Monday, November 5, 2007
YA Entertainment Essay: "What Impact Have Korean TV Dramas Had On Your Life? What impact hasn't it had?" - by Aryf Hussain
My name is Aryf Hussain. I was born in Korea but was adopted and grew up in Sweden. This background information plays a large part in why and how much Korean TV Dramas (K-Dramas) have impacted my life. Being ethnically Korean, for a long time I had had a mild interest in Korea and had made various half-hearted attempts to learn about Korean language, customs and such. All that changed in the Summer of 2006 when I browsed the DVD section of an LA Public Library branch.
I picked up the K-Drama 'Hotelier' and although nothing was written about it on the box, decided to see what it was about. When I started watching it I was surprised at how absorbed and engrossed I became - even more so because I don't watch TV, being one of the few who think it's generally a waste of time. 'Hotelier' had such interesting characters and story. The plot twists, writing, pacing and format was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I immediately tried to write down who was who, in order to fully understand the plot. This led to learning to write and read the Korean 'alphabet' (known as HanGeul). 'Hotelier' was to be my first experience with not being able to wait to see the next episode after each cliffhanger ending. I would make the 45 minute drive just to go to that library every other day, since one can only borrow three DVDs at a time, thus burning through nine episodes every other day. I was born in Korea but abandoned at a n orphanage in Seoul and I guess that must have had something to do with how much of an impact the scene in which 'Frank' and 'Jenny' get reunited with their father, who gave them up as children, made on me. As I cried while watching this scene, I realized for the first time in my life that there may be some issues I still hadn't resolved with being abandoned.
As I jokingly say, "'Hotelier' got me into this whole mess to begin with," and in Fall 2006 I enrolled in Korean lessons at the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles (KCCLA). Growing up in Sweden, there were no Korean role-models or even Korean friends and so I always felt like I was never ethnically part of anything. Watching K-Dramas has played a huge part in enabling me to feel that I not only belong, but am genuinely happy to be part of this group we call 'Koreans'. I have met and continue to meet so many Koreans and Korean-Americans (KAs), many who share the same passion for K-Dramas, and for the first time feel like I actively belong to a group, rather than passively accept being Korean.
Also at KCCLA was a talk on K-Dramas with Tom Larsen of YA Entertainment as guest speaker. We all knew EXACTLY what he meant when he talked about how addictive these dramas are. Everyone laughed when he said something like, "We've all found ourselves awake, watching a K-Drama at 2 am on a work-night, but we think, 'if I only stay awake three more hours, I can find out how this whole thing ends'." I guess this is the K-Drama addict's version of someone who's drinking at a bar and as the morning approaches, convinces himself that he can get by on four, no three...or maybe just two hours of sleep. Myself, I've certainly rolled into work on barely two hours of sleep from having finished a K-Drama at 4 am that morning. When I bought 'All About Eve', I finally had to stop myself after viewing the first eight episodes non-stop.
This summer I participated in a Korean language speech contest at KCCLA. I mentioned how much of an impact food and eating together has on relationships, citing K-Dramas as a prime example where this could be seen. I won second prize, which was a study-trip to Korea. The media was there and there were articles on me and my story LA's two biggest Korean-language newspapers. As a result, people have contacted me about things ranging from finding my biological parents to wanting to set me up with their niece.
These dramas have helped me understand people a little more; that everyone has their problems and sources of suffering as well as joy. For example, how can one not feel sad for Choi Ji-Woo's character in 'Mr. Duke' as she struggles to drive on the freeway, trying to see Kim Seung-Woo's character, all the while aggravating the other drivers? Whenever I see someone drive erratically, instead of getting angry, I try to think of that scene and understand that there's probably a reason for it and that I don't know what they might be going through at that moment.
Even in real-life, the suicide of my favorite Korean actress, Jung Da-Bin (Rooftop Room Cat), hit me really hard. It surprised me how difficult her death was for me, to think that someone felt so worthless and could see no other solution but to kill themselves simply broke my heart. We all die - even when my own father died, I didn't feel the sadness I did with Da-Bin. This is not a terrible thing to say, as I know he had lived a full life and had accepted, even welcomed the need to 'move on'. With Da-Bin there's so much more she could have done, already having reached so many people. This is a testament to K-Dramas and their ability to move people all over the world despite language differences and being out of the Hollywood mainstream.
