Bonding and Re-bonding

I sit at Incheon airport, a place that has become strangely familiar to me over my time in Korea. Even though I normally only spend a few hours here with each visit, I find that there is far less change here than the rest of Korea. Restaurants and shops have largely remained in their same places. The procedures are generally the same. The process of arrive, check in the bags, go through security, go through immigration, find the gate, wait for the plane, then leave gives me some small comfort in the otherwise moderately stressful act of travelling.

For this visit, Kris and I will be returning to South Africa, mostly for her best friend’s wedding. I say mostly so as not to offend all of the South African-based friends and family that we will see while we are there. It’s also to see all of you, I swear!

This will be the second time that we’ve visited South Africa since we left for Korea and I started this blog. Last time was for our own wedding, and for a much longer period of time. With this visit, we will be staying for less than two weeks, and trying to cram in as many lunches, brunches, dinners, board games, Ultimate games, family meetups, and general socializing as we possibly can in that time. In our last visit, we had a much more relaxed social timetable, because we could afford it. We also were lucky enough to see a large portion of the significant people in our lives at the wedding.

While things might not have changed too much at Incheon airport, a great deal has changed in our family and friend situation back in South Africa. My entire immediate family will be working outside of South Africa before the end of this year. Kris’ mom has moved out of their long-time family home. Over our time in Korea, we have lost contact with many of our friends back in South Africa, with each year causing more friendships to fade from vivid experiences to sepia-toned memories. This is the nature of life. Situations change, and you have to adapt to your new environment.

However, we are excited to return and get in touch with everyone that we might have neglected to video chat or message in the past few months, or even years. We will undoubtedly have many a story to share with each other. There will also be those that we cannot meet up with, whether that be because of scheduling problems, distance, or even just sheer forgetfulness. Maybe this will cause a few more friendships to lose their luster, or maybe agonizing over the missed opportunity will be the splash of colour that livens a bond that was dulling.

Kris and I are both excited to be returning to the place that was once the only place we called home. Our lives are more diverse now, and we will be leaving our Korean home for a while to nestle back into our South African one. Oh, and eat our body weight in biltong, Cadbury’s and Gino’s.

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Stifling Myself

Normally when I’ve had a long break between posts on here, I’ve been incredibly busy doing something like visiting another country, playing Ultimate, or just working hard at whatever teaching job I’ve had. That’s not the case this time. There haven’t been external factors preventing me from sitting down at the keyboard to type up a few words to share with all of you. There has only been one obstacle: my own fear, anxiety, laziness, and perfectionism.

In the time since I last wrote here, I have been entirely unemployed. I haven’t had a job to fill my time. I decided to try and strike away from teaching and get a job in the field I have skated alongside the edge of for years – the games industry.

I spent two months studying for a software testing certification. I was going to write a post about that, sharing my feelings of anxiety about the test. I chose not to write anything until after I passed or failed the test. I ended up passing the test comfortably. I was going to write the perfect post summarizing my journey. Then I thought I would wait until I actually had a job and share my happiness about that. I spent two months searching for a job. I was going to write a post about how despondent and disheartened I was becoming, but I thought that no-one would want to read such self-important garbage. People want to feel happy when they take the time away from their own busy, draining lives to read some mangled collection of words on the Internet. So I kept waiting for some positive news on the job front.

Every morning when I brushed my teeth, I would tell myself that this is the day that I would write that accursed blog post. I would find a particular angle to my experiences to try and spin it into an inspirational story about how sometimes chasing your dreams doesn’t quite work out the way that you wanted, but you learn from the experience. It would be motivational as hell. Then I would sit down at my laptop and never even open my blog. I was emotionally and creatively suffocated. In this time, I’d tell people I was funemployed, trying to change my career path. In reality, I just sat staring at translated versions of job postings, applying to any and every position I was even remotely qualified for, and many that I wasn’t. Days blurred together to the point that I would forget whether it was Monday or Wednesday. With every day that passed, it became harder to share what was happening.

