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.

Not far from Seoul's Anam station, Colin talks to Charlie Usher, author of the blog Seoul Sub→urban and the book 찰리와 리즈의 서울 지하철 여행기 (Charlie and Liz's Seoul Subway Travelogue)They discuss the first subway stations his life in Korea revolved around; the identity of Liz, the photographer in Charlie and Liz; what makes the Seoul subway system the best framework in which to get to know the city; the impressive integration of the subway with the city itself, meaning that city life doesn't stop at the station entrance; whether he began with any methods and systems for documenting his subway travel; how the whole project came about through "a sense of guilt"; which stations, in and of themselves, make for cool Seoul places; why the concept of shopping in a stations surprises Americans; where, and whether, urban Seoul ends and suburban Seoul begins; how he came to understand Seoul's role as the focal point of Korea; when he realized Seoul Sub→urban had taken him where he wouldn't have gone before, and not into the Seoul repetitive blandness of stereotype; when he realized his work interested Koreans as well; how Korea has made him appreciate the diversity of the United States, even in his home state of Wisconsin, and how he has come to appreciate the "deep sense of community" in Korea; why public transit never took hold in the same way in America as it did in Asia; how much of a longing he can develop for whatever lies beyond the train lines; the different Seoul you see depending on the mode of transportation you use; the lack of any good reason for which he first came to Korea after graduation, except for the teacher-exchange program at his university; how his aunt and uncle preceded him to Korea by coming to the more "brutish" Seoul for the 1988 Olympics; what he's noticed about which languages subway announcements come in at which stops; the change in ridership demographics and advertisements from line to line; why you see white guys on Line 6; whether he uses subways as the framework for understanding other cities as well; his short but extremely deep experience on the Pyongyang metro; what about Seoul still surprises him after seven years there; how many of greater Seoul's 500-ish subway stations he's explored; the newly built lines whose openings he even now anticipates; the distinctive bouquets that appear whenever anything has its ribbon cut; when not exploring Korea through its transit, how he explores it through its food; the recent explosion in Seoul coffee shops, which more than freed him from the need to board a train to get to one; and what it felt like to see the fruit of his labors become a Korean-language book.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Charlie_Usher.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00 PM

Above Seoul's Itaewon district, Colin talks with Open Books acquiring editor Gregory Limpens. They discuss what kind of foreign literature Koreans like to read, and their loyalty to authors they've already enjoyed; how the mission of Open Books fits into shaping that taste; how he got from growing up in Belgium to bringing foreign literature in Korea (and practicing trademark law somewhere in the middle); what about his first, traveling impressions of Seoul stoked his desire to live there; his impression of the future-orientation of Korea versus the historical orientation of Belgium; the nature of "Brusselization"; how he discovered the traditional Korean sensibility of not showing off (and how he sees that changing); whether the multilingualism of his homeland helped him get in the frame of mind to learn Korean; the widening vase as a metaphor for language acquisition; whether Koreans have any particular expectations of Belgians, and where they fit into the apparent hierarchy of foreigners in Korea; what happens at the Seoul International Book Fair, and why Belgium may never get an invitation as its guest nation of honor; what happens when he tries to recommend a browser something at the Open Books booth, and why that can be a discouraging practice in Korean culture; what he knows about translation that makes him always want to read books in the original language; how "l'exception française" has produced a great deal of literature; how often he meets Korean French-speakers; how a Korean Belgian waffle differs from a Belgian Belgian waffle; his sole moment of homesickness in a decade of life in Korea; the changes in his responses to his own periodic assessment, "Why do I like it here?"; what has made him lose confidence in his grasp of Korean literary taste; why Hitler remains a big thematic name in Europe, but probably wouldn't play in Korea; the success of Korean "fables for adults"; his pride in Open Books bringing out titles like Michel Houellebecq's Atomized, and the literary aejeong he feels for ones like his countryman  Dimitri Verhulst's The Misfortunates; how writers react to seeing their novels in Korean translation; how much Korean readers care about book design; how Korean bookstores feel different.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Gregory_Limpens.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:49 PM

