KOREANA - Winter 2012 (English)

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W I NT ER 2012

Korean Culture & Arts

vo l. 26 n o . 4

Special Feature W I N TER 2012

Fashion Stories Dongdaemun Market, the Mecca of ‘Fast Fashion’; Korea’s Fashion Leaders Splash onto the Global Scene; Seoul Style; Industry Insiders on Korean Fashion

ISSN ISSN1016-0744 1016-0744

v o l. 26 n o. 4

Passion for Fashion Korean Style


Kim Woosang Zeon Nam-jin Lee Kyong-hee Bae Bien-u Elisabeth Chabanol Han Kyung-koo Kim Hwa-young Kim Moon-hwan Kim Young-na Koh Mi-seok Song Hye-jin Song Young-man Werner Sasse Dean Jiro Aoki Lim Sun-kun Teresita M. Reed Cho Yoon-jung


Kim Sam Lee Duk-lim Kim Ji-hyun Kim’s Communication Associates 384-13 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul 121-839, Korea www.gegd.co.kr Tel: 82-2-335-4741 Fax: 82-2-335-4743


Charles La Shure Chung Myung-je Hwang Sun-ae Kim Young-kyu Min Eun-young

Subscription Price for annual subscription: Korea 18,000, Asia by air US$33, elsewhere by air US$37 Price per issue in Korea 4,500

Subscription/circulation correspondence: The U.S. and Canada Koryo Book Company 1368 Michelle Drive St. Paul, MN 55123-1459 Tel: 1-651-454-1358 Fax: 1-651-454-3519 Other areas including Korea The Korea Foundation 2558 Nambusunhwan-ro, Seocho-gu Seoul 137-863, Korea Tel: 82-2-2151-6544 Fax: 82-2-2151-6592 Printed in winter 2012 Samsung Moonwha Printing Co. 274-34 Seongsu-dong 2-ga, Seongdong-gu, Seoul 133-831, Korea Tel: 82-2-468-0361/5

© The Korea Foundation 2012 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the prior permission of the Korea Foundation. The opinions expressed by the authors do not necessarily represent those of the editors of Koreana or the Korea Foundation. Koreana, registered as a quarterly magazine with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (Registration No. Ba-1033, August 8, 1987), is also published in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish. Koreana Internet Website http://www.koreana.or.kr

KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS Winter 2012 Published quarterly by The Korea Foundation 2558 Nambusunhwan-ro, Seocho-gu Seoul 137-863, Korea

Model dressed in a garment called cheollik . This reinterpretation of a male official’s robe of the mid-Joseon Dynasty features elegant folds and form. The dramatic styling of this traditional costume is borne out in the bold pose and hairdo. Design by Lee Hye-soon, Model Noh Sun-mi, Make-up by Yoo Yang-hee, Photographer Ogh Sang-sun © Damyeon Image Book

Detail of a traditional ramie jacket called wonsam © Damyeon Image Book

New Challenges Ahead Amidst the protracted economic slowdown and political turmoil in many countries, the year 2012 has been fruitful in raising the profile of Korean culture and arts on the global stage. The so-called K-culture has continued its remarkable trajectory. For example, the maverick director Kim Ki-duk bagged the Golden Lion for best film in Venice, while the local movie industry is enjoying a record-breaking surge in ticket sales. The ongoing craze for K-pop saw the meteoric rise of another non-mainstream artist, Psy, who’s been rocking the world for months with his hilarious dance music video, “Gangnam Style,” which set a new record for views on YouTube. No less significant is that the number of inbound tourists has topped the 10-million mark for the first time. Korea’s balance sheet for culture has also recorded its first-ever net gain


in 2012. In spite of these stellar achievements, a mountain of challenges lie ahead. Many talented filmmakers are suffering in the hostile market environment dominated by big business concerns, while the pretty-boy/girl K-pop “idols” are struggling to broaden their artistic appeal, and the tourism industry is in urgent need of a paradigm shift to assure its sustainability. Nevertheless, it can be said that Korea has at last begun to make visible contributions to the culture and arts of the global community. It is now important to establish a clearer identity and originality. KOREANA also finds the dawning 2013 another year of new challenges. Editor-in-Chief Lee Kyong-hee Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Special Feature Fashion Stories

04 08 16 22 30

Special Feature 1

Passion for Fashion: Korean Style

Yang Sun-hee

Special Feature 2

Dongdaemun Market, the Mecca of ‘Fast Fashion’

Lee Jin-joo

Special Feature 3

Korea’s Fashion Leaders Splash onto the Global Scene


Cho Se-kyung, Kim Yoon-soo

Special Feature 4

Seoul Style

Cho Yoon-jung

Special Feature 5

Industry Insiders on Korean Fashion

Cho Se-kyung, Kim Yoon-soo

36 42


48 54 58 62 68


interview Lee Youn-taek: A ‘Cultural Guerrilla’ of Korean Theater Kim Moon-hwan ARTISAN

Kim Kyk-chen Exquisite Furniture Fittings: A Master Craftsman’s Family Legacy

Park Hyun-sook

modern landmarks

SPACE Group Building: Urban Oasis by a Pioneer Architect

art review

Multimedia Artist Kim Soo-ja: Sewing Life with Breath

Kim Chung-dong


Koh Mi-seok


Candle Maker Leads ‘Slow Life’ in his Adopted Homeland

Charles La Shure

on the global stage

Outsider Director Kim Ki-duk Grabs Golden Lion in Venice

Darcy Paquet

along their own path

A Soup Kitchen Where Love Blooms


Kim Hak-soon


Books & More Jokbo Reveal Inner Workings of Korean Society Werner Sasse

Korean Genealogical Records

Gugak Archive: Repository of Korean Traditional Music Joo Jae-keun



K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12

74 76 80 84


Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’: ‘B-grade’ Sentiment Takes the World by Storm

Lim Jin-mo

Gourmet’s Delight

Tofu: Longtime Asian Staple, Now a Global Health Food

Ye Jong-suk


‘Listening to Books’: A Celebration of Reading

Lee Kwang-pyo

journeys in Korean literature

Critique: Marsyas, or Perhaps Pierrot Uh Soo-woong The Cat, The Snake, and The Grave Sim Sang-dae


Fashion Stories 1

Passion for Fashion Korean Style M

any of my friends who have lived abroad for a while or are from other countries would often ask me: “Why are Koreans so well dressed?” This question made little sense to me until a few years ago, when I had the opportunity to live in New York for a year as a visiting scholar. After a year spent away from home, the differences became more apparent when I observed the people on the streets of Seoul after my return from the United States. Thus, I found myself asking the same question: “Why are Koreans so fashionable?” My observations tell me that people in Korean fashion is the end product of a combination of three factors: Koreans’ Seoul are generally better dressed than general desire to dress well, their keen sense of color, and a mass market with people in New York. This is not necessarily because Koreans have an extraordia large pool of capable designers and a constant stream of new products. nary sense of fashion but rather because Yang Sun-hee Editorial Writer, The JoongAng Ilbo they are more concerned with the need to dress well and hence pay greater attention to their clothing when going out. Along with this socio-cultural aspect, the fact that Korea’s industrial development began with an emphasis on textile and clothing production has surely played a role as well. Indeed, Korea now maintains an extensive infrastructure for apparel manufacturing and distribution.

Apparel Industry Bolsters the Economy It can be said that Korea owes its vaunted economic development over recent decades to the success of its apparel industry. Textiles and garment making served as potent economic growth engines, which helped to advance the industrial structure of Korea during its early modernization. Although electronics, semiconductors, and ships now account for the lion’s share of today’s exports, typical export items of the 1960s to the 70s included business shirts, trousers, skirts, and blouses for the American and European markets. Koreans are known to be industrious and hard-working, and have always been good with their hands. And during the initial phase of its economic development, these abilities enabled Korea to distinguish itself as a global exporter of good quality clothing. Although most Korean apparel makers have now relocated their production operations to China, product planning and distribution are still carried out at home. In the beginning, Korea produced clothing under OEM contracts, so there was no original fashion industry here to speak of. Until the early 1980s, the domestic market was divided into roughly two sectors: private boutiques specializing in custom-tailored wear for upper-class women, produced either by copying the designs in fashion magazines or according to customer requests; and general merchandise markets that sold inexpensive, everyday items. Korea’s fashion industry started to take off in earnest in the 1980s with the appearance of national brands that produced brand-name off-the-rack clothing. In the short period thereafter, the domestic fashion industry has achieved breathtaking progress. Today, Korea is the “Promised Land” for fashion brands, representing a key global market. Its status in the global fashion industry is such that the executives of American and French luxury brands visit the country regularly for consumer research and


Lee Hyun-yi (left), a popular Korean model active on the international scene, works with Canadian model Coco Rocha for fashion photographer Steven Meisel in the 2012 advertisement campaign for Shinsegae Department Store. Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

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Korea, the “Promised Land” for fashion brands, constitutes a key global market that executives of American and French luxury brands visit regularly for consumer research and product promotion. International cosmetics makers even choose Korea as the first country for the launch of new products in order to get a feel for the potential market response elsewhere.

product promotion. International cosmetics makers even choose Korea as the first country for the launch of new products in order to get a feel for the potential market response elsewhere. The increasing global interest in the Korean market is attributed to its consumers’ eager responsiveness to almost every kind of fashion product. Another factor now stimulating the industry is the growing number of Korean designers who are making inroads into the American and European markets.

