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.

On the Seoul Floating Islands, Colin talks with Nikola Medimorec, co-author of Kojects, an English-language blog on transport, urban planning, and development projects around Korea. They discuss the first Korean city he ever experienced, and what introduction it gave him to both the country's festival culture and its development culture; what makes the transit different in Asia than in elsewhere; the installation he witnessed of glass panels on the subway platforms, and how that not just prevents suicides but improves the riding experience; the question that got him studying geography in the first place; the success of his posts on KTX stations he wrote in his first, German-language blog, and how that led to Kojects; why he most enjoys writing about Korean bicycle infrastructure, now that it has become possible to bike there; the difference between cycling in Korea and cycling in Germany, where he grew up; how old Korean men all listen to the radio on their bicycles; how he plunged right into his studies at Seoul National University, including a statistics class in Korean; how the Suwon EcoMobility Festival took over his life; the cities that most fascinate him outside of Seoul; his impressions of the new-built "city from scratch" of Songdo and the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, "an alien spaceship landed in the middle of Seoul"; the current Seoul mayor's aversion to all big projects, especially the "ugly" DDP; the ongoing controversy of the Cheonggyecheon Stream; whether a project like the Yonsei-ro Transit Mall can allow for commerce on the street (and especially street food); his initial surprise at all the people on the streets in Seoul, and the changing reasons they've come out to the streets; where to look for a pojangmacha, and why having to search for them is a problem in itself; the domestic culture of  Germany versus the urban culture of Korea; what impresses German friends when the come visit Korea; what Korean cities could learn from European ones; whether Korea has any more large-scale projects remaining in the future; how older European buildings have become favored, while even 25-year-old buildings in Korea have badly deteriorated and await redevelopment; what the new "phallus symbol" of the Lotte World Tower (in which he once saw a fire) demonstrates, and why he doesn't care about that kind of skyscraper; whether Korean 빠리 빠리 culture results in a shoddy built environment; why he couldn't do a Kojects-style blog in Germany; Kojects' reliance on Korean sources, and how that separates it from other English-language sites observing Korean cities; how much of his mastery of Korean comes directly from reading about transport and urban development; his preferred methods for first exploring a city; what you notice when you walk in Seoul; and the story behind the Seoul Floating Islands on which they sit.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Nikola_Medimorec.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:33pm UTC

At a bar by the train tracks near Yongsan, Colin talks with Jon Dunbar, urban explorer, editor of long-running Korean punk zine Broke in Korea, and author of Daehanmindecline. They discuss the difference between a Korean abandoned place and a Canadian abandoned place; how Seoul got re-inhabited after the war; the development of poor "moon villages" on the hillsides; how he defines "urban exploring," and why he dislikes that name; the urban renewal process that causes the abandonment of neighborhoods; the hired goons who harass people to leave areas slated for demolition; how big a city all the abandoned buildings he's visited would constitute by themselves; his experience in the tunnel from The Host; what it means to explore Korea's abandoned/disputed/places as a foreigner, and the difficulty of getting Koreans interested in urban exploration; the time he ran into a man collecting scrap metal, and why that man felt embarrassment for his country; the difference between the Korea he came to, which had both grass huts and high-rises, and Korea today; why so many buildings in Seoul have reached such an advanced state of decrepitude so quickly; what he prefers about North Korean architecture to South; what most high-rises in Seoul stand on the ruins of; his discovery of the Korean punk scene, and why he needed to confirm its existence before he came to live; the lower level of violence and higher level of musicianship in Korean punk; how he got to work for an organization like the Korean government; the ominousness of a presidential promise to promote "the happiness of the people"; the meaning of han, why the government now wants to eradicate the concept, and how pansori reggae expresses it; the change in Seoul mayors that brought about a change in major Seoul building projects; the significance of the new Dongdaemun Design Plaza and the politics involved in building it; how, rather than declining, Korea has "improved in every way" since he turned up; his life in Bukcheon hanok village, and how its old-style houses have become more coveted in recent years; whether Korea can shake the idea of "old = bad"; where in Korea he witnessed a funk brawl; and the way to "use your unfamiliarity as a tool" in a place like Korea.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Jon_Dunbar.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:43pm UTC

In Seoul's Sinchon district, Colin talks with Stephane Mot, "conceptor," writer of fiction, nonfiction, "nonsense," and author of the blog Seoul Village as well as the collection Dragedies. They discuss Paris as a "recurring hero" of literature and Seoul as a "shapeshifter" glimpsed from different angles in different stories; how he got involved in the early days of internet gaming, surviving three startups in three years; the French embassy job that brought him to Seoul in 1991; why he prefers winter in Seoul to winter in Paris; the difficulty of walking in Seoul when first he got there; the first of the city's "villages" that convinced him to explore more; what kind of relationship with Paris he has as a ninth-generation Parisian, and what it has gained by his becoming a partial outsider; when he first began writing about Korea; why of the two important subjects of love and death, he sticks to death; his "Borgesian experience" of discovering the internet; the subjects to which he finds himself returning in Seoul over and over again; why he writes in both French and English; his definition of a city as a scar; what he sees happening to the Korean social fabric, and how it works differently in France; the difference between the new-built urban places of Songdo and La Défense; what happens when a city has "no place for storytelling"; why he searches maps for crooked streets; what got the cars out of Sinchon; his "biggest shame," his relationship with the Korean language, which keeps its learners thinking they've never learned enough; his skill with "Korean silence"; the Seoulite's constant grieving for what has disappeared, or what will soon disappear; why he writes about the "gaps" on the maps; how having one's own fictional Seoul prevents insanity; how more people now really come from Seoul, resulting in new senses of belonging and identity; the emerging schizophrenia between the "Korean wave" and Korean tradition; what remains unformed in Seoul to keep him awake; the reasons to hope offered by the increasing consciousness of and affection for Seoul; and the possible end of the "lemming race" to the capital.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Stephane_Mot.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:34pm UTC

