Friday, February 24, 2012


Today was my last day as a teacher in Korea, and I got a gift from my co-teacher as I walked out the door. This is not surprising, as anyone with a Korean in their life will know. They are very much with the gift-giving. For any reason. Help mop up a coffee spill and you'll get a cake the next day to say thanks. It's adorable, and one of the things I'll miss about this crazy country.

These things were in my gift bag!

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. What you are looking at are: two cans of sesame oil, a bag of rock salt, a pair of scissors and a set of 2002 FIFA World Cup coasters. This may seem like an odd gift, but it makes perfect sense (aside from the old coasters, which were from someone else). Allow me to explain.

One of my favourite things to eat is Korean barbecue (samgyupsal). Usually this is done with strips of pork on a griddle in the middle of the table, which each person cooks as they go along, kind of like a fondu/BBQ mash-up. I prefer this meal using beef, which in Korea is often the prime cuts like fillet and sirloin. So cheap and tasty! Anyway, accompanying this meal is a little bowl of sesame oil/salt mixture, which is AMAZING!

The last time I went out for dinner with my co-teachers, we went to a samgyupsal place and I ate so much meat I almost turned into a steak. In the process, I had to re-order the oil/salt mixture. So my lovely co-teacher Hyo Jin, without whom I would not have survived my school, included it in my gift.

As for the scissors... during this meal, I mentioned to the group that I found the Korean habit of cutting meat and veggies with scissors to be ingenious. It really is such a smart, practical thing to do. So she bought me big kitchen scissors, with the instruction, "These are not for stationary. Only for the kitchen!" Adorable.

I also got a cheesecake, because they know how much I love it. Kamsahamnida!


Dear Journalism

I miss you. I'm sorry I left you for Teaching, I've thought about you every day for the past two years. I miss your passion, your love of interesting discussions, the way you'd stay up with me past midnight watching football. You made me feel secure and comfortable, which I took for granted and caused me to stray.

I won't lie, Teaching was good to me for two years. She was unpredictable, sometimes lazy yet relaxing, and I often didn't know if I was coming or going with her. Did she love me, or not? Some days it was like talking to a brick wall or getting blood out of a stone. Silence, confusion... it was almost like we were speaking different languages. I never had that with you, we were always on the same page. She was good, but she wasn't you.

I'm coming back to Cape Town in a few days, and I am so grateful you're giving me a chance to make it up to you. I know the breach will take a while to heal, while we both get used to each other again, but I promise not to rush you. The betrayal was a big one, and I'm sorry I didn't make more of an effort to keep in touch while we were apart.

I never stopped loving you, I just needed a change. This time I promise to keep the spark alive, with some varied stories and maybe a freelance piece or two, but nothing will be more important than our relationship. I'll call you when I get back to Cape Town so we can meet and discuss our future. I've loved you since I was 14 and have never wanted anything else, please believe that.

Yours always,


Dear Teaching

I'm sorry to do this in a letter, but I don't know how else to tell you that our time together has come to an end. I'm leaving to go back to South Africa on Tuesday. Please don't follow me, there's nothing you can do to change my mind.

It's only fair to tell you that I'm returning to my first love, Journalism. I know it was always difficult for you to hear me talk about her, and I'm sorry if it hurt your feelings. I think you've always known that this would happen, and I think you will be better off without me. We didn't mesh as well as we could have, and I don't think I put enough effort into our relationship.

We had some great moments, especially in the beginning when it was new and exciting. The spontaneity, the way your eyes would light up when I walked in the room, the way we learned about each other slowly and carefully. You taught me about patience, last-minute adaptation, and your culture, which is endlessly interesting.

But I'm afraid our relationship became too repetitive, and you became too erratic. I know Journalism intimately, almost as if I'd studied her, but you and I never reached that level. Almost like a thrown-together pair, united for convenience and money. Also, I didn't like the food you gave me, almost as if you didn't care about what I liked.

Thank you for our time together, I'll never forget you. I have fond memories, and will tell Journalism stories about us for years to come. She's a forgiving lady, she won't mind hearing about you.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Kid on my shoulders
I've done a lot of Martial Arts in my life. I did Tae Kwon Do for 10 years, some Kung Fu (hated it, too complex), Karate at University (dated my instructor, did not end well) and even Yong Moo Do here in Korea. I'm not a violent person at all, but I enjoy the artistry and discipline involved. I'm not bad at it either. I have a few black belts, some legitimate and some (like the one given to me here) that I got for being a foreigner in an all-Korean gym! It even has my name on it in gold thread!

