This is the most creative birthday gift that I have ever received…
By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
Although I absolutely love my job, I occasionally update my resume to track milestones and achievements. How should I categorize this? I have been included on former North Korean leader “Kim Jong-il’s Official Enemies List.”
There are 30 of us on the list, including former U.S. President George W. Bush and former Soviet leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Nikita Khrushchev. Just two enemies list names above my own: Former South Korean President Kim Young-sam, on page 417 of the hilarious new book, “Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong-il.” According to the book cover, everything, as dictated to celebrity ghostwriter Michael Malice, who never met Kim Jong-il, is 100 percent “TRUE”!
I wish I had thought to write such a book. Several years ago, I joked about editing a collection of laugh-out-loud dispatches of the North Korean propaganda machine 1) flattering the Kim dictators and 2) flattening South Korean puppets and American imperialists. But I realized that I might end up on an enemies list ― of South Korea’s National Security Act.
Writers using irony about a nation’s enemy are running through minefields. The commentary that filled my in-box with the angriest responses was my Korea Times column “I Believe.” I mentioned various North Korean terrorist acts, then made tongue-in-cheek excuses for North Korea. Progressive friends soft on North Korea were elated, hoping that I had finally seen the errors of my previous ways.
North Korea scholar Andrei Lankov says analysts trying to understand North Korea should evaluate it from the perspective of North Korea. “Dear Reader” does a reductio ad absurdum, dead-panning the Dear Leader’s words to hilariously present them as undisputed history. Malice uses original sources ― Kim Jong-il books he collected during a trip to North Korea ― to take on the dead dictator’s persona, humbly basking in the sunshine of his own lifelong brilliance.
Malice starts “Dear Reader” with Kim Jong-il recalling his own birth, writing, “I remember the day that I was born perfectly.” As a youngster, the future dictator admired his own academic excellence, but he was most proud of “how skilled I grew at fixing my fellow children.” He continued “fixing” everyone ― school teachers, professors, party leaders, artists, musicians, writers, movie directors ― with his endless insights.
He was vigilante about eliminating wrong-thinking, wrong ideas, and opposing ideas through public executions or hard labor (after all, opposing ideas=wrong ideas). He claimed to master “time-shrinking” ― although he was more skilled at shrinking the economy and North Koreans (who reportedly are 1 to 3 inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts).
Even Muhammad Ali, during his heyday as the loquacious heavyweight boxing champion, didn’t pour syrup on himself to the level Kim Jong-il sweetened up himself. The dead dictator didn’t claim to float like a butterfly or sting like a bee, but he did write, “I remembered everything I saw and perceived 10 things when I heard one. I was so profound that all my utterances were original, novel and inventive.” Oh, except that every profound utterance was due to his father, the Great Leader of North Korea, Kim Il-sung.
Malice peers into the brain of Kim Jong-il, but also gives a glimpse of what it must be like to grow up under rulers who are never wrong, never in doubt, always outmaneuver the well-fed puppets and rich imperialists ― and won’t change the subject about their benevolence and genius. I had a new appreciation for those brave souls who ignore the round-the-clock propaganda and escape past armed guards. I also wanted to hug those poorly funded NGOs in South Korea who send information via shortwave radio, USB drives, CDs into North Korea. North Koreans need to hear opposing ― wrong ― views.
“Dear Reader” is a good reminder that my North Korean refugee friends now in South Korea were constantly taught that Americans started the “Fatherland Liberation War,” are blood-thirsty and immoral.
Oh, and that Americans smell. When North Korea seized the USS Pueblo in 1968, Kim Jong-il was informed that the captured Americans “smell,” even after taking showers. Worse, they “want to have sex with each other.” That was that, Kim was ready to send them back. “The American depravity knows no limits.”
“Dear Reader” reminded me that I have already been on enemies’ lists ― of the North Korean refugees, before they escaped. Now, I help some improve their English as co-director of the English Matching Project, I have numerous refugee friends, and I am a proud member of the “Kim Jong-il official enemies list.”
When I told a refugee friend about being on the list, she gushed: “Awesome!” In addition to updating my resume, I wish I could capture the importance of that endorsement in a reference.
P.S., to my own dear readers: Malice’s “enemies list” is really his “acknowledgements” page.
The writer is the director for international relations at Freedom Factory Co. Ltd. in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original Korea Times link
This morning I gave a speech at the Chadwick International School. Wow! One of the most active audiences I’ve ever had. And the kids were really kids. I guess I didn’t read the email closely enough, I assumed they were high school kids. But as I was walking around the school, I finally said, “There are only little people here.” Meaning, children.