Fashion DNA Koreans’ keen interest in dressing stylishly goes back a long way. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), for example, Korea was a country of Neo-Confucian philosophers, with strict norms and rules imposed on most aspects of everyday life. Typical standards for evaluating a person’s status included such individual characteristics as appearance, speech, writing style, and judgment. Interestingly, an attractive appearance was at the top of the list of an individual’s desirable qualities. Similarly, ancient Korean literature often portrays a person by describing his appearance, clothing, and the manner in which he carries himself. Attractive looks, however, are for the most part an inborn quality, not an acquired trait, so the Koreans of olden days considered it important to dress well, so as to convey a sense of dignity. According to historical documents, when extravagance had become rampant in officialdom of the mid-Joseon period, the king urged his retainers to dress modestly, warning them to refrain from wearing earrings and other accessories. Another historical record criticizes the common practice among contemporary male aristocrats of washing their faces with water containing ground rice. In that period, upper-class men were supposed to dress formally even at home, whether they were receiving guests or working on their studies, and even when they spent time with their wives. (The husband and wife in a noble family occupied separate quarters in their home.) In traditional Korean society, clothing indicated the wearer’s


social standing, gender, and marital status. In addition, people also sought to convey philosophical concepts with their attire, believing that they could express the principles and origins of the universe through the colors and shapes of their garments. A complicated set of rules was applied to dress, causing the act of dressing to take on a certain ceremonial aspect. Although the old-time norms and meanings attached to clothing are much less relevant today, an awareness of the importance of dressing appropriately still remains in the Korean people’s genes.

Color, the Identity of Korean Fashion Color is a keyword of Korean fashion. At New York Fashion Week this past September, “Concept Korea,” a joint fashion show by five Korean designers, featured five colors as the main theme: blue, white, red, black, and yellow. According to ancient philosophical thought shared by China and Korea, the five colors represent the east, west, south, north, and center, respectively. The connection of colors to geographical directions has had a far-reaching influence on Korean fashion as well as other aspects of life. It is not that Koreans used only these colors in their clothes, but these colors, and combinations thereof, played a symbolic role in major ceremonies of a person’s life cycle, including coming of age, wedding, funeral, and ancestral rites. A wider range of colors was actually used in traditional Korean clothing. The garments were dyed with a variety of natural dyestuffs extracted from such sources as indigo, persimmon, and other plants. The colors also revealed personal information about the wearer. For example, the colors of the sleeve cuffs and ribbon ties of a woman’s jacket indicated whether she was married or if she had a son. Moreover, traditional attire often featured unique color combinations, as seen in period TV dramas with actresses wearing colorful clothes. Consisting of a short jacket with wide sleeves, called jeogori , and a long ample skirt, chima , the traditional women’s dress comes in a wide array of colors, and in some cases, colors that are not usually considered well-matched are combined to creKo re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Korean fashion brands are presented at “K-Fashion Sensation” held in New York on October 11, 2012. (Photo courtesy of the Korea Fashion Association)

ate an unexpected harmony. In period dramas, whether restored through historical verification or a product of the costume director’s imagination, costumes with such flamboyant color combinations as a yellow top with navy blue or purple sleeve cuffs and a pink skirt, or a pink top and a blue skirt, still manage to look elegant. While Chinese people preferred adding color to their clothing with embroidery, Koreans, although familiar with the art of embroidery as well, used to sew fabric scraps together to make colorful patchwork wrapping cloths, called jogakbo . This same technique was also applied to clothes, blankets, and other household items. At the dawn of modern Korea, designers who studied Western fashion failed to adopt this colorful tradition to modern clothing. Consequently, the traditional Korean sensibility to color is not found in everyday fashion. Recently, however, many talented young designers have been awakened to the way their ancestors used color and are trying to reflect it in their work.

The Cradle of ‘Fast Fashion’ Lately, “fast fashion” has emerged as a leading trend in the global fashion industry, pioneered by large retailers such as Zara and H&M. However, Korea has long had its own source of fast fashion: large-size wholesale fashion complexes like Dongdaemun (East Gate) Market. Dongdaemun Market is where all manner of fabrics and clothes have been gathered and sold since the early days of Korea’s economic development in the 1960s and 70s. Early on, the country had advanced chemical and textile industries that enabled first-generation entrepreneurs to open tiny startups in Dongdaemun and grow into business conglomerates. Many leading textile manufacturers of the time, including Hanil Synthetic Fiber Co., Ltd. (then Korea’s No. 1 producer of nylon) and Kohap Corporation, were established by fabric merchants from Dongdaemun and thrived before going under or merging with other companies in the wake of the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Apart from these unfortunate cases, many well-known domesK o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12

tic fashion brands, such as Nasan and Hyungji Apparel, were also hatched from this cradle of fashion entrepreneurs. Recently, a string of Dongdaemun designers has advanced into the New York market. Today, Dongdaemun Market is Asia’s fashion hub, where wholesalers from Japan, China, Hong Kong, Russia, and other neighboring countries flock to buy their wares. In Hong Kong and other parts of China, an increasing number of shopping malls sell Korean clothing, mostly coming from Dongdaemun. One example is a shopping center adjacent to Sogo Department Store in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, which has more than 80 shops (out of some 100) that carry Korean clothes. Once or twice a month, the owners go on buying trips to Dongdaemun. Dongdaemun Market is noted for its design competitiveness, which is rooted in a number of factors. In recent years, ever more young designers who have studied fashion design in Milan, Paris, and New York have opened shops at Dongdaemun, where their original creations are offered. In addition, the market has a fully integrated system in place, in which the purchase of fabric, pattern cutting, and manufacturing of final products are all carried out in one place. Once a new design is delivered for production, over a thousand pieces of clothing can be produced within 24 hours. Due to this speedy process and high turnover, some clothing items sold today might not be available tomorrow, while the market is continuously stocked with the newest designs. And best of all, the clothes are reasonably priced. Any fashionable person you see on the streets of Korea’s big cities is highly likely to have benefited from Dongdaemun Market. Now, Korea’s fashion industry is moving onto the next stage, where it aims to play a leading role in the global fashion market. Over the past few years, Korean companies have acquired a number of global fashion brands, such as MCM, Mandarina Duck, and Fila, and many Korean fashion designers are now working in the United States and Europe. Following the lead of K-pop and other genres of the Korean Wave, K-fashion is poised to take on the world.


Fashion Stories 2

Dongdaemun Market, the Mecca of ‘Fast Fashion’ A

few months ago, I left Seoul to live on Jeju Island off the southwestern coast of the Korean peninsula. The move was for my first child, who was admitted to an international school that opened this year in the Global Education City on the island. At first, I thought the island’s lack of department stores and shopping malls would cure me of my chronic shopaholic fits. But before long, I realized that was far from the case. My “shopaholic DNA,” a constant companion for more than 30 years, soon made its presence acutely felt in spite of its ‘host’s’ intention to part with it. I was tormented by Dongdaemun Market, a specialized apparel market with a history of more than the thought of the things that had been so one century, vibrates with youthful energy. It is a fashion laboratory for resourceful close at hand before, but were now so far away. The first such thing that haunted me designers and a wonderland for people quick to catch onto the latest trends. was Dongdaemun Market. Lee Jin-joo Staff Reporter, The JoongAng Ilbo | Jun Ho-sung Photographer As a fashion reporter for a daily newspaper, I frequented the market whenever the need arose. If I found anything slightly unsatisfactory with the outfits that were being shot on top models, I would run to this old treasure island of mine. The treasures that I discovered there proved personally beneficial, too: my spangled dress was a big hit at a club on Ibiza Island in Spain; the monokini and designer dress came in handy at a Dubai hotel. Thanks to Dongdaemun Market, I passed for a fashionable person.

Largest, Peerless, All in One Dongdaemun Market is like a gigantic power plant. Located in the heart of Seoul, a megacity with a population of over 10 million, here the latest fashion industry items are planned, produced, and distributed. This dynamic synergy has enabled Koreans to take their limited fashion experience and rapidly build a world-class fashion industry. Paik Nam-june (Nam June Paik), the renowned creator of video art, is known to have said, “I find the potential and vitality of Koreans at the markets in Namdaemun (South Gate) and Dongdaemun (East Gate). The competitiveness of the global economy is found in the free market system and distribution of goods, and these two markets already found the answers one hundred years ago.” Dongdaemun Market is the general name for a sprawling district that stretches two kilometers from Gwangjang Market at Jongno 5-ga to Jonghap Market in Cheonggye 8-ga. This “fashion valley,” comprising an estimated 40 commercial buildings, over 35,000 individual stores, and some 20,000 affiliated workshops, is a workplace for 150,000 people and has a floating population of one million. According to the Korea International Trade Association, it is a mega-scale market with average daily sales of 50 bil-


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

K o r e a n a 覺 W i n t e r 2 0 12

Shoppers leave Doota, a landmark of Dongdaemun Fashion Town, which has been designated a Special Tourist Zone of Seoul.


