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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Brisk Disk on Busan’s Beach

My body is aching. Kristen has trouble walking on one of her calves. Our weekend passed by in a blur of sand, disks, and a couple of drinks at The Wolfhound. The culprit? Our first Ultimate event of the new year – the small-in-size-yet-large-in-fun Angel Hat tournament.

When we signed up for the tournament in the first few weeks of winter, we were afraid that it would be plagued by cold so severe that our muscles would seize up. Or worse, fall off of our bodies, frostbitten. Upon our arrival in Busan, our fears proved to be founded on a grain of truth. It was freezing. But we were still incredibly excited to play Ultimate again. For myself, it had been many months since I had stepped onto an actual Ultimate field and thrown the disk towards an end zone. Kris had gone to some training in Daejon in January, but I was too lazy. This laziness came back to bite me over the weekend, as I saw how unfit I had become through months of sloth and good eating.

The eighteen or so people who participated all had a wonderful time. The majority of the games were played 4v4 or 5v5 on small fields. It was a good way to practice our short game and ruin several socks by running in them on the sand. After the first day’s play, my team, Iris, emerged undefeated, defeating all of the other three teams in the competition.

Some say we were stacked with skilled players. No inquests were launched into the truth of this, however.

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Following the day’s play, we spread out and searched for our lodgings. We freshened up and headed to The Wolfhound, a favourite haunt for Ultimate players in Busan. We ate nachos, drank beer (and South African wine to Kris’ extreme joy and eventual detriment), and were rather merry. At one point, one of our number disappeared. We found him later, but he didn’t quite make it back to our accommodation.

The next morning, play was distinctly more sober than the majority of us had been the previous evening. What would have been a layout on the first day was a ‘yeah, no, that can just hit the ground’ on the second day. When the tournament was all said and done, myself and the rest of Iris emerged as the only undefeated team.

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However, the goal of Angel Hat was not victory, but pure, unbridled fun playing the game that we love. In this respect, everyone who participated was a winner. Each team had at least one player who had played little or no Ultimate beforehand (except for Iris. We weren’t stacked, we swear!). The game is always growing, always pulling more in. It may be a cult, but it’s a fun one.

When we rode the two subways, KTX, and bus home, we slept and smiled at the merriment we had enjoyed. With the practice of playing on the beach, we will be more than ready for the next season of ROK-U and all of the other exciting tournaments coming up. Here’s to another year of Ultimate!

Victory! and other stories: ROK-U Game Week 2

Our amazing ROK-U team, Cheonwon, managed to win our first game of the season. Our weekend started rusty. There was a brief break for varying levels of drunken revelry and a stay at an amazing hostel. Then the sweet taste of victory washed over us. Our final game may have the been tainted by administrative hijinks, but nothing could take away the feeling of success that we all felt at pulling together as a team.

The games this weeks were held in Busan, the coastal city that we initially wanted to be placed in, and fell in love with over Kristen’s birthday weekend. For the second time this year, we played on sand, and for the second time this year, it was hard on our bodies. Our team had never played on sand together, and it showed in our games on the first day of play. We were rusty. We were slow. We were uncoordinated, and miscommunication abounded. Our first game epitomised these flaws, and was a demoralising loss to one of the better teams in the league.

Nevertheless, we avoided falling into a negative mental state as a result of the loss. We acknowledged that the game had happened, noted some mistakes to be worked on, and proceeded to the next game, against a team native to Busan. While we lost once more, it was a much tighter affair, with our noble Cheonwons only going down 4-8. It was in this game that we first showed signs that we could win a game on the sandy beaches of Busan.

Once our second game was completed, our games for Saturday were finished, and we had the rest of the afternoon and evening to our own, before we would head to the arranged ROK-U party at the local Irish pub, The Wolfhound. Our team took the time to visit our accommodation for the evening, a local hostel named COOOOL Guesthouse. They most certainly lived up to their name – the space was very well-designed, open, clean, and, frankly, cool. We put our kit down, had quick (or, in the case of some ladies, not so quick) showers, and headed out for a team dinner. We ate our fill, took some photos, and left for The Wolfhound.