Even in conflicts with others, K-Dramas remind me that two adversaries don't need to kill each other. How many dramas have had rivals or enemies that can still sit down (over a bottle of soju...) and talk things through, even if things don't get solved overnight? Although it's fiction, this is something we see more in K-Dramas, whereas many Hollywood productions would have the same people just threatening each other.
So now my addiction that I spend too much time and money on is these dramas. Without owning (or borrowing) a series, I can only imagine the agony of having to wait another week for the next episode to be broadcast on 'regular TV'. As mentioned above, these dramas have had a profound impact in my life, but just as important is the simple, sheer joy of tuning in to these characters on the screen and finding out what will happen in their world, which has become ours.
Great Websites to Check Out!
- Dramafever.com: Fantastic site for watching Korean dramas! Sign up and they keep track of where you are on which episode!
- Korean Cultural Center Los Angeles: Great cultural programs and Korean language classes on Tuesday evenings!
- yesAsia.com Link: Great source for Korean and other Asian dramas and films! Many sales! Great service!
- Also recommended: koreanclass101.com. Note: free downloads!
- This link takes you to the website of two amazing composers: JJ & Chris!
- Wilki'sblog w/great photos of Korean/cross-cultural events!
- Art Gallery Casa Muhyang: Offers "the beauty of various traditional cultures"
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Favorite Restaurants (mostly Korean)
Just adding now: Tender Greens (9523 Culver Blvd., Culver City): http://www.tendergreensfood.com/
Banchan a la Carte (141 N. Western, LA): http://losangeles.citysearch.com/profile/45654877/?brand=smx_restaurant-nc Enjoyed their delicious chap chae with grilled veggies!
San Ya (2897 W. Olympic Bl. between Normandie and Vermont - exact cross street is Fedora): They have an 'unlimited' special for $14 right now.
***ChoSun Galbee Korean BBQ : http://www.chosungalbee.com/
***BCD Tofu House:
***Dong Il Jang Restaurant (3455 W. 8th St., LA): http://la.foodblogging.com/2006/01/21/korean-bbq/
***Bon Juk Porridge Shop: near Kingsley and Wilshire
***Mu Dung San Restaurant: http://www.ktownsearch.net/details.asp?id=230
***Cafe MAK: See link below in "Sweet Spots"
Recommended Sweet Spots:
***Union Bakery in South Pasadena (1138 Fair Oaks at Monterey Road): http://www.insiderpages.com/b/3711088944
***Bulgarini Gelato in Altadena: http://www.bulgarinigelato.com/
***Vanille in San Marino: http://www.insiderpages.com/b/3710358077
***Perfectly Sweet in Alhambra: http://www.cityofalhambra.org/about/dining/Sweet.html
***Cafe MAK in LA: http://losangeles.citysearch.com/profile/42539398/?brand=smx_restaurant-nc
***Jin Patisserie in Venice (recommended-can't wait to go there!):http://www.jinpatisserie.com/
A Persistent Passion: Episode Two
Episode One (Re-Cap):
Two summers ago, our heroine found “My Lovely Sam-Soon” while channel-surfing, and “tiny” Korea jumped off the map and into her life! From “Sam-Soon,” she went on to “Winter Sonata,” and moved from awareness and fascination to…..love, not just for Bae Yong Jun, but for Korea itself! During that year, she watched dozens of Korean dramas, sharing her newfound love with her family and friends. Most got hooked, staying up till 4 or 5 a.m. to watch DVDs she lent them. (You’re reading this, so you understand!)
She made new friends, too: Choonhee, the librarian at her college, and June and Wally (aka Yun-Suk), owners of a neighborhood bakery. They tried to teach her to say “Anyeong Haseyo” and “Gamsahamnida,” but her tongue tripped badly on the new sounds. Given our heroine’s bigger, better world view, she wanted to learn more. When Choonhee recommended the Korean classes at the Los Angeles Korean Cultural Center (KCC), our heroine’s addiction was about to lead her way beyond her TV……
Episode Two: Close-up of our heroine, during break at Korean language class, awkwardly picking up kimbap with chopsticks.
“But how did you become so interested in Korean dramas, Sharon?” That was Jenny, a communications major from Singapore, just finishing her degree in L.A.
“I don’t know. I just started watching and knew,” I replied as I grabbed a napkin, “knew that true love still exists somewhere in Korea.”
“Oh, Sharon,” she said, evidently concerned about my delusional state. I shrugged, smiled, and we both laughed.