lion won and total annual sales amounting to 10 trillion won (about US$9.2 billion). It is also the Mecca for Korean “fast fashion.” In the 2000s, the global SPAs (specialty retailers of private label apparel) such as Zara and Mango adopted fast fashion, presenting new products several times a month. But the strategy of offering a diversity of limited quantity products had already been introduced decades earlier at Dongdaemun, where diverse materials for making clothes and a reliable supply of low-cost, specialized manpower are close at hand. Dongdaemun has been a market and factory at the same time. And, it is “the world’s largest, peerless, and selfcontained fashion cluster,” as described by Shin Yong-nam, who has studied the history of Dongdaemun Market as CEO of Dongta. com (www.dongta.com), a community website that disseminates business-related information to the market’s merchants. Dongdaemun Market has earned renown as an unparalleled clothing market from its more than one hundred years of operation. The extensive market district grew out of Gwangjang Market, built in 1905 as a retail development by Park Seung-jik, a textile


merchant who laid the foundation of today’s Doosan Group. One of the top 10 conglomerates of Korea, Doosan’s contribution to the local fashion industry — publishing Korean editions of international fashion magazines such as “Vogue” and establishing the experimental shopping mall Doota (short for “Doosan Tower”) — has its origins in Dongdaemun. After the Korean War, the market district expanded when the Pyeonghwa Market was established by refugees from the North. From the late 1960s to the early 1970s when Korea was undergoing rapid industrialization, Dongdaemun Market was one of the two largest clothing wholesale markets in the country, along with Namdaemun Market. While Namdaemun offered high-quality, hand-sewn clothing, Dongdaemun sold cheaper, lower-quality items produced by workers paid a daily wage roughly equivalent to the price of a cup of coffee today. In a basement room with barely a sliver of sunlight, or a cramped loft, they toiled away at sewing machines all day long, their noses often bleeding from exhaustion. Against this backdrop, one of the most tragic incidents in Korea’s labor history took place: Jeon Tae-il, a 22-year-old tailor’s cutter at

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Pyeonghwa Market, burned himself to death in a desperate plea for the improvement of working conditions.

‘Open Until 5 a.m.!’ Dongdaemun fashion items enjoyed brisk sales in and out of Korea. At the time when it was the country’s sole base for clothing production and export, the cycle of Dongdaemun designs was just one day. Famous designers’ latest styles would be seen all over Dongdaemun just a few days after their presentation at overseas collections. In the early 1990s, Art Plaza managed to erode the predominance of Namdaemun by opening for extended hours and hiring buses to bring in retail buyers from the provinces. With the appearance of large-scale fashion retail centers, such as Migliore and Doota in 1998 and 1999, respectively, Dongdaemun distinguished itself as Korea’s unrivaled fashion town. The market district is divided into a wholesale zone to the east, which includes Designer’s Club and U:US as well as a traditional outdoor market, and a retail zone to the west dominated by Migliore and Doota. This represents the coexistence of two consid-

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erably heterogeneous worlds. While the wholesale zone is flooded with knock-off fashion items, the retail zone deals in genuine luxury items and original designer brands. The traditional market opens very early in the morning and closes at around 6-8 p.m. The wholesale zone is open from 9 p.m. through 6 a.m. the next day, and the retail zone from 10 a.m. through 5 a.m. the next day. During her stay in Korea last spring, American actress Jessica Alba tweeted on these unusual business hours: “Late night shopping in Seoul. Open until 5 a.m.!” In the late 1990s and the 2000s, young designers afflicted by the global economic slowdown and adventurous merchants emerged as a new force in the market district. In contrast to national brands, where young designers had to go through an apprenticeship of up to ten years, Dongdaemun offered various advantages: It was easy for new designers to find a job or open a shop here, and they could

Doota, which is open from 10 a.m. through 5 a.m. the next day, attracts roughly 50,000 customers a day.



make quick decisions with the market responding immediately. As such, Dongdaemun became a “fashion laboratory” that allowed designers to experiment with new ideas and styles. Around that time, designers who had studied abroad began to open shops at Dongdaemun. Among them were Kim Ho-won, who graduated from Instituto Marangoni in Italy and worked as chief designer at El Canto, and Jeong Hye-seon, who studied at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in the U.K. and worked at Paul Smith and Kenzo, who both received extensive media coverage. Dongdaemun has now become an icon of entrepreneurship among young, independent designers, just as Steve Jobs’ Silicon Valley garage is the inspiration for IT startups. Behind the success of these designers are smart young consumers with distinctive tastes. And with strategies to attract young people in their teens and 20s, such as B-boy battles and rock concerts, Migliore and Doota have become Dongdaemun landmarks.

Brand Incubation System There would be no reason to go to Dongdaemun if it simply sold the kind of clothing that can be found elsewhere, like in Myeongdong or Itaewon. As such, independent design capabilities are at the heart of Dongdaemun’s competitiveness. Out of the 150,000


1. A car swooshes past the brightly lit Designer’s Club deep in the night. 2. The backstreets of Designer’s Club are lined with wholesale shops.

people who earn their livelihood in and around this market district, roughly 10,000 are fashion design professionals with varying degrees of experience. Individual shop owners with longtime experience, who have cultivated an instinctive eye for recognizing design trends, also contribute to the market’s competitive advantage. It is said that each shop orders five to six designs per day, which means 20,000-30,000 new designs hit Dongdaemun on a daily basis. Dongdaemun beats other clothing markets in sheer quantity alone. Seoul Fashion Center, an affiliate agency of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, assists new designers at Dongdaemun by offering business startup courses. And the annual Doota Venture Designer Conference (DVDC) awards one young designer with a free oneyear lease of the Dooche shop, as part of its brand incubation program. A notable outcome is the rise of Cres E Dim by Kim Hongbeom, who won the DVDC award in 2008. In September 2012, Kim was selected as one of five designers for the “Concept Korea” show at New York Fashion Week, along with such top designers Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

“Like Martin Margiela, my brand identity is rooted in avant-garde, but I make clothes that are wearable in real life. I’ve learned a lot in my Dongdaemun experiments.”

as Lie Sang-bong and Son Jung-wan. After starting his business at Dooche, Kim opened his own shop in a roomy space adjacent to the first-floor escalator, which assures heavy customer traffic. Just three years after launching his own brand, Kim has made a name for himself with the sophisticated use of color blocks reminiscent of Belgian designer Dries Van Noten. Kim Sun-ho, known for his menswear brand Groundwave, opened the women’s wear shop Zazous on the first floor of Doota. Upon completing a successful show at the Seoul Collections, where he presented a gray quilted coat like a Buddhist monk’s robe, he was offered space in the menswear section on the fourth floor. However, Kim proposed to take on women’s clothing. “Like Martin Margiela, my brand identity is rooted in avant-garde, but I make clothing wearable in real life,” Kim said, adding, “I’ve learned a lot in my Dongdaemun experiments.” Apart from these designers, Dongdaemun is also home to some big names in Seoul Fashion Week, like Choi Bum-suk of General Idea and Lee Doii of Dol Dol Dol. (See p.16-18)

Partnership with Online Stores The recent global recession has dealt a serious blow to Dongdaemun Market, which managed to survive the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Since around 2005, the domestic environment has also changed with the arrival of SPA brands, armed with global marketing strategies, which eroded Dongdaemun’s main selling point of being a haven for low-priced, good quality clothing. Furthermore, low-cost labor, the driving force behind Dongdaemun’s legendary success of the 1960s and 70s, is now more readily available in China and some countries in Southeast Asia. Pattern makers, cutters, sewers and other core workers have been departing Dongdaemun. According to the Korean Apparel Industry Association, about 85 percent of the clothing factory workers in Seoul are in their 40s or 50s. While designers, occupying the peak of the K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12

“fashion pyramid,” are in excess supply, there is a serious shortage of lower-tier workers, such as sewers and cutters, to produce their new creations. With no inflow of fresh manpower, the number of these workers has been steadily dwindling. The hollowing out of the manufacturing infrastructure is also underway in Japan and Taiwan. Dongdaemun’s key advantage of integrating the planning, production, and distribution processes is thus in peril due to the loss of its production capability. Currently, Seoul city government is developing a specialist training program to boost worker productivity, but expectations are rather low. Another factor that has hastened Dongdaemun’s decline is the excessive development of commercial buildings that has led to a glut of retail space and consequent vacancies. As of August 2011, the average vacancy rate for the Dongdaemun Market area stood at 30 percent overall, according to a survey conducted by Seoul’s Jung-gu district office. The vacancy rate is especially high — 63 percent on average — in the newer buildings completed in 2005 and thereafter, creating caverns of unoccupied space. Shopping mall projects that have experienced a lack of tenants have been scrambling to find alternative uses for the vacant spaces. 2 In response to these circumstances, Dongdaemun has exerted great efforts to expand from domestic sales to export markets, and launched online distribution channels. In April 2012, Doota attracted a daily average of 50,000 customers, including some 10,000 foreign tourists. Though foreign customers make up only 20 percent of the overall traffic, they generate as much as 50 percent of total sales, with the Chinese accounting for 70 percent as the biggest spenders. Therefore, an increasingly persuasive proposal calls for the repositioning of Dongdaemun as a brand name market and premier commercial/retail district of Northeast Asia, offering integrated logistical, financial, and entertainment services. Dongdaemun had to compete against online marketers to offer ever lower prices. However, the two parties have formed a partner-



ship for their mutual benefit, and 70-80 percent of the clothing sold at Auction and Gmarket is now supplied by Dongdaemun. Moreover, it is also not uncommon for wholesalers to sell off-season items through Internet channels. Department stores and home shopping channels also offer Dongdaemun-supplied clothing products. For example, Shinsegae Mall’s On-line Early Morning Market is coordinated with the operating hours of Dongdaemun’s wholesale shops, while Hyundai Home Shopping maintains a team of buyers who purchase selected items from Dongdaemun that are delivered all over the world within a week. Thriving online stores like Style Nanda have played a vital role in the globalization of Dongdaemun as well. Stories abound about young girls who have acquired windfall gains by selling low-cost clothing via the Internet, while the burgeoning online shopping malls of young entrepreneurs have established marketing operations in China, Japan, and the United States.

