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KOREAN
CUISINE
MAKES WAVES
MARCH 2010 www.korea.net PEOPLE & CULTURE
PRELUDE
Korea’s Stoic Beauty Ancient Sanseong
in Chungcheongbuk-do Province, the central
region of Korea, are representative of fortresses
dating back to ancient times and the middle ages.
Ondalsanseong Mountain Fortress in Danyang is
a site that bears the marks of the southward
advance of the Goguryeo Kingdom and the north-
ward expansion of the Silla Kingdom. This fortress,
along with six others in the province, was included
on UNESCO’s Tentative List of World Heritage
sites in January 2010. The Tenative List includes
sites under consideration for nomination as
official World Heritage sites.
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CONTENTS
MARCH 2010 VOL. 6 NO. 3
PUBLISHER Kim He-beom,
Korean Culture and Information Service
EDITING HEM KOREA Co., Ltd
E-MAIL webmaster@korea.net
PRINTING Samsung Moonwha Printing Co.
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___E_¿ . 11-111((7¸-((((1(-((
COVER STORY 04
Discovering a nation’s cuisine means
more than just eating the food. As Korean
dishes gain an acclaim, truly appreciating
this unique fare requires a closer look.
TRAVEL 26
Hanok, or Korean traditional houses, were
popular until the 1970s. But behind an
innocuous facade lies a rich history and
philosophy that continues to persevere in
the modern world.
MY KOREA 32
Is Korea heaven on Earth for shopa-
holics? The shopping season in Western
countries doesn’t begin till the winter holi-
days, but here in Korea, you can find mid-
night shopping year-round.
SUMMIT DIPLOMACY 36
The G-20 Summit will descend on Seoul in
November this year. Korean President Lee
Myung-bak consulted with other world
leaders at the World Economic Forum
about the upcoming economic agenda.
GLOBAL KOREA 40
Korea is becoming more involved with
overseas relief aid. From the government
to civil groups, the nation is increasing its
efforts to help less fortunate countries.
NOW IN KOREA 44
The hottest phrase in Korea nowadays is
undeniably “girl group.” But girl group
fever is more than just a trend: it’s sym-
bolic of a cultural era that is embracing
the expulsion of authoritarian ideology.
PEN & BRUSH 16
It’s been 46 years since poet Kim Cho-hye
first made her debut. Her prolific body of
work is best described by the concepts of
stillness, moderation and contemplation.
PEOPLE 20
Korean chaehwa, or handmade silk flow-
ers, encapsulate the essence of the pure
beauty that communicates with nature.
Hwang Su-ro has spent half a century ded-
icated to this art.
www.korea.net
COVER STORY
Around the world, Korean food is no
longer seen as just “a hot and spicy dishes
from an East Asian country.” After discovering a
range of healthy and delicious dishes in Korean
restaurants the world over, people have come to realize the
diversity of Korean fare. While some ingredients and
preparation techniques are similar to those found else-
where, Korean cuisine truly embodies the nation’s culture.
Furthermore, the many fermented dishes that are part of
meals have recently gained prominence as part of the
“slow food” movement, leaving little doubt that Korean
flavors are making waves overseas. by Seo Dong-cheol
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The Korean government has deemed the years from 2010 to 2012 as a “Visit
Korea” period. What are the must-eat dishes to sample at the numerous events
taking place during this period in the country? It can be daunting to see just how
many menus can hold, so a recommendation or two from those in the know can
really help. A survey by a Korean newspaper last year found that foreign residents
in Korea enjoyed bulgogi (barbecued beef) best, followed by galbi (grilled short
ribs), and bibimbap (rice mixed with meat and vegetables).
Recently, Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) and the
Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF) conducted a survey
of people’s favorite dishes at Korean restaurants overseas, and the following, in
order, were the top 10: kimchi (and kimchi-jjigae), bibimbap, hanjeongsik (a tradi-
tional, full-course Korean meal), galbi, bulgogi, samgyeopsal (sliced pork belly),
samgyetang (ginseng and chicken soup), naengmyeon (chilled buckwheat noodles),
haemul-pajeon (seafood and green onion pancakes) and tteok (rice cakes). This
would suggest, then, that it’s high time people put aside their fear of unknown
dishes and embraced new flavors.
Interestingly enough, those top 10 Korean dishes are not solely confined to
Korean restaurants anymore, as their tastes make them popular with palates on all
continents. Sick of eating processed food and quick bites in between meals, peo-
ple all over the world are turning their attention to “slow food” (as opposed to fast
food). That’s where kimchi and other fermented foods come in, as well as Korean
barbecue, pizzas and chicken soups, all of which are becoming recognized globally.
As Korean foods take up more space on people’s tables, and people give them a
closer look, the subtleties of the dishes will inevitably be revealed.
SLOW AND STEADY Visit a Korean’s home and you’re sure to come across a home
appliance unique to this part of the world: the kimchi fridge. Koreans have a regular
refrigerator to keep their food cool and another one to store their kimchi.
Traditionally, Koreans made kimchi in the autumn and buried it underground to let
it ferment. These days, however, the majority of Koreans live in apartment build-
ings and do not have a yard in which to bury their kimchi. Thus, the birth of the kim-
chi refrigerator, which recreates conditions similar to those underground, maintain-
ing an average temperature of 1C.
Kimchi is easily the most famous of fermented Korean food. Though cabbage is
Soy sauce, gochujang and soybean paste are
made from bricks of ground fermented soy-
beans (above). Salted shrimp and fish are
matured in Korean traditional pots (below).
Kimchi is one of the principle fermented
dishes of Korean food (above). Jangajji, fer-
mented in soy sauce or gochujang, are also
kinds of “slow food” (below).
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the most well known variety, kimchi made with radishes or cucumbers are also
popular, all of which use the formula of mixing salt, red pepper flakes, crushed gar-
lic, green onions, ginger, soy sauce and fermented fish together. Fermented kimchi
is healthy and nutritious, as it contains a wide range of vitamins.
Other Korean fermented foods such as soybean paste, gochujang (red pepper
paste) and soy sauce have been thrust into the spotlight as the perfect slow foods.
The history of the term dates back to 1986, when the international slow food
movement got its start in Italy. The message of the movement was to promote a
return to a traditional diet. Fed up with fast and instant foods, people who used to
be obsessed with speed and convenience are now returning to more natural ingre-
dients that agree with the human body. “The slow food movement has led to a
decline in American fast food, which in turn has given way to emerging slow food
from Asia,” says Jeong Hye-gyeong, a professor at Hoseo University. “New trends
have seen healthier food finding its way onto the tables of people around the
world. In the near future, healthy, eco-friendly foods will be the norm.”
There is no doubt that fermented foods have been a part of diets in both the
East and West for millennia. Long ago, Western cultures developed wines, beers,
Samgyetang is one of popular healthy food
in Korea, especially in summer (opposite).
Tteok is made of rice, nuts, herbs and even
some fruits that make it highly nuturitious
(above). Naengmyeon is also a popular dish
for its refreshing cool broth (below).
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cheeses and yogurts as their own healthy fermented food products. But when it
comes to things that are “slow and patient,” nothing quite matches the variety of
Korean cuisine. “There’s nothing out there like Korean food,” insists Jeong. “We
have slow food like no one else. Korean soy sauces and soybean pastes are usual-
ly preserved at least one year before they’re consumed, with some aged as long as
60 years. There aren’t a lot of people who can wait that long. Koreans, however,
embody slow food.”
These “slow” fermented ingredients are a fundamental part of the national cui-
sine — not merely an afterthought. Most meals and side dishes include a ferment-
ed ingredient. Among stews, kimchi-jjigae (kimchi stew) and doenjang-jjigae (fer-
mented soybean paste stew) are popular. When people make guk, a basic Korean
soup, with kimchi or soybean paste, salt and soy sauce are added to season it as
well. Then there’s bibimbap, which would not be complete without gochujang.
Essentially, if you sit down to have a traditional Korean meal, it would be nearly
impossible to avoid all the fermented foods present on the table. Korean food is,
fundamentally, a hodgepodge of slow foods.
UNIVERSAL TRAITS The top 10 Korean foods which non-natives like most have
more in common than just fermentation. The ingredients that go into the dishes
and how they’re made are fairly universal, as it’s common to find barbecue, pizzas,
soups and noodles in dishes from other countries. Beef and pork are universal
ingredients, save those nations which refrain from incorporating them in their cui-
sine for religious reasons. Barbecued foods and steak are popular around the
world, so bulgogi, galbi, and samgyeopsal
have become popular with people in
other countries. People over-
seas enjoy Korean meat dish-
es not just for their familiar
ingredients, but for the
original recipes used to
prepare the food.
As Professor Jeong
explains, “Western meat
dishes are simple, served
rare, medium or well-done.
That’s it. However, Korean meat
dishes agree with foreign
palates because of the many
unique ways in which they’re del-
icately prepared.”
Bulgogi is made by taking thin
slices of sirloin or other cuts of beef
and marinating it in a mixture of soy
sauce, sugar, green onions, garlic,
Some meat dishes are cooked directly on a
tabletop grill just before eating (above).
Galbijjim is a steamed beef dish marinated
with soy sauce and seasonings (below).
Bibimbap is a combination of rice, vegeta-
bles, meat and gochujang. It is also one of
the well-known Korean food overseas.
toasted sesame seeds, ginger, pepper and sesame oil. It is then fried in a pan
before serving. Galbi, or sliced short ribs, is marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil,
garlic, green onions and pear. However, it’s different from bulgogi in that it’s
grilled over a charcoal fire or braised. Additionally, the seasoning goes deep into
the meat’s tissue, suffusing it with the uniquely original smells and flavors of
Korean cuisine. And don’t forget about the grilled fatback of samgyeopsal, which
reminds many of unsmoked bacon and is also cooked in its own way. Koreans grill
the slices of pork belly on a tabletop grill before wrapping it with an assortment of
vegetables.
