one girl's journey across kpop paradise

My First Brush With Korea

Compilation of Asia’s Top Stars: Chinese, Korean, and Japanese – can you tell who is who?

Four years ago, I was at my friend’s house and another house guest of hers asked me what my ethnicity was. Before I could answer, he asked, “Are you Korean?” And I said no and told him I was Chinese. And he responded saying “You know that’s a compliment, right? Generally westerners agree that Koreans are the most attractive East Asians.”

At first I was flattered but then I became perplexed and even offended by his comment. Westerners really think Koreans are most attractive? Since when? Why do they think that? I knew Japanese culture was pretty big at that point, what with anime, its advanced technology and unique culture, but what did Westerners see in Korea that I didn’t?

Now putting aside the fact that some people may just be taking the comment as a pick-up line (the guy was clearly in his sixties), that was the first time in my life that I was exposed to a westerner’s perspective of Korean people. The exchange may have been brief and insignificant to some, but several years later, I would come to understand the meaning behind those words.

At that time I had no exposure to kpop and had no idea of the massive influence it would grow to have in terms of spreading the Hallyu Wave around the world.

It all changed when I traveled to China three years ago. At the time, I went into a CD store, looking for popular Chinese pop music to put on my iPod. However, as soon as I went in, a store worker came up to me and asked me if I had heard of a Korean boy group named Super Junior. I said no and she proceeded to show me posters of them and said that their latest album “Sorry Sorry” had sold more copies than any other album in the past couple of months. I was instantly attracted to the handsome faces, sleek and fashionable outfits and decided to give the album a go. When I listened to the music, I was greeted by fast-paced beats, catchy melodies, modern synths, and professional production quality I had not before heard from Chinese pop. And although I couldn’t understand a word that was sung (or rapped), I was instantly hooked.

This was the beginning of my complicated love affair with k-pop. Little did I know at the time that it would explode to become the biggest cultural phenomenon to come from Asia in decades.

At first, I was stunned to discover that there were many other k-pop fanatics just like me, living in countries around the world, some of whom had never met Asians before! So what was the big deal about k-pop? What metaphorical crack did k-pop hide in their songs and music videos that continued to draw in the crowds, gaining more and more devoted fans each and every year?

To be continued…

I Need Romance 2 – The First Six Episodes

I’m not really big on drama recaps, because they take a lot of time to write and make, and I’m more about discussing the actual story line and plot developments versus the little minutiae of what happened.

Let me start off by saying I absolutely adore this drama. As much as I loved the first season, this second season has gotten me hook, line, and sinker. I don’t think I’ll ever love a drama (in whatever language) as much as I love this one. I’ve also been watching “Big,” but that drama just doesn’t get me in the heart or the gut. “I Need Romance” gets me everywhere. It’s a drama that absolutely, completely understands me and the complexities of the human heart.

I like discussing this drama based on relationships, rather than by episode, so I’ll start off with the season’s OTP:

Yeolmae + Seokhyun

What Yeolmae says about Seokhyun:

“This man, who exists to be the most distant and strangest person, sometimes approaches me , in an uncomparable way, as the closest person to me. I like that about this man. The reason why I got back with him five times after breaking up with him five times was because I loved that about this man.”     

These two…they have so much backstory that I don’t know where to start with them. I’ve never had a 12 year-long relationship with any guy before, but I’d imagine it would be amazing. In the case of these two, it’s having grown up together, having broken up many times but having gotten back together an equal number of times, still loving each other despite full knowing each other’s flaws and ticks (and not necessarily positive ones).

Yeolmae states many times (to herself) that she loves Seokhyun and that she has never stopped loving him in their long 12 year relationship. She’s just like any other girl – she gets angry when he ignores her due to his own emotions and inability to express himself and she gets jealous when he flirts with other girls. What more can we expect from her?

