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Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Tod Goldberg

On the latest Los Angeles Review of Books podcast, I talk with Tod Goldberg, author of such novels as Fake Liar Cheat and Living Dead Girl, several books based on the television series Burn Notice, short story collections like Simplify and Other Resort Cities, and the guidebook Hungry? Thirsty? Las Vegas. His latest novel Gangsterland sends a ruthless Chicago mafia hitman out into the Jewish community of suburban Las Vegas, where he must start a new life under a new identity — the identity of a rabbi.

You can stream the conversation just above, listen to it on the LARB’s site, or download it on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: Humans of Seoul with Keith Kim

keith kimIn Seoul’s Hongdae district, Colin talks with Keith Kim, creator of the travel and culture site Seoulistic. They discuss how Birkenstocks became the dominant Korean trend in the summer of 2014; what a gyopo is, and what it means to live in Korea as one; his ability to present himself as both a Korean and a foreigner; the Korean expectations to which he can least adhere; how little the old and the young understand one another in Korea; how the tattoo and smoking situation has changed in society since he first arrived; what he found when he first visited Korea during the celebratory time of the 2002 World Cup; the difficulty of finding a coffee shop in Apgujeong not attached to a plastic surgery clinic; why Koreans assume certain personality traits correlate with certain facial features; why you can do “Humans of New York”, but you couldn’t do “Humans of Seoul”; the advantages of “not counting” in Korean society; the power of “Korean stink eye”; why he chose to live in Japan as well; the old people who freely touch foreigners on the train; what most clashes with his American side, especially in the realm of dating; what makes more sense in Korean society than in American; the varying attitudes toward parental wisdom in Korea and America; how a foreigner can know Seoul better than a Korean; what foreigners tend to do wrong in Korea; the difference between American and Korean suburbs; why he wants a back yard; the death of “the American dream,” and why his Korean-born Americanized dad wants to return to Korea from his own; his desire to live in Thailand; the single idea of beauty that has taken hold in Korea, and why the population may, ultimately, just want to look the same; his coterie of “international people” in Seoul, and how much they usually like the city; the Korean demand for opinions; how to avoid becoming a bitter expat in Seoul; why he folds his clothes like a Japanese housewife; and whether he’d base himself in New York, Seoul or Tokyo if he had to choose right now.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

The City in Cinema Live in Portland, January 25, 2015

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On Sunday, January 25, 2015, I’ll appear live at Portland, Oregon’s Hollywood Theatre to give “Portland and Los Angeles: The Cities in Cinema”, a talk on and a screening of my City in Cinema video essays. The evening will include not just new, never-before-seen video essays on Los Angeles films, but the world premiere of Portland: The City in Cinema, a long-form exploration of the Oregonian metropolis and the roles it has played in such movies as Cold WeatherZero Effect, and My Own Private Idaho. I’ll also discuss the contrast in cinematic depictions of the City of Angels and the City of Roses, so make sure to bring along all your thoughts on the matter, urbanist-cinephiles.

You can find time, location, and ticket details at the Hollywood Theatre’s site. (And if you didn’t catch it back in 2012, why not have a listen to my Notebook on Cities and Culture interview with head programmer Dan Halsted?)

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: Doing Korea with Chance Dorland

chance dorlandIn Seoul’s Hongdae district, Colin talks with Chance Dorland, radio- and podcast-hosting expat in countries like Germany, Colombia, and now South Korea, currently of Groove magazine’s Groovecast, TBS eFM’s “Chance Encounters” segment, and Chance and Dan Do Korea. They discuss the one thing that unites Americans; the origins of his Korean podcasting career; whether people knew what the Peace Corps was after he got out of the Peace Corps; why he rejected both Los Angeles and New York; how he made peace with growing up in a small Iowa town, despite what he never got to learn there; mudding; what it felt like, growing up, to meet someone who had been to a major city; how he acquired a “fake family”; what, in adolescence, he somehow “knew” America had more of than any other country; the affliction that made class attendance difficult; when he realized Boston, where he went for college, doesn’t count as a big city; the enthusiasm for World War II that got him applying to go to Germany; the comparative lack of user-friendliness in major American cities; what he doesn’t have to deal with in Seoul; the simultaneous fall of traditional media and rise of new media; how Korea opened the opportunity to form band after band; the general low quality of so many people working in the American media; how he got out of English teaching and into radio; where his desire to work with poor people led him; why the Peace Corps lies, and how he wound up getting the wrong medication and a chronic disease in their time with them; where to find Korean food in Des Moines; why he wants to do radio “in a booth,” and why that may prove more attainable in Korea than elsewhere; how he started reporting for TBS eFM; the obstacles to getting a job as a foreigner with no Korean wife or Korean heritage; and how foreigner occupational diversity might benefit Korea.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Los Angeles, The City in Cinema: Alien Nation (Graham Baker, 1988)