It was too late to change my presentation too much, so I let it go. And the kids loved it! They had so many questions and even comments during the presentation. One little whipper snapper even challenged me!!!
And at the end, the teachers were telling me that I was the most popular guest speaker they had ever had. So I feel sorry for anyone following in my footsteps.
The kids lined up to get my autograph and were showing it off to the teachers. One even went to get her mom, who happened to be at the school, to come by to take a photo with me. It was hilarious, one of the most pleasant times I’ve had as a speaker.
Like others, when I was first stating my career, I wanted to speak at huge venues with important people… but now, I enjoy gatherings where the audiences really listen to what I have to say.
Thanks to Domenique Marie for setting it up, guiding me through the day, and blocking the kids from mobbing me.^^
Here’s the column I wrote about this speech.
In the 2008 movie “Yes Man,” actor Jim Carrey portrays a character who withdraws from society after going through an emotional divorce. Encouraged by a friend trying to bring him out of his shell, he attends a workshop given by a self-help guru who encourages him to change from being a “No Man.” He starts to say “Yes to life,” becoming an energetic “Yes Man” who tries everything ― even learning Korean.
In contrast, in South Korea, “yes man” still refers to a brown-nosing employee who is obedient to superiors. It is still better to be a yes man who obeys so you won’t be blamed when things go wrong because even one failure in school, the office, or family is unacceptable. Koreans I have mentioned the movie to immediately recoiled at the very mention of yes man, thinking it is the submissive yes man (or woman) in the office.
The different definitions of “Yes Man” (doing things) versus “yes man” (following the rules) are playing out now in Korea, most significantly in President Park Geun-hye’s policy of creating a “creative economy.” How do you foster a creative economy in a country of checklist checkers?
President Park also pledged during the campaign to make citizens happy, but the reality of doing this in a “No country” reminds me of the old saying: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
As a non-Korean, I am free from such pressure, floating like a leaf in the wind. My luck has gotten even better because I am re-joining forceswith Yonsei University professor Kim Chung-Ho, the president of the newly established Freedom Factory Co. Ltd. Whereas many Korean employers issue commandments, Prof. Kim is a bona fide “Yes Man.”
It is a great opportunity, but also a great challenge. My first day at work, I mentioned an idea to him. The approval process took about 15 seconds. I proposed the idea. He said, “Yes. Good idea.” I proposed another idea a few days later. He added even more ideas, quickly escalating it beyond what I had imagined. A “Yes Man” boss is more excited about ideas than employees are.
Based on what I have heard and experienced, a supervisor, manager or boss saying “good idea” in Korea (and Asia in general) seems to be translated as: “Let me think about it, let’s have many meetings, then we can make a decision…at which point I will say ‘no’ if you haven’t already come to your senses.”
But with Prof. Kim?” Good idea means, “Get started, let’s make it big.” It isn’t surprising that Prof. Kim is a big fan of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. In the 1956 book “The Anti-Capitalist Mentality,” Mises argued that people loathe capitalism because it takes away the excuse for their own failures. At the office or in a kingdom, people can blame the boss for their own inaction or individual failures.
I don’t know if that is Prof. Kim’s strategy, but here’s what happens: His “Yes Man” approach takes away the excuse for inaction. I am so used to hearing people say, “If I were in charge, then I would….” or “The boss should listen to me, we’d finally get something done around here!” With a “Yes Man” boss ― or living in a country based on freedom ― things depend on you and your own efforts.
A Korean-American friend of mine who says she was brought in to her company to bring “creative ideas” complains that her boss doesn’t listen to her. Laughing out-loud, I told her: “Don’t you realize that hiring you was the creative idea!” She has barriers at every turn ― either real or imagined ― because of her “No” supervisor. In contrast, I will have the freedom to do as I please, but also rise and fall with the results.
The last time Prof. Kim and I worked together, we did a fun rap battle music video titled “We can do it!” When I proposed that idea in 2010, before we first started working together, his email response was simple, something like, “I will do it.” And he did, and then some!!! He is now the Freedom Rapper. People are shocked to see him, a geeky Korean academic rapping about economics. I see a “Yes Man” celebrating freedom.
After a year, I may regret getting what I wished for, and start looking for a stern Korean boss who will gladly tell me what to do, blocking me until I come to my senses and just scurry about at his or her commands. But for at least the next year, I will be colleagues with a “Yes Man.”
the air conditioner is broken at work…
my coworker located a fan, and pointed it directly at me–then closed the door when he left.
is this an attempt on my life?