In Seoul's Itaewon District, Colin talks with Stephen Revere, CEO of 10 Media (producer of Chip's Maps), co-founder and managing editor of 10 Magazine, author of two Survival Korean books, and for three years the teacher on Arirang television's Let's Speak Korean. The Seoul in which he arrived, and which amazed him, in 1995; how quickly he decided to master the Korean language, and the dearth of tools he had back in those days, such as the Korean Through English books; where the Defense Language Institute's hierarchy of difficulty discouragingly ranks Korean; the frustrations of studying Korean alongside Chinese and Japanese classmates; why students on Let's Speak Korean had to pretend to speak Korean poorly; his days with the "한외모" speaking group; what he enjoyed most about Korean life that convinced him to learn more and more about it; what got him from subscribing to 3-2-1 Contact as a kid to starting 10 Magazine as an adult; what a foreigner should know to make best use of a city like Seoul, or a country like Korea; what remains "hidden" about Korea in this era of the "Korean wave"; why so many Koreans dismiss their hometowns, if they don't come from Seoul; what he does when he heads out in to the provinces; the "massive" generational difference between older and younger Koreans; what his life in Korea has taught him about America; what positive aspect of Korea it reflects that you can easily get into shouting matches there; how the size of your vehicle determines your right-of-way on the roads of Seoul; the unique role Itaewon, home of 10 Magazine headquarters as well as "Hooker Hill", "Homo Hill", and a mosque, plays in Seoul, and why it inspires a song like "Itaewon Freedom"; whether more Korean teaching lies in his future; when he knew he would't be going back to America; when he realized he'd attained fluency in Korea, and what it means to be fluent anyway; why you've got to join the group for eating in Korea (and possibly turn ex-vegetarian because of that); why the markets provide the purest experience of the culture; and whether he still  considers mastering another language.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Stephen_Revere.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:12 PM

In Seoul's Insadong district, Colin talks with Michael Breen, author of The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies as well as other books on Kim Jong-il and Sun Myung Moon as well as founder and CEO of Insight Communications Consultants. They discuss what you can infer about Korean society from the way Koreans drive versus now versus when he first wrote wrote The Koreans; the difference in the role of the law where it has traditionally oppressed people, as in Korea, and in society like the United States; the permanently red traffic lights in front of the president's house, and how you get through by "looking at the man"; what effect the sinking of the Sewol and the "third-world accidents" that preceded it had on the country's psyche as a developed nation; why those from already-developed countries have a hard time advising less-developed nations on matters like corruption; how "the politics lags behind the quality of the the people" in Korea, why the skills of rhetoric matter less there than elsewhere, and what the situation might have in common with Yes Minister; the dictator Park Chung-hee, "son of a bitch, but our son of a pitch" who ordered the country into development; why the South Korean government has no long-term plan for unification with the North; what sort of country he thought he'd got into in 1982, the extent of his ignorance about it at first, and the theoretical frameworks and attitudes he thereby escaped; the moment he found himself taking the side of journalist-beating cops; how Korean dictators, not just "random brutes" who rose to power, got put there by a particular system; why the potential "Seoul Spring" after the fall of Park Chung-hee didn't immediately lead to democracy, but to conflicts between the citizenry and the police; what he heard (and couldn't hear) in North Korea; how many branches of Starbucks he could hit with a stone (and how different were the old coffee shops in which dissidents met); what got stamp collectors arrested in the "old" South Korea; what lengths the South Korean government goes to not to allow its citizens their own judgment on North Korea; the lingering sense, in South Korea, that the North may have taken the high road; the issue of how unbroken Korean history really could have remained over the millennia; the Korean lack of an idea of Korean philosophical tradition; what got him interested enough in the Koreans to write The Koreans; the traditionally condescending (if thoughtfully condescending) attitude foreigners had toward Korea; what may change in the next edition in The Koreans, especially its coverage of culture; whether modern Korea remains recognizably the same place he came to in 1982; and what issues might make the most impact on the country soon.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Michael_Breen.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:47 PM

