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!

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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.

We’re Going…Home?

When my fiancee Kris and I first started planning our holiday to South Africa, we were extremely excited to be going ‘home’. We would be returning to the friends and family that we’d left behind all those months ago, and it would be a momentous, happy occasion. Sitting here in Incheon airport, waiting to start the first of two flights that we need to take to return to Johannesburg, I feel strangely different.

Over the past few days, we have been frantically trying to scramble together all of the things that we need for our wedding (the main reason that we’re heading to South Africa in the first place). We took our cat, Catsby, to the home of friends where he will be staying for the month. We collected my suit and received Kris’ wedding dress back after modifications. We bought Christmas presents for the close family that will be there when we return. As the date of departure drew closer, I began to feel like we were actually leaving home, and not heading towards it.

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The more I thought about it, the more conflicted I became. Surely South Africa was my home? It was where I was born. It was where I went to school and university. It was where I met and fell in love with Kris. I had spent the vast majority of my life there. Surely that was my home? I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt otherwise until I mentioned my feelings to Kris this very evening, and she hit me with wisdom that I simply couldn’t see.

You see, home isn’t about where things happen, or where you have property. It isn’t about how many experiences you have in a place. It isn’t about how long you’ve spent there. Home is about people. The people around you are what make a place a home. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros accurately expressed this feeling in their song ‘Home‘, which Kris just happened to be whistling for most of the day.

Sure, we have friends and family in South Africa. We have many people that we frankly can’t wait to see, people that we haven’t seen for months or even years. But, now that we have spent many months living in Korea, we are also leaving a host of friends behind. These friendships, like those in South Africa, were forged through board games, Ultimate, food, or late-night deep conversations. And they are why Korea has felt like home – the amazing community that we have built around us.

In the end, my home will always be where Kris and I are together. For the next month, that will be South Africa, and we will relish our time catching up with those that we haven’t been able to hang out with due to the inconvenience of being on the other side of the world. After that, our home will once again be in Korea, where we will share our stories with our newer friends. Wherever Kris and I are together, we are home. And that is a pretty amazing feeling.

 

Old Habits, New Bliss

When we search for ways to make our current lives better, we often look to the latest new trend. The Internet is constantly bombarding us with the hottest new thing, as of this very second. Whether this is a new fitness regime, the latest and greatest development in fun technology, or maybe even just a friend suggestion on Facebook, the Internet tends to try and push us into new things.

Most of the time, this is perfectly fine. Without discovering new hobbies or music or social circles, we don’t grow or challenge ourselves. The past few days, however, I have greatly enjoyed doing the complete opposite. I’ve been sinking into hobbies and music that I loved at high school and university, but just haven’t engaged with in Korea or even in South Africa just before I left. In the last few years, my life has changed so drastically that I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see if I still found joy in the things that I delighted in only a few years ago.

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Image from Pinterest

My first foray into past revelry was music. As the school year has wound down, I’ve had more time to play Overwatch and Dota. I usually don’t play music other than the in-game music, as it distracts me, but I was playing more casually than normal and felt like a change. So, I put on a YouTube playlist of Linkin Park, one of my absolute favourite bands of my teens and early university years. The first song I played was my personal favourite song, Numb. From there, I let YouTube’s algorithm take me where it wanted. Right from the first note, I had a smile on my face. Each passing song brought with it memories of high school study sessions or hanging out with friends in WARP (the geek club of my alma mater). Flashes of faces I hadn’t seen in years (to my shame) ran across my mind faster than the changes in the games. I had less success with System of a Down, a band I was particularly fond of in my mid-late teen years, but I was surprised by how connected my experience of life was to Linkin Park.

I am a firm advocate in the power of music to influence your day-to-day existence.Perhaps it is the raw emotional nature of Linkin Park’s music that causes such a strong reaction. Maybe I just stopped listening to them out of snobbery. Maybe they released a bad album or two and I lost faith. In any case, time-travelling through music is something I look forward to doing again soon. I am definitely going to see if the Linkin Park effect can be repeated by other past musical obsessions like Muse.

Beyond music, I have also been engaging in two hobbies that I have lost touch with in recent times – reading and model painting.

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Image from Amazon

While I regularly read comics, I have only read two actual novels this entire year. A few weeks ago, I picked up a small collection of books from a fellow teacher. This past Saturday, I decided to crack open the treasure trove of stories for the first time. I elected to start Andy Weir’s The Martian, and I have been devouring it ever since. I have almost finished the story, and I cannot wait to see how it ends.

