Blog 6: Up and at them!

Photo courtesy of Tirza van Dijk,

A former manager of mine once told me that he loves his job because every day something unexpected comes his way.  At the time, that idea frightened me just a little—those “out of left field” issues that create momentary bouts of panic.  That was then.  After some years of work experience, I realize how right he was.  It’s the unexpected things that make me want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work.  My ideal job is one with a great deal of variety.  I am an aspiring technical writer, and as I learn more about some of the positions that are available, the ones that appeal to me most are the roles in which a whole range of communication skills are needed.  I could be working on social media postings in the morning, editing an online help topic in the afternoon, and then getting new webpage content ready for tomorrow.  Sometimes predictability can be a good thing—some might view this as stability and consistency. On the other hand, a little unpredictability can be even better. It teaches us to be flexible, to learn new things, and to recognize our real value and interests.  Reminding yourself not to be inhibited by the idea that “I’ve never done this before, so I can’t do it” is part of the path to growth and success. 

Blog 5— My personal brand, as explained to me by my colleagues

I got some feedback on my personal brand recently, and it felt pretty good!  A little background: I am about to leave my English teaching position in Korea and return to Canada to the great uncertainty of a job search.  When I said goodbye to my colleagues on Friday, they presented me with a gift. It was a beautiful brass rice bowl—too lovely for daily use, it’s going to be displayed!  Along with the gift, they thanked me for my efforts in making their jobs easier.  As the school’s native English speaker, I was regularly used as a resource for exam preparation, assignment review, and student assessment.  These words of appreciation meant nearly as much to me as the gift itself. It told me that I was part of their team, and that I was doing what the position demanded.  To me, this means more than just a line on a letter of reference that says, “Rob completed his contractual obligations,” because it came from my colleagues, not from the school itself.  In a nutshell, I want this to be my brand.  I want to be respected by my colleagues as the person who can be trusted, who is reliable, and whose efforts are in support of the common cause of the team.  This may sound like I want my brand to be “a cog in the machine,” but I believe that teamwork is something far more important than that.  

Blog 3—A Social Media-proof Industry?

While reading about target audiences in Module 3, I kept thinking about one business that may be social media-proof.  There is one industry that has a specific, almost homogeneous demographic: pickup trucks. Pickup truck sales represent a very significant sector of the automotive market; in 2019, more than 3 million pickups were sold in the US and another 400,000 in Canada

Do the words “pickup truck” conjure a target audience in your mind? According to Hedges & Company, an automotive marketing agency, the typical pickup truck buyer looks like this:

  • Over 50 years old
  • More than 80% of buyers are male
  • Mostly white
  • Have an average household income over $70,000 (US)
  • Live in large and medium-sized cities

These figures are in sharp contrast to the demographics of social media users, who tend to be considerably younger, more ethnically diverse, and the majority of whom are female.  A Twitter search of the biggest pickup truck sellers shows that not all companies have dedicated accounts; Ford, Chevy, GMC, and Ram trucks had Twitter feeds, while Nissan and Toyota trucks did not.  

It’s possible that pickup truck sales and social media may just be two ships passing in the night.  If the market segment is not paying attention, why spend time and money on a social media strategy?  This doesn’t mean that truck makers are not looking for buyers.  If you tune in to a sports broadcast on American or Canadian network television, you’re likely to see pickup truck advertising, because that’s where this demographic can be found.  It may take a generation or two for the pickup truck demographic to catch up with social media.  

I think I just wrote my way out of a problem

Some habits are hard to break.  For me, the habit of “burying the lead” is one that I have to overcome. My approach to writing has always been the essay format:

Part 1: Tell the readers what you’re going to tell them about

Part 2: Tell them

Part 3: Tell them what you’ve just told them

This method is not incongruous with the “don’t bury the lead” rule, except that Part 1 of essay writing always involves a necessary bit of preamble that makes things a bit muddy, and this is the part that derails me.  Part 1 consists of three subsections, right at the beginning of the essay:

  1. The hook—a sentence to get the readers thinking. Deathless prose like “Some habits are hard to break” always works for me. 
  2. Connecting information—something that the reader may need to know before reading the rest of my work.  Here, I might mention my bad habit of rolling my eyes each time someone wants to show me a picture of their kids.
  3. The thesis—the gist of what you’re going to tell your readers. 

This is it! The thesis is the lead!  This is the part that deserves to be at the top of the article, but instead it has to be patient, and go through the ritual of the entire opening stanza before the big reveal.  It’s like having the big star be the first to walk the red carpet at the awards show rather than the last.  

