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Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Given that I had some time off before I started work, I decided to fly back to Britain for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t particularly a Christmas visit – it was just a coincidence that that event fell during my work hiatus, and it seemed like the perfect time to be back with my family.

I flew with Finnair (yes – boarding my flights, I disappeared into Finnair) via Helsinki airport. Both ways, I was a little anxious about my baggage. On the way there, I hid my small backpack in my carry-on suitcase, taking it out once I’d passed through security. On the way back, I was a little concerned about the weight of my big backpack, containing, as it did, several books in addition to clothing and suchlike, but it only weighed 17kg – well under the 23 kg limit (but still a bugger to swing on to and off my back).

I also paid extra to bring my guitar (a Mexican Fender Stratocaster) in its flight case back with me to Korea; even though it was well wrapped in plastic the case suffered a little damage – the guitar is OK, though. It’s been fun playing it in the past few days, although a) I do regret not getting over to my late grandparents’ home to pick up my Metallica music books and b) it’s given me a flare-up of sciatica, for which I will try to resume my back exercises.

At Helsinki, it was rather charming to see the airport staff getting around on adult-sized push scooters.

I barely had chance to unload my backpack and share the wealth of Korean snacks I’d brought back with my family, and to have an early Christmas dinner with – amazingly – my whole family, before I headed down to Bath to spend a couple of days with my friend Alex, and then to Bristol to do likewise with my friend Lawrence and his girlfriend Yi Vei. I got them all Korean snacks, too – including the ever-popular Pepero.

Alex and I, accompanied much of the time by his friend Jason, spent pretty much all our waking hours playing Magic: The Gathering with a little Munchkin and Islands of the Azure Sea on the side. My Magic decks didn’t do very well, as Alex has recently got back into the game and has much more of the recent powerful stuff than I do – and Jason is an adept newcomer to the game.

Before catching my train to Bristol, Alex and I visited Waterstone’s, where he bought me a bunch of Magic cards and card sleeves and I bought him Star Munchkin.

Lawrence and Yi Vei took me to a burger restaurant, Atomic Burger, that was decked out in old toys and where all the burgers had the names of American icons – I got a Johnny Cash. The following day, I was supposed to take part in Lawrence’s workshop at a Buddhist centre, but I had a terrible headache from not drinking enough before bed and sleeping too long. I felt bad about dropping out, but I was far too grumpy to join in the spirit of it.

Once back in Whaley Bridge at my sister’s place I spent much of the time playing board games with her, her kids, her boyfriend, her kids’ aunt. They enjoyed my Islands of the Azure Sea game; as usual, I’d modified the rules since playing it previously, which helped to balance the gameplay. I got them Forbidden Island and Catan Junior as gifts and we enjoyed them, too. I bought Munchkin Cthulhu along with its Call of Cowthulhu expansion for myself and got to try that out.

Other plans – like blogging, working my new game idea The Hell War, reading a friend’s novel, researching MA courses in Seoul – were pretty much forgotten. As Alex and Lawrence are two of my oldest and best friends I prioritised visiting them, and that, along with Christmas, limited my ability to see other friends. Another time.

In addition to my guitar and Munchkin Cthulhu, I also brought back my Monopoly and Scrabble as well as Civilization, a board game (which predates Sid Meier’s Civilization computer game) my parents got me about ten years ago and which I’ve only ever played once (and I cut that game short when my friends decided to change the rules as we were playing). I also got Stephen R Donaldson’s recent last book in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Last Dark, Iain (M) Banks’s last book before his death last year, The Quarry, Robert Rankin’s latest, The Chickens of Atlantis and Other Foul and Filthy Fiends, Philip Pullman’s Grim Tales, Swords & Dark Magic and Strange Dreams – both anthologies, the latter edited by Stephen Donaldson. Finally, I ordered and received a small pile of unusual dice and brought them back along with all my other dice.

Since then, I’ve played Civilization with my friend Peter and Munchkin Cthulhu with some other friends – Matthew, Erica and Jihyena – celebrated the New Year with meat, uninspiring fireworks, drink and card games and paid my rent for January, leaving me with precious little money until I get paid some time later in the month. I’ll be living on my credit card until then.