In the last episode (6), we see that she goes to great lengths to find out if Seokhyun actually, truly loves her. He’s often affectionate towards her, but his eyes wander, so it’s no surprise she wants a definite answer from him. Hell, if a guy was playing around with my emotions like that, I’d want an answer too! But no matter what she does, Seokyun will not budge and tell her his true feelings. As the audience, we know that he loves her. We know that he looks after her when she’s not looking, and I like that in a guy. He’s does things for a girl but doesn’t tell her – he’s not the type to boost his ego by taking credit of every nice thing he does for the girl.

The one gripe I have to the Yeolmae character is that she feels the need to marry by the age of 30. As the audience, we can see that that was one of the biggest obstacles in Yeolmae and Seokhyun’s relationship. He loves her but he doesn’t want to get married. She is scared of being alone forever (I mean, she had invested 12 years of her life with this one man!), so she wants some stability. Personally, I don’t think making it legally bound (aka getting married) makes a relationship any better. If someone’s going to have wandering eyes when you’re just dating, they’re going to have wandering eyes if you’re married. It’s as simple as that. I think in the end Yeolmae realizes this – that marriage doesn’t define a relationship. It’s each other’s commitment that does, and she has never had a definite answer from Seokhyun. I can understand where she’s coming from. She’s not desperate; she just loves the man and she needs an answer from him. What’s desperate about that?

The one thing I really liked that Yeolmae did is that she jumped into the water, holding her breath under there, and said she wouldn’t come up until Seokhyun gave her an answer. I honestly thought that would persuade him to actually say SOMETHING but no, he just walks away! What if she had drowned, you jerk? I think he knows her well enough to know she’s not going to let herself drown, but still, cold-hearted much?

I think the series is hinting that we’ll continue to see more inside Seokhyun’s brain, which I’m really looking forward to. Right now, his character is a real enigma. His actions and his words are contradictory; his actions speak more to the fact that he does love her and his words are cowardly, showing no commitment or definite answers. I’m really curious to see how he really feels in the episodes to come.

Yeolmae and Jihoon

This is the second main pairing of the drama. As much as I didn’t want to like Jihoon (since I liked Seokhyun right off the bat), I’m really growing to like his character. Versus Seokhyun, who seems suffer from immature artist syndrome (he is a screenwriter after all), Jihoon is calm, collected, and oozes confidence and sexiness like no other cafe owner I’ve seen. I don’t know what it is, but I can see him having chemistry with any girl…hell any guy!…or even a cat. He’s just that sexy. He lights up the screen whenever he’s on it, and we haven’t seen too much of him yet, but boy am I excited for him to get more screen time now that he’s confessed to Yeolmae that he likes her.

What I like about this show is that Yeolmae, our female protagonist, isn’t drop-dead-gorgeous. She’s petite and pretty, like many other Korean drama protagonists, and the guys know this. Jihoon basically states outright (to the audience) that she’s not very pretty and that she doesn’t have a very good figure. He also said that she was on the short side. So the guys aren’t after her due to her stunning good looks, which makes me like these guys so much more. The guys have respect for her and aren’t just after sex. Good to know.

We haven’t seen too much of this couple yet, but it’s interesting to see the backstory between the two. Jihoon met Yeolmae when he took a guitar class and she was the teacher. She didn’t really recognize him, but years later, she ended up taking a coffee class where Jihoon was the teacher. Cool reversal, huh? Jihoon says that Yeolmae is his “fate girl” – not sure what that means, but sounds interesting.

Jihee and Her Jerk Boyfriend & Taewoo

Sorry, I legit forgot the jerk boyfriend’s name. But he really doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned by name, because from now henceforward he will forever be dubbed “The Jerk Boyfriend.” I don’t even know what to say about him, because he really is like the lowest of scum without cheating (hope he hasn’t been doing that!). I mean, what kind of boyfriend forces his girlfriend to have sex and then complain that she’s not making it fun for him? And then he goes ahead an installs a mirror above her dresser so he can see the two from an aerial view while they make out. What the hell???? He’s simply out of his mind. Dude, I know that you’re sick of “not getting any,” but indulging in your sick fetishes is just downright gross. Do the girl a favor and dump her, because she’s so scared of you she doesn’t have to courage to do it herself.

