Tag Archives: korea

Journey to the West Country

I’m taking this opportunity to post some links to something I have been waiting to share with everyone on here for a while.


One of my best friends Paul Lombard is cycling from Seoul, South Korea to Gloucestershire, UK. That’s 15,000 kilometers (9300 miles).

I am so unbelievably proud of him. I take pride in telling my friends here in America about it because it makes me seem better by proxy.

Aside from being a hulking workhorse, Paul is also a very talented writer and an extremely funny man, and his musings on the difficulties of spending so much time alone in an unknown land are simultaneously hilarious, heartfelt and often fairly bleak. I for one take a sick little pleasure in the frequent moments of reflection in which he stops for a second and almost buckles under the enormity of the task he’s given himself. But that’s only because I know well that he’s going to complete this task and come out of it changed for the better.

Paul is doing all of this to raise money and awareness for MAG (Mines Advisory Group) which aims to help to clear active landmines and eradicate the effects of them in Sudan. An extremely nobel cause, and one which Paul has a close affinity to.

Here are a few more photographs from his inspiring instagram feeds. You can follow him here at: http://instagram.com/journeytothewestcountry# – Please do so. His photographs of his food are actually interesting.

Paul and Nick, a mutual friend that joined him for an intense month in the Gobi Desert.

Paul and Nick, a mutual friend that joined him for an intense month in the Gobi Desert.

Godspeed mate. Stay safe.


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K-Pop: Don’t Worry, It’ll Be Gone Soon.

* Originally published by Quint Magazine. I would have posted this when the whole Gangnam Style thing was still a hot topic, but I didn’t. Anyway, here it is, for anyone still amped on K-Pop.



That button’s having a tough time…

In the last few months, journalists, music writers and bloggers have been frantically pushing the idea that the Korean Pop music wave has made the long journey across the ocean and is on our beaches, ready to invade and conquer. The internet is awash with writings of the next big acts that are sure to follow in the footsteps of PSY, the slightly chunky, imaginary horse-riding singer behind the internet supermeme “Gangnam Style”. While the likelihood is that online editors are just desperate to capitalize on the keywords associated with PSY and are instructing their writers to write anything they can about the genre, there is no doubt that the American public’s interest in the Hanryu wave (Korean Culture Wave) has been peaked. But what is K-Pop? And can we expect to see more typical Korean music acts capitalize on this current trend?

H.O.T. - One of the most successful K-Pop groups of all time.

H.O.T. – One of the most successful K-Pop groups of all time.

‘K-Pop’ has been around for about twenty years. Starting with the iconic dance group Seo Taijin & Boys, the rap, hip-hop and dance fusion was considered a symbol of sorts for a new Republic of Korea. The nation’s popular music started veering towards beat-driven, electronic sounds and represented a shift away from a traditional style that had its roots in folk music. These sounds were something entirely different that would define the new generation of Koreans growing up free from the hardships endured by almost every generation that preceded it. It was liberating music.

Over the two decades that followed the K-Pop industry developed into a pillar of the country’s economy, worth over $3 billion a year to the national GDP, and a huge source of national pride and international identity. But with that surge in popularity and rapid rate of growth came an insatiable thirst for new music, and artist management companies sought to bring the ethos of the factory to the creative process. SM Entertainment (Girl’s Generation, Super Junior), YG Entertainment (Big Bang, PSY) and JYP Entertainment (Rain, Wondergirls), known in Korea as the ‘Big Three’, started scouting for children between ten and twelve years old that sparkled with promise. The children would then be plucked from their regular world and taught to sing and dance in intense after-school programs until they were ready for the stage. This practice of farming identical pop ‘idols’ has been widely condemned within the Korean media, with many people highlighting the often neglected ethical requirements of entertainment companies.

The music itself is renowned for its catchiness. Slapping heavily programmed drum tracks under those buzz-saw melodies, Electro House and US RnB seems to have been the primary points of influence for this current crop of artists. Ten years ago the charts were awash with weeping piano ballads sung by dangerously handsome men in their late-twenties, and blaring Mariah Carey-esque karaoke classics that tested the the lung power of the nation. These days the tracks throb with thick bass hooks and pulse with clenched kick drums, and are designed to be listened to on in-ear headphones or on a House club’s speaker system. Their choruses are catchier than influenza and are sung by airbrushed young nymphets that tread the stereotypically Far Eastern line that loosely divides cute and sexy.

