Does The Rise Of Real-Time A.I. Language Translation Mark The End of ESL In Asia As A Profession?

by Shelt Garner

The case could be made that with the rise of A.I., the ESL teaching economy in Asia is about to undergo a severe retrenchment. It could be that as A.I. gets better and better at real-time translation, the idea of actually learning English will become quaint in the eyes of South Korean parents who are already often strapped for education cash.

But, I don’t know.

It may not be as simple as that. There is a lot to be said for the simple cultural exchange that takes place when young Korean children — and Korean society as a whole — are exposed to people from outside the country.

So it’s possible that there will be a lot of hand wringing, but, in the end, nothing much will change. Maybe a lot of the poorer school districts, outside of the major cities in South Korea, will give up on ESL, but in big cities nothing will really change that much.

I feel like trying to write a column about this for The Korea Times.

I Sense Someone In South Korea Is Thinking About Me Really Hard (Ha!)

by Shelt Garner

I don’t really believe in New Age bullshit, but sometimes I do find myself having a curious sensation — that someone, somewhere in South Korea (or connected to it) is thinking about me really hard.

Me, (right) in South Korea around 2004.

I know this is fantastical, but in the past, at least, around the time I have such feelings, someone will swoop in and look at this blog. It hasn’t happened — yet — but someone did download “Somehow” my 30,000 word screed about the crazy days and nights I “enjoyed” between 2006 and 2008 in connection to ROKon Magazine, Nori Bar and the late Annie Shapiro.

I dunno. I just don’t know what to tell you, folks. It’s probably nothing. It’s been about 13 years since I was in South Korea and there’s no reason to believe anyone in South Korea — even a Korean — thinks about me at all these days.

But it is all very….spooky. It does, yet again, make me want to return to South Korea (and Asia in general) one last time to see what’s up. I know South Korea well enough to know that there’s a 50 / 50 chance that if I went back to Seoul anytime soon I’d find myself with a job at Samsung training an AI.

I Find Myself Thinking Of Seoul Again

by Shelt Garner

For some reason, I find myself daydreaming about a return to South Korea sooner rather than later. I have no idea why this is. Maybe someone in South Korea is thinking about me really hard?

Anyway, barring something I just can’t predict, I won’t be returning to Asia for some time. The only known way with a clear timetable for me to return to Asia for a while would be if I sold one or both of my novels and they had some success. But from what I know of the post-production nature of the publishing industry….oh boy. It could be five years before anything like that happens — and that’s if I stick the landing.

So, I am just going to have to stew in my juices I suppose. I am going to be well past my prime by the time I return to Asia and it just won’t be the same or as much fun. And, in all honesty, if I hadn’t blown out an emotional knee after Seoul, I would have moved to NYC to seek my fame and fortune.

But….oh boy….I’m older now. A lot older now. And there is a small, small chance that if I found myself not in Seoul or NYC but in LA that I MIGHT be able to find a modicum of success simply because of my personality.

And, yet….I just can’t change how old I am.

An Eventual Return to Asia?

by Shelt Garner

I first went to South Korea just under a generation ago, in the summer of 2004. As such, I find myself yet again brooding over where I might go to should I find myself in a position to return to ROK before I croak.

I think the moment I got off the plane, I would make a bee-line to HBC, what was once the expat ghetto. Things have totally changed since the last time in was in Seoul, so I think, lulz, so what. I would just like to see how things have changed since the last time I was in Seoul.

I think I would then head to the Sincheon / Hongdae part of Seoul to see if Nori Bar is still there. Of course, by doing this, I would be putting myself in a position to meet some in-laws and out-laws that maybe I should try to avid. But, lulz, so what. It’s what I want to do.

Then, I think, I might take the KTX to Busan to spend a few days down there. Then, I would return to Seoul and make my way to Southeast Asia to kind of chill out there. I never got to Cambodia or Vietnam the last time I was in SEA, so that’s probably where I would want to hang out for a few days.

The whole thing would take about two weeks, I think.

The thing is, of course, that I’m so….colorful…that there is a chance that someone during the course of my return to Asia would all but demand I linger in Asia because they have a job they absolutely want me to do.

But…I dunno. At the moment, there’s no assurance that I will return to Asia anytime soon — if ever.

