Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Korean Dramas: On the Road to Understanding Sticky "Cheong"
Korean Dramas: On the Road to Understanding Sticky “Cheong”
The first Korean drama I watched was “My Lovely Samsoon.” I found “my” Samsoon by accident on a hot summer night and was totally delighted by her humor, her foul language, and her passionate connection to both love and pastries. She amazed me! However, she and her family and friends and love relationships also confused me. Why was she worried about being 30? Why was a younger guy such an issue? Why did her boyfriend’s mother have such control over him and, thus, her? Why did her sister fear going home a divorced woman?
The plot, the wonderful acting, and this desire to find answers to my many questions kept me watching, addicted to this “virtual” Korea that I had found a way to sneak into. Other dramas that I watched – and there have been many in the last five to six years!! – offered other windows through which I could crawl and catch a glimpse of Korean culture and family life. As a good friend of mine from Korea explained, I have begun to understand the Korean connectedness, “cheong,” that underlies those family relationships. In fact, it is not just a connectedness but a “sticky connectedness – kkeun kkeun han cheong” that I’d begun to experience. It’s that sticky connectedness that draws people together in deep bonds that might be a little beyond an American’s comfort zone.
There used to be a shout-out about family values in American television. I think that recently that has given way to reality shows and crazy competitions. However, I still think that the family values mixed into American television is like a thin layer of frosting smeared on a cupcake of a appeasement for the more conservative viewers. Most Americans understand that the bite-size morsels of life that 30-minute sitcoms offer can add in only a few images of so-called family values. On the contrary, Korean dramas of 60 to 90 minutes per episode and sixteen to over fifty episodes per series provide a much better opportunity to delve into characters’ lives, their relationships, and their conflicts, and to create, finally, after many, many hours of story-telling, a resolution, that maybe was not a neatly tied up Hollywood happy ending, but was still satisfying and often thought-provoking.
As I’ve watched more and more Korean dramas, week-end and daily family dramas, historical dramas and historical fusion, romantic comedies, and action thrillers, the story lines and characters have almost always captured me and smeared me with a wonderful, tasty coating of sticky, sticky cheong. This addiction to Korean dramas that I have experienced really has changed my life and my approach to relationships and conflicts. Just like a classic novel that touches your heart and enriches your life, Korean dramas have broadened not only my understanding of the world at large, but also my own personal world.
Now I know that love isn’t just the American-style rush to pleasure but is built up and reconsidered in terms of what one has to offer the loved one. However, the sticky cheong is in conflict with the individualism that is the Americans’ view on the world. I’m sure Koreans also wonder, “What’s in it for me?” However, there are other connections that need care and monitoring. The focus is on the garden, not on one particular plant.
In the years that I’ve been watching Korean dramas, especially family dramas, I’ve noted exciting changes: plots revolve around some different conflicts related to HIV, homosexuality, single parenting, adoption, and divorce. Women’s lives are also being re-examined in many dramas – women of every age take time to reconsider their choices and those family relationships that require so much hard work and sacrifice, sometimes even leaving the family, like in “Mom’s Dead Upset.” Just like American TV, however, just because certain issues are brought up within the context of a program doesn’t mean that the issue is resolved in the society at large. Yet, what I thought might be taboo topics are treated with warmth and respect in the Korean dramas I’ve seen, giving viewers a way to think about those issues and still maintain that sticky connectedness.
My Korean friend said that some things in the dramas are changing and thus are surprising to her and other Koreans, but that sticky connectedness has just gone a little deeper. I know it’s still there – I can feel it, and it still provides a strong foundation on which the relationships can grow. Maybe that’s why every American I’ve told about Korean dramas and actually watches them does become addicted. That sticky connectedness appeals at a deeper level, beyond a Cinderella story, beyond cultural differences.
I know I still don’t understand sticky cheong completely, but I’m more comfortable with and appreciate the issues that arise within families and loving relationships in Korean dramas. I am also more comfortable with the more realistic ambiguous ending that allows for some things to work out in the end, but not everything. Life is like that – not everything works out the way we’d like it to and not every situation is perfectly resolved at the same time. So, thanks to Korean dramas I’m learning to go deeper, be more patient and enjoy some of that sticky, sticky connectedness.
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”……