Am I the only one that sees a similarity here between Brian and Denis?
I have only listened to a few of the The Seoul Podcasts (Stephanie White returns with an update on her son, Michael White, who died mysteriously in a sauna in Daegu) and admit that I didn't fully understand the format of the show. I thought it was an interview show with a panel of hosts . . . and I expected them to focus on Brian and let him talk more . . .
For the record let me say that I was not criticizing Brian for not talking a lot--I was expressing frustration at not getting to hear what he had to say, and at the same time my own pre-conceived notions about who Brian is were way off.
How Brian's blogging/writing personna comes across is very intelligent, sarcastic and satirical, funny, and edgy--all things I like in what I read. I think I was hoping that I'd get to hear a spoken version of his blogging . . .
Anyways, Brian graciously agreed to spend the time and energy to answer a few random questions I threw together and posted. Here are his answers.
p.s. Check out the Denis Leary vids I put at the end. You'll see why I was hoping Brian is like Denis when speaking. Imagine if he ranted like this about his blog content--how awesome would that be???!
20. How have you changed personally during the time you've spent in Korea? What experiences have impacted you the most? with
Korea makes me think about home. I mean, it makes me think about what I’d like home to be like. Four seasons? Never thought about it before coming to Korea, but I like it. Good access to public transportation? I like it, and want it in my life. Mix of commercial and residential? Good. Interest in education and literacy? Good. Indifferent cops? Bad. Cops who don’t arrest you and beat on you for no goddamn reason? Good! Mandatory teachers’ dinners all the damn time? Bad. Coworkers who create meaningful bonds with each other and who make an effort to enjoy each others’ company? Good. Like that. So, especially if you’re out of college like me, you start to get some focus.
Of course that would happen back home, too, in the four years since college. But I like doing it with the added benefit of learning about a foreign country and culture.
19. What books are sitting on your night stand right now? Or, what are you reading right now?
I’ve been reading through “Rookie Teaching for Dummies” (shut up) to get some perspective of what public school teachers in the US go through. It’s interesting and a reminder that a lot of the b.s. we . . . well, b.s. about aren’t exclusive to Korea. I also like to flip through a book called Confucius Lives Next Door by T.R. Reid, which talks about Asia’s “social miracle” of creating affluent, successful communities that have been less prone to the social ills we have back in the West. I suck at explaining, but it’s very good book, and I’ve quoted from it many times on my site. I’m also reading through Linda Sue Park’s When My Name Was Keoko, about a Korean girl during Japanese occupation. It’s for young adults, probably middle school students, so it’s a little . . . yeah. But my school got it in, so I’m giving it a read.
18. How many emails do you receive on average each day? How many of them are from anti-Bri-onians?
I get an email notification for each comment my site gets, so that’s 20 to 30 on an average day. I read through all the comments, and delete anything too trollish or negative. Not because I hate free speech, but because you let in one jack-ass comment and you’ve got a whole line of people responding to it, then a whole line of people responding to the responses, and before you know it you’ve got a marmot’s hole on your hands.
I get a few other Korea-related emails a week, usually questions about some aspect of Korea---more often than not motels---or a link to a news story or something like that. I rarely get any hate mail or any hateful comments anymore. Probably that’ll change if I start posting about Crown J again. But I’m thankful for my quality readership; the jack-asses usually haunt the other blogs, and I’m happy for them to stay there.
17. When you're bored what do you do? Why?
If I ever said I don’t watch TV or spend time on the computer I’d punch myself in the face because I was lying. I usually keep myself busy with reading and writing. I enjoy walking around the neighborhood when I get restless, and when the weather’s nice I like to go hiking. I also hit the gym every once in a while to burn off some stress. I’d like to learn a new hobby or two, but I can’t think of any right now. I’m seriously considering googling “hobbies.”
