Gwangju Blog

Douglas Baumwoll – Bridging the Gap

The Saturday night dinner crowd at First Alleyway is multiplying rapidly as I wait at the bar for my interview with Douglas Baumwoll. He’s been fighting a nasty cold, but still meets me right on time. Sporting a powder blue button up, albeit nearly half unbuttoned, he’s in a good mood as we both accept our first pints of the night courtesy of Misub Hur. We grab a table and pour through about an hour of conversation regarding politics, poisoned eggs, recent creative projects, and travel before diving into a more focused discussion about his work as a writer.

Baumwoll first arrived in Korea during 2010, but has lived extensively in Spain, California, and his native home of Pennsylvania as well. His experiences throughout the world have fed his mind with the necessary nutrients to complement the in-depth socio-political research of literature that occupies so much of his time. The man is a thinker. You have more than likely already read some of his work in the Gwangju News magazine, where he has been featured on a fair range of topics over the last two years, including some of the year’s top cover stories. In an era when anyone can spout out their thoughts to the masses via the internet, with standard credibility ranging from complete phony to smug pseudo-intellectual, Baumwoll carries his projects much like he carries himself, with intent, credibility, and dignity.
 
When I ask him how he first got started on writing and research, he tells me he’s always been an avid reader, but it was an essay over the Yellow Rain incident that he wrote in tenth grade that marks his true beginning down this path. His teacher took note of his natural ability to ask strong questions and not throw out invasive statements at such a young age. He grew up in rural central Pennsylvania, he went on to study three years of engineering at a university in Virginia before opting for a degree in philosophy instead. This combination of technical, scientific, knowledge and a firm belief in Socratic questioning morphed his writing abilities into a hybrid set of skills that is not often found. However, these skills would be appreciated as he moved to San Francisco to land a job writing for a contractor to the Environmental Protection Agency. There, he mainly focused on hard science reports of oil refineries.
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“My talent relies in a kind of research known as ‘technology transfer,’ meaning that I can talk to a scientist or engineer and translate that interview into language that the average person can understand.” And it’s true. The amount of people who successfully bridge this gap in their respective industries is rare, but Baumwoll believes their relevancy is only increasing with the millennial generation. “People’s attention spans are shorter, and often times, scientists or technical people are boring speakers.” The importance of hard science information and revelations are undoubtedly relevant to any number of issues, but finding new ways to spread this information to people effectively is often still an obstacle. He gives examples of scientist like Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, and political comedians such as Jon Stewart and John Oliver that have been successful in taking the tedious topics of their fields and packaging it in a way that’s not only accessible, but also enjoyable.
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Currently, he works full time at the Jeollanamdo Education Training Institute, where he teaches fiction writing and process evidence based writing to students. The program works to certify Korean ESL teachers, and has kept Baumwoll active since he arrived in Gwangju three years ago. His philosophies on writing stem from a solid grounding in both non-fiction and fiction, but

he declares a marriage of the two as his primary literary goal. So how exactly would this work? Well, his goal is to base a new type of fiction that is grounded in scientific reality, but with all the same literary devices that come along with the exploration of the human condition in fiction. Think of how your favorite novels cover aspects of love, hate, death, adolescence, etc. and expand on that with a well-researched, evidence based narrative into pressing issues such as climate change, racism, or distribution of wealth. “If you’re writing non-fiction essays about these topics, you’re preaching to the choir. Fiction reaches many people who may not read about these topics in a non-fiction format.” He has a deep appreciation for work of a very similar nature that has already been in kicked into motion by other writers. “It’s not science fiction… it’s more near-speculative fiction. Rather than focusing explicitly on social relationships, there will be definite factual information. There’s already been a development of climate-fiction, which is based on what we know about climate change.” There have been a lot of success with similar approaches that are close to what Baumwoll wants to create, for example, the original Jurassic Park, Children of Men, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Although he is hopeful and believes firmly in the need for climate change awareness, he admits the chips are stacked heavily on the other side. “It’s important that non-fiction focuses on the human condition… The age of logic seems like it’s over. There has to be another way to present this information to people, and the main issue is climate change. It’s tied to population, global economics, food scarcity, rising tides… The next wars will be fought over fresh water. Not oil.”