I Really Miss Living In Asia

by Shelt Garner

The thing they don’t tell you about living in South Korea is there is something of a time limit. But the time limit is different for everyone and you can reach it without any notice. This is definitely what happened to me.

But as 2024 rolls around, I find myself thinking of my first journey to South Korea in the summer of 2004. Living in Asia totally, totally changed my life and world view. There is a before and after, especially once the whole ROKon Magazine catastrophe took place.

The issue is that ROKon Magazine kind of kneecapped me on an emotional basis because once I got home, a combination of grief and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life put me in neutral for about a decade. I had ambition but no motivation.

I wanted to either go back to Asia or move to somewhere like New York City, but I just did not have the emotional strength to pull it off. So, I did nothing. Now, of course, I have both ambition and motivation when it comes to the novel I’m working on.

The problem is, of course, that if I should blow up with my DJ (novel money) and suddenly have the resources to get married and have kids…I will be about 20 years late relative to my peers. And all my female peers would be in their 50s and, as such, unable to have kids.

Everything would be far more complicated than I thought, even if I finally achieved the success by living up to the “potential” that the late Annie Shapiro told me I had all those years ago.

I still want to return to Asia, though. And, yet, if I did sell my first novel and had the means to return to Asia in some capacity, even that context would be different. My time in South Korea was sooooo long ago that only a few Koreans might remember who I am. (Which, given how crazy I was in South Korea, is probably a good thing.)

It’s all very muddled because in my mind, I’m 20 years younger but I’m now reminded on a daily basis that I definitely am NOT that young anymore. At least I’m alive and (reasonably) healthy.

That’s all I’ve got going for me at the moment.

Angst For The Memories, South Korea


by Shelt Garner

The last few days I’ve really had South Korea on the brain and so imagine my surprise when lo and behold, I saw today that — you guessed it — someone from South Korea checked out this blog.

Whenever this happens, I’m at a loss. I have no idea why the person looked at my blog and all it does is stir up memories of my wasted youth. I could have been the most famous expat in South Korea if only little Korean kids didn’t hate my guts.

And, yet, here I am — nearly 20 years since I first went to South Korea, still nursing my wounds from stupid shit that happened a long time ago. I am well aware that if I ever went back to Asia, it wouldn’t be anything like what I remember it being.

Things move fast in Asia — and especially South Korea — and the whole vibe would be different. It was different the last time I was in South Korea. It was, in short, boring. I just happened to be in South Korea at a very specific moment in time when things were really, really bonkers and interesting in the expat community there.

I think if I wanted any similar experience, I would have to go to Cambodia. But, even then, I think that’s probably overrated. The Internet has ruined everything and people just swoop in and get all the cool stuff of living in Asia without having to go through the hard part of learning the culture and networking with fellow expats.

So, it was a long time ago and nobody cares anymore.

Angst For The Memories: South Korea Edition

by Shelt Garner

The older I get, the more I reflect on my time in South Korea as an English teacher. The whole hagwan system in South Korea is so fucked up that I worry that some of my former students who are now adults might have some very vivid memories of how weird a teacher I was.

Just the fact that a number of my students from that period in my life would be old enough to be curious about what I’m up to now is enough to rattle my cage. I say this in the context of continuing to see pings to this Website from people in South Korea.

Now, to be clear, I was so totally over the top and whacked out at times during my time in South Korea that there are many, many different types of people who might be interested enough in me to look me up.

It could be some old, long-term expat interested me just as much as it might be a former student. In fact, that was something that used to bother me with a lot of my fellow expats when I was in South Korea — they acted like the Koreans they interacted were, like robots, like they weren’t, like real.

I was always very aware that the Koreans were just a human as the expats and, as such, there was a very logical explanation for why they acted the way they did. That knowledge now leads me to be weary of why I keep getting pings from South Korea in my Webstats.

The good olde days with the late Annie Shapiro.

It is difficult to articulate how…unique…I was during my time in South Korea. I was so fucked up that I ended up in a self-published book about crazy expats. That was tough, let me tell you.

Anyway, I do find myself contemplating at least one last return to Asia before I drop dead. The problem is of course, that it’s been so long since I was in South Korea that things will be dramatically different to the point that it will be very jarring relative to my extremely romanized memory of that period in my life.