16. What languages are you currently studying? Why?
I study Korean a little. Before I leave I’d like to get decent at it. But I can never stick with it. I’ll study hard for a month, then let it be for another two. I use Korean every day at work and when I’m looking around the internet for stuff, but not really in a meaningful way, and I can’t seem to motivate myself to study too hard anymore.
I am also trying to learn the Japanese alphabets; I’m finding katakana the easier of the two because it’s for foreign words so it often approximates English.
And I also try to find time to study English. I mean, being around Korean all the time means my English atrophies. I’d like to find more time to read, and read a variety of things. A lot of times Koreans will ask me “what’s this in English,” or “how do you say this in English,” and I can’t think of a response right away.
15. What's your dream job? Why?
My dream job is an astronaut. Space reminds us how insignificant all this is. I don’t know if I have a realistic dream job. Probably something with reading/writing/researching/
14. If you had never come to Korea what do you think you'd be doing right now?
Probably working in copywriting or editing. I did it for a little bit in college and I enjoyed it. It was much more relaxed than the newspaper business, didn’t require the creativity . . . required for magazines, and a lot more normal and stable than a career in academia. Writing comes easily and naturally to me, I like it, and I’m pretty good at it when I need to be, so I guess that’s what I’d be doing. But my life would be much more boring had I not come to Korea. I can’t even imagine not coming here, just like I couldn’t imagine at age 21 actually coming to Korea.
13. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Probably in Japan or the US, probably teaching. I like writing, editing, proofreading, all that stuff, as I said, but I’m not convinced of its viability as a long-term career. Something I can dabble with or get into as time permits, but a few searches have made me kind of depressed there. I’m contemplating going back for my Master’s in TESOL or a related field to make me more employable as a teacher, a field that I already have experience in. Oh, and hopefully married and hopefully with a child or two.
12. What TV shows, movies, music artists are you watching/listening to right now? Why?
I like 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother, but I only catch them when I catch them, and have no idea when they're on. I also like the human interest stories on Korean TV, which often profile people in rural areas like Gangjin, or stuck in tough jobs or tricky circumstances. And I do like animal shows like "Animal Farm," but only when they're not, like, torturing pets.
I listen to stuff on AOL Radio, usually the "top country" or "abstract beats" channels. I usually don't watch movies unless they're on TV. I bought "Reign Over Me" the other day because it sounded interesting, but it ended up being probably the worst movie I've ever seen. Oh, but it gets a free pass because it's about 9/11. I forgot, the real heroes of 9/11 are asshole New Yorkers.
11. Your facebook info says "Daoist" for religion. Are you a practicing Daoist? How important is Daoism in your day to day life?
I'm glad you reminded me of that, because I had forgotten that was up there. I find the Daoist philosophy interesting and relevant to my life. The religion, not so much, because it seems to contradict the message of the philosophy. If I were smart I could follow the precept of "wu wei" more closely. but I'm too easily agitated.
10. What do you think about the current North Korea missile test situation?
It puts things into perspective. I don't follow North Korean news much at all, don't follow those blogs, so I can't speak of any specifics. But I often forget that I live in a very tumultuous area, and that trouble could come at any time. Yes, that's true about any place in the world, but this is big, bad North Korea we're talking about.
9. If you could only read 3 K-blogs every day which would you read? Why?
The top three K-blogs are, in order, ROK Drop, Korea Beat, and Gusts of Popular Feeling. The first two are two out of only, like, four that give daily updates of what's going on in Korea, and most of the time are mercifully free of guest bloggers. The last one is the best-researched K-blog out there and has produced countless must-reads on just about every issue relevant and interesting. The only thing I don't get is how he publishes stuff at 4:00 am.
8. What is the best experience you've had while teaching in public school?
This sounds so lame, but the best experience is when I see students "get it" and make all the preparation and sleep-deprivation worth it. I see each class once or twice a month, sometimes less, so it's easy to feel disconnected from everyone and everything here. But when students get it, and have fun getting it, I feel like I’ve made a difference.