All the while, I was going on miniature adventures: visiting friends across the country, exploring Seoul, completing video games, playing in Ultimate tournaments, even bonding more with my cat. I also have many events to look forward to. I’m heading back to South Africa in just over two weeks. I even have an interview for a potential position soon, and I am excited. It is partially a teaching position, and I will share more as time goes on. It has been something of a backup position for the past few months, and I am glad that it may work out. However, the knowledge of this position hasn’t changed for weeks. These experiences and anticipations were fogged by the drudgery of my job search. Not even the constant, unwavering support from my amazing wife stoked the fire of creativity within me. I felt that nothing I was doing was important or interesting enough to share. Until today.

Today, I just sat at my laptop, as I’ve done countless times in the last few months. I procrastinated, as I have so many times before. But then I actually opened my blog and started typing, like I should have months ago.  I knew it was an option but was still too caught up in myself to write. I’m not perfect. I’ve been less emotionally available in the past months than I can remember being. I’m working on it. It’s not easy. But I’m still here, and starting today, I won’t leave you in the dark, for both of our sakes.

 

Farewells and See You Laters

Every year, roughly twice a year, there are waves of new teachers arriving in Korea. Paired with these arrivals is an exodus, as teachers leave to teach elsewhere, return home, study, or pursue other careers. As the school semesters end in March and September, many contracts end at the same time. Each time this happens, Kris and have friends that we have garnered, through Ultimate or otherwise, say farewell to Korea. Each leaving season has had its share of painful goodbyes, but this particular one has been especially severe, with a number of our close friends choking up and promising to see us again and stay in contact.

With the regularity at which this happens, you’d think that it might get easier over time. The more people we see go, the more we get used to the idea that friendships forged in Korea will most likely have their nature change as people inevitably leave. For some, this is the case. We know of a good deal of people who are used to the cycle of new people arriving and old friends leaving. We even thought that we were beginning to become accustomed to its flow until this March arrived.

With every exodus, some claim that ‘Oh, this one was much worse than the other ones.’ This March, it was our turn to utter that oft-heard phrase. A number of our close friends decided to move on and move out. A couple that we’ve grown close to in Seoul over board games and gushing about our pets elected to see some of the world before looking for new teaching work. Luckily for us, that new teaching work happened to be in Korea again, so they will only be out of the country for a couple of months before returning. Another couple who we bonded with deeply despite only seeing a handful of times outside the Ultimate setting. A man who never ceased being the tallest or kindest person in any room decided to go back to the US and make it a better place (he hasn’t quite left yet, but he will soon, and definitely warrants a mention here). A fellow South African we met on our first ROK-U team, who we grew to know and love through playing far too many games of Dota and drinking too much red wine moved back to South Africa to pursue a new career path.

Some people steel themselves against the ever-present reality of people exiting Korea by avoiding new friendships to prevent getting hurt more regularly by exits. Kris and I cannot face that possibility. Some leaving seasons, we only lose touch with a couple of acquaintances and count ourselves lucky. Other times, like this March, we see a large portion of our core friend group get on planes elsewhere.

Leaving Korea doesn’t mean the end of these friendships, but it does instill a sense of longing for a return to the previous status quo. No longer can we simply pop down for a chat or meet for dinner. Now, there is online video chat and instant messaging, and perhaps meeting up if we land up being in the same country for some reason. Some friendships adapt to this change and survive, whereas others fade and dull over time.

The constant flow of expats through Korea (or, I’d imagine, any other country where foreign workers are hired) is a reality that is not mentioned when you are job hunting. There is no warning that people you grow attached to will bid you farewell on a semi-regular basis. It is a phenomenon that you learn of only through experiencing it. It hurts. Sometimes it hurts a little. Sometimes it leaves you on the verge of tears writing a string of words into the black void of the Internet to try and ease the pain.

Waiting for the End to Come

Every year, around this time, Kris and I become far less concerned about our current school year. With our contracts always ending at the end of February, we are always more worried about what is to come in March. While we initially thought that we might stay at our current job, a changing climate in education in Korea and the job itself has resulted in us once again looking for a new job to start in March. Kris has already successfully landed a position that she believes is far better suited to her, but I am still wading through the mire of job hunting to try and find that one job that is ideally-suited to me.