Samgyetang is a traditional Korean meal eaten by many to beat the heat of sum-
mer. Similar to the broth of chicken noodle soup, samgyetang’s health benefits are
unparalleled. After removing its innards, the chicken is stuffed with glutinous rice,
garlic, and jujubes and then boiled for hours. Ginseng, that mysterious root whose
positive effects on the human body are still being uncovered to this day, is also
added, making samgyetang as much a tonic as a delicious meal. Haemul-pajeon,
which resembles a pizza or pancake in appearance, is made by adding oysters,
squid and clams to a mixture of chopped green onions, hot peppers and flour
dough. It is then fried on a pan and eaten while still hot.
Korean traditional rice cakes, tteok, are made by steaming pounded or glutinous
rice. Seasoning it with nuts, fruits and herbs makes it highly nutritious. Then there
are all the different noodles, which come in a whole slew of shapes and sizes: the
pasta of Italy, the rice noodles of Vietnam, the udon of Japan and the chow mein of
China. Of the many kinds of Korean noodles, naengmyeon, buckwheat noodles sea-
soned with sliced cucumbers, radishes and pears, and topped with a boiled egg in
a chilled broth of beef or chicken, is one of the most popular.
SEEDS OF GLOBALIZATION A recent survey found that 60 percent of foreign resi-
dents in Korea believe Korean food has the potential to go global. One Japanese
housewife loves kimchi so much she not only has a kimchi fridge but makes her
own kimchi! Perhaps the globalization of Korean food has already begun. The
Korean government aims at accelerating the further globalization of the national
cuisine. Indeed, the government’s bold new goal is to make the domestic fare one
of the world’s five most favorite foods within a decade, and increase the number of
Korean restaurants around the world from its present number, 10,000, to 40,000.
In May 2009, the government formed a “Korean Cuisine to the World” group,
and a Korean Cuisine Foundation is in the works as well. Related government agen-
cies including the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism have vowed to cooperate
with civic groups to nurture the brand of Korean food.
Behind this sweeping culinary movement lie the universal traits of the cuisine
and its potential to become globally recognized. It is only a matter of time before
the seeds of Korean food grow into a strong, global tree. With an open mind to new
cultures and an interest in following a healthy diet, people are being encouraged to
join this movement to make this unique food more popular and accessible in every
corner of the world.
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COVER STORY
A CORNUCOPIA OF TASTE
IN LOCAL SPECIALTIES
SUWON GALBI (GYEONGGI-DO PROVINCE)
Suwon’s marinated galbi short ribs are a local specialty that
can be enjoyed anywhere in the world. As Gyeonggi-do Province’s
most famous dish, this rich, meaty meal has a universal appeal,
almost like barbecue. Suwon galbi is said to have originated at a
restaurant called Hwachunok, which opened in Suwon in the
1940s. The galbi served there, marinated in sesame oil, garlic,
scallions and Asian pear, then charcoal-broiled over a low flame,
quickly gained popularity due in part, perhaps, to the fact that at
the time Suwon was home to the largest cattle market in the
country. It’s served with an assortment of different vegetables.
Recommended Restaurant Bonsuwon Galbi
Address 51-20 Uman-dong, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do
For more information call +82-(0)31-211-8434 or visit www.bonsuwon.co.kr
Gyeonggi-do Travel Information www.ethankyou.co.kr
CHEONAN BYEONGCHEON SUNDAE
(CHUNGCHEONGNAM-DO PROVINCE)
The origins of Byeongcheon sundae date back to the years
after the Korean War (1950-53) when a Western ham facto-
ry was established in the township of Byeongcheon. It was
there that people started making sundae, a type of blood
sausage, with the residual pork which had been processed
to produce ham. They also began selling pork bone soup
with sundae at outdoor markets.
Recommended Restaurant Cheonghwa Jip
Address 167-6 Byeongcheon-ri, Byeongcheon-myeon, Dongnam-gu,
Cheonan-si, Chungcheongnam-do
For more information +82-(0)41-564-1558
Chungcheongnam-do Travel Information tour.chungnam.net
Gyeonggi-do Province features incredibly
sumptuous food that is presented beautifully.
Host to Korea’s royal family and nobility for
centuries, the region’s cuisine has long been
influenced by food from the royal court, which
explains its traces of extravagance. Gangwon-
do Province is the most mountainous region in
the nation. Its distinguishing geographic fea-
tures include the Taebaek Mountains and the
East Sea. Fresh seafood and produce such as
potato, corn and buckwheat are staples for
many of its unique dishes. Food from the
Chungcheong-do Province is clean and simple,
with people there using fewer spices than in
other regions. The only landlocked, northern
portion of the region has an abundance of gin-
seng, garlic and jujubes. The southern part,
which is closer to the water, carries plenty of
seafood, including blue crabs and shrimp. The
Jeolla-do Province, which makes use of the
large amount of fertile land within its borders
and the southwestern coast, has myriad local
crops and seafood to create a range of dish-
es. While the Gyeongsang-do Province is also
blessed with both fertile land and a rich
coastal region, its cuisine is relatively simple,
with many of its dishes being saltier and spici-
er than those from other areas. Finally, Jeju
Island, the outcrop located off the southern tip
of the Korean peninsula, is a seafood lover’s
paradise.
JEONJU BIBIMBAP (JEOLLABUK-DO PROVINCE)
There are numerous theories as to how bibimbap, a bowl of
warm white rice topped with an egg yolk, seasoned beef, and a
variety of vegetables, was first made. Some say it was a light
meal served in the royal court, later introduced to the public.
Another theory says farmers combined rice with certain side
dishes in a bowl because they had no time to sit down and eat
during the busy harvest season. Although no one is certain of
bibimbap’s origin, there’s no doubt it combines a variety of tasty
ingredients together in one bowl to make a nutritious meal.
Recommended Restaurant Gajok Hoegwan
Address 80, Jungang-dong 3(sam)-ga, Wansan-gu, Jeonju-si, Jeollabuk-do
For more information +82-(0)63-284-0982 or www.jeonjubibimbap.com
Jeollabuk-do Travel Information www.jeonbuk.go.kr
GANGNEUNG CHODANG
SUNDUBU
(GANGWON-DO PROVINCE)
Made from local soybeans and water
from the East Sea, Gangneung
chodang sundubu is a silken tofu
soup with the savory taste of soy-
beans. They say the first person to
ever make tofu was Heo Yeop, a gov-
ernment official and scholar during
the Joseon era. He made his tofu by
coagulating soymilk with clean
seawater. Unlike conventional tofu,
chodang sundubu is more watery,
because it’s not curdled, with a
clean, mellow aftertaste. Tofu is high
in protein but low in cholesterol and
saturated fat, making it a much-loved
commodity by people around the
world for its health benefits.
Recommended Restaurant Yetnal Chodang
Sundubu
Address 334-2 Unjeong-dong, Gangneung-
si, Gangwon-do
For more information +82-(0)33-645-0557
or www.oldchodangdubu.co.kr
Gangwon-do Travel Information www.gang
won.to
OBUNJAGI TTUKBAEGI (JEJU ISLAND)
Obunjagi ttukbaegi is a soup consisting of obunja-
gi (a shellfish related to abalone) and served in an
earthenware pot with mushrooms, tofu, garlic, onions
and hot peppers. The dish is a local specialty of Jeju
Island, Korea’s largest and a popular tourist destina-
tion. With about 70 percent of all obunjagi harvested
off Jeju, it boasts an addictive chewy taste that is high
in protein but low in fat, with a clean, refreshing flavor.
Recommended Restaurant Sambo Restaurant
Address 319-8 Cheonji-dong, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do
For more information +82-(0)64-762-3620
Jeju-do Travel Information www.jeju.go.kr
YEONGDEOK SNOW CRAB
(GYEONGSANGBUK-DO PROVINCE)
If you’re a fan of king crab and lobster, you’ll love the snow
crab from Yeongdeok. This delicacy is also called bamboo crab
because its leg joints resemble the plant. The best snow crabs
are caught in the clear waters of the East Sea near
Yeongdeok, as they have longer legs and chewier meat. It is
high in protein, low in calories and rich in minerals, including
calcium. Winter and early spring are the best times of year for
snow crab, usually steamed or boiled in soups.
Recommended Restaurant Sanho Snow Crab Town
Address 305 Ganggu-ri, Yeongdeok-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do
For more information +82-(0)54-733-4023 or www.sanhocrab.com
Gyeongsangbuk-do Travel Information www.gbtour.net
Geographically speaking, Korea is a small country. But
that doesn’t mean it lacks great, diverse food and fla-
vors. Get ready for a journey around this small but
culturally rich nation in search of local food that best
represents each region. by Seo Dong-cheol | illustration by Yu Yeong-eun
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MAKGEOLLI: A TRADITIONAL DRINK
THAT TICKLES MODERN TASTEBUDS
Makgeolli is a traditional alcoholic beverage in Korea, much
like wine in France or sake in Japan. It is made by fermenting a
mixture of boiled rice and water with yeast.
There are several reasons makgeolli has become more pop-
ular in Korea than other types of rice wine. For one, it has been
loved across the country since the Goryeo Dynasty that began
in the 10
th
century. In its unfiltered form and served with its
natural sediment after being stirred, it was not just an alco-
holic beverage but a filling refreshment. Originally popular with
farmers, it earned the nickname nongju, or “farmers’ liquor.”