7. What is the wort experience you've had while teaching in public school?
Um . . . I can't pick just one. I guess the worst thing is just the climate of resentment I felt in Gangjin and that continued for months. Long story, complicated situation---the school didn’t want or plan on having a native speaker---but I woke up every day hating my job and wondering how people who seemed to hate English and foreigners so much would pump all this money and energy into it. Most ironically, it was designated an "English Research" school. The whole situation still gets my goat to this day, and every so often I mutter something nasty under my breath about them
6. If you had 3 wishes and could change anything about Korean culture and society what would you change? Why?
(1) Get the word out about seatbelts, car seats, and overall traffic safety. My stomach jumps when I'm waiting for the bus and I see my students just dart out into the road. And literally every day I pass cars with infants and toddlers being held or "standing" in the front seat. I stand by what I wrote about Mad Bull Shit last year: quit carrying signs with "I want to live!" on it if you can't even buckle the fuck up.
(2) Get your head on straight about this "English" business. I'm sick of Korean English teachers who hate English and resent native speakers. I'm sick of reading about complaints of "unqualified" native speaker teachers from the government when the government itself sets the qualifications. I'm sick of reading about dumbass bureaucrats who say things like "some [FTs] are ethically unqualified" or that our experience doesn't matter and is better for students to get a new teacher every year. Either embrace using native speakers or get rid of them, but figure out what the hell you want and quit blaming us for every goddamn thing. If you want foreign teachers in school, make a system for us to fit into. If you want foreign teachers in school, you'd better make sure
(3) Get rid of a lot of the academic pressure. I understand it. We don’t have it as acutely in the US, but since I went to a PS in a moderately affluent suburb we had people going to Ivy League schools (hell, my own brother is a Ph.D. student in one) and there was a lot of comparing and condemning each others’ choices. Like life would be over if you went to a state school . . . or *gasp* go to a state school near home! I’m embarrassed now that I was embarrassed then, or gave in to pressure from people who aren’t doing anything special with their lives now. I went to a modest little school and I’ve done all right.
Don’t get me wrong, the emphasis Koreans place on education is a good thing. It sure beats what we’re doing back home. I don’t think hagwon are necessarily bad, either (in moderation); keeps the kids off the street, literally, and teaches them a thing or two. But I really want people to realize that life isn’t over if you’re not in a KEYS university. That it takes all kinds, and that you can be happy and comfortable even if you don’t get hired by Samsung.
5. What do you have in your fridge right now?
Water, orange juice, drinking vinegar, bananas, hallabong, tangerines, yogurt, fixins for salad, and yes a can of spaghetti sauce which is there not only because spaghetti is good but because I want to confirm every stereotype Koreans hold of our eating habits and cooking abilities.
4. During your first year in Korea what was the biggest culture shock experience you had?
Well, the attitude toward English and foreigners surprised me, since I was little more than window decoration at a hagwon run by people with mediocre English at best. I couldn’t get a culture that was so proud of itself, yet so heavily dependent on what it had borrowed and taken from others. But as far as most “shocking”? I guess just the overall loudness of . . . everything.
3. What are 3 things only your best friends know about you?
I’m going to pass on this one.
2. If you could teach English in another country which country would you choose? Why?
Japan or the US, simply because my girlfriend and I are citizens of each of those countries. But, forgetting that for a minute, I think maybe Taiwan. I learned a bit about it in college---I won 50 bucks for an essay I wrote about Modernism in Taiwanese literature, inyourface---and have loved it each of the three times I’ve visited. But, and I know I’m still relatively young, I don’t know if I have it in me to move to a foreign country again. Japan, of course, but that’d be “home.”
1. If you could ask President Lee Myung Bak one question, and one question only, what would it be and why?
Knowing what you know now, and seeing how quickly and effortlessly Korea turned on you, would you bother running for president if you had it to do over again?
This is kind of what I pictured Brian like in 'real' life--guess this goes to show how WAY WRONG I was . . . lol.