Going to NY? Better watch some NY movies

A friend is planning to go to New York this Christmas. I’d prefer to be in sunny Sydney for the fireworks than freezing New York for a ball to drop. Not to mention my sister’s barbecue lamb with tabouli and tzatziki. Or barbecue chicken wings, marinated with rigani and lemon juice.  Or laksa. Or wonton noodle soup. Or yumcha (also known as dim sum to some of you).
Bloody hell I miss the variety of food back home.

Anyway, She wants to see these films before she goes. Let’s see…

WhenHarryMetSallyPosterRomantic comedy. No surprises here

Serendipity_posterRomantic comedy. Though she might just like ice cream

AutumnmovieposterRomantic drama. Bonus for having New York in the movie title

Everyone_Says_I_Love_You_PosterMusical comedy. Though plenty of romance, too.
No name in the title, but it’s Woody Allen so it’s set in New York (somewhat)

Factory_girlBiography. Interesting choice. Also stars one of my favourite actors

Scent_of_a_WomanDrama. Pacino wins an award for yelling and so yells in everything from now on.

Taxi_Driver_poster Nightmare fuel.

I have the feeling that she hasn’t watched any of these movies before but has heard that they’re set in New York. Clearly she has a romanticised idea about New York. There is no way she would want to watch Taxi Driver if I told her what it was about, aside from a guy driving a yellow taxi. Not on this list is….

1. Shaft. Likely not the New York she has in mind

2. Ghostbusters

3. Do the Right Thing, with Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of reason

4. The Avengers. My choice for quintessential New York movie.

Would be awesome if she finds the shawarma place. They tried to do the silent eating thing near the end of Thor 2. Didn’t quite work.

In Sydney we call these yeeros (if it’s a Greek place) or doner/kebabs (if it’s Turkish, though sometimes if it’s Greek too). It really depends on what the owner wants to call them. Non-wogs sometimes call these late night lamb sandwiches, because that is what a beer ad called them once. Except that lamb is not as popular as beef (sausage) and chicken. I’ve worked in these stores before and I would only ever eat the chicken ones I’d made myself.


Garcon, coffee!


I’m a simple man. If not Korean food in the cafteria, my lunch is typically something I cooked the night before eaten just before 12 so I can make the most of my time at the café with my coffee. If I have Tim Tams on hand, the real ones not the ones made under license, I’ll order a latte to do the Tim Tam Slam. Every other time I order an espresso. For those times when I want to taste disappointment and sadness, I will order a cake, too.

Apparently, an espresso perfectly describes me; deep and rich. My friends usually say dark and bitter. Methinks I need new friends.

I like an espresso with a glass of water. Starbucks (별다방 byeol dabang, if you prefer) doesn’t have complimentary water so I need to purchase Perrier Lime mineral water. Refreshing? Yes, though too expensive in Korea (I have stefthepastrychef to thank for starting my addiction). Some places, like the nearby Amadeus, class it up by putting a slice of lemon in the pitcher. That there would cost you in Sydney. Amadeus sells mineral water too, because customers don’t buy expensive mineral water only when they are thirsty.

Espresso done right
Espresso done right

That being said, only a savage puts their glass of water in their espresso. Just kidding, that’s called an Americano; Americano is by far the most popular choice for my coworkers between 35 and 55, partly because its cheap and partly because they don’t like espresso. Or this 4-minute coffee.


4 minutes for a coffee? In PR you ain’t got time for that!

You’d be surprised how many coffee experts I encounter. Dude, my way of drinking coffee is the only way to drink coffee! Drinking coffee any other way is stoopid! In the shipyard, the Italians have the best reactions to these zealots. Whatever coffee you drink, it’s just an espresso with something else. With Americano, there’s more water because the American GIs weren’t used to drinking coffee the European way (they preferred sips to shots).

Then there’s the drip coffee tribe, and their subsect the cold-water process hipsters. You want to wait 4 minutes for your coffee, go ahead. But if you try to tell me how much better drip or Americano is than espresso by virtue of not being espresso, or expresso as you insist on calling it, I may get channel Dr. Strangelove and find it really hard to resist the urge to throat punch you.


If you want a cold coffee, go for a Greek-style frappe. It won’t be as good as my mother’s though


Allow myself to introduce myself

Half the speeches I have to edit start almost exactly like this….

Sometimes the speaker will say “I am Mr. Hong Gil-dong from XXX division” or rarely “I am Dr. Hong Gil-dong from XXX division”. Some writers insist on being addressed as Dr. in letters even though that title is usually reserved for medical doctors, not just anyone with a PhD. If the writer really wants to boast about the doctorate (George, the writer really wants to be addressed as Dr.), I prefer to add PhD to their signature. Though how much of an impact this differentiation has is arguable since nearly everyone in our research division has some sort of doctorate.

