Why I Read The Yankee Nom’s Blog

When I decided to start writing this blog again I made brief mention to another blog written by an American in Korea that I read called An Idiot’s Tale! written by a guy calling himself Yankee Nom. That would have been the end of that if not for a comment from Chris of ChrisinSouthKorea fame which stated the following:

I beg of you, for the love of whatever God / Goddess you believe in, to never mention the Yankee Nom / Idiot’s Tale blog ever again. It may well be a popular blog that reaches to people’s most basic needs (in the same way ‘Ow my balls!’ did in the movie ‘Idiocracy’), but it has nothing credible to assist people in Korea. I can’t believe it’s considered popular, and hope it fades into a meaningless existence.

I was quite surprised by Chris’ reaction to that particular blog, and I think that rather than writing it off as something that ‘reaches to people’s most basic needs’ that it perhaps has much more to say than many give it credit for, if you are willing to delve into it a bit.

Let me start off by explaining how I became acquainted with the Yankee Nom. I first found his blog through an angry tweet by Brian several months ago objecting to several things YN had said about him. Forgive me for not taking the time to not link to the tweet, but it really doesn’t seem worth it. I followed Brian’s link to An Idiot’s Tale and instantly became engrossed. The blog is the story of a man in his early forties who lives in or near ‘a rice paddy’ somewhere south of Seoul and teaches at some kind of school for delinquent girls. He is married to a woman he calls The Dragon Lady and whose speech he portrays in what could best be described as a ‘Charlie Chan accent’ which bears no relation to the way an actual Korean accent sounds. His relationship to his wife’s family is at once distant (his inability to speak Korean makes it so) and relatively accepting (they annoy him but he seems to let it slide, usually).  He has two sons who don’t figure into his writing a great deal, except that they keep him off the computer in his house, driving him to the PC room and his beloved 10 cent coffees. The whole tone of his writings can best be categorized as fatalistic, in the sense that he seems to accept as his fate all the things that, as he writes it, are going on around him.

In a word, he was incredibly Vonnegut. In fact, for several weeks I was convinced that the entire blog was an elaborate creative writing project with it’s concept being ‘Diary of a Vonnegut character in Korea’. In fact, although I saw aspects of several Vonnegut characters in YN, the one that I was most convinced was an inspiration for the blog was Eugene Debs Hartke from Hocus Pocus. Note that the link to the Wikipedia page for the character fails to mention the aspect of the character that YN seems to be channeling: his work as an educator for the hopeless. According to some website I googled up:

The world is one that offers little to those who have little to begin with-one where comically stupid (and nearly inbred) children of well-to-do families can earn educational degrees free of charge while living in a pristine valley while, contrastingly, thousands of Americans (mostly non-whites) sit behind bars that were more or less all they ever knew.

In YN’s case, he teaches these girls, knowing full well that nothing that he’s teaching them will stick, letting them play games and not being overly phased when they don’t even show up, while the thousands of Americans in his case are

[D]own and out Americans flocking to Asia in order to get jobs. I notice this even in South Korea. The sheer numbers of English teachers have never been this high.

Some people argue that we aren’t going through a economic depression. I laugh at their foolishness. South Korea is not an easy place to live. It can be downright hell at times. The quality of life isn’t that great.

And teaching English is probably the lowest job for a white man living in the ROK. When this bullshit job market gets competitive, you know something isn’t right. Teaching ESL is usually a gig for losers and boozers. You make the commitment when you are desperate and have no other opportunities.

For weeks I read the blog convinced that it was a brilliant piece of fiction. The writing was good, minimalist, and suited its stated purpose well. The tagline for the blog is ‘A BLOG ABOUT LIVING AND TEACHING IN KOREA! CELEBRATING THE MUNDANE SINCE 2009!’ and the spare, repetitive, Vonnegut-inspired style suits it perfectly. For a while the typical post would include as a matter of course a reference to reading the newspaper on the toilet, the quality of YN’s bowel movements discussed with as much weight as the content of the newspaper. Each post would end with a guess as to what The Dragon Lady would be making for dinner. These calls to the mundane are what hold the blog together.

Evidently I was not the only one who thought the blog was a cleverly constructed art project, because YN eventually addressed comments that he was imitating either Vonnegut or Charles Bukowski or both.  Here’s what he had to say about it:

My writing style is a fraud. No shit. I stole everything I know from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

When I was a kid in high school, I had terrible grades. I wasn’t interested in studying.

I was more interested in pilfering Chivas Regal from my father’s whiskey cabinet.

Nevertheless, I must admit that I really loved Shakespeare, T.S. Elliot, and Albert Camus.