I start work on Monday and I feel pretty ambivalent about it. I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but I want to get the initial period over with and settle in as fast as possible, and also get used to getting up early every day. It seems like there are lots of documents to get used to dealing with and probably not much time during normal working hours to fill them all out. And the kids’ mums are apparently the kind that love to complain about everything. I should just try and keep my head and enjoy teaching the kids as much as possible.

I’m sure I’ll be back in a month or two to report on my progress.

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As any reader of my blog knows, I like to play games. I’ve played a few recently.

The Player of Games

The Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) campaign I’m in here in Cheonan reached a major milestone last night with the killing of a big evil dragon (although this happened in a cave rather than a dungeon). The campaign has been fun – surprisingly so given the large group of people taking part: seven players plus the gamemaster. My previous experience with such a large group is the session becomes noisy and unfocused, but no one in our group has an especially dominating personality, so everyone gets a chance to say and do what they want. Which isn’t to say, of course, that the group is relentlessly focused on the game – there’s a lot of joking and chat, too – which is an essential part of the fun.

The Fight with Ice and Fire Elementals

After a summer break, it looks like a couple of our players won’t be coming back to the game and our characters are all jumping up a few levels. Having already killed a dragon at quite a low level, I wonder what challenges lie ahead for the party.

In the last couple of months or so I’ve been working on a couple of games – one is a board game, one a card game. The card game has an urban fantasy setting and a range of characters including vampires, sorcerers, hackers, drug dealers, corporate lawyers and so on. It’s still a work in progress, though; the games I’ve played with it so far show that my intended win condition is not at all easy to achieve.

The board game is much more polished. I’ve called it Islands of the Azure Sea and it’s a fantasy piracy game where you move a ship around a sea filled with islands, gathering treasure and items, fighting other ships (including those of the other players), native islanders and monsters. I’ve put a fair amount of work into making the board, the ships, writing out all the cards and changing them several times to balance out the gameplay. I’m pretty proud of it.

Islands of the Azure Sea

I’ve played it a few times with friends and students and it’s always been quite fun, but the treasure maps – which are essential to the mechanics and flavour of the game – have generally proved difficult to come by. Introducing a few cards to facilitate treasure-finding seems to have help, though. I played the game on Saturday with some friends down in Daegu, and they really got into the game, making characters for themselves and concocting narratives. Peter, for instance, kept avoiding taking potentially dangerous Sea Cards and adopted the personality No Risk Pete. When he lost a crewman due to a madness card, he said the man had abandoned ship due to boredom; when he subsequently gained a crewman due to a castaway card, he said the man had changed his mind.

The game on Saturday was part of Peter’s Daegu Gamefest. A pretty modest event, really, but a good opportunity to meet a few new people and play lots of games. When I arrived at the café, Peter and a few others were already playing Munchkin. I joined in for a few turns and then we turned to Dungeon Crawl Classics, a simplified roleplaying game where we each had three very weak villager characters – many of whom died. After lunch, a few of us played Islands of the Azure Sea and the rest played Smallworld – which I’d played and really enjoyed the last time or two I was in Daegu. While the other were finishing that, three of us played Space Hulk: Death Angel. Then we all played Betrayal at House on the Hill – in which we were eaten by tentacles. Later in the evening, we played Dogs in the Vineyard, a game about Mormon gunslingers fighting the supernatural. The following day, Peter and I tested my card game.

It was a fun, action-packed weekend; I had to hurry from Daegu back to Cheonan in time for the climactic D&D session – and mini-party beforehand.

A few weeks earlier, Peter had joined me and a few others for my own gaming day in Cheonan. Peter and I played Magic: The Gathering. One of the guys from roleplaying and his wife came and we played Islands of the Azure Sea and Settlers of Catan. Peter left and was replaced by Eve from roleplaying and we played an interesting card game called Dominion. Slightly embarrassingly but undeniably pleasingly, I won all the games (although we decided to cut Islands short).

Blue-Red Versus Green-Red-Black

Dominion, Settlers of Catan and Smallworld are all games I would like to play more. The two roleplaying game systems we tried out both seemed interesting and worth trying again – but with RPGs, you really need a lot of time to get to know them.

As D&D in Cheonan is on hiatus until September, I think I’ll try to organise another gaming afternoon here – and probably in Seoul, too.

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… another year, that is.