In Seoul's Arirang building, Colin talks with Adrien Lee, host of Arirang TV's Showbiz Korea and Arirang radio's Catch the Wave. They discuss how he first reacted to the sight of all the branches of Paris Baguette, Tout les Jours, and Ciel de France in Seoul; how he got from industrial engineering studies in France to television and radio in Korea (and why he isn't looking back); what Korean culture he could get exposure to growing up in France; how few complications his background introduced into his childhood; how his French mom met, and learned to speak Korean before meeting, his Korean dad; the Korean dream of Paris, France, and Europe; the constant change in Korea, the "exciting hell," versus the unchanging stability of France, the "boring heaven"; what Koreans ask him when they find out he comes from France; how he grew up speaking a mother tongue, a father tongue, and a school tongue; how he teaches Korean language with Hyunwoo Sun, and why he finds people start studying it; how Korean people make the study of Korean interesting (in slight contrast to the situation with French); how he adapts his behavior to different cultures; the elements of Korean popular culture he personally enjoys, even when he doesn't have to talk about them for work; the sort of Korean food you get in Paris; the things you wouldn't expect that Korea, but not France, puts into bread; what has surprised him about the strengths of Korean culture, including the Korean women's golf performance; the convenience of Seoul's safety, 24/7 culture, and ease of leaving your laptop out at the coffee shop when you get up to use the bathroom; whether Korea and France can learn from one another's priorities; whether Seoul has become an international city in the Parisian manner; where he takes visiting friends and relatives in Seoul; what first steps to take toward Korean culture before coming here; and how to keep up with his broadcasts, wherever you may live.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Adrien_Lee.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:49 AM

On a rainy day in Seoul's Garosu-gil, Colin talks with Marc Raymond, film scholar, teacher at Kangwoon University, and author of Hollywood's New Yorker: The Making of Martin Scorsese. They discuss how much you can learn about Korean life from Hong Sangsoo movies; what Hong has in common with Martin Scorsese; how the two directors relate differently to their "outsider" status; the international code Hong seems to have cracked, and why the rest of Korea covets that; Hong's probable place in the Criterion Collection (or at least the Eclipse Series); how, exactly, he would describe what a Hong Sangsoo film is; the rarity of the intersection between talky relationship cinema and formally experimental cinema; the importance of drinking, smoking, and improvisation in not just Hong's method but in Korean culture itself; how he first discovered Hong, and how he discovered Scorsese shared his enthusiasm; how Hong illustrates the breakdown of the social rules Korea doesn't expect to break down; why his Korean wife laugh at different moments in the movies than he does; whether straight-up critiques of Korean masculinity have remained central to Hong's work; Hong's less-discussed critique of Korean femininity; whether he finds, given his experience with Korean life, that Hong's criticism of Korean society hit the mark; how Hong's films have become linguistically easier as he has gained larger international audiences; why, between degrees, he came to Korea in the first place; his early impressions of the familial attitude and reliance on authority that penetrated all environments; the reductiveness he dislikes in the scholarship of both Korea and Scorsese; where his native Canada's lack of popular cinema drove him; whether Koreans expect him to exemplify Canadian virtues; the hockey comedy that outgrossed Titanic in Quebec; what it felt like to go from a huge, thinly populated country to a small, thickly populated one where his first apartment complex had more people than his hometown; the importance of a career that allows you to pick and choose where you go and when in a big city; what films, besides Hong's, have helped him integrate into Korean culture, like Oasis and Secret Sunshine; the difference between Korean melodrama and other countries' melodrama; who we can call "the Korean Martin Scorsese"; and whether Canada has, or could use, a Scorsese of its own.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Marc_Raymond.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:35 AM