Check out fan death, still one of my all-time favorite Web sites.
I wonder, have there any been any attempts at killing someone through fan death? Such as, a wife closing the door and turning on the fan while her drunk husband slept.
Or attempted fan death suicides?
I went to E-Mart (a large Korean grocery/department store). Bought a pair of earphones because the pair that came with my iPOD stopped working a few weeks ago. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy another pair. That’s because I have about 5 pairs of earphones back in storage in Virginia. It was getting kind of bad because I could only hear Ray Charles in the duet song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Sounds good, but Ray can’t carry the song alone…But the option was to spend $1,500 on a ticket to Virginia to get several pairs of earphones.
* * *
After E-Mart I stopped at a PC room to check my email.
Seemed okay when I first walked into the building. The name of the place is “Game Holic.”
There’s even a welcome mat at the front of the door of the place.
But wait…was it a grammatical problem? I don’t mean “f” in “foreigner.”
As in…”No! foreigner, please.” Please, what? Please, come in?
In many cases, when Americans ask a question like, “Wouldn’t you like to eat some ice cream,” Americans will answer either, “Yes, I would,” or “No, I wouldn’t.” Koreans would answer the opposite.
* * *
A few days ago in Suwon I stopped at a book store, with “Book Store” written in English on the side of the building. Imagine my surprise when I found only Korean books in a store with “Book Store” written on the side of the building. At least the sign wasn’t written, “No! english books.” Or would that mean that there were English books there?
* * *
At the PC room I wasn’t in the mood to be Martin Luther King Jr., but I decided to walk in just to check their reaction. The employee on duty was playing a game, but he hopped up and rushed to me. Seemed nice enough, he was ready to seat me.
I’ve always admired those civil rights activists from the past who demanded to be served at all-white restaurants, knowing full well in many cases that the white employees would spit in their food. I asked the guy in Korean if they had a business card I could have but he said they didn’t have any. So I decided to go to a different place. This one is named “Thank U”. I did thank them when I came in…
* * *
Back during the mid-1990s there was a minor controversy in Itaewon (an area where a lot of non-Koreans live). There were various drinking establishments there that had competing “No foreigner” or “No Koreans Allowed” signs. A friend of mine at the time had his birthday party at one of the “No Koreans Allowed” places (I think it was called the Nashville Club). A Korean friend who joined at the last minute stopped in his tracks when he saw the sign, “No Koreans Allowed.”
I told him, “No problem, we’ll get you in.” Actually, I didn’t know about the sign before we arrived, but was willing to raise a ruckus to get him into the place. I’ve always been a libertarian at heart recognizing the rights of owners to prohibit undesirable customers, but I also recognize that it isn’t unlibertarian to make an argument to owners that I’ll do everything I can to embarrass them if they don’t change their ways.
So at that time at the Nashville I didn’t mind playing Martin Luther King Jr.–or in that case, the late Pee Wee Reese (the Dodgers white shortstop who wrapped his arm around Jackie Robinson at a time other players avoided him).
I was ready for a battle…instead, we got a welcome mat that wasn’t pulled under our feet. We walked in, sat down, and ordered food and drinks. We were both surprised to see so many Koreans inside. I later learned that the sign was (allegedly) put there to keep groups of Korean males from entering the place and harassing Korean females hanging out with non-Koreans. So it may be that the place today would let me in by myself, meaning the sign should have been written, “No! korean, please.”
* * *
August 25, 2004
A few days ago I was in front of the Mayflower Hotel, and I do what I always do when I’m there–I look at the area down the street where for one of the few times in my life I risked my life for someone else.
|The inside of the Mayflower Hotel.|
It was New Year’s Eve, I had just returned from my first visit to South Korea. My best friend and I were hanging out with his roommate, party-hopping. As we drove through one neighborhood we heard some people celebrating the New Year by shooting with guns. Apparently they weren’t shooting at anyone or anything in particular, just shooting in the air. When we lost contact with his roommate at some point during the night, we started taking cabs from place to place.
Somewhat stranded at 1 a.m. when it got tougher to hail cabs, we stopped at the Mayflower Hotel to call our girlfriends as well as my best friend’s roommate, hoping he would eventually answer his beeper. Wait. I wrote beeper? Yep, that was back in the day.
We went back outside of the hotel to consider our options. We weren’t that far from my friend’s home, so walking wasn’t out of the question. Suddenly, a guy came running, yelling:
“HEY! THERE’S A WOMAN BEING BEATEN DOWN THE STREET.”