Dongdaemun Phantasmagoria In 2002, Dongdaemun Fashion Town was designated a Special Tourist Zone of Seoul, joining the Itaewon and Myeong-dong areas. Even before this designation, however, Dongdaemun was already known as a must-see destination visited by almost half the tourists


Young people shop at 2nd G, a menswear shop on the 4th floor of Doota.

in Seoul. With a wide array of attractions for shoppers, from traditional open-air markets to ultra-modern shopping malls, the Dongdaemun Market district is a representation of modern Korea’s success story. Here, visitors can experience a flurry of time and space in ways that may be as exotic as Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. At Dongdaemun, shopping can still be a fun adventure, dredging up memories of wandering around cramped alleyways from your childhood. With narrow corridors lined with rows of tiny stores, and parts of the building forever under construction, shopping at Dongdaemun can be somewhat uncomfortable, but unique and exciting, too. Today, ever more stores, including Doota, practice a fixed price policy, but bargaining is still possible with individual shop owners. It is a joy to try on an item taken down from the wall where it has been hanging like a piece of artwork. The same with buying a vintage item, found in a bargain bin, at a giveaway price. The satisfaction of getting your hands on a limited-edition designer item can be savored while sipping a cup of coffee from a Paul Bassett shop, or the authentic Swedish café Fika. Indeed, the vibrancy of Dongdaemun continues around the clock. Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Late Night at Dongdaemun



hen I visited Dongdaemun Market at 10 p.m. a few days before the Chuseok holidays in late September, it was filled with a “rock spirit.” On the outdoor stage in front of Doota, a rock group was wailing away full blast. More than half of the audience were tourists with shopping bags in their hands. Harumi Chiba, 33, and Yukiko Yamashita, 32, from Japan were enjoying themselves, saying, “It was a fun thing to see on my first trip to Seoul.” Earlier that day, Chiba had bought a pair of red pumps for 140,000 won (about $130) at a third-floor shop in Doota. The two women now headed for Kwanghee Market across the street to buy leather jackets, each grabbing a bottle of water from a snack cart. The building was disorderly, with extension work going on here and there. The escalator was blocked with barrier tapes saying “No Entrance,” so we took the stairway up to the second floor. In contrast to the dreary scene outside the building, sumptuous fur coats were hung everywhere and leather jackets that looked fresh from some designer’s global collections were stacked in heaps. Every rack was imbued with the “rock chic” style of Neil Barrett and Balenciaga. These were imitations of prestigious brands that are jokingly called “Kwang Barrett” and “Kwang­ lenciaga.” There were also fake Haider Ackermann jackets, recognized by the few familiar with the brand. After making the rounds of 130 or so stores, twice, Yamashita finally bought a basic beige half-coat for 2.7 million won (about $2,500).

The corridors of Kwanghee Market were almost empty. Baek Won-guk, 55, the owner of Bethel, a large fur and leather goods shop the size of five regular stores combined, sighed as he recalled how some ten years ago the corridors were so crowded with customers that they constantly bumped into each other. He added that now only Chinese tourists would buy fur coats at 1.5 million to 3 million won a piece. At 1 a.m., S. Oyun, 48, who runs a Korean goods shop and a motel in Mongolia, bought a mink coat. Leaving the building, I came across two Russian women, mother and daughter, in matching military look khaki T-shirts. The daughter, Anna Wingo, 31, is a kindergarten English teacher who has lived in Korea for nine years. She was now well acquainted with every shopping district, including Itaewon and the underground shopping arcade at the Gangnam Express Bus Terminal. The mother, Elena Korsakova, 51, liked the street stalls along the back alleys, where Dongdaemun knock-offs continue to enjoy strong demand in spite of government crackdowns. Then I headed for Designer’s Club. It was 2 a.m., and the corridors were cluttered with large plastic bags tied together awaiting delivery to regional retailers all across the nation. The sidewalks in front of the building were also packed with bundles and bags. My huge bag was only half full. I walked to Doota to catch a taxi. The buildings, which had been brilliantly lit, started to show dark patches in their windows. In the wee hours, the night at Dongdaemun deepens.


Fashion Stories 3

Korea’s Fashion Leaders Splash onto the Global Scene Cho Se-kyung Fashion Content Creator Kim Yoon-soo Fashion Journalist

‘Fashion is My Dream’ Choi Bum-suk Creative Director, General Idea

Cho Se-kyung: You’ve come from selling clothes from a bit of wall space in Hongdae to being one of the top menswear designers in Korea and a symbol of triumphant youth. That’s why your life story has always been fodder for conversation. Choi Bum-suk: I think it’s because I’ve been obsessed with clothing ever since I was young and I have always stuck to that one path. Instead of studying at school, I sold clothes on the street. When I first borrowed a bit of wall space, my dream was to have a shop with a roof. That dream came true not long afterward, and then while I was selling T-shirts in Dongdaemun, my dream was to create my own designs, and now I’ve become a designer. Of course, it wasn’t easy, but I think I am where I am today because every time I dreamed of something I worked toward it without looking back. Cho: Are there people who have preconceived ideas about you because you never received formal design education? Choi: I only graduated from middle school. But when my father says, “If we had sent you to high school and university you would be more successful than you are today,” I reply, “No, there would be no designer Choi Bum-suk.” For me, the time I spent selling clothes in a place without a roof was my middle school education, my Dongdaemun days were high school, and my entry into the Seoul Collections as a designer was like reaching university. Even people who had preconceived notions about me acknowledged my work when they saw it for themselves. Cho: As a star designer in Korea, you’ve received a lot of attractive offers, and could have remained satisfied with that, but you chose to go to New York — even at the risk of financial loss. Why? Choi: The Seoul market seemed too small. I wanted to see more people wearing my clothes. Once I had started my career, I wanted to try making it in the big leagues. Looking at other designer brands, I thought it wouldn’t take me too long to catch up. That’s why I went to New York. But once I got there, I had a hard time. The competition was tough. It was an expensive venture, but it was a new challenge for me, and I had nothing to lose in that respect. Not surprisingly, my first season was a disaster. I held my show at a small gallery, but there were not enough people to fill the space, let alone any media persons. But these days, the General Idea collections are always reviewed by GQ.com and have been named one of the top five New York collections by WGSN. Cho: What advice do you have for anyone dreaming of becoming the next Choi Bumsuk? Choi: It’s dangerous to believe in luck alone. You have to be optimistic but realistic at the same time. You may believe someone will turn up one day and help you, but it’s impor-


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“For me, the time I spent selling clothes in a place without a roof was my middle school education, my Dongdaemun days were high school, and my entry into the Seoul Collections

as a designer was like reaching university.”

tant to realize that the more you rely on others, the greater the risk. When I was having a hard time juggling the design and business sides of my work, some investors turned up. So, counting on that support, I expanded my business, but all I got in return was a pile of debt.

Korean Avant-Garde and Doota Kim Sun-ho Fashion Designer and Creative Director, Groundwave

Cho Se-kyung: You’ve received good reviews for your collections. Does that mean it’s smooth sailing for you Designer Choi Bum-suk now? Kim Sun-ho: It’s been three years now, and it still feels like I’m on a roller coaster ride. My vision has always been the same, but every year the buyers show a different response to my work. The styles that I believe will sell well sometimes turn out that way, but often they don’t. I need more experience. Cho: Korea’s menswear designers are diverse. One focuses on suits, and for a while designs for outdoor wear were at the forefront. Unlike other labels, however, Groundwave doesn’t fit into any one category but seems to appeal to consumer sensibilities. Kim: That may be because I have no preconceptions about the way that menswear should be when I design. I stick to the basic rules of menswear, but I like to give it a bit of a twist. It’s not intentional, but a lot of people say my clothes are unisexual. Cho: Asian nuances are strong in your designs. Kim: It’s interesting you should say that. I see my work as very modern, but the reviews always call it “religious” and “Oriental.” It seems the materials that I use create that effect. Cho: That’s right. Your fabrics are striking. The two outfits you showed at “10 Souls/Seoul,” the global fashion incubation project of Seoul Metropolitan Government that was staged at the Paris K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12

Collections last year, come to mind. I remember thinking that the lines were very modern but gave off a religious and Asian feeling. It was as if incense had been lit there. Kim: I make an effort to search for varied textiles. One of my discoveries was quilted fabric. Quilted fabric allows you to use different materials on the inside and outside. When it’s used in Western-style clothing, it can produce a very modern look. Another material that is made with traditional methods but can give a modern feel is hanji (traditional Korean paper). When I used hanji for my autumn/winter collection items last year, the reviews once again said it was religious and Oriental. Cho: The grain in the hanji was visible, and when I first saw it I remember thinking, “What is that?” Kim: There are people in Daegu who work with fabrics made from hanji. Hanji helps to wick away moisture. Korean summers are very hot and humid, so with that in mind they have experimented with hanji fabrics for five years now. But they were having a hard time commercializing their product, and that’s when we met. As you say, the grain is visible and at the same time the fabric is supple and plush. I realized its potential and used it in my collections. Cho: Do you make a deliberate effort to seek out unusual materials? Kim: It’s actually very difficult for new designers to get their hands on good materials. As they are made in such small quantities, even if there’s a fabric that you want, they won’t even take your order. But the hanji makers are such small businesses that we were a good match in that respect. Cho: Your ability to meet such challenges must help to set Groundwave apart. Kim: It works out that way. I’m the type of person who has to tackle


