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!