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It’s been a while since I last wrote in this particular blog of mine, and what better way to return with a peculiarly random post.


A few days ago I was looking for a video of the Lotte World Tower in Seoul on YouTube. I’m a huge urban infrastructure geek and have a fascination for skyscrapers, hence my search. I ended up watching this video from Red Dragon Diaries who gave a tour of the observation deck at the tower. For some strange reason, I decided to look at his channel. And this is something I usually don’t do. Unless I am subscribed to a channel, I rarely take a look at other content from the user. But I did. I don’t know why but the next thing I know it was past 1:00 am and I was eight years deep into his other videos.

The long and short of it is that he’s an ESL teacher. He took the plunge after the recession in the US, and found himself staying in Korea and Japan. Now, he’s a teacher in China. I’ll let the rest of his videos speak about him, there’s just so much content. Interestingly, I noticed that he had been on a two-year hiatus and had not posted any new videos until a few weeks ago. Talk about timing. Around him is a relatively substantial following. Not in the millions or even hundreds of thousands. But a bit of a cult-following, many of whom are dreaming to become ESL teachers too (and of course the random viewer, including me).

Anyway, I’m writing about this because Red Dragon Diaries aka SeoulTee aka Tom Gates is probably one of the most interesting people I’ve stumbled upon online. You know how many of today’s vloggers take their work seriously, with a lot of effort on content. They also get a lot of sponsorships to help them with their production. With Tom, his videos are so simple, straightforward and devoid of pretensions that you really pay attention.  Sometimes it’s just him talking to the camera. And yet, it’s more entertaining than all these overly-produced blatant vlogs/advertorials. I’m not particularly interested in ESL or Judo but when Tom talks about these things, you can see how professional, well-spoken and polite he is. Of course, it helps that he is good looking, and you wouldn’t know his real age unless you watch his 50 Facts About Me video.

Whether it’s a trip to the grocery or a travel video, a simple talk about managing classrooms or a reflection about no panties in Judo in Korea (one of his funniest ever!), you find yourself drawn to his videos. His voice is pleasant. He has a sense of humor (and the occasional flashing of his smile). He’s honest and personable. You can tell he puts the effort to really see things from a different perspective, and not just be influenced by what’s being talked about in the world. Balanced – that’s how I would put it. He balances his views.

Some of his videos have also tackled his setbacks. And because he comes across as a good guy (of course, as much as his videos and the way he interacts in comments would indicate), you feel for him. I also appreciate how he deals with these struggles. Maybe it’s also because he’s a Christian and isn’t ashamed to talk about his faith. Maybe it’s also because of his changing hairstyle and goatee. Maybe because he’s 6’3? He has a unique charm about him, and people notice. Just read the comments on his videos (except that one user who spams his videos with indecent proposals).

But I guess the reason why I developed an affinity from him – and perhaps quite frankly, an attraction (ha, look at Mr. Franco the struggling Catholic with same-sex attractions be smitten over a vlogger he doesn’t know personally) – is because some of his stories remind me of mine. Now that I’m 30, I find myself at the crossroads. Do I continue with my corporate job? Do I seek the freedom of freelance work? Am I ready for the uncertainty of doing part-time work? Or am I too afraid about what people would think. In the Philippines, people put a premium on education and the rise in the corporate ladder. To others, going independent – whether as a writer or doing remote jobs and freelance projects – is a sign of failure, that you’re not good enough for the corporate world with the nice ties and even nicer-sounding job titles. Relatives would think you’re just lazy (and perhaps I am).

I guess my point is, there’s a reason I stumbled upon one of his videos. Thank you Lotte World Tower! Haha. I learned a lot about life thinking about his perspective. I’m a sentimental and often melancholic person who gets homesick and sad even with the smallest triggers. Tom’s disposition is so different from mine, but at times also very similar. He sees the bigger picture. He tries to be positive. And he does his best to overcome adversity. Sounds cliche but it’s a necessary truth we all need to learn. Life is all about how we view things, and how we make the most of the time given to us. So when Tom speaks about his setbacks, including an unfortunate enterprise in Japan and an unexpected turn of events, its his vulnerability and soul bared out in a monologue that transcends the digital space and connects to those who are having a rough time too. Worn out, a little grayer, and tired — but most importantly, wiser—Tom is at his most human. There is no script, no guide, no reason or rhyme. He doesn’t air his dirty laundry, only all the mud he had gone through in becoming the better person that he is.

And I guess, there’s just something about him – a good heart. Of course, this isn’t the most accurate judgment of his character. I’ve only started watching his videos for three days. Maybe I’m wrong. But from what one can glimpse from his channel, he is a genuinely good person, and it stands out from the rest of the vloggers you see online who are so full of pretension and who are probably jerks in real life. Tom comes across as what you see is what you get. So even a 40+ minute video of him narrating how his life has come after eight years is worth watching and listening to. He has a lot of dreams, and good intentions. This world is devoid of those things. Best of all, he’s helped a lot of people and plans to help even more. Funny, and maybe even sad, how the good and the right stands out so easily now amidst the darkness of the world. Tom’s a reminder that we should never get immune or tired or disillusioned about pursuing what is good for us, and doing good for others the best we can. Tom tells us, simply, that the best way to become a human being is to be a good person.

I can only wish him well now that he’s settled in a better dig. Maybe he’ll get married too, soon? Haha. He deserves it, I think. Meanwhile, let me regret not having followed him eight years ago.