If the speech is at an outdoor event, it will nearly always mention that the weather in Korea is great, “We are so lucky to be here under the good spring weather.” These speeches also used to say something about Korea having four distinct seasons, but these days this phrase has been banished. Besides, when the founder of the company said that Korea has four seasons he meant there is no excuse for Korea not to develop its economy since the weather is not a hindrance.

Here’s an article on how to use your Dr. title. Points 2 (Annoy egomaniacs) and 3 (Be an egomaniac) are about right.

My Doctor
Bonus points if you guessed he was Malekith in Thor: The Dark World


Saw Thor: The Dark World on Friday. It was certainly an action movie. Too bad Loki completely overshadows Thor in every scene they share.

Why writing how you talk is not always best

As mentioned here, we have a department meeting every Tuesday. The last one was me doing my regular presentation and my coworker presenting his findings for the English lessons the Overseas PR team have been taking. Their learning method was to watch TED talks and parrot what they heard. Parrot, because there was no effort made to actually understand the meaning or context of what was being said. They literally took turns to exactly repeat what the speaker was saying.

On the other hand, it did seem that the ‘students’ were speaking fluently and since senior management in the department don’t speak English well enough to be able to assess anyone else’s speaking ability, everyone seemed pleased with the results.

As an aside, I’m not comfortable with the reference to the other volunteer as Lex Luthor (Bezos casts himself as Superman) since I assume they are both volunteering because they can help people rather than for polishing a CV or for anecdotes of once rescuing a dog from a house fire. Though, if I have to choose between a human and an alien I’m probably going to pick the human.


The more interesting presentation was the week before from the manager of our foreign school. His presentation was a quick summary of the tips offered in a writing guide he had recently read. Any objection I raised to the tips from the book was met with the equivalent of “Well, George, have you written a book? (ME: Don’t tempt me) This random person we’ve never heard of has written a book”. The assumption is that if she wrote a book then she must be an expert.

Then I found this article about David Ogilvy‘s rules for writing.

1. Read <certain book> on writing. Read it three times.

This will depend on which book your boss or editor thinks is best. Where I work, I get to choose and I chose Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. I like to recommend this book because it is shorter than the other guides we have and I know that my coworkers and the interns sometimes avoid reading English books that are too big. We have The Economist Style Guide and the AP Stylebook on hand as well.

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2. Write the way you talk. Naturally

In a perfect world where we assume everyone speaks English fluently and at a college level this rule works well. As the vast majority of the people I work with do not speak English fluently and at a college level, but read books intended for people that do, following this kind of advice means they tend to write the way David So speaks in this video.

a. Misplace the word the: This happens all the time. Not as often with a, never with an because it is never used.

b. F, L, V: These letters are pronounced as if they are P, R, and B. This means that words with these letters are sometimes written as they are pronounced: flower will be written as plower, favourite will be written as paborite. Also, a Korean shop assistant may have trouble understanding you if you do not pronounce English words in the Korean way: cho-ko-ri-tuh kay-i-kuh, not cho-co-la-te ca-ke. My bigger problem is when I use Korean pronunciation in Sydney.

c. Too many syllables: Each letter of hangul corresponds to a certain sound, so when English words are written in Korean each English syllable needs to be translated to the right Korean sound. Now, if the writer does not know the spelling of the word in English but needs to translate it from Korean, it will be transliterated the way it sounds in Korean, often making it unrecognisable in English.

d. -ing everywhere: The materials I usually receive have been written in Korean and then translated into English, sometimes by the same writer but often by others (usually by the lowest ranking member of the team). The Korean text is usually one paragraph (4 to 5 lines) written as one sentence. To achieve the same effect in English, the writer typically puts -ing where a full stop (translation: period) would be better. This writing style does not work in English.

e. Extra syllable at the end of words: This ties in with Too many syllables. When I teach English I’ve noticed my students will not pronounce the letter s if it is the last letter of a word unless the word is a plural noun (if they know the word is a plural noun). They will nearly always pronounce the e separately if it is the last letter; edge becomes ed-gee.

f. Exclamations: You’d be surprised how often extra exclamation marks are used in text. The general rule is that one is enough, and even using one might not be necessary.

3. Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs

Yes, please. But as I mentioned above, when the text is translated from Korean it is usually translated as a one-sentence paragraph. With short words….

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attidutinally, judgementally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

While not guilty of these attrocities, I do tend to see words used inappropriately. The word we most often misuse is globalization. We think it only means to sell stuff overseas. There is also a predisposition (heh) in Korea to favour longer words over shorter ones. It’s usually a way to show off the writer’s TOEIC passing ability.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject

We had a series of presentations about report writing. My coworkers were tasked with reading different books all with the theme of writing reports no longer than one page. Of course, since this is a race to the bottom there was also a book about writing reports no longer than one paragraph.