So with this background, I went to a Thai boxing (Muay Thai) bar in Thailand, where they give you a free bucket of alcohol if you fight in the ring. This classy establishment is called Reggae Bar, and is on Koh Phi Phi, in the middle of Tonsai town. Drinks are double the price of anywhere else, which is how they get people in the ring! "Don't buy booze, we'll give it to you for free if you make an ass of yourself! Even better if you're already drunk!"

The idea is basically that friends or challengers go into the ring, put on boxing shorts, gloves and head guards and do "Muay Thai". In reality, drunk/stupid people get in there and beat the crap out of each other for three one-minute rounds. Seriously, people go ape shit, swinging hard and kicking their friends until the bell goes. One guy hit his friend so hard that his eye immediately swelled shut. He carried on though, booze makes you brave.

Real fighters: pic from
I wasn't planning on "fighting". It was our last night on vacation and I didn't want to injure myself, given my propensity for doctors and surgery in Korea. All I wanted to do was see a Muay Thai match, because I had dabbled in it in Cape Town and seen some real, pro fights and wanted to see if this was the same or better. More on that later!** Anyway, this bar said there would be real matches in between the drunkards, so we sat around the ring, slowly sipped our 100Baht Chang cans (should be 50B) and waited for the pros.

At one point, a guy came round with his camera, showing all the girls a photo of a petite little thing who wanted to fight someone. I was getting tempted, this didn't look too hard and no-one was doing anything remotely like real MT. It was brawling, pure and simple. So I went to meet with her, she took one look at me and said "hell no". She was tiny though, I would probably have been too scared to touch her in case she broke. But she later returned with another girl in tow, a Swedish (what else, in Thailand?) chickie in a leopard print bra.

Pre-match conversation:
Me: So, have you done this before? Do you have training?
Her: No, I did Tae Bo for a bit but that was long ago (basically aerobics with a bit of kicking).
Me: Ok, let's not go crazy. Just put on a show and get our free booze.
Her: I agree, everyone else looked ridiculous, we'll just do it for fun. Nothing crazy.

I should have bloody known.

So we stepped into the ring and I prepared my opening salvo in my head. "Don't hurt her, but get a few shots in to make it look good. Maybe a light front kick to the stomach". I looked at The Lovely Gen on the sidelines. She wasn't looking so sure as she had a while before. I was nervous, the gloves were too big and the head guard was sweaty and smelly. The bell rang for the start of the first round. DING!

Holy crap, she came running right at me! She swung and shoved and spun me around and punched me in the back of the head before I even had a chance to move! So much for not going crazy. I then realised that she was drunk off her face, I should have known something was up when she danced around the ring in her bra beforehand! She had no fear, no sensation of pain and no control, it was a shit show. I elbowed her in the stomach a few times because she kept spinning me around, and then the bell went. DING! And then BAM! Shot to the back of the head. The crowd did not like that bit of cheating and went BOOOOOO!

In between rounds I gained some supporters, including the little thing who had initially brought this Scandinavian Slapper to my attention. TLG came rushing up, she looked like she was going to cry, poor thing. I was still calm though. I still thought I could go about this in a technically correct, proper way. I should have realised that this would not be the case. In the first round, the first time she spun me around and punched me in the back, I stopped and waited. I expected the ref to pause the fight, but he didn't. I still wasn't clicking that no rules applied!

The second round bell went and it was much of the same. Charge, swing, spin, back punch. She never landed any punches that would score points, like to my torso or my head, she just kept hitting my shoulders and holding on to me. I got a few more elbows in and a punch or two, but then BAM! Another one to the back of the head! Bitch! End of round, DING!

At this point I got another coach, a tall Swedish guy who said, "You're hitting too straight, too correctly. You're being too nice, just swing and hit the bitch in the face! Or unhook her bra! Get nasty!" He was so right. I then decided, "Bugger this for a bunch of bananas," and when the bell rang for the final round I was ready. DING!

She was tiring, so I charged. Kick to the stomach, shoving her backwards. Her eyes wide, she dropped her hands. I went in with one, two, three jabs to the face. Take that, you dirty scrapper! She lunged, spun me around and held on, but I spun around again, six fast shots to the face and head. The crowd was shouting, I had them on my side completely. Everyone loves an underdog, everyone hates a cocky cheater. That third round felt so damn good, she didn't touch me once, and she kept getting blown up for holding on to me. By the end of the round she was hardly throwing a punch. DING DING DING!

In the end the ref had to give it a draw because of my third round comeback. I walked out of the ring and random tanned people came up to me to high five me. It was like I'd won a belt at Madison Square Garden. But god, I was so tired I couldn't even drink my free bucket. I went back to our bungalow and crashed, and the next day I could hardly move my arms. But I didn't lose!

