Monday, November 30, 2009

Pioneering in Seoul

Dad, Isaac and I went to Korea Folk Village this afternoon. I made a quick video.

I promise I'll write more later but for now this will have to do. We have been kidnapped by an enthused gang of 60+ year old Korean relatives who are doggedly showing us a good time and pickling us with salty banchan and fruit moonshine while they're at it. So. I haven't had much time to write. Soon!

By the way, pompom hat, anyone? I also have an entirely new desire to do gymnastics on a galloping horse.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Am Old: Two Items

Two ways I know I am firmly in "older-people" category:

1. The New York Times knew about this before I did.
2. I mended my winter coat (fixing buttons) while watching Doubt last night. Then, this morning, I gave it a once over with a little battery-operated de-fuzzer and a lint roller. This will be this coat's NINTH winter. There are children who haven't been alive as long as I've been wearing this coat.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's The Mom And Dad Show

I recently interviewed my mom and dad for a project I'm working on and it was...weird.

The first interview with Mom went well. It was midday, we'd had a nice lunch, we were full of fun energy, and I had lots of patience for the fact that she wouldn't look at the camera or even answer my questions.

For example:

Me: Ok, to start, say your name and your age.
Mom: (In Korean, when I expressly told her we should do it in English) Oh, if only we had done this interview a few days ago, I could say I'm still in my 50s, but now I have to say I'm ...60?
Me: Uh ha ha, yeah, well. 60's great. Let's go.
Mom: (Still in Korean) Ok (laughing). Are you taping this?
Me: Yeah, Mom, it's recording.
Mom: (Laughing spasm) (In Korean) Oh my! Have you been recording all this time?
Me: Yes. Just say your name now, Mom.
Mom: (She says her name, mutters that she is 60 years of age, then looks at me). Daesuh? ("Is that enough?")

Well, no, Mom. Not "daesuh." In case you didn't notice, five minutes was spent in a weird vortex wherein we didn't do or say anything real. I mean, I'd like to point out that I already know your name. Therefore, your saying your name is not enough, you know, for my research. Research is the thing where I learn stuff.

Dad, by contrast, the overwhelmingly more taciturn half of the duo, became positively loquacious. I loved that he became impersonal, just jumping right in with no nerves to make him weird and laughy and chatty (don't think he's actually capable of the latter two). When asked about his children, he would respond to me by saying, "My children..." as if I wasn't one of them. Loved it!

Who knew he would be good at answering questions? Well, actually, I kinda knew. Still, when the tape was at 45 minutes and I told him that I'd finished with my questions for the day, I was surprised by how he responded when I asked whether he had anything to add. He proceeded to launch into a soliloquy for a wall-to-wall 15 minutes. 15 minutes! Like, the reason why we stopped was that the tape ran out. This from a man who putts his words, i.e. the fewer the better.

I know that when I transcribe, I'll see that an hour's worth of his slow speaking can be condensed into a few paragraphs. Dad talks like his words need to line up at customs before making their way out of his mouth. Usually, his baggage silently revolves at the claim inside his mind, forever.

My second interview with Mom did NOT go as well as the first. We were tired. She constantly repeated, "Daesuh?" because it was late, not because of her almost-charming nervous energy. She yawned more than she spoke. I was already cranky that day and had little patience. Then I asked her a question that involved me and ugh, it got kinda ugly.

I must say at this point that this whole doc project is WAY more personal than I'm comfortable with, but it has evolved. I'm actually grateful for the opportunity to interview my parents, who can answer questions in a formalized setting but otherwise don't want to let me into stories of their past, i.e. like normal people might as members of the same four-person family who have shared their lives for like, ever.

Plus, the logistics of this doc project have been VERY frustrating and I feel stymied, director/producer-wise. I don't want that outside stuff to bleed into the way I feel about the interactions between me, Mom and Dad.

However, my last bit of patience was exhausted when, after asking Mom to define her idea of "success," I asked for her opinion on whether I am "successful." She answered exactly as I asked her to - honestly (in case it isn't obvious, her answer was "No").

It was the next day, a Sunday spent stewing, when I realized - I still have lots of anger! The kind of anger that should remain locked in adolescent diaries forever! The kind that you shouldn't drag into adulthood because it's just not a good look. But if I'm being honest, it's there, an anger that I suspect generations of Koreans just kind of screamed into waterfalls or worked out while putting zillions of pots of cabbage into the ground or rationalized away to be respectful of elders.

Then it hit me: Am I just asking for it? What am I doing? It seemed possible that I was asking a bunch of stupid questions simply to pick a fight with my family and then RECORD it for everyone to see. I'm not the smartest bulb but even I know that no one needs an earnest, old-people, no-make-up, Korean family battle royale, a sadly pedestrian version of a VH1 show minus the hair extensions. I know nobody needs that - you don't have to tell me it's a wasted effort and a doc that nobody wants to see.

Well, the next day I called my continue the argument with a pithy missive on my stupid, crackling cordless phone (hate my dumb phone).

And the day after that...I called to apologize.

She laughed and apologized, too. And in my family, apologies are a big deal. That's what's great about my mom - her stinging response to my question has a flip side. She can be insensitive, but it's that same glib manner that means she never holds grudges and is easy to laugh.

So I guess I'm back "on" with how I feel about this project. I dunno. I just want to cobble together some semblance of being "done" with my work before I take off for the other side of Planet Earth next week...

Friday, November 06, 2009

Not My Finest Moment But Don't Get Me Started

In hindsight, perhaps meeting an idealistic, starry-eyed first-year journalism student whilst hungover is not a good idea. The truth is, however, that the entire media industry is feeling this headache, so what's the diff?