This was my first taste of an Ultimate party in Korea, and I must say that it was a great night. Even though I was not drunk, I had more fun than most of the drunk people there. It was wonderful to see large portions of the teams in a social setting, as opposed to on the field. I played darts, I danced, I walked around in a onesie once more. The theme was pyjama party, and my actual sleeping clothes (or lack thereof) would not really be safe or pleasant for the general public to see. After Kris and I had had our fill of merriment, we left, lay down in our bunk bed, and slept soundly.

We arose in the mid-morning, with our first game of the day only at 1 p.m. Our wonderful host at COOOOL had prepared a scrumptious breakfast of egg and cheese on toast, complete with condiments and French pressed coffee. Where nothing more than a loaf of ordinary bread, some jam, and instant coffee in a tub would have sufficed, COOOOL went the extra mile. When we return to Busan, we will most certainly be returning to COOOOL. We then packed our things and said goodbye to our lovely host, heading to the beach to support the other teams/spy on them for their weaknesses.

One of the teams that we had our eyes on were the team that we would be playing next, Feel. Unlike most of the other teams in the league, they seemed to be less than perfectly organised, similar to our own level. We were cautiously optimistic that we could give them a tough game. We could maybe even win. In our pre-game pep talk, everyone was ready, and had a fire in their eyes that had not been there in the first game on Saturday. We knew that we started to really come together as a team in the second game of Saturday’s play, and if we played at that level, we could show the other teams what we could truly do.

The first half began well. We managed to score a couple of quick points, leading the game for the first time of any game in the season up until that point. After our initial burst of scoring, the game slowed down, and we began trading points back and forth. However, once we scored our sixth point, the half ended. The score was 6-2 to us. There were many smiles in our half-time huddle, but behind those smiles lay weary eyes and beads of sweat – we had run hard in the first half, and we were all tired. This tiredness showed in the first part of the second half. We became complacent, and Feel capitalised on this, scoring three quick points of their own to bring the score 6-5. At this point, hard cap was called. This meant that the game would end after the next point was scored, unless the game ended in a tie. My body was quite broken, and I spent this crucial time on the sideline, cheering for my team. Both teams played scrappily, a combination of exhaustion and in-game stress leading to a host of throws going awry. After this one point lasted ten minutes, the fastest cutter on Feel managed to break away from his mark and catch a lofty pass in the end zone, bringing the scoreline even again, and forcing the game into the Universal Point. Whoever scored the next point in the game would win it.

If the hard cap point was a marathon, the Universal Point was a supermarathon. Even with fresh legs on the field after the hard cap, the game had been long, and we all were wrecked. Instead of trying to work the disc up the field with short passes, both teams fired long-range passes, hoping to catch one of their respective cutters in the end zone and end the game quickly. They did not succeed. The point went on for twenty minutes. Fast cuts and interplay changed to ambling and desperation. And then we managed to get the disc deep in the Feel half. I made eye contact with our handler, Jotham. We both knew what had to happen. I faked a cut, beat my mark, and bolted for the left-hand side of the end zone. Jotham floated a beautiful pass, slightly beyond my reach. I leapt into the air. I caught it. We had won. It is the proudest moment in my Ultimate career up until this point.

Our next game, which had been rescheduled to a later time, was less positive. Many players on our team had booked train tickets to and from Busan weeks in advance, using the earlier timetable, where our final game took place one hour earlier than it ended up doing. Consequently, almost half of our players left in order to not miss their trains. Our last game was a rout.

Not even the frustration of losing awfully due largely do to administration could wipe the smile off of my face though. I had scored the winning point for my team in the most dramatic fashion. I felt like a king. Even now, sleep creeping in on my senses like black mist, I think back to that moment and smile. Sure, I may have fulfilled my role rather well at that moment. But without my team, I would not have been in that position. And in the moment that I scored, there was nothing in our team’s mind of but the glory of winning our first game, the joy of overcoming everything put in front of us. I helped do that.

Six on the Beach: Six Things I Learned

This past weekend, Kris and I went to a ridiculously fun Ultimate tournament in Pohang called Six on the Beach. It was a two-day celebration of Ultimate, filled with sand, sun, and throwing some discs. We brought back sore muscles, sand in places where sand should never be, and many lessons. I’ll share some of the things I learned this weekend, from the difficulty of running on sand, to the quality of the Ultimate community in South Korea.

