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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

 

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!

Seattle Trip Day 1: Purgatory

After months of trying to coerce English into the minds of children and adults, Kris and I left for our two-week holiday to Seattle today. During the day, we time-traveled, watched far too many movies, completed the entirety of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and dreaded American immigration. All of this before we even landed in the US!

The different time zones that lay across our world are not something that we, as humans, often think about. Even in a family like mine where members are spread across three time zones and 14ish hours, we have just become used to only calling each other at specific times to make up for time differences. Yet today, when we left Seoul just before 4pm on Thursday afternoon, flew for about 10 hours (during which we watched 4 movies each), and landed in Canada at around 10am on Thursday morning, we felt rather like Phineas Fogg must have done. Time travelling was awesome!

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What was significantly less awesome was the 8-hour layover that awaited us at Vancouver airport. After clearing US Customs (yes, in Canada, as bizarre as that sounds), we walked around the airport, checking out all of the shops. Once we had completed the shop rotation, we decided to buy Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and see how far we could get. As it is a play, we devoured it in its entirety within 3 hours. We tried to get Pokemon Go to work on the spotty WiFi at the airport. While we did catch some Pokemon, what we caught the most during our hunting was frustration at the lack of consistent Internet connection. Finally, Kris settled down for a well-earned nap while I re-read some of the graphic novel masterpiece that is Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s Daytripper.

By the time I was two-thirds into the story, it was finally time to board. We left Canadian soil and, 40 minutes later, touched down in Seattle. We knew that one hurdle lay ahead of us: immigration. Would they turn us away? Would they let us be? Would they force us to recite minute details about our life for no reason? As we made our way through the terminal, all of these possibilities weighed down on us. We needn’t have worried. There was no immigration. We simply picked up our bags and left the airport, finally loosed onto the American soil that is to be our home for the next two weeks.

We are now both quite content to take it easy tomorrow. We plan to find a suitable camera for the trip, visit a local board game store, and browse the wares of an Ultimate shop. Our short time with my brother and our TI6 experience both begin on Saturday. Tomorrow, however, we will take in the sights, sounds, and retail experiences of Seattle. We may get fat, but at least our wallet will be lighter!

The Bicycle Difference

Recently, Kris and I made the decision to invest in a pair of bicycles. I was highly skeptical of the idea at first. I never thought that having a bike was necessary, and I didn’t think that it would make that much of a difference in travel time and the accessibility of the whole of Wonju. I thought it didn’t make financial sense. I thought it would be unsafe. I am happy to say that I was utterly wrong on all of those fronts, and our bikes are two of the best purchases we’ve made in our brief time in Wonju.

I was no stranger to using a bike as a form of transport. I had done so at university, to save money on petrol and car maintenance. I remember biking to university being a stressful experience, always worried about whether I would get hit by a car, or miss my first class because of bad robot (traffic light for non-South Africans) timings. These slightly negative experiences seem to have put me against getting a bike in Korea, simply because I didn’t want to add mild unpleasantness to my pre-work time, as there would be mild unpleasantness in excess once I got there.

On top of this, a bike was most definitely not necessary in Dongtan, the town that Kris and I lived in last year. It was the perfect size and distance from major cities to not need a bike. Dongtan itself was small enough that you could walk almost everywhere within half an hour, so faster transportation was unnecessary. Dongtan was also, I reckoned, too far from the closest major city to plausibly bike there. As such, we never truly considered getting a bike in Dongtan.

Wonju, however, is a moderately bigger city. While it is possible to walk everywhere in a day, it is far less of a practical option. One of my contracts that I was due to start shortly after we bought our bikes required me to be at an office 7 kilometers away from my house by 07h45. Sure, I could get up early and jog there. But I would rather not. Even the school I work for most often is a 40-minute walk from my house. I spent the first three months of our time in Wonju catching up on the superb Freakonomics Radio podcast, with the distance floating by.

I also felt that a bike was an unnecessary expense. Spending the equivalent of R2000 (US$160ish) on a mode of transportation that I seemingly didn’t need was, in my mind, wasteful. It was only once we purchased the bikes and started using them regularly did I see how wrong this perception was.

Despite my misgivings, Kris convinced me that bikes would be useful in Wonju. So, I caved and we bought them. From the next day, my eyes were opened as to how foolish I had been in not buying a bike earlier. My travel time to work went from 40 minutes to 15. The office trip turned from a R190 (US$15) round-trip taxi into a 30-minute bike commute. Best of all, Wonju is designed with bikes in mind. There are wide bike lanes on almost every road, so there is no need to risk your life by cycling on the actual street. The most dangerous obstacles are children that stop suddenly to pick up leaves, and old ladies who somehow take up the entire sidewalk.

Overall, I am thoroughly enjoying riding through Wonju. It is a safe, quick, relatively cheap form of transport that is perfect for a city of Wonju’s size. We have explored more of the city on our bikes than we would have if we had continued to take taxis everywhere. The rides are good exercise for our lazy bodies. Finally, it is a way for Kris and I to spend more time together, laughing at the things we see on our rides. Let us just hope that we don’t get stranded by a flat tyre any time soon.

New Experiences and Post-Guest Normality

On Sunday evening, we bid my aunt farewell after a truly refreshing and heart-warming nine-day stay. My girlfriend Kris and I did our best to try and entertain her. We showed her as many of the sights, sounds, smells, and experiences as we could. After her stay, we were exhausted and saddened. By showing her Korea, we were reminded exactly what we enjoy about the country. Despite this, while she was here, I was expecting to hit a wave of productivity after she left. Now that she has gone…it just hasn’t really happened.

My aunt’s visit was definitely one of the highlights of our time in Korea so far. Like the rest of the visits from relatives that we’ve had, we spent the time showing my aunt what we love about Korea. We visited Seoul multiple time to explore the city as best we could. We saw Nanta, the fantastic Korean cooking musical dance comedy show. Yes, I was picked to go up on stage again – I maintain my 100 percent participation rate in Korean theatre. We ate all of our favourite dishes.

This visit, we chose to go one step further. Because my aunt visited for so long, we had more time than usual that we needed to fill. So, we did a few things that even we hadn’t done before. My aunt and I visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Kris, my aunt and I went strawberry picking. Finally, we saw some new films that none of us had seen. This combination of old and new made my aunt’s visit one to remember for her and us.

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Now that she’s left, I should be rapidly progressing with all of my endeavours. Even though my teaching schedule has become more full, I still have a good amount of time to devote to other interests such as writing and streaming. Disappointingly, it hasn’t really happened that way. I have largely been very lazy and content to derp on the Internet and just play games. This blog has been far too long in coming. I haven’t written much for GosuGamers. I haven’t even managed to keep my fledgling stream schedule.

However, the last few days haven’t been entirely without achievement. I applied for my first credit card (approval will hopefully come soon). I did manage to stream a bit of HearthStone yesterday. I was quite happy with my technical performance, even if I was the only one watching myself. Most notably, I have arranged to be the official GosuGamers media rep at a HearthStone tournament in Seoul this weekend. I am nervous to talk to some of the players that I’ve been watching for a while, but I am also excited for my first event as an interviewer, photographer, and journalist.

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My time in Wonju continues to be filled with a mixture of adventure, fun, work, poductivity, and laziness. I am still struggling to find the balance between producing content and enjoying the freer schedule of part-time work. Luckily for me, Kris has been behind me all the way. She might come home and be jealous of my free time, but she has been the support that I need. She has given me space to find my own motivation, but also pushed me when I really needed a push. The coming weeks and months look to be more of the same rollercoaster. I can’t wait to ride.