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 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

In Busan's Daeyeon-dong, Colin talks with James Turnbull, author of The Grand Narrative, a blog on Korean feminism, sexuality, and popular culture. They discuss what Westerners find so unappealing about Korean plastic surgery; the associations of the "double eyelids" so often surgically created; why he used to believe that Koreans "want to look white"; the meaning of such mystifying terms as "V-line," "S-line," and "small face"; the uncommon seriousness about the Western-invented concept of the "thigh gap"; how corn tea became publicly associated with the shape of the drinker's jaw; Korea's status as the only OECD country with young women getting thinner, not fatter; Korean advertising culture and the extent of its involvement with the "minefield" of Korean irony; the prominence of celebrities in Korean ads, and why the advertisers don't like it; how long it takes to get tired of the pop industry's increasingly provocative "sexy concepts"; the result of Korea's lack of Western-style reality television; how making-of documentaries about 15-second commercials make the viewers feel closer to the celebrities acting in them; why he doesn't want his daughters internalizing the Korean sense of hierarchy; why an expat hates Korea one day and loves it the next; how much homework his daughters do versus how much homework he did; the true role of private academies in Korea, and what he learned when he taught at one himself; the issues with English education in Korea and the oft-heard calls for its reform; the parallels between English test scores and cosmetic surgery procedures; the incomprehension that greets students of the Korean language introduced to the concept of "pretending to be pretty"; and how to describe the way Korean superficiality differs from the Western variety.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_James_Turnbull.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:20 PM

At Busan's Dongseo University, Colin talks with North Korea analyst Brian Reynolds Myers, author of such books as A Reader's Manifesto and The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters. They discuss why South Koreans don't care about the Sword of Damocles that is North Korea; how Korea's capital-centricity looks from relatively far-flung Busan; why Koreans from outside Seoul seem to lack "local patriotism"; why Busan feels, to him, more like an "aggregation of apartment buildings than a community," but nevertheless like home; the benefits he enjoys of his outsider status in Korean society; the intellectual questions he can ask about Korea that a Korean couldn't; what makes the Koreans as an "ahistoric people," like the Greeks and unlike the Egyptians (and more Confucian societies); why he thinks Koreans should learn Indonesian, and why they refuse to; the difference between what Koreans tell themselves and what they tell the world; why so many fewer expatriates in Korea learn the language than in Japan or China, and what makes it so hard; how he got his Soviet Studies degree just before the Berlin Wall came down; what the reunification of Germany has to teach us about the reunification of Korea; how he became well-known among arch-conservatives for a piece on Korea's lack of "state spirit"; why he got his higher degrees in Germany, where they didn't make him go to classes; his arrival in Korea in the time of 9/11, and what took the most mental readjustment from then on; his trial by fire of lecturing at length about North Korea, in Korean; what South Koreans seem to think America is, and why it still attracts them; what it means to "behave like an American" in Korea; the "expiration period" on a foreigner's respectability; what he has come to value about Korean "flexibility"; the free-floating aggression he dislikes about America but doesn't sense in Korea; how he sees the literary pretension situation as having changed in the years since A Reader's Manifesto (and since e-books have taken off); why he hasn't fully engaged with Korean literature and cinema; and one of the highlights of his time in Busan, meeting Isabelle Huppert on the street; and whether he sees more differences or similarities emerging between North and South Korea in recent years.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_BR_Myers.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:24 PM

Near the University of Seoul, Colin talks with Bruce Fulton, Young-Bin Min Chair in Korean Literature and Literary Translation in the Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia and, with his wife Ju-chan Fulton, half of an acclaimed Korean literary translation team. They discuss when Korean writers get too good at reflecting their own society; his first experience with Korea in the Peace Corps in 1978; his window past the military culture onto the rest of the culture; what he gained by his host family's running a restaurant; how the divide between city and countryside has changed since first he observed it from North Jeolla; when Korea's literature entered his life; how quickly world-class Korean stories started appearing in publication in the 20th century; why authors have had to "check in" with traditional subjects; the extent to which the Peace Corps expected him to learn Korean; why Koreans study english, and why that reason doesn't help them learn English; where you can still spot neo-Confucian tradition in Korean literature; what it means for a writer to "take the stage," and the contests they have to win to do it; what makes a writer like Kim Young-ha an anomaly; how much of a Korean connection Seattle and Vancouver have; the increasing number of non-Koreans he sees in his classes at UBC; whether and how Korean food has come up alongside Korean literature, and how their richness may have made them difficult; the iceberg whose tip current K-pop culture represents; the changes he notices between the Seoul he first saw and the one he sees today (and the things he notices haven't changed); whether Korean literature can help one understand Korea today; and which parts of Korean life Korean literature still captures well today.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Bruce_Fulton.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:53 AM