In comes in the Knight in Shining Armor, Taewoo. Granted, he’s not that perfect, which is probably a good thing. I don’t really find him very attractive (there’s just something about this face), but he’s like a million steps up form the Jerk Boyfriend, so I really don’t mind. Jihee’s character is definitely my least favorite out of the female trio, mostly because her character is the most naive and is such a pushover. She just lets her Jerk Boyfriend stomp all over her, and then when it comes to a guy that’s actually decent to her, she’s nothing but ungrateful towards him. What gives, girl? You need to come to your senses and realize who’s actually worth keeping in your life and who needs to go, go, go? I’ll give her some more time to figure out her life before I totally lose faith in her character.

Jaekyung and Cheating Husband & Jeongmin

Out of all the characters, I identify most with Jaekyung. She’s basically your ballsy, go-getter girl and she doesn’t take any bullshit. However, as strong as she is, she caved and married a rich announcer instead of the man she loves, Jeongmin. Actually, I might actually do the same thing in the future. I identify with Jaekyung because she’s very ambitious and stops at nothing (not even love) to get what she wants in life. If that involves marrying a man of means, it might as well be a done deal.

However, her husband has been cheating with her from day one, and as a woman in Korea, she has a lot fewer options than a man in the same situation would. Her husband is a well-known announcer, similar to level of a chaebol or a famous politician, so a scandal would most definitely be caught by the press and their breakup would be very damaging to the person the public deems to be in the wrong. In this case, Jaekyung’s scheming (and I hate to say it, but smart) husband beats her to the chase and frames her and her lover Jeongmin for cheating, while he tells the public that “suffered a lot because he truly loved her.” That’s what you get for having a lot of money and power, huh?

In the end, I’m glad Jaekyung was brave and faced the press like a champ and said that although her husband provided her with everything, she loves another man. Such bravery. And the advice came from none other than Seokhyun, who seems immature given his interactions with Yeolmae, but is actually incredibly intelligent and insightful. He basically said that although she’s the one who will be met with criticism and although it will be difficult, she has to overcome it by proving her competence and good character to everyone she meets. (Think of it as catching Hilary Clinton cheating on Bill. She would be met with dirty looks everywhere she goes in America. Korean society just doesn’t give women the same leeway it gives men, but that’s a story for another day). Jaekyung’s the one who was the good better person by not giving in to her husband’s scheming ways. She doesn’t have to feel any guilt for what happened. Her dignity is left in tact. And her husband? Forever burning in hell for his unforgivable actions. The drama basically implies that we humans don’t have to try to play the Grand Judge: karma will eventually come to bite those who are evil.

So that ends my rather long analysis of the relationships in I Need Romance, season 2 (up to episode 6). I’ll probably do another one of these at the end of the season, just to keep from making y’all bored by reading too much of my nonsense. And if you haven’t seen the drama, watch it here :)

I Need Romance is BACK!


That’s right! My favorite Korean drama is back – with a season 2!

When I saw this news, you do not know how excited I was. Coming from the same PD team, I had high hopes that it would be as good (if not better) than the first one. Usually sequels are not as good as the original, but since this Season 2 isn’t technically a sequel (it’s a new story with the same basic premise as the first season), there’s no reason it should fall into that sophomore slump.

I just saw the first episode yesterday (on Viki.com – truly the best site for subs – also the subtitler notes are too hilarious sometimes) and I was so pleased. To my somewhat surprise, the episode zipped along exactly like the episodes did in the first season. Whereas other dramas tend to lag and slow down (and even make you want to punch the screen – here’s to looking at you Sena in “Rooftop Prince”), “I Need Romance 2″ has not been so aggravating. The characters are great, the scenarios are fun, and the make out scenes are just as steamy as ever (though we haven’t had any sex scenes – yet). I’m sure this season will be my latest designer drug – just have to impatiently wait for the episodes to come out and be subbed.