On reflection, I think my approach should be more like paragraph writing.  A topic sentence in a paragraph is the lead, but an essay paragraph is not.  I am going to remind myself of this simple but important fact.  Dear readers, I ask that you also remind me in the future. Be honest. Be mercilessly honest.  Thank you! 

Blog 4—The social media network you may never have heard of

As you likely know by now, Korea has become a very industrious country.  Leading technology companies such as Samsung and LG are Korea based, while Hyundai has built a powerful conglomerate in car making, heavy equipment, shipbuilding, petrochemicals, apartments, and shopping centers.  It should come as no surprise then, that a nation of technological innovators should create its own social media application.  KakaoTalk is an instant messaging app that allows group and 1-on-1 chats and file sharing.  The app functions similar to WhatsApp, and in the past few years has expanded to include Kakao Pay, for online purchases, gaming, and Kakao Mobility, a taxi service to challenge Uber.  Kakao is the must-have app in Korea, in use by about 93% of Korean smartphone users.   In a country of 52 million connected people, that’s a lot of users.  

For the young, Kakao Friends is a line of cartoon mascot characters, including Ryan and Apeach, who adorn everything from plush toys to phone cases, and can be purchased online, via your KakaoTalk app (of course), and from a chain of retail outlets.

KakaoTalk has even become instrumental in the response to the coronavirus outbreak in Korea.  The app can generate a QR code that includes the user’s identification information. Then, when visiting a restaurant or other business, patrons get their QR code scanned at the site. The details are then uploaded to the country’s national health database.  If an outbreak occurs in a particular area, any patrons in that vicinity can then be immediately contacted and sent for testing or quarantined.  This application, plus the application of a little common sense, has helped limit Korea’s COVID-19-related fatalities to under 1,300, less than one-tenth of Canada’s total.  

Considering Kakao Talk is available in a number of different languages, don’t be too surprised if you notice your friends ask you if you’re on Kakao. Korean innovation  has a way of quickly going global. 

Ryan, one of the Kakao Friends, does his part to stay safe. Photo courtesy of

Rethinking obligations

Have you ever had an oblitation?  An oblitation is an obligation that’s disguised as an invitation—something that you’ve been invited to do but really don’t want to do.  In the fall of 2019, I received an oblitation, and it turned out a lot better than I expected.  The provincial office of education for my Korean high school organized a trip for a group of foreign teachers for an overnight stay at a Buddhist temple in the town of Haeinsa, about an hour away.  I was “invited” to participate, and since the vice-principal of my school was insistent that I take part, off I went, though not without some trepidation.  This outing promised to be both spiritual—which I’m not—and cultural—which doesn’t interest me.  Some of the temples in Korea are run sort of like guesthouses, where people can come to meditate, learn about the Buddhist lifestyle, or just to relax.  

With a packed bag and closed mind I set off for Haeinsa, and discovered a gorgeous temple on a quiet mountainside.  The leaves were changing to autumn colors and the air was crisp.  This was really a perfect time for a visit. The accommodations were comfortable and warm.  We had some free time during our stay, and I got out for a few walks in the woods (more on that later).

Our group of about 40 foreign teachers was led by a female monk of about 55 years old, who introduced Buddhism, taught meditation, and told about her life.  She was a really delightful, charming woman, and made everyone feel very welcome and comfortable.  We awoke at 4:00 am to attend the morning chanting ceremony.  The food was fair for vegan cuisine. Buddhists don’t cook with garlic, because it’s thought to enflame the libido!  Meals are eaten in silence, because this is a time for giving thanks and meditation.  It was strange to be in a cafeteria full of people and nobody saying a word!  After dinner was a bell ceremony; the sound of the bells and drums resonating down the mountainside was captivating.

One of the revelations of this temple visit was learning about meditation.  We were first introduced to the traditional, cross-legged-on-the-floor type, focusing on breathing and clearing of thoughts. The idea of uncluttering one’s mind enables a person to think clearly. Then came the second form of meditation: walking. It made me realize something that I have already been doing.  I’ve always been a firm believer that a long walk leads to clearer thinking.  In fact, I composed most of this blog while I was walking earlier today.  Knowing that the social media program requires plenty of blogging means that I’ll be scheduling more walks in the coming months.

Maybe I should stop using the word oblitation and use invitunity instead—I should look at every invitation as an opportunity. 

My visit to the Haeinsa temple. That’s me, far right, at the back, admiring the paintwork.