A popular drink for years, makgeolli eventually fell out of
favor with people during the Japanese colonial era (1910-
1945). Because of food shortages, there was not enough rice
to eat, let alone enough to produce alcohol. As a result, the
government restricted the making of rice wine and the once
ubiquitous makgeolli seemed to fade into history. But as rice
production increased, people started to miss the traditional
drink, and it began its return to the spotlight.
Today, in a world where health and well-being are at the fore-
front of many people’s minds, makgeolli is the perfect fit.
Usually around 6.5 percent alcohol by volume, it’s lighter in
alcohol content than other alcoholic beverages like soju (a
local grog) and wine. The sediment, which gives it a milky, off-
white color, is rich in nutrients such as lactobacilli, protein,
amino acids and vitamins. Interestingly, makgeolli’s popularity
extends beyond the borders of Korea. In Japan, large depart-
ment stores like Takashimaya sell makgeolli and idong makge-
olli, makgeolli cocktails, as well as other fusion varieties.
THE BEST WAYS TO DRINK MAKGEOLLI William Lawton
Cromwell, an American from Connecticut who has been living in
Seoul for a year and half, loves makgeolli. “I like it because
it’s lighter than other drinks [tequila, rum or whiskey], and
goes down easy,” he says. “It smells fresh and its fruity taste
makes it feel like I’m drinking a fruit wine.”
Along with its popularity, side dishes that are well-matched
with the drink are turning heads, too. For time immemorial a
countless number of dishes have competed with each other,
vying for the title of the best side dish complement to makgeol-
li. Today, the most popular — and affordable — is probably
pajeon, especially Dongnae-pajeon, a Korean “pancake” from
Busan that is made of dough with spring onions, seafood and
eggs. With its melange of balanced ingredients, it boasts a
flavor that goes well with the rice wine.
Another good accompaniment is a specialty of the Jeolla-do
Province called hongeo-samhap, a three-layered dish consisting
of cooled fermented thornback ray (or skate), steamed pork
and well fermented kimchi. The thornback has a unique burn-
ing taste from ammonia, though it becomes milder when eaten
with pork and kimchi. In addition, sashimi chomuchim, made
with fresh fish, spiced with vinegar and hot pepper bean paste,
is paired with the beverage. Kim Ok-sim, the owner of a bar
named Gounnim in Seoul says it is the best side dish, claiming
“Its sweet and sour taste goes well with makgeolli.”
The makgeolli craze is sure to be around for a while. Even
the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
announced last year it would give full support by subsidizing
companies that make makgeolli with freshly harvested rice.
The popular drink was even served during a “Korea Night”
event at the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
Koreans have long appreciated makgeolli for its taste and
health benefits. Will it, however, be able to gain popularity
overseas? It will certainly be interesting to see how makgeolli
fares globally in 2010.
The world of alcohol is governed by trends. These days,
the most popular drink in Korea is definitely makgeolli, a
traditional Korean rice wine. Last year, in fact, 889
patents related to makgeolli were applied for, a 32 per-
cent increase from 2008. Each region of Korea has count-
less varieties, which has led to the rise in use of terms
such as “makgeolli bar” and “makgeolli nouveau.” Let’s
take a closer look at the appeal of the alcoholic beverage
that’s changing Korea’s drinking culture.
by Oh Kyong-yon | photographs by KimNam-heon
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COVER STORY
For William Lawton Cromwell, left, who enjoys a few drinks
with friends after work, makgeolli is no longer a foreign drink
for him (opposite). There are more than a hundread kinds of
makgeolli in Korea (below). Makgeolli matches with many
side dishes, like hongeo-samhap (right).
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2010
PEN & BRUSH
It has now been 46 years since Kim made her debut as a poet.
Since her first pieces were published in Hyundae Munhak
magazine in 1964, she has steadily, unceasingly brought out
such works as “A Drifting Star,”“Saranggut 1” (and subse-
quent volumes 2 and 3), “Mother,” and “Island.” “Saranggut”
was even reprinted in middle school Korean language text-
books, while “Mother” was introduced to European readers
through translated French texts, which brought her global
acclaim as the poet who expressively captured Korean senti-
ment and culture.
Kim is the recipient of many renowned literary awards,
including the Society of Korean Poets Award and the Korean
Literary Award, which is presented annually by the Korean
Writers’ Association to remarkable domestic literary works.
ANGUISH AND
JOY FOR
Life
Sometimes her poems have a generous, maternal love full of a
spring-like vitality, while at other times they are akin to a field of
reeds, smeared in the bleak loneliness of late fall. The work of Kim
Cho-hye, who has lived her entire life as a poet, are just like her
experiences: pure and straight as an arrow bent only by the wind,
always asking an endless series of questions for self-reflection.
by Oh Kyong-yon
The prolific writer has also written two essays, “To Find a
Beam of Light in Life” and “Hurting Together, Loving in
Company,” both published in the early 1990s. However, Kim
is truly a poet at heart and embeds her affection for the
medium even in prose.
In one of her collections, the writer declares that “poets go
through pain instinctively —they ignite themselves and ignite
others as well. Love, whether it contains a universal character
or a special one, has been an important element in life for
me.” In the end, she expresses her unmatched affinity for
poems, concluding, “That is prosody. What more can you
want besides poems?”
Last year, she chose 100 works from her 10 poetry collec-
tions, and bound them into a special collection of selected
Kim Cho-hye
19
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KOREA
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2010
poems. The book was printed on hanji (traditional Korean
paper), while the whole process of typesetting, printing and
bookbinding were completed manually. A limited edition of
1,000 copies were printed, creating a rare and meaningful
masterpiece. Selecting pieces from her countless works, span-
ning more than 40 years, proved to be quite the challenge. Yet,
“publishing the selected book of poetry was an unavoidable
task,” Kim says, “The most important criteria for selection
were that the poems were ones that had to be easily under-
stood by readers, and that they contained the inspiration of
the writer in a natural way.”
THE VALUE OF WORDS “Poems are the most valuable things
in my life, something that I have dedicated all my efforts to,”
Kim says when asked what meaning poetry holds for her.
Though the woman is now a veteran, she says she has lived all
her life pondering about the definition of a well-written
poem. Writing has caused her internal conflict and deviation,
but Kim stresses that she never questioned or became dis-
heartened about becoming a poet. She instead chose to disci-
pline herself to stand strong and says she will always continue
with her efforts. “Of course, the creative process itself is very
painful and difficult. But whenever I receive a collection of
my poems in my hands after I endure that process, I experi-
ence an inexpressible joy. That is probably the biggest happi-
ness for poets.”
“Saranggut,” composed of 183 poems, is a large series of
poems compiled into three volumes. Kim says she chose the
title by combining the Korean word for love (“sarang”) with
the Korean shamanic ritual called “gut.” Love, she says, is a
universal theme and the most fundamental power, while gut
is a form of Korean shamanism and traditional seasonal cus-
tom. The practice, which has its roots in ancient Korean his-
tory, holds rituals for auspicious events or ill omens depend-
ing on the shamanistic religion. It is an element of Korean
culture that symbolizes all acts of conflict in the Korean
lifestyle. When in love, people are in the most pure, passion-
ate and intense state; when a shaman holds a service and is
possessed by spirits, it is a moment of the purest passion and
intensity. Inspired by these paralleling ideas, Kim combined
the two words for her collection.
Critics say her works are mere symbols of “style” ideas,
such as “moderati,”“blankness,” and “contemplation.” To this,
Kim says, “It is the instinct of poets to express many things
with just a few words.” She adds that “Some say that literature
is a product of symbols and omissions —but the symbols and
omissions in poems must be effectively expressed,” which
describes the goals of her world of poetry. The author
explains that, in poetry, in which the conciseness of language
is beauty, you must expand blank space to the fullest and dis-
seminate the echoes of language into that void.
In Korean, there is a proverb that says “Every finger hurts
when you bite all 10” which refers to the fact that, regardless
of the number of their children, each and every child is
important to all parents. To poets, every poem is as valuable
as a child, but often inquisitive readers ask Kim to divulge
what her favorite work is. Though under the premise that all
works are important to her, she chose “Mother” as the work
that she especially treasures. “My mother provided me with
the foundation to concentrate on literature, and taught me
the meaning of sacrifice and love. Though it has now been
over 40 years since she passed away, my mother still vividly
remains in my soul, in my works.”
POEMS: A SECOND NATURE When asked abstractly about the
existential value of poets in real life, Kim says that writing is a
“painful but joyful task.” She continues, “Poets must be
prophets (who have a keen insight into life), and pioneers of
history (who write with great responsibility).” A true portrait
of a poet is one who has both the virtues of a prophet and a
pioneer. “Writing poems must spring from a sense of respon-
sibility,” she says —for oneself, for humanity. “The object of
poetry is not to decorate the poet’s personal sentiments, it is
an expression of true responsibility for life.”
For her, Kim defines poetry as “a second nature,” meaning
that, just as water and wind must flow, her poems must also
be completed in an unmanufactured, natural way. And, as a
poet, she hopes that every person’s soul can be seeped with
poetry.
She confesses: when she sees her poem on the wall of a
country-side cafe, or when she meets someone by chance
who is able to recite her poems, she is energized “as if buds
are sprouting from my body.” But not for a sense of egotism,
it’s more that meeting her readers is like sharing souls beyond
time and space. To Kim, it’s not about living inwardly, alone.
“Through my works, I hope to continually share the various
sentiments that I have experienced in my life.”
MOTHER (MÈRE)
> Language French
> Publisher L’Harmattan (Paris, France)
> Published year 1995
One body, / but separated / into different bodies.
Give painfully, gain lacking / did not know we would be sepa-
rated.