*Here's the video (thanks Brandie!) of the third round. It doesn't look as good as it felt, but you can hear the crowd shouting. I'm the one not in a leopard-print bra (ie. red shorts). Near the end you can see all the face punches in a row (00:35), and you can see how she kept grabbing me from behind. Still, it wasn't pretty, and I'm so unfit!

Oh, the real fights? Imagine WWF-style Thai boxing. Stupid, fake bollocks. I was more pissed about that than anything else, but what did I really expect? It was free, where a real MT fight night costs 100,000W for a good ticket. Lame!

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Chain emails are annoying, aren't they? Stupid long lists that take ages to fill out, always the same damn questions asking whether you prefer chocolate or vanilla. You know it's only people who have nothing to do at work that fill them out and send them on, expecting you to do the same as if you have nothing better to do with your time!

As it happens, I have time to kill and I know many of you do too (desk warmers)! I found this rather more interesting chain thing on, and thought it was a fun idea, especially for those of us who like to travel. Here's my travel A to Z, so if you feel like doing it on your blog too, send me the link!

A: Age you went on your first international trip:

12 – My parents took my brother and me to the USA for three weeks, and to Germany for a week. We took part in the World Championships of the martial arts we did at the time, something very similar to Tae Kwon Do. He got a medal, I did not. We did go to Disneyland and Sea World in Florida though, which took away some of the sting of a seven-year-old besting me! We also went to New Hampshire, Maine, West Virginia and Boston. Germany was a bit too cultured for me at that age. I think I would have appreciated it more as an adult, or even an older teen.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:

I like real ale, so when I lived in London I worked in a bar that specialised in ales. Every week we’d have different barrels from all over the UK, but the one stock beer on tap was called Palmer’s IPA. It was delicious, not too strong, hoppy and refreshing. I would kill for a nice pint of its goodness, but instead I drink swill called Hite/Cass/Max. On the lager front, I really liked Saigon (the green label, not the red export one) when The Lovely Gen and I went to Vietnam. It wasn’t so much the beer, which was lovely, but the circumstances, sipping an icy cold drink after a long, hot day, sitting on the sidewalk as people rushed by.

C: Cuisine (favourite):

Probably Italian, if you put a gun to my head. I love all kinds of pasta, a cheesy pizza is heaven and the meat dishes and stews are amazing. I would get very fat if I lived in Italy. I also like 'Mexican' food, but I've never had the real stuff so I'm going with what I know and putting it in inverted commas. I had an amazing chimichanga (in Cambodia of all places) that I can still taste if I concentrate hard enough at a place called Iviva.

D: Destinations, favourite, least favourite and why:

Beautiful Roma. Magnifico!
This is a tricky one. Favourite would have to be Rome, which was amazing in every way and I would happily go back for a long stretch if I had a half-decent passport that allowed it! I also loved Oxford, Cork in Ireland and Cambodia. I love beautiful buildings, and Oxford has them in abundance, Cork is green, lush and friendly, and Cambodia is packed with history.

Least favourite: Well, of the places I’ve lived, probably Fort William in Scotland. The place itself is pretty, if a bit trashy, and it has Ben Nevis (highest mountain in the UK), but I hated it there. I had a crappy job working in a hotel restaurant, I didn’t like many of the people I worked with and it rained all the time.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:

Great, a wall.
When I was 18 I went to England for the first time, on a school tour, and we happened to be in London at the same time as some big royal celebration. I stood on the side of the road by Buckingham Palace as the cars came past, and I saw Prince Phillip and the queen. I still have a photo of the Duke driving past. I’m not a big Royalist, it was just amazing to be so close to people so famous. Other highlights include standing on the Great Wall after a long hike to the top, crawling inside a pyramid at Giza and snorkeling at Snoopy Island in the UAE.

F: Favourite mode of transportation:

I loved the scooters in Ho Chi Minh City, they were thrilling and terrifying all at once, and I thought I was going to die quite often. I also quite like walking when travelling, taking it a bit slower and seeing some things people might miss when they zoom past. This might sound lame, but I really liked the gondola ride in Venice. It was tacky and cheesy, but so relaxing and seemingly luxurious to a kid like me.

G: Greatest feeling while travelling:

The obvious answer is having the freedom to do as you please, which is very true if you’re on the go for a long time. Sometimes though, freedom is not really there if you’re sticking to a plan, have things you really want to see, or are only in a place for two weeks. So, I like being able to see places I’ve read about or seen on TV, stumble upon things I didn’t plan on finding, and learning about a place’s history from the people who live there. I generally prefer more culture-oriented holidays, as opposed to ‘doing nothing’ trips.