When we first started our current job, we were happy with the short hours and, for me, the short commute. However, as time has gone by, little problems have grown into larger issues. This is particularly true for Kris, who has more consistently had problems from the upper management of our company, and whose job situation was less ideal to begin with. She had to do a lot more commuting and deal with greater levels of bureaucracy than I did. Towards the end of last year, she decided that she would not be re-signing the contract, and began looking for a new job. In a stroke of luck, one of our close friends is leaving Korea, and her position would be vacant. Kris interviewed for the job and was accepted. Her new job may have longer hours, but it is 10 minutes from our house and will allow her more freedom to experiment with her teaching techniques.

For myself, I was content to continue in my current position. Unfortunately, the Korean government decided to discontinue English classes for first- and second-grade students at public elementary schools, effective from March. These students currently form more than half of my student base. As a result in the massive drop in potential students, the company has decided to not re-hire any teachers with my type of visa, and fill the gaps with part-time employees to save money. This decision makes economic sense for them, but it left me in the unfortunate position of looking for a job after the ordinary job season is mostly over. I am now scraping the bottom of the barrel for a position that is better than the average academy job, similar to the positions that Kris and I held in Dongtan in our first year of teaching. I am currently still being picky, and I hope to find something before I have to settle for a mediocre job.

We may be more settled in Seoul than we have ever been in Korea, but the cycle of going from job to job every year has not changed. Maybe this next job is one we stay at for more than a year. Maybe this next job will be our last year in Korea. Only the next twelve months will reveal what Korea has in store for us. I look forward to the new adventures, and, for now, look for a decent job to sustain us while we go on those adventures.

2017: The Year of Shifts

2017 was certainly one of the more eventful and significant years of my 27 years on the planet so far. I moved to Seoul, got more into Ultimate, helped spread the cult of board games, and started reading for enjoyment again. Oh yeah, I got married as well. That was a thing that happened. Let’s look back at these major nilestones just before 2017 comes to an end.

The Old Ball and Chain 

I’m a lucky goof who married a beautiful lady.

The first, and most influential, event of the year was my marriage to Kris. Despite my nervousness before the day, which you can read about here, it was the happiest day of my life up until this point. While the old cliche may not be true for everyone, it certainly is for me. I spent a day with my family and South African friends, celebrating the love that I have for the woman I now am lucky enough to call my wife. 2017 got off to a strong start.

Seoulward Bound

Kris and my cousin Catherine posing with Seoul’s motto. Yes, it is a mediocre motto.

The next change brought about by 2017 was our move to Seoul. Our third new city in three years in Korea, we have been interested in moving to Seoul ever since our first year. This year we finally landed up in the largest city in Korea, and it has quickly won our hearts as our favorite city in the country. The sheer scale of Seoul means that there’s always something new to see, somewhere else to explore. Our new apartment is wonderful and it makes a huge difference in our daily lives. Seoul also brings with it a larger foreigner community than our previous towns. This has made it easier to meet up with Ultinate friends. While not good for our bank accounts due to eating out more often, it has left us feeling more at home than ever in Korea.

Disc-loving Gent

Smile!

Ultimate has always been a big part of my life in Korea, but this year I felt like I took my love of the game to the next level. I trained more regularly, took more interest in self-improvement, and generally put more time into my game than I had before. While I have slacked off in the current off-season, enjoying the festive food and sloth a little more than I should, I am proud of how far I’ve come as an Ultimate player in 2017.

Gathering over Games

Kris and a friend playing Terra Mystica, one of our more in-depth games of the year.

When a friend dressed up as me for a casual Halloween costume party, they merely wore their ordinary clothes. Onto their shirt, they pinned a note saying: 

“I love board games  (and my wife’s cat).”

That was all. And it was perfectly accurate. An increasing number of gatherings at our house involve bonding over some board game or another. This is reflected by the fact that I’ve had 77 plays of 29 different board games since April this year. And also by the fact that I am concerned enough about games to record each play. I adore board games. They allow for unique social experiences, and create memories that have stayed with me for years. This year was no different, and I have had a number of special moments thanks to board games this year.

New Stories, New Worlds

Ghüs, my favourite character from my favourite comic, Saga.