Playing Ultimate on sand is painfully hard. 

Running of any kind is difficult enough, but sand goes out of its way to be exceptionally uncomfortable and awkward. Whether it is the mini-mountain-climbing feeling of playing on soft, uneven sand, or the pain of playing on unyielding hard, wet sand, it is not an ideal surface for quick, sharp sprinting. The only benefit that sand has over other surfaces is that it is rather suited for layouts (diving to catch an otherwise unreachable disc). This did lead to more layouts than I would have expected. Some of these were clearly gratuitous, and players were jeered accordingly from the sidelines when they planted themselves in the sand for a disc more in their reach than the hem of their sleeves.

Every Ultimate player, no matter how experienced, has something that they need to work on. 

I have a great deal of my game that I need to improve on, most of which were agonisingly highlighted during the tournament. Most prominent amongst them is my need to gain speed and endurance in my running. Close behind my physical ineptitude is my need to not panic when I get the disc. I have the annoying tendency to simply throw the disc away wantonly. This was demonstrated in what could have been a highlight of mine for the tournament: I made a full stretch, horizontal layout, catching the disc with the tips of the fingers of my right hand. The fact that I succeeded in doing this sent a surge of adrenaline through my body, and I casually tossed the disc away to what I thought was a nearby teammate. Sadly, my throw flopped pathetically to the dirt. I was, however, heartened by the fact that even the most experienced players had moments that they could have done markedly more proficiently. Whether it was throwing the wrong type of pass to making a cut to the wrong side of the field, we all had something that we felt we did poorly. We are all human, and it is helpful to remember this when you mess up.

There is no shame in having McDonald’s for two (or even three) meals in one day. 

It’s close. It’s fast. It’s (mostly) in English. When you don’t feel like breaking out your rudimentary and embarrassing grasp of Korean or waiting a long time for your meal, the golden arches lie in wait. They know you want their salty, fried, processed goodness. And they are more than willing to give it to you.

Ultimate tournaments can run on time!

I have only participated in a handful of Ultimate tournaments before Six on the Beach, but a common feature of all of them is that they ran over time to varying degrees. Some were a handful of minutes over time. Others were a handful of hours. Six on the Beach proved that they could run to schedule. With nothing more than an air horn, a watch, and some shouting, the Six on the Beach team managed to start and finish matches when they said they would. Well done! While Ultimate people are generally relaxed when it comes to time, I appreciate when events I attend run on time, and Six on the Beach did not disappoint!

Not all love motels are seedy. 

When we had been told about love motels before this weekend, I had the impression that they were completely decrepit, poorly-maintained old buildings with tiny rooms and beds filled with lumps and mysterious stains. When we booked a love motel for our one night stay in Pohang, I had my reservations. I quelled these by rationalising that we would only be there for one night, and the price was very reasonable. I needn’t have consoled myself. Our motel, which was two minutes away from the beach, was spotless. It came complete with a well-sized shower, computer (for stimulation purposes, we deduced), television, a comfortable bed, and clean towels. We would gladly stay there again, and will be far more willing to frequent love motels in the future.

The Korean Ultimate community is amazing.

While we had experienced some of the Ultimate community beforehand by playing in the Seoul Spring League, Six on the Beach was our first major exposure to players from around the country, and we were eager to see if players from around the country were as friendly, helpful, and generally pleasant and fun to be around as the Seoul community was. This was indeed the case. From first-timers brimming with enthusiasm, to veterans with the name of their Korean hometown tattooed onto their bodies, everyone was simply enjoying the weekend of sandy disc-throwing revelry. Advice was passed cordially and in good nature. Smiles abounded. Laughter contended with the various tactical calls throughout the weekend. It was sublime.

While my legs may still be sore from running, what will stay with me longer will be the memories made at Six on the Beach. The lessons I learned, the new friends I made, the older friendships made stronger – this is what Ultimate is truly about. We may all leap around after a small plastic disc, but the main driving force behind it all is something that Ultimate has had everywhere I’ve played it – a wonderful community. Thank you to the organisers. Here’s to the next tournament being as epic!