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.

Week One, Take Three

Eight days ago, I started my new contract in Seoul, after the chaos that was packing up our Wonju house and leaving for the big city. Some of the few things that I knew about the job included that I would be teaching five different levels of kids for at most five hours per day, and that I would have a Korean teacher to assist me for the first time. Although this meant many more working hours per week than 2016, it was a far better arrangement (time-wise, at least), than the nine-hour-per-day academy job I held in 2015. I didn’t know what the five different levels would mean – would they range from never-exposed-to-English-before to virtually fluent? I was also wary of the effect of a Korean co-teacher on the class – would they be helpful and make my life easier, or were they simply a set of eyes and ears that the school would use to keep tabs on me? In the first week, my work would go from the chaotic fog of the unknown into the comfortable familiarity of another year of teaching kids in Korea.

The first aspect of my work that I explored was the commute. Every day, I have a painless, four-subway-stop trip from our home, with a brief walk from the station to the school. Leaving the door of our apartment to reaching my classroom takes only thirty minutes – a brief commute for a city as vast as Seoul.

Upon reaching my class, I met my co-teacher. She is a lovely lady who is very capable at communicating in English. I was worried that I would constantly be piecing together what the school wanted to me, but my co-teacher instantly filled me in on the exact situation. I was relieved. The only unfortunate part is that I do not have her in my class for the whole day.

The kids came next, in five waves. Each class was more advanced than the last, although not by as much as I was hoping. Level 1 kids have had little to no exposure to English, whilst Level 5 kids are on about the same level as the mid-tier children I taught last year. My dreams of a purely conversational class where I would be exploring complex issues and fiddling with grammatical minutiae were dashed. At least they were all relatively well-behaved. The only times that I struggled were during the Level 1 and Level 2 classes. My co-teacher is not present in these classes, and they were not able to understand most of my instructions, and this frustrated both the children and myself. Of all of the levels, I’d rather have a co-teacher in lower levels (at least for the beginning), but we can’t always get what we want.

Despite some small niggles, I can see myself being comfortable at the new school. The first week was mostly spent giving children books, learning names, and playing games. Only towards the end of last week did we actually start to do any book work. Once that started, the teaching rhythm came easily. Another year, here I come!

The Winds of Change Blow Again

When Kris and I returned to Korea, we were simply expecting to have a relatively quiet couple of weeks, with Kris finishing off the last few weeks of her old school year and myself quietly waiting to start a full-time position at the academy that I was working at. All we were planning on doing was coasting until the new school year, where Kris would resume her position at her old school and I would move from part-time to full-time. That was the plan. That was not at all what happened.

In the days following our arrival, Kris did some serious thinking about her job at the time. She considered all of the extra hours and effort that she put in to her work, with no notice from the school. She was feeling unappreciated and undervalued. She expressed this to her liaison to the school, and even wrote and signed a letter saying that if the school continued to treat her merely as a resource, she would not re-sign her contract. The school accepted this decision. Kris was out of a job, and we thrust ourselves into the job market once more.

After frantically ravaging Facebook’s various Korean job boards and groups for a few days, a friend connected us with an employer that would offer Kristen shorter hours for higher pay than she received last year. She jumped at the opportunity. This meant that we were moving from Wonju to Seoul, Korea’s capital and largest city. As for myself, I followed a couple of leads towards a communications company where I might have a chance to do editing or writing work. Sadly, those opportunities didn’t work out. I was disappointed, but soldiered on. I decided to work with the same company that Kristen had signed on to. The shorter hours would mean that I would still have time to write and pursue my hobbies, while retaining a full-time paycheck and a visa.

Once our jobs were settled, we hunted for houses, settling on a slightly expensive but very modern and wonderful apartment. We are now two minutes away from two subway lines, with a 10-minute walk to a third. There is even a gym in the building, to help me work off the weight I put on eating all of the food in South Africa.

A slow running down of the clock may have turned into a panicked search for new opportunities, but Kris and I are optimistic about the change. It will be an experience to live in Seoul, and hopefully our positions work out for us. We start our contracts shortly, so we will soon see whether we jumped out of a cozy nest into the lion’s den, or whether we simply upgraded into a job that is better for both of us.

A Month of Merriment, Marriage, Meetups and Missing People

I’m married. I am a husband. There are still moments where I catch myself surprised at this concept. After the holiday that my wife and I took in South Africa, there was a lot to process. We got married, reunited with family and old friends, and even managed to sneak in some moments alone where we could. We were hard-pressed to improve on our holiday to Seattle, but our month back in South Africa may just have done so. I mean, we will only get married once, so it has that going for it.

Our holiday was split into three main stages: pre-wedding, wedding, and post-wedding.

