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!

 

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Honeymoon in Boracay: Five Days of the Fantastical

Holidays do not come often in our school year in Korea, and Kris and I made the most out of the most recent week break that we had over the end of July and beginning of August. Even though we were married in January, we had yet to have our honeymoon, so we made plans to visit Boracay, an island in the Philippines, to belatedly celebrate our nuptials. We could not have asked for a better week.

We chose Boracay for a number of reasons. First of all, a number of our friends have played Ultimate there in the past, and have raved about the island as a great place to get away. Second, the travel time from Korea was relatively short compared to returning home to South Africa. Third, the island is well-known for its beaches and water activities, which were exciting prospects to both of us. Finally, my mother had managed to find us free accommodation. Who says no to free accommodation?

After a five-hour flight, an irritatingly long 10-hour layover in Manila, another hour-long flight, a cab ride, a ferry, and another cab ride, we finally managed to dump our things and touch base in our hotel. The brief time spent in the cabs and ferries gave us a good idea of the general aura of Boracay: chaos. The island seemed cleft in two between stark poverty and lavish lifestyle. This dichotomy is familiar to us, as it is the dynamic of many cities in South Africa. We even commented how similar it felt to Durban, a coastal city from our home country.

Our first standout experience of the tour was scuba diving. Through help from staff at the hotel, we booked an outing with a seemingly reliable outfit, and woke up early on our second morning to squeeze into wetsuits and see what all the fuss was about. Scuba diving exceeded all of our expectations, and opened our eyes in a way I was not expecting at all. The concept of breathing underwater for more than 12.74 seconds was something I could not comprehend. Nevertheless, after a worryingly brief training explanation and an even more brief freakout on my part, I managed to get the hang out it.

We were led among several coral reefs and even got to feed fish. We generally took in the fact that we were several meters under the water and not simply inhaling water and dying. That was my perspective, anyway. Kris no doubt spent less time contemplating the logistics of it all and more time actually seeing the beauty around us. Luckily for me, there was enough time to get over the fact that I was actually breathing underwater and simply experience the wonder of it all. Scuba diving is something that we will certainly seek out again.  Sadly, whilst we were given a CD of photographs taken during our trip, it turned out to be blank, much to our disappointment. The experience will have to live on only in our memories.

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Our next standout event was island hopping. A popular tradition for the many tourists of Boracay, we spent a day on a boat, zipping between different parts of Boracay and the surrounding islands. We drank from a coconut on the beach, we snorkeled (more marveling at breathing under water on my part), and we tossed a disc around at every opportunity.

The highlight of the island hopping was visiting a cliff diving park. We paid a small entry fee and were allowed to jump into the ocean from boards at varying heights. The jumps ranged from three metres all the way up to ten metres from the water. These sound like small numbers. They are far more terrifying when you look down between your feet and see every last centimetre between you and the safety of the waves below. We both tentatively started at the seven-metre jump (because we weren’t aware that the lower heights existed beforehand), plunging into the watery abyss little more than bundles of nerves falling into liquid. While it was terryifying, it was incredibly freeing to simply jump off of something high into water. We both worked our way up to higher platforms, eventually jumping off of the ten-metre jump with terror and triumph mixing together in our stomachs. I enjoyed it so much that I just kept on jumping for over an hour. Kris, still recovering from her knee surgery, elected to watch and make some new friends, and occasionally took a photo or two to capture the moment.

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The nine- and ten-metre cliff jumps

We also made new friends doing something that we love: playing Ultimate. Whilst we were walking down the beach one day, we happened to see some of the Boracay Dragons (a world-famous beach Ultimate team based on the island) playing some casual pickup. We initially sat on the sidelines and watched, marveling at their speed and accuracy, even in horrendously windy conditions. After a while, they noticed Kris and I on the sideline, and asked us if we would like to join. Whilst I was skeptical that Kris may injure herself and I was also a little tired and my eyes were acting up, we decided that the opportunity to play Ultimate on a beach in Boracay was one that we could not pass up. We spent more than an hour in what became a rainstorm playing the sport that we both love. The Boracay players were incredibly warm and friendly, and the spirit in which they played the game was light-hearted and joyous. They clearly loved every minute of running up and down the beach, trying to best the other team. They didn’t play to win. They just played to have fun, and we all had a wonderful time playing together.

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Not pictured: the litres of rain soaking through our clothing.

Our final unforgettable experience from Boracay was mermaid swimming, which is exactly what it sounds like. We put on special swimsuits that wrapped our feet together like a mermaids, took some photos, and proceeded to have a lesson in how to make the most of our altered swimming state. We learned several ways to kick, a couple of tumbles, and even failed at doing handstands. We looked less like the majestic creatures of myth and legend and more like drunken seals flailing around in the water. But damn, was it fun. It was uniquely challenging to modify our swimming styles to best suit the mermaid tails, and we both relished learning something new. Our instructor was so impressed with us that she certified us as level 2 mermaids (out of a possible 5), even though we should by all rights have only been level 1. She was very gracious.