CuteStyle or 2morrowStyle or GurlStyle or RAYNBOW or something

CuteStyle or 2morrowStyle or GurlStyle or RAYNBOW or something

Critics of the genre however have been very quick to point out its stark similarities to western pop music, and that it lacks any sort of tangible personality, or any distinctly Korean elements beyond the language in which the songs are sung (and most of the choruses are in English nowadays). A lot of the hooks induce a crisp sense of deja vu, and several of the high-profile K-Pop artists have been put on the chopping block and forced to awkwardly explain their extremely liberal interpretations of plagiarism and intellectual copyright law.

* For further reading on the depths of K-Pop’s problems with plagiarism investigate Lee Hyori’s scandalous case with fraudulent Canadian rock obsessed songwriter Bahnus.

The current technological climate has also played a massive role in sculpting the K-Pop’s impeccable image. Streaming YouTube videos has put an even stronger emphasis on aesthetic and the typical K-Pop idol must be young and beautiful. They should be tall, slim and have ‘Western’ features (wider eyes, slimmer jaw lines, bridged nose). Many of the stars are also expected to drop their personalities in favor of generic two-dimensional characters (“I’m Ji-Yun and I’m the cute one!”) assigned to them by their management companies. They must be willing to rehearse for long periods without breaks and produce music and performances from within the straitjackets of a K-Pop recording contract, commonly referred to as ‘Slave Contracts’. The K-Pop idol follows an extremely worn and remarkably reliable path to success.

Enter PSY.



The hugely successful veteran K-Pop artist, famed for his bizarre dance routines and a chorus that sends tremors through your skull like a dentist drill, is the only Korean music artist that could genuinely be considered a household name internationally. Yet as many gushing K-Pop fans have pointed out, he is the antithesis of Hanryu. Aging, chubbing, laughing, flailing, he fits none of the rigorously enforced traits of the K-Pop star. But he is a massive success internationally, and the chances are that you’ve never heard of any of the nation’s more typical outputs that have had hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions (SM Entertainment spent almost $3 million dollars sourcing and developing one of the singers in supergroup Girl’s Generation), of dollars invested in them.

PSY was successful because he smashed that mold. Granted it was a mold that many in the west didn’t know existed, but to anyone that knew anything at all about K-Pop, it was obvious that he was different. His hit single ‘Gangnam Style’ is about the lavish and vain lifestyles of the people in the wealthy district of Gangnam, and specifically Apgujeong, in central Seoul. It takes aim at the area’s obsession with superficial value, and within that is a dig at the K-Pop culture. So has it accidentally transpired that we in the west have been given the satirical backlash directed at Hanryu before we even really knew what it was? And given that the lyrics were almost entirely in Korean, did we just like it because of the hilarious image of a slightly rotund Asian man pretending to ride a horse?

Since PSY’s burst onto the scene there have been hundreds of blog posts educating the western audience on the intricacies of K-Pop, as well as warning us with a megaphone on the shore that the Korean wave is coming. But personally, I don’t see it. K-Pop has no staying power. In an age defined by manufactured products that are built to break, the acts are adored for their youth, innocence and relative naivety, all of which are fast expiring commodities in the music business. And once those traits are gone, the group are gone, replaced by another identical group of beautiful, bland young prodigies.

B2st - Pronounced 'Beast' - Yeah, the numerical '2' represents 'ea' in the world of K-Pop.

B2st – Pronounced ‘Beast’ – Yeah, the numerical ‘2’ represents ‘ea’ in the world of K-Pop.

And while the focus of this article has been predominantly on the actions of the performer, the audience must too be strongly considered. The American consumer is beside himself when treated to a novelty single from a foreign act every now and again. “The Macarena” by Los Del Rio was a great time, and he loved the Cuban groove of German Lothario Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5”. But these acts were unable to match the heights of the singles that made them famous. It has been universally accepted that PSY will join this group of one hit wonders, albeit with the highly sought after yet unofficial title of “King of YouTube” to his name. But many predict a similarly short, yet agonizingly less novel experience for the K-Pop acts attempting to capitalize on the curiosity that the chubby jockey with the imaginary horse spiked across the world.

The problems in the game plan are numerous, but the biggest problem of all is that aside from being Korean, these acts bring nothing to the table that we don’t already have.

