Supercharging Enjoyment: The effect of fast Internet on my gaming life

Growing up in South Africa, having a fast Internet connection meant you could watch videos on YouTube without having to pre-load them. When I moved to Korea over two years ago, my definition of what fast Internet meant changed. Now I could download entire games in under an hour, and watch live streams in high quality. This movement to fast Internet changed the way I game drastically.

South Korea boasts the fastest average Internet connection speed in the world at 20.5 megabytes per second (Mbps). It also has the highest percentage of broadband higher than 10, 15, and 25 Mbps per second. South Africa’s average internet speed is a paltry 3.7 Mpbs, more than 6 times slower. South Africa’s peak connection of 18.9 Mbps doesn’t even breach Korea’s average speed. I had one of the better connections in the country, and I was still astounded at the difference.

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Gotta go fast!

A faster, more reliable connection to the Internet has meant many things for me as a gamer. I can download games much more quickly. A beefy triple-A game that I would have had to leave downloading overnight in South Africa is ready to go in under an hour in South Korea. As a result, I am now much more willing to purchase a game on sale. I want to play it on a whim, I can start a download and be playing it within the hour – there is no pre-planning required. Because I can download and play new games so rapidly, I am now much more cognizant of how much time I spend playing any particular game. I no longer put hours into a game because it’s better than waiting for a new game to download. I don’t play games past the point at which I stop enjoying them.

The most prominent example of this to me was my experience with Sukeban GamesVA-11 Hall-A. I enjoyed the first couple of hours exploring the world of robotic cyberpunk bartending. The fact that it seemed to be a visual novel with a small bartending mini-game intrigued me. I spent a handful of hours happily serving a colourful host of robotic characters their desired alcoholic beverages. After a particularly long session of the game, I took stock in my head. I mentally assessed whether I had enjoyed that playing session. I decided I hadn’t. So I uninstalled it and browsed my embarrassingly large Steam library for a new fix. I was playing The Game BakersFuri within 20 minutes.

I now spend less time invested in games that are not right for me. This means that I have more time to dive wholeheartedly into games I enjoy. I quickly establish whether I am interested enough in a game to stick with a game until I have completed it. Then, I act on that decision. I have finished more single-player games recently than I had in my last few years back home, without letting up my love affair with Dota 2’s unmatched online multiplayer experience.

Higher-quality internet also means better connections to the online gaming world. This includes online games, streaming sites like Twitch.tv, and video sites like YouTube. I am no longer worried that my connection will drop in the middle of a game of Dota 2 or Hearthstone. In the past, this would mean agonizing defeat unrelated to my mediocre skill level in both games. I lose enough because I’m a scrub, I don’t need technology acting against me as well. With Korea’s superb Internet, all my online gaming grief is a result of my skills, not my game connection. I also consume a great deal more gaming-related video and stream content now than I did back home. My wife and I watch our favourite streamers while we eat dinner, and the quality is always set on the highest. I watch replays and guides for Dota 2 and Hearthstone. I also try to keep up to date on the latest news in the world of esports and gaming as a whole.

Looking back on these changes, I believe that they are largely positive. I only play what I am truly enjoying, and I play more often because of this. I have matured from a frothing-mouthed gaming cultist into a seasoned games enthusiast. I am now willing to opine maturely about the latest gaming scandal or development in the world of gaming. I do not feel the need to flash my gaming credentials nearly as much as I did back in South Africa. Now, gaming arguably plays a bigger role in my life now than it did then. Korea truly is a gamer’s paradise. When the time comes to leave its sheltered shores, I will miss many things. I suspect that the Internet speed might be up there with my newfound friends and life experiences.

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Six on the Beach: Six More Things I Learned

When I first attended the inimitable Six on the Beach hat tournament in 2015, I had barely dipped my toe in the world of Korean Ultimate, and had never before played Ultimate on the beach. After that amazing first experience, I wrote up six things I learned from the weekend. Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the latest iteration of the event, and here are six lessons that I brought with me from Sixes 2017.

Cleaning up seaweed is not as gross as you would expect

When we arrived at Bukbu Beach in Pohang on the Saturday morning, raring to compete, we discovered that a large portion of the beach was covered with seaweed. We would need to clear it up in order to have all of the field space that we needed for the four concurrent games that the tournament required. I thought it would take hours. However, with dozens of players helping out, the entire beach was relatively seaweed-free within an hour, and games were only slightly delayed. It was great to see almost everyone who was at the beach helping out to clean up. We shoveled it into bags with discs, rakes, and our hands if necessary. Wet seaweed is definitely less pleasing to handle, the slimy texture far less desirable than the crisp texture of its dried brethren.