Having met Mary the day before, we’d made plans and I duly went to meet her at Ewha Women’s University, where she’s a student. We went to a cat café – the first time I’d been to one, which is pretty astonishing, given how much I love cats. We were the only customers there until four schoolgirls came in later. There were about fifteen cats in the moderately sized café, perhaps more, of lots of breeds – longhairs with and without squishy faces, some tabbies, including something like an ocicat, and a calm, assertive pair of Siamese or similar cats that sat on our table and let us adore them. I’m not really up on cat breeds, so I can only guess at their types.

Idae Cat Café

The place looked very clean, but was a little smelly. The cats were mostly friendly and inquisitive, but some of them evidently didn’t like some of their fellow inmates. We got coffees for ourselves and a tiny cup of treats for the cats and mused on the kind of life the cats must have and must’ve had in the past.

Afterwards, Mary took me a museum on the nearby campus that contained lots of hanbok – traditional clothing – and furniture. We walked down the trench that is the main architectural feature of the university – as a building, it’s appropriately uterine rather than phallic – and had a look, and lunch, inside.

Ewha Women's University

For much of the day, we’d been expecting Matthew to join us, but he turned out to be excessively busy with work. We even went to see a film (One Day; annoyingly will-they-won’t-they-ish at first, but it grew on me somewhat; Anne Hathaway was especially lovely as the freckly, bespectacled, northern British protagonist) to wait for him. He turned up as we were having dinner and we had drinks together afterwards.

The following day, I played Magic and a new (to me) game called Zombies!!! with Eric. I’ve not hung out with him that much, but he’s a very nice chap and it was good to chat with him.

The next day, I went on a hike near Anyang – for which I’d especially bought crampons the day before from one of a series of outdoors gear shops I’d seen lots of times when I lived in Cheongdam. The crampons worked extremely well; having slipped and slid on packed snow the last time I’d gone for a hike, the grip provided made me feel especially stable.

The hike was organised by a couple of groups: Indigo Hill and the unfortunately named SHITY – Sunday Hikers Interested in Trekking Yet-again. It lasted over five hours and the weather was very cold and very sunny. The snow wasn’t very thick on the ground, but thick enough to beatify the landscape in that way that only snow can; it clung to the limbs of pine trees in lumpy lines.

Mountain Near Anyang

Afterwards, we went for a meal of chicken stew with lots of side dishes. The leaders of the group were very friendly – as, indeed, were all the hikers. There was an American guy who could apparently teach you anything – scuba diving, skiing, salsa dancing (but this latter only if you were of the opposite gender). I exchanged numbers with a few people. Later, a smaller group of us went to a singing room or noraebang in the nearby city, where I gave a rather unsteady rendition of ‘The Day That Never Comes’ by Metallica (and rather better performances of ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Strange Kind of Woman’). A cute hiker with not much English and the unusual name of Ok (pronounced something like ‘oak’) dragged me to my feet to dance.

The next day, New Year’s Eve, I met one of the hikers I exchanged details with the previous day for coffee. After meeting her, I headed straight over to Gangnam for the first stage of the New Year’s Eve event I’d signed up for on Meetup.com. This consisted of dinner at one of the chains of western-ish-style buffet restaurants that are popular in Korea – Ashley’s. The food was mediocre at best, but there was a limitless supply of four wines (which I mostly liked, so they were probably crap, too). I said hello to various people and exchanged introductions, sat with three American girls for dinner and we were joined by a Korean and a South African couple.

Afterwards, we had to take the subway across the city to Hongdae for the other part of the package – Club Mansion. There’s really nothing mansion-like about this place, but it’s one of the more exclusive places, apparently costing ₩20,000 to get in. I danced with a couple of women that I liked; had a brief and fairly innocent romantic moment with one, but, alas, I don’t think anything will develop between me and any of the three women I met that day.

I did quite get into the dancing – which is surprising. Shocking, even. The very idea of dancing usually fills me with a vague sense of humiliation. But with five glasses of wine and a few beers in my belly as well as no one around that I knew (and therefore no expectations on me to behave in the way that I expect them to expect me to behave), I was able to enjoy the time in the way that one is supposed to enjoy it. Mary also turned up at the club (which is how I know how much it cost), but we didn’t spend much time together.

