A Family-Filled Chuseok

For ESL teachers in Korea, Chuseok is a godsend. The variable-length break falls shortly after the start of the summer semester. It has allowed Kris and I to escape from child-induced madness for a few days every year. This year, Chuseok is even sweeter. Kris’ mother Dalene and her boyfriend Dave have visited us all the way from South Africa!

Dalene and Dave arrived last week, in the middle of our final week before Chuseok. Both Kris and I were strung out from the semester and looking forward to the visit and upcoming Chuseok break. Our batteries were drained, and we couldn’t wait to recharge. They arrived on a Saturday of an Ultimate weekend. Their first taste of Korea was the glorious insanity of a ROK-U weekend. While it wasn’t Dalene’s first time in Korea, Dave must have had a peculiar first picture of foreigners in the ROK.

In the following week, Dalene and Dave had to entertain themselves during the day. Kris and I still had five more days of child-wrangling before Chuseok. They took the Seoul city tour buses, zooting about between all the tourist attractions. In the evenings, we did our best to give Dave and Dalene a taste of Korean cuisine. We have eaten more different Korean dishes in the past few days than we had in the previous few months. By day, Dalene and Dave took in the sights. By night, we devoured our way across Seoul. There was a brief interlude in the Korean eating for a surprise birthday party for me. Kris and my friends in Seoul plotted behind my back. They gathered in secret to celebrate my birthday and that of Cam, another friend in the group. Dalene and Kris even managed to make and hide a birthday cake. I was surprised, and didn’t stop smiling the whole time at the party.


Once we had served our last remaining time at school, we packed up and headed on a day hike of Manisan, on Ganghwa island. The tour was organised by Seoul Hiking. We stopped at various cultural points of interest before hiking the mountain itself. We saw a medieval fortress, neolithic rock structures, and a cultural market. Then it was time to lace up our shoes and tackle Manisan. It took us an hour or so to reach the top, slowed by Kris’ recovering leg and sightings of squirrels. At the top, there sat an ceremonial alter and various cultural implements. It was a meditative reward for our hour’s exercise. It was a delightful day trip.

Next, we set our sights on Busan. Kris and I have been to Busan many times, but most of our visits have been for Ultimate. We hadn’t visited Busan as tourists since our second month in Korea. We were excited to explore a place where we were far less familiar than Seoul.

Our first destination in Busan was BIFF square, a massive street market. Like Myeongdong in Seoul, we wandered between the food carts and storefronts. We took in the wares and eats on sale. The selection rivaled that of Myeongdong, particularly in the food department. We ate Turkish kebabs and rolled ice cream, and bought more than we probably should have.

Our next major highlight was Gamcheon Culture Village. A large suburb in the hills on the edge of Busan, Gamcheon is a hub of shops and artists. It is famous for being mostly comprised of small, single-storey houses. This is in contrast to other areas, where houses are rare but apartment complexes litter the land. We thoroughly enjoyed walking among the colourful houses. We read stories of the area’s history and marveled at the artwork displayed in the streets.


Our last two days in Busan were mostly spent in the Haeundae area. The only major excursion not in this area was to Busan Tower, the beautiful building featured at the top of this piece. In Haeundae, we first visited Busan Aquarium, where we saw, amongst many other marvels, otters being fed. Kris squealed in delight at their cuteness. After leaving the aquarium, we walked the streets once more. We explored the hills on the edge of Haeundae’s famous beach. Then, we lazed about on the beach, reading books and taking in the beauty of the area. It was a good way to refresh our bodies after the running around that we had done in the previous few days.


Dalene and Dave’s time in Korea is drawing to a close. They leave on Friday afternoon, leaving only one more full day to show them what Korea’s got. Kris and I adore having family visit, as showing them what we love about Korea reminds us as well. Our hearts will be heavy when we say goodbye to them, but we will treasure the memories of the things we saw when we were all together. We will go forward refreshed and ready to face the months ahead.