Only having experienced bitter things / Mother cannot feel
bitterness any more. / Only familiar with sweet things, / the
child does not recognize sweetness.
To the beginning / return to one body,
switch roles, / be born again.
“Mother,” a representative piece by Kim
along with “Saranggut,” is a master-
piece in which the poet’s personal feel-
ings are embedded. The poem speaks
softly of a longing for her mother and
regrets being undutiful as a daughter.
“To me, my mother was like a God, an
absolute existence in all aspects of my
life,” Kim says. She cried so much while
writing this piece that she suffered from
exhaustion after completion.
SARANGGUT (CENT PÉTALES
D’AMOUR)
> Language French
> Publisher L’Harmattan (Paris, France)
> Published year 1998
I know you do not come to me, / not because you do
not wish to meet, / but because you fear/ leaving.
Though you know / my tears are for you,
you pretend not to know and hide;
I know it is because of the flame / that you cannot
throw away / or win. / Being near / causes pain,
but sending you away / is a bigger pain.
I know how to love, / living, missing you.
Even when two hearts scrape against each other.
They know how to weave together love,
a love they do not take, because it is what they want.
The piece “Saranggut 1” was published in the book
of the same title in 1985. Kim declares that “All the
problems that arise among human beings, be they
between friends, relationships with the opposite sex,
or parent-child relationships, there is nothing that
cannot be solved with love.”
¸
K
im
C
h
o
-h
y
e
PEOPLE
The Korean art of chaehwa, or handmade silk flowers, is the essence of
pure beauty communicating with nature. Artisan Hwang Su-ro has spent a
half century walking down this road of flowers with fierce determination.
Through perseverance she has single-handedly tried to restore the flower
culture of the Joseon court, thus making it possible for others to experi-
ence the virtues and natural colors of chaehwa. Her life represents the
earnest power of this traditional craft, setting it apart from modern-day
flower arranging. by KimYeon-jeong | photographs by KimNam-heon
A TIMELESS
ART
IN FULL
BLOOM
22
KOREA
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2010
A butterfly lands on a flower made of silk. A bee smells a sweet
scent and descends onto petals made of honey wax. It’s strange
how these creatures interact with these innocuous creations,
because they are not real. Instead, they are Korean chaehwa,
or flowers formed with naturally-dyed silks and waxes. As the
tale of these insects suggests, the materials used to create
chaehwa are so well crafted that they mimic nature. Chaehwa
was a major decorating element for royal and national events
during the Joseon era. During banquets, particularly elaborate
chaehwa would be made to adorn the sides of the throne. It is
said that scarlet red peach blossoms were placed on the left,
and white red peach blossoms on the right.
Although there are no photographs in which to see how the
original handmade flowers looked, there are a couple of
UNESCO designated books that contain detailed texts and
drawings of the works of art. Uigwe: The Royal Protocols of the
Joseon Dynasty and The Annals of the Choson Dynasty provide
almost complete descriptions of chaehwa, enabling artisans
today to recreate flowers in the traditional style. Once, this
magnificent court flower culture was on the verge of extinction,
but thanks to the efforts of Hwang Su-ro, it has survived and
continues to be taught today. Through her efforts, she has
established the Institute of Korean Royal Silk Flowers, where
she and more than 10 students research the court chaehwa
culture and make efforts to bring about the art’s restoration.
MAGIC OF COLOR Chaehwa captures the essence of the natu-
ral light of flowers. In order to recreate the original colors of
nature, only the finest silks can be used. The most difficult
step in creating chaehwa is the dyeing process, as it requires
all organic ingredients such as flowers, trees, grass and bugs.
The restoration process also depends solely on historical litera-
ture, so it is not easy to guess the colors from simple black
and white pictures. Hwang says she adds her own imagination
as an artist to what’s written in the books, in order to recreate
the right colors. Using only surrounding resources, the silk is
dyed scarlet, blue, black-green, gold and more.
The next step is to delicately mold each petal, stigma and
stamen. “I have heard there are those who make flowers in
France,” Hwang says. “However, their flowers are not made by
human hands, but mass-produced with machines. Only flowers
made by hand can create such deep colors. Flowers produced
in factories only emit light outwards, lacking depth.” The
process is intricate and strict. “From beginning to end, the
maker’s touch can be found almost everywhere. As such, the
charm of chaehwa is in adding the touch of human hands to
the grace of nature.” The artisan says this is how each flower
comes to have a distinctive look and expression to it: each cre-
A student paints yellow “pollen” onto a bundle of fibers (top). Hwang
Su-ro and her assistant dye silk with the ink from flowers (above).
Hwang’s work describing the trees and birds (opposite).
25
KOREA
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2010 24
KOREA
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2010
ation has been given a separate, new life.
Hwang’s art is not limited to silk flowers, but also uses wax
to create beautiful arrangements. The wax is made by first boil-
ing beehive remains and cooling them in cold water. Korea has
a prime environment for wax collecting, with its thick forests,
high mountains and distinct seasons. Before, fine wax was col-
lected from early spring (when wild flowers bloom) until autumn
(when petals fall), and the harvesting of high quality wax led to
the development of crafts using it. It is said that during the
Goryeo era, wax in Korea was a major export to China, along
with Goryeo celadon, as it was popular with the Chinese.
Floral artwork was the earliest form of wax crafts. A cherry
blossom made from wax could be so similar to the real thing
that bees and butterflies alike sought out the creations. The
clean scent and color of the wax flowers was also considered
more rare than the natural ones, raising the craft into high
regard with the noble classes and members of the Joseon
court. Creating the flowers required a great deal of work; slow
hands created blunt petals and heat too high would burn the
delicate material.
A FLORAL LIFE When making silk flowers, Hwang says all dis-
tractions fade away, leading to an experience Koreans call
hwadosammae (being absorbed in the way of flowers). Hwang,
with her determination and ambition, has been a master of her
art longer than anybody. Seeing such an elegant woman wear-
ing silk hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) makes it difficult to
imagine that she endures such grueling processes to create
the works of art. The restoration of a hwajun (decoration by
putting flowers in the vase) that once flanked the sides of the
Joseon throne took an entire year — with the help of more than
10 people to complete it. This is because the art comprises a
series of complicated procedures, like choosing the silk, dye-
ing it, cutting it into the shape of a flower, ironing it and adding
minute decorations. Hwang says that she is always worried
someone will see her hands, as they are often burnt by an iron
and always stained from the dyeing procedure.
“When I was young I was raised by my mother’s family, who
were descendants of Joseon royalty. My grandfather had
always kept flowers close by, so my sense for them was excep-
tional, even as a young girl. More than anything I was influ-
enced by the traditional rituals I saw. I learned the royal chae-
hwa skills of using natural dyes from my elders, as a matter of
course,” she says. “Later on, during my days in Japan, I
encountered claims that there was no culture of flower decora-
The uniqueness of Hwang’s art is in its realism. Flowers, made of silk,
perfectly imitate nature’s own (above). Chaehwa is made of intricately
molded floral leaves (opposite).
tions in Korea and it originated from Japan. That was when I
thought ‘this must be my destiny.’ I think it was then that my
singular path for flowers began.”
If not for Hwang, the royal art would not be around today,
making it a precious asset for Korea. Chaehwa and its style is
imbued from nature, full of charm with its delicate colors,
revealing the spiritual world of the Korean people.
To let the world know of Korea’s royal floral culture, Hwang
has held a number of exhibitions in places around the world. In
particular, the special exhibition at the 2005 APEC Summit in
Busan was praised by first ladies from around the world. In
2007, Hwang surprised the globe with an exhibition of her work
at the UN headquarters. To her, that exhibition was the most
memorable. “People thought I put dirt in the vase to make hwa-
jun in order to fix the flowers. Actually it was rice, not dirt. By
pouring in a large amount of rice, the tension between the
grains prevented the flowers from falling. I asked staff there at
the time to prepare some rice, and I remember I had to go
through much trouble,” she says. “Rice was forbidden inside
the building as it is classified as food.” Through various inter-
esting exhibitions, Hwang has fully promoted the powerful ele-
gance of Korean court culture.
Hwang’s lifetime of research, study and work have resulted
in a book that records her preservation of a tradition. From
describing the detailed history of chaehwa to learning how to
create the arrangements, Beautiful Chaehwa of Korea is a work
of art itself. Like the process of creating flowers, the cover is
made from silk that has been dyed naturally, completed with
traditional Korean book binding methods. Through the book,
Hwang expresses her wish that the art form, once dependent
only on the efforts of individuals, will survive as a cultural
asset. Her next aspiration is to open a modern flower museum
to exhibit the myriad artwork she has worked on over the past
half century.
Though she has walked an uncertain path, studying a dyeing
craft without any guidance, Hwang’s strength to continue is
awe-inspiring to say the least. In the words of Andrei
Tarkovsky, “For that which they call passion is not really the
energy of the soul, but merely friction between the soul and the
outer world.” Hwang’s philosophy is one which endures.
“People tend to think in terms of black and white when it
comes to the present day and tradition,” she says. “However
the present and tradition should communicate harmoniously.
That is why the two need to be understood in the same con-
text.” Though she has pondered all her life how the traditions
of Korea could speak to the contemporary world in understand-
ing, she says she has found the way. From the beautiful power
of traditional chaehwa, new flowers will blossom.
