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

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


The gritty poster for our particular escape experience.

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

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

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


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

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

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

escape room sadness

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

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


Brooklyn Burger Joint: Still Korea’s Best Burger

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

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


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).


A satisfied Kris politely sipping her Oreo mint milkshake

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


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

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

Nanji Braai 2017: A Taste of SA in the ROK

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the Nanji Braai, an event hosted by the owners of the fantastic South African restaurant Braai Republic, at the Nanji camping grounds in Seoul. For those amongst you who are not aware, braai is the South African version of what Americans would call a barbecue or grill. While I did do some braaing on my recent trip to Geoje island, the Nanji braai was the most authentic braai experience I’ve had in Korea so far. For an afternoon, I felt as if I were spending an afternoon back in South Africa, and all it took was a tent, a fire, some raw meat, and some of my best friends in Korea.

A braai is not a complicated event. There are not a lot of airs and graces, and the food that is prepared is not elegant or complex. It is in its simplicity that the bonding power of the braai lies. For my group at the Nanji Braai, all we brought with us were drinks. The Nanji camping grounds rented us some tents, chairs, and a braai. The camping grounds also had a convenience store, where we could buy necessaries like charcoal, ice, and snacks, without having to cart them with us around Seoul. The most important aspect of any braai is the meat, which we pre-ordered and was given to us upon arrival. Within an hour of arriving at the camping grounds, we had a fire going, music playing, and memories in the making.


Tending to the meat in the early stages of the braai.

The braai that we had been supplied with was large and sturdy, but the same could not be said for the metal grills that covered it. The two pieces of grill were only just large enough to cover the braai, and they were prone to slipping off the edge if they were nudged too hard. This made flipping the meat difficult. More than once, we had to save a rough piece of boerewors (brown sausage) or lamb chop that had slipped through a gap in the grill and onto the coals. However, apart from meat falling into the fire, the actual cooking went smoothly. The ease of preparation allowed everyone to simply kick back and enjoy the sunny afternoon and good company.


More meat meant more hands needed on deck.

I have missed the experience of a braai during my time in Korea. The unique combination of a gathering of friends around a fire with music blaring over light-hearted conversation followed by everyone stuffing their faces full of well-cooked meat is something that happened so often when I was in South Africa. Going out for Korean barbecue should be similar, as most of the ingredients are there, but it’s just not quite the same. I thoroughly enjoyed the Nanji Braai, and Kris and I are eagerly awaiting the next installment.

ROK-U Spring 2017 Season Wrap-Up

This past weekend saw the end of another season of the recreational Ultimate in Korea. Spring 2017 was an interesting season for me, as I began to take Ultimate more seriously than I have in the past. I saw great growth in myself and the team I play for, the Wonju Knights, even if the playoffs didn’t quite go as planned. We may not have won the league or even the consolation bracket, but we certainly had a good time and looked damn good doing it.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my wife Kris has been in recovery from a torn ACL that she unfortunately picked up earlier this year. Despite this, she stoically remained captain of our team for the season. She didn’t miss a weekend, and gave the team encouragement and hearty cheers from the sideline. Her presence was inimitable, and boosted our morale immeasurably. Sadly, she could not add that fire onto the playing field itself. This left a gap in our handlers (essentially the playmakers of Ultimate) which I had to step up and fill. While I had played handler for the past few seasons, I was now required to play it for every point that I was on the field, and I was needed on the field far more than I was in previous seasons. I felt a lot of pressure at first, but the more I played, the more confident I became in my own play. The increased need for my mediocre skill helped me push past my previous skill ceilings. I am by no means anywhere near a good player, but I am on the road to getting there. My skills are no longer the weak point of my game – that is now my fitness, which I will work on in the coming months of downtime.

Beyond my own improvements, I saw great progress from every single person on our team. Newer players began to throw throws that they would not have done last season, and gained a greater understanding of how Ultimate works. Even experienced players on the team threw fewer risky, flashy throws. Off of the field, most of the players on the team were already friends before the season, and we tried our best to include the new players to the team into our fold. After play concluded on Saturday, we held a fines and awards evening to acknowledge everyone’s contribution to the team, and to have a few drinks together. Everyone received an award from the team, reflecting on some aspect of their play, attitude, or pretty much anything. Mine was the following:


Even though I improved this season, I had a tendency to get a tad grumpy at myself whenever I made a clear error on the field. This may have involved outbursts on the sideline at no-one other than me. Over and above this, my defense style is quite passionate. Hence, the Super Saiyan award.


Don’t mind me. I just missed an easy catch. I’m fine, I swear.

This weekend may have been a great final bonding moment for the team, but it was not our most successful. We finished league play in the middle of the table, landing a solid seed for the playoffs. However, our team cohesion just wasn’t quite there this weekend. We all missed easy catches (there may have been a couple of Super Saiyan moments from me), our throws went to nowhere more often than any other time this season, and we just weren’t gelling. We didn’t manage to win a single game in the playoffs, losing to teams that we’d beaten during the season. Our heads were a little down after our first loss, but by the end of the day, most people had realized that it was the last chance for this iteration of the Knights to be together, and we just had some fun.

With spring season of 2017 over, all that lies ahead for the next few months is the off-season. There is a club tournament coming up, but I didn’t make the cut for that one. For Kris and I, we have a couple of months to decide whether we will play again in the autumn. Kris may still be too injured to play, and I will need to decide whether I’d rather spend time with her or play Ultimate. Judging my how quickly this year has flown by, we will need to decide before we know it. Until then, we’ll just keep on enjoying our life here in Korea, and seeing what the future holds for us.