It’s over. Despite my best hopes and dreams, I’m just too old to ever return to Seoul and fix all the things I did wrong when I was there as a far younger man. Everyone has moved on.

It was a long time ago, and nobody cares anymore.

It Was A Long Time Ago & Nobody Cares Anymore

by Shelt Garner

The thing about my time in South Korea as an expat is, for one brief shining moment I was a somebody. I felt like I lived up to my “potential” because I was not only DJing at the best expat bar in Seoul, I was — at one point — the publisher of the only English language magazine in the city.

The events that left me emotionally kneecapped all happened in the course of a less than a year from late 2006 to early 2007, though there was an extended epilogue that would finally see everything come crashing down in February 2008.

I’m really leaning into my very, very romanticized memories of my time as an expat to flesh out a six novel project that is meant to be something of an allegory about the Trumplandia Era.

The thing that is growing more and more alarming is, of course, the fact that I’m no longer young. My looming 50th birthday is causing me no end of existential angst. Now that I finally have both ambition and motivation I’m kind of stuck with one clear path as to how to pull myself out of oblivion — stick the landing when it comes to writing my first novel.

But even then, even under the best of circumstances, it could very well be in my mid-50s before I actually see any sort of improvement in my lot. And, as I keep saying, if I get what I want, I don’t get what I want. I could write a successful breakout first novel and I’ll be so old that I won’t be able to date 24 year olds and become a smug “bi-costal” Twitter liberal who looks down on the Poors of middle America from first class on my way to LA or NYC.

I suppose some of all of this is coming from how I’m finally transitioning from the wilfully delusional stage of working on this novel to the point where I kind of have to sit up straight and take things a lot more seriously. Publishing is an industry and me being delusional just isn’t going to cut it in the world of the cold hard metrics of actually getting a novel traditionally published.


The point is — I still have a lingering desire to return to Asia for at least one visit before I drop dead. It’s not going to be anything like I remember and, in fact, it might just be really boring. A lot of the reason why I think about Seoul so much says more about my dissipated youth than it does what actually happened in Seoul.


South Korea On My Mind

by Shelt Garner

Yet another expat from South Korea who I don’t know looked at my LinkedIn profile within the last 24 hours, which yet again makes me wonder if people in the South Korea expat community are still talking about me.

I don’t think you realize how colorful and over-the-top I was at the height of my bonkers behavior in Seoul in late 2006 – to early 2008. I was so over the top, so manic that someone even put me in a book about weird expats. That did wonders for my self-esteem, let me tell you.

“It was all long time ago and nobody cares anymore,” is what I like to tell myself, but I think maybe I’m underestimating the impact I had one my fellow expats all those years ago. There are two types of expats in South Korea — the ones who stay a short amount of time and the ones who never leave and go slowly insane. (I say this as someone who stayed too long and abruptly left South Korea because of “homesickness.”)

I love South Korea, but there is definitely a time limit for most people who live there for more than just a year or two. Something about Korean culture really, really gets to the Western mind and it takes a unique person with a hearty constitution to be able to survive for more than, say, five or six years.

Now that I think about it, my best friend from my Korea days is back in South Korea at the moment and I suppose it’s possible that in the process of catching up with people (she’s been out of country for a few years) I get brought up in conversation — expats love, love, love to gossip — and, ta-da someone gets curious enough that they look at my woefully unimportant LinkedIn profile.

The core of the six novel project I’m working on at the moment is pretty much what was going on in my life in late 2006 – early 2007 when I was running ROKon Magazine and DJing at Nori Bar in Sinchon. Those were the days, as they say. I am using my extremely romanticized memories of that era in my life — smashed into a few other eras of my life — as the basis of a murder mystery set in a small town in Virginia. The apex of my life to date. I’m hoping that I can ride those memories to sticking the landing with my first novels. Even if I’m going to be way too old to do such a thing by the time everything gets sorted out.

Anyway. I really miss South Korea, despite everything. But for the fact that little Koreans don’t like me (and I don’t like them) I would probably be still in South Korea, married to a Korean woman with a small brood of Amerasian children struggling to learn English like the rest of the Korean population.