Later, I hung out at the Hongdae Tom N Toms, waiting for the subway to open, with a young guy I’d met in the group of people I’d tagged along with. He fell asleep as we sat at a table and I was deeply engrossed in my smart phone – and pretty sleepy myself. When I woke him up to leave, he didn’t have his phone – the upshot being that it had almost certainly been stolen. Someone might almost literally have snatched it from under my nose as it sat on the table. The fact that my own phone may have been taken from someone in similar circumstances made me feel extra crappy – although not nearly as crappy as my New Year’s acquaintance.

That morning, I got back to Zach’s place at maybe seven o’clock. I woke up at 10:30 and decided not to try to sleep more. Matthew and I played Magic later in the day and I headed back to Cheonan in the evening.

The following day, I met three people at an Indian restaurant near Cheonan Station for dinner. The food was great – I had a buttery chicken curry (can’t remember exactly what kind) – and the three women (Americans) were nice and friendly (as, too, was the chatty guy (American) who didn’t join us, but hung around for a while after he’d finished his own, separate meal). They’d all travelled varying distances for the meal – which someone had suggested on a Facebook group – and, with my hours of 2:00 to 9:30 and my determination to do lots of social stuff in Seoul and Daegu at weekends, I’m unlikely to see them again soon.

At some point in the day or two after the, dare I say, euphoria of New Year’s Eve, I had a kind of emotional crash. A small one. I don’t often spontaneously cry – by which I mean, not without reason, but without a trigger – but this was one of those times. I was feeling lonely and pitiful and kind of stupid. To some degree, I became someone else on New Year’s Eve and I was expecting him to be more successful at flirtation and romance than I’ve ever been. Naïve of me to think that kind of thing is ever easy.

Still, the year is yet young, and, in just a few days from now, I will have money to spare for trips and events and suchlike and we will see what happens.

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The last couple of weekends have been pretty busy and fun.

The weekend before last, I came up to Seoul, my small backpack heavy with my box of Magic cards and a few bits of clothing and toiletries – and my computer, which I probably didn’t really need. I’ve recently joined a bunch of groups on Meetup and my first order of business was to attend my first event with one of them. It was a beginners’ life drawing class at a studio in Itaewon. The instructor had us practise a few different drawing techniques – initially with one of the attendees with whom he was evidently familiar because the model was late, and then with a model once she arrived.

Three Life-drawing Sketches

It was interesting work, quite challenging – especially having not had much practice at sketching for a long time, other than the occasional map for a game or story. I think I did reasonably well, though. The model was a white, North American woman – she resembled a blond Natalie Portman. Most of the attendees were women too; I chatted to a few on the way out and back to the subway station, but the atmosphere in the class was quiet so I felt pretty self-conscious about talking to anyone in there. The one woman I did talk to in the class seemed quite uncomfortable.

Afterwards, I met those sterling gentlemen, Matthew and Zach. We had dinner together and I dropped my things at Zach’s place (which is conveniently nextdoor to Matt’s place; I knocked on their doors simultaneously) where I stayed the night. Later in the evening, Zach and I went to Hongdae where he had a gig to play with Damnear David, a David Bowie cover singer. Also on the bill was a Queen cover band, Queen Machine – which I really quite enjoyed.

The following day, the three of us went to Wangsimni to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which we all agreed was very good, although it did have some silly bits like the hero not leaving home for the first hour of the film and Galadriel teleporting to avoid scuffing or tripping up over her long skirts.

We also played lots of Magic: The Gathering. Zach and I did, at any rate – Matthew had other duties that called him away.

During the week, I made a bunch of paper snowflakes with my students to decorate my class a little. There has been quite a bit of real snow of late and the weather has been very cold occasionally – making my classroom unpleasantly chilly; the single heater is not really up to the task of heating the whole room.

Paper Snowflakes

I also got my Alien Registration Card and set up a bank account with KEB – Korea Exchange Bank. Actually, I set up two accounts (no, I didn’t – the bank clerk did it for me); one is a regular current account, into which I’ll be paid, and the other automatically transfers any money put into it to my UK bank account. Once I got paid, I transferred some money into the second account; I’ve just checked and it has arrived in my British account. Now I can pay off the credit card debt I’ve built up in my first month back in Korea. Unfortunately, the advances on my salary that I’ve been given mean that I probably won’t have enough cash to see out this next month, so I’m going to have to withdraw more money on my credit card.

