Waiting for the End to Come

Every year, around this time, Kris and I become far less concerned about our current school year. With our contracts always ending at the end of February, we are always more worried about what is to come in March. While we initially thought that we might stay at our current job, a changing climate in education in Korea and the job itself has resulted in us once again looking for a new job to start in March. Kris has already successfully landed a position that she believes is far better suited to her, but I am still wading through the mire of job hunting to try and find that one job that is ideally-suited to me.

When we first started our current job, we were happy with the short hours and, for me, the short commute. However, as time has gone by, little problems have grown into larger issues. This is particularly true for Kris, who has more consistently had problems from the upper management of our company, and whose job situation was less ideal to begin with. She had to do a lot more commuting and deal with greater levels of bureaucracy than I did. Towards the end of last year, she decided that she would not be re-signing the contract, and began looking for a new job. In a stroke of luck, one of our close friends is leaving Korea, and her position would be vacant. Kris interviewed for the job and was accepted. Her new job may have longer hours, but it is 10 minutes from our house and will allow her more freedom to experiment with her teaching techniques.

For myself, I was content to continue in my current position. Unfortunately, the Korean government decided to discontinue English classes for first- and second-grade students at public elementary schools, effective from March. These students currently form more than half of my student base. As a result in the massive drop in potential students, the company has decided to not re-hire any teachers with my type of visa, and fill the gaps with part-time employees to save money. This decision makes economic sense for them, but it left me in the unfortunate position of looking for a job after the ordinary job season is mostly over. I am now scraping the bottom of the barrel for a position that is better than the average academy job, similar to the positions that Kris and I held in Dongtan in our first year of teaching. I am currently still being picky, and I hope to find something before I have to settle for a mediocre job.

We may be more settled in Seoul than we have ever been in Korea, but the cycle of going from job to job every year has not changed. Maybe this next job is one we stay at for more than a year. Maybe this next job will be our last year in Korea. Only the next twelve months will reveal what Korea has in store for us. I look forward to the new adventures, and, for now, look for a decent job to sustain us while we go on those adventures.

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Autumn Ultimate Wrap-Up

While the past few weeks haven’t been filled with many posts on here, which is entirely a result of my sloth, they have been filled with, amongst other things, a great deal of Ultimate of all levels, from the casual Halloween Hat, to the last few weekends of ROK-U league and finals play, and finally the Ulsan and K-Cup tournaments at club level. These Ultimate events have certainly kept me busy, and made sure that there were many Mondays where I went to work with aching muscles and a smile on my face. Let’s briefly look back at each of them in turn.

Ulsan Team Tournament

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In mid-October, I was fortunate enough to make the DnD roster for the Ulsan team tournament. I had missed out on the previous tournament, as I simply was not up to scratch for the team, but a combination of working on my skills during ROK-U and other players being injured or unavailable meant that I had the chance to prove myself at a club level again. For two days, teams tested their skills against each other to see who had the best line-up in Korea. DnD was seeded 4th from the results of the previous tournament, so we had a tough pool right out of the gate.

On Saturday, we fought hard against both Baekho and LGW (two teams seeded higher than DnD), but ultimately came up short. We won one game against the lower-seeded Flickachu, so the first day was not entirely doom and gloom. Personally, I felt like I had a highly positive day, particularly on defense. Even though that is typically my strong suit, I felt like I had an especially good day.

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One of my lesser defensive efforts.

The second day was the playoffs. Our team came out strong, defeating Maxima, a visiting Japanese team, before falling to the star-studded UFO. From both a team and a personal standpoint, our performances weren’t quite as stellar as the day before. We left Ulsan satisfied, but with room to grow as a team.

Halloween Hat

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The week following the Ulsan tournament brought Ultimate of a far different nature. For the unaware, a hat tournament involves all players being placed on random teams (controlled for skill level as best as possible). Oh, and everyone is encouraged to play in whatever costume you can manage to pull together for the weekend. Pieces of toast played against Minions. Larry Bird took on a ghost pirate. Thing 1 and Thing 2 confused everyone with their similar costumes when they had to face off against each other.