In Seoul's Garosu-gil, Colin talks with Darcy Paquet, critic of Korean film, founder of and the Wildflower Film Awards, author of New Korean Cinema: Breaking the Waves, teacher, and occasional actor. They discuss why movies have a hard time capturing Seoul; the unusual way the Park brothers' Bitter, Sweet, Seoul captures the city; how Cold Eyes relocated a Hong Kong story into Seoul; how, after arriving in Korea in 1997, he got to know the city in step with getting to know the cinema; how he knew Seoul would grow dramatically as soon as he got there, but how nobody expected the Korean film industry would grow so much; why, right when Korean culture started going worldwide; Korean filmmakers were ready; which Korean movies Koreans tried to steer foreigners away from, and which they themselves have returned to more recently; what strengths older Korean films whose makers had to "fight the system" have that modern ones don't; how effectively one can ready oneself for Korean life with Korean film; the size of Korea's cinematic iceberg beneath the tip of OldboyShiriSnowpiercer, and the like; the less-defined border between Korea's mainstream theaters and its "art houses"; what happens when Korean directors go Hollywood to make movies like The Last Stand and Stoker; what part movies (and associated pursuits) have played in helping him master the Korean language; the kind of diversity Korea has as revealed in cinema; the meaning of modernized hanok; why the last twenty minutes of Korean movies are so often just crying; the importance of Chilsu and Mansu, the first film that stepped in after the relaxation of censorship to make a political point; the sort of political criticism expressed in more recent movies like The President's Last Bang and The Attorney; whether he feels more critical freedom than would a Korean; how Korean producers have done less to "protect directors from the money" these days; the "difference of opinion on objectivity and subjectivity" between Korea and the west as expressed in documentaries and their switch from "we" to "I"; what filmmaking techniques work on him now that wouldn't have when he first came to Korea (and which still don't); whether films have yet begun to take him back to his previous years in Seoul; what he sees when he revisits Christmas in August, one of the first Korean films he ever saw; how much of the Korea ahead, the country his sons and their generation of Koreans unlike those the world has known before will grow up in, he can see in the movies.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Darcy_Paquet.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:29pm UTC

In Seoul's Sinchon district, Colin talks with Danny Crichtonresearcher and writer on regional innovation hubs and a contributing writer for TechCrunchThey discuss the hardest thing about being a Korean entrepreneur; what the concentration of Seoul has facilitated about Korean innovation; how he got from an interest in China "because it's China" to a more fully developed interest in Korea; what happened to Sony, and thus Japan; how he responds to the current Korean of question, "Is this really a developed country?"; how people have stopped putting up with the country's corruption, perhaps one of the drivers of its astonishing growth; how the ideas of the "heterodox" economist Ha-joon Chang apply to all this; why the concept of the subway-station "virtual grocery store" caught his eye; why Silicon Valley is so much more boring than Seoul; the significance of Kakaotalk and its abundance of purchasable "culturally ambiguous stickers"; why so many things, like playing Starcraft in stadiums, seem only to work in Korea; how Korea got a highway torn down in eight weeks; what thinking led to the new city of Songdo 43 train stops outside Seoul, and what it proves, negatively, about how "people want to live near other people"; why you can't just "build innovation"; how he found both Hello Kitty Planet and a giant Bible; organic agglomeration versus the deliberate agglomeration the Korean government has tried to incentivize; the country's distinctive capitalist-socialist "hybrid model"; whether the government can really pick winners; how much advantage hugeness gives a country these days; what he learned from Singaporean entrepreneurs, who have to go straight to the global market, and why the United States hasn't had to think globally; his early exposure to Silicon Valley culture, and how he got interested in the connections between universities, industries, and government; how the strength of America's universities, even today, remains the country's strength; how the idea of "what Korea needs" still has more traction than the equivalent in the U.S., though less than it did in the past; whether Americans have begun to realize that they can find opportunities in other countries; why Americans cling so tightly to the decade or two after the Second World War as if it were the rightful state of things; what comparisons he can make between the challenges facing San Francisco and those facing Seoul; the "pragmatic urban development philosophy" in Seoul versus the "almost religious zealot" one in San Francisco; the difference between cities that think of the future as good, and those that don't; why he thinks "a little bit about Thailand"; why strategically wrong choices don't persist in Korea quite as long as in America; whether Korea can cure it's "education fever" and resultant title culture; and the greater effect Korea's laws have on its entrepreneurs than its culture does.

Direct download: NCC_Korea_Tour_Danny_Crichton.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am UTC

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: 9:00pm UTC

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: 4:49pm UTC

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: 4:12pm UTC

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: 3:47pm UTC

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: 8:49am UTC