Alien Nation
, a film about extraterrestrials who arrive on Earth and struggle to integrate into American life, never won any awards for allegorical subtlety. But this otherwise by-the-book buddy cop picture does capture the texture of a certain highly unglamorous Los Angeles rarely explored on screen to this degree. As you’d expect, it also has observations to make about the historical attitude of east-coast and midwest Anglo transplants to Los Angeles toward more recent Latin American and Asian arrivals. As James M. Cain put it, “trust a foreigner who got here in 1930 to haze a foreigner who got here in 1931.”

The video essays of “Los Angeles, the City in Cinema” examine the variety of Los Angeleses revealed in the films set there, both those new and old, mainstream and obscure, respectable and schlocky, appealing and unappealing — just like the city itself.

Don’t miss Portland and Los Angeles: The Cities in Cinema Live at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon on Sunday, January 25, 2015. The Hollywood Theatre’s site has tickets and all the details.

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: Why Is This Here? with Nikola Medimorec

nikola medimorecOn the Seoul Floating Islands, Colin talks with Nikola Medimorec, co-author of Kojects, an English-language blog on transport, urban planning, and development projects around Korea. They discuss the first Korean city he ever experienced, and what introduction it gave him to both the country’s festival culture and its development culture; what makes the transit different in Asia than in elsewhere; the installation he witnessed of glass panels on the subway platforms, and how that not just prevents suicides but improves the riding experience; the question that got him studying geography in the first place; the success of his posts on KTX stations he wrote in his first, German-language blog, and how that led to Kojects; why he most enjoys writing about Korean bicycle infrastructure, now that it has become possible to bike there; the difference between cycling in Korea and cycling in Germany, where he grew up; how old Korean men all listen to the radio on their bicycles; how he plunged right into his studies at Seoul National University, including a statistics class in Korean; how the Suwon EcoMobility Festival took over his life; the cities that most fascinate him outside of Seoul; his impressions of the new-built “city from scratch” of Songdo and the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, “an alien spaceship landed in the middle of Seoul”; the current Seoul mayor’s aversion to all big projects, especially the “ugly” DDP; the ongoing controversy of the Cheonggyecheon Stream; whether a project like the Yonsei-ro Transit Mall can allow for commerce on the street (and especially street food); his initial surprise at all the people on the streets in Seoul, and the changing reasons they’ve come out to the streets; where to look for a pojangmacha, and why having to search for them is a problem in itself; the domestic culture of  Germany versus the urban culture of Korea; what impresses German friends when the come visit Korea; what Korean cities could learn from European ones; whether Korea has any more large-scale projects remaining in the future; how older European buildings have become favored, while even 25-year-old buildings in Korea have badly deteriorated and await redevelopment; what the new “phallus symbol” of the Lotte World Tower (in which he once saw a fire) demonstrates, and why he doesn’t care about that kind of skyscraper; whether Korean 빠리 빠리 culture results in a shoddy built environment; why he couldn’t do a Kojects-style blog in Germany; Kojects’ reliance on Korean sources, and how that separates it from other English-language sites observing Korean cities; how much of his mastery of Korean comes directly from reading about transport and urban development; his preferred methods for first exploring a city; what you notice when you walk in Seoul; and the story behind the Seoul Floating Islands on which they sit.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: Forbidden Places with Jon Dunbar

