In Seoul’s Hongdae district, Colin Marshall talks with Daniel Tudor, former Economist correspondent in Korea, co-founder of craft beer pizza pub chain The Booth, author of the books Korea: The Impossible Country, A Geek in Korea, and (with James Pearson) North Korea Confidential. They discuss the difference between Gangnam and Gangbuk style; the recently emerging trend toward Korean nostalgia, and what happens when you pull out an two-year-old mobile phone; what he discovered in Korea during the time of the 2002 World Cup; his time among the “studying machines” that constitute Korean youth, and why so few want to break from that hard-driving mode; education, especially abroad, as a means of “jumping the queue” back in Korea; the progressivism he’s found among Koreans who’ve never left the country; why it matters when a foreigner voices the same criticism of Korea that Koreans think; whether he felt any fear of legal action when he publicly stated that Korean beer sucks; why Korean beer has continued to suck for so long; what it takes to get decent beer into Korea today; the “emotionalism” of Korean conversational style, and whether it plays in the wider world; to what extent Korea may westernize, given the presence of a certain “spineless love of all things American”; whether Korea’s narrative of weakness can accommodate the country’s new strength; what it was like writing for The Economist, a
magazine newspaper given to short sentences, cynical humor, and an interest in “North Korea, North Korea, and sometimes North Korea”; where he still feels the presence of Park Chung-hee, and the backlash to his “developmentalist” mindset that seems to have begun; the possibility of “de-Seoulification”; what he experiences on train trips that tells him too much has concentrated in Seoul; the parallels between Park Chung-hee and Margaret Thatcher; Korea’s nature not as a conservative country, but as a country with a conservative veneer; the “natural socialism” that coexists in Korea with extreme capitalism; why Koreans believe their food too spicy for any foreigner to handle; why he hates even to hear the Korean term for “foreigner”; whether Korea can afford to continue burning so much energy on purely internal competition; the parallels between the chaebol system and North Korea; how soon a Pyongyang branch of The Booth would open after reunification; and what the English could learn from the attitudes of the Koreans.
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