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40+ hour podcast interview tour of South Korea

For more than seven years now, I've hosted and produced long-form interview podcasts. On Notebook on Cities and Culture, which I began a little over three years ago, I've taken the concept worldwide, traveling not just all over Los Angeles, where I live, but to cities like Portland, Vancouver, London, Mexico City, Osaka, Copenhagen, and Toronto. In each of them, I've interviewed all the cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene I could find.

Last summer, I decided to put together a season of Notebook on Cities and Culture focusing on just one country: South Korea, which at the moment strikes me as the most fascinating place going in Asia. So I packed up my trusty Zoom H4n recorder, headed across the Pacific, and spent six weeks talking with all sorts of people — Koreans, foreigners, Korean foreigners, and so on — about the work they do and the Korean cities they do it in.

(I also, while there, seized the chance to write a series of essays for the Guardian on Korean urbanism, featuring cities like Seoul, Songdo, Changwon, and Busan.)

The resulting series, which I call Notebook on Cities and Culture's Korea Tour, began airing in November. Episodes so far available include:

Hyunwoo Sun, founder of the Talk to Me in Korean language-learning podcast empire Bernie Cho, president of DFSB Kollective, a creative agency that provides digital media, marketing, and distribution services to Korean pop music artists Laurence Pritchard, writer, teacher, enthusiast of Korean literature, and "English gentleman" Mark Russell, author of the books Pop Goes Korea, K-Pop Now! Read the rest

Here's the rare American publisher who understands the printed book

For years, I've followed Craig Mod, a designer and essayist who splits his time between New York and Tokyo and who thinks about such subjects as photography, air travel, Haruki Murakami books, publishing, the experience of Japan, and coffee — in other words, the finer things in life. But like all of our obsessions, his have deeper connections, and I sense them when I read a passage like this one from his piece on drinking a near-perfect cup of "Façon blend" in a newly opened little coffee shop in Nakameguro:

Real craftspeople. Quiet. Focused. No chitter chatter. Not serious business but good business. Proud business. Smiles and good work.

Everyone has seen the Jiro movie.

It seems like Jiro is an aberration. Nobody could possibly care about anything else like Jiro cares about his sushi. The joy in exploring Japan is you quickly realize Jiro is not an aberration. Perhaps his skills are, but his ethos isn’t. That ethos pervades. And what a joy it is to witness, unexpectedly, on the fourth floor of a new building, in a smoke filled café.

Whenever I go into a Japanese or Korean bookstore, I come away impressed, not just by the care that goes into their operations — though you really should see the uniforms in some of these places — but by the care that goes into their products. For whatever set of complex cultural reasons, a disproportionate number of publishers in northeast Asia put in the time, effort, and money for design work that makes their books desirable objects in and of themselves. Read the rest

Why you do your most creative thinking in the shower, car, or bed

"I guess the nice thing about driving a car is that the physical act of driving itself occupies a good chunk of brain cells that otherwise would be giving you trouble overloading your thinking," writes Douglas Coupland in Life After God. "New scenery continually erases what came before; memory is lost, shuffled, relabeled and forgotten. Gum is chewed; buttons are pushed; windows are lowered and opened. A fast moving car is the only place where you're legally allowed to not deal with your problems. It's enforced meditation and this is good."

I don't have a car, but those lines always come to my mind whenever I think about why my I get my best ideas — or rather, why my ideas combine into the most useful forms — while performing routine physical tasks like walking, riding my bike (and given the distances in Los Angeles, that certainly gives me thinking time), or even showering. If ever I feel like my thoughts need "compiling," I simply do one of those things. But why does it work?

"The sudden flashes of insight we have in states of meditative distraction—showering, pulling weeds in the garden, driving home from work—often elude our conscious mind precisely because they require its disengagement," writes Josh Jones in a post on the subject at Open Culture, citing especially Archimedes' habit, in his pre-shower era, of bathing to this end. "When we’re too actively engaged in conscious thought—exercising our intelligence, so to speak—our creativity and inspiration suffer.

The intuitive revelations we have while showering or performing other mindless tasks are what psychologists call 'incubation.' As Mental Floss describes the phenomenon: 'Since these routines don’t require much thought, you flip to autopilot. Read the rest

What if a vampire had saber teeth? "The Sabertooth Vampire" answers that burning question

As much as many Boing Boing readers no doubt like science fiction, I suspect quite a few of you prefer the term "speculative fiction." That considerably less restrictive label reflects a taste for not just stories of possible technologies and possible futures, but whole other possible realities. It allows a work composed under its banner to answer almost any question in a richly creative way. And so I give you my favorite work of speculative fiction, thus defined, which answers the kind of question that stokes humanity's curiosity most: what if a vampire had saber teeth?

Portland-based comic artist, cinephile, and all-around cool dude Mike Russell created The Sabertooth Vampire out of this very curiosity. As you can see, the little guy doesn't have it easy: those teeth sure do get in the way of his day-to-day business, not least that of biting people.

Still, as certain strips reveal, the Sabertooth Vampire can still have a good time if he puts his mind (and teeth) to it. A few years back, I went to Portland, where I always have a good time, to interview Mike Russell on my podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture about not just the Sabertooth Vampire but about his many other ventures, comics and otherwise, as well as the city itself.