6. Check your quotations

When we receive news reports from the business divisions they are usually in Korean press release format. We translate them into English then rewrite them as an English press release. The Korean press releases and news stories rarely have a quote. If they do, it’s attributed to ‘a spokesman’. The exception is when it is the CEO or the heads of the Shipbuilding or Offshore divisions. In those cases, I have to fight hard to change the literal translation to something more natural in English.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning – and then edit it.

My Year 3 teacher told me to do this. If you read something aloud and it sounds wrong, then it probably is wrong. The same works for when you are spelling a word: if it looks wrong, then it probably is. In my work, I can usually tell if someone hasn’t read their work before sending it to our department. Telltale signs are: the same word spelt differently each time; the company name spelt incorrectly; the red and green squiggles still visible.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

For documents from executives, the owner’s former secretary and I collaborate on the translations and writing. For my own work, I used to ask a coworker to read and suggest improvements, but….

9. Before you send your letter or memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

Asking your colleague to improve your writing also helps here. That is, unless your purpose is to mislead the recipient.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

In the office, I prefer to talk rather than use the office communicator. When I walk over to the guy (or gal), it sometimes comes across as confrontational. Of course, my coworkers often summon me to their desk and if they ask me a question that is easier answered in person than in text, then I walk over.

While these rules may be well and good, methinks trying to transplant them as is to Korea without taking into account the underlying factors in Korea is a misstep. The major hindrance is a reluctance to do things any other way but ‘by the book’. Doing otherwise means using one’s own judgement and for whatever reason this seems to be avoided at all costs (for lack of confidence in one’s English ability, not wanting to take responsibilty, etc). And as with all of these ‘rules for writing’ I like to keep George Orwell’s ones in mind, especially the sixth

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

What do you think? What are your ‘rules for writing’?

PR tips for writing an interview

As the inhouse PR counsel here, I write all sorts of things. My purpose in writing interviews is very different to that of a journalist. I’ve written nearly all of the interviews in the company magazine since 2009. You can read them here, in the People section. The magazine carries two interviews, one with a Korean executive and one with an expat project manager. We nearly always interview the project manager (the head honcho) or second-in-charge since they are usually the best informed about their project. On a few ocassions I have been forced to interview Services Managers or subcontractors; the former is usually concerned with matters that would not interest our readers, while the latter usually tries to advertise their own employer rather than their client (not that I can blame them, as I would probably do the same).

As promised before, here are some tips for writing interview articles. But first, some caveats;

  • As the inhouse PR counsel, my job is to make sure my employer and our clients look good in our company magazine. The interviews I write are NOT investigative pieces. This also means we send the questions to be asked ahead of the interview. Typically the person I am interviewing will have sent their answers back to me or will have the answers for me on the day of the interview.*
  • When the interview article is finished, I send it to the interviewee to be approved (sometimes it needs to be sent to their head office). Most of the time the only corrections made are technical details, though sometimes the client’s PR team will make other changes. If this happens we tend to go with the version received, with the only changes we make being those according to our style guide.
  • I always record my interviews. Sometimes the interviewee is taken aback by this, but like Sam Tyler explains, it is best for accuracy if the interview is recorded. And since we also have Caveat 2 in place, this isn’t much of a problem. Even though I record the interview, I still take notes; some habits die hard.

1. Prepare Prepare Prepare

Yes, three times. It is the most important step. To show that you are serious about the interview and to show the proper level of respect, you need to have as much information about your subject and the company/project as you can. Even if the person you are interviewing has already submitted answers to your questions, do the research. This way you can have a real conversation rather than an interrogation. Ricky Gervais says it best with Larry David.

If you can’t watch the video, Gervais is saying you need to build rapport. You do not do this by interrogating your subject. You build rapport by listening and asking followup questions. Knowing about their company and their work will give you a better chance of asking the right followup questions.

2. Expect the Unexpected

If you’ve done Step 1 correctly, it should be quite easy to have a conversation. As the two of you are talking (your subject talking, you taking notes and asking pertinent questions), the conversation may wander to other topics not directly related to the focus of the article you are writing. This is fine as you’ll get an idea about the person you are interviewing. For the article I write, part of it is about their life in Korea and their experiences working here with Koreans and in other parts of the world. We also spend some time talking about hobbies and pastimes. Letting your interviewee talk will let you see their passion for their work and hobby; in this quarter’s interview, he was talking about his first Hash with the local chapter of Hash House Harriers. It is very rare for the person I’m interviewing to purposefully try to steer the conversation away from the topic; far more common when I’m talking to a Service Manager or someone else not near the top of the organisation, though.