They say that something is love made visible. I don’t remember. Maybe it’s Korean dramas. I do remember another thing people say about love - that it isn’t just a feeling; it’s an action. This past year, I know I moved past the feeling part of loving Korea to the action. As I summarize all of these changes, I will probably amaze myself!
A year ago, when I started studying Korean at KCC, people asked, even KCC asked on the application, why I wanted to learn Korean. All I could say was that I wanted to know more, to understand. In just a few weeks, I was amazed - I could read! I went from not knowing if a storefront sign was in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean, to knowing it was hangeul, and I was able to sound it out. I didn’t know what it meant – but I could read! Now I have some basic conversation skills and am building my vocabulary. I can say: Hangook drama-reul sarang hamnida! (I love Korean dramas!)
Korean language classes were just the start! This spring, I attended KCC’s Korean Entertainment lecture series and learned more about Korean dramas, film, and animation. At the last lecture, I got the names and contact info of people who wanted to keep meeting to discuss Korean films and dramas and to explore other avenues of Korean culture – especially those avenues in nearby Koreatown! I’ve organized several gatherings for the “Hallyu Surfers” to have dinner, see films and attend cultural events – surfing the Korean Wave together! I now have my favorite Korean food – bibimbap – and favorite places to go – Chosun Galbee and Café MAK, where Elisa helps me with Korean! This new leadership role has been good for me – and so much fun! I’ve made some wonderful friends! I’ve also delved deeper into Korean film, doing some research to help prepare for a possible lecture series, even contacting scholars about participating and being delighted by their positive response! Perhaps they, too, crave more opportunities to talk about Korea!
I’ve attended KCC’s art exhibit openings, tea ceremonies, and musical performances. Images related to my experiences with Korean culture now appear in my writing. I hadn’t realized that the connection being formed was so deep. Several poems later, I was writing one screenplay about a kidnapping in Korea and another about a young woman who leaves Jeju Island in the 50s for Seoul and meets a young American soldier – someone like my dad, who actually served in Japan. That story, entwined with my own family’s history, further deepens the connection with Korea.
As I’ve continued to learn more, I’ve gained the wisdom to know that this “Persistent Passion” is not a five-episode drama, like “Freeze.” It’s an epic, like “Dae Jang Geum,” that will have more twists and turns than I can imagine. In fact, just this week I started my first blog, where I share some of my Korean-inspired poetry. I foresee a serious addiction to managing the online discussion on all things Korean!
Back when I was just “in love,” not actively loving and courting Korea, I had this fantasy: Bae Yong Jun would thank me for writing such a great screenplay for him, and I would – oh so eloquently thank him for touching my heart in “Winter Sonata.” Adapting that drama’s metaphor of finding your home in the heart of your true love, I would say something like, “Invisible walls were knocked down as I watched ‘Winter Sonata,’ and my heart grew and grew! Now my heart isn’t just your house, it’s your summer palace, big enough to hold all of Korea – North and South! – and even most of Asia! You can come visit whenever Seoul gets too darn hot!”
Since that fantasy, when an eager fan waited in a breezy, elegant, empty palace for her Yonsama, things have changed. As you can see, I have less time for all my dramas – though I still watch them and continue to get my friends addicted! Now I am busy with a real connection to Korea, one that started out in stories about love, loss, family and friendship in a culture I knew so little about. Once I watched, however, I understood, and it became a part of me. I am so thankful. I wasn’t bad before, but now I am so much better! And if Bae Yong Jun comes to visit his summer palace, he will have to wander the crowded hallways to find me among all the people I’ve come to know and love. When he finds me, of course, I will give him a big hug – one of those “Korean hugs,” when usually the guy pulls the girl close to him, and suddenly they know how much they mean to each other. Then, I’ll say “gamsahamnida, oppa!” - - and let him go....
Bae Yong Jun watches as our heroine walks over to the TV in the palace living room and turns it off so her friends can talk. He is suddenly grabbed by Auntie Lourdes, who looks like she’s going to faint! “When I watched you in ‘Untold Scandal,’ I – I – can’t breathe!” She collapses in his arms! A beautiful young Asian woman, Michelle, rushes over to help. Bae Yong Jun looks on as Michelle revives the older woman. Michelle looks up, and Bae Yong Jun gives a start as he gazes into her eyes. A look of recognition? His long lost sister? A reunion of souls destined to meet? Be sure to watch Episode Three of “A Persistent Passion”……