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I’m Too Old to Write What You Want to Read

"Ahh yes Mr. Gardiner, there seems to be a tiny CCR cover band lodged in there."

“Ahh yes Mr. Gardiner, there seems to be a tiny CCR cover band lodged in there.”


They laughed at me when I called him “the Flow Rider”.

I pitied them a little.

I sat down earlier today to write a couple of sample articles for an LA-based fashion and culture (Ha!) magazine. I was instructed to, “write an article under three paragraphs about a subject relevant to current trends”. I sat down at the computer and stared at Google for a minute. I tried to think of something ‘current’ that wasn’t a football scoreline or an emotion I’d felt. I’d been in this position before, staring at my own reflection in the white pool of Google’s infinite relevance, inspecting the wrinkles forming around my eyes. I typed in ‘Vice’, because it was the only thing I could think of that was ‘current’ and ‘relevant’. I sighed at myself. I felt the same feeling of dejected frustration a middle-aged man must get when he tries to buy a drink for a girl half his age.

Since coming to Los Angeles I have been known amongst my circle of friends to be someone that wallows in the dust swept from things forgotten. Every band I listen to has at least one dead member. Tarantino has made two movies since I was last in a theatre. I still think Malcolm Gladwell needs to ‘prove himself’ before I’ll read him. They make fun of me because I haven’t heard of things they’ve heard of. I don’t know who punched Rhiannah, and I don’t know if I spelled Rhiannah properly. I’m just not up-to-date and I seem to be suffering because of it. Every single magazine aimed at young people makes reporting and sharing ‘new stuff’ their priority, and in doing that they often relinquish control on the quality of their output. And completely alienate old souls like me.

Like someone going through their midlife crisis I worry about my dwindling relevance to a youth obsessed with their own youth. When I left Asia it was like a divorce. I had learned a lot about myself and a few things about the world, but I realized in coming to Los Angeles that I had missed out on so many aspects of modern youth culture, and the things that I’d learned were completely irrelevant in the West. People didn’t care about the things that I’d seen because their relevance hadn’t been verified by Fader magazine.

“I was in this house in Pushkar, Rajasthan a while back with an Indian tribal drummer jamming with a young Danish sitar player, it was really cool man,” I said.

“meh. LOLLOLOLO. BRB. jst gonna chck out dis rad new band wot is playin in a convrtd sewer systm calld PenisFacePenisFaceCuntFace!?!?!?!@!>!&*!>!??!?! ROFLOL me thinks” he replied.

I’m not sure exactly what the problem is. I don’t know whether I can’t find work writing for magazines, or whether I’m unwilling to write about the things that they want me to write about. On one hand I want more people to read my writing, to know who I am and to follow my work. But on the other hand I don’t want to write shit. Be it here-today-gone-tomorrow fluff, or that sludge that’s constantly being added to the bulging canon of dreadful music journalism by writers that confuse convoluted writing for complex writing:

“PenisFacePenisFaceCuntFace whack and smack and jack out their newnique melanthropic (heart)beat that click clacks along a yellowished brick-a-brack road of scuzzed out, moon bleached dumbfudgery, all the way to a wilted crispy parish of orgasmic melodiousness.”

“Haha, ask him which Kardashian this is! It’ll be funny.”

It won’t be funny. And if it is funny then I’m glad that I listened to my parents when they told me that this generation was fucked.

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Where the Sausages Live

As I sit here in the Korean Immigration office at 8:28am in the morning, staring a lengthy and immensely frustrating 72 hours of waiting in line, checking and rechecking my number, I’m listening to a Korean rendition of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” played on what sounds like a tiny little harp inside a coke can.

Nothing about this situation is geared towards relaxing the mind. This music cannot prepare you for being told that your 96 hour wait was in vain, because you were meant to mark the gender box with an ‘X’ instead of a ‘check’ (no character map on a MacBook. You’ll just have to imagine it) and now you have to choose another number, which will presumably be in the high millions by the time you get to the front of the line to choose the number.

So I’m writing to pass the time.

On my way here I stopped at a wonderful little boutique coffee shop and bakery called “Bread & Co.”. Well, I say ‘wonderful’. What I actually meant was ‘ghastly’. But it was wonderful if you are a patron of the South Korean bakeries.