Sadly to say, I never had the IQ of Shakespeare, T.S. Elliot, or Albert Camus.

I did, however, have a fat history teacher named Ms.LaBelle. She was way too plump and ugly to ever get married.

She told me to read a book called Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

I took her advice. I couldn’t stop laughing.

He didn’t write to impress people with his knowledge. He wrote to be read.

I’m not the least bit literary. I’m a fraud who steals shit. That’s just the honest truth.

Nevertheless, I’m good for a cheap laugh.

So there’s that.  At this point I and all the other people who were reading the blog as a clever literary project could either admit into that vision a clever post-modern literary conceit (wouldn’t that be so Vonnegut, if he wrote about being influenced by Vonnegut!) but I and, I imagine, many of the others reading him (or her!  Did I just blow your mind?) in this way decided at this point that the reality of what he was writing was less important than the voice he was writing.  In other words, he’s probably real, not that it matters.

The key question to me, and it is obviously a question that Chris believes he has the answer to, is this: Does this blog have anything to say about Korea or living in Korea?  In Chris’ words, does it have ‘nothing credible to assist people in Korea’?

I personally think that not every blog by someone in Korea need assist those in Korea.  This may be Chris’ criterion for worthiness because Chris writes a blog with the primary goal of assisting those living in Korea.  However I do not, and nor do many of the other Korea blogs that people read regularly.  There’s that Barbie girl, who writes funny off-kilter stories about herself that take place in Korea.  There’s Gord Sellar, who writes about myriad things, many of them taking place in Korea, many not, but often with a Korean take on them.  I, for my part, am planning a series of posts on my reading of Plato’s Republic that I think may when complete be glancingly described as Korea-tinged, but not overly so.  Therefore I think that while there may be objections to YN’s blog, I don’t think the fact that he fails to assist those living in Korea is the best objection.

Is he an objectionable person?  Well, he certainly is frank, to a degree that I think many would argue it is not wise to be.  Anybody who says in the mixed company of the internet with only the thinnest pretense of anonymity ‘I’m not that fond of black people. In fact, black people grate on my fucking nerves.’ is clearly not concerned with his image, unless of course this is a careful attempt at image-building.  I won’t make the mistake of assuming that just because someone is not concerned with their image they are necessarily telling the truth, though.  The things YN writes are often offensive.  There are several writers who write offensive things that I don’t agree with that I nevertheless feel gratified for having read.

What can we take away from reading the man’s blog?  One of the things I most like about it is the fact that he has come to peace with Korea, albeit a fatalistic one.  In this respect he reminds me of no one more than Leon Trotsky Trout, the narrator of Galapagos.  Trout is the ghost of a shipbuilder who haunts the boat he was working on when he died.  this boat is the one that carried a motley crew of people to the Galapagos Islands just at the time when a disease is eating all the eggs in every human ovary on the planet.  Mankind thus dies out everywhere except on the Galapagos Islands, and Trout’s ghost has a front row seat over the next million years, during which the descendants of the human survivors evolve into what are essentially seals: flippers replace hands, small brains replace large brains, etc.  Trout views this process, the extinction of the human intellect, with detached humor, never once bemoaning the loss of all the great things the human mind made.  Not to imply that Koreans lack intellect or anything of the sort, but I must say that many of the expat bloggers in Korea, myself included, often seem genuinely angry when something they are familiar with from their homelands is absent from Korea, or when things don’t meet their expectations of how they should be.  Have a look at YN’s view on the issue of corporal punishment in schools, which seems to share the same detached humor as that of Leon Trotsky Trout in the face of the extinction of the human mind:

I don’t hit students. Why? I’m not a real teacher. I’m more of a public relations stunt. And to maintain good public relations, I have to keep my charges happy. It’s important for my students to like me. And they aren’t going to like me if I’m braining them with a piece of wood.

Now there are a number of things embedded in this passage that stand out.  The awareness of the fact that he is not a teacher so much as a gimmick; the primary goal of making his students happy; his rejection of corporal punishment not because it’s wrong but because it would interfere with his primary aim of making the students like him.  There is no judgment of corporal punishment in schools.  There is not even any judgment of the fact that he is working within a system that accepts the presence of foreigners maintained merely for the purpose of public relations.  One thing that you find reading the blog is a relative dearth of judgment of things Korean.  What I can’t determine is whether this abstention from judgment is the result of an actual lack of opinion or of a rare showing of prudence by YN.

