Notebook on Cities and Culture
(Formerly The Marketplace of Ideas.) Colin Marshall sits down for in-depth conversations with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene all around Los Angeles and beyond.

In an officetel in Seoul, Colin talks with Brother Anthony of Taizé, one of the most renowned translators of Korean poetry, president of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch, and naturalized citizen of South Korea. They discuss the frequency with which he's heard "Why Korea?" in the 35 years since he first arrived as a member of Taizé; the Korean lack of belief that anybody would actually opt for Korea rather than their own homelands; what fills Korean taxi drivers with strong opinions; Korea's aging rural population versus Japan's even more aging rural population; the Seoul he arrived in in 1980, and how it compared with the Philippine slum in which he'd spent years previous; the "trickery and violence" involved in the city's redevelopment; how a "shame culture" deals with modernization (and especially with thatched roofs); how Japanese society accommodates a kind of "nonconformism" that Korean society doesn't; how he began translate Korean poetry, and why he got into poetry rather than other forms of Korean literature; how Korean fiction came into being after the war, and what it often lacks; how the concept of separation has been expressed as "the great Korean thing," and younger Korean writers' desire to get away from it; why "Koreans can't speak Korean"; the endless pattern drills he endured while studying Korean at Yonsei University; how he began "doing tea," and where in Asia the interest has taken him; how China has used Korea as a developmental model; why he isn't sure he wants to live in a "fascinating country"; how some foreigners love traditional Korean music and architecture while most Koreans themselves don't; whether Korea can gain the confidence it has long lacked; why we should rightfully be able to ride the train from Busan to Paris.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Brother_Anthony.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:14 PM

In Seoul's Sinchon district, Colin talks with Matt VanVolkenburg, author of Gusts of Popular Feeling, a blog on "Korean society, history, urban space, cyberspace, film, and current events, among other things." They discuss what it feels like to live in Seoul, of all places, without a smartphone; why navigating the city poses so much of a challenge to the newcomer; how he sees the relationship of the Korean media to foreign English teachers, "the new incarnation of the GIs"; what made it possible for the Korean media to talk freely about the acts of foreigners; the history of "Korea as a victim"; why non-English-teaching foreigners surprise Koreans; what makes some Koreans and foreigners alike see entry-level foreign English teachers as third-class citizens; the country's distinctive combination of overregulation and under-enforcement, and what it says about the difference between the legal cultures of Korea and North America; what he does on trips instead of hitting the beach; Isabella Bird Bishop, the 19th-century traveler and write from whom Gusts of Popular Feeling takes its name; why the collapse of the Sampoong Department Store didn't prevent the sinking of the Sewol; the writing of Percival Lowell and others who had more to comment on than dirtiness and superstition did about Korea in the late 19th century; the Chonggyecheon's very short history as a "clean stream"; James Wade, one of the more prolific English-language observers of postwar Korea; what he finds reading old Korean newspapers; his incredulousness at a foreigner's complaint that "you can't get cheese here"; the 1988 Hustler article on the easiness of Korean women; the importance of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to Korean relations with foreigners in the country; the fallout of "Dog Poop Girl"; the thorough change he's seen in the built environment of Seoul in his 13 years there, and what he notices about the less-developed cityscape revealed in old movies; Korea's relative lack of the geek and the nerd; and what word he really doesn't want to use when describing why he likes living in Korea.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Matt_VanVolkenburg.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:40 PM

In Seoul's Itaewon district, Colin talks with architect Minsuk Cho, principal at Mass Studies, designer of the Golden Lion-winning Korean pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2014. They discuss whether he talks about the use of space differently in English than in Korean; how copying, and especially while misinterpreting across cultural boundaries, counts as a way of creating; his earliest memories of Seoul's "building explosion" that grew the city tenfold over fifty years; the difference between current Seoul and the Seoul of his childhood; the "concrete utopia" in which he grew up, and how quickly it went away when the branded "high-density gated community" high-rises that now characterize the city rose; the book that set him on the path to architecture (even as his architect father didn't push him into the profession); the "toilet paper" life expectancy of Korean buildings; how he has reacted to the "bigger, higher, cheaper, faster" building ethos of Seoul; the "blessing" of so much building right up against so much nature; when Korea's dictatorship didn't want people to gather, and what effect that had on the built environment; his experience riding a Yellow Cab from LAX to Palm Springs; how Seoul passed through its "juvenile teenager phase," and what mistakes it made that compare to Los Angeles' onetime avoidance of density; the village fetish that has recently developed; what he felt in New York that made him cartwheel in the streets; why the flatness of Rotterdam bothered him when he worked for Rem Koolhaas; how Korea became, for him, a more appealing place to build things; Mass Studies' Pixel House in the recently developed city of Paju and the island of Jeju; the beginning of a reverse migration out of Seoul; Itaewon's varying role in the city as "a center that is also a void"; the importance of architecturally uniting North and South Korea in Mass Studies' Venice Biennale pavilion; and what he thinks of the prospects of actually reuniting, for architecture or otherwise.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Minsuk_Cho.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:29 PM