The pre-wedding stage was mostly spent in preparation of the big day. We had meetings with flower arrangers, decor organizers, the reverend who officiated our service, and others that I have forgotten because it was all a frantic blur of checking, double-checking, and making sure one more time that everything was exactly as we wanted it. Between the meetings, we had little time or energy to see those closest to us who had been waiting to see us for almost two years. This was disheartening for Kris and I, but we knew that the sacrifices would pay off in a truly great wedding day.

And boy, did they. Some people say you judge a wedding by how many things went wrong. The most serious thing that was off-colour was the bridal bouquet – they weren’t a colour that Kris liked. That just made her more than happy to throw it away at the reception. Everyone we’ve spoken to since the wedding has had nothing but kind and enthusiastic words about their experience. All in all, the wedding was truly one of the greatest days of my life. It was a happy, joyous celebration of love spent with friends and family, and everyone had a wondeful time. I couldn’t have asked for a better ceremony or reception.

Post-wedding, most of our time was spent trying to see as many people as we humanly could. We had breakfasts, brunches, lunches, afternoon teas, dinners, post-dinner teas, drinks, and all-day gaming sessions with anyone who expressed a desire to see us. Of course there were people we missed out, and we were a little disheartened by that, but we did the best we could.

By the end of the holiday, we were quite ready to be alone in our apartment with our cat for a while. We had spent our time putting ourselves out there more than your average woman of the night, and it was glorious. It was heart-warming to see our old connections again. Some relationships had changed, but most had remained exactly where they were when we left them.

One phenomenon that Kris and I both noticed in ourselves towards the end of the holiday was that we had begun to long for the friends that we had made in Korea. Facebook posts of gatherings were met with a pang of jealousy, even though we were going to be spending the day seeing five different groups of people. It is a feeling that we thought would be more prominent in expats – no matter where you are, you always miss the people that you left behind. If you’re engaging in your work abroad, you miss your family and childhood friends. When you return to visit your family and friends, you miss those friends that you made while living abroad. No matter where you are, you’re always missing someone. Luckily, we weren’t away long enough for these feelings to detract from the bliss of being newly married and seeing a bunch of old friends and our families again.

When we went through the gates to return to Korea, waving back at relatives, we weren’t breaking down like we were the last time we left that airport. We weren’t a young couple heading abroad to see what the wide world held for them. We were leaving as husband and wife (still weird to write/hear that), returning to our job and blossoming life on the other end of the planet. We don’t know when we’ll return to South Africa, or under what circumstances, but we eagerly await our next month of seeing more people than we can count and getting fat on beloved South African food.

One Sleep Until Marriage

Tomorrow, I get married. That is something that I have been waiting to say ever since I proposed to Kris months ago. And yet, now that the time is nigh, I almost can’t perceive the experience as real. In the few days since our arrival in South Africa, I have felt every emotion from exhaustion to frustration to boredom to happiness to excitement, all the way around to exhaustion again. In a few hours, I will be standing at the altar of my old school church, bonding myself to the woman that I love for the rest of my life. And I can’t wait.

Since we landed back in the country that used to be our home a little more than two weeks ago, we have been running around with little conception of the outside world, all in the aid of organizing the wedding. We have had appointments with jewelers, photographers, decor ladies, flower ladies, priests, lawyers, and post offices. We spent almost an entire afternoon buying ties, shoes, and shirts for the day. I have even put a bow tie on my Dachshund, Basil. He looks quite dashing, actually.

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We knew that our first few weeks of holiday would mostly be spent finalizing the details of the ceremony and reception. We knew that we wouldn’t have much time for anything else. What we didn’t realize was just how draining the whole ordeal would be. We have both flopped into bed in near-death states at the end of each day of pulling all of the metaphorical strings together.

What little time we have had to see our South African friends has been relished. From our respective bachelor and bachelorette parties to a couple of convenient lunch dates, we have made the most of the down time that we have had. We look forward to more of this after the wedding.

But here I sit, one night and a few hours away from being a married man. How do I feel? Honestly? Exhausted. It’s probably just because today was another day of frantic runaround, but at this moment, I am the most keen I’ve been for bed that I have been in a long time. Maybe it’s my subconscious trying to shorten the sensation of the passing of time, all to make the wedding come faster. Maybe.

Am I nervous? A little. I have to give a speech, and I hate those things. Am I nervous that I’m marrying the wrong person? Not in the slightest. The first time the gravity of the situation truly hit me was today during the rehearsal. We were practicing our vows, staring deep into each others eyes. I was gazing into the soul of the woman that I love, pretending to promise myself to her for the rest of my life. Tomorrow, I do it for real. I can’t wait.