There are so many other things about the blog that I would like to touch on but haven’t got the time for.  His relationship with soju and his wife, I feel, are a little bit outside the scope of this post.  His continued attempts to generate rivalry fall flat for me, as does his message board, and I just haven’t the time to listen to his podcast.  The bottom line of it all, for me, at least, is that An Idiot’s Tale provides a rare look at the Korean expat experience that transcends the simple ‘I live in Korea and I eat this and I go here and there and I am annoyed by this thing and I like this thing’ that we often see.  The blog is not full of academic pretense aimed at giving structure to the most puerile first-year expat gut reactions like some blogs.  If anything, the blog tells the story of one type of man put in the same locale as us (Korea expats) and what he makes of it.  Value it for its entertainment value, or its insight, or its perspective, or its cautionary lesson, or any combination of these, but I personally have been edified by reading An Idiot’s Tale, even when I only contrast and compare YN’s life to my own to see where the differences and commonalities lie.

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~ by Joshing on March 8, 2010.

13 Responses to “Why I Read The Yankee Nom’s Blog”

  1. Joshing,
    Fair enough points. To find differences and commonalities between you and your fellow man is an honorable thing, and looked at from a literary perspective, I do see the Vonnegut connection.

    Back in the day, I used to love Seinfeld – that American TV show that was all about nothing. Half the time the plots didn’t make sense, or the episode didn’t have one at all. It was still funny, and somewhat interesting to watch. Is it funny? Sure. Would it help you understand American culture / society? Maaaaaybe – but there are better ways. Could I learn something about Korean culture / society from YN’s blog? Maaaaaybe – but there are better ways.

    For those who see literary genius in the Yankee Nom’s writing, well played. His recent post about ‘World Slavery’ made some interesting points in a way I hadn’t thought about before. No, not every blog written in Korea need have a connection – although that does seem the most logical. Having some kind of connection between posts – however tenuous – is one classic key to a good blog. If all YN wants to be a ‘fraud who steals shit’ and provide a ‘cheap laugh’, then fair enough.

  2. I’ve been a follower for An Idiot’s Tale almost since its conception. Some of his posts are brilliant; others not so good. Ultimately it’s a matter of opinion, and in my opinion is blog is very entertaining.

    I’m constantly disappointed by the “serious bloggers” in Korea and how they treat Mr. Wonderful. The guy is trying to make his life more interesting by writing, and by being a dick. Neither of these things are easy or necessarily rewarding. For some reason, I always admired those who go out of their way to do either.

    I think that Mr. Wonderful is smarter than he lets on. His writing has a quality that he denies, but it is there. I’m the one who first made the comparison to Bukowski, and I stand by it. They seem like similar characters with similar styles.

    Maybe Mr. Wonderful’s blog isn’t the best on the web. Maybe it is. I don’t think it’s important. He could stop writing tomorrow and fade into history, but I doubt he will. He entertains people, and ocassionally informs them. There are some great blogs out there that are filled with useful information – times, dates, prices etc etc. but I think that the most informative writing can be that which is about the trivial shit in life. The stuff we all see.

    An Idiot’s Tale serves a purpose and people love it. I think the “serious bloggers” get a little jealous when they see Mr. Wonderful succeed, and they label him “negative” and insult those who read his blog.

    I’ll continue to read it until he gives it all up. I think An Idiot’s Tale is one of the most interesting writing projects in Korea today. Also look for the Kimchi Chronicles, if you have the time. The guy doesn’t live in Korea anymore, but his blogs about Korea are fascinating, and well written.

  3. Yes I agree. An Idiot’s Tale is well written, regularly updated and brutally honest. He’s having a lot of fun writing it, but if you look past the ‘cunt-hair’ references, you may find quite an interesting social commentary.

    Variety is the red-pepper paste of life.

  4. For all the great information that I get from the likes of The Marmot, Brian, Kushibo, and others, most of the time, I find “The Idiot’s Tale” to be something that I can actually relate to (commiserate with) as he isn’t trying to be something he isn’t. He’s a human suffering as others do while trying to find their way through life. A lot of us are on the same road, we worry about our future, the world’s future, the economy, and many other things. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time or means to enjoy every festival and get together coming down the pike as some seem to be able to do. But by no means does it mean that we won’t go out of our way to help our fellow travelers on the road of life. Hell, the Idiot even has a message board on his blog for people to leave information for others. He even helps those seeking adult entertainment. I haven’t come across “any “other bloggers being as generous and unbiased with their blogs as he is.

    The world has been taken over by the PC police, so it’s nice to be able to be able to find a place where your friends don’t happen to care that you are rude or crude. Everyone is accepted.

    Sadly, as much as l like Chris in South Korea’s blog, his comment comes across as the green-eyed monster, jealousy, and it’s good to have both sides of the coin. You can’t have Yin without Yang.