This is also where you may find yourself needing to ask for clarification for certain terms. While this has more to do with the next tip, I’ll mention it here as well. As our magazine is an industry publication but has a readership ranging from engineers and industry media to diplomats and my mum, some technical terms need to be explained. The best way to do this is to make the terms relatable to the reader, especially when using measurements. The better sentence is in italics.

  • The new very large crude carrier (VLCC) is 400 m long and 40 m wide.
  • The new oil tanker is as long as four football fields.

First, avoid technical jargon unless completely necessary. For the way we write, the first mention of an item will always be its technical name or as it is commonly known in the industry, with acronyms if available. Further mentions will be as the item is commonly known to everyone else. Remember that acronyms should generally be avoided as too many of them in text can distract the reader and make the article look ugly.

The reason for converting 400 m to football fields is because it is difficult for most people to understand the scale of large numbers; that is just how our brains work. But everyone knows how big a football field is, right? For example, those huge orange cranes we have in our shipyard stand 100 m tall. Even standing next to them it is hard to understand how high 100 m really is.

They’re called Goliath cranes because …..

3. Write It Up

I prefer narrative or news story style for interview articles rather than Q & A Style. The main reason is that it is not an interrogation. Of course, Q & A is much easier, but it doesn’t fit visually with the style of our magazine. Keep in mind that with Q & A style your subject might feel railroaded and ill feelings of any kind are something you want to avoid.

The first paragraph should tell your reader who the person being interviewed is and why they are being interviewed. A good way to start an interview is with a quote, though this will depend on the topics you discuss; it’s easier to start with a quote if the interview is kept to one topic. For our purposes, the next paragraph usually describes the interviewee’s company, followed by a brief description of his past work experience. The past work experience can be peppered thoughout the article as some quotes can be relevant to the current project and certain aspects of the work.

The body of the article deals with the client’s project and why they chose my company for the work. This is the meat of the article. If we don’t have a fact box on the page, it is this section that has the most technical information and therefore can also be the most difficult to read. I’ve found it is best to have quotes from the interviewee explaining the size of the engine or number of workers, etc as it feels that they are actually talking to the reader. The last thing I want is for my article to read like a Wikipedia entry.

The last two or three paragraphs usually describe some hobby or cultural experience the person I’m interviewing has had in Korea. This can also include some ‘culture shock’, but more often is about the Korean work ethic (hint: you don’t go from poorest country in the world to Top 15 in one generation without working hard). At this point we are both more confortable with each other so we can exchange anecdotes about living and working abroad, as I’m usually the only foreigner they’ve seen that has taken the blue. A good way to end an interview article is with a quote. The best quote is one that relates to both the current project and the person being interviewed.

So there you have it, tips for doing and writing an interview from an inhouse PR perspective. Now interview, my pretties! Interview!

*If you ask us for an interview, we will ask for your final version. However, we do not expect you to send us the final version, we just want to see if you will.

But that is a story for another time.

If it's your first time, you have to fight

…or rather perform.

This past Saturday we went a-hiking and a-drinking and a-singing for our Team Building Exercise 2013. Some departments will go on overnight trips for rafting or paintball, but we usually go hiking followed by drinking and ‘hazing’ of the new recruits. It’s not really hazing since it involves little more than introducing yourself and singing. Almost like a less violent version of Rule 8 from Fight Club: if it’s your first time at Team Building Exercise, you have to perform. 

Refusing to perform is considered very poor form. Even though I’ve been working here for nearly 5 years I occasionally get asked to sing. More often I am asked to make a short speech (usually in English, sometimes in Korean). Not only does it reflect badly on you if you refuse to perform, it also reflects badly on your entire team.

I’m a terrible singer, and everyone knows this. This did not stop people from recording my mangling of Fly Me To The Moon. I’ll say this though, I would never sing Frank Sinatra songs in the Philippines.

Here’s the original by Frank Sinatra

I’ll post my version once I get the video.

Some of the performances by my coworkers would put professionals to shame. One of my bosses is an opera singer, not that anyone but the guy that asked him to sing knew this. This is also the boss that no one knew could speak Japanese (he revealed this talent when someone called our office but only spoke Japanese). He also once gave a business presentation during our Tuesday meeting completely in Japanese but because he is a general manager, no one could ask him why he gave it in Japanese. Apparently, he was also a bodybuilder when he was younger.

This time we went hiking in Gyeongju National Park, in the Namsan section. Here are some photos I asked my coworkers to take for me.

By the Power of Samdasu Bottled Water!
By the Power of Samdasu Bottled Water!

사진 2 사진 (1)

Here are some photos I took.

There were a lot of BMWs and Mercedes parked around this area
Probably my favourite photo
Nothing like road rice.

Lunch was Duck Bulgogi. It was average. There is far better duck bulgogi to be had in Ulsan. We also made a poor man’s champagne with beer and Sprite.