“I will do my best.”

26 09 2012

Today, I made a student cry.
I had to backpedal and bestow praise, before she tuned me out completely.

Last week and this, I’ve been working at Hongik University and a few others around Seoul giving mock interviews to college students. This is my first uni experience in Korea. Kids here seem like students back home in that some are impressively focused, while many are motivated by money without a solid career plan.

Today, I witnessed a textbook example of what not to do in an interview. Poor girl had no clue. She gave such self-centered responses, I told her if we were in a real interview, I would have ended the interview after 10 minutes and sent her home.

For our mock interview for a marketing job @Samsung, consider—


I continued the interview through gritted teeth, so I could give KeeJeong feedback at the end. Maybe I should have stopped her and reframed the conversation earlier. I don’t think she once considered a POV outside her own, let’s just say during this interview, and not be obnoxious and say her entire life.

Many of my other students had lower English proficiency but greater substance and were able to explain how their experiences prepared them for a position and why they were personally drawn to a career.

KeeJeong, bless her heart, had nothing more to say about marketing than you should be social to do a good job. She seemed genuinely shocked to receive critical feedback.

So to reel her in from tuning me out, I said, “your answers sucked not you.”
We talked about how the company’s needs > hers, and then I asked her to brainstorm some of her experiences, so she could practice connecting them with the company’s needs.

Self-promotion and networking ought to be taught to every high school and university student. “I will do my best” is no substitute for how you’re going to get a job done.

The bigger issue is that KeeJeong graduates in five months and doesn’t know what she wants to do. I hope KeeJeong heard my suggestion to visit the career center.





the buried life

25 09 2012

Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll.
Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,
We know, we know that we can smile!
But there’s a something in this breast,
To which thy light words bring no rest,
And thy gay smiles no anodyne.
Give me thy hand, and hush awhile,
And turn those limpid eyes on mine,
And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.

Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
I knew the mass of men conceal’d
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal’d
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved
Trick’d in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves—and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!

But we, my love!—doth a like spell benumb
Our hearts, our voices?—must we too be dumb?

Ah! well for us, if even we,
Even for a moment, can get free
Our heart, and have our lips unchain’d;
For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain’d!
Fate, which foresaw
How frivolous a baby man would be—
By what distractions he would be possess’d,
How he would pour himself in every strife,
And well-nigh change his own identity—
That it might keep from his capricious play
His genuine self, and force him to obey
Even in his own despite his being’s law,
Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
The unregarded river of our life
Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;
And that we should not see
The buried stream, and seem to be
Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,
Though driving on with it eternally.
But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us—to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves—
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well—but ‘t is not true!
And then we will no more be rack’d
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupefying power;
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.
Only—but this is rare—
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d—
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.

Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)




Cambodia’s divine, dancing Apsara

23 09 2012

Apsara is the divine dancing girl, entertainer of men and gods, according to Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. Vanna told me there are more than 200 Apsara designs throughout Angkor Wat and at least 36 hairstyles. I couldn’t help but count.

apsara @ta prohm

apsara @angkor wat

apsara @angkor wat

apsara @preah khan

apsara @preah khan

apsara @preah khan

apsara @preah khan

apsara @preah khan

apsara @bayon

apsara x3

headless apsaras @preah khan





Just say “no” to American Psycho

18 09 2012

Never read American Psycho. I wish I could unread what I’ve read.

I picked up a bootleg copy in Cambodia to read on the night train, fearing always being stuck in an enclosed place with nothing to do.

It was a good choice initially. The first 100 pages carried me through two night trains and a red eye flight back home. I couldn’t put the book down.

Bret Easton Ellis is all in. He wrote the book in the first person, so you’re inside the narrator’s head, as he shares every shallow, narcissistic thought. Easton Ellis uses the phrase the mask of insanity in one passage, and I wonder if he read the book, as Vonnegut did, to be able to conjure Patrick Bateman’s psychopathic personality in such detail.

The best books make you think and feel long after you’ve finished them: Slaughterhouse-Five, On the Road, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, for example, about war, adventure and the brevity of life.
But American Psycho stayed with me in the worst way. I’d close the book and feel damaged.