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.

Boards, Cards, and Happy Fun Times: My Four Favourite Tabletop Games

In my last post, I discussed how board games have impacted my life, and how they can help bring people together. Some games do this better than others. I may not have played a vast number of board games, but of the ones that I have, these are the ones that I have found to provide the most consistently fun experiences and worthy post-board-game-night stories. I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to try as many of these games as possible. You won’t be disappointed.


Image from fox.mmgn.com

In Munchkin, you start out as a level 1 character with no powers, abilities, or shiny things to make you more powerful. The aim of the game is to acquire loot, defeat monsters, acquire more loot, defeat bigger monsters, and eventually be the first Munchkin to reach level 10 and win the game.

Does this sound pretty dry and repetitive? Well, imagine that you’re facing up against parodies of classic gaming and pop culture tropes. In Munchkin, you can defeat Great Cthulhu with the Necronookiecon, or defeat a robotic version of Queen Victoria with a cane version of a gunsaw. The strength of Munchkin is its sense of humour. Whilst the game is mostly pretty balanced, the cards will often have you chuckling throughout your entire game due to the sheer insanity of the humour.

There are a host of different versions of Munchkin, with a unique setting in each. My personal favourites are Munchkin Cthulhu, Adventure Time Munchkin, and Munchkin Steampunk. If you’re interested to see how Munchkin plays, check out famous geek Will Wheaton play the game with Steve Jackson (the creator of Munchkin) and some of his friends here.

Love Letter

Image from The Nerds’ Table

In Love Letter, you are one of up to four suitors vying for the affections of a princess. Each turn, you play one of two possible cards to try and eliminate the other suitors from the round. If you are the last suitor remaining in a particular round, or you have the card of highest number value of the players left, you win a token of the princess’ affection. The first person to a set number of tokens wins the game (this varies depending on the number of players in the game).

What I adore about Love Letter is the amount of game you get for its size. Some games take up a large box. Love Letter is 16 cards, 4 rules cards, and the tokens of affection, all stored in a small cloth bag. It is perfect for occupying down times when travelling. Like Munchkin, there are a host of different versions of Love Letter, from Munchkin to Batman to my personal favourite, Adventure Time (you may be seeing a trend here). It is simple to explain and play, but has high replay value because of the shenanigans possible with the effects of each card. Watch Will Wheaton and co. play Love Letter here!

King of Tokyo

Image from davidkelly.me

In King of Tokyo, each player takes control of a monster. Players take turns rolling dice to see which monster will be crowned King of Tokyo by earning the most victory points or simply smashing the other monsters into the ground. During the course of the game, players can upgrade their monsters to have things like poison spit or psychic probes, each of which has unique gameplay effects.

King of Tokyo is probably my favourite quick and simple board game. It looks great, the game is well-balanced, it is easy to explain, and every person that I have played it with has loved it. There is great replay value due to the different monsters and the quick nature of the game. Games take between 20-40 minutes, so no-one’s brain is going to hurt overly much after a game or two. This game is great for families, game nights, and for anyone who enjoys playing with monsters and having fun. Watch Will Wheaton and friends play it here.

Cosmic Encounter

Image from fantization.com

If King of Tokyo is probably my favourite quick and easy game, Cosmic Encounter is probably my favourite game of a higher complexity. Whilst it is still not a whole-day-spanning, sprawling game like the Twilight Imperiums of the world, there is a depth of play in Cosmic Encounter that is far greater than the other games on this list.

In Cosmic Encounter, each player chooses one of 50 possible alien races. Each race has a unique power that breaks the rules of the game in some way. The players will use their powers during encounters with other players. These encounters revolve around encounter cards, which can be peaceful or aggressive. However, these cards are played face-down, so the possibility for shenanigans is high. A player wins the game by securing five colonies in other players’ territories. Unlike most games, multiple players can win the game at the same time. Here is a video explaining the game in a simple, accessible, and quick way.

