connection. I also consume a great deal more gaming-related video and stream content now than I did back home. My wife and I watch our favourite streamers while we eat dinner, and the quality is always set on the highest. I watch replays and guides for Dota 2 and Hearthstone. I also try to keep up to date on the latest news in the world of esports and gaming as a whole.
Looking back on these changes, I believe that they are largely positive. I only play what I am truly enjoying, and I play more often because of this. I have matured from a frothing-mouthed gaming cultist into a seasoned games enthusiast. I am now willing to opine maturely about the latest gaming scandal or development in the world of gaming. I do not feel the need to flash my gaming credentials nearly as much as I did back in South Africa. Now, gaming arguably plays a bigger role in my life now than it did then. Korea truly is a gamer’s paradise. When the time comes to leave its sheltered shores, I will miss many things. I suspect that the Internet speed might be up there with my newfound friends and life experiences.
When I first attended the inimitable Six on the Beach hat tournament in 2015, I had barely dipped my toe in the world of Korean Ultimate, and had never before played Ultimate on the beach. After that amazing first experience, I wrote up six things I learned from the weekend. Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the latest iteration of the event, and here are six lessons that I brought with me from Sixes 2017.
Cleaning up seaweed is not as gross as you would expect
When we arrived at Bukbu Beach in Pohang on the Saturday morning, raring to compete, we discovered that a large portion of the beach was covered with seaweed. We would need to clear it up in order to have all of the field space that we needed for the four concurrent games that the tournament required. I thought it would take hours. However, with dozens of players helping out, the entire beach was relatively seaweed-free within an hour, and games were only slightly delayed. It was great to see almost everyone who was at the beach helping out to clean up. We shoveled it into bags with discs, rakes, and our hands if necessary. Wet seaweed is definitely less pleasing to handle, the slimy texture far less desirable than the crisp texture of its dried brethren.
Playing a day of Ultimate on less than 6 hours of sleep might result in afternoon naps
Pohang, the city that hosts Sixes, is 3 hours from Seoul by KTX. Kris and I foolishly stayed up late the night before, and I didn’t sleep on the KTX. This meant that I did not have the sleep that I was accustomed to playing on, and fell prey to a savage nap attack. Thankfully, I fell asleep under the cover of a gazebo, so I avoided waking up to sunburn in addition to the surprising loss of time.
When selecting a love motel, shopping around can result in a better deal
Normally, when Kris and I visit Pohang, we stay in a place called the Queen Motel. We do this because it is very close to the bar where Pohang parties are always held. The closer that we are to the party, the better. However, on a friend’s recommendation, we tried a different motel nearby, and saved 10 000 won ($10, R100). More money to spend on festivities!
Your wife may get upset when you forget to watch her play Ultimate
Kris and I ended up on different teams this tournament, and our teams happened to be in completely different pools. This meant that we played at different times, and could watch each other’s games. Kris noticed this, and diligently watched most of my games. I, however, was far less on the ball, missing all of her games on the first day. In my defense, some of them were lost to the aforementioned nap. Nevertheless, I may have ended up slightly in the dogbox and made up for it on the Sunday by watching her games where I could.
The mere sight of a plastic guitar can bring back a load of memories
One of my favourite game series ever is Guitar Hero. The simple delight of being able to simulate playing epic tracks in a videogame appealed to both my gaming and musical natures. I spent an inordinate amount of time playing every Guitar Hero game from Guitar Hero 3 to the final Warriors of Rock. I was also pretty good at it, earning the title of top player in South Africa in the final year of the title’s competitive cycle. At the party, I noticed that the bar had a plastic guitar controller leaning against one of the walls, and I was thrown upon a wave of happy memories and desire to revive my love for the genre.
Six on the Beach truly is a must for any Ultimate player in Korea
Every form of Ultimate in Korea has its appeal, from the relaxed competitiveness of ROK-U to the challenge of club play. However, no weekend of Ultimate in Korea can rival Six on the Beach for the sheer joy of playing the game for enjoyment. Results don’t really matter. What matters is that you are having a good time playing the game that you love on a beach surrounded by a large chunk of the Korean ultimate community. Whether you are a fresh arrival to Korea looking to feel out the scene or a seasoned veteran of many years, there is nothing quite like Sixes, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s iteration brings!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.