Bottoms Up

So ToastMasters feels a bit like a high school speech and debate club: a lot of setting of agendas, calling to order, speaking in turns for timed segments, and clapping politely.

And, of course, roles up the yin-yang: president, VP of membership, treasurer, secretary, sergeant-at-arms, grammarian, timer, ah-counter, evaluators, and the ToastMaster itself (the emcee role rotated weekly).

Table Topics are probably the most interest bit.  The emcee prepares half a dozen or so questions in advance, and as each question is announced immediately picks a speaker out of the audience – either a volunteer or at random – to expound for 1-2 min off the cuff.  Being short and improvised brings a challenge, spontaneity and excitement lacking in the formal prepared speeches.  It’s a great way to stand out as a public speaker; accordingly, I’ve volunteered for a TT speech 5 sessions in a row now.

Still, at 2 hours per session with 2-3 formal speeches running 5-7 min each, half by Koreans whose explicit goal of membership is to simply improve their English, and almost all content falling under either empty canned rhetoric or a slideshow of their most recent vacation, the 1-2 min in the spotlight would probably not sustain my interest in participating in TM.

Were it not for second round, that is.

Second round, or 이차 (“ii-chah”), is the Korean term for the second venue you hit when going bar-hopping.  For TM, it’s the afterparty at the local bulgogi house or izakaya-style gastropub: lotsa food unhealthy food washed down with less healthy beer.

And great, great, great conversation.

Last week’s 이차 was where I learned about the Seoul Global Center, the one-stop shop for all my expat needs.  This week, as usual, I was asked what I’m doing in Seoul and proceeded to outline my business plan.

Once again was told it’s a great idea but might be hard to generate any revenue.

I was ready for that: the first year will be just about building up a popular base of users by distributing the software for free.  And supplementing my income by teaching English just exposes me to more foreigners, who can in turn spread word of mouth.

Then he warned me how the government is really rigid and insists that the current standard is the best way to do spelling.

I was ready for that, too: buy-in from large institutions like universities (for language instruction), municipalities (for street and subway signs), and Samsung (for OS-level Android integration) won’t happen until I’ve built up a popular following, hence the initial focus on free browser, smartphone, and karaoke integration.  Starting at the grassroots level, and then working my way from the bottom up the power chain.

Finally, he told me that I should be prepared for Samsung to rip off my software because they’re unethical in business and corrupt in politics.

I wasn’t ready for that.

Turns out a significant chunk of the Korean population dislikes Samsung.  What’s amazing is how much of the criticism echoes narratives we’ve heard before in the US, but never concentrated in one company.  Supposedly it is:

  • the only Korean company exempt from labor unions, resulting in deadly toxic factory conditions (Apple)
  • controlled by a single family that keeps governance opaque (Wal-Mart)
  • founded by a bootlegger who sold goods from the US Army base on the black market (the Kennedys)
  • protected from any criticism by the Chosun Ilbo (조선일보), Korea’s #1 newspaper (Fox News Channel)
  • has its hands deep in the pockets of most politicians and judges (Halliburton)

God bless America.  At least we keep our corruption in separate silos.

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One Response to Bottoms Up

  1. susan chung says:

    I agree with one comment made during 이차; Korean government can be very rigid about the way they decided in the past. One of my high school Han Gul teacher who later became the top government official since he was the professor at Seoul National University, worked on that process.Probably he knew 한글 well but not to transliterate into Roman symbols.

    Yes, the business people like Sam Sung can steal anything, so make some good friends among Korean or Korean American attorneys. I got all my papers, original and copy, for my interview on Tues. 9 AM.
    I even found the insignia of a rank, Major he used have on his hat and will bring it to the immigrant office. I think it will work out well . I will let you know .
    love, mom

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