This morning, I had a quick coffee interview with a student for her school assignment. Her dad works with my mom, and Mom, ever-protective, kind of tried to "forget" that her colleague had asked for my contact info on his daughter's behalf. I appreciate it, Mom (she would be a stonewall publicist).

Anyway, I find it strange that the parental connection had to be used since I am all over the internetz. No harm in a quick Google and then Tweeting me, right?

I waved off Mom's human security shield because I always like being accessible to students for assignments, although I have been burned in the past (overzealous, friendly types - if I give you some time for an interview, it does not mean we are BFFs - don't make me Gmail-block you!).

I won't mention how unprofessional the email interview request was - oops, I guess I just did. But it did give me pause. The stuff I do perhaps makes me seem very personable and suggests intimacy. I think I am, in normal contexts, quite open. But shouldn't an interview request, especially one from an aspiring journalist, be professional? Should you be "soooo" excited? Am I being harsh? Would I have written the same things at that age?

Anyway, the meeting was an interesting exercise. She asked me the question I am beginning to think I will be asked for THE REST OF MY LIFE: "Why did you leave your VJ job?" This question gets me. "Why?" "Did?" "You?" "Leave?"

Why does anyone leave a job? That question puts me in a position of bursting bubbles. Obviously, I left because I wanted to leave. The underpinning to this question is the undying belief that being a VJ must be the most amazing and fun experience any human could possibly aspire to. So. When you ask me, "Why did you leave?" you are asking me to burst your bubble. I don't like doing that. It makes me feel like a negative rant on a broken record or a big meanie who goes around with a pin, bursting balloons that kids are hanging on to and really, really believe in.

For the record, I answered truthfully and said that it was time to move on and that I had nothing left to learn in the position. Being young (and I still am!) I refuse to stagnate. But I swear to God (and more on God later) she continued to ask me, incredulously, how and why I could possibly leave such a plum job. She continued to return to the question, in many different ways, including, "Do you regret leaving?" and "Was it your choice to leave?"

For someone who requested an interview with me saying that she was interested in my work as a volunteer with an NGO, she sure did gloss over that stuff to keep asking me about **insert music station**. Sometimes I seriously feel that I am swinging a dead carcass around my neck, the carcass of my 20s, and I will carry this thing around forever. I know I'm only a few years out, but I am so tired of talking about something that is old history. In the past four, frenetic, freelance years, I have done so many different things - I have had such a wide array of experiences. I brought some of them up (radio doc in Mali! being a TV producer!) and it was like she was just waiting for me to stop talking so she could keep asking me about what I left 4 years ago. She also, in no way, has any clue what my main gig is right now, I can tell, because she never mentioned it.

Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh on her. Or maybe I'll reserve judgment for you. This was our first exchange:

Me: So, is this an assignment to interview a media professional?
Her: No. We can interview anyone but I'm sure the celebrity factor will, you know, sway my professor. We could have interviewed anyone, even a criminal.

Her obsession with celebrity (which came out in several questions) is not unique to her. But it was still a bit alarming. Upon being asked for about, oh, the fifth time, about how I could possibly leave such a celeb-awesome-osity job:

Me: The job might look really glamorous from the outside but in the end, glamour is a lie.
Her: Wow. "Glamour is a lie." That is so deep. [Pause]. Are you religious? Because you sound...

[I couldn't conceal my horror here - I'll admit I started doing some eyebrow aerobics here].

...soulful. Are you...[hesitating now]...religious?

Me: No.

I don't want to be super-negative to someone who is going into media, which I stalwartly do not believe is dead or dying (only the traditional stuff is, and while the field is fallow, something great will emerge).

HOWEVER, I probably should have given her some advice on how to be a good interviewer, which I did not. Instead, I just judged and probably let my face betray me.

1. Research.
2. Don't get your dad to call my mom to get the interview. Just look me up yourself.
3. Bring a recording device or take notes faster. I can see that you're not writing down what I say.
4. Don't tell me what I think, i.e. "I know that at ***, a VJ job is the best job you can have." Really? How do you know that?
5. Don't ask me about the other "famous" people I worked with, especially when there's one on the current cover of one of the country's most widely-available magazines, in a cover story that *I* wrote. You could have just read that. This goes back to number 1 rule.
6. Don't tell me I sound religious.
7. When I've answered a question, move on. Sometimes that means a good follow-up question, but it always means you must listen. Listen and process. I know that it's incomprehensible to you that I would leave YOUR dream job, but the more you ask me to elaborate by asking the same question over and over, increasingly imbued with your own pre-conceived notions, the more I'll get pissed. Remember, your interview subject...may be be hungover.

Sigh. I know that she is just your average wannabe VJ and that I bring a shoulder-chip or two to the table. Still, I am constantly surprised at how many people think "fame" equals "happiness." It doesn't! It can actually equal unhappiness. Wrap your mind around that, kids.

I don't want to be a burster of bubbles, but if you request an interview with me to needle me about how I could possibly leave a job as a VJ, you're asking for it.

1. More patience.
2. Give a useful piece of career advice in person, rather than blogging it later.
3. Remember that while journalism jobs disappear faster than you can say, "But I've paid $20 000 in tuition!" journalism schools just continue to enroll more and more incoming students. At some point (graduation, maybe?), that's gonna hurt. So maybe I don't need to be the harbinger of reality. Life has a way of parsing it out in due time, anyway. Do I really need to mention that lots of journalism students end up in PR? Answer: probably not.