“I see my work as very modern,

but the reviews always call it religious and Oriental.”

everything on my own, experience it how we operated. At the time a lot for myself. When I made my debut, I of fashion industry people passed by took the initiative to bring the clothes that area, and the Vogue in-house I had designed to a Paris trade show. studio was located in the basement It was the same when I had a pop-up of the same building and the biggest store at Galleria Department Store in fashion PR firm of that time on the Seoul, which was quite amazing for a floor above. A lot of fashion people new designer. I wanted to be judged saw our clothes and news spread by on the clothes I had made so I rang word of mouth. and went to see people, and that’s Cho: You studied in New York, returned how I got my break. to Seoul to launch your brand, then Cho: Are you planning anything new after the brand had reached a steady now? position, you went back to take part in the New York Collections. Is there a Kim: For the Spring/Summer 2013 particular reason for doing things in Seoul Collections I did a presentathat way? tion rather than a runway show. The usual ten-minute show left me always Yoon: After three years of showing in wanting something more; I wanted to the Seoul Collections, we wondered show my fashions to more people and whether to start a second line or go hear more people talk about them. to the New York Collections, and Quilted trench coat by Kim Sun-ho for Groundwave Then I came up with a new idea, a finally decided on New York. From new way of showing the collection. I’m also selling my women’s line the outset, buyers from Neiman Marcus and other famous departat Doota in the Dongdaemun Market. On the world stage, my aim ment stores expressed interest. But there were some difficulties. is to present Korean-style avant-garde fashion, but at Doota, I’m They liked the designs but were uncomfortable with the prices. experimenting with Korean mass market fashion. We couldn’t just cut our prices, so we had a hard time reaching a compromise. This New York experience convinced us it was worth starting a second label. We realized that there was a strong marDesigning for New York and Seoul ket for contemporary designs not only in New York but around the Yoon Won-jeong Designer and Creative Director, Debb, Andy & Debb world. New York laid the foundation for the presentation and concept of our second label. We made all the clothing in Seoul and only Cho Se-kyung: Andy & Debb appeared in the late 1990s, a peridid the shows there. Under this system there were a lot of things od dominated by neat H-line skirts, Ferragamo Vara flats, flashy we couldn’t do, and there were restrictions with the show venue as rhinestone pins, and black and white. It has grown steadily over well. Returning to Seoul made it possible to do the things we had the years as a representative “Gangnam style” brand, characterwanted to do. ized by minimal designs, a flattering fit, and simple palettes. Can Cho: Despite all that, the distribution structure requires designers you tell us a bit about the early days? to take on the huge expense of knocking on the doors of foreign Yoon Won-jeong: We opened our studio and shop on Rodeo Drive in markets. The responsibilities that have to be borne by the designer Apgujeong-dong in 1999. At first, we made 15 outfits and put them must be burdensome. on display, and then made some more when they were sold. That’s


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

“Korean designers don’t have enough places to sell their clothes once they’ve made them. Sales channels are more diversified these days thanks to online stores and select shops, but it’s still not enough.

It’s been a long time since foreign brands took over the prestige section of department stores.”

Seoul Collections is higher every Yoon: Korean designers don’t year. When the Seoul Collechave enough places to sell their tions are staged in coordination clothes once they’ve made them. with the schedules of the world’s Sales channels are more diversifour major collections, it will help fied these days thanks to online to boost interest. Currently, the stores and select shops, but Seoul event is held a few weeks it’s still not enough. It’s been a after the four big collections, long time since foreign brands and there seems to be a loss of took over the prestige section of momentum by that time. department stores, and I must be one of the last generation of Korean designers to have a store Hanbok , an Endless there. The situation is even bleakSource of Inspiration er now for younger designers who Seo Young-hee Hanbok Stylist are just starting out. The designer Kim Yoon-soo: How did you get has to produce not only the items started as a hanbok stylist? that have been ordered but also Seo Young-hee: When I was forecast which other items in the working on photo spreads for collection might sell and produce Vogue Korea, I wanted to create all of them too, then also take Andy & Debb husband and wife design team Yoon Won-jeong (far left) pictorials that could not be seen responsibility for anything that and Kim Seok-won in Vogue France or Vogue Italy. doesn’t sell. That’s when I started working with traditional Korean dress. HanCho: Is there any way to overcome this vicious cycle? bok is cut completely flat and when it is worn on the body, a certain Yoon: The domestic market has to be opened up wider. The busiline is formed. It’s different from the line created by more moldness model is very Korean, so even when foreign buyers do come ed cutting. The same applies to the lines of the sleeves and collar there is a lack of communication. The fact that powerful buyers in band. I wanted to convey this appeal of hanbok through a couturethe fashion world do not come to Korea is another major problem. style reinterpretation. What I found truly attractive were the underCho: The collections are the acme of the fashion business. While garments — the beauty created by the layering of different kinds of the designers make their clothes for every season, buyers at the bloomers, drawers, slips, and petticoats. I felt exhilarated through fashion frontline look out for new designs to purchase, and magathe whole styling experience. In addition, traditional fabrics, such zine editors report on the latest trends to the public. But the Seoul as cotton, hemp, silk, and gauze, can look different depending on Collections still function mainly as a “show” rather than a markethow they are used, sometimes creating a luxurious image and place for the fashion business. sometimes a simple look. When I went to this year’s London FashYoon: Things are gradually getting better. That much is certain. The ion Week, I noticed a hanbok photo that I had styled on the cover of Seoul city government is also acquiring more experience through the British textile magazine “Selvedore” in a select store at Dover various events aimed at introducing selected designers overseas, Street Market. I then realized that the globalization of hanbok is not and thanks to such efforts more positive results are being achieved. that far away. The level of the overseas buyers and fashion media invited to the K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12


“What I found truly attractive were the undergarments — the beauty created by the layering of different kinds of bloomers, drawers, slips, and petticoats.

I felt exhilarated through the whole styling experience.”

create a gallery where I can exhibKim: You’re active in promoting the it fabrics or embroidery works. I beauty of hanbok through exhibifantasize about inviting the Brittions and magazine features as ish artist Tracey Emin to show her well. textile works here. And I also want Seo: I took charge of the styling for to exhibit the works of Korea’s the exhibition “Baeja : The Beauty of embroidery and needlework artKorea,” organized by Arumjigi Culists. On the first floor, I’d like to ture Keepers Foundation (a nonsell a wide variety of textiles such profit organization devoted to preas cotton made by Korean artiserving “Korean beauty”), which sans, linen from other countries, was held at the Korean Cultural and fabrics for embroidery. It’s my Centre UK. The exhibition featured dream to own a needlework shop a variety of baeja (traditional vest), that has a Korean and at the same including those made by master time an exotic atmosphere, with a artisans, modern versions created pleasing fragrance as soon as the by young designers, and various door is opened. styles of baeja made by designer Jin Te-ok. It was my idea to hang a baby’s baeja at the entranceway An Asian Face on the like a kind of chandelier. At the Stylist Seo Young-hee working on a fashion shoot for Vogue Korea Global Runways recent Korean International Art Lee Hyun-yi Fashion Model Fair (KIAF), the Cultural Heritage Administration held an exhibition Cho Se-kyung: Asian influence on the world fashion scene has featuring the collaborative works of those studying under holders grown noticeably in recent years. Asian designers such as Alexof intangible cultural heritage titles and modern designers. Togethander Wang, Phillip Lim, and Thakoon are doing well, and Asian er with artisans in the field of embroidery and needlework, we cremodels, very much a minority in the past, are frequently seen on ated a display of fine, see-through jeogori (short traditional jacket) the runways and in advertising campaigns. Your own achievethat were layered on top of each other. Through “ofK: The Magazine ments have been impressive, too. How did you become a model? of Korean Culture,” and covers of “Sulhwasoo” magazine, I experiLee Hyun-yi: I made my debut through the 2005 SBS Supermodel ment with obangsaek (the colors of the five cardinal directions), and Contest. At the time, Korean models, such as Song Kyung-ah and the lines and shapes of hanbok. The hanbok is an endless source of Han Hye-jin, were just becoming more active on the international inspiration for me. scene, so there was a relative shortage of top models working at Kim: What are your plans for the future? home. Also, there was a demand for new faces. So, without any real Seo: Stylists have different areas of specialization. I specialize beginner period, I began to do photo shoots for Vogue, Elle, and in creating the background for photos. Through this work I have Harper’s Bazaar, and made myself known that way. Then in Janudeveloped an eye for beauty and come into contact with a wide ary 2008, I got a call from New York from someone who had seen range of wonderful things about Korea and other countries. When I the comp card my agency had sent over, and that’s how I started was a university student, I wanted to have a needlework shop. That working overseas. I’ve walked the runways overseas for four sealittle dream has grown a bit bigger. On the second floor, I want to


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

“There were times when I attended an early morning rehearsal and wound up doing the rehearsal in samples made of broadcloth. In terms of the standard of the clothes and the way the designers present their works,

I think the Seoul Collections are now world-class.”