Before this year, I had spent very little time reading. Between work, the aforementioned Ultimate, and playing video games (another source of great stories, but not quite the same), I didn’t think to pick up a book much at all. However, during 2017, I longed for the escape that comics brought me throughout university. I slowly began to grow my collection of digital comics, starting by picking up ny old favorite series before spreading to new discoveries. I have also read a small number of novels, a number I hope to improve on in 2018. I had forgotten how enjoyable reading is, but I shan’t forget again any time soon.
2017 may not have been the game-changer year like 2015 was, but it was close. Getting married, playing Ultimate, spreading the good word of board games, and growing in my reading habits were only pieces of what made 2017 special. There were certainly dark times as well, and there will be more ahead. But, as the year fades into the past, it’s more worthwhile to look back on the happiness. Happy New Year, everyone!

Autumn Ultimate Wrap-Up

While the past few weeks haven’t been filled with many posts on here, which is entirely a result of my sloth, they have been filled with, amongst other things, a great deal of Ultimate of all levels, from the casual Halloween Hat, to the last few weekends of ROK-U league and finals play, and finally the Ulsan and K-Cup tournaments at club level. These Ultimate events have certainly kept me busy, and made sure that there were many Mondays where I went to work with aching muscles and a smile on my face. Let’s briefly look back at each of them in turn.

Ulsan Team Tournament

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In mid-October, I was fortunate enough to make the DnD roster for the Ulsan team tournament. I had missed out on the previous tournament, as I simply was not up to scratch for the team, but a combination of working on my skills during ROK-U and other players being injured or unavailable meant that I had the chance to prove myself at a club level again. For two days, teams tested their skills against each other to see who had the best line-up in Korea. DnD was seeded 4th from the results of the previous tournament, so we had a tough pool right out of the gate.

On Saturday, we fought hard against both Baekho and LGW (two teams seeded higher than DnD), but ultimately came up short. We won one game against the lower-seeded Flickachu, so the first day was not entirely doom and gloom. Personally, I felt like I had a highly positive day, particularly on defense. Even though that is typically my strong suit, I felt like I had an especially good day.

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One of my lesser defensive efforts.

The second day was the playoffs. Our team came out strong, defeating Maxima, a visiting Japanese team, before falling to the star-studded UFO. From both a team and a personal standpoint, our performances weren’t quite as stellar as the day before. We left Ulsan satisfied, but with room to grow as a team.

Halloween Hat

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The week following the Ulsan tournament brought Ultimate of a far different nature. For the unaware, a hat tournament involves all players being placed on random teams (controlled for skill level as best as possible). Oh, and everyone is encouraged to play in whatever costume you can manage to pull together for the weekend. Pieces of toast played against Minions. Larry Bird took on a ghost pirate. Thing 1 and Thing 2 confused everyone with their similar costumes when they had to face off against each other.

Halloween Hat was a high-spirited, fun weekend that seemed to be enjoyed by all. While smaller than previous iterations of the tournament, those who attended all looked like they were having a welcome break from the seriousness of ROK-U and the Ulsan team tournament. It didn’t really matter who won. The main goal was to have fun, and it was met many times over.

ROK-U Fall League

Interspersed before, between, and after the two tournaments above was the Fall 2017 season of ROK-U, the largest Ultimate league in Korea. Although for the past few seasons, Kris and I had played for the Wonju Knights (a team Kris created), this year brought change. Since we had moved to Seoul, we were no longer eligible to play for our old team. We were instead placed on Seoul Hammers, a team who had won the league the previous season.

On the team with us were a number of players that we had seen around and befriended in the scene, but hadn’t had the opportunity to play with. Kris and I were both excited for the season, as after the initial practices, our teammates were highly spirited and had the right balance between a drive to succeed and the desire to play for fun and growth.

We started the season strong, finishing at the top of the league standings. We only lost one game during league play up until the weekend before finals. Then, our strongest player had to leave Korea, and that left our team with a major gap to fill, which we struggled to do. We came together in the end, only dropping one more game, but the team dynamic was clearly different, and roles were still uncertain.

Come finals weekend, and we once again struggled to find our rhythm. Our opponents, on the other hand, came out firing. We fell behind early in the first game, and while we did gather ourselves towards the end, we didn’t have enough to overcome the early loss of points. We were knocked out in the first round. We played a couple more games in the consolation bracket, which was more of the same.