In Seoul's Sinchon district, Colin talks with Michael Elliott, creator of the English-learning site for Koreans English in Korean and the Korean-learning site for English-speakers Korean Champ. They discuss why Koreans insist on the difficulty of their own language; whether and why he considers Korean difficult; what it means that "there are so many different ways to say the same thing" in Korean; the perennial issue of saying "you" in Korean; the "native speaker's privilege" to go a little but out of grammatical bounds; why the Korean alphabet has displaced Chinese characters more or less entirely; why Koreans rarely acknowledge the language itself as a driver of interest in Korea; the different, more intense ways trends manifest themselves in Korea than in America; whether we can call English education in Korea a "craze," and why Koreans spend so much money on it to so little apparent result; the degree of parental involvement in English education and how "keeping up with the Joneses" drives it; the trouble with studying the languages of "poor countries" in Korea; the dominance of "the right way and the wrong way" in Korean thought; what it takes to make it to the highest level of Korean study, and why that sets off suspicion in Korean people; how tired he's grown of explaining to those "back home" why he went to Korea to study Korean in the first place; how he got an exemption not just from Korean trends but from American hipsterdom, or indeed any kind of "team"; how he came up with his new Korean Champ videos shot on the streets of Seoul; what would happen to the Cheonggyecheon Stream if built in America; how he studied multiple levels of Korean at once; the importance of observation when learning languages, and the general resistance to it; the "little bit of a scoff" with which Koreans sometimes correct Korean-learners; and the sleep he loses on the rare occasion he says something incorrectly in Korean.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Michael_Elliott.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:35 PM

In Seoul's Susong-dong, Colin talks with Andrew Salmon, author of To the Last Round: The Epic British Stand on the Imjin River, Korea 1951Scorched Earth, Black Snow: Britain and Australia in the Korean War, 1950; and All That Matters: Modern Korea. They discuss how Korean culture has influenced the names of his cats; the dullness of London by comparison to Seoul, especially in drinking term; the provocative positions he has taken, such as finding the Koreans "a little unfair toward the Japanese"; how he sees the conflict between Korea and Japan over the Dokdo islets; the "drab, miserable-looking" Seoul full of "fierce" people to which martial arts brought him in 1989; the Korean shift from diligence as the sole virtue to diversity of lifestyle; how Korea came to look like a place he could live; why he "wanted answers" from Korea since his time here began; how everything Korean, in this land "ruled by the heart, not the head," opposes everything English; the meaning of the 1988 Olympics and the 2002 World Cup as the "signposts" of modern Korea; the opening up of Korean national markets and Korea itself to international markets, resulting in the improvement of such native products as makgeolli; Korean sensitivity toward the awareness of "the Korean brand"; to what extent outside interest has shifted from North Korea to South; why editors don't tend to ask for the North Korea stories that matter; what happens if reunification day ever comes; what Korean students "simply don't learn" about their country's history; why plaques in Korea give dimensions of bricks rather than tell stories; what the Korea neophyte should know in order to contextualize everything else they learn about the country; the mismatch between Korea's "hardware" and its "software"; whether he hopes for a grand Korean deceleration; and what he's stopped dreaming about quite so much before his trips to Europe.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Andrew_Salmon.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:41 PM