tunity, and I enjoyed that time sons now. as much as possible. I became Cho: You were a top model in a model because I liked workKorea, but when you went overing the stage. That’s why I feel seas you had to start again from a greater thrill on the runways square one. What were the most than when I’m doing photo difficult things to handle? shoots. The big four collections Lee: I was constantly thinking, in Paris, Milan, London, and New “What am I doing here?” There York are of a different scale altowere so many things that could gether. It was exciting to be able not be solved by effort alone. to walk on the runway in those They say the demand for Asian shows. I don’t go overseas every models has increased, but at the season now, but I maintain a time the scene was dominated by contract with an overseas agenCaucasian models, as usual, and cy and every season there are there was no place for me. One advertising clients who ask for time I got a call from my agent me. during the Paris Collections and Cho: Why do you think you are went to the casting call for a cerstill in demand overseas? tain label. I waited for close to Lee: I guess it would be my look. two hours, standing the whole Model Lee Hyun-yi (front right) is featured in the worldwide advertising People tend to group Asian modtime. As the waiting time grew campaign of the luxury brand Brunello Cucinelli. els together, but we all have dislonger, a representative from tinct characteristics. To borrow the words of photographer Steven the clothing brand came out, took one look at me, and said: “No Meisel, I have a “noble” look that is hard to find in other Asian modAsians.” There was always a 20-30 minute wait, at least. If I was els. cast, then this kind of waiting wouldn’t have mattered, but when Cho: Over the past seven years that you’ve spent as a model, have you’re constantly rejected in this way, then it’s certainly distressing you noticed any changes in Korean fashion? and tiring. Lee: Of course. When I first worked in the Seoul Collections, there Cho: I hear some designers now seek you out specifically. were times when the clothes scheduled to be shown that night Lee: Jean Paul Gaultier gave me some important breaks as a were still not ready that morning. There were times when I attendmodel. He used me not only in his own shows but also in the show ed an early morning rehearsal and wound up doing the rehearsal for Hermes, when he served as creative director. In addition, for the in samples made of broadcloth. When I received the final garment last few seasons I have been steadily working on Brunello Cucinelli a few hours later, it was often shabbily made and uncomfortable advertising campaigns. to wear. But you don’t see that at the Seoul Collections these days. Cho: They say it’s difficult for an Asian model to last more than Because we try on so many clothes, models can detect the most three seasons. You worked internationally for four seasons and subtle differences in a garment, and in terms of the standard of the now spend most of your time in Seoul. Do you have any regrets? clothes and the way the designers present their works, I think the Lee: From the beginning, working overseas was not something that Seoul Collections are now world-class. I had set my heart on. It just happened that I was given the opporK o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12


Fashion Stories 4

Seoul Style

From Myeong-dong, which has been reborn as a popular shopping area for tourists and locals from the capital’s foremost fashion center, to Garosugil packed with trendy boutiques and cafes, and Hongdae, the mecca of indie spirit and looks — Seoul brims over with creators and consumers of fashion chasing after style. Cho Yoon-jung Assistant Editor, Koreana; Lecturer, Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation, Ewha Womans University | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


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A clothing store-cum-caf矇 near the entrance of Garosugil. The open structure, perfect for people watching, speaks for the mood of the area.




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famous photo by Lim Eung-sik (1912-2001) shows the back of a young woman walking on the streets of Myeong-dong dressed in white hot pants as a grandma in a flower print hanbok shuffles along in front of her. It was taken in 1954, when Seoul was picking itself up after the war, and Gangnam was still mostly farmland. By the 1960s, Myeong-dong had begun to take shape as Korea’s first and only fashion district. Girls from well-to-do families came here to order their “two-pieces” and get their hair “rolled.” As they stepped out of the hair salons they would let out a scream as beggars with blackened hands languidly threatened to smear their clothes.

Myeong-dong, Still a Popular Shopping District Over the decades, Myeong-dong has been defined by different fashion items. In the 1970s and 80s it was the shoe shops manned by male salesmen dressed like waiters and private boutiques specializing in custom-made suits for women. In the 90s, it was the national brands such as Time, Mine, System, Deco, Chatelaine, and Non No. Today, it’s fast fashion, both international names like Zara and H&M and Korean brands such as Eight Seconds, as well as no-name goods from Dongdaemun, which reflect an even quicker cycle of production and response. These days, more dominant than any fashion item, however, are the low-priced cosmetics stores which line the main thoroughfares and command the prized spots. Marketing is youth oriented and, rare for the cosmetics industry, all the main models are male pop stars and actors: Kim Hyun-joong for The Face Shop, Shinee for Etude, JYJ for Tony Moly, TVXQ for Missha, Jang Geun-suk for Nature Republic…the list goes on. Salesgirls stand outside calling out in Japanese and Chinese to tourists passing by, thrusting giveaway samples in their hands to entice them to go inside and take a look around, and snatching them back (much to the surprise of some) when the potential customer takes no notice. The title of fashion center has long passed to Gangnam, south of the river, first to Apgujeong-dong and then to Garosugil. And other trendy spots have appeared on the northern side, namely Itaewon and Hongdae, which is the area in front of Hongik University in Sinchon. But Myeong-dong, in the middle of Seoul, is still the place where more money changes hands, where real estate prices and rents are the highest, and where pedestrian traffic is the heaviest in the city. 3

Garosugil, the Trendiest Hangout Garosugil is now the city’s trendiest place. It inherited the title from neighboring Apgujeong-dong when the latter became too popular and rents grew too high, prompting fashion leaders to move on. The pretty name brings up visions more romantic than those proffered by its prosaic English translation, “Tree-lined Street.” And indeed, Garosugil is both pretty and romantic and trendy at the same time. Covering just 700 meters between Sinsa subway station at one end and Hyundai High School at the other, Garosugil is a collection of little shops and cafes lining a narrow two-lane street which has a faintly foreign air to it. There’s an overall impression of white or brightly colored shop fronts, blue awnings, black woodwork, and English names, but every shop is distinctive. There’s the little red shop down the Apgujeong end with a punkish collection of T-shirts hanging on a rack out front, across the road is the shop and café Around the Corner with framework painted red and walls all opened up, the cavernous two-story café called CoffeeSmith that also seems to have no walls, and the domestic fast fashion brand Eight Seconds, which is housed rather inexplicably in a Tudor-style building. The crowds here change throughout the day. The mornings are mostly quiet, for this part of the city doesn’t really seem to swing into action till noon. Mothers with prams and ladies-who-lunch settle into one of the cafes for their morning coffee, and watch photographers shoot anonymous online shoppingmall models posing with a coffee in one hand and a big bag in the other. As the day grows older the crowd gets younger: students, ad and media types, fashion industry people, a lot of girls who look like shopping-mall models, and shoppers from all over the city. These days, more K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12

1. Dosan Park, featuring a statue of independence fighter An Chang-ho, is a popular setting for movies and wedding pictures. 2. Tourists crowd around Choi Si-won, a member of Super Junior, as he makes an appearance on Garosugil, where celebrity sightings are frequent. 3. Foreign tourists take a break from shopping.



1. The main street in Cheongdam-dong is lined with the flagship stores of world famous luxury brands. 2. Dosan Park area has luxury flagship stores. 3. Andy & Debb store in Apgujeong-dong


tourists are coming around to check out, and buy, the Gangnam style, whatever that may be. Garosugil was originally known for its young designer fashion and stores selling bonded clothes with foreign labels. The mix today is both original and mainstream, expensive and cheap, as yet-to-be-famous designers and brand names like Kate Spade sell their wares next to fast fashion houses such as Zara and Fashion 21, charming little shops that sell strictly edited collections of Dongdaemun market fashion, and places like A-Land overflowing with quirky pieces — a pink shirt with blue cats on it or men’s loafers made of multi-colored rattan. It is true that most of what is sold in Garosugil can be found in other parts of the city, but if anything, the Gangnam style is about nonchalance and the way things are put together. At night, Garosugil fills with the beautiful people, men in slim-fit suits or cropped pants and T-shirts, women in this season’s short flared skirts and silky tops or skinny jeans, killer heels and little bags, who walk up and down the not-so-long street as the music pulsating from the stores grows louder. “The water is good” as the Koreans say, and the air seems laden with aspirations, for a better job, a faster car, or a break in the entertainment business. While many filling the street are Gangnam locals, just as many come from other parts of the city with the desire to be a part of the scene. The girl selling fake handbags on the street, or the pretty-boy student selling cheap earrings from a cart could be the actors-inwaiting found in big cities all over the world. As a woman dressed in a classic black-and-white polka dot dress, big sunglasses and diamond earrings inspects a fake ostrich-leather bag on a street stall, the girl running the stall whispers behind her back: “Look at her! She can afford the real thing. That’s true luxury. That’s what I’m going to be like one day.”