Playing a day of Ultimate on less than 6 hours of sleep might result in afternoon naps

Pohang, the city that hosts Sixes, is 3 hours from Seoul by KTX. Kris and I foolishly stayed up late the night before, and I didn’t sleep on the KTX. This meant that I did not have the sleep that I was accustomed to playing on, and fell prey to a savage nap attack. Thankfully, I fell asleep under the cover of a gazebo, so I avoided waking up to sunburn in addition to the surprising loss of time.

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When selecting a love motel, shopping around can result in a better deal

Normally, when Kris and I visit Pohang, we stay in a place called the Queen Motel. We do this because it is very close to the bar where Pohang parties are always held. The closer that we are to the party, the better. However, on a friend’s recommendation, we tried a different motel nearby, and saved 10 000 won ($10, R100). More money to spend on festivities!

Your wife may get upset when you forget to watch her play Ultimate

Kris and I ended up on different teams this tournament, and our teams happened to be in completely different pools. This meant that we played at different times, and could watch each other’s games. Kris noticed this, and diligently watched most of my games. I, however, was far less on the ball, missing all of her games on the first day. In my defense, some of them were lost to the aforementioned nap. Nevertheless, I may have ended up slightly in the dogbox and made up for it on the Sunday by watching her games where I could.

The mere sight of a plastic guitar can bring back a load of memories

One of my favourite game series ever is Guitar Hero. The simple delight of being able to simulate playing epic tracks in a videogame appealed to both my gaming and musical natures. I spent an inordinate amount of time playing every Guitar Hero game from Guitar Hero 3 to the final Warriors of Rock. I was also pretty good at it, earning the title of top player in South Africa in the final year of the title’s competitive cycle. At the party, I noticed that the bar had a plastic guitar controller leaning against one of the walls, and I was thrown upon a wave of happy memories and desire to revive my love for the genre.

Six on the Beach truly is a must for any Ultimate player in Korea

Every form of Ultimate in Korea has its appeal, from the relaxed competitiveness of ROK-U to the challenge of club play. However, no weekend of Ultimate in Korea can rival Six on the Beach for the sheer joy of playing the game for enjoyment. Results don’t really matter. What matters is that you are having a good time playing the game that you love on a beach surrounded by a large chunk of the Korean ultimate community. Whether you are a fresh arrival to Korea looking to feel out the scene or a seasoned veteran of many years, there is nothing quite like Sixes, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s iteration brings!

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Week One, Take Three

Eight days ago, I started my new contract in Seoul, after the chaos that was packing up our Wonju house and leaving for the big city. Some of the few things that I knew about the job included that I would be teaching five different levels of kids for at most five hours per day, and that I would have a Korean teacher to assist me for the first time. Although this meant many more working hours per week than 2016, it was a far better arrangement (time-wise, at least), than the nine-hour-per-day academy job I held in 2015. I didn’t know what the five different levels would mean – would they range from never-exposed-to-English-before to virtually fluent? I was also wary of the effect of a Korean co-teacher on the class – would they be helpful and make my life easier, or were they simply a set of eyes and ears that the school would use to keep tabs on me? In the first week, my work would go from the chaotic fog of the unknown into the comfortable familiarity of another year of teaching kids in Korea.

The first aspect of my work that I explored was the commute. Every day, I have a painless, four-subway-stop trip from our home, with a brief walk from the station to the school. Leaving the door of our apartment to reaching my classroom takes only thirty minutes – a brief commute for a city as vast as Seoul.

Upon reaching my class, I met my co-teacher. She is a lovely lady who is very capable at communicating in English. I was worried that I would constantly be piecing together what the school wanted to me, but my co-teacher instantly filled me in on the exact situation. I was relieved. The only unfortunate part is that I do not have her in my class for the whole day.

The kids came next, in five waves. Each class was more advanced than the last, although not by as much as I was hoping. Level 1 kids have had little to no exposure to English, whilst Level 5 kids are on about the same level as the mid-tier children I taught last year. My dreams of a purely conversational class where I would be exploring complex issues and fiddling with grammatical minutiae were dashed. At least they were all relatively well-behaved. The only times that I struggled were during the Level 1 and Level 2 classes. My co-teacher is not present in these classes, and they were not able to understand most of my instructions, and this frustrated both the children and myself. Of all of the levels, I’d rather have a co-teacher in lower levels (at least for the beginning), but we can’t always get what we want.