Since the moment I came to Korea, the wonderful and joyous land of Devine victory and success, I have been eating in their bakeries. Bread is considered to be a delicacy here, so you frequently find yourself being handed a floppy slice of white ‘milk’ bread, naked without even a thin coat of butter, and expected to be grateful for it. But I have a weakness for Korean bakeries. I try my hardest to limit myself to one trip per day, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. I find myself walking past the front of a “Paris Baguette”, with its egg coated hotdog weenies slathered in sugary mustard and corn, and I become like a junkie walking past his old council housing scheme. I can’t take my eyes off the forbidden prize. I want it so much. I start itching at myself, wondering if it’s acceptable to eat three sausage and egg tarts for dinner.

But the hot dog weenie is something which I feel needs explaining, since it will be a recurring theme in this ‘piece’. Most of the products for sale in these establishments contain sausage. That wouldn’t be an issue for most people if we were talking about a lovely gourmet frankfurter, or a kabanos of sorts. But, of course, we’re not. These little pink, slimy sausages look like the fingers of a would-be sex offender after he’s had scorching coffee thrown on his hands by a shrieking receptionist in an office canteen. That was a bit on wild the side, but I’ll leave it in. They seem to be made from a plethora of farm and/or urban animals and are probably made entirely from crushed up cartilage, shin, marrow and eye-lashes.

But today I just bought a coffee. I’d eaten some toast and egg for breakfast. Like methadone. No substitute, but it’s marginally better for me. So I didn’t feel particularly tempted by what I saw. But there they sat, teasing me as I bought my sugary, sausagey coffee, all in perfect little rows, with the golden Ikea light bouncing off every sugary egg-baked surface, disrobing their former goodness in front of my eyes. It was like watching a stripper who’d just had trucker triplets and a relapse. The good looks were still there, somewhere, but you’d have to hate yourself a little bit more than normal to get stuck into it.

I’m going to explain to you, with photographic evidence, the sort of bread treats you can expect to find in one of South Koreas many patisseries.

The Butter Stick

This was something I had never come across before. To my trained eye, it looked like a standard sugar stick, heavy in dough and lathered in butter. There could be a sausage hiding inside this. Sometimes you never can tell. But it looks like an anemic turd that has been squeezed out of an arse pluged with a square Playdough shape maker, and then lightly toasted at a high heat.

Chances of sausage: Moderate/High

Bookies odds: 6-2

Love and Passion for You!

Now this really is something. It is a marvellous sight to behold, looking like it was modelled on the sort of treats you would find at a banquet in Heaven, five hours deep in the bowels of an acid trip. I’m told that it’s made of yogurt and sprinkled with something. Hardened, grated sausage I would imagine.

Chances of sausage: Unlikely, but not unheard of.

Bookies Odds: 9-1

Big Cheesy Croissant Sausage Mayonaise Pat

This little gem really is as good as it possibly gets. Even I, the veteran of all things sausagy, was bowed over by its complexity of delicate flavors. It truly is the pink diamond in the crown of Korean Bakery goods. Imagine how that processed hamburger cheese would cement itself to the roof of your mouth, catching the fragments of dusty pastry, before your teeth burst through the skin of the sausage, filling your mouth with old brine. Lush.

Chances of sausage: Certainty

Bookies Odds: 1-1

A Tomato in a Cup


There is nothing to say.

Chances of Sausage: Unlikely.

Bookies Odds: An outsider at 15-1





Ross x

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Welcome to Osan


Osan is a city in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, approximately 35 km south of Seoul. The population of the city is around 200,000. The local economy is supported by a mix of agricultural and industrial enterprises.

I walked the streets yesterday in the bitter Siberian cold. The wind was so sharp I could feel it lacerating my skin under my old state-issued, Worker’s party uniform. There was a group of six young journeymen huddled around a burning papier-mâché effigy of the latest fallen tyrant of the city.

As I walked past one of the men yelled, “You need some something fixed? An accordion maybe?”

I shook my head, and kept walking. I looked back. I saw the smallest one wrap his bleeding, cracked lips around a smashed bottle of ‘Red Glory’, a salty coca cola substitute issued at the ration bank. Another man put the fresh cut curls of black rubber from a bald tractor tire into the end of the bottle. They waited impatiently for the broken walking stick to heat up red from the flames of the burning tyrant. When its orange glow cut through the enveloping grey of the city, like a beacon of hope, they pulled it from the fire and held it under the broken bottle. The man sucked in the black smoke from the burning tire, and passed it to his friend, coughing all that rubber vapor out to the sound of tree trunks crashing to a frozen forest floor. Just before I turned back around I saw him smile. The teeth protruded from his under bite like swollen old piano keys, broken and covered in a thick grime like roofing tar.