"I've been quietly working on a few comics projects for the past several months," Russell recently announced. "One project is Sabertooth Vampire Season 3." That makes now a fine time to head over to his online store, where you can find the first and second seasons of the comic collected in print. Read the rest

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography: Hand-Drawing All of Los Angeles, One Neighborhood at a Time

The closer a form's digital version gets to perfection, the more we seem to value its analog version's imperfection. We've seen it happen (or rather, heard it happen) with music, where our love of the digital stuff on our computers and phones coexists with our love of the "warmth" of the analog stuff on our vinyl records. So it must go with maps: the higher-detailed and more quickly accessed our digital representations of the world around us, the more we value the idiosyncrasies (and even inaccuracies) of our analog ones.

Enter Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography, a project of Los Angeles writer, geography enthusiast, and former gentleman's shop proprietor Eric Brightwell. Under the Pendersleigh & Sons banner, he's taken on the mission of meticulously exploring and hand-mapping the entirety of Los Angeles, neighborhood by neighborhood.

Toronto may have laid claim first to the title "City of Neighborhoods," but Los Angeles — and the two cities, in my experience share a host of deep commonalities — could just as well hold it by its very nature. You can't really know either Toronto or Los Angeles as wholes, but you can at least try to know all their diverse parts.

Brightwell has engaged in what may well turn out to be a lifelong mission to accomplish just that, not just through Pendersleigh and Sons' maps, but through his in-depth "California's Fools Gold" (you get it, Angelenos) pieces on such neighborhoods as my own home of Koreatown, his own home of Silver Lake, or even such non-Los-Angeles outlying territories as Anaheim, Disneyland's home. Read the rest

90 minutes of Japanese TV commercials from the 1980s

I would relish no time-travel opportunity more than a trip back to Japan in the eighties.

Christopher Rand is the finest travel writer you've never read. Here's a free e-book!

An amazing, under-appreciated genius worth discovering.

What it's like to fly over LA, London, Tokyo and Seoul

Before I moved to Los Angeles, I asked a friend who preceded me here (and who happens to do a weekly radio show interpreting the place) for tips on how best to grasp the entirety of this enormous city. His snappy answer: "You've just got to get high on L.A." Har har — but I now realize he had a point: if you want to understand any one of humanity's vast modern metropolises, you must look at them from above. Read the rest

Aphorist proves Twitter is the form's perfect new home

If we think of the aphorism a dead form, I would argue that we do it only because the best-known aphorisms tend to be the oldest. But just as the internet has ushered in a new age of the essay, it has also begun to bring about a new age of the aphorism. I mean, consider the aphoristic possibility of the brevity-demanding, context-diminishing Twitter alone.

Aaron Haspel, a New York-based programmer and my personal favorite aphorist of the 21st-century (though it's early in the game, I know) uses Twitter to disseminate the fruits of his craft. Here, going by those coveted stars and retweets, are some of his most popular:

What we call maturity is mostly fatigue.

All countries are artificial; all cities are natural.

An electronic device that tracked your location at all times used to be a condition of parole.

Art is not a crime. Wearing a shirt that says "art is not a crime" is a crime.

We wish, not to be understood, but to be misunderstood exactly as we misunderstand ourselves.

Few would deny that the earth was flat if it was a small inconvenience to maintain that it is round.

Shame seems to have peaked as a verb just when it has disappeared as a noun.

We say of indelible characters from life that they could be fictional; and from books, that they could be real.

To be paid for having opinions corrupts; and to be paid for having particular opinions corrupts absolutely.

Abroad we make our soldiers pretend to be policemen, and at home we let our policemen pretend to be soldiers.

Read the rest

The podcast that taught me how to speak Korean

What struck my teenage self as an impossibly obscure pursuit has become one of the central elements of my life.

In praise of the "dingbat" apartment

"Like starlets striving to be noticed, many announce their names in whimsical midcentury script—the Camelot, the Wilshire, and, hilariously, the Crapi."

Why does Japan get all the cool vending machines, anyway?

And is the "you can buy Japanese schoolgirls' underwear" thing true, or creepy urban legend?

Meet the Eraserheads, the most important band in Filipino rock: a 90-minute mixtape

I recently traveled to the Philippines to perform best-man duty at a wedding, and to write about Manila's mall-based urbanism. But I stuck around longer so I could get a better feel for Filipino culture: what about the food? The literature? The music? Read the rest

The life-changing trick author Michael Lewis (Liar's Poker, Moneyball) wrote on a Chipotle cup

I don't know how much wisdom you expect to find on the side of your Chipotle soft-drink cup, but when I pop into one of their more than 1,600 locations for an emergency burrito, I desire nothing more than basic sustenance. Read the rest

XO: the most emotionally intense podcast you'll ever hear

Toronto-based host/producer Keith McNally weaves together memory, music, and a magpie's collection of appropriated media, often with a This American Life-style aesthetic.

Prewar Japanese beer posters: the most beautiful ads ever made?

We may now be in the golden age of Japanese beer, but we've missed the golden age of Japanese beer advertising.

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