Despite some small niggles, I can see myself being comfortable at the new school. The first week was mostly spent giving children books, learning names, and playing games. Only towards the end of last week did we actually start to do any book work. Once that started, the teaching rhythm came easily. Another year, here I come!

The Winds of Change Blow Again

When Kris and I returned to Korea, we were simply expecting to have a relatively quiet couple of weeks, with Kris finishing off the last few weeks of her old school year and myself quietly waiting to start a full-time position at the academy that I was working at. All we were planning on doing was coasting until the new school year, where Kris would resume her position at her old school and I would move from part-time to full-time. That was the plan. That was not at all what happened.

In the days following our arrival, Kris did some serious thinking about her job at the time. She considered all of the extra hours and effort that she put in to her work, with no notice from the school. She was feeling unappreciated and undervalued. She expressed this to her liaison to the school, and even wrote and signed a letter saying that if the school continued to treat her merely as a resource, she would not re-sign her contract. The school accepted this decision. Kris was out of a job, and we thrust ourselves into the job market once more.

After frantically ravaging Facebook’s various Korean job boards and groups for a few days, a friend connected us with an employer that would offer Kristen shorter hours for higher pay than she received last year. She jumped at the opportunity. This meant that we were moving from Wonju to Seoul, Korea’s capital and largest city. As for myself, I followed a couple of leads towards a communications company where I might have a chance to do editing or writing work. Sadly, those opportunities didn’t work out. I was disappointed, but soldiered on. I decided to work with the same company that Kristen had signed on to. The shorter hours would mean that I would still have time to write and pursue my hobbies, while retaining a full-time paycheck and a visa.

Once our jobs were settled, we hunted for houses, settling on a slightly expensive but very modern and wonderful apartment. We are now two minutes away from two subway lines, with a 10-minute walk to a third. There is even a gym in the building, to help me work off the weight I put on eating all of the food in South Africa.

A slow running down of the clock may have turned into a panicked search for new opportunities, but Kris and I are optimistic about the change. It will be an experience to live in Seoul, and hopefully our positions work out for us. We start our contracts shortly, so we will soon see whether we jumped out of a cozy nest into the lion’s den, or whether we simply upgraded into a job that is better for both of us.

Andong: Mask Dance and Jjimdak

For months, our friends who live in the pokey town of Andong have been begging Kris and I to visit. We always thought that they were so intent on having us there because there was literally nothing to do in Andong, so they needed people to spice up the atmosphere there. So, during the annual Mask Dance festival in Andong, we decided to visit. We saw some performances, we shopped, and, most importantly for us, we tried our favourite Korean dish, jjimdak, in the town where it was born.

The Mask Dance festival is an annual celebration of Korean culture held in Andong. I thought it would be a small gathering with a few stalls and a handful of performers. What met us when we arrived was a sprawling city of tents, filled with food, curios, carnival games, and multiple stages of constant musical and dance shows. These ranged from foreign cover bands, taekwondo displays, and traditional Korean dance and music. My friends even showed off their Korean drumming skills, and gave an energetic and noisy performance that was enjoyed by all. If you’re in Korea and haven’t gone to the Andong Mask Dance festival, you really should go. It is a wonderful weekend. There is even an extravagant fireworks display (which we sadly missed).

For me and Kris, the attraction in Andong that drew us there the most (apart from our friends, of course) was jjimdak. I have raved about jjimdak in a previous post. Whenever someone asks me what my favourite Korean dish is, my answer is always jjimdak. Jjimdak is hard to describe – it is a hot, massive pot of steamed chicken and noodles in a sauce unlike any other. Kris and I both love it. Before eating it in Andong, we had only enjoyed it at one particular chain of restaurants. We were interested to see how the traditional style of jjimdak would differ from our favourite variant. We were nervous, but excited.

In the end, traditional jjimdak is drastically different from what we had experienced before. The option we tried had bones in the chicken, didn’t have cheese, and had more spring onions than our favourite variant. While it was still delicious, we still would rather have the jjimdak from the chain we’d loved before. Sorry, Andong. I’m definitely willing to try all of the other shops on jjimdak street though!

All in all, our time in Andong was full of exceeded expectations. Whilst it is nowhere near as large as major metropolitan cities, it is definitely worth a visit, especially for the Mask Dance festival. Even if I’d never been to Andong, I would still be thankful for the city’s existence, purely for the existence of jjimdak. I will keep you updated for further explorations into the world of Korean cooking!