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D’aww. So cute.

Permeating all of these experiences was food of a constantly high quality. Boracay can quite easily be called a tourist trap, and there was no shortage of food that was far from traditional Filipino cuisine. We gorged on delicious burgers which rivaled those of Brooklyn Burger Joint for quality of ingredients. We ate local variations on pizza. Where possible, we tried to experience local cuisine, and all of it was reasonably-priced and delectable.

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A delcious Filipino oxtail stew.

Our experience in Boracay was well worth the wait. We did things that we had never done before. We relaxed and simply recharged after several months of draining teaching. We ate delicious food. We reveled in the warmth and friendliness of the Filipino people. We played Ultimate on the beach with some of the best players in the world. We honestly did not want to leave. Our honeymoon was exactly what we had hoped it would be, and more.

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Sheer majesty

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:

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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.

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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.

 

Torn

Almost two weeks ago, my wife injured herself pursuing her favourite hobby – playing Ultimate. At first, we thought the injury to be minor. As time progressed, it became clear that it was more than just a niggle. As she went to daily physiotherapy sessions and eventual MRI scans, the projections got worse. Yesterday, she had to have surgery to fix the problem – a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). She is in recovery and the surgery seems to have gone well, but it’s been a tough few days for us.

In the middle of a club practice just under two weeks ago, Kris came down hard on her left leg and immediately cried out in pain. She had the presence of mind to stop playing for the rest of the practice. At that point, no-one was exactly sure of the extent of the injury. There had not been the popping sound most commonly heard when an ACL is torn, so the general conjecture was a sprain or something less severe. Our friends recommended to take it easy, and if it didn’t feel any better in the next few days, to go see a doctor.

When it didn’t get any better, Kris did exactly that. The doctor sided with the theory that it was most likely not a tear, but a sprain, and set Kris up with daily appointments at a physiotherapist to work the injured knee and try diminish pain and regain range of motion. After a week, the doctor re-assessed Kris, and found that she was not progressing as would be expected. He scheduled an MRI scan to get a better look at what was going on.

After a tense weekend of waiting for the results, we were floored to be told that it was an ACL tear after all. This type of injury is not uncommon in Ultimate, and can put a player out of commission for more than a year in severe cases. While it is possible to live with the injury without surgery, Kris would never be able to play Ultimate again. This was ruled out instantly, and we elected to have ACL reconstructive surgery. The surgery is said to be very painful and quite expensive, but the alternative was simply not an option.

In the few days between the decision to go through with surgery and the day of the surgery itself, Kris was a hive of fluttering emotional states. When I asked her how she was feeling, she broke down, saying that she felt guilty for wasting so much money. In response, I told her:

“Look. You’re my wife. I will spend any amount of money just to see you smile one more time.”

This is one of those lines that may strike you as trite and obsequious, nothing more than a punt to try help her feel better. As I was saying it, I was worried that I would feel the same way. However, when I had said it and I looked at her, head curled into my shoulder to hide her tears, I knew that it was the honest truth. This is a woman that I have traveled halfway across the world with. A woman that I have sworn to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part. And I honestly would do anything if it meant her happiness.

When the day of the surgery came around, we went together to the hospital. I helped to comfort her in the hours before the surgery, but I cannot imagine the fear that she was feeling. As someone as afraid of needles as she is, as someone that has never had a major surgery before, for her to do so in a foreign country where the doctors were giving her instructions in another language, fills me with admiration and awe. She held back tears when they inserted the IV, something that she believed would be worse for her than the surgery itself. When I had to leave her side to go to work, I held back tears of my own. I knew that the doctors would do everything they could for her, but the fear of complications fogged my experience of the day.

When I had finished my classes for the day, I rushed back to the hospital. I ran to catch the train as it left the station, just to shave precious minutes off the journey. I did take time to stop to pick up chocolate muffins from a bakery near the hospital, though. She had mentioned them before and I thought that it would cheer her up.

When I saw her for the first time after the surgery, my heart was filled with joy and sadness. She was in pain, sleepy, and thirsty, but she wasn’t allowed to sleep or drink water yet. There was a very kind Korean lady in the ward who had stayed with her, made sure that she did not sleep, and kept Kris as comfortable as possible. I sat down by her side and stayed there, distracting her mind from the passage of time and making sure that she stayed awake until the time for rest came. Those minutes were hard for us. We were happy to be together, but what Kris truly wanted was not to be awake, but asleep, away from the pain and discomfort. I shared with her the encouraging messages that friends had sent her. I told her about my mundane day at work. We just looked at each other, held hands, and smiled.