Cosmic Encounter is a phenomenal game. From the sheer variety of powers available, to the heated discussions that happen during the encounters themselves, some of my fondest memories from game nights come from Cosmic Encounter. This is a game where almost anything is possible, and slyness and fast-talking ability are rewarded.

So, from the simple beauty of Love Letter, to the smashing fun of King of Tokyo, to kicking down doors in Munchkin, or shenanigans in space with Cosmic Encounter, these are my four favourite tabletop games right now. Many games came close to making it, but there is just something special about each of these four games. If you want to play a good game, you can’t go wrong with any of these, in my personal opinion. The great thing about games is that everyone has their own favourites. For some more good recommendations, check out TableTop (the video series by Will Wheaton I’ve linked multiple times already) or the BoardGameGeek leaderboards. There are board games for you. Go out and find them!

Board Games: The Universal Unifier

Gaming is a pastime that permeates almost every aspect of who I am as a person. I play games to relax. I play games to challenge my reaction times, logic, and emotions. I play games to tell stories. I play games to have stories told to me. The most social way that I play games is to have some fun with others. These games most often take the form of card or board games. Whether I play with my family, my friends, or my students, I find that games are a way to bring people together, regardless of circumstances.

Everyone has to start their gaming life somewhere. For most, this was playing simple games like Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, or Bingo with their family. I am no different. I remember many weekends spent at my grandmother’s house trying to outwit my cousin and brother in order to win Monopoly. A board game or two were always present on family holidays, and a pack of cards was always at the ready. Anecdotes of hotly-contested games formed part of family banter – “Yeah, but you still couldn’t beat me at Monopoly!” was an oft-used retort to expressions of superiority. And yes, we played Monopoly to death.


As I grew older, particularly when I entered university, the door into the true world of board games was opened to me. All around me, dozens of games that I had never even heard of before were played and enjoyed. I took one last mental look at Monopoly and dove in. I played games of all sizes, lengths, complexities, and themes. I hunted for Thunderstones and Munchkinned my way to level 10. I became a successful, profitable bean farmer and laid train tracks throughout Europe. I planeswalked and fought giant monsters. I even fended off cannibals in a little house on a hill. I did all of this whilst bonding with friends that I keep in touch with to this day (although not as much as I should!).


When I landed in Korea, I thought that the attitude towards board and card games would be different. In the land where League of Legends and Minecraft reign supreme, I held little hope that my students would even want to open a game that wasn’t an app on a phone or computer. I should have rather remembered the experiences that I’ve been lucky enough to have throughout my life. When I first showed my students one of my board games, their eyes lit up, and I saw my young self in them. Now, board game lessons are a highly effective reward for good behaviour and work ethic.

Life without board and card games would be a lot less interesting. They bring people together like nothing else. Just this week, I have already had one board game night, with the potential to have two more before the week is over. Every time I pick up a game, I think of all of the memories that I have made with that game. If it’s a new game, I am filled with the giddy anticipation of what is to come. In my next post, I will list the games that I couldn’t live without (it will be out this week, I swear!). Until then, play more games!

Visiting Relatives: Good for the Soul, not the Waistline

For the past few days, Kris and I have had the wonderful experience of having my aunt visit us in South Korea. This is her first time in the country, and we have made every effort to try and help her to experience as much of the culture of Korea as we can in her short stay. Surprisingly to me, a large portion of this Korean exploration has involved gorging ourselves on as much of the local cuisine as possible. Between eating every cultural meal that we feel is worthwhile and there being a break in our regular Ultimate season, I am currently feeling fatter than I have in a long while.

Since my aunt landed, our travels have revolved around eating food that we find to be either distinctly Korean or unavailable in our home country of South Africa. We have slurped our way through jjimdak (steamed chicken, which is Kris’ and my favourite Korean dish). We have shared several kimbap (rice rolls filled with meat and vegetables). We have even shared American staples like Baskin-Robbins and Krispy Kreme, which are outside the South African realm of food (I know Krispy Kreme just opened in South Africa, but who waits 4 hours for a doughnut?).