Welcome to Osan.


“I came to Osan in ‘02” he said to me, drinking the last drop of sour Red Glory vodka from the bottle I’d brought him. I watched him run his pimpled tongue around the rim of the bottle, getting every last drop.

“When the housing prices in Suwon sky rocketed, we had to flee. The Great General Bak Soo-Hyun had taken the city. In the hysteria of leaving to find cheaper apartments, my wife and children were,” he paused. He pinched the bridge of his broken nose. He tipped the bottle to his face one last time. I watched the last drop of Red Glory fall onto his tongue. His eyes closed. He swallowed hard. “They were trampled to death. The pandemonium overcame the comrades. Everyone had heard the stories. We heard that in Osan, people had bathtubs in their apartments. They had Holly’s Coffee. We heard that our kids could go to school for 16 hours a day, for the price of 12. We heard these things. It was the promise land, we were told. Osan.”


I watched him shake his head as he looked at his bare feet, toes clutching at the oily water in the puddle we sat in. I went into my knapsack and pulled out a piece of stale bread I had saved from my rations last week. I had taken to sucking on the bread to get my nutrients. I broke it in half over my knee and handed it to him. He looked up at me. I saw him weep. The tears of joy and remorse rained from his swollen eyes, mixing together on his sunken cheeks and dripping to the corners of his mouth. He licked them as he took the bread from my hands.

“Thank you comrade. And thank you Nobel Leader.”

We both sat and sucked on the old, dry bread in silence. He would look either way every now and again, checking to see if we were being watched. There was a lot to look out for in Osan these days. The Freedom Police, the Parking Lot Pirates, and worst of all, the wild dogs. The dogs had once been an even match for the starving comrades of Osan. They could take out one of the rabid beasts with a spear fashioned from one of the state-issued crutches they would pull from the frozen fingers of a fallen comrade, and plunge into the dog’s rib cage, feeding a family of seventeen from a single cull. But the dogs had begun to feast on the corpses that lay strewn on the streets. The Nobel Leader ordered the bodies to be left as an example of fate of the weak. But the dogs had started to feed on the corpses. They had grown. They were as big as medium-sized bears. Some of the citizens I’d spoken to had even reported the dogs roaming the streets on their hind legs.



I said it to myself over and over as we sat sucking our bread behind a dumpster outside the abandoned accordion factory. How could a social experiment plunge to these depths? How could the Nobel Leader Lee Myung-Bak let things get this hopeless and pathetic? How could the world turn it’s back on these people as they cried themselves awake every day?


Every time I said that word I could feel my soul leave my body. My hope, it would drift, sailing away, joining with the smoke that rose from the burning cat that lay but ten feet from us. Dinner. That was what Jo-Hyun called it. We were waiting for it’s cartilage to crisp before we tore it apart with our hands and ate what we could.


The last frontier of the Great Red War. A city so grey that your ashen limbs became a part of the brickwork that scratched the once fertile land.


A whisper in the last breath of the dead. The cough as the last breath left a body condemned to a life of hunger and emotional sadness, rung like a gun shot in a bare valley.


Jo-Hyun looked at the sun that tried to fight through the thick, dark clouds. I looked too. My eyes burnt with colors I hadn’t seen since I left Gangnam four years ago. I blinked and felt myself weep as the beautiful effervescent colors danced on the inside of my damp eyelids. I blinked and blinked, watching them burst across my eyes. I felt the lump in my throat rise, and my heart beat like the footsteps of the foot soldiers.

“Quick,” he said, rummaging through his old plastic Kim’s Club bag, “take these.”

He handed me two old cigarette butts. We pushed the butts into our ears and cupped our hands around them.

A cannon fired so loud I felt my brain throb. 1:37pm. The time that that the revolution hit a stalemate was marked every day by a cannon shot. The sound rung on for minutes, into the distance. They said you could hear it from Seoul. But how would we know? How would we know?


I tried to look back to the sun. I wanted more color. I wanted to feel like my heart beat in my chest for a reason. I wanted to feel that life was worth living. But it was gone. There was only a black cloud that promised more acid rain. I felt my eyes well up as I tried to imagine the color. But it was gone. It was gone.


It was gone.