This season boasts some stars whom I’ve never seen on TV before. The main female protagonist is played by Jung Yumi, who has done mostly movies, but did star in the 2007 drama “Que Sera Sera.” I don’t know about you but that name sounds quite Spanish to me. Well despite her lack of drama credits, she’s a fantastic actress. Her expressions are really natural and her anger and frustration are very believable, and she’s not at all annoying (a feature common to K-drama female leads), so I think I will like this show very much.

The two main male leads are played by Lee Jinwook and Kim Jiseok, who are supposed to vie for Jung Yumi’s affections. Lee Jinwook plays the ex-boyfriend of 12 years (but it’s obvious the two still have feelings for each other) and Kim Jiseok plays the new boyfriend. It’s interesting because Yumi and Jinwook are still living in the same house after three years after being “totally over.” People just don’t do that, I’m sorry, they just don’t. The reason they broke up (five times) is because at age 30, Yumi wanted to get married and Jinwoo didn’t. It’s as simple as that, but she admits in the first episode that she loved him most and it feels like (to me, at least) that she won’t find a man she loves more (as was the case in the first season). 

But only time will tell. I can’t wait to see how the threesome interact in the episodes to come. Seeing Lee Jinwook get jealous will be fun – especially since him and Kim Jiseok are supposed to be best friends in real life. Now they get to play enemies, so to speak. Let the fun commence.

Update on the Korean Setting Perm

I see a lot of people have been reading my post about the Korean Setting Perm. On it, I mentioned that the curls were quite tight, but that I thought they would loosen up over time. Well I just want to update and say that they no, they haven’t really loosened up at all, and it’s been over eight months. Eight months later and those curls are still holding tight.

Setting perm is described by Koreans as the “elegant” waves versus the digital perm, which is supposed to be curlier and more slightly more fun? I’m not sure how to describe it, but setting perm is what you see when you see classic, sophisticated Korean girls. I don’t think it turned out the way it was supposed to have on my hair because my hair is naturally very frizzy, so I’m sorry if my pictures weren’t of much help to you. Funny thing I just searched up “setting perm before and after” and my picture came up. Maybe I shouldn’t have put such a dismal picture of the after shot (sobs). 

In retrospect, the Korean magic straightener was not nearly as good as the Japanese straighteners I’ve gotten before, so here’s some real advice: definitely go for the Japanese straighteners over the Korean magic one if you want straight hair. Okay, that’s enough talking!

행복한 삶을 살고 싶다

안녕, how are you guys doing these days?
I’ve been feeling very out of sorts lately. Uncertain about my life, sick of school, and to be honest, quite sick of life in general. I feel like I have no accomplishments, no skills, no talents, and very little chance of succeeding at anything I want to do. I’m sure you also have these kinds of phases, but honestly I’ve been feeling this for the past couple of years. It was when I discovered my love for Korea that my motivation started to rekindle, but lately any hope of that changing my life has been once again dwindling. I can’t connect with people either. It feels like there are no people out there that really understand me, nor do I come across anyone I even feel like I could relate to on a deeper level.

So…lately I’ve been writing in my Korean journal a lot. My partner reading it has been asking me what it is that’s been bothering me, but to be honest, I don’t think he could really understand the extent of how I feel judging by his English ability at this point. To be fair, I can’t understand anything deep he says in Korean, so I think we’re even in that respect. He’s also having a bit of a hard time here in America, and I feel like I’m drifting further and further away from him, which is kind of breaking my heart, but by the way he’s been acting lately, there’s frankly not much I can do about it.