In Seoul's Hongdae district, Colin Marshall talks with Daniel Tudor, former Economist correspondent in Korea, co-founder of craft beer pizza pub chain The Booth, author of the books Korea: The Impossible CountryA Geek in Korea, and (with James Pearson) North Korea Confidential. They discuss the difference between Gangnam and Gangbuk style; the recently emerging trend toward Korean nostalgia, and what happens when you pull out an two-year-old mobile phone; what he discovered in Korea during the time of the 2002 World Cup; his time among the "studying machines" that constitute Korean youth, and why so few want to break from that hard-driving mode; education, especially abroad, as a means of "jumping the queue" back in Korea; the greater progressivism he's found among Koreans who've never left the country; why it matters when a foreigner voices the same criticism of Korea that Koreans think; whether he felt any fear of legal action when he publicly stated that Korean beer sucks; why Korean beer has continued to suck for so long; what it takes to get decent beer into Korea today; the "emotionalism" of Korean conversational style, and whether it plays in the wider world; to what extent Korea may westernize, given the presence of a certain "spineless love of all things American"; whether Korea's narrative of weakness can accommodate the country's new strength; what it was like writing for The Economist, a magazine newspaper given to short sentences, cynical humor, and an interest in "North Korea, North Korea, and sometimes North Korea"; where he still feels the presence of dictator Park Chung-hee, and the backlash to his "developmentalist" mindset that seems to have begun; the possibility of "de-Seoulification"; what he experiences on train trips that tells him too much has concentrated in Seoul; the parallels between Park Chung-hee and Margaret Thatcher; Korea's nature not as a conservative country, but as a country with a conservative veneer; the "natural socialism" that coexists in Korea with extreme capitalism; why Koreans believe their food too spicy for any foreigner to handle; why he hates even to hear the Korean term for "foreigner"; whether Korea can afford to continue burning so much energy on purely internal competition; the parallels between the chaebol system and North Korea; how soon a Pyongyang branch of The Booth would open after reunification; and what the English could stand to learn from the attitudes of the Koreans.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Daniel_Tudor.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:35 PM

In Changwon, "Environmental Capital of South Korea," Colin Marshall talks with Coby Zeifman, former outreach coordinator for Nubija, the city's bike share system. They discuss what makes Changwon a cool town; why a feature like Nubija, despite its impressiveness, needed the kind of outreach he has tried his utmost to provide; Changwon's history as a manufacturing town for the conglomerate LG; what makes it a "Young City," including its plan modeled after Canberra; how the city expanded, and how Nubija expanded along with it; how he got to Korea in the first place, on nothing more than the advice of two friends who already lived there; how "livable" he found Changwon even at first; what makes Nubija inconvenient for foreigners; why so many services in Korea require a Korean cellphone; how Changwon's Nubija compares to Daejeon's Tashu; when he started to get the sense that he could not use Nubija, but contribute to it; how he began Changwon Bike Party (by "Tyler Durdening it"); where he's gone with the Bike Party he might not have gone otherwise; the scrutiny he underwent before Nubija let him help out; his experience learning bicycle repair, a subject he didn't know well, in Korean, a language he didn't know well; what Nubija's "smart" information technology architecture does for the system; whether Seattle, where he came from, has got ready to become a 21st century; the glories of the T-Money card; the assumption that certain public conveniences "wouldn't work in America"; Mia Birk's theory of shining a light and scattering the cockroaches; what we can learn from New York City's solution to graffiti in subway cars; his imminent return to the United States, and the reverse culture shock for which he has prepared himself; his hopes for sustained carless "freedom and happiness" in America, and the multimodalism that still requires; how Korea's cycleability ranks overall; and what it takes to complete the country's Four Rivers Tour and receive the best souvenir of all of his time in Korea.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Coby_Zeifman.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:13 PM

At a coffee house somewhere in Busan, Colin talks with Sofía Ferrero Cárrega, film critic and enthusiast of Korean cinema. They discuss whether she'd recommend other movie-lovers move to Busan; how the Busan International Film Festival attracted her to the city (and the importance of its parties); why, in Busan, "everybody says yes"; the state of Korean film criticism in Spanish; how she first encountered Korean cinema, and how its auteurs got her to know Korea; the bad first impression Korean culture can sometimes give on film; what happens when you mention kimchi in Argentina; why her move to Korea became inevitable; her experience of understanding nothing in Korea even after having studied the language for years before arriving; what makes the dialogue in Hong Sangsoo movies easier to understand than the dialogue in other movies (and why Korea struck her as a real-life Hong Sangsoo movie when she arrived); whether she feels a kinship with Isabelle Huppert's character in In Another Country; the shock of finding out that, in Korea, she's white; the understanding she gets by standing outside society, and the "healthy jealousy" she feels for those inside; the difference between Korean conception of history and the Argentine conception of history; how Korea's heavily advertised matchmaking services speak to the cultural importance of marriage; why to learn about a culture from its independent films, not his mainstream one; how Korean social life "flows" from one place to the next; the role of the Seoul International Women's Film Festival; what happened in the world of Korean film festivals in the wake of the Sewol disaster, and how all the elements aligned to match the national mood; what it felt like to live in a silent Korea; the strong identification within Korean generations; her critical interest in connecting Korean film to the conditions in Korean society; why she waited on reading about Korea until she'd lived here a while, then picked up Michael Breen's The Koreans; the difficulty of explaining Korean food and drink to friends and family back in Argentina; the Korean penchant for "crowded" food and "crowded" web sites; how the culture has turned her "no"s into "ne"s; and what hour she (as well as the Argentine ambassador) woke up to watch the World Cup.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Sofia_Ferrero_Carrega.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:08 PM