I had to go back to the hospital where I got my health check done. I went initially to an internal medicine clinic I’d noticed in order to get a week’s worth of my colitis medication. The doctor – a rather uninspiringly nervous and boyish middle-aged man – told me he couldn’t prescribe it but gave me a note to take to the hospital. Having seen one of the specialists at the hospital, I made my way down one of the staircases and passed this very pretty nurse who’d tested my sight and given me my sealed envelope with the results a couple of weeks afterwards. She had been very nice, trying to speak English and (kind of) remembering my name. She stopped to say hello and prove that she remembered my name again (with only a little prompting from me). I asked her hers.

I had to return once more to the hospital to get another copy of the health check statement – the last one had been for the Immigration Office; this one was for the police, with whom I was supposed to be registered. I was able to ask for Ji-yeong by name and she prepared another envelope for me.

There was a weird episode towards the end of the week when Julie, my boss, put it to me that she didn’t want to sign me up for the (legally required) national health insurance and pension schemes and instead wanted to get something private. Or maybe that wasn’t exactly what she was saying, but because of something the recruiter had told her she didn’t seem keen.

I’m very aware that Americans and Canadians can get the pension contributions back when they leave the country, but Britons can’t. This is because of differing reciprocal arrangements between governments; Koreans working in the UK also can’t get a refund of National Insurance contributions. Apparently, the recruiter had told her that she wouldn’t need to pay into the national system for a British employee and that had been a factor in her choosing me over someone else. After asking various people and reading about it, I told her I wanted to pay into the national systems – so that’s apparently what I’m now doing.

I say apparently because after getting confirmation that I was signed up from Julie, I went back to internal medicine clinic, the hospital and the pharmacy and got partial refunds on my payments because I was now retroactively covered. I’ve since been back to the hospital and pharmacy and my consultation and medication were a lot more expensive than I was expecting.

This past weekend was one of Magic and Burning Wheel gaming. Zach, Matthew and I played MTG on Saturday. That other sterling gentleman, Peter, met me on Sunday and we played more Magic, then Zach joined us and we got started on a roleplaying game run by Peter. I played a fisherman exiled from his village and Zach played a cleric with the character trait Overbearing Loony; we were united by a desire to stop colonists interfering with local culture – or at least with an old temple. It was a very promising game and seemed to go off on a tangent quite quickly – or maybe it was all planned. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue the story soon.

The first thing I did on Saturday was head up to Itaewon to see a man about a phone. I was expecting a North American, but it turned out to be an Indian or Pakistani guy. I started to feel a bit suspicious, but checked the instinct. The phone he offered me was white instead of the black one shown in the photo on Craigslist. I bought it anyway – I’m far too polite to have refused. I came to the conclusion later that the phone was almost certainly stolen. The man didn’t have any idea how to change a setting I e-mailed him about later; the phone is a little bit scuffed on the back, while this chap provided brand new recharging and data cables; he spoke near-perfect English, but he changed the phone from Korean to English right in front of me.

Anyway, it works and I’ve been to the SK Telecom centre to get a new USIM card for it – thus registering an account with SK as well as getting an actual phone number. The clerk opened it up and typed some numbers from inside the phone into her computer. I can only assume that if someone had reported it stolen, some alert would have come up at this point. Maybe it was second-hand after all.

The really disappointing thing about the phone was that it was white and not black. Nevertheless, I’ve got a pretty fancy 4G smart phone with a big screen and I’m starting to get used to how it works and alter things to my taste.

Monday was the last day of teaching for me this year. I had one class with a four-year-old boy, then the next class was an amalgam of many of the elementary school kids and we watched Brave on my laptop. A couple of hours later, the middle- and high- schoolers did the same, but I had to leave halfway through to take a class with one of the girls; then I had one more class with one of the older boys and I was done. The kids will be back on Wednesday, but I have my contractual five days of holiday.

Today, Tuesday, I spent doing not very much – washing clothes, walking around the city, blogging. I had pepperoni pizza for dinner with chocolates and beer and Misfits and the Simpsons.

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Yesterday, I returned to Seoul for a day with friends. I had been planning to get up early and arrive early; at seven o’clock, I reset my alarm to 8:30, having not slept well or long enough. I got the slow bus up to Shinsegae and bought a ticket from the nearby Intercity Bus Station (for ₩5,000).