  5. I just found the Idiot’s Tale a few weeks ago. Mr. Wonderful is brilliant. Simply sparkling. I wish I could read him while taking a dump.

  6. I use bloglines to get my blog feeds and of course they are listed alphabetically making An Idiot’s Tale nearly always the first thing I read each day. I love his style and brutal honesty. He throws in economic analysis that really is spot on even if I disagree with his politics. I have learned more about daily life from reading his blog than perhaps any other. I really appreciate your analysis and hope others can view his blog in a different light.

  7. John,

    Your point is something I really hadn’t considered but it’s true. While there are so many blogs full of people out trying to experience Korea and ‘build an expat community’ (no offense to those who are) Mr Wonderful is too busy living for any of that stuff. That fact had totally escaped me.

  8. He’s one of the last people I’d ever want as a co-worker to be sure, but his blog is simply brilliant on so many levels when he’s not talking about politics or attempting self-referential humour with other blogs. ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ never rang truer.

  9. I hate Vonnegut. And I dislike any person who consistently uses insensitivity and callousness to make a point or to tell a story – or even to make their life more interesting if it occurs at the expense of other people or places. It just seems waaaay too easy be sarcastic and cynical and mean and ‘clever’.

    I think bloggers (in general) and in Korea (specifically) often take themselves too seriously but because Mr. Wassisname does not – and because he’s smart – doesn’t mean his blog deserves anything more than a modicum of interest or a few offhanded props. Bah.

    • Melissa,

      That’s a very surprising interpretation of Vonnegut to me. As you may know, he’s considered to be something of a ‘humanist’, meaning that he takes as his subjects human beings as they are. I think I know what you’re talking about though when you say insensitivity and callousness. For example, Billy Pilgrim’s wife is portrayed in a way which I (and I’m sure many others) find depressing: she is obese, Billy marries her primarily because of who her father is, he is distant from her emotionally, and yet she is loyal and almost worshipful of him. She depressingly tells Billy at many points in the book ‘I’m going to lose weight for you’, which we know is an impossibility. She dies of carbon monoxide poisoning after getting into a car crash on her way to visit Billy in the hospital, further underlining her slavish devotion to her lukewarm and distracted husband. Vonnegut’s treatment of her (and many characters) is highly insensitive, and yet it does make a point. As for your statement that it’s too easy to be sarcastic and cynical and mean and ‘clever’, I couldn’t agree more, but I don’t think that Vonnegut does so. I don’t know if his point could have been made in that book without writing like that about characters like Billy’s wife.

      As for bloggers taking themselves too seriously, I fully agree. In fact I’m about to start a seven part treatise on the origins of hubris within the expat community, beginning with Hamel and taking us all the way up through the present, or as I like to call it, ‘The Isaac Age’.

  10. I suppose some K-bloggers do take themselves too seriously, though in my preemptive defense I can think of a good many who invest in more hubris and self-promotion than me. I’ll be interested to see your series, if you’re writing one, because it will intersect a little with something I have coming out next week. It points out the intersection of K-bloggers and mainstream English-language media here, for better or worse, and that since most English-language media in Korea is by Koreans written largely for Koreans, K-bloggers are providing something a little different and, in some cases, better.

    I like the point you made, though, about “One thing that you find reading the blog is a relative dearth of judgment of things Korean.” I’m not sure that’s totally true, but that sort of attitude is lacking among blogging and non-blogging expats alike. Perhaps a function of youth, or inexperience, or just the western style, but when you meet people who refrain from judging, it’s certainly a relief.

    I will remind you, though, before you spend too much time talking about the K-blogosphere as if you’re not part of it, you did rise to some level of prominence for taking that comic book to task. Just like you say some people are too busy living Korea to write about building community within it, while I think we could benefit from some reflection—oh, God, no 2008 all over again—some people are too busy actually blogging to write about blogging.

    • Brian,

      Well put. For my own part, I tend to the meta in most everything I do, so it’s only to be expected that I would end up blogging about blogging. It’s a running joke between my brother and myself to try to imagine a ‘meta’ version of everything, e.g. ‘It’s a finger-painting about finger-painting’.
      I am fully aware that I am part of the K-blogosphere, even though I may write about it as if I were not a part of it. I’m also a person, but I like to write about people as if I were an objective observer of humanity, if you catch my drift. I don’t know where you would place me right now in this ecosystem of words, but I would venture to say that through my translation I rose to a certain level of utility as a source material for prominent bloggers rather than prominence itself.
      I salute you for being too busy blogging to write about blogging. I’m just not that attracted to most things that pop up in the news these days, which leaves me sort of circling around a few little ideas and digging into them. Maybe if something current catches my eye I’ll get back to being too busy blogging to write about blogging.

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