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What originally prompted you to start the “Ask a Korean” blog? And at what point did you realize that you had started something big?

Five Questions for ‘The Korean’


What originally prompted you to start the “Ask a Korean” blog? And at what point did you realize that you had started something big?

Two things: "!Ask a Mexican!", and boredom. !AAM! really inspired me. When I first immigrated as a curious 16-year-old, one of the most fascinating things about America to me was its race relations. I literally could not stop noticing things and talking about them. It was not until some time in college when I finally grew some cultural awareness that people are really uncomfortable talking about race in public — especially white people. (Sorry, but it's true.) Then I read Gustavo Arellano's !Ask a Mexican!, and it was such a refreshing idea. More than anything, people are curious about their new neighbors. Providing a forum where people can ask questions that might be understood silly or offensive is just what people need to satiate their curiosity.

But I would have never started Ask a Korean! if I did not have a ton of time to myself in the second and third years of my law school that I just needed something to do. A word to prospective law students — don't ever do this. Study hard instead. Your grades matter. I am learning it the hard way right now.

Something big… truth is, I don't think I am all that big right now. I guess I am relatively big within Korea-related blogs, but Mr. Joo Seong-Ha's North Korea blog gets more than 30,000 hits a day, and that's also more or less just him writing it. I got a long way to go, and I am not sure if I will ever get there as long as I keep doing my day job. But I can tell you that I was very, very surprised when New York Times emailed me for an interview. I did not think anyone would care about what I wrote on the Internet, much less the Times.

The buzzword in Korea the past several years seems to be “globalization.” Do you think that Korea has done a good job in promoting itself to the world? Do you think it tries too hard or not hard enough? And what’s your take on progress in making the country more foreigner friendly and the endless plans on becoming a “hub” of Asia?

Let me put it this way: when my father studied in America as a doctorate student in the early 1980s, his friends had no idea where Korea was in the world. When he used chopsticks in public, people applauded him as if he was putting on a circus act. (He was in a small town, but still.) Now, Barack Obama apparently cannot say a word about America's national competitiveness without mentioning Korea. So yes, Korea did a heck of a job promoting itself to the world.

Korea simultaneously tries too hard AND not hard enough. Too many wrong kinds of people are put in charge of promoting Korea — basically desk-warming bureaucrats who have no real sense of what the world really wants out of Korea. So they oversell stupid, inconsequential ideas while burying what people really care about. This current administration's "globalization of Korean cuisine" movement is a classic example of such incompetence.

My personal preference is that Korea does not become foreigner-friendly at all. That's the American in me — the part that says, "If you want something from us, you better do things our way, pal." But I understand Korea's desire to be foreigner-friendly, and ultimately that is probably the right direction. At the end of the day, Korea is not at a place where it can dictate the world affairs, so the next best thing it could do is to do everything it can to join the world more completely.

And can we retire the whole "hub" thing please? That was also another classically stupid idea from a whole different set of bureaucratic desk-warmers, and this generation of bureaucrats at least know enough to stay away from that dumb catchphrase. Only expats in Korea stick with that term (mostly to make fun of Korea,) and it is about time they moved on also. It's been four years since the change in administrations.

You are a proponent of eating dog meat. While it makes a lot of people cringe, you stand behind it. What do you say to those who see it as cruel and unusual? Any preferred recipes for our readers?

At the end of the day, there are only two ways to argue against dog meat: (1) no one should ever eat any meat, or (2) meat is fine, but not dog meat. Option (1) is stupid; option (2) is stupid AND racist. If people want to see an elaboration as to why, they can visit my blog. And please, spare me the death threats. Have we really come to this point? Threatening to kill a human because he advocates eating dog meat? For crying out loud.

My stance toward dog meat has always been the same as my stance toward any meat: respect the animal that is giving its life for our sake. Raise them humanely, and slaughter them as painlessly as possible. I want the current state of dog-raising to improve so that the dogs which will be slaughtered are treated humanely. And actually, the Korean government has been trying for years to do just that by attempting to regulate the way the dogs are raised and slaughtered. It is those crazed, anti-dog meat yaktivists who are stopping the government from doing that, because in their twisted minds, looking out for the welfare of the dogs "legalizes" dog meat. As if it is not legal already.

I know the true dog meat lovers prefer the steamed and braised meat, but I actually prefer the soup. Can't wait to have a bowl when I visit Korea next time.

 

"Too many wrong kinds of people are put in charge of promoting Korea — basically desk-warming bureaucrats who have no real sense of what the world really wants out of Korea. So they oversell stupid, inconsequential ideas while burying what people really care about." 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
You are elected president of Korea. What would be your first order of business? What are some changes you would enact over your five-year term? What do you view as being some of the biggest obstacles?

First of all, let me preface this by saying that there is absolute zero chance that I will ever become the president of Korea — not because I am a U.S. citizen, but because I skipped out on my military duty. That will be the biggest obstacle for me to become the president. Having said that…

My first order of business would be to come up with a meaningful policy toward reunification, and stick to it come hell or high water. The current administration is the worst at this. I do not agree with the Sunshine Policy by Kim Dae-Jung or Roh Moo-Hyun, but at least that policy was consistent. This administration wanted to take a hard stance, but as soon as a ship gets sunk and the island was shelled, it wants to talk with North Korea. What did they think would happen if they took a hard line? I am by no means a policy expert on North Korea, but there has to be a better way.

A few other things I would focus on include: coming down strong on gender discrimination; setting up strong and fair rules that protect the small businesses; and getting rid of all these damn furriners. Just kidding — trying to see if you were still paying attention.

Finally, just for fun, what are some of the more ridiculous questions you have been asked? And are there any answers you regret?

I do have an answer that I regret. There is one post where a Korean-American adoptee said she was visiting Korea soon, and asked me how she would be treated in Korea. And the question had a hint of what I call the "Joy Luck Club" syndrome — about how Asian people have this magic power to recognize an Asian American as a foreigner and throw rocks at you or something. So, I responded, with some annoyance, that she will be a tourist in Korea, and no one in Korea cares about a tourist.

Looking back, I regret that answer. I don't think the answer was wrong, but it was delivered without regard to how the audience would have received it. It sounds as if Korea does not care about adoptees, and that is just not true. And I know — now — just how important Korea is to Korean American adoptees. There are tons of other questions where I could have made the point about the Joy Luck Club syndrome. I should have been more careful.

As to ridiculousness, I do a yearly feature of "Best of the Worst" questions, and I think the worst question of the year from last year just takes the cake — a guy wanted to know his star potential in Korean adult film industry, and sent a picture of his member. Not sure if any of the future ridiculous questions can top that one.


You can check out the blog, Ask A Korean here.


 

-Read 5 Questions with B.R. Myers here.

-Read 5 Questions with The Marmot, Robert Koehler here.

-Read 5 Questions with Satirist Mike Breen here.

-Read the Curtis Jung interview, 'Man in the Middle' here.

 

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