H: Hottest place you’ve travelled to:

I’ve been to the UAE twice, which is the desert. It’s very hot there. But never have I been as hot as in Daegu, Korea. The humidity reaching into the 90’s, sky-high temperatures and lack of air conditioning in some places nearly killed me. I am very glad I won’t have to endure a Daegu summer again.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where:

Nothing jumps to mind, so I’ll say Korea has an incredible service culture, better than any other place I’ve lived. Restaurants and bars have a smart button-on-table system, so it’s easy to find a waiter, they don’t hover, and they’re really eager to please. Also, you often get free bar snacks, and if you spend long enough in a place they’ll give you proper food for free! I’ve never had a problem with service in Korea, people are very helpful in my opinion. I also like walking into a store and having the entire staff say hi, and then bye when I leave. In South Africa you’re lucky to get a smile.

J: Journey that took the longest:

Getting to Daegu from Cape Town is a bit of a pain in the ass, and can take up to 30 hours. Cape Town to Johannesburg, Joburg to Dubai/Hong Kong, Dubai to Seoul, bus from Seoul to Daegu, taxi from Daegu to my apartment. Eish, terrible.

Otherwise, the bus(es) from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Siem Reap in Cambodia took over 12 hours. It was not a fun day!

K: Keepsake from your travels:

I like touristy t-shirts, and buy them wherever I go. I have one for nearly every place I’ve been overseas. I also like sports jerseys, and have soccer and baseball shirts from all over. Otherwise, I like tacky fridge magnets.

L: Let-down sight, why and where:

Necessary but ugly conservation work at Angkor Wat
This is going to sound like sacrilege, but I was quite disappointed with Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I loved it, but not as much as I thought I would. It was super busy, the sunrise was rubbish and there was scaffolding all over. It was tough to get the famous long shot without green mesh in the way. I preferred other temples like Bayon and Ta Prohm.

Similarly, I didn’t love the Acropolis in Athens as it was also covered in scaffolding. I know why it’s important, it’s just a bit sad when you travel all that way to see it. The Sistine Chapel was also a bit of a blur, because it was packed like a sardine can, and they herded you through like cattle. Do not go to Rome/Vatican City in tourist season!

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:

Experiencing Italy with my friend Ryan when I was 18 was a wonderful thing.. We got lost in Venice for three hours and ended up finding a tiny gelato shop in a small alleyway, and pooled our meager funds to share a chocolate cone. We wandered around Rome for hours, stopping off to have a sneaky vodka and orange juice in two different bars. It started raining so we had to dash into a church, and there was an original Michelangelo sculpture right there in the open. I will always associate Italy with him, and it made me love the adventure of new places.

Sheraton Dubai Creek.
N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:The Sheraton Dubai Creek was gorgeous, and my mom paid so I could enjoy it without worry! Also great was the Sofitel at the foot of the pyramids in Cairo. You could see the pyramids from the pool, and I remember the breakfast buffet being really fancy (to me at the time, anyway).

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while travelling?

As mentioned before, I love architecture. I take tons of pictures of buildings, streets, bridges and monuments. I also love taking photos of rivers, I have no idea why. My mother always complains that there are never enough photos featuring actual people in my albums. TLG loves taking pictures of food. I don’t think we’ve had a meal on a trip that has not been documented.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?

In my current passport I have a bunch of stamps (22), from South Africa, Korea, China, Cambodia, Vietnam and the UAE. In two weeks Thailand will be added.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:

One of the less NSFW interactive sculptures...
The sex museum in Gyeongju has got to take the cake. It’s one of the more hilariously bizarre places you’ll visit, and is oddly enough not the only one of its kind in Korea. It’s worth the trip though, for the giant, multi-coloured penises, sex shop, artwork and ejaculating man in a box (he's not real, and he shoots a jet of water out of his giant member). Let’s not forget the various life-size statues of people/dogs in all sorts of positions. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely memorable as long as you don't over-think it. Oh, and you can watch porn while you have a beverage or snack.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience:

The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh, Cambodia are harrowing and important, and the memories stuck with me for a while. Just absorbing all the facts is difficult, especially when told to you by someone whose family was murdered. For sheer fascination value, I’d say going to the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam is also a must. Americans should gird their loins, as it’s VERY anti-USA, but once you get past that and look at how the tunnels were made and maintained, it’s a fairly astonishing experience.