In Seoul's Gangnam district, Colin speaks with Mipa Lee, proprietor of Itaewon's vegan cafe and bake shop and café PLANT and author of the blog Alien's Day Out. They discuss the unlikely country in which she became vegan; her journey from Korea to England to Africa to the United States and back to Korea again; her constant expectation of a move that had kept her from putting down roots or buying furniture; how her parents became early international Koreans; how her boarding school gave her blog its name; how much distance she now feels from "Korean Koreans"; PLANT's role as a kind of international waters in the international neighborhood (and tourist space for Koreans) of Itaewon; how her return to Korea initially happened against her will, but how she then turned it to her advantage; how Korea's advanced delivery infrastructure aided her initial baking ventures; the way to integrate into Seoul's vast ecosystem of coffee shops, in which many Koreans want to participate at least once in their life; why you don't get tainted for life here if your business goes under, unlike in Japan; when vegan desserts became widely viable, and which desserts quickly became successful for her; how exotic Koreans find "comfort food for foreigners"; when she discovered the fact that people want to indulge in "heavier and heartier" foods, vegan or otherwise; why, in Korea, she often has to "explain exactly what meat is"; the challenge of finding even kimchi in vegan form (and her memories of the kimchi situation in Ghana);  the popularity in Korea of Ghana brand chocolate; the "laid-back culture" she misses from Africa; the search for Ethiopian food in Seoul, and how seeking out vegan cuisine in general got her exploring the city, even in places she'd never go otherwise; the difference between Seoul and her birthplace of Busan; how she might one day balance her culinary, artistic, and exploratory interests; the way Korean eminence leads to more work, not less; where she dreams of traveling while spending six weeks at the shop; the contrast between her childhood memories of Korea and her experience of it today; whether the world might inevitably turn vegan; how she deals with eating vegan amid Korean social culture (by, for example, hanging out with foreigners); how different Seoul looks from the vantage of Itaewon; what she learns from getting to know, and in a sense "traveling" through, her international clientele; what art she dreams of creating while spending six weeks at the shop; what advice she gives to other vegans and vegetarians about existence in Seoul, such as how to obtain kale.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Mipa_Lee.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:30 AM

In Seoul's Hongdae district, Colin talks with Mark Russell, author of the books Pop Goes KoreaK-Pop Now!, and the coming novel Young-hee and the Pullocho. They discuss what unites Korean pop culture other than having made by Korean people; the tendency toward mixture that characterizes so much of the country culture; his early experience with Korean culture practicing tae kwon do in high school; where the "if this doesn't work, I can go teach English in Korea" took him, how he envisioned that prospect, and how he found himself on a plane to Korea the same week he brought up the idea; the "completely different" Seoul of today from the "bare" one he found in the nineties, where Pringles could excite him; what in Korea doesn't change, amid all the change that has gone on; the European look backward, and the Korean look forward; how Korea makes the impossible possible, but sometimes takes the possible and screws it up; the bygone days when every foreigner was assumed to be an American; whether K-pop saturates Korea more than American pop saturates American; what, exactly, makes pop music uncool; the consequences of the fact that "most people don't live at the PhD level; what makes Korean blockbusters more interesting than American ones, including not having quite cracked the "scientific blockbuster code"; the Korean popular culture his first discovered; what happens when you go drinking with a favorite director; what happens when you look too closely into the "sausage factory" of art production; the pop golden age people remember from three years ago; when he realized his own life in Korea had taken shape; his plunge into the Seoul alternative music scene; when Busan, not Seoul, had the best music in Korea; the role Hongdae has played in Korean music, having become the Korean music scene itself; why groups have trouble touring the country; Korea's lack of unconventional "slots" in which to live, especially outside Seoul; when he began writing fiction, and how he wrote a novel set in Korea while in Spain; the all-important "de-terriblization" process in art; how much insight traditional Korean folktales give him into the culture today; the foreigner's freedom to "get things wrong in your own way"; his years in Spain, and the difference drinking wine there versus drinking wine in Korea; what he began to miss about Seoul while away; his impressions of the Spanish economic crisis; his sense of Korea getting better and better, economically as well as culturally, despite the fact that he "wants to be as cynical as everyone else."