Overall, our first season on a Seoul team was a fun one. The team was a great group of people, and both Kris and I learned a lot from the experienced players on the team.

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K-Cup

The final event of the Korean Ultimate calendar for the year was K-Cup – one of the premier club tournaments of the year. I was once again fortunate enough to play for DnD. Like with the Ulsan tournament, some key players on the roster were injured, and our squad was smaller than it usually is, particularly in the male department. This meant that the men would have to step up and play more than they usually would at a club tournament. I was nervous about this, but secretly also excited , as it would give me extra time to hone my skills in a highly competitive environment.

The smaller roster certainly taxed the players on our team. Having to play over five hours of Ultimate on Saturday left many bodies hurting by the end. We had to play LGW, Baekho, and Boom (the three top seeds for the tournament) and Flickachu (seeded below us). The roster was different to that of Ulsan, and we had not had time to practice before the tournament. As a result, our chemistry took a while to get flowing optimally. Our games against the three higher seeds ended with us going down, b meshing together better with every game. This left us in a good position to face off against Flickachu. We ended up taking the hard-fought game. On a personal note, I sadly had to sit out the last half of the game to prevent injury to my calf muscles. I was frustrated by this, but happy with my performance on Saturday overall.

The story of DnD’s K-Cup Sunday was similar to that of our finals performance on Seoul Hammers – our opponents came out firing before we could mesh together, and we couldn’t recover from the early pressure. That dropped us down to the consolation bracket, where we didn’t quite come together again.

I was happy with my own personal performance at K-Cup. My defense was strong again, and I even snuck in a few scores here and there. I also know what I need to work on – mostly fitness – and I have months during the winter to hit the gym and get faster and build my endurance.

Whew! So much Ultimate! I enjoyed every moment that I spent on the field, with all of the teams and people I was lucky enough to do to share it with. I am, however, also looking forward to the off-season. Not having to get up at six in the morning every Saturday to travel to the not-terrible Gumi or sometimes other places will be welcome. As will the extra free time to engage in my other hobbies. Still, at the back of my mind during winter break will be the countdown clock to the start of the new season. I’m sure it will be here before I know it.

A Month of Morning Pages

Every day, I am frustrated that I have lost momentum on this blog. I look at the number of articles I publish every month and I hang my head when I compare my output to that of when I first arrived in Korea. However, I have actually been writing more than ever, just not on this blog.
A few weeks back, in one of my favourite digital newsletters written by comics writers Kelly-Sue deConnick and Matt Fraction (which you should definitely subscribe to here), I was introduced to morning pages.
What are morning pages? The concept could not be simpler. Sit down soon after you wake up, while your body is still rousing itself, and write three A4-sized pages of stream-of-consciousness writing by hand. No more, no less. You never have to look at them again after you’re done. They are intended to be impermanent, fleeting glimpses into what you are really thinking and feeling, etched down before your mind has put up its defenses. Kelly-Sue deConnick praised how the simple act of writing three pages every day calmed her and gave her a grounded beginning to each day. I thought that it was something worth exploring.
I thought that such writing would spout forth ideas for future creative projects. As it turns out, I have used this morning ritual to clean out my mental cobwebs, almost like a journal. I rant about what happened the previous day. I set out my plans for the current day. I generally muse about whatever I’m thinking about in the bleary-eyed hours of the day. In my first full month of habitually doing morning pages, I have only had one creative session. It was a reflection on the beauty of Seoul and people in the early hours of the morning. Apart from that, the chicken-scratch-etched pages like those in the featured image above have largely been filled with mundanities.
I too have found them to be immensely calming. They allow me to get my bearings for the day, vent any residual frustrations, make more concrete any ideas I might have had in the night. On the days when I do them when I am more awake, I find that they are harder to write and less effective at guiding me.
All in all, I am excited to continue spewing my morning self onto paper. The process can take between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on how well my mind and pen are flowing, but it is time well-spent. I highly recommend trying it out, even if only for a couple of days. Buy an A4 notebook from your local stationery store. Get up when your alarm sounds in the morning, and spill your soul onto the blank pages. You might be surprised at what comes out.