In between our gastronomic explorations, we have managed to get a good deal of actual cultural exploration in as well. We have been to Seoul twice, seen the demilitarized zone, walked around our little town of Wonju, and generally relished in each other’s company. This weekend, we go on a bungee jumping and strawberry picking excursion on Saturday. Then (if our bodies are not completely seized up through overeating and laziness) we will be completing a 10-kilometer run on Sunday. Whilst the run may be the beginnings of the road back to peak condition, there will certainly still be much further to go before I am rid of the spare tyre I see at the bottom of my shirt every morning.


My aunt may be leaving for South Africa again all too soon, but we have made memories that will last a long time. A lot of these involve various foodstuffs. Some of them involve seeing the wonders of Korea. Some of them are just the small moments that we spend in each other’s presence doing otherwise ordinary things. All of them involve making the most of the short time we have before she returns to South Africa. It has been a superb few days, and the days ahead look like they might be even better.

7 Weeks, 7 Lessons

On the 29th of February, Kris and I will finish our first year-long teaching contract in Korea. I cannot believe that time has flown by so fast. It seems like only a few weeks ago when we stepped off of the plane and were swept into an ominous black taxicab. We feel like we’ve known some of our friends here for many years already. And yet, it still feels like we are incredibly new to both teaching and Korea in general. With only seven weeks remaining until we leave Dongtan and start the next chapter of our adventure, here are seven things I have learned in my time in Korea so far.

1.) No matter how far away from each other you are, family and friends stay together. Whether we have brief discussions and catch-up sessions via Skype, post meaningless links to each other on Facebook, or get together on grand trips to Australia, it is very easy to keep in touch with one’s family and friends.

2.) Moving away teaches you who your true friends are. It is very easy to maintain friendships when those who you feel are close to you are within close proximity. When you are on the other side of the world, with a time difference of seven hours, and plans need to be made to communicate, it reveals who is willing to take the effort to do so. Some people you chat to on a constant basis. Others you don’t even need to do that much.

3.) Non-verbal communication is extremely powerful. You are trying to buy an incredibly necessary item. The shopkeeper and yourself do not share a common language. You awkwardly flail your hands in what you hope is close enough to an accurate depiction of your necessity. The shopkeeper smiles eagerly. They take you to something completely opposite to what you intended. You wince, smile nervously, and try again until you get it correct. Moments like that help you observe that communication goes so much further than words.

4.) Cleaning cat litter on a daily basis is far cleaner and easier than doing so on a weekly basis. Not to mention cleaner, quicker, and far less smelly.

5.) Coming home and trying to write (or otherwise pursue ones hobbies) is tiring, but rewarding. After nine hours of herding small children in the general direction of education, the idea of performing actions that require further effort is not a pleasant one in the slightest. However, I have produced some of my best work (including the majority of these blog posts) in the evenings after teaching. Sometimes, you just have to do what has to be done. It is worth it in the end.

6.) Cats like nothing more than destroying things. In the time that we have played housekeeper to our two lovely furry babies, our apartment has taken a bit of a beating. They have clawed much of the upholstery. They have removed a panel from underneath the sink. They have scratched the side of our wooden cupboard in their constant jumping atop of it. And they have looked adorable throughout all of it. Annoyingly so.

7.) Things that would be impossible alone are within your reach if you have good support. Neither Kristen nor myself would be here without each other. I would never have gathered the motivation to complete all of the admin necessary to reach Korea. Kristen would have left within the first month without my moral support. I would not have had the courage to move to part-time employment (to focus on my writing and Dota-related endeavours) without Kristen’s reassurances. Together, we are far stronger than we are alone.