Dosan Park/Cheongdam-dong, Exclusive Luxury The most noticeable thing about Dosan Park is the park. Natural, yes. But not if you were expecting the high-fashion district for which Dosan Park is gaining a reputation. Dosan Park as a fashion district is so discreet it’s almost not there. It consists of a main strip forming a T-shape in front of the park gates, and a series of side streets, with the eastern end of the street in front of the park merging into the back end of Apgujeong-dong. The shops here are less obvious than those in the flashier Cheongdam-dong strip lined with local designer boutiques on one side of the crossroads and international brands on the other. Dosan Park has a much smaller number of flagship stores: Hermes with a façade in golden tones, Ralph Lauren with its neutral good taste, and Rick Owens, sleek and void of any window display apart from the torso of Rick Owens himself rising out of a column of concrete, long hair blowing in the wind from a vent behind. The side streets are home to brands such as Ann Demeulemeester, Paul Smith in a curvy modern white building, and Marc Jacobs, which has two stone figures of the mythical lion-like haetae flanking the stairs in front. In between are smaller shops and cafes: C.P Company, Vecchia & Nuovo, Artisee, My Ssong, actor Bae Yong-jun’s restaurant Gorilla in the Kitchen, and hair and beauty shops frequented by celebrities. The flagship stores never really get a crowd. Indeed that’s not what they are about. True luxury is quiet and exclusive. And as one industry figure says, in Korea most luxury brand sales occur in department stores. The flagship stores are largely for display. Rather than being visible on the street, the presence of customers is suggested by the purr of expensive cars and the coming and going of the large black vans known to carry singers and TV stars. Movie-like scenes of a “pretty woman” carrying big shopping bags over both shoulders are rare. Instead, neighborhood folks stroll around after coffee and a walk in the park, young men in shorts and cardigans whiz about on Vespas to do their errands, a huddle of elderly foot couriers can be seen at the Dosandae-ro end organizing packages that they have to deliver, and young professionals sit in the cafes doing business over lunch. In the park, the silvery bronze statue of independence fighter An Chang-ho, whose penname was Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

It is true that most of what is sold in Garosugil can be found in other parts of the city, but if anything, the Gangnam style is about nonchalance and the way things are put together.


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n the daytime, the white wedding dresses seem to fade into the sunlight and dust of the busy sixlane roadway. The famed wedding-shop street of Ahyeon-dong, stretching from Ahyeon station to Ewha Womans University station, doesn’t look like much, just another bit of city road. But at night when all the shops are lit up, the dresses shine, creating a long stretch of whiteness and brightness interspersed every now and then with the colorful displays of traditional hanbok shops. The history of this wedding-shop street goes back to 1969 when “Sijip Ganeunnal” (Wedding Day) opened near the Ahyeon-dong overpass. As Western-style weddings became the norm, it started to attract customers from the neighboring universities, Ewha, Yonsei, and Sogang. More and more wedding shops opened nearby and soon a wedding town of sorts was formed. The heyday came in the 1980s and 90s when some 200 wedding shops lined both sides of the road, meeting more than half of the nation’s wedding dress demand. Today, the situation has changed. The number of wedding shops here has markedly declined, mostly due to the rising popularity of Gangnam boutiques and the growing practice of hiring wedding organizers. Still, the Ahyeon-dong wedding street has no match for the sheer number of dresses on show. Efforts are being made by the Mapo Wedding Town Association to bring the street back to its former glory by going online and modernizing. It seems the street is now in transition. Pink and white and purple shops complete with fake turrets, harking back to the less sophisticated 80s, sit beside boutiques renovated on a palette of cool neutral colors and simple, minimalist lines. One window is crammed with dresses covered in frothy white frills and recital dresses in shiny yellow, blue, and green, while another shows just one slim ivory sheath with a bodice of expensive lace. Brides-to-be walk by with mothers, sisters, or friends, grimacing and groaning when nothing is to their taste, and at last come the contented sighs when they find the one perfect dress. After all, every bride needs only one.

Ahyeon-dong Wedding Street


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Dosan, stands facing the busy road to the west, just like the torso of Rick Owens at the other end of the street. An odd pairing perhaps, but they seem to tie the ends of Dosan Park together, along with the words of Dosan on a plaque: “Young people of Korea, prepare to do something big.”

Hongdae, Vibrant Urban Subculture Back across the river is Hongdae. When evening falls, the waves of people squeezing out of Exit 9 at the subway station make you wonder if some big event is underway. But the event is Hongdae itself, a carnival of shops, cafes, bars, and galleries that are influenced in one way or another by the spirit of indie music and art for which this area is known. The crowd here is colorful, and not all young. The origins of the “Hongdae culture” can be dated back to the early 90s when artists (mostly graduates of Hongik University, which is famous for its college of art) and independent musicians gathered there. Live rock cafes and techno bars with names like Drug and Baljeonso (Power Plant), where the music was deafening and lighting and seating almost nonexistent, drew crowds from all over Seoul. The young people who made and frequented the area may be in their 40s now, but their spirit still lingers. Today, Hongdae is where the urban subcultures are more apparent than in any other part of the city, and where the male presence and male fashion is more marked. Teenagers in black stovepipe jeans and khaki jackets, eyes peering out from under long fringes, walk around with guitars on their backs. Rockers young and old roam around in black boots, checked shirts and leather vests. Here, you can see the occasional punk Mohawk, dyed a brilliant red or yellow, and even a bit of grunge, so unusual in a city known for its well-groomed inhabitants. Then there are the trendy boys in capri pants and cardigans, wearing their hair up in a kind of topknot very much like their ancestors hundreds of years before them. The waves of people make their way past Starbucks and other big-capital franchises, up to the playground across the road from the university, which is a landmark of Hongdae. This is where the weekend flea market takes place and impromptu performances are often held. Along one side of the playground is a row of standardized street carts authorized by the local council, glowing bulbs shining down on a myriad of colorful “stuff” — phone cases, headbands, earrings, socks, scarves, and in one case pastel liquid in plastic bags, which are presumably non-alcoholic drinks. The side street leading off the playground eventually spills onto a surprising scene that brings to mind the lines from a Beatles song, “little boxes / on the hillside …” Though there is no hill, the shops on this strip at the end of what is known as “Parking Lot Road” (Juchajang-gil) look as if they are piled on top of each other, as if the bottom floor and top floor did not belong together. Some shops are reached by going down stairs as they are partially underground and some are reached by going up stairs as they sit above ground level. And each little box of a shop is filled with the latest mass-market fashions, or devoted to one particular item, such as bags, socks, T-shirts or hair accessories, and even shoelaces. Jumbled amongst the clothing stores are a few tarot card parlors and traditional fortune tellers, tattoo joints and shops that offer to pierce body parts other than the ears. Down the road where the parking lot starts, the shops face each other across rows of cars. Here the fashion is more expensive with sleek boutiques offering young designer clothing and a selection of foreign brands. A huge white building with glass walls is a noraebang called Prince Edward where the customers, strutting or preening or crying with emotion as they sing, can be seen from the street. In the side alleys, smaller stores carry names like My Brown Bag and Carrie’s Closet. Restaurants go by the name of Bap (Rice) or Sul (Liquor) or Dalbit Doeji (Piggy in the Moonlight), which specializes in grilled pork belly. So straightforward, unlike Gopchang Jeongol (Beef Intestine Stew), which is actually a beerhouse. Eventually the maze of alleys leads out to one of the main roads enclosing the Hongdae area, where boys with knitted beanies over their eyes and girls dragging their Doc Martens can be seen straggling back to the station. K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12


1. Dresses are given the finishing touches in a shop on Ahyeon-dong’s wedding street. 2. Hongdae’s Juchajang-gil (“Parking Lot Road”), abuzz with the diversity of Seoul street fashion.


Fashion Stories 5

Industry Insiders on Korean Fashion Cho Se-kyung Fashion Content Creator Kim Yoon-soo Fashion Journalist

‘Korean Fashion is Like a Moon Jar’ Kan Ho-sup Fashion Design Professor, Hongik University; President, Korea & China Association of Fashion Industry-Academy

If Chinese fashion is lavish and sensual, and Japanese fashion is suggestive and shapely, Korean fashion is lyrical and earthy, like a white porcelain moon jar which has a simple and subtle beauty. The moon jar is white overall but reflects varying shades of light and dark. Its symmetry is imperfect, but the form is harmonious, nicely rounded but with a resolute strength. The generous nature of the moon jar, with a restraint and sophistication that are not apparent on the surface, and its quiet poise — that is my idea of “Korean chic.” Seoul is a dynamic megacity with an insatiable capacity to absorb new things. Wonderful things can happen when tradition meets innovation, which is why Miuccia Prada chose Gyeonghui Palace as the venue for her Korean fashion exhibition in 2009. The popularity of K-pop, interaction of diverse cultures through young people who have studied abroad in fashion and such other fields as music, art, and food, the passion of these individuals, rapid evolution of multi-brand stores that cater to diverse fashion tastes, and the conglomerates’ recruitment of and support for young Korean designers — these are the factors driving today’s globalization of Korean fashion. As a fashion design professor, nothing could please me more than the growing international recognition of my students who receive awards at prestigious competitions, or are named as new designers to watch. Some of my proudest “creations,” in this respect, include Pyo Ji-yeong, whose works were sold throughout Europe through the “Rejina Pyo for Weekday” collection when she was selected as a promising new designer for H&M’s Weekday brand; Cha Ha-na, who was named one of the Top 30 Designers for Tomorrow at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, organized by Marc Jacobs; Goh Yeong-ji, who earned the grand prize at the Korean Fashion Design Exhibition as well as Audi’s Star Creation Award; and Lee Jong-gil, whose skirt made of geometric pieces of fabric folded and sewn together was the conversation piece of the Prada Transformer 2009 at Gyeonghui Palace.