TRAVEL
You’ve probably heard the word before: hanok. But these tradi-
tional Korean houses, which are often associated with history
long past, were the popular form of residence until as late as the
1970s. But what made this structure, with its simple design and
form, last through the centuries and root itself as an integral part
of life here? KOREA travels to discover the subtle philosophies of
the lives and people inside, seeking to root out the truth behind
the belying minimalism. by Ines Min | photographs by Park Jung-ro
A view of Chunchu Folk Museum’s courtyard
28
KOREA
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2010
Chunchu Folk Museum is a 154-year-old hanok that lies at the
edge of Okcheon, Chungcheongbuk-do Province, a place at
odds with the modernity of the times. Though these traditional
houses are often pictured as immaculate structures with pris-
tine gardens gracing the courtyard, Chunchu first sets itself
apart by being nothing like you’d expect. At first glance, the
entrance of the expansive hanok seems cluttered with stone
statues, gravel for the parking lot and various odds and ends
resolutely staking its claim in the past. But it is within these
paradoxical elements that the beauty of the family-run guest-
house, restaurant and museum lies. Chunchu is nothing less
than the most courageous amalgamation of old, new, respect-
ful and realistic — and the perfect place to thrust yourself into
the traditions of old Korea and learn some of its deepest cus-
toms, away from the accessible city and superficial resorts.
Upon our arrival, owners Jeong Tae-hee and his wife, Lee
Hwa-soon, welcome us into their home. The couple has man-
aged the hanok for the last decade, seeking to preserve a way
of life in order to share their knowledge with passersby. Though
visitors may pick and choose which aspects of the hanok to
enjoy — a homemade meal at a table, a tour of the hanok’s
artifacts complete with Jeong’s narration, or as a relaxing way
to spend a night warmed by the ondol (under-floor heating sys-
tem) —Chunchu works best as an entire immersion experience.
STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY Entering into a room inside the main
building, the 58-year-old owner explains the significance of a
hanok’s skeletal structure. It is the most important aspect of
the residence, he says, while looking up toward the supporting
wood visible in the ceiling — unlike modern homes, the main
beams and woodwork are not hidden.
“Without these timbers, a hanok cannot call itself a true
hanok,” he says. The crossbeams construct the house’s cen-
tral integrity, and its importance is so fundamental that a
Korean idiom has been based on it. Often, a prodigious son
will be referred to as the crossbeam of a family to signify his
importance in keeping all the members together.
“What makes the rooms different is that whether you’re
opening or closing the doors, leaving or coming in, the layout
always feels open,” he says, referring to the connectivity
between rooms. “In Korean homes, it is believed there must
be ample empty space ... space for wind to blow through.” This
is particularly vital during the humid summer season, when a
cool breeze is the only means of relief from the stifling heat.
Furnishings are typically traditional-style standing wardrobes
and low-lying drawers. Complementary with the lifestyle, ondol
was used to warm residences during the cold months. Though
today ondol has survived in modern culture, using heated water
Centuries-old stones decorate every corner of the grounds (top).
Red peppers and jujubes are set in the sun to dry (above). A
view of the inner courtyard of the guest rooms (opposite).
31
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2010 30
KOREA
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2010
HOW TO GET TO OKCHEON
> By car You can get to Okcheon on the Gyeongbu
Expressway, southbound. Exit Okcheon IC (2 hours).
> By bus/train Take a bus from the Dong Seoul Bus
Terminal to Okcheon, or take a train from Seoul Station to
Okcheon Station. For more information visit www.oc.go.kr
CHUNCHU FOLK MUSEUM
> Address Munjeong-ri 6-2, Okcheon-eup, Okcheon-gun,
Chungcheongbuk-do Province
> Phone +82-(0)10-3174-3307 or +82-(0)43-733-4007
(Korean and English)
> Rates A basic room for a single night is 60,000 won
(US$52.20). Traditional home-cooked meals available with
advance notice, starting from 10,000 won (US$8.70)
GETTING AROUND
JEONG JI-YONG MEMORIAL HALL
> Address Hakgwe-ri 39, Okcheon-eup, Okcheon-gun,
Chungcheongbuk-do Province
> Phone +82-(0)43-730-3588 (Korean only)
> Hours Tuesday-Sunday from 9am to 6pm, closed on
Mondays and Jan 1, Feb 14, Sep 22 (in 2010)
YONGAMSA TEMPLE
> Address Samcheong-ri 478, Okcheon-eup, Okcheon-gun,
Chungcheongbuk-do Province
> Phone +82-(0)43-732-1400 (Korean only)
> Hours Open from 6am for sunrises
pipes to warm a room, a series of renovated rooms in Chunchu
still direct heat from wood-burning stoves. The hot air is circu-
lated underneath the floors, then vented through the opening
of a horizontal chimney.
Chunchu has no lack of eye-catching anachronisms that
serve as the museum’s focal point of historical value. As Jeong
leads the way with a slow, steady pace, he stops every so
often to offer a detailed background of a relic or artisan’s com-
position. The stately, quirky man is a lover of storytelling, and
the courtyard, initially nothing more than a hodgepodge to the
untrained eye, is transformed tale by tale into a charming piece
of the puzzle of Korea’s history.
OF HOMEGROWN DELIGHTS As the sun begins to set, it’s
time to prepare for dinner. Jeong crouches to feed a crackling
fire in an open furnace made of brick and concrete, which
braces a large pot resting above. The heavy iron piece can
cook rice enough for 10 in as little as seven minutes. This is
only one of the many unique experience programs made avail-
able to guests at Chunchu that Jeong and Lee have designed
to help visitors understand times past.
Activities range from cooking rice in the traditional pot to
making grain syrup for yeot, traditional candy, to brewing home-
made makgeolli, a rice wine. For those who are looking for
something more active, Jeong will even teach the basics of the
seonbi chum dance, of which he is a master.
We dine on a basic meal of rice and delectable side dishes,
each of which have been made on-site, using all local ingredi-
ents bought from neighboring markets. The table brims with
year-long fermented kimchi, pickled sesame leaves, soft, fresh
tofu, a milky-colored oxtail soup with glass noodles and more.
The fare seems to be nothing extravagant, but each bite bursts
with flavor that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere: bright,
tangy and savory.
PERMANENCE IN TIME Hanok dates back to the time of the
Three Kingdom’s Period of Korean history, yet the lifestyle has
managed to persevere. Though the coming of the conveniences
of Western architecture has thrust the lifestyle into the back-
ground, it still manages to survive through those like Jeong.
Life in a hanok may have its disadvantages, but he feels the
intrinsic nature of the structure outweighs all negative percep-
tions. “It’s true that manmade concrete lasts a long time, but
it’s not something organic,” Jeong says. A hanok is something
of the earth, built using trees, stones and water, no matter the
locale. “A return to nature is the thing your body wills” as you
age, he explains. And, although we may travel far and wide, a
human desire to return to our home in nature will always win
out, which is what a hanok embodies.
Jeong flashes a characteristic smile. “Right?”
The grain and patterns of the hanok’s original wood can be
seen inside the rooms (top). Jeong Tae-hee, the manager of
Chunchu Folk Museum, demonstrates how to squeeze makge-
olli deposit in order to release its juices (above).
33
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2010 32
KOREA
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2010
MY KOREA
REDEFINED
In my corner of small-town Canada, shopaholics and fash-
ionistas define shopping as a hobby, a pastime and, in some
cases, a lifestyle. Inarguably, no season is more sacred than
the weeks preceding Christmas, during which bargain
event slogans brandish local newspaper headlines. As a
notoriously last-minute shopper in college, with a jam-
packed class schedule and frugal budget, I recall awaiting
the annual event known as “Midnight Madness,” a solitary
shopping extravaganza that typically lasted from 8pm to
midnight. Equipped with comfortable shoes for rushing,
credit cards and shopping lists, my fellow consumers and I
would line up outside the town’s modest one-story shop-
ping mall an hour in advance just to get the goods. Since
my arrival in Seoul in 2002, however, “Midnight Madness”
has taken on an entirely different meaning.
m
i
d
n
i
g
h
t
m
a
d
n
e
s
s
As it happens, on a chilly Wednesday evening I found myself suddenly in need
of American two-dollar bills framed in glass, a hammer, some live eels, Shaun
Cassidy on vinyl and a neon-pink faux-fur shawl. Well, not really in need, but
had those purchases actually been necessary, I knew I would be able to find
each and every one at Seoul’s oldest market, Namdaemun, named after the
iconic south gate of the formerly-walled city. Eagerly skipping past the neon-
lit tiger honoring the Lunar New Year, I embraced the labyrinth of alleys: from
the crisp market air to the strong aroma of roasted silkworm larvae accosting
my nostrils. It’s been said that shoppers can find everything under the sun at
Namdaemun Market “except nuclear weapons and tanks,” so I was keen on
the prospect of emptying my bank account and testing out the bold claim.
Surely there was something that belonged in my clutches.
I armed myself with comfortable walking shoes, as the size of Namdaemun
rivals that of my entire suburban hometown. Turning left at the first narrow
alley, I began to understand what I was getting myself into. It was an attack on
35
KOREA
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2010 34
KOREA
MARCH
2010
the senses: vendors packed themselves closer and closer together, grills sizzled,
feet shuffled, and animated speech and laughter grew louder. Although the
crowd was largely Korean, there was a notable modicum of international faces
and tongues. Locals swarmed around stalls for late night eats, paired with bot-
tles of the domestic beer. Rows of pig’s feet, freshly plucked chickens, mam-
moth-sized oysters, live seafood, sundae (Korean blood sausage), the fiery but
irresistible dumplings known as tteokbokki, and a popular glass noodle dish
called japchae, are in high demand. I immediately detoured to pick up a din-
ner-plate sized kimchijeon, a spicy, pancake-like goodie that can be described
as a “kimchi pizza,” comfort food for late night winter wandering.