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Come Together Korea


Nice little interview from the boys! Cheers James and Matt.


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Minutes From North Korean Meeting – Wikileaks Exclusive

Committee Meeting for the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea

Members present: Rhee Ji Woon, Park Tae-Eun, Kim Soo Wan, Choi Bum San, Jin Soo-min, Ban Tae Wan, Lee Tae Hyun, Park Jo Yeong and Lee Min Sook

Minutes from Previous Meeting

The issues of idle foot soldiers and the abhorrent lack of statues to the Dear Leader in certain rural areas of the country were resolved by administering the Army with the task of building more statues.

The minor issue of poverty and starvation amongst certain communities within the Great Nation remains. The Radiant Comrade Dr. Rhee Ji Woon has mooted at several solutions to the problem but admitted that they have yet to bring any success. Adjourned until further notice.


Purpose of Meeting: Discussing details of press release announcing Dear Leader Kim Jong Il’s death.

Points of discussion:

1 . How the Dear Leader departed this life and details of death.

2. The Dear Leader’s Final words

3. How the Dear Leader spent his final day

4. Tributes and Organization of mourning

Formidable General Park Tae-Eun commenced the meeting with a two hour tribute to the Dear Leader, paying his sincerest respects and offering the committee general some choice anecdotes about how the Dear Leader single-handedly brought around thirty-two thousand American pig soldiers to justice from his gun turret during the Wonderful War of 1950.

The committee paid tribute to the Dear Leader with a meal of live Lobster boiled in Champagne and sieved through cloth weaved from Lion’s mane. Meeting commenced.

  1. 1.       How the Dear Leader departed this life and the details of his death.

Upon receiving the Dignified coroner Kim Soo Wan’s report that the Dear Leader suffered a coronary heart attack, the committee agreed that amendments were to be made to the report, and discussions regarding cause of death commenced.

The Willful Adviser Choi Bum San put forward the suggestion that the Dear Leader died wrestling a shark-bear hybrid in the foothills bordering China. The group was unanimous that no animal, hybrid or pure bred, could defeat the Dear Leader, and they opted against this as a possible cause of death.

The Effervescent Commander of Communications, Jin Soo-min, suggested that the cause of death was not a heart attack, but that his heart was ruptured beyond repair because he loved the comrades of the Republic too much.

A vote was had and the committee voted 8-1 that the Dear Leader did in fact die because he cared too much for the people of North Korea.


  1. 2.       The Dear Leader’s Final words

The Distinguished Warrior General Ban Tae Wan was at the Dear Leader’s side at his death and suggested that the public were told that, rather than collapse on the floor and choke on lobster and cognac, he gave a dignified speech explaining his imminent elevation to the throne of the Gods before his heart broke under the weight of his adoration for his fellow comrades.

The Distinguished Warrior General Ban Tae Wan suggested using some choice lines of divine inspiration from some of the Dear Leader’s previous speeches, with the Dear Leader using his death bed as a podium to encourage stability and subservience among the population. The committee agreed that this would be the most appropriate course of action.


  1. 3.       How the Dear Leader spent his final day

The committee brainstormed possible activities and/or world records that the Dear Leader was breaking on the day prior to his death.

Possible suggestions were as follows:

  • Breaking the world hop scotch record
  • Teaching a crippled child how to load a canon and point it towards Tokyo.
  • Stood in as midwife and administered a cesarean in the back of his jeep. The mother tried to insist that the child be named Kim Jong Il, but the Dear Leader, in a typical showing of humility and modesty, begged her not to subject him to such flattery.

The committee was completely divided on which challenge the Dear Leader was overcoming on the day of his death, and so opted to go with all three.


1.  4.       Tributes and Organization of Mourning

As expected, the committee was unanimously in favor of declaring Monday December 19th as the beginning of the official Great Month of Glorious Mourning. All non-hard labor would be suspended for the month and all hard labor workers would be forced to triple their output as a mark of respect for the Dear Leader and as a testament to joys of Socialism.

The Breathtaking Minister for Social Affairs Lee Tae Hyun suggested that on Monday December 19th 2011 all nouns would replaced with ‘Kim Jong Il’. He offered an example of how this would work:

“I’m just going to the Kim Jong Il to buy some Kim Jong Ils, some Kim Jong Ils and a couple of Kim Jong Ils for Kim Jong Il tonight”.