Geoje Island, and Reflections on Trips Past

Over a week ago, my cousin departed after an all-too-short visit to our humble abode in Korea. In our time together, we showed her the usual sights: Kris did a bus tour with her, we ate jjimdak (our favourite Korean food) three times, and we scrambled to show her as much of the Seoul that we love in the couple of days that we had. For four of her days in Korea, Kris, Catherine, and I went on a trip with Waegook Travel to Geoje island, one of the most southerly points of Korea. This proved to be the highlight of Catherine’s stay. Between seeing the attractions of Geoje, eating more great food, and spending time bonding, Geoje reminded me of the things that I had enjoyed in the tours we took when we first arrived in Korea.

When we arrived in Geoje after almost six hours on a bus from Seoul, we laid our belongings down in the pension where we were staying, and were quickly whisked to a nearby beach for some kayaking. As an activity that we had done when Kris’ mother visited us in 2015, it brought back memories of that, both in the similarities and differences between the two scenarios. Thankfully, the kayaking in Geoje was on a sunny, relatively windless day, so Catherine and I were able to spend more time catching up and enjoying the view around us than frantically paddling. We paddled around an island at a leisurely pace before returning to shore.


We found an island! Kris, our new friend Chris, myself, and Catherine

Later that evening, the tour offered us the option to go on a sunset cruise around the smaller islands surrounding Geoje, and we jumped at the opportunity. Drinks in hand, we took in the beauty of the surroundings with mediocre music (blaring from a speaker controlled by women with questionable music taste) and the gentle rocking of the boat to lull us into contentment. The ride lasted just over an hour. This was a good thing, as towards the end, the sun had set and the wind began to gust more intensely, and everyone on the boat was thankful to return to the warmth of the bus.


The four of us enjoying the sunset cruise

After the whirlwind first day, our schedule settled down. One aspect of the trip that exceeded other trips before was the food. Every night was a culinary event. The first and last nights of the tour were spent braaiing (the South African term for barbecuing or grilling), which was a good mix of longing for home and succulent meat. Red meat is uncommon in Korea, so enjoying thick steaks and lamb chops were rare treats for Kris and I. On the second night, we ventured to an Indian restaurant called Bombay Brau, in the foreigner district of Geoje. There, we ate the best Indian food that we’ve had in Korea. While it was expensive, it was worth the price. Kris has already mentioned plans to return to Geoje simply to visit that restaurant again.

At night, we dined like kings, and during the day, we filled our time with activities, relaxation, and good conversation. We ziplined over a beachfront, we climbed up the side of a mountain to reach a disappointing waterfall, and we saw some more of Geoje’s natural attractions. We made new friends, and rekindled our friendship with Catherine. The lazy afternoons in Geoje were great times to find out what was going on in her life, and the lives of my family in Australia. Other trips that we’d been on before had kept our schedules jam-packed with stuff to do, but I quite enjoyed the fact that we had decent time to ourselves. As an introvert, being around a lot of people for long periods of time tires me out both emotionally and physically, so having the time to recharge in the middle of the day kept me cheerful for the most part. There was one stage where all 60-odd people on the tour were under one small roof braaiing, and the noise was too much for me, but I was mostly very happy to be with my wife and cousin, exploring somewhere new.


Life’s a beach sometimes. Yes, I went there.

All three of us look back fondly on our time in Geoje. The balance between exploration and relaxation, the quality of the food, and the decent level of organization all aided our ability to kick back and enjoy a rare long weekend in Korea. Catherine may only have been gone for a few days, but we already miss her. The next major holiday to look forward to is at the end of July, where we take summer vacation. It might be a tough few weeks, but we’ll stick it out for the chance to have another holiday like our one to Geoje.

All images in this post credit of our friend Chris McMaster, except for the final picture.

Pre-Guest Prep

Later today, a cousin of mine will be visiting Kris and I in Seoul. It will be the first visitor that we’ve had in a long while, and it is a visit that we have been looking forward to ever since the plans were first forged at our wedding in January. By now, we are well-drilled in getting ready to have someone over, having had quite a few of our family at our various houses in Korea over the years that we’ve spent here.

The first thing that we did was try to make a rough plan of what we will do whilst my cousin is here. Luckily for us, there is a long weekend coming (Kris actually has this whole week off, while I still have to work 2 of the 5 days), so there were a number of tour group trips available. We selected one that we thought sounded the most exciting – a trip to visit Geoje island (the home of the beautiful beach in the featured image of this post). There were options to visit Jeju island, the Hawaii of Korea, but we’ve already been there, and the itinerary of those trips was identical to that which we had been on before, so we decided against that. We are all excited for Geoje, as it is a new place for all three of us, and the activities sound intriguing.

With four of the seven full days dedicated to Geoje, we only had to fill the remaining three days, which will be spent exploring the vibrant culture and sights within Seoul itself. This is much easier this year than in previous visits, as we actually live here now. While I’m working, Kris will play tour guide, giving my cousin Catherine an idea of what Seoul has to offer. Once we return from the trip on Saturday, we can revisit those attractions that she found most interesting and take her to some of our own personal favourite places.


Beyond planning the days out, we have made sure to keep the house clean. Instead of the normal piles of dishes in the sink and dirty clothes festering in the laundry basket, we have maintained empty vessels for discarded cutlery, crockery, and clothing. We have vacuumed the house three times this week. We have even deep-cleaned the couch that our cat Catsby loves to sleep on, returning it to its original royal blue form from a mixture of blue upholstery and white fur.

Even though we have been busy with two Ultimate tournaments in the past two weeks, Catherine’s upcoming visit has been the event that we have been most looking forward to for a long while. We cannot wait to show her a glimpse of the country that we have called home for a time far longer than we expected to. Between going on an adventure to Geoje together and seeing as much of Seoul as we can squeeze into the all-too-short time we have, we hope to craft an experience that we will all remember and talk about for years to come.

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!