Having recharged my batteries, I paused at a wide intersection to regain my
bearings. Around me, in no particular order, is: an optical shop (cheap glasses
in an hour); a ginseng store with glass jars containing specimens of the stimu-
lating plant that bring to mind the shelves of a mad scientist’s lab; a souvenir
shop featuring child-sized hanbok, traditional Korean clothing, embroidered
with Mashimaro, Pucca and other pop culture characters; and a shop selling
Ed Hardy knock-offs. Another 50m and it’s an assortment of blinking wind-
up toys, hats of every style imaginable, a TonyMoly makeup franchise and two
side-by-side shops selling soccer jerseys featuring every player from the UK’s
David Beckham to France’s Zinedine Zidane.
There’s more. Past the bare outskirts of this vast shopping mecca are entire
alleyways dedicated to bedding and pillowcases, pots and pans, and still
another selling mostly fruit and preserved goods in bulk.
Several tourist information booths in and around Namdaemun Market are
helpful in keeping track of where you are in relation to the subway, but they
close at 6pm and, if you want to know what is sold in the popular arcades, you
will have to go in to find out. In my opinion, exploration is the only way one
should tackle the maze-like Namdaemun. After all, what is madness without a
little mystery? As the evening progresses to the midnight hour, I make my way
to the markets of Dongdaemun, which is within walking distance of
Hoehyeon Station, a common access point to Namdaemun proper. This is
where the hardcore shoppers do their greatest damage and the action lasts
until the sun rises. As a fashion district where traditional markets and tower-
ing, modern shopping malls sit side by side, Dongdaemun boasts an estimat-
ed 30,000 shops. Due to its vastness, it’s tough to know where to begin.
I boldly venture into “Pyounghwa Market,” an enormous, multistory com-
plex buzzing with activity. The market operates from 9pm until 6am and
focuses on apparel for middle-aged women. I’m greeted by colorful displays
of umbrellas, earrings, scarves, and other items that appeal to the female
demographic. While digging through a promising array of blouses, I’m polite-
ly informed that there are no dressing rooms, no refunds, and to make my
choices carefully. Although it is a wholesale market, selective shoppers are
welcome, but don’t make the mistake of spending too much time mulling
over one item, as you’re sure to see it throughout the evening. Getting the best
deal is a trick of the shopper’s trade and I recommend testing out a few ven-
dors, assuming you’re up to the challenge.
Once again in need of fuel, I stop for odeng, and am treated to the fish cake
served on a bamboo skewer, hot off the grill. While indulging, I meet a fellow
lady from my native country in search of merchandise for her local boutique.
She is shouldering two gigantic bags containing various Ed Hardy T-shirts,
which she tells me are trendy in Toronto. She will have to make several trips to
retrieve her wares, as her stash includes a Korean-style lantern, numerous pil-
lows and a curtain set. She showcases her bounty of metallic buttons and
beads for hand-made jewelry, a variety of monogrammed scarves, a dozen
feather-adorned headbands and a handful of mini-photo album cell phone
charms. By now the pedestrian streets are thronging with merchants, hagglers
in animated action, and people eating, mingling and resting. It’s 2am and the
night is young for the Seoul shopping scene.
Strolling around the lively streets, I am frequently surprised by the sheer
volume of goods that people are carrying, and the multiculturalism of the
crowd. Buyers from Japan, China, Russia, the United States and Latin America
create a lively, if not chaotic, combination. It’s the nature of madness that
comes off as unexpectedly welcome and appeals to my inner explorer, eager to
discover a new alley in a place I’ve long called home. There’s a sense of com-
munity in this megaplex of shopping mania, united by the common goals of a
good bargain and jovial experience. This is the shopping mall that never
sleeps. In the words of Bo Derek, “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness
simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”
They certainly didn’t give the streets of Seoul a shot. by Kelly Frances McKenna |
photograph by KimNam-heon | illustrations by Jo Seung-yeon
PROFILE
During her 7 years in
Korea, Canadian Kelly
Frances McKenna has
worked as a fashion
model, performance
artist, graphic designer
and media coordina-
tor. She established
an NGO that special-
izes in saving Korean
moon bears. She cur-
rently co-owns a Web
site aimed at increas-
ing tourism while help-
ing fellow Seoulites
maximize their time
here. When she isn’t
busy hitting the mean
streets of Seoul’s
shopping districts,
Kelly enjoys animal
welfare work, jogging
and good conversation
over Korean food.
37
KOREA
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2010
THE G-20 SUMMIT IN KOREA:
A BRIDGE TO THE WORLD
Leaders of 20 of the world’s leading and emerging economies,
known as the Group of 20, will descend on Seoul in November this
year. The summit is expected to serve as an opportunity to evaluate
the state of the global economy and the new world order. At the
Davos Forum held in January, President Lee Myung-bak once again
reminded world leaders of Korea’s presence on the world stage.
Here, KOREA takes a look at the significance of the G-20 Summit in
Seoul, its preparation and its agenda, while trying to predict in
which direction global leadership is headed. by Kwon Kyeong-hui
The 40th World Economic Forum in
Davos, Switzerland, was an occasion
to reaffirm the shifting of global lead-
ership of the world order from a Group
of Seven to a Group of 20. Korean
President Lee Myung-bak and French
President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed in
their speeches that pressing global
economic issues should be discussed
at the G-20 Summit.
By virtue of hosting the conference,
Korea has seen its national profile
and prestige rise substantially. In his
address on January 27, President Lee
won popular support after proposing
the agenda for the November meeting.
His plan includes fully implementing
past G-20 agreements: efforts to
reduce gaps in international develop-
ment and forming a global financial
safety net; offering outreach to non-
member developing nations and hold-
ing business summits. The 21
st
Century Security Agenda Committee
forum suggested an “Empowering G-
20,” arguing that during the G-20
Summit in Seoul, a separate meeting
of high-ranking security officials
should be staged. The committee also
said the G-20 should take the opportu-
nity to become a forum that deals not
just with economic and financial
issues, but non-traditional security
issues as well.
SHIFTING THE CENTER OF GLOBAL
GOVERNANCE The global head table
has expanded to 20, as the center of
global governance has shifted. When
the consensus was formed that the G-
7 structure would not be sufficient to
overcome the global financial down-
turn in 2008, the G-20 was born. And
at the Pittsburgh meeting in
September 2009, when Korea was
selected as the next host, the G-20
was also chosen as “the premier
forum” to discuss global economic
issues. The crisis made a new gover-
nance structure necessary. Amid dis-
putes surrounding the change — some
developed nations preferred the G-8
SUMMIT DIPLOMACY
¸
K
o
re
a
T
o
u
ris
m
O
rg
a
n
iz
a
tio
n
39
KOREA
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2010 38
KOREA
MARCH
2010
financial market — could be included.
However, considering the establish-
ment of the G-20, there will be tight
competition for control between the
developed and the developing nations,
and even among the powerful states
themselves. From the start, the G-7
states were worried that the presence
of new rising powers in the G-20 set-
ting would compromise their vested
interests. Meanwhile, these emerging
states pointed out that the G-7 was
losing its ability to lead and govern the
international community, and they are
demanding that the membership be
expanded to reflect the increased
clout of the emerging countries.
Changes to the relationship
between the US and the EU, which
once had strong ties, may be another
reason that the G-20 will have strug-
gles before reaching consensus. As
European nations worked toward inte-
gration, friction occurred in some
areas between the US and Europe.
Against this backdrop, the future of
the G-20 will likely see a battle for
power among the United States, the
EU and China, as the emerging pow-
ers call for their share of the pie. The
working dynamics will likely be quite
complicated.
The possible agenda for future G-20
summits could mean even more strug-
gles. With regards to “sustainable
growth,” the US and China could be at
loggerheads over reducing the US
trade deficit. To improve its trade bal-
ance, the US wants a revaluation of
the Chinese yuan. But China has yet
to give a definitive answer. The devel-
oped and the developing countries
could also wrangle over reforms at the
IMF and World Bank.
Climate change is another tough
issue. The 15
th
Conference of Parties
to the UN Framework Convention on
Climate Change in Copenhagen ended
with a political declaration instead of
an agreement. The participants also
failed to reach a conclusion on their
reduction targets or the sharing of
financial aid. So the goal for Korea to
structure while France led efforts to
form a Group of 14 — everybody set-
tled on the G-20.
Thanks to the shift to a Group of
20, born of the economic crisis, Korea
now stands directly in the middle of
the restructuring of global governance.
The G-8 countries used to account for
nearly 80 percent of global productivi-
ty, but now the figure has dropped to
around 50 percent. Problems have
arisen that developed nations alone
can’t solve. The role of Korea as the
“bridge” between the developed and
the developing countries is beginning
to be noticed.
At the Pittsburgh Summit, Lee said,
“It was agreed that unprecedented
cooperation between developed
nations and new powers will be most
effective in resolving a wide range of
problems related to the economy.” His
words served as a reminder to the
degree of change global governance
has undergone. A successful hosting
of the G-20 Summit is expected to
have virtually the same effect as co-
hosting the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Considering the economic sway of
the G-20 nations, which account for
85 percent of the world’s gross
domestic product, the G-20 Summit in
Seoul is slated to be the largest inter-
national conference ever staged in
Korea. Whereas previous international
meetings were festivities-oriented, the
G-20 Summit this year will have con-
crete discussions on overcoming eco-
nomic problems.
GLIMPSE INTO THE SEOUL SUMMIT
Referring to the seating plan at the
dinner during the G-20 Summit in
London in April 2009, the British
newspaper The Guardian said it was
carefully planned diplomatic artistry.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the
host, was flanked by Indonesian
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Sitting across from Brown was Saudi
Arabian King Abdullah. The overall
seating plan reflected international
relations and Britain’s own interests.