One catalyst to my high reading time has been an unintended plus of my LASEK surgery. In years past, I have been incredibly prone to motion sickness while in a car. I could not read or use a cellphone for more than fifteen minutes before I would feel queasy. Since my surgery, this time has grown exponentially, to the point where I found that I could read for the entire 90 minute bus trip to Seoul without feeling sick in the slightest. Combine this with trips to Seoul and Daejeon between Saturday and Monday, and I relished more than seven hours of reading time that I used to plow through Mark Watney’s exploits on the Red Planet.

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Image from Pinterest

The other hobby that I found pathos in recently is model painting. At the wonderful Seoul Board Games Flea Market, I picked up a copy of the masterpiece that is Shadows Over Camelot. In the game, there are small plastic models for many different aspects in the game, including Arthurian knights, catapults, and even Excalibur and the Holy Grail. At university, I was a devout player of Warhammer 40 000 (Orks and Tyranids 4 lyf). I had spent dozens of hours bringing my Warbosses, Trukks, and other boiz to life. In the Shadows models, I saw an opportunity to test my skills and see if I could even paint. So, after my LASEK checkup yesterday (my eyes are still improving, yay!), I went to a popular hobby shop to kit myself out for bringing the Arthurian universe into full colour.

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The dream! Image from Pinterest

I decided to start with the simpler models to warm my painting skills up. Once those were complete, I would move to the intricate Knights of the Round Table. I spent almost two hours walking between two shelves of paint, planning out my colour schemes. Which shade of green did I want for my Pict battle garments? (Lime Green) Did I really need Dried Blood and Fresh Blood? (Yes). I was in a zone that I hadn’t been in in years, and I left the store 90 000 won (R900ish for my South African audience, $85ish for Americans) poorer but with a deep sense of inner peace. I have already hit most of the models with a coat of white primer, and I will probably start painting the catapults today. We’ll see if they turn out like brown blobby triangles or beautiful examples of medieval siege weaponry.

So, if you’re tired of trying to look for the newest thing to add to your life, try looking back. For many hobbies or musical styles, you might have left them in the past for a reason. But you might just stumble upon something that you find moments of true joy or peace in, and you’ll be left wondering why you left it behind. Even if that heightened emotion is only temporary, it will be worth your time.

Writing Overdose

Writing, normally, is something that I have at least a moderate urge to do every single day. Whether it’s just sending a witty tweet out into the ether or sitting down and writing a long piece, most of the time, I have some drive to move my hands across a keyboard in a way that produces intelligible words. However, after completing NaNoWriMo with only hours to spare, I was completely and utterly drained, devoid of all will to produce any content whatsoever.

Most of this probably comes down to the way in which I completed NaNoWriMo. Despite my earlier post asserting myself to staying on track even though I was behind, I found myself increasingly distracted and busy during November. A substitution job that I thought would only last a couple of weeks turned out to last the entire month – there were hours of potential writing sessions, gone. I even managed to pick up extra work, which further whittled into my writing time. I also found various excuses on each day itself, justifying why I didn’t have to write that day. “I’ll just catch up on the weekend!”; “I can’t complete a chapter, so I might as well not write at all!”; “Oh no, I overslept!”; these were among the more justifiable of the ‘reasons’ I found to write little or not at all on multiple days.

As a result of this procrastination, I was left with the dubious task of writing over 30 000 words in the last five days of November. If I had kept pace with the recommended daily writing goals of NaNoWriMo, I would only have to write 1667 words per day. Instead, I needed over 6000 words per day to reach the finish line. And yet, somehow, I was determined to make it. I sat down, every day, churning out chapters for at least five hours every day. I finished the construction of my world, worked through the disasters and resolutions, and completed the story, all in less than a week. I pasted my text onto the submission form to confirm my victory and completion of 50 000 words. I was just over 600 words short. Somewhere in the 30 days of updating my word counts, I messed up big time. I added in some more detailed descriptions and additional dialog, and resubmitted. I hit 50 000 words exactly. I was done.

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That’s what my word count graph ended up looking like once the dust had settled. I was incredibly proud of myself, particularly for pulling up my socks and getting the words out in the end. I also resolved to never fall behind like that when I do NaNoWriMo again next year. You hear that, Future Jodi? That doesn’t happen again!

Once the feeling of pride faded, I was left feeling completely devoid of will to write. I wanted to write a follow-up blog boasting about my victory, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Now, after days of playing HearthStone, Dota, and generally just resting my writing brain, I’m back and ready to share my experiences with you all again. With a trip home, a new year, and my own wedding coming up soon, I’m sure that there will be tons to share!