When the time came that she could rest, she smiled broadly, told me to wake her up when she could drink water, and drifted away into a peaceful nap. I sat by her side, marveling at her strength. Shortly afterwards, I woke her, gave her some fresh water and a bit of food, and helped her get to sleep once more.

The road to recovery is long. Kris will be on crutches for a month, and unable to play sport for four months at least. Thankfully, with the help of our friends and the doctors at the hospital, the injury was picked up early so treatment could begin early as well. While I wish that there was more I could do for her, we will walk the road ahead together, as we have done for the past years. The months ahead may be tough, but Kris is tougher!

Mind Games: The Return to Ultimate

A few weeks ago, I underwent LASEK eye surgery to correct my severe astigmatism. I wrote a little bit about my experience shortly after the fact. Since then, my eyes have gradually been getting better and better. Objects are becoming less blurry, and I am able to see more clearly every day. However, there were some restrictions placed on me by the surgery, including being unable to engage in sweat-inducing sports (including my beloved Ultimate) for a month. That ban was lifted two weeks ago, and I have participated in two Ultimate weekends since then, with varying degrees of success.

My first Ultimate weekend post-surgery was a club tournament held in the coastal city of Ulsan. It was my first club tournament, and I was rather nervous for multiple reasons. I wasn’t sure how my eyes would cope with strenuous activity again. I wasn’t sure if I could keep up with my opponents, as I am normally not very quick and I hadn’t done any rigorous exercise for an entire month. I thought I might have lost some of my skills. Our wonderful, cheerful team also had many male substitutes. So, I decided to take it easy, only playing when needed and not putting myself onto the field too much.

This proved to be a wise approach. Even in the warm-ups before each game, I struggled slightly with depth perception and generally seeing the disc coming at me. I felt off-balance a lot of the time. I got winded more quickly than usual. I had lost a dash of speed. All of these played a role in not meeting my own personal expectations for the weekend. I dropped catches I should have caught. Opponents that wouldn’t have beaten me a month ago got past me for the score on multiple occasions. I even had to remove myself from the team environment during a break to listen to music and re-centre and re-focus myself.

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The wonderful band of rapscallions that I played with in Ulsan

These mistakes and shortcomings aside, I enjoyed the first weekend back. Overall, I think I did alright – I didn’t let the team down too much, and we ended up with some great results. More importantly, there was always a positive attitude and atmosphere within the team, and we had great fun together. I took what I could from the Ulsan tournament, and looked ahead to my first weekend with my ROK-U team, the Wonju Knights.

Sadly for me, I hadn’t truly overcome the problems of the Ulsan weekend. I was still slower than I was, and for some reason my head just wasn’t in the right space. The Knights managed to win our first game of the weekend (something that would have been cause for celebration a season before), but I felt frustrated with my own performance. On the club team, I was a minnow and I knew it. On the Knights, I thought I would get more game time and play a more crucial role in the team. And yet, I would let others go on the field before me. I will generally sacrifice my own play time to make sure the more under-utilized men on our team get a run. It’s all about the spirit of the game and making sure everyone feels valued. Normally I would be okay with it – it’s what I do. But this time, I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. I both wanted to and didn’t want to sacrifice, but I did it anyway because that’s who I am. Once again, the team had a great time around me and enjoyed decent success, winning two of the three games that we played in and generally keeping spirits high in the process.

I guess the biggest impact that LASEK has had on my Ultimate game is not anything physical. I can see well enough to play at a decent level. My fitness (whatever small level I had to begin with) will return. The most significant hit I’ve taken appears to be mental. With a big weekend of important games this weekend, I need to take time to work through the mental obstacles preventing me from performing and enjoying the game I love. I need to stop thinking about dozens of different things and just get out there and have fun throwing a piece of plastic with my friends.

A Good Few Days

I have neglected you, dear readers, and for that I apologize. I bring much news! The time between my last post and this has been filled with positive events for Kris and I. I have covered my first Esports event, successfully applied for a Dota 2 magazine, played some Ultimate, and taken another step towards that opaque concept known as adulthood.

The news of which I am arguably most proud is my coverage of the recent HearthStone Seoul Cup World Invitational. The tournament hosted 8 of the top HearthStone players from around the world in two days of single-elimination competition. A few days before the tournament, an expansion was released for HearthStone, resulting in some crazy, fresh strategies to be showcased at the tournament.