It was an example showing the rising
status of the emerging powers and
also the diplomatic skills of the UK.
The G-20 Summit in Korea will be
the largest event the nation has ever
held. Aside from the leaders of the G-
20 members, representatives from
ASEAN and Africa, plus chiefs of the
WTO, OECD and IMF, among other
multinational agencies, will be in
attendance, bringing the number of
world leaders to about 30. More than
2,000 officials will accompany these
heads of state and agencies. Counting
the members of the press, attendees
will number about 20,000. The G-20
members include the G-7 states — the
US, UK, Germany, France, Japan,
Canada and Italy — as well as Korea,
Russia, China, Brazil, Australia, South
Africa, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, India,
Argentina, Indonesia, Turkey and the
chair nation of the European Union.
Up to 130 billion won (US$113 million)
could be necessary to run the summit.
The budget for security alone will reach
about 27 billion won (US$23.4 million).
KOREA TO SERVE AS THE BRIDGE
President Lee Myung-bak and the
Korean government will, as the chair,
focus on acting as the “bridge”
between the developed nations and
the developing ones. As the mediator
between these two forces, Korea is
known to have prepared ambitious
plans to lead efforts to overcome the
ongoing economic crisis and to estab-
lish the new economic system after-
ward. In that context, the most impor-
tant item on the agenda at the Seoul
Summit will likely be the new world
economic order that the countries
should adhere to after the crisis. In
addition, issues that have been previ-
ously discussed — such as sustain-
able growth, reforming international
agencies and strengthening the global
act as a bridge at this year’s G-20
Summit is a challenge and a good test
of its mediation and coordination
skills. The success of the Summit is
directly tied to Korea’s standing in the
international community.
“Hosting the G-20 Summit means
that Korea is now in a position to
restructure the world economic sys-
tem,” says Shin Je-yoon of the
Ministry of Strategy and Finance. “If
Korea can successfully act as the
bridge, then it will help raise our inter-
national profile.”
Yoon Deok-ryong of the Korea
Institute for International Economic
Policy says, “The year 2010, with
Korea as the chair, is the crucial year
for the G-20 to really become true gov-
ernors ... Korea is at the forefront of
the historical change.”
Lee Dae-ki, a researcher at the
Korea Institute of Finance, adds, “We
need to work through differences on
these sensitive matters and seek
ways to implement agreements.”
In December 2009, members of the Green Bicycle
Volunteers perform a ceremony wishing for the
success of the G-20 Seoul Summit (above). World
leaders at the London Summit 2009 (opposite top).
President Lee Myung-bak, left, delivers a key
speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos,
Switzerland, in January 2010 (opposite below).
¸
Y
o
n
h
a
p
n
e
w
s
A
g
e
n
c
y
(a
b
o
v
e
, o
p
p
o
s
ite
b
e
lo
w
); C
h
e
o
n
g
W
a
D
a
e
(o
p
p
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s
ite
a
b
o
v
e
)
41
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2010 40
KOREA
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2010
GLOBAL KOREA
Korea’s overseas relief work began
with NGOs. It was after the civil war
broke out in Rwanda in 1994 that
organizations that were active over-
seas gained recognition from the gen-
eral public. Good Neighbors began its
relief projects with fundraising. During
six months of emergency assistance,
Good Neighbors dispatched 100 vol-
unteers to treat 36,000 people med-
ically. The group also supplied food
for 2,000 orphans per day in Rwanda,
and spent two years building schools
to provide elementary and middle
school education.
NGOs also offered help after the
Kosovo War in the late 1990s, the
1999 earthquake in Turkey, the war in
Afghanistan, the 2003 earthquake in
Iran and the war in Iraq. In particular,
the government allocated US$1.5 mil-
lion for NGO work in the aftermath of
the Iraq War in 2003. Together, these
organizations had US$8 million —
including the money they had raised
— in order to begin relief work.
Christian NGOs such as Korea Food
for the Hungry International, Good
Neighbors, Good People and World
Vision, also reached out to help those
devastated by the massive quake in
Sichuan Province in China. They visit-
ed wrecked villages to supply rice and
drinking water, among other essential
living supplies. They even built play-
grounds for children there.
The private sector has increasingly
taken part in relief aid. After the Haiti
earthquake, the general public soon
began donating to help the country.
Internet Web sites opened cyber dona-
tion collection boxes and people
online have since kept giving.
GOVERNMENT LEADS OVERSEAS
RELIEF AID To help Haiti, the govern-
ment and the private sector provided
US$5 million in emergency relief
funds. The government plans to add
another US$5 million for midterm
restoration and rebuilding projects.
The National Emergency Management
Agency led the government emergency
relief aid squad, including internation-
al aid teams and Korea International
Cooperation Agency members.
Doctors and nurses from the National
Medical Center and the Korean
Foundation for International Health-
care, and emergency aid workers at
KOREA PROVIDES OVERSEAS
DISASTER RELIEF AID
It has been more than a month since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake
devastated Haiti, a country in the Caribbean. But the people there
are still suffering. Their social system has collapsed and survivors
are not getting proper treatment. Aside from the food shortage,
Haitians are exposed to poor hygienic and living conditions. And
countries all over the world have worked hard to help Haiti
bounce back from the despair. Korea has actively participated in
relief efforts for Haiti, at the governmental, civic and corporate
levels. Of course, Haiti is not the first country Korea has helped.
Since the 1990s, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) started
providing overseas aid for various causes. Recently, companies
operating in foreign countries have joined in, and the govern-
ment has formed a legal framework for overseas relief work and
increased the budget for such aid. by Park Ji-hwan
Korean NGOs actively participate in relief aid over-
seas. Good People International donated the solar
LED lamps for the Tarukan Village in the
Philippines in October 2009 (opposite). The earth-
quake devastated Haiti caused the collapse of
many buildings (above). A doctor dispatched from
World Vision Korea gave an emergency treatment
to a patient, a victim of the Tsunami tragedy in
2004 (below).
¸
G
o
o
d
P
e
o
p
le
In
te
rn
a
tio
n
a
l (a
b
o
v
e
, o
p
p
o
s
ite
a
b
o
v
e
); W
o
rld
V
is
io
n
(o
p
p
o
s
ite
b
e
lo
w
)
43
KOREA
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2010 42
KOREA
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2010
When a tsunami engulfed Southeast
Asia in December 2004, the govern-
ment dug deep and supplied funding,
supplies and workers worth US$5 mil-
lion out of a special budget. Victims of
Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in May
2008 received US$2.5 million, and
the Chinese suffering after the
Sichuan earthquake that year got
US$5.48 million.
Aside from financial aid, the govern-
ment has been sending aid workers to
on-site locales. The first “quick-
response” workers from Korea served
in the United States after Hurricane
Katrina devastated New Orleans.
Another quick-response unit extend-
ed a helping hand to Sichuan after the
earthquake. The National 119 Rescue
Service workers sent 41 members to
China just 12 hours after getting the
call for help.
When the influenza A (H1N1) virus
hit Mexico in April last year, Korea
was there to supply high-quality
masks, ear thermometers, liquid soap
the Ministry of National Defense,
formed the second aid unit, setting up
clinics to treat patients in Haiti.
In addition, the government will
deploy peacekeeping forces to help
Haiti recover from its ruins. The forces
will stay in Haiti until December 31
this year to lend their hands to the
country. The Ministry of National
Defense allocated 28.7 billion won,
about US$24.8 million, for expenses.
The government’s overseas aid
efforts received a much-needed boost
in 2007 when the law on overseas
emergency aid was passed. Based on
this legal foundation, the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and Trade can deter-
mine the extent and the method of
humanitarian aid, depending on the
degree of damage, in the case of dis-
asters. This law also expanded the
government’s budget on overseas
relief aid. Before, an average of US$1
million per year was spent on such aid
efforts, but the amount has since
risen to about US$8 million per year.
and blood banks, which had a com-
bined value of US$500,000.
In the future, Korea plans to budget
at least US$50 million for overseas
emergency aid. The government
believes the amount of overseas aid
must be on a par with our national
status. In order to solidify the struc-
ture to provide official development
assistance (ODA) and to build an aid
system suitable for Korea, the govern-
ment plans to set up a separate
agency for international development.
BUSINESSES OFFER THEIR HELP
Korean companies haven’t shied away
from reaching out to others. Samsung
Group donated US$1 million to be
used in rebuilding Haiti after the mas-
sive earthquake. It is the largest con-
tribution by a single Korean firm.
Samsung plans to add an additional
US$1 million or more through local
subsidiaries.
The union at LG Electronics gave 50
million won (US$43,500) in relief aid
to Good Neighbors. The money is
being used to help rebuild school
areas and provide drinking water and
medication. Aside from the labor
union, LG Electronics decided to sup-
ply US$60,000 worth of relief goods
and volunteers through its Panama
subsidiary, which services Haiti. The
dispatch of volunteers will be timed
with the arrival of supplies.
Hyundai Heavy Industries worked
with the Haitian embassy in the
Dominican Republic and the Red
Cross to send 21-ton and 11-ton exca-
vators to facilitate repair work, plus
skilled workers to operate the equip-
ment. The excavators were provided
by the company’s dealer in the
Dominican Republic and its subsidiary
in Chicago. Until emergency restora-
tion is complete, Hyundai Heavy
Industries will provide the oil, filter,
parts and skills necessary to repair
equipment.
Korean firms also showed generosi-
ty in the aftermath of the Sichuan
earthquake. Beijing Hyundai Motor
provided five Tucson SUVs, worth 1.1
million yuan. Dongfeng Yueda Kia, Kia
Motors’ Chinese subsidiary, handed
out six Sportage SUVs, worth 1 million
yuan. Hyundai Mobis gave 500,000
yuan. Right after the earthquake hit,
LG Group donated 17 million yuan to
the Chinese Red Cross. Six of its
major affiliates — LG Electronics, LG
Display, LG Chem, LG Household and
Health Care, LG CNS and LG
International — all played a major role.