Now, with all of this on the table, there’s obviously a tall order for rerouting our current course, but Baumwoll is in the process of creating a website where the eco-friendly rubber can meet the road. For the next couple of years he plans to focus on publishing original content with a main theme based on climate change and redistribution of wealth on the domain savethehumanz.com. He aims to stress a conversational tone on these topics so that people don’t feel overwhelmed by such topics, but still inform them. There will be links to other websites and videos too for people to become more involved, and eventually a Youtube channel where Baumwoll can create videos aimed for a younger (middle school) audience on similar topics.

He’s got the know-how. He’s got the ambition. And he’s already begun to lay the groundwork for causes that are immediate and far-reaching. Recently, he gave a speech at the GIC concerning pollution and environmental awareness in Korea. Baumwoll admits he enjoys speaking to groups, and is making a habit of creating dialogue with them. Keep your eye out for him in the upcoming issues of Gwangju News, and be a part of the movement that very well may save the humanz.

Sanctuary

Santuary

 

 

On a road behind a church, behind Gwangju station, sat this newer model Samsung. The heat had been oppressive by nine a.m this Sunday morning. Still, this did little to discourage the faithful. I watched the last few stragglers eager to enter the sanctuary. On such days, this air-conditioned room likely lives up to its etymological roots. With this in mind, I myself was considering the benefits of conversion when continuing around to the rear of the building. When there, parked along a side street adjacent to the primary lot was the car you see above. In it lay one soul braver than I. Untempted by the air-conditioning or eternal salvation nearby, he seemed content while reclining within his own personal sanctuary.

 

The photo above shows the relaxed nature with which some enjoy their lazy summer Sunday mornings. Sure, the viewers can project conditions and emotions onto this scene as to why he remains alone in his car with sweet chilling relief just a stones-throw away. However, at its core, the scene shows someone simply doing their best to relax given their circumstances. Window down with feel up, and extending into the open air; this scene reminds me of the position my own father took on our regular road-trips as a child. While I doubt our 1977 Ford Granada even came with air conditioning, the position itself implies a relief from the discomfort which even the coolest of Freon-infused air could not provide. For me, as a cultural and ethnic outsider within this place, witnessing such a position connects my adopted home with the one of my youth. It may even show that dispute cultural norms, windows are there partially for feet to extrude from. It is just what humans do. At that moment, and now, looking at the image, I find sanctuary in these thoughts. It is the truest sort I know.

 

[Image taken with a Hasselblad 503cxi shooting Kodak Tri-x 400 pushed 1 stop.]

 

(Photo & Text by Marty Miller)

 

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What to Do This Weekend: The ACC, Gwangju Live, and Cricket!

Hello Gwangju!

I hope everyone you are all enjoying the last weeks of summer. Let’s see what you can do in town this weekend!

Friday, August 18th

Courtesy of Loft 28

Courtesy of Loft 28

Loft 28’s Open Mic Night is a great way to hear local talent, and it takes place every Friday. If you are interested in performing, all you have to do is bring your own instrument and Loft will provide the rest. If you need another reason to perform, then I got one for you. All participants will receive a free drink! Make sure you get down there before open mic begins, and try some of their delicious homemade food. The reviews of their menu have been very good. If you need more details, then you can go to Loft’s Facebook page. Open mic night will begin at 10 p.m.

Courtesy of Tequilaz

Courtesy of Tequilaz

If you’re downtown then Tequilaz has become the place to be on Friday nights this summer. The bottomless drinks special has become very popular with thre thirsty locals. For only 12,000 (cash only) you can enjoy all the draft beers you want. If you don’t enjoy beer then they also have bottomless rail cocktails (again, cash only) for 20,000. Add tequilaz’s delicious Mexican food and you got a great night out! If you need more information simply go to their Facebook page.

