Asian Dramas

19 Feb

My childhood was filled with wanting to know more about Korea. It was so desperate that I began to look and study Japan and China to try to distinguish what Korea was. People told me that Korea was about a war. But I knew that was wrong.

I was told through Korean culture camps and weekend trips to the local church that Korea was about calligraphy, hanbok, eating rice, getting candy and having traditional fans and foods. I also knew this was wrong.

My parents thought the Korea I craved was the traditional Korea. The one with hanbok, holidays, and Korean food. But this isn’t what I really craved. I wanted to know what it was like to breathe and be like a Korean. I wanted to know if I lived there every day, what would my life be like? How would I think? How would I act?

And perhaps this is where my spark of interest in Cultural Anthropology began.

I found after lots and lots of searching, researching, digging, that academia was poor on this subject. Cultural Anthropology books didn’t cover Korea. The Internet was too new to cover anything about Korea besides the traditional background. Listening to news stories from Korea always had an added American view. Where was the Korean point of view, but more lost and more far away?

I found a singular breakthrough. Since I had moved to California, I had access to Asian shows. I started to watch Asian dramas. This included Japanese, Taiwanese, Mainland China, and if I could see them, Singapore, Filipino, etc.

The first Korean drama I saw was Prince’s First Love. It scarred me for a good 3 years. It was horrible. It was so horrible, that it is legendarily horrible. It did horrible in the Korean ratings, it did horrible with fans, and when it was up on a website for seeding, it was passed over for other dramas three times until there was no other drama to seed because it was that bad. Pretty faces, horrible story. The drama was so bad, that the Production Director managed to screw up shooting a beach scene. It’s not that difficult to get some pretty images of a beach… but he *still* screwed it up.

Needless to say I went into denial about Korean dramas for a long time. That was a worst choice for Korean dramas and it definitely didn’t answer my fundamental questions about Korean daily life and attitudes.

Meantime I filled my plate with watching unsubbed Korean dramas, one was Dae Jang Geum which was dubbed in Chinese, but subbed in English. I knew it was Korean. I was disappointed it wasn’t in the original language.

This meant, that again, my first exposure to Asia was Japan. (This typifies what stereotypes and racism come from.) This meant between my interest in cultural anthropology, the studying I did for my High School Senior thesis on Cultural media exchange of Manga and Anime into the United States, I had a pretty good analysis for being able to separate Korea from japan and eventually from Taiwan and mainland China.

My first decent Korean drama was My Love Patji. (내 사랑 팥쥐) (which was romanized weirdly in the US.) This starred Jang Nara whom I was collecting music from in a desperate push to try to learn Korean as fast as I could. I was relieved to find out that not all Korean dramas were bad. Since I like collecting by artists and author, I followed the two male leads to their other dramas. These series were 16 episodes with a terminal end. They were not soap operas because they had a plotted beginning, middle and end. Even the daily dramas have a beginning, middle and end. This led to me consuming 50+ dramas in a little under 2 months. By the third month I was running out of dramas faster than they were being produced. I amazed Koreans too with the number of dramas I watched in that amount of time. (I also maintained my grades in college too))

During this time, I studied the culture being presented in the dramas, and since I had some official training, I started to compile that information quickly together, and finally came up with “how do Koreans live in Korea” v. “What is idealizations of Korean life like.”

Korean dramas tend to be repetitive. They tend to use the same lines over an over again, the same tropes, so since I had training in stories and creating them, I was able to pick up on these patterns, and compile that into learning the language. Since I had only a few months to learn Korean, I used my everything to try to learn Korean through crash coursing my way through these dramas. I even developed a system by which I could pick up language.

1. First listen to the patterns of the language.

2. Look up the grammar structure of the language.

3. Pick up nouns. (Subject and Object)

4. Verbs.

5. Context and repetitions.

6. Continue to pick up more complex vocabulary.

7. Repeat entire phrases.

– Don’t assume all English words will be used properly. “Fighting” makes no sense in English, but it does in Korean. (It’s actually p’i-t’in-gu. That’s why it’s worth looking it up.)
– You can also learn about manners and customs which is also good. It will help you use language properly.
– Don’t be afraid to rewind when you want to repeat a phrase.
– Don’t be afraid to look things up. Use that dictionary, online or not and the grammar guides. Having a separate tab or window (tab is in Firefox and Safari, not in IE. IE sucks anyhow, upgrade to Firefox). with the dictionary in question.

I’m fond of categorizing things into steps. But that’s how I managed to crash course myself into learning Korean rapidly. It did horrors to my spelling, but for pronunciation people thought I had perfect pronunciation and grew up in Korea.

Through watching Korean dramas I was able to regain what I thought I had lost and was rightfully mine. I think I also felt comfortable being more Korean as I watched them. I’m sure, though, that this wouldn’t work for my brother who wouldn’t like the content of the dramas, or my highly intellectual and culturally defensive mother. However, for me, who was open-minded about cultures, had the training to open my mind and judge last (more like judging phobic) and had lots of curiosity, it worked very well.

Dramas I’d recommend:
Sweet 18 (Great Starter Drama) [낭랑18세 / Nang Rang 18 Seh]
Bad Family [불량가족 / Bulryang Gajok]
Dae Jang Geum [대장금]
3 Dads, 1 Mom. [아빠셋 엄마하나, Appa set, Eomma hana] (Great for a crash course in Korean child rearing.)
Attic Cat [옥탑방 고양이/ Oktapbang Goyangee]
Full House [풀하우스 / Pool Hawooseu]

And though I can’t stand the drama, I think it’s a good idea to watch a few dramas with a bad view of adoption.
I’m Sorry I Love You (Bad view of adoptees and no view of adoptive parents.)

Which Star Did You Come From? (other than this aspect it is decent–bad view of birth parents, which is rare in Korea, but worth looking into.)

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