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Mark_Russell.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:20 AM

In Seoul's Gangnam district, Colin talks with Laurence Pritchard, writer, teacher, and enthusiast of Korean literature. They discuss the Korean phenomenon of the "English gentleman" and the presence of English culture in the country; the idea that westerners "are all incredibly promiscous"; the expectations of an Englishman; the constant hurry of Seoul; his experience in France versus the Korean France of the imagination; the importance of swirling with the biggest wine glass you can get; the "disaster" of Korean bread the better part of a decade ago, and how it comes up against the English refusal to mix the sweet and the savory; what exposure to Korean culture he had before meeting his Korean wife in Paris; how he tuned into Korean film's tendency to mix styles; what literature has taught him about the central idea of han; Dalkey Archive's library of Korean literature; how he has come to get a handle on Korean class distinctions and intergenerational conflict; how his unhesitating decision to move to Korea came about; when he realized the true strictness of the hierarchies here, especially through how they manifest in novels; the greater importance of the president of Samsung than the president of South Korea; what it's like teaching English to high-powered executives; the drinking habits in Seoul (such as going straight to hard liquor and falling down escalators) versus those seen in English pubs; the failure of the "hipster" or "bohemian" idea, let alone irony, to penetrate Korean dress; the expatriate tendency to demonstrate they know more about the culture than you do; the ways that people in Korea don't connect; the parallels between attitudes toward Park Chung-hee and Margaret Thatcher; the default business of the fried-chicken shop; the difference between getting into French culture with French literature and getting into Korean culture with Korean literature; what goes into a "Gangnam novella"; the advantage of writing about Seoul rather than writing about Paris; what he gains by having a life and family established in Korea, and the prospect of doing a language exchange with his own daughter; how you don't go up to someone in England and say, "Hey, I'm from England"; the promising Korean literature translations of Deborah Smith; whether you can work with the "great truths" imparted by literature when plunged into a foreign culture; the necessity of assuming the impossibility of knowing about the foreign culture you plunge into; and his experience in a Seoul "bullet taxi," just like the ones Kim Young-ha describes in I Have the Right to Destroy Myself.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Laurence_Pritchard.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:17 AM

In Seoul's Garosu-gil, Colin Marshall talks with Korean music industry expert Bernie Cho, president of DFSB Kollective, a creative agency that provides digital media, marketing, and distribution services to Korean pop music artists. They discuss why the world now knows what K-pop is; how Korean youth culture, pop culture, and digit culture have become one in the same; Psy as outlier and representative of K-pop, "the bad boy who became the golden boy," who put a dent in the industry's pursuit of perfection; how "made in Korea" can work, internationally, as a label; whether the concept of "crazy Korea," like "weird Japan," has any traction; the big technological differences between the time of the 1990s J-pop boom and the modern K-pop boom; the musician's perceived need to break out of Korea for success; how, growing up in the United States, he became aware of Korean popular culture; his disenchantment with the "boo-hoo session" of Asian American studies; the accidental meeting that got him into music television; what he discovered in Seoul's Hongdae neighborhood; the Korean government's investment in internet technology, and the digital and cultural revolution that followed; why Korean pop artists have, in the recent past, made so little money; the use of music not as a business, but as a business card; Korea's other DMZ: the closed-garden "digital media zone" of Korea-only technology; how he first saw the seemingly wholly under-construction Seoul almost twenty years ago; how the vibe of the 2002 World Cup has carried over into the present; what Los Angeles and Seoul have to learn from each other; how his advantage in coming from America has gone away; how K-pop has become "sonic bibimbap," uniquely Korean in its mixture of various ingredients; what Koreanness internationally-marketed Korean music retains; his "What am I even doing?" moment on a flight from Los Angeles to Seoul; why the origin of the word "piracy" reveals it as a good thing, and how it sparked the British Invasion; what he makes of the return of the 1960s and 70s "golden age" of Korean pop and R&B; and why he tells artists they shouldn't do everything in English (and why he plays them Sigur Rós).

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Bernie_Cho.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:36 AM