I have grown more in this year than I have in a long while. It has not been easy, but with Kristen’s help, I have managed to try and follow my dreams. In the coming months, my pursuit of Internet notoriety will intensify. For now, I am trying to savour the last few days with my current children. They aren’t making it easy – they’re being particularly rowdy and disruptive – but time is passing faster than ever. I can’t wait to see what the future will hold.

We Went to a Land Down Under

The drama with obtaining my Australian visa was worth it. More than I could ever have thought possible. What, for me, was meant to be a little break from the rush of teaching children and generally being an adult in Korea turned into one of the greatest moments of familial bonding that I’ve had in many years. We laughed. We cried (in happiness). We drank more consistently than I’ve drunk in a long time. And every moment was pure happiness and contentment. I could not have asked for more from a holiday.

After our less-than-ideal travel to the wonderful, bureaucratic country that is Australia, Kris and I greeted the James family, my relatives. We briefly discussed the inconveniences that had plagued us along the way, Australian border protection, and general pleasantries, before we went to bed. The next day meant the arrival of my mother, father, and brother from South Africa and belated Christmas on Boxing Day. I couldn’t wait, but I slept like a baby hopped up on sleeping pills out of relief at arriving safely.

The moment I had been waiting for for many months approached rapidly. We drove to the airport (back so soon after it all) and waited for my immediate family to arrive. While we waited, we entertained ourselves by people-watching the rest of the inhabitants o the airport at that point in time. One young girl in particular struck our attention. She was clearly an enamoured young lass, holding a sign that read something along the lines of ‘Paulo ❤ Anita; I cannot survive another day without you.’ The sincerity of her placard and her clearly eager face intrigued us. We wondered if the mythical Paulo would ever show up. We were so fixed on Paulo and Anita’s love story that we simply shrugged off my own family’s arrival, staying in the airport to wait and see if Paulo would arrive. He did. They kissed. It was cute, and then a little gross. We left. That moment of intense emotion felt by others has managed to stay clear in my head, even when the host of my own happy memories from the following days blurred together. Funny how that works, really.

The all-too-short time we spent in Australia was filled with more happy moments of bonding with both my immediate family and the James family. Here is a shot of us all, enjoying the aforementioned belated Christmas dinner.10349004_1783335058560857_5840000451346484942_n

We ate. We drank. We went on a trip down to the boonies in the Southern part of Western Australia. There, we drank wine, jumped off of jetties, and looked for kangaroos.


That poor rental bus.

For some context, I have met the James family in person only twice before. Both times have been in South Africa. Between their two visits, we have kept in contact and banter through Facebook. I would not have considered myself to be too close to them before the trip. After the trip, however, they rank amongst my closest friends, and we have all agreed to try and remain in much better contact going forward.

Oh, and we did finally meet kangaroos. Kristen was braver than I was. And more smooth.


While it was a refreshing to bond with the James family, some of my favourite moments were those brief periods of time I was able to spend with my mother, brother, and father by themselves. Whether it was talking to my brother about his plans for his current studies and plans for the future, talking with my mother about the rest of the South African family, or discussing my father’s work life, I treasured each second of personal time with these three people that I have known for my entire life (or, in the case of my brother, four years short of my entire life). I miss many people, but none more than them.

I could spend thousands upon thousands of words describing every moment and experience we shared. I could ramble about listening to awful Australian rap as New Year’s approached. I could rave about Australia, and how I now understand why so many South Africans choose to move there. Most of the time, I feel like words are at least equal to pictures in their ability to capture the experiences of my life. For my trip to Australia, I am not nearly a good enough writer to depict how blissful, joyous, raucous, and simply fun it was to be with those I call family. For now, I leave you with one picture, taken at a craft beer house, and a new horcrux of happiness for me. This is what happiness looks like. This is how I spent my entire break feeling. These are the some of the indescribable people I spent it with. I hope that all of you lovely readers are lucky enough to experience joy as pure as this. 10295481_10153743746709360_142213118836155018_o