S: Splurge - something you have no problem forking over money for while travelling:

Hotels/accommodation. I am not a backpacker/dorm room kind of person. I like an en suite bathroom and my own space. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and I won’t break the bank, but given the choice I’ll spend a bit more to get a decent place to sleep.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done:

Where do I start? I love touristy things! Disneyland, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Tea Party ship in Boston, a singing gondolier in Venice, the Louvre, Versailles, Tienanmen Square in Beijing, the Great Wall, going to the aquarium at the Atlantis hotel on the Palm in Dubai, having dinner at the foot of the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world), etc. You name it, if I’ve been to that city/country, I’ve done it! And I'll probably have a t-shirt to prove it!

U: Unforgettable travel memory:

The Killing Fields and Toul Sleng are probably my strongest recent travel memories, as well as watching TLG fight with a tuk-tuk driver in Phnom Penh. It was hilarious, and ended with both parties hurling the f-bomb at each other in the rain while a security guy held an umbrella over them.

V: Visas, how many and for where?

Currently I have 5, from Korea, UAE, China, Cambodia and Vietnam. In my old one I had a UK work visa, and a Schengen visa.

W: Wine, best glass of wine while travelling and where?

I don’t really drink wine, so I couldn’t say. I couldn’t tell a great wine from an average one if you paid me.

X: eXcellent view and from where?

I love cityscapes, so many of my favourite views were from above cities. Paris from the Sacre Coeur cathedral, Rome from the top of the Spanish Steps, London from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral, and this might be cheating but Cape Town's Table Mountain from Blouberg Strand or the Waterfront.

Y: Years spent travelling?

Since I finished university I’ve lived outside South Africa for a total of four years in Scotland, London, and Korea. So between ages 22 and 30, I’ve been at home for half that time.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?

Football fans in Scotland, and the UK in general, are a passionate bunch. In Scotland, Rangers and Celtic fans often reach the point of being ridiculous and irrational, and I was always fascinated and horrified by the Sectarian rivalry. The chef in the hotel I worked at was a crazy Rangers supporter, had the tattoo and the t-shirts, and he refused to hire anyone who supported Celtic. My favourite part of all this though was the signs in some UK bars that said people could not wear football/soccer shirts to the pub as it would cause fights. Imagine going to watch a rugby match at a bar and not wearing your jersey or your scarf!

Ok, it's your turn. What are your travel ABC's? If you don't do this and send it back to me, you'll have bad luck for seven years!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Let's be honest. Korea is, generally, not the prettiest place in winter. I think the word most people use to describe it is 'dull'. Everything is grey or brown, from the buildings to the roads to the fields. The only thing that sometimes saves the scenery is a dusting of powdery snow, which doesn't last for very long but does wonders for the soul if you're from a country that never really encounters the stuff.

Yesterday morning I made my way to school after a night of snowfall, and I managed to catch it before it melted. It was all gone by 4pm. The road to the bus stop was fraught with danger, a veritable ice rink upon which I nearly saw my bum without a mirror a few times. Things were covered in snow in Gyeongsan  for the first time this winter.

The view from our spare room, overlooking the rooftops of the elderly couple below, is lovely as long as you ignore the trash/wiring/kimchi pots in the yard. Amazing what a bit of zoom can do!

A lonely chair sits outside our apartment block, too ugly to be stolen. It's been there for months, and it's battered by the weather every day.

See what I said about not being pretty? This is a typical street, and I haven't edited it much in terms of colour, if you can believe it.

The ice rink. This isn't water... well, it is water, but it's ice. See how shiny? Super slippery! I must have looked ridiculous, marching along in my Merrell shoes, one high step at a time.

Anyone fancy a cold beer while sitting outside a convenience store? It's one of the more amusing customs here, and I'll miss walking past a Family Mart in the evenings and running into friends having a drink. Constructions workers can still be found here at 7am, drinking Soju after their night shifts.

Someone, not me, scribbled in the snow on someone's car. Ho Hyeon? A name?

A snowy scooter near the bus stop.

This poor woman is out in the cold every morning by the pedestrian crossing, selling her drinks and snacks.

The pathway up the school driveway, showing the kids who came before me. School continues as normal, despite it officially being vacation. Or as one of my boys said, "Teacher, it's fake vacation."

The school soccer field is always a depressing sight, as it's made of sand. Most schools have either a sand pitch, or an Astroturf field if they're rich. It's not surprising, given the lack of emphasis on school sports here, but it's so sad. Also, girls are never playing on it. They run up and down stairs for Phys Ed while the boys play football.

The tennis courts, covered in snow. Don't be fooled, they're not for the students. Only teachers are allowed to use them, and not just anyone either. Only the VP, and his cohorts from the middle school, apparently. Such a waste of space and resources. God forbid a kid should take an hour out of studying to hit a tennis ball!