Near Busan's Kyungsung University, Colin talks with Jeff Liebsch, managing editor and partner at the magazine Busan Haps. They discuss what makes Korean baseball games more fun than baseball games in the West; the Toronto-Detroit sports divide in his hometown of Windsor; why a disproportionate number of the Westerners in Korea seem to have come from Canada; the difficulty of understanding Busan, and of leaving it; the traces of "country people" Busan's population has retained, even as it has supposedly turned international; the funniest Korean-film subtitle he's ever seen; how he learned to speak Korean without studying; how Busan Haps got started, and how he got involved; some of the strategies the magazine has used to attain prominence in the English-language media in Korea and abroad; how he observes people he spots reading the magazine; the importance of "beautiful pictures of food" to their Korean readership; the changing coffee situation in Busan, and what else has evolved since he arrived; the time when bars closed at midnight, and what it illustrated about how Koreans find away to get around everything; the mystery of how Busan once had seven beaches and no outdoor seating anywhere; what happens in Korean when someone gets a good idea for a business; the changes he now observes in the Korean beer scene (in all settings but the baseball stadium); Korean sports teams' ties to corporations, not cities; the reputation of the Lotte fan; his experience in Korea during the 2002 World Cup, when he first saw the Koreans "let loose"; how he felt during the "IMF" economic crisis, and what he thought when he saw Koreans turn in their own personal gold to save the country's economy; the Korean sense of collectivism versus the Western sense of collectivism; why Psyworld couldn't go international, and what its problems represent to him about Korea's "lack of a global vision" in some respects; what happens during the Busan International Film Festival, his favorite time of the year; the push to transform Busan into Korea's film center; the film events that go on in Busan even apart from the BIFF; the way people living in Busan tend to stick to ten percent of the city, and visitors tend not to see the "real" parts of it; how he makes sure to get the feeling of "actually being in a different country"; his experience working in Detroit, and whether it felt like a city with a future or a city without one; how he pronounces "process"; and what he likes about observing North America from a distance.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Jeff_Liebsch.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:54 PM

Colin sits down at Busan's eFM with broadcaster, teacher, rapper, and television star Chad Kirton, also known as Fusion. They discuss whether the setting gets him into Korean or English mode; how he came up with his show segment "Don't Trust the Dictionary"; what a "bunnyhug" is; how the Korean desire for perfection affects their acquisition of foreign languages; the danger of agreeing in Korean when you have no idea what people are saying; what he seeks out in Busan when he goes on television; what powers burnt eel can supposedly give you; why many Koreans seem to forget Busan exists; the perpetually educational nature of Korean media; how he travels for hardworking Koreans live vicariously through television; what constitutes his 16-hour workday; when he first came to Korea, studying tae kwon do in Pohang; how Korea sometimes brings out in the Westerner the desires they might not have let out at home; how bilingual broadcasting became his speciality, beginning with the English-learning show for which he phonetically memorized his Korean lines; his first night as The Midnight Rider; how his version of "Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner" works; the diversity of age he's discovered among his listenership; how he began rapping — in Korea, freestyle, on the air; how he keeps learning Korean when many long-term expatriates plateau; his first home in Korea, with frozen pipes and above a river of raw sewage; the way that Koreans seem able to feel each other's feelings; what it meant to him when he first experienced Busan's T.G.I. Friday's; what counts as Canadian food; how he answers questions about how Canadians do things; what he tells people who want to come to Korea and teach English; how you still have to start at the bottom in Korea, but why the bottom isn't so bad; the need to understand how to "think like a Korean"; his encounter with Koreans who lived in, of all places, Medicine Hat; how much time to spend in a foreign country to really internalize the culture; the similarities and differences between his radio, television, rapping, and teaching personalities; and the difficulty of avoiding all forbidden words (in both the English and Korean "swearing Rolodex") while freestyling on the radio.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Chad_Kirton.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:16 AM