With some free time, I looked around for somewhere to buy hodugwaja – a walnut cake snack thing for which Cheonan is famous – and found a little shop inside the Shinsegae building at the Express Bus Terminal. The extremely close proximity of these two bus stations is a bit confusing; I’ll have to try getting a bus to Seoul from the express terminal next time.

My bus from the intercity terminal left on time and arrived at the Express Bus Terminal in Seoul an hour and five minutes later. Through the magic of Facebook, while phoneless, I was able contact Jeff, the gaming host, from a café in Noksapyeong and got directions to his place.

There, with Jeff, his friend John, Matthew and Zach, I played Magic: The Gathering with the decks I’d brought. I beat Matthew – the only other person with Magic experience – in a demonstration game; then John, the gaming newbie, held on to the end of a four-handed multiplayer game, using an Izzet Guildmage to burn Matthew and Zach (I’d already fallen). Then we played Zach’s Munchkin with all five people; I almost won at one point, but was thwarted. I lost concentration towards the end because I was in danger of being late for my dinner date, but it was great to be back amongst friends and gaming again.

Matthew and I shared a taxi to Sinsa, where I met Gemma, my old colleague from my last job in Korea. We had Mexican food and later sake and later still coffee and/or hot chocolate. It was really nice to see her again and we talked about life and stuff and things.

I got a five to midnight bus back to Cheonan. When I arrived back, seemingly everyone else on the bus had headed to the main street to get a taxi – of which there were few around. I decided to walk some or all of the way home. There was a frozen drizzle falling and the ground was pretty slippery – I fell once. I got a taxi home from Cheonan Station, where there were several taxis waiting and few people around.

I slept late today. Did some laundry after breakfast and found that no water poured into the top-loader machine as usual. After examining the piping, I realised that the tap was frozen. I boiled a pan of water and poured it over said tap and the water eventually started flowing.

Ssangyong-sa

Later, I went for a walk up a mountain just to the north of where I live. I say ‘mountain’, but really it’s just a forested hilly area. With all the recent snow, it was a pleasant walk – the snow had prettified the landscape and the trees. Without it, it would have been a very easy trek, but the paths were covered in more or less compacted snow, so you had to take care. I fell on my arse at one point, just behind a pair of women – who exclaimed and looked around, but, of course, didn’t stop to help or ask if I was OK. No damage done, though.

Traditional Grave

So far, I’ve made contact with old friends in Seoul and Daegu, but have made no new friends (outside work) in Cheonan. I’m thinking about doing something about that.

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Last Saturday, I went in for my final day at my now legendary once a month Saturday job. The previous month, the owners of the hagwon had prepared cheese and crackers and wine for Eric and me thinking January was my last month. This month there were no special events to mark the occasion.

Then I had to hotfoot it to Hongdae to hang out with Habiba and a bunch of friends for her leaving party. The drinking part of the night was at a couple of clubs that were far too noisy for my taste and I was too late for dinner. Noraebang was fun, though, and Habiba, Zach and I kind of dominated the microphones. Somehow, the karaoke machine go switched on to a harsh judging mode and, whereas these things usually give scores as integers in the 80 to 100% range, it kept handing out scores like 32.47.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I ran what may be the last two sessions ever played of my roleplaying game, Tales of Tolvenia, which uses the system I created: the 2d6 RPG. The story moved a long a fair bit, and I end up making some stuff up on the fly, such as an ancient dwarf who called himself the Ancient and helped the party obtain a couple of artefacts that I planned for them to use to defeat the threat to the world. Without time constraints, I would have had made getting hold of each artefact an adventure in itself. In the end, we didn’t finish the campaign – the world is still threatened by ‘demons’ from the sea. We talked about continuing the game on the blog I set up to document the campain and system.

On Friday, it was my last day at my main job – also many of the kindergarteners’ last day. It wasn’t a regular school day, but instead we had a graduation ceremony – of which I was the presenter. I had written a script, but when it finally came to starting at around eleven o’clock, I pretty much winged it. I’m sure I came across as my normal exuberant, extroverted self. The awkwardest part was when I had to say a little something about each student as they received their diplomas from the church’s pastor. There followed a variety of combinations of comments on each kid’s good looks and intelligence.

I saw my assistant teacher, Jenny, wipe away a tear at one point, but it wasn’t too weepy; everyone enjoyed the event – even me. Once it was over, we milled for maybe an hour so we could say goodbye to individual children and parents and have our pictures taken. One of my favourite students is Jun – he’s a big boy with a crew cut, very smart, very talkative, a bit boisterous. I joked that I would take him with me to Europe and he clamped his arms around my waist and was like, Teacher, go to Europe!

