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.


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.


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.


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!

New Home, New Challenges

So, Kris and I successfully moved to Wonju. I sit now in our new house, mooching off of our lovely neighbours’ Internet, trying my best not to procrastinate writing this. The moving process was more onerous than we expected, but we got here in the end! Our time in Dongtan is officially over. But, with being in a new place comes new obstacles to overcome. I have to find a job. We  have to make the largely empty space that is our house into a home. We have to try and still save money. We even have to run the local Ultimate team. However, we knew that these challenges would come with the territory. Tackling them will be more than worth it, because we are now in a place where we have a friend base, and Kris and I both think that we will be even happier here than we were in Dongtan.

Moving here was a special kind of mission. Sure, we didn’t exactly have to rent a truck to haul all of our stuff over, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t require logistial planning. We chose instead to pack all of our things into every available bag in our house and bring them with us on the bus to Wonju. As it turned out, we have accumulated so many things in the past year (or we are simply so bad at packing) that this required two separate trips in order for us to physically be able to move all of our things.

What made the move even harder was the need to move Catsby, our one remaining foster cat. We were incredibly worried that he would be like his foster brother Kichu and yell his little furry head off throughout the trip. Luckily, he was superbly behaved, only loosing a mew when the bus ride was particularly bumpy. So, after attempts at shifting luggage, we got our stuff all moved into our new place.

The most pressing issue on my mind currently is my need for a part-time job. I have elected to forgo full-time employment in order to have more time to write and create Dota 2 content such as YouTube videos, streams, and articles. In order to stay in Korea, I still need to maintain a visa. The easiest way to do this is to procure a visa through employment. Sadly, the pool of part-time jobs in Wonju that are willing to sponsor an E-2 visa is not a very deep pool. It resembles an incipient puddle left in a pothole after a short rain. I do have a couple of promising leads though, and I hope to have successfully chased one of these down in the next week or so.

While we may have brought a fair number of belongings with us, our apartment is still rather barren. The only furniture that has been provided to us by Kristen’s employers is a single bed, complete with base. Compared to our last apartment, where we received a table, some chairs, a couch, and a bed, this is slightly underwhelming. What amplifies the sense of emptiness is the sheer size of our apartment. It is easily double the size of our place in Dongtan. There are three bedrooms, a living area, a bathroom, and a small laundry area. We do have plans to outfit each room to fulfill a specific purpose, but for now, they are mostly empty.

Something that will make the transformation from house to home harder is our desire to save money. This was a simple task in Dongtan. We were both earning full-time employment money. Our cost of living was low. We only rarely ate out or left our home to see friends. All of these factors have been altered by our move to Wonju. We will have more expenses because of the bigger house. I’m not likely to earn as much as I was. We have a bigger friend base, so we will undoubtedly go out more often than we did in Dongtan. This all adds up.

Despite all of this, Kris and I are both happy in Wonju. I will get to pursue my dreams. Kris gets a nicer job. We have a bigger house. We are closer to our friends. These are things that we wanted last year, and we’ve managed to get them. Sure, there are things we need to take care of to make sure that we can make a living, and not simply exist. But it will definitely be worth the effort. I think we’re going to love it here.

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.