The Non-Interview Interview With TK, The Korean

31 Oct

What's He Hiding From?TK (“The Korean”) met Korea Kontext, and I still don’t know anything about TK.

In this episode, Korea Kontext speaks with “TK” (“The Korean”), the man behind the must-read blog, “Ask a Korean”.  TK has been running his blog for five years and it covers a wide range of questions from curious visitors on everything from Korean customs and culture to politics and law. The “Ask a Korean” blog has also been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The New York Times, The Economist, and CNN Online. Join us as TK shares his insights on U.S.-Korea relations, being a Korean living in America, and even the dreaded scourge of fan death.

This was a softball of a powder puff interview that never got close to revealing TK. I’ve admired how TK has maintained an aura of anonymity while writing a blog that works on an implicit fallacy, namely that TK is the go-to guy on Korea because he is Korean. When non-Korean expats in Korea discourse exhaustively on the bizarre and epiphanic minutiae of their daily lives, TK avoids personal statements of opinion for broad patterns of assumption and seeming fact. He doesn’t even show his face on the camera. It’s obviously a potent and winning formula. Yet, I was hoping for more here.

On fan death, TK resorted to the “freak” meme. What are those Koreans thinking? It’s a questionable line of attack that risks turning a teachable topic into a one-off oddity. Like acupuncture or reiki, fan death is the result of the common propensity of humans, regardless of culture, to fail to acknowledge the toxic effect of placebo, correlation, confirmation bias, as well as other fallacies, to derail our perceptions and assumptions.

On ROK-US relations, TK at least got the question, what does Korea offer the U.S. “Containing China” is a shibboleth, not an argument, and a canard – as bad as the unification canard TK handled with more depth – rife with assumptions. Does China need containing, or is it a time bomb waiting to implode? What about engagement? What about Japan as the weapon? Is Korea even an effective weapon against China?

The one topic TK did raise with some provocative force concerned South Korea’s development. Again, TK was a bit shallow. Assuming that the colonial baggage and dictatorial legacy of previous generations is a hing of the past fails to consider seriously whether capitalism and authoritarianism can long coexist without some sort of popular uprising. The jury in East Asia is still deliberating over this Confucian hybrid of capitalism. But, as is, I think it’s a moot point unless South Korea and Japan deal with China without an American defense buffer.

Don’t get me wrong: I admire TK’s shtick. He never surrenders his authority, but he never quite lays out all his thoughts. It’s a provocative blend of command and avoidance. But, with a mate who will probably one day have to brave the race-troubled streets of a town without Asian-Americans, I’d like to hear more about TK’s daily epiphanies. I guess I will have to tickle TK’s all-too-Korean-like authority with a question TK will agree to answer.

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