Saturday, August 19th

 Courtesy of the ACC

Courtesy of the ACC

Summertime is always a great time to visit the ACC. Right now there is a solo exhibit by acclaimed artist Tomas Saraceno called Interplanetary Bodies. There is also an exhibit by a Korean artist, Hwang, Young-sung. The show features work from a period of almost fifty years. When the sun starts to go down outside, then you can walk around the beautiful grounds of the ACC. Also, on the weekends you can check out the Bridge Market, where local artists sell their works. You can also enjoy a nice iced coffee at the market as well. For all the info you need about the ACC (In English and Korean), please go to their website, acc.go.kr.

Don’t forget, you still have today and tomorrow to enjoy the water park at Gwangju Citizen’s Forest. For more details, check out last week’s post.

Courtesy of Speakeasy

Courtesy of Speakeasy

Gwangju Live is taking over Speakeasy on Saturday with a return performance by Jimmy Harris and Joel Klimas. I’ve seen this duo perform many times so I know it’s going to be a good show. Both Jimmy and Joel are veterans of the music scene in Gwangju. Along with the great drinks, and Speakeasy’s friendly staff, it is guaranteed to be a great way to spend your Saturday night. Football fans will want to arrive their at 8:30 to watch Manchester United take on Swansea in EPL action! For more details about tonight, please go to their Facebook page.

Sunday, August 20th

The final match of the Gwangju Premier Cricket League will be taking place this Sunday at Chonnam National University. For the time of the game, and other information, please check out the Gwangju page on Facebook.

Essentials with JD # 297 **PLANNING AHEAD FOR END OF AUGUST AND START OF SEPTEMBER 2017 **

Tons of great things happening in Gwangju next week and also in the first week of September so check them out and mark your Calendars.

 

World Music Festival 25 & 26 August 

Free Movie at City hall – Taxi Driver 21st –  9th 

Sound Park Festival at Sajik Park 2nd and 3rd September 

GIC Info Day – 9th September 

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JD

Turning The Page: Kelsey Rivers and Her Major Contributions to Gwangju News

 

Anyone who has been in town for longer than a few weeks has, more likely than not, found themselves flipping through a copy of Gwangju News. The free publication is issued monthly, and has churned out coverage of local and regional issues since 2001. Through a revolving door of writers, the magazine serves as an integral part of the English speaking population here with an insightful, and often times eclectic, range of topics. However, behind the scenes of everything you read in Gwangju News, is a team of individuals who put in the extra hours on top of their full-time jobs to create relevant and informative articles. One key member of this team, Kelsey Rivers, is ending her time as a Managing Editor at GN, but her take on the experience there, and Korea in general, is a story within itself.

What is your writing background? Did you study it? Any genres or styles that you specialize in?

I never studied writing formally, in the sense of being a Journalism or Creative Writing major. My majors were Anthropology and Linguistics, so I got really good at writing in that terribly superior-sounding register of the academic paper. In my opinion though, the best ethnographies and anthropological writings are usually in a narrative non-fiction style, which as a writer is my favorite genre. The articles I have found to be the most rewarding to write (for example, the feature story for our July issue, about the life of a Nepali shipyard worker in Samho) have always been in this style. I love stories; when I ‘m presenting real-life, real facts, I want to frame it as a story.

How long have you been in Korea? What brought you here?

I’ve been in Korea for about 3 years now, although it feels shorter. Where’d all my time go?

As I mentioned before, I studied Anthropology and Linguistics, and my interest in Linguistics over time became centered on second-language acquisition. So, when I had the opportunity to come to Korea for an internship (teaching at summer English camps in Gokseong and Damyang), I jumped at it. That experience was rewarding, and I fell in love with the students and teaching so much that I decided to apply for a fulltime JLP position after graduation. I’ve been in Mokpo ever since.

 

When did you start writing for GN? How has it changed since then?