While I did enjoy watching the games immensely, my most significant moments lay just outside of the arena. I managed to secure interviews with StrifeCro and Reynad, two prominent personalities in the HearthStone scene. Reynad is a name that I have known for a while, but never explored deeply enough to have a personal opinion on. He deeply impressed me with his knowledge of the game, and love for both HearthStone and Esports in general. I gained immense respect for him in our short conversation. I have long been a fan of StrifeCro, and he lived up to my every expectation as a kind, soft-spoken gentleman. I even managed to get his signature and a picture with him. My inner fanboy was bursting with glee.

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I transcribed these interviews and turned them into features for GosuGamers. The StrifeCro interview even managed to reach the front page of the HearthStone subreddit! I was happy that my hard work and overcoming my shy nature paid off. I believe that my interview with Reynad will be even more popular, but it has yet to be released.

Front Page baby

My other major Esports-related success came from the Dota 2 sphere. A few weeks ago, I responded to a post on reddit calling for Dota 2 writers to put together a magazine about Dota 2. There were apparently over 240 applicants. I was one of the 6% who were judged as worthy. I am working on my first piece for the first issue, and I hope to live up to the faith that has been placed in me.

After a busy few days of writing and teaching, I was happy to enjoy a long weekend. Kris and I spent most of Thursday and Friday relaxing, catching up with friends, and doing some Ultimate practice. It felt good to throw a disc again, and the practice would prove necessary. On Saturday, we had a chilled picnic for a friend’s birthday. Nothing went too out of hand, because we all had Ultimate the next day.

Sunday came around, and with it our first games of Ultimate for several weeks. We played three games, and had played some of the best Ultimate that we have all season. However, our team’s play was let down by small mistakes being punished by the opponents, and we lost all three of the games. Our team was a little downhearted, but we all enjoyed the day despite the losses.

This morning, I received word that I have been accepted for a credit card. Whilst this might not seem like that big of a deal, I was genuinely worried that I would be rejected due to the part-time nature of my job. I am glad Korea thinks me responsible enough for a credit card. I’m not sure I would trust me. When the card arrives, I will be finally be able to book plane tickets to Seattle for the holiday that Kris and I plan to take in August. As August is drawing ever closer, every day that we can have to complete the American visa application process may prove to be necessary.

So, all told, a good few days indeed. I am making my way in Esports slowly but surely, I am making sure I don’t turn into a pudgey doughball, and things are coming together for the big trip in August. I will strive to blog more regularly, and let you all know how things are going as they happen, and not all in one go like this. Here’s hoping that the majority of my updates are as positive as this one!

 

One Month in Wonju: Achievements and Goals

Kris and I have now spent one entire month living in the lovely, pokey town of Wonju. In our time here, we’ve done a bunch of stuff that I am proud of. On the other side of the coin, there are a whole lot of things that I would like to get done in the remainder of our time here, however long or short that may be. Here are five goals that I feel are most necessary to aim for in the coming months, and five achievements that Kris and I have made, in no particular order.

Goals

1.) I need to be far more pro-active in the mornings. Now that I have a more flexible job (see the achievements below), I need to make more effective use of my time. Whilst playing games is great and all, I need to start doing it on stream and creating content.

2.) I want to be able to play one more point of Ultimate Frisbee between each rest point. Currently I feel that my fitness levels are limiting my play, and I am sick and tired of feeling this way.

.3.) I should probably wear pants more around the house in the mornings.

4.) I want to find at least one paying Esports writing job, be it a once-off article or a recurring contract, in the next 4 months. Gotta start somewhere.

5.) I want to keep enjoying life as much as I have in the last month!

Achievements

1.) Kris and I (almost entirely Kris) organised an Ultimate Frisbee team in Wonju, and successfully got most of the team to our first week of games.

2.) Kris and I both managed to renew our ARCs, so we can legally stay in Korea for another year. The details may be written in permanent marker, but apparently they’re legit!

3.) I managed to secure myself a great, flexible part-time job. It gives me time to write, and lessens my time with kindergarten children. My sanity is closer to normal levels than it was last year.

4.) Kris and I have extensively cut down on the amount of cold drink (soda for my American readers) that we drink. It was largely an unconscious decision, as buying soda just never settled into our Wonju shopping routine. However, when we noticed this, we decided that this is a good thing and haven’t bought cold drink for our house since. We might have a can or two when out and about though, but nowhere near the three 1.5-litre bottles that we were drinking every week.

5.) I have begun writing for GosuGamers.net with regularity again. During the move, I wasn’t able to write a piece for them for weeks. Now, I’ve done two this week already. I want to write more in order to get more exposure, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Overall, it’s been a stellar month. Whether it’s because we’re not nearly as overwhelmed by the newness that governed our teaching experiences last year, whether we’re part of a better community, or maybe because we’re honestly just enjoying ourselves more readily, Kris and I have had a good time of it in our first month in Wonju. Here’s to many more!