The committee voted in favor of this suggestion.*


The meeting was adjourned by The Righteous General of Freedom Park Jo Yeong. He led the comrades in a seven hour prayer for the Great Leader.

Points for Next Meeting:

  • Minimum volume of tears shed per household in tribute to the Dear Leader.
  • Possible female suitors for the sixteen plus liters of the Dear Leader’s sperm housed in his underground laboratory.
  • Solution to poverty spreading further, although the Radiant Comrade Dr. Rhee Ji Woon has insisted that it is not a matter of priority when compared with the minimum tear allowance. The committee unanimously agreed.

Meeting closed.


The Translucent Secretary Lee Min Sook

*Note: For the remainder of the Great Month of Glorious Mourning it was decided that all superlatives would be replaced with the words ‘Kim Jong Il’.

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Neither of Us Were Korean – Part Three

When we arrived we were met with Maria, Corey and Marcus. Maria is the woman who hired us. She was a nice lady, but Paul and I both thought that there was something a bit shady under the surface. She would be happy to talk to us about work, answering our emails and texts without a second thought. But if you wanted to talk money, you’d have to phone her under the guise of work. Corey was the guy behind the project. He was a Korean American who’d been in Seoul for almost ten years. He was in his early thirties. He looked older. His face had been puffy once and was now just saggy. Koreans don’t usually look older until they get to their sixties. But that was an indication of how much he smoked and how little he slept. Corey came from serious money. His personality told you that much. Marcus was their little bitch. There was no other way of putting it. He was hired as a copy-editor. But the only document we ever saw him with was a receipt for Maria and Corey’s coffee. Both Paul and I had been in the running for his job, but we couldn’t get visas. Neither of us were Korean. Marcus was half-Korean. So they hired him. We were both pretty glad we didn’t land his job to be honest. Even if it did mean cutting the rope on the English teaching racket.

“Sup girls,” said Corey as we came in the door of the church. He was wearing a shiny Korean suit. The top didn’t match the bottom. The jacket had thick pinstripes and I could practically see my reflection in the gleam of the trousers. His shoes had those weird tips on them that made them look like pencils. He looked ridiculous. But rich.

“Hey Corey” we said. Paul and I waited until he turned around to talk to someone else before we exchanged an eyebrow about his suit.

“Hey Maria, Marcus” I said, shaking hands and getting the formalities out of the way.

Maria pushed some coffee on us, like that would make us happy. It was shit instant coffee. This far out of the city you didn’t have coffee shops. So we had these little paper cups with some sugary paste in them. It slid out of the cups like glue. I drank it anyway. Paul didn’t drink coffee. So when Maria went into the conference room I drank his too.

“Delicious. Thanks Marcus” I said. Paul turned away to hide his smile. Marcus nodded and smiled. He didn’t hear me.

“How are you guys today? Hungover? Any bitches last night?” asked Corey. I fucking hated him.

“Nah man, early bed last night. Ready for today.”

“Good, that’s what I like to hear! But on the other hand, I like to know that my boys are getting some! Cause I know Marcus isn’t getting shit!” Marcus smiled weakly. So did Paul and I. “ So here’s how it’s gonna break down.” He pulled his hands from his pockets and started moving them around in that business way. They were like magician’s hands. I only recognized it because I would be telling the kids to do the very same thing a few hours later. “I’m gonna go up there, talk some shit, sell this fucking product to these people.” I hated it when he called our ‘Presentation workshops’ a product. “Then you guys are going to do your thing. Twenty minutes each. Then lunch. Then workshops. We judge them quickly. Everyone goes home to get our dicks sucked. Sound good?”

“Yup” said Paul. I just nodded. I really hated him.

We went into the conference room. The place was full. Loads of teenagers in their school uniforms. On a Saturday!? Poor little bastards. Everyone turned to us and started smiling. We were the token foreigners in the room. We put some kind of stamp of legitimacy on this project I guess. We smiled awkwardly like we had been doing for the many years we had been living here. Very few things caught us off-guard anymore.

The thing started with Corey. He talked and talked in Korean. It went on for about two hours. I can’t speak any at all. Paul can speak a little. Neither of us knew what he was talking about though. The kids were yawning. The parents and teachers were nodding. I was dozing off. Maria leant over and gave me another cup of coffee between taking pictures of the event. I drank it. I raised the empty cup to Marcus. He just smiled again. I looked around at the room we were sat in. It was a church alright. Crosses hanging everywhere. Book cases full of scriptures. There was even a pastor in the corner. I don’t know what kind of church this was. I figured it was one of those new ones. Evangelical or something. The sign on the door said ‘Scars into Stars’. It sent a little shudder through me.