Halloween Hat was a high-spirited, fun weekend that seemed to be enjoyed by all. While smaller than previous iterations of the tournament, those who attended all looked like they were having a welcome break from the seriousness of ROK-U and the Ulsan team tournament. It didn’t really matter who won. The main goal was to have fun, and it was met many times over.

ROK-U Fall League

Interspersed before, between, and after the two tournaments above was the Fall 2017 season of ROK-U, the largest Ultimate league in Korea. Although for the past few seasons, Kris and I had played for the Wonju Knights (a team Kris created), this year brought change. Since we had moved to Seoul, we were no longer eligible to play for our old team. We were instead placed on Seoul Hammers, a team who had won the league the previous season.

On the team with us were a number of players that we had seen around and befriended in the scene, but hadn’t had the opportunity to play with. Kris and I were both excited for the season, as after the initial practices, our teammates were highly spirited and had the right balance between a drive to succeed and the desire to play for fun and growth.

We started the season strong, finishing at the top of the league standings. We only lost one game during league play up until the weekend before finals. Then, our strongest player had to leave Korea, and that left our team with a major gap to fill, which we struggled to do. We came together in the end, only dropping one more game, but the team dynamic was clearly different, and roles were still uncertain.

Come finals weekend, and we once again struggled to find our rhythm. Our opponents, on the other hand, came out firing. We fell behind early in the first game, and while we did gather ourselves towards the end, we didn’t have enough to overcome the early loss of points. We were knocked out in the first round. We played a couple more games in the consolation bracket, which was more of the same.

Overall, our first season on a Seoul team was a fun one. The team was a great group of people, and both Kris and I learned a lot from the experienced players on the team.

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K-Cup

The final event of the Korean Ultimate calendar for the year was K-Cup – one of the premier club tournaments of the year. I was once again fortunate enough to play for DnD. Like with the Ulsan tournament, some key players on the roster were injured, and our squad was smaller than it usually is, particularly in the male department. This meant that the men would have to step up and play more than they usually would at a club tournament. I was nervous about this, but secretly also excited , as it would give me extra time to hone my skills in a highly competitive environment.

The smaller roster certainly taxed the players on our team. Having to play over five hours of Ultimate on Saturday left many bodies hurting by the end. We had to play LGW, Baekho, and Boom (the three top seeds for the tournament) and Flickachu (seeded below us). The roster was different to that of Ulsan, and we had not had time to practice before the tournament. As a result, our chemistry took a while to get flowing optimally. Our games against the three higher seeds ended with us going down, b meshing together better with every game. This left us in a good position to face off against Flickachu. We ended up taking the hard-fought game. On a personal note, I sadly had to sit out the last half of the game to prevent injury to my calf muscles. I was frustrated by this, but happy with my performance on Saturday overall.

The story of DnD’s K-Cup Sunday was similar to that of our finals performance on Seoul Hammers – our opponents came out firing before we could mesh together, and we couldn’t recover from the early pressure. That dropped us down to the consolation bracket, where we didn’t quite come together again.

I was happy with my own personal performance at K-Cup. My defense was strong again, and I even snuck in a few scores here and there. I also know what I need to work on – mostly fitness – and I have months during the winter to hit the gym and get faster and build my endurance.

Whew! So much Ultimate! I enjoyed every moment that I spent on the field, with all of the teams and people I was lucky enough to do to share it with. I am, however, also looking forward to the off-season. Not having to get up at six in the morning every Saturday to travel to the not-terrible Gumi or sometimes other places will be welcome. As will the extra free time to engage in my other hobbies. Still, at the back of my mind during winter break will be the countdown clock to the start of the new season. I’m sure it will be here before I know it.

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.

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!