So to continue my soulful, sad streak, here’s another entry in my Korean journal:

요즘은 난 정말 피곤하고 지쳤다. 정말 피공하고 지쳤는데…그래서 일기를 더 쓰고 싶은 것 같다. 늘 혼자 있고 싶다. 혼자서 조용하게 실고 싶다. 친구를 만나는 것도 불편해졌다. 요즘은 난 이곳 저곳 방황하는 것 같다. 위마가 없이, 목적이 없이, 의욕까지 없이 살고 있다. 자주 과거를 생각한다. 과거의 핸복한 순간들을 샣각한다. 예전에 완벽하지 않았어도 적어도 행복한 순간 있은 것 같다. 요즘은 사는 낙이 하나도 없다.

Mistakes are inevitable. Please forgive me ~

Since I don’t have inspiration much these days to write a lot about Korea and Korean learning, feel free to ask me questions in the comments here. Also, some people have been emailing me questions about Korea, and sorry I haven’t exactly gotten back to all of you. Some of your questions have been a bit difficult and out of my range of knowledge, so I’m still slowly working on them. Hope all is well ~

아 미안해 ㅠ.ㅠ

Sorry I haven’t been updating!

Lately I’ve been so busy with schoolwork and to be honest, I’ve been really preoccupied with Tumblr. Just looking at my blog, you can see how much I’ve been reblogging. I’m quite obsessed with Tumblr right now, and with the debut of SM’s new boy group EXO, which I’m slightly head over heels for atm, there’s no way you could pull me from Tumblr right now.

But I wanted to give you guys a bit of an update on my Korean learning. Since February, I’ve been meeting up with a Korean language buddy. He’s really nice but it’s still hard to actually practice Korean with him, given my poor speaking skills. However, last week I decided to do something I had once done with a language exchange partner in Korea. The idea is for both you and your buddy to get a journal, to write in it daily, and then exchange it when you meet, and have the buddy correct your grammar. It gives me a bit more responsibility to work on my Korean on a daily basis, so I think it’s a good thing. And he’s a native Korean speaker (and I’m a native English speaker), so it’s good for both of us. Some of the sentences he’s written are quite cute and funny (for me, he referred to me as “my Julie,” which at once amused and touched me, but I know he didn’t mean it in that way ^^).

I decided to do something random today and write a letter in my journal called “A breakup letter to my lover” because I’ve been watching this new drama Twelve Men in a Year and it’s inspired me to write about that. Here it is below, and I’m pretty sure the grammar is not totally right, and if you want, you’re free to correct me before my partner does in the comments below!

내 애인한테 헤어지자는 편지
안녕, 잘 지냈지?
우린 언제 부터 서러 알고 있었니?
3년 되었어.
우린 얼마나 행복했는 줄 알아?
그런데 네가 다 버렸어. 왜?
네가 왜 그런 식으로 날 다루는 건지?
이제 그만하자. 헤어지자.
마음대로 생각해. 난 상관 없거든.
날 걱정하지마. 내가 널 가장 필요한 순간때 네가 없었거든. 왜? 시간이 없을만큼 바빴건지?
넌 날 진심으로 사랑했어? 제발 나 좀 그만 웃겨.
난 예전처럼 널 사랑하지 않아서 다행이다.
그렇니까 날 좀 내버려둬. 제발. 부탁해.
에제 너의 마지막 기회다.
이기회가 놓치지마.
난 더 이상 찬을 수가 없을 테니까…
날 보내줘.

What did you think? If you read the entire thing, then props to you! I honestly had no idea what I was writing, and I did have to check my Korean expressions dictionary from time to time. Do you want a translation? If yes, then reply in the comments below. Remember, don’t take this as Korean studying help because I’m not sure about the grammatical correctness of it. It’s just my own personal writing exercise hehe.

On the lines of the drama, I really do recommend you watch Twelve Men in a Year (also called Twelve Signs of Love, but that’s the “American” translation). I see a lot of you came to my blog looking for a review of the drama I Need Romance, and although I don’t think Twelve Men in a Year is quite as good as I Need Romance, I think it definitely somewhat fills the gap in my heart that I Need Romance left. You can watch Twelve Men in a Year on Hulu if you live in the United States, but there are other links to it as well: Epdrama and KimchiDrama. Have fun!

An EXO edit ~

suho guardian


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