I actually started out only as a copy-editor, about 2 and a half years ago. After a year of copy-editing, I moved into the Chief Proofreader position, and that’s when I began writing for Gwangju News. The thing about being a staff member for GN is that we often end up picking up articles that are assigned last minute, or that our writer pool didn’t pick up. I began writing for GN for that reason, because I had to. I honestly needed that push, to get me from only doing behind-the-scenes work to writing. I think I write less now than when I first started as staff, since there are more writers expressing an interest in writing. These days, there’s very little left for me to write. I have mixed emotions – I’m happy that so many writers want to help out, but disappointed that there are fewer opportunities for me to write, unless I specifically decide to take an article for myself.

What are your philosophies to journalism and/or writing in general?

I feel that since I’m just a baby writer, I don’t have a philosophy surrounding writing or journalism, I’m still figuring things out myself. As an editor, however, I have a more developed approach. For me, when I edit, I want to change the article as little as possible. Obviously I’ll fix blatant mistakes, and I’ll adjust an article to fit the standards of the publication and for clarity’s sake. But I ultimately want the article to speak for itself. I’ve thought about this especially in the context of how to edit a non-native speaker of English’s article. Some copy-editors want to not only fix all of the mistakes, but also re-write things to sound more natural, native speaker-like, even if the original turn of phrase employed isn’t necessarily wrong, or unclear. I don’t edit this way. I don’t want to edit their language out of the piece. I love what non-native speakers can do with English, the interesting and creative uses they can make of the language that native-speakers are too entrenched in the “natural” way to see.

Kelsey Rivers, courtesy of Gwangju News

Kelsey Rivers, courtesy of Gwangju News

In what ways have you grown as a writer/editor?

Since my role with GN has so strongly been associated with the editing, behind-the-scenes aspect of the magazine, I feel as a writer I have not grown so much. If anything, I never saw myself as a writer at all. GN has brought this out of me, I’ve just gotten my feet wet, I’m just beginning. It is only now that I want to see where writing takes me, what I could do with it.

Any favorite articles or moments from GN that stick out?

It’s not a particular moment per se that sticks out, but watching how GN has changed over time, from when I first started as Managing Editor a year ago, to now. Due to staff changes and personality clashes, GN was going through… difficult times, which is what I inherited from the previous Managing Editor. For a while, we had a lot of issues finding writers, getting the magazine out on time… It was stressful. But leaving the magazine now, the state of GN is so different. I think it is a much stronger publication now than it was a year ago, we have better writers, and our staff is working together as team. Thinking about these changes is very striking to me.

Are there any other writing endeavors that you have outside of GN?

To be honest, I don’t do much writing outside of GN. Between traveling, meeting friends, having a full-time job, volunteer work, and doing so much for the magazine, when I have free time I only want to read a good book, not write one.

What occupies your time when you are not putting together the next issue?

About 6 months after I arrived in Korea, when I was feeling a little isolated, disconnected, I had a sudden impulse to try everything, to worm my way into the community, somehow. My involvement with GN arose out of that, as well as tutoring at a local children’s home, getting involved with the Kona organization in Gwangju, becoming a regular member at KOTESOL, a discussion leader for the Mokpo language exchange, and a founding member of the Mokpo book club. It’s by joining all of these different organizations, and networking with all of these different people, that has helped me feel the most connected with and a part of the Mokpo/Gwangju community. These activities might keep me a little too busy, however.

My downtime mostly consists of reading and walking/hiking.

Plans for the future?

In the short term, I’m finishing up my time in Jeollanam-do and preparing for a three month trip around Southeast Asia, as well as looking forward to being home for a while for the first time in years. After that, my plans are a bit hazy. I have the intention to come back to Korea in the near future and do intensive Korean study in Seoul, to see if that’ll help push my language ability to the next level. And since the poor student life doesn’t exactly agree with me, I’ll be looking for another teaching position, hopefully in or near Seoul as well. I’m interested to see what journalistic/writing opportunities are available in Seoul, and where that may take me.