Please Gawk And Stare at North Korea

As a modern internet-addicted lazy person, I pondered two wormholes of internet interest recently. They made me think about celebrity culture and our human desire to LOOK. The first was new to me – a family that has spent the last 5+ years documenting every single day of their lives. They seem very nice, and normal. I have no problem with what they do or how they broadcast it. Neither does their 2 million subscribers.

As humans and social creatures, we are all compelled to LOOK.

If you visit countries that have different social and cultural expectations, such as China, you’ll find something stands out – people STARE. If something is interesting, they’ll form a crowd and just look. Americans seem to constantly be fighting with themselves over whether to look at something interesting or do the “polite” thing and walk on by. The idea of “rubber-necking” is frowned upon as something crass and unseemly – wholly apart from any actual risks from the act of looking itself (such as causing another car accident while you drive by staring at one already happened, et cetera).

From Chinese News Daily

From Chinese News Daily

In China, if you see something, you look. Because, why not? Interesting things are fun to look at, so what is wrong with looking? That seems to be their attitude.

Source: Off Exploring's blog

Source: Off Exploring’s blog

Here in the States we reserve much of our staring and looking for the safety of the internet and tabloids. We don’t want the objects of the staring to experience it firsthand, so we do it by proxy. This includes using paparazzi to get our celebrity cellulite photos for us, and YouTube to chronicle an entire family’s life, day by day. We feel strange or awkward if we were to see one of those interesting people on the street and were caught just looking at them for no good reason.

Where is all of this leading and how can it possibly involve North Korea? It is because in the case of North Korea, we cannot look directly. And yet we must, by any means available.

Rather than spend another minute on the Shaytards, I went back to the haunting photos of North Korea of the daily lives of their people. More and more I searched for photos and articles on what’s happening because it is so . . . interesting.

Source: The Guardian UK. North Korean workers at the Chinese border

Here’s one description of what eating looks like for citizens there: “Food shopping is equally problematic. Staples such as soy sauce, soybean paste, salt and oil, as well as toothpaste, soap, underwear and shoes, sell out fast. The range of food items available is highly restricted. White cabbage, cucumber and tomato are the most common; meat is rare, and eggs increasingly so. Fruit is largely confined to apples and pears. The main staple of the North Korean diet is rice, though bread is sometimes available, accompanied by a form of butter that is often rancid. Corn, maize and mushrooms also appear sometimes.”

Women in North Korea have recently started wearing some amounts of makeup, and it is noted that the reasoning is partially to hide blotchy and unhealthy skin – one side effect of underlying malnutrition. So a country where some people have enough spending money to buy cosmetics in order to cover up the health effects of not being able to purchase real food – that is North Korea.

Source: Guardian UK. Public transit in Pyongyang.

In the last few years, things appear to be getting way worse for an average person. For instance, this spring, outside of the capital city of Pyongyang, food is basically becoming a luxury. Food is actually starting to disappear as a thing you can “get”. Read that again, from a local, “In January, housewives were given two kilos of mixed rice and corn and households received 10 days of rations on top of that. But there has been nothing since then . . .”

There might be little as a single person I can do about the conditions in that country, but perhaps much we can do as knowledgeable humans, collectively. But to be blunt, just start with gawking and sharing what you see with friends and family. Spread the images and the situation far and wide.

Rubber-neck all you want. And then consider what you might be able to do, as wished for by North Korean people.

 

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Do This The Very Next Time You Eat Out: Start A Revolution

not-vegetarian-meat-dish

Make a promise, right, now, that the next time you eat at a restaurant, you’ll throw one more question into the pile of “what’s the special today?” and “can I get a side of fries?”. Ask where the restaurant gets their meat.

You can do it gently, a simple add-on, “Ooh, that burger sounds good – is the meat from New Mexico?”

You can do it more directly, “I’m learning more about restaurant ingredients – can you tell me where your meat comes from?”

It will be kind of awkward, and I bet that a lot won’t answer at all, or they’ll deflect. That’s OK. In the Mission District, a writer asked for two years, learning both much and little.

You see, even if they don’t answer, even if they mumble something noncomittally, even if they pretend you didn’t even ask, just hearing the question will make them think about it for one second. Hearing it from multiple diners will make them pay attention. It will trickle up to the managers of these restaurants that their customers want to know. That influences how they choose suppliers and what questions THEY ask when buying meat. Even if the question has to start with, “what country did this meat come from?

You will help start a revolution.

It is going to be a snowball effect, and I’m asking you to contribute your own snowflake.

I will. Promise you’ll do it, too.