So I started scanning passages rather than reading just to finish the d@mn thing*.
Today I read three dark pages on the Metro and passed out.

People were standing over me looking down when I woke up.
“Who are these people?” I thought, and one man said, “here sit down (on the subway seat).”

The last thing I remember before blacking out was closing the book and feeling nauseous, like I’d puke, not pass out. The insides of my mouth were sweating, and my head was hot. You know how it is when you’re sick. I started looking around for the least offensive place to puke and wondered if I could unzip my backpack in time.

I hurried off the train at the next stop, and dumped the book in a waste bin at Sadang Station.

* You won’t get closure from finishing this book anyway, as to whether the murders took place inside or outside Bateman’s brain. If you must, you can get the dangers of consumerism gist from the first 100 pages and finish with the Wiki crib sheet. There, you’ll also learn that one of the characters is based on John Edwards’s mistress Rielle Hunter.





Camera-less in Cambodia

15 09 2012

Sometimes images appear faster than you can grab your camera. You’re left stunned at what you saw wishing you could hit replay.

I want to remember seeing this week–

Small children doggy paddling in a flooded rice paddy;
Two naked boys in a crowded parking lot holding a pissing contest in the rain;
A motorbiker rounding the corner with two slaughtered pigs, trotters up, tied to the back of his bike.





English lessons in Angkor Wat

11 09 2012

Everything I know about Cambodia, I learned in the last 24 hours from Vanna, my tour guide, and lonelyplanet.

What’s ironic and sad is that Cambodia was once the capital of mainland SE Asia owing largely to its irrigation systems. Today, Cambodia is a poor country where people can not drink their tap water.

At its peak though, Cambodia, from Angkor Wat (“the king’s palace”), controlled what is now Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Siem Riep, where Angkor Wat is located, translates to “Thailand defeated”. How ya like them apples?

Yesterday was my first day visiting the temples. Already a three-day pass seems too short. I thought one week would be plenty of time to visit Angkor Wat and learn history in Phnom Penh, but there is never enough time.

The tourist trap restaurant inside the grounds where I was dropped for lunch played a video about Angkor Wat. Built at the same time as the Notre Dame cathedral, Angkor Wat once housed 700,000 people within its grounds and Angkor Thom nearly a million, while London claimed only 30,000 citizens. More than 40,000,000 people lived within Cambodia’s kingdom, while only 14,000,000 live here today. China, Thailand, Vietnam, France and Japan each in turn occupied Cambodia, while its own Khmer Rouge moved and murdered people across the country.

My tour guide Vanna said he’s asked himself many times if Pol Pot was really Cambodian.

Vanna told me some of his story, before we toured the temples yesterday. He’s 47, lost both parents when he was 12 during the Pol Pot regime and bounced around with different people before landing in a refugee camp on the Thai border in ~1982. There for the next five years, volunteers taught Vanna how to read and write in Cambodian and speak English.

Which he does well. At times, I felt I was taking an SAT prep instead of touring temples. Every explanation, Vanna ended with, “do you understand?” “Do you know what _____ means?”
All. day. long.

“So the Japanese felt remorse. Do you know remorse? It means when someone feels bad.”
“Naga means cobra and rainbow. Do you know rainbow? It means the 7 colors after the rain.”
“Look over there. Those are swans. Do you know what a swan is?”

“Yes dammit. And that’s a goose!” I yelled to no one. Aloud I said “Yes, yes” and “Thank you. I understand.”

Vocabulary lessons aside, I couldn’t help but like Vanna, like you can’t help but root for Cambodia, after all it has been through.

Who doesn’t love an underdog?

do you understand?





Act like a Korean in Cambodia

8 09 2012

to make beggars begone.
i found this funny post last night about how Koreans use rudeness to deal with touts. the Korean sweeping hand gesture made me think of Powdered Toast Man:

maybe the rainy season will keep beggars at bay. i’m not keen on using the hand on touts, particularly pesky kids. but i will go powdered toast man if i have to.