Through its Chinese subsidiary
Doosan Infracore China, the Doosan
Group gave 1.5 billion won (US$1.3
million) to the Chinese government.
For quick recovery work, about 150
excavators were provided. Kumho
Asiana Group donated US$200,000
to the Chinese government after the
earthquake, and 480 boxes of instant
noodle packs, 1,680 boxes of bottled
water and other supplies to the
Chinese Red Cross. Hanjin Group
supplied 2,000 blankets and 36,000
1.5-liter bottles on a special freighter
that traveled to the emergency com-
mand center in Chengdu, Sichuan
Province.
“When Korean companies make
profits in the global markets, then
they all have roles and responsibilities
as members of that society,” said an
official with a major conglomerate. “In
order for the Korean firms to establish
themselves in the international mar-
kets, they should continue to give
back to society around the world.”
THE GOVERNMENT AND THE PUBLIC
JOIN HANDS A new model for joint
government-civic aid to countries
struck by misfortune is on the way. As
national interest in overseas aid has
risen, the government and NGOs have
teamed up. The government and Good
Neighbors will build a youth anti-drug
education center in Paraguay and a
parasite control center in Tanzania.
While Korea has often built schools or
hospitals in underdeveloped nations,
it has never previously shared its
know-how in relief aid.
The youth anti-drug education center
will span over 33,000 square meters
of land in the Paraguayan capital
Asuncion. It will adopt the Korean
youth anti-drug education system and
offer concentrated education and
management programs to eradicate
drug use among the Paraguay’s youth.
Good Neighbors has already invited
related officials, including the minister
of youth in Paraguay, to introduce
them to the Korean education pro-
grams. The NGO plans to send
experts to Paraguay in the near future.
The Paraguayan government has high
expectations as it prepares to learn
from Korea, which is virtually free of
youth drug abuse.
Good Neighbors will set up a para-
site control center in Tanzania and will
give the locals education in preven-
tion. Good Neighbors suggested to the
Korean government that such a facility
be built after it recognized the need
for help in dealing with parasites while
carrying out relief work there. The gov-
ernment has been behind the efforts.
Analysts say civilian specialists
have lent their expertise to areas the
government can’t reach, and that
efforts in Paraguay and Tanzania are
exemplary cases that will help raise
Korea’s profile in the field of interna-
tional aid.
A boy wandered around the region of Batticaloa,
eastern province of Sri Lanka, just after the
Tsunami (below). A Haiti baby is holding a volun-
teer’s hand (opposite).
¸
G
o
o
d
P
e
o
p
le
In
te
rn
a
tio
n
a
l (a
b
o
v
e
); W
o
rld
V
is
io
n
(o
p
p
o
s
ite
)
NOW IN KOREA
The hottest term in Korea at the moment is none other than “girl group.” They can be seen
on every screen, appearing in TV dramas, entertainment shows and even documentaries.
Leaping beyond the boundaries of generation and gender, these pop groups are lightheart-
ed, sincere and now stand in a position where every move they make sparks a new trend.
Just what is it about them that drives us into such a frenzy? by Jeong Deok-hyeon
GIRL GROUPS
SWEPT UP BY
Wonder Girls is giving a performance at a concert in 2009.
¸
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47
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2010
ter. At first he wasn’t thrilled about the show, as it felt more of
a playground for teenagers than a setting for a father. But once
he was there, he encountered a sight he’d never expected to
see. The crowd lined at the entrance was composed of such a
diversity of people, males and females of all ages, from teens
to the middle-aged. Older men and women alike were proudly
standing in line holding the hands of their children, who were in
turn carrying posters and CDs in their arms. The man’s appre-
hension dissipated at the sight of them. Once inside the con-
cert hall, he saw that the venue was packed, from the standing
section lining the stage, to the seats on the second floor.
Though the man had attended several concerts in his youth,
the scene of men and women of all ages mingling was a for-
eign one. However, that feeling soon faded as Girls’
Generation came on stage and began singing and dancing their
adorable, trademark moves. The issue of age was forgotten by
everyone in the concert hall, and they all went wild together.
WAVES OF INFLUENCE These episodes from the record store
and music venue are ones you would have never seen in the
past. The target demographics for pop bands remained those
still in the middle of their teenage years. In the 1990s, when
the Korean pop scene thrived, the audience expanded to
include those in their 20s. Fans organized official clubs, went
to shows to chase after their stars, camped in front of singers’
houses and screamed with joy at a sighting. Back then, older
folks would look at the crazed youths with awe. Their typical
response was to cluck their tongues and scold the youngsters
for “recklessly chasing singers when they ought to be studying
hard for their futures.”
However, 20 years later, things have changed again. The
generation that once devoted themselves to fan clubs has now
reached the midway point in their lives. Now they nod their
heads knowingly at those from younger generations and, fur-
thermore, they’re willing to sit with them, listen to a newly-
bought CD, hum tunes in a car, and even go to concerts. The
formal term of endearment for this age group is “uncle and
auntie fans.” And, at the center of all this change are the girl
groups, who seem to have something for everyone. To elders,
these charismatic performers remind them of their youth: to
men, they are beautiful eye candy; to women, they provide a
refreshing energy that helps liven dull days and erase frustra-
tion with bold, simple messages. Idol girl groups, in mere
years, have become an entity that brings together generations,
as opposed to serving as a distinctive divider.
Just when and how did this unique movement manifest?
Was it when the Wonder Girls rocked the entire nation with
their echoing rhythm to the lyrics of “Tell Me”? Or was it when
the retro feel of the hit song “Nobody” made people’s hearts
beat with excitement? Maybe it was when the refreshing Girls’
Inside a typical record shop is a man, in his mid-40s, noncha-
lantly pushing a CD of the young girl group 2NE1 over the coun-
tertop. There’s a hint of embarrassment on his face. After
stealing a quick glance at the clerk, he mumbles: “My daughter
is a fan.” The cashier gives his customer a meaningful smile
and replies, “They’re really good. I like them a lot too.”
Sensing his mind was all too-easily read, the man puts on a
straight face and insists, “No, it’s not for me, but for my
daughter.” But it’s too late, the words already sound like an
excuse. The clerk’s smile widens. “These days there are many
older men and women who come in to buy 2NE1 CDs.” The
middle-aged man hurriedly shoves his purchase into his bag
and returns to the streets. He ponders his situation: Who
would have thought a man in his 40s would buy an album by
a teenage girl group, after convincing himself it was for his
daughter, then go home to sing the songs with his kids?
What first made this middle-aged man fall for pop bands
(commonly referred to as idol groups in Korea) was a Girls’
Generation’s concert he went to with his grade school daugh-
2NE1 targeted female fans with their boyish features (opposite top). 4Minute has
recently given concerts in Thailand and the Philippines (opposite below). Girls’
Generation became a teenage icon with their fun and friendly fashion sense (above).
¸
Y
G
E
n
te
rta
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e
n
t (o
p
p
o
s
ite
a
b
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); P
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48
KOREA
MARCH
2010
Generation seduced audiences with their long-legged dance
to the enchanting “Say Your Wish.” The possibilities are end-
less, but what’s certain is that girl idol groups have made their
way into our lives. No matter our age or gender, these girls
allow us to dream once again, moving us with their cheerful-
ness and a feeling of fresh radiance. The vibrancy of their
songs, dances, clothes and performances is so irresistible that
every move is picked up by the world’s pop radar. They render
the term “singer” insufficient. They are at the edge of the fron-
tier of popular culture, but they are not just pioneers — they
are the culture.
THE SHADOW OF RECESSION AND NOSTALGIA Some are so
surprised by the elder generation’s enthusiasm for girl groups
that they cannot help but mention the Lolita complex.
Nevertheless, that would be an example of an exaggerated
principle that remains from the past authoritarian era. In the
course of shifting from a masculine-dominated era to one of
feminine equality, the imposing frames of age and gender are
being slowly torn down. The time has come in pop culture
where a man in his 40s can cheer for teenage girl groups with-
out being looked at suspiciously.
Additionally, the craze for girl groups has inseparable ties
with the long and difficult recession. Retro trends are born
because contemporary troubles lead people to reminisce about
past glory days. In this way, the energetic youth of idol groups
brings a sense of longing to people looking back on their
prime. Wanting to return to those days of joy and resilience, of
endless youth, is understandable, and even amplified during
times of hardship.
Girl groups have seemingly materialized for the Korean pub-
lic at just the right moment. They are the consolation of finding
an oasis in the banal desert of everyday life, the time machine
that brings us back to the light memory of youth, and the mes-
sengers of pop culture announcing the end of an era and the
coming of the next. So, why should there be shame or embar-
rassment at finding peace and nostalgia for a few moments,
or enjoying a new cultural movement? Seeing a father singing
along with his daughter to a girl group’s song in a karaoke
room has become a natural scene in Korea. The culture has
changed and the ubiquitous girl group is simply a representa-
tion of progress.
Though this idol fever may look like a simple fandom phe-
nomenon created by singers and their enthused fans, the pic-
ture reflects a much deeper image. Each generation has lived
in an era of the shadow of recession, and is now escaping a
constricting ideology by gathering behind a new icon of the era.
Girl groups are one of the symbols at the center, inciting a new
age and time. Korea is embracing the reign of idol bands and
it’s an era that’s not going anywhere soon.
Brown Eyed Girls recently became a big hit with their bold dancing style (above).
¸
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