I got called up after Corey. Maria asked me to inject some energy into it. I sort of heaved myself up and shook that big smile onto my face. I did my usual. A couple of quick games to wake everyone up. Some funny lines. Examples of shitty public speaking skills. Some tips on how to do it properly. Same old same. It was so robotic now I didn’t even have to think about it. Sort of like stand-up used to be. I got off just as all that sludge coffee was wearing off. Corey gave me a hard handshake. Maria thanked me profusely. Paul gave me a wink. Marcus just sat taking notes. The kids clapped and smiled. We all went to lunch.

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Neither of Us Were Korean – Part Two

I looked at the subway map for the place she told me. It was right at the end of one of the lines. I lived in the middle of the city. Not quite downtown, but close enough. This place was twenty-nine stops away. Two transfers. And then a bus journey. I got really pissed off. I swore at the computer. I almost picked up my phone and told her to stuff it. In a polite way with a perfectly believable excuse of course. My dog had died. I got food poisoning. My real job had called me into work. But I didn’t make an excuse. I thought about the money and how it could make Patti smile.

I thought about taking a cab. A little treat to myself, what with it being a Saturday morning and all. But the price it would come to would probably mean that I had worked all those hours for the privilege of riding in a cab. I liked cabs, but not enough to work six hours on a Saturday just to take one.

I decided to ride the subway all the way out there. There was another dude called Paul who I met at the last one of these presentations that was coming along with me. I liked him. We met at the station.

“Dude, did Maria pay you everything she owed you last time?” he asked, swaying from side to side in the subway. Even at this time of the morning, on a Saturday, we couldn’t get a seat.

“I don’t know. I think so. We didn’t discuss specifics. Koreans don’t like to talk about money too much.”

“Yeah man! I feel that. I think she undercut me.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised. How much did you get?” I really wanted to know. I knew how much I got. I knew he didn’t get as much.

“100,000.” Now that sounds a lot more than it is. It’s like $90.

“Yeah, I got the same” I lied. I got 200,000. But I did do a lot more work.

I asked him what we would be doing today. He said he didn’t know. It was some religious school. We would be doing the same old thing probably. Teaching Korean kids how to give presentations and then watching their rushed, botched presentations. Paul dealt with content. I dealt with public speaking. I’d been a comedian for a few years back in London, so I knew how to keep a room full of people engaged. In theory at least. Paul had worked for some kind of telecommunications company back in the US. He had prepared presentations for guys like me hundreds of times. Between us, we knew what we were doing. But, on this Saturday heading out to the boonies in Seoul, we didn’t have a clue.

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Neither of Us Were Korean – Part One

Maria begged me to come along that day. I was pretty reluctant. I think she could tell. I did that umm and ahh thing on the phone. You know where you sort of tell people that if they can find anyone else who could possibly fill your place, they should probably do it. But they were in a jam. I thought back to the last time she asked me to do a presentation. I kind of enjoyed it. And they paid well. They’d have to to get me out of my bed on a Saturday morning.
“It would really help us out Vincent” she asked, pleading with me a little.

I exhaled loudly. A bargaining technique of sorts. She would have to treat me with gentle hands. I waited.

“I’ll speak to the owner and ask if we can pay you in cash this time.”

I smiled.


I heard her exhale loudly. But it wasn’t the same sound.

“Thank you so much Vincent. You’ve got no idea how much we needed you.”

“10am?” I asked.

“If you could.”

Of course I could. But I didn’t want to. She told me that her boss Corey was going with us this time. I hated him.

“See you then” I said.

She thanked me again and we hung up. I swore at myself for letting her twist my arm like that. I hadn’t been sleeping well all week. I had been looking forward to that Saturday morning lying in bed until it turned into the afternoon. But I needed the money. Mine and Patti’s anniversary was coming up and it was dinner, drinks and a hotel for the night. And I was broke. I couldn’t even afford one of those things. But I guess that love is the special ingredient that ramyen noodles need to make them edible day after day. Maria’s money would help me afford a starter, a brief look at a cocktail menu and a three-star room. That Saturday morning lie-in would have to wait twenty –four hours. I sighed.

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