A very sweet boy in my class, Luigi – also very smart and talkative, but much slighter in build and handsome in a cute way – gave me a red rose. I gave my homeroom class some chocolate and some sweet sesame seed mix (which latter was made by Habiba) and also a little card each that I made the previous day.

After that, all the staff went to a buffet place called Vikings for lunch. It’s supposedly a seafood restaurant, but I didn’t have any, favouring instead, pizza, taco (Jenny at one point asked if taco was ‘our country’s food’, ie, Korean) and other tasty stuff. After lunch, my colleague Gemma went with me to a bank to help me transfer my savings to my British bank account. I had thought that not being official – no E2 visa, no pay statements etc – it would be impossible for me to do in my own name. Not so, apparently.

I’d also brought to work my large packpack filled with various possessions. I left work early amid lots of awkward and maybe not fully sincere goodbyes … OK – it wasn’t that bad – the people who work there are very sweet, and it’s been one of my best working experiences in Korea. It’s just that, me being me, I don’t make friends very readily, especially at work. I took my massive backpack to the post and put all the stuff – and even the coat I was wearing – in a box and sent it to my sister.

Then on Saturday, I had my own leaving party. I had lots of stuff to do that day, first of which was buying tickets for the film-going part of the evening’s events. I was somewhat annoyed to learn that, contrary to what it said on their website, CGV was not showing The Artist at 4:40 at our local cinema. Instead – after some sweating about what to do: there was nothing else showing at a convenient time at Cheongdam Cinecity – I was able to get information from the staff about films screening at the nearby Apgujeong CGV and decided on The Descendants. Unfortunately, I had to go to the other place to buy the tickets.

I did this, but it took a bit out of the time available to me to perform my next task: to go to the hospital I’d previously attended with my colitis to get a prescription and letter about my illness and medication, because – as Eric helpfully pointed out and I confirmed by researching on-line – some countries may not allow you to bring in large amounts of medicine without documentation. I have six months’ worth of pills and suppositories. It wasn’t too late when I got there and was seen fairly rapidly. Unfortunately, I was told I’d have to come back later to pick up the letter.

Next, it was my friend Ji-hyeon’s wedding. Korean weddings are generally pretty swift affairs: 20 minutes in a wedding hall followed by a big buffet meal. Ji-hyeon’s husband is a trainee Anglican vicar, however, and their wedding was at the Anglican Cathedral of Seoul and was what many Westerners would think of as a ‘real’ wedding, complete with a mass. Ji-hyeon seemed very happy when I went to ‘view’ her before the ceremony and I also briefly talked to her fiancé and he seemed very nice. In addition, I bumped into Ally or Yu-jeong, who originally introduced me to Ji-hyeon (or Lucy … or Lucia) nearly three years ago for the purposes of language exchange. Ally is also getting married this year; we had lunch together at the buffet down in the depths beneath the cathedral.

Then I went back to the hospital to get my letter. Then I rushed home to meet Matthew, who was due to buy some of our stuff. Then Habiba and I went to Apgujeong to meet Zach, and later Matt, to play Axe Cop Munchkin. Fun was had – especially by Habiba, who won. With a card as great as ‘Dinosaur Head on a Stick with Bombs in It’, I think I should have won.

Despite the changes to the plan, everyone (the four Munchkins, Josh and his date, Julie, Eric, Mary and Demond) made it to the right place at the right time and we watched The Descendants. Everyone (apart from Eric, who is only cineastically satisfied by guns, explosions, fights etc) enjoyed it.

Then it was dinner at an Indian restaurant very close by called Ganga. My former colleague, Jinny, and Mike and Ksan and Jun Hong, and eventually Peter, also joined us for this. The food was very good; Habiba and I shared an aloo gobi and a chicken vindaloo (the latter, of course, being traditional British food). We spent lots of time chatting in the restaurant afterwards. When I tried to make announcement to the effect that it was time to move on, people thought I wanted to make a speech, so I made Habiba play a bit of impromptu Cheddar Gorge with me:

‘Thank.’

‘You.’

‘For.’

‘Coming.’

‘Out.’

‘Tonight.’