Renting Your Job Is Easier Than Buying

Rent vs Own Image from IBM

Weirdly, from an IBM article about “renting” labor as consultants vs “buying” as full-time workers. But hey, it works for my purposes.

If you rent an apartment, you can pack up and move pretty much whenever. There’s no hassle to sell, no investment to recoup, no lawn to maintain or walls to paint. You. Just. Go.

So it is with employment, though it took the awesome James Altucher to point it out in an email:

“Oh, one [more] good thing about a job: you RENT the company, you don’t OWN the company.

In other words, you can leave any time you want. You don’t have to care about customers, shareholders, colleagues.” – James Altucher

Consider that your license to consider your daily life. If you are a business owner, you have responsibilities, which you likely took on willingly when you started the company. However, if you are NOT a business owner, you have SO MUCH FREEDOM you can barely comprehend. If you think you have no freedom, you are wrong. You have personal responsibilities, but you as an employee have zero working obligations. And in the state of New Mexico, that’s even more true as we have what’s called a “voluntary employment” law.

This means that every moment of every day that you work is completely voluntary, and every moment that you are being paid to come to work is completely voluntary by your employer. You can quit literally any time. And you can be fired anytime. There are no repercussions to this legally. It is liberating because you have only a sense of politeness forcing you to give those two weeks of notice. And if you are STILL employed, it probably means that the company likes you and they want to keep paying you rather than needing to hold on to you for some inconvenient red tape reason.

Rejoice, employees. Be free, if you want to be free.

Artists Die of Exposure Every Day

Image courtesy of Art & Design Posted by GC Gabriela Cimpoaie

Artists? Who cares about those folks – they LOVE what they do and that’s all they need, right?

Consider a more inclusive definition of artist: someone who creates original works using their experience and, not incidentally, their brains. Now, as you can see, an artist can be:

  • writer
  • painter
  • logo designer
  • storyteller
  • sculptor
  • photographer
  • “content creator”

This last designation is the bane of working artists everywhere. The pain is captured well in a NY Times article by Tim Kreider, who says, “I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing.”

Kreider’s worked for 20 years as a writer, after being put through college by his parents. His sister also had college assistance through her medical training, but “as far as I know nobody ever asks her to perform a quick lobectomy — doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just in her spare time, whatever she can do would be great — because it’ll help get her name out there.” Ouch.

One of the reactions to Kreider’s article was by Melinda Syzmanik (who happens to be a pretty nifty children’s book author, now on my radar!). Her blog post delves into the things she’s seen in her own career.

MY brother (George Feucht) is a photographer and cinematographer in his waking life, a well-trained and ridiculously talented professional. He’s asked to do free work all the time, from print publications to wedding photography for friends (usually not the friends who are also artists – they already get it). Let’s say you’re a pretty darn good exterminator with a fledgling business – you have customers but could use more. One of your acquaintences has a little squirrel problem, so they’re wondering if you could, “just swing by and take a look, thanks!” Most people would never ask this. And I hope that most exterminators, even if asked, would say, “No.” Or, “I charge $xx for new customers.”

Exterminator not enough of an example? How about your local dentist, the one that is more than happy to clean your teeth 3 times per year because they’re always looking for new referrals? Walk in there one day when you know they will be pretty empty, and promise a Yelp review for a cleaning. Try it at a restaurant. Try it with your corner hot-dog vendor, “Hey, dude – I just need one hot dog. I’ll walk back to work and tell my coworkers I got it from you!” Try it at a department store – the one that just posted a 3rd-quarter loss (so you *know* they can use business). You’d be more than willing to wear their store-brand clothing all over town just to give them more exposure.

Now how does it sound?

Depending on YOU, depending on the exact circumstances, doing work for free could be beneficial (see Ann Rea’s post). But those circumstances are pretty rare, if you do the math. If an editor called me up and said, “hey, could you write a piece for Runner’s World / Oprah / Time Magazine?” that’s pretty much a big fat NO. However, what if it were a much more targeted audience that could net me immediate benefits? The New Yorker? The New York Times Sunday Magazine? That would take more careful consideration. I already have books I can plug and link to, so that helps. And, if some publication with excellent eyeballs asked to republish something I’ve already put the time into and been paid for – THAT might not be a waste of time.

Ultimately, Mike Peterson sums it up pretty well in his blog post written with the perspective of getting experience in the world (read: growing up):

At 19, I told a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet that, while I didn’t get paid for my work on the campus humor magazine, it was a chance to see my name in print.

He replied, “When I want to see my name in print, I look in the phone book.”