jondunbarAt a bar by the train tracks near Yongsan, Colin talks with Jon Dunbar, urban explorer, editor of long-running Korean punk zine Broke in Korea, and author of Daehanmindecline. They discuss the difference between a Korean abandoned place and a Canadian abandoned place; how Seoul got re-inhabited after the war; the development of poor “moon villages” on the hillsides; how he defines “urban exploring,” and why he dislikes that name; the urban renewal process that causes the abandonment of neighborhoods; the hired goons who harass people to leave areas slated for demolition; how big a city all the abandoned buildings he’s visited would constitute by themselves; his experience in the tunnel from The Host; what it means to explore Korea’s abandoned/disputed/places as a foreigner, and the difficulty of getting Koreans interested in urban exploration; the time he ran into a man collecting scrap metal, and why that man felt embarrassment for his country; the difference between the Korea he came to, which had both grass huts and high-rises, and Korea today; why so many buildings in Seoul have reached such an advanced state of decrepitude so quickly; what he prefers about North Korean architecture to South; what most high-rises in Seoul stand on the ruins of; his discovery of the Korean punk scene, and why he needed to confirm its existence before he came to live; the lower level of violence and higher level of musicianship in Korean punk; how he got to work for an organization like the Korean government; the ominousness of a presidential promise to promote “the happiness of the people”; the meaning of han, why the government now wants to eradicate the concept, and how pansori reggae expresses it; the change in Seoul mayors that brought about a change in major Seoul building projects; the significance of the new Dongdaemun Design Plaza and the politics involved in building it; how, rather than declining, Korea has “improved in every way” since he turned up; his life in Bukcheon hanok village, and how its old-style houses have become more coveted in recent years; whether Korea can shake the idea of “old = bad”; where in Korea he witnessed a funk brawl; and the way to “use your unfamiliarity as a tool” in a place like Korea.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Los Angeles, the City in Cinema: Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner crossed Los Angeles with a grittier, less orderly Tokyo. Just over thirty years later, Spike Jonze’s Her crosses Los Angeles with a sanitized Shanghai, creating a utopian urban setting for surely the mildest cyberpunk story ever told. Instead of menacing android replicants and detective Rick Deckard who hunts them, we have a sentient operating system and the mustachioed, ukulele playing milquetoast Theodore Twombly who, as he lives his lonely life in this future Los Angeles’ skyscrapers and on its high-speed trains (but never in a car), falls in love with it.

The video essays of “Los Angeles, the City in Cinema” examine the variety of Los Angeleses revealed in the films set there, both those new and old, mainstream and obscure, respectable and schlocky, appealing and unappealing — just like the city itself.

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: Shapeshifter with Stephane Mot

stephanemotIn Seoul’s Sinchon district, Colin talks with Stephane Mot, “conceptor,” writer of fiction, nonfiction, “nonsense,” and author of the blog Seoul Village as well as the collection Dragedies. They discuss Paris as a “recurring hero” of literature and Seoul as a “shapeshifter” glimpsed from different angles in different stories; how he got involved in the early days of internet gaming, surviving three startups in three years; the French embassy job that brought him to Seoul in 1991; why he prefers winter in Seoul to winter in Paris; the difficulty of walking in Seoul when first he got there; the first of the city’s “villages” that convinced him to explore more; what kind of relationship with Paris he has as a ninth-generation Parisian, and what it has gained by his becoming a partial outsider; when he first began writing about Korea; why of the two important subjects of love and death, he sticks to death; his “Borgesian experience” of discovering the internet; the subjects to which he finds himself returning in Seoul over and over again; why he writes in both French and English; his definition of a city as a scar; what he sees happening to the Korean social fabric, and how it works differently in France; the difference between the new-built urban places of Songdo and La Défense; what happens when a city has “no place for storytelling”; why he searches maps for crooked streets; what got the cars out of Sinchon; his “biggest shame,” his relationship with the Korean language, which keeps its learners thinking they’ve never learned enough; his skill with “Korean silence”; the Seoulite’s constant grieving for what has disappeared, or what will soon disappear; why he writes about the “gaps” on the maps; how having one’s own fictional Seoul prevents insanity; how more people now really come from Seoul, resulting in new senses of belonging and identity; the emerging schizophrenia between the “Korean wave” and Korean tradition; what remains unformed in Seoul to keep him awake; the reasons to hope offered by the increasing consciousness of and affection for Seoul; and the possible end of the “lemming race” to the capital.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Los Angeles, the City in Cinema: Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

Blade Runner‘s future noir, proto-cyberpunk vision of a Los Angeles both post-industrial and re-industrial, both first-world and third-world, has remained in the more than 30 years since its unsuccessful first run the definitive image of the city’s future. Using a combination of studio backlots, scale models, matte paintings, and actual Los Angeles architectural landmarks, the film imagines a “retrofitted,” Japanified Babel of a megalopolis that, through the name of the film, still stands for a thoroughly realized dystopia — and, increasingly, a tantalizing one.

The video essays of “Los Angeles, the City in Cinema” examine the variety of Los Angeleses revealed in the films set there, both those new and old, mainstream and obscure, respectable and schlocky, appealing and unappealing — just like the city itself.