Etc.

I was planning to go bowling afterwards, but when we got to the alley, there was a long list of people waiting for lanes. Instead, we went to a board game café called Monopoly. The men played Monopoly, appropriately enough; Mike and the ladies played Tumbling Monkeys and other animal-related games. Monopoly was fun – if strange. Doubly strange for me. It was an updated American version, so all the places were Times Square instead of Mayfair or Mall of America instead on The Angel, Islington. In addition, the game was played with dominations of $10,000 to $5,000,000, the utilities were internet and cellphone services and all the Chance and Community Chest cards were updated with similarly contemporary events.

We all had fun playing it, though. At least until Eric put a fly in the lubricant by taking his turn very quickly after Peter declared his intent to put a house on Las Vegas Boulevard, landing on Las Vegas Boulevard and refusing to pay the full rent because the little plastic house wasn’t yet on the board. Eric was fiercely adamant in his refusal and wouldn’t even countenance comprimising, even when he was left in a minority of one. The scene was pretty awkward and unpleasant, I ended up asking him to leave – which he did, wishing me farewell and goodnight to everyone else.

We had no stomach for further play after that, and the womenfolk had already stopped playing, so we counted up our net worths and declared that Matthew was the winner with $26,000,000 – up from starting assets of $15,000,000.

We said more goodbyes, Peter and Matt came back to our place to grab even more stuff, said more goodbyes and finally we could return to packing.

Specifically, pack a couple of boxes, which, the following day, we took to Ksan and Jun Hong’s house for them to store for us for a year. We packed our bags on that last Sunday, did some more cleaning, sent some of my important documents by Fedex (Habiba gave me a couple of coffee shop free drink cards to the Fedex guy who spoke English – there was nothing for his less linguistic colleage) and finally set off for the airport at about eight o’clock – catching an airport bus by the skin of our teeth.

And so begins our adventure in Europe.

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New Year’s Eve saw Habiba and me meet some friends at British-style pub in Itaewon for dinner – most of us had fish and chips (I also had one beer). We then repaired to a cocktail bar for a couple of quite tasty drinks – a Green Fantasy and a Chocolate Martini, for me. And finally, we headed to a party at someone’s home nearby. Whilst there I had one shot of something fruity, two or three cups of wine and a few of beer.

My roleplaying buddy Matthew joined us towards midnight – and he discovered an area of of common interest with the host Moira – international peace and development. I chatted to a trio of Canadian guys – one who could pass for Korean, but is actually Vietnamese and Chinese (but Canadian) and his white visiting friends.

At midnight, we counted down and were happy.

On the way home I started feeling what I like to think of as ‘nauseous’ – although some authorities state that the correct adjective is ‘nauseated’. When we got out of the taxi, I was sick into a drain. I slept well enough, but in the morning I felt wretched. During the course of the day, I vomited maybe another seven times – usually with nothing coming up other than a bit of thick, orangey stomach juice. Habiba and I just watched TV all day; eventually, I started to feel better and managed to eat a good meal for dinner (one of Habiba’s soups).

The previous day, before meeting for dinner, I’d gone to Itaewon early and spent a bit of money at What the Book. I bought – finally – the tenth and last book in Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Crippled God. I’m a bit wary of reading it, as the series has declined since the early books – or at least, my interest in it has declined. I also got an issue each of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Realms of Fantasy. I did some writing, too.

If I have a New Year’s Resolution, it’s to concentrate on creative writing again. It’s a project that I’ve neglected over the past year in favour of working on my roleplaying game and running a campaign. The RPG has been a challenging project, and one that I feel I’ve struggled to do justice to – although it’s also been lots of fun. It’s with a certain amount of relief that I’ve decided – once the current scene and its aftermath have been played through – to stop running the game. I’m going to suggest a weekly gaming night of Scrabble, Munchkin and whatever other things people want to play – maybe even a different RPG. I’ll only be able to participate in this for a few weeks until Habiba and I leave the country at the end of February.

The time that I’ll save not working on the game will be ploughed into working on stories. The last time I was writing, I was working on a piece about hunting fairy-like creatures. I will return to that, but right now I’m working on a new one. And when I say ‘right now’, I mean it almost literally: I paused work on it here at the local Starbucks because I was feeling tired and I thought writing this blog post would wake me up. The coffee has probably helped, too.

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