Young Talents at the Heart of Fashion Korea Lee Myung-hee Editor-in-Chief, Vogue Korea

Some time ago, a middle school student living in the country sent me an email to introduce her fashion blog. I was amazed at her natural flair. In Korea, there are a lot of young people just like her — bold, creative, and “mad about fashion.” Even designers gain inspiration from the fashionistas who turn up at fashion events and the creative outfits of stylish people seen on the streets. Aside from the visionaries who might allude to silhouette through materials, fashion styling today is all about individuality, fun, and good sense. Koreans’ fashion sense and interest in fashion is already world-class, and all that is left is to make a huge splash on the international scene, like Psy and his “Gangnam Style.” Koreans are naturally high-spirited and out for a good time, while being conscious of what others think of them, and receptive to new trends, so the domestic market is a perfect testing ground for fashion and cosmetic products, in particular. And, in fact, products are being 1


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

1. Designer Lee Jong-gil’s creation featured at the Prada Transformer 2009 Seoul, held at Gyeonghui Palace. 2. A cut from a Vogue Korea fashion spread by photographer Ogh Sang-sun, styled by Seo Young-hee.

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© Ogh Sang-sun

increasingly tested for consumer acceptance in Korea before their launch in other markets. Before the Chinese market took off, Korea was the second-largest Asian market after Japan. But compared to the profits that they reap in Korea, foreign cosmetic companies are stingy with their spending on publicity, marketing, and advertising here. They are thus undervaluing the Korean market. Long perceived to be a luxury industry in Korea, the fashion sector did not receive much government support. But the influence that a world-famous designer can have on a nation’s profile can be immense. This was the case for Japanese designers such as Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), Yohji Yamamoto, and Issey Miyake, who made an early foray into Paris, where they continue to be acclaimed as avant-garde designers and the forces behind Japanese fashion. Many Koreans in their 20s and 30s are now studying in fashion schools overseas. But no matter how talented they might be or how well refined their fashion sense is, without a proper support system and infrastructure, the birth of a star designer is only a remote possibility. And rather than returning home, if they are given government support to enable them to remain in the world’s fashion capitals until they make a name for themselves, then Korean fashion will surely take root and flourish.

Big Bang Style, G-Dragon Style Hwang Ui-geon Head, OFFICE h; Fashion Marketing Specialist; Fashion Columnist

Korean fashion is spicy. It’s stimulating and dynamic, exuding a uniquely Korean sensibility that contains many elements mixed together. Not confined by clothing as a structured entity, the fashion is free and comfortable, if lacking in detail. This is one side of Korean fashion. There’s another side, the style created by pop idols who are generating a surge of interest in Korean pop-


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Boy group Big Bang is not only taking Korean music to the world but its fashion as well.

ular culture in many countries across Asia and beyond. The highly individual styles shown by the boy band Big Bang are an indication of the growing distinction of Korean fashion. This intangible thing we call “style” is sold through music videos with their song and dance. Big Bang members G-Dragon and T.O.P. have such a wonderful command of fashion that they create new styles in cooperation with designers. Women, however, seem to take their cues not from singers but from the actresses who are style icons, such as Gong Hyojin, Bae Du-na, and Kim Min-hui.

Korea in the Global Fashion Market Choi Yun-hui Global Brand Marketer

I work in marketing for imported brands, covering the range from contemporary to high fashion. In the last few years, I’ve seen a clear change in the global fashion market’s perception of Seoul. Japan is considered a market on its own rather than being a part of Asia, and Hong Kong has long functioned as the fashion hub of Asia. In addition, with its enormous economic power, China has emerged as a strong new market. Compared to these countries, Korea lags behind as an Asian market. But in the past two to three years, things have definitely changed. Global fashion managers now see Korea as a sophisticated market, and a growing consumer of luxury goods. While there is no flagship store here for brands like Chanel or Dior, that are commonly found in most fashion centers of the world, we have flagship stores for more unique brands, such as Rick Owens, Phillip Lim, Ann Demeulemeester, and Alexander Wang. This shows that the Korean market is more well-defined. Seoul is also becoming a favored venue for more international fashion events. Some local events that actually received greater attention abroad include Prada’s Transformer exhibition and Fendi’s Han River show. But Korea has yet to produce a truly world-class designer. When this does happen, then more people will start asking “Who’s next?” and naturally take a keener interest in Korean designers and fashion. Overseas, when people think of Korea, they generally think of soccer, Samsung cell phones, and Kia/Hyundai cars. I thus look forward to the day when Korean fashion gains the same level of global recognition.

At Last, the Rise of the Stylist Han Hye-yeon Stylist

For a long time, the stylist was neither the main actor nor a supporting actor, but just another member of the support staff. But with widespread cable TV and various fashion-related professions being highlighted on TV and in movies, fashion styling has become a career that many young people aspire to. Now even the general public knows that behind the stars there are the stylists for the stars who help to make them shine. Young people now dream of becoming one of these celebrity stylists. But it is just as difficult as ever for new stylists to get work, as a bulk of the work ends up with a small handful of well-known names. To broaden the opportunities for new stylists to demonstrate their talent, an agency system needs to be properly established. Models and photographers are mostly affiliated with agencies, but there is no such system for freelance professionals like designers, make-up artists, manicurists, and stylists.

Behind the Hanbok in Fashion Photography Ogh Sang-sun Photographer (Contributor to Vogue, Numero, Bazzar, GQ, Marie Claire)

Every photographer probably has a different approach to magazine fashion spreads that feature hanbok . To help readers understand what is behind the images, I’ll mention the thoughts that go through my head. When I first started to photograph hanbok, I visited Hahoe Village in Andong, Yangdong Village in Gyeongju, and Oeam Village in Cheonan, where the beautiful silhouettes of hanok, or traditional Korean houses, are complemented by mountains and valleys. But contrary to my expectations, hanbok and hanok did not go that well together. The details of hanbok seemed to clash with the lines of the houses, and I was unable to attain the intended effect. After that, I began to seek out the modernism hidden within the hanbok. I discardK o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12


ed the idea of trying to reveal all the details of the garment and concentrated on the simplicity of its lines. For example, highlighting the lines of a hanbok skirt, which are like a ceramic jar. But in the end, the ideas for each shoot come from tradition. I can spend the whole day walking around a folk museum. My favorite is the Onyang Folk Museum. As I walk around and listen to the curators’ explanations about our ancestors’ clothing, food, and way of life, I learn about our culture and get ideas for my work. I’m always fascinated by the women’s hairdos and accessories. My mind also feels cleansed whenever I gaze at cotton hanbok. In spring and autumn I like to go to Buseok Temple, Gaesim Temple, and the old Byeongsan and Sosu Confucian academies, where I can steep myself in the harmony of nature and architecture, and the modern and evocative elements there. By laying a store of tradition inside me, the things I am seeking are naturally expressed in my hanbok photos.

Hanbok in the Movies Lee Hye-soon Hanbok Designer

One day an elderly woman visited me and said she wanted to give her granddaughter a hanbok as a gift for her coming-of-age celebration. This woman was the maternal grandmother of CL, a member of the girl group 2NE1. Another time, a medical student in her early twenties who was taking some time off from her studies to travel around Europe came to me and said she wanted to have a hanbok to take with her on her travels. For a long time, modern Koreans have regarded hanbok as a ceremonial costume to be worn only on special occasions, such as first birthdays and weddings. But thanks to K-pop and movies, traditional hanbok have been shown to international audiences. Now it seems that Koreans are being influenced as well and making hanbok a part of their lives again. In this respect, my work on period movies such as “A Frozen Flower” (Ssanghwajeom ) and “Scandal” has been all the more meaningful for me, and I plan to do more of this kind of work in the future. Reference materials on Joseon-period hanbok are easy to find, for example, in genre paintings and actual artifacts, but the setting for “A Frozen Flower” was the Goryeo period, and the only available resources were Buddhist paintings. While the hanbok in the movies are often based on careful research, they do need adaptation in terms of style and color in order to make the audience think, “I’d like to try that on. That looks good.” Things also appear different on the screen as compared to real life. For “Scandal,” I chose the colors and styles to match the characters. To express the personality of the sensual Lady Jo, I used a tight-fitting jacket and wide skirt in vivid colors that accentuated her sex appeal, while for the demure Lady Suk I used a somewhat loose-fitting jacket and modestly colored skirt.

Amazing Changes in the Way Men Dress Hong Suk-woo Fashion Blogger

I’m the buyer for Daily Projects, a select shop known for its offbeat collection, and I also wear the hats of street photographer and operator of the fashion blog, yourboyhood.com, which documents the clothes worn by people around me and in different spots all over Seoul. For the past two years I’ve also been working with the brand In Case for the publication of a quarterly magazine called “Spectrum.” The fact that I can move between the underground and aboveground, and make my voice heard in the fashion world, is a sign that the fashion industry in Seoul, and in Korea, is changing. As a fashion market, Seoul has notably changed over the past five years. A case in point is the appearance of different kinds of international select shops, such as 10 Corso Como. And look at the remarkable change in the way the men on the streets are dressed! From an achromatic palette, they’ve moved on to diverse colors, and do a lot of experimenting. Also, the fashion crowd has been growing ever bigger and younger. But the menswear pie still has room to grow. It’s not quite there yet. The reality is that menswear designers still need to do women’s wear as well to remain viable in the business.


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Designer Sheen Je-hee’s show for the Seoul Fashion Week 2013 Spring/Summer Collections. Instead of walking down the runway, the models stand still in the hall like mannequins as the viewers roam amongst them to examine the clothes.

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35 © Ahn Hong-beom


Lee Youn-taek

A ‘Cultural Guerrilla’ of Korean Theater Lee Youn-taek is a key figure in the contemporary