Building Bridges

I am currently living in Geochang, a small Korean city that is divided by a river. The city has built some excellent paths for biking and walking along both sides of the river, and have also constructed a series of stone bridges to allow pedestrians to cross the river. In Korean, these bridges are known as 징검다리 (jing-geomdali),which translates literally as “stepping stones.” 

Each stone is one meter wide and 70 centimeters in depth. The stones have been set in the water with a 30-centimeter gap between them, allowing water to flow downstream. These paths are interspersed about 500 meters, or every two city blocks, along the river. 

I love these bridges.  They are attractive and natural looking, despite being machine cut and set in place by heavy equipment.  When the water is at low levels, as it is in the dry winter months, they get daily use. In the summer months, during the rainy season, they’re not usable, and in fact cannot even be seen because of the high water levels.

You’re not likely to see many of these bridges in Canada, I suspect, since they pose a liability risk.  It only takes one person to fall in the water, and a city has an instant lawsuit on its hands! Last year I slipped and slammed my foot into one of the stones, resulting in a trip to the hospital with a suspected broken toe (the X-rays were negative).  I learned the (rock) hard way to beware of wet surfaces.

Do not fear falling into the water though; the depth of the river is generally less than 15 centimeters where the stepping stones are located, so you’re unlikely to drown, though hypothermia is a possibility.  Some lovely blue LED lights have been set into the stones to assist nighttime walkers.

It takes a certain rhythm to cross the stepping stones: step-step-hop, step-step-hop. Keep your wits about you when walking, and don’t look at your phone!  Also, obey protocol and step aside for oncoming pedestrian traffic. Although the stones are generally only wide enough for one person, every tenth stone is 30 centimeters wider to allow people to walk in opposite directions.

I’m going to miss this charming aspect of Korean life!

You had me at “hello”

Firstly, thanks to a classmate (you know who you are!) for suggesting the topic of this (and future) blog posts!

As a teacher living in Korea, my first lesson in language and culture was simple: saying “hello”.  This may seem simple, until I discovered the complexities of Korean language and culture! While I was studying to be a teacher in Canada, I met some Korean students who greeted each other with “annyeong” which meant, they explained, “hello.”  This is true, but it is only partly correct.  When I arrived in Korea, I confidently gave someone an “annyeong” and the person bristled in response.  “What’s his problem?” I wondered.  In fact, Korean is a very hierarchical society, and its language is filled with honorifics, that is, different levels of politeness.  Thus, the “annyeong” greeting that I first learned is just fine between classmates, but not acceptable for colleagues in the workplace, where things are more formal.  In this situation, “annyeong haseyo” is the standard greeting.  This works in pretty much all contexts: your colleague, taxi driver, shopkeeper, or just a person on the street are likely to give and expect this greeting.  At school, students greet teachers with “annyeong haseyo”, but teachers typically reply with “annyeong” because they are higher in status.  At the top of the hello food chain is “annyeong hasimnikka”. This is the granddaddy of them all, because well, this is how you’d greet your granddaddy!  You might also greet your boss or a senior member of staff at a company (or school) with “annyeong hasimnikka”.  Koreans may ask about your age when you first arrive, not because they’re being nosy, but because it may change which greeting you receive.  Personally, I bristle when receiving an “annyeong hasimnikka” because it makes me feel old! As a general rule, I stick with “annyeong haseyo” in all situations.  It’s the bristle-free Korean greeting!

This is Korean snow. It looks and functions like Canadian snow, but is more rare. Think of it as the “white rhino” of snow.

Vacation 365

The last year has been horrible for most of the world, but personally, it wasn’t entirely bad.  Exactly one year ago today—whoa time flies!—I visited Thailand for the first time. Nothing beats a mid-winter getaway to somewhere warm and sunny, with fun, beautiful beaches, wonderful food, and great company.  Thailand certainly checked all of the boxes.  My travel companion and I met up at the Bangkok Airport and flew to Chiang Mai for a three-day visit.  That was enough time to go zip lining and tour the city.  From Chiang Mai we flew to Aonang for six days of beaches and island hopping.  In Aonang, we stayed at the beautiful Aonang Fiore Resort & Spa.  Located well away from the hubbub of the beachfront strip, the resort is quiet, secluded, and set on a lush, green hillside. We were so excited to see a family of macaques climbing the palms right outside of our cottage door! Our final destination was Bangkok, where we spent two days exploring its action and temptations.   A well-planned vacation is a highlight of any year, and never has that been more true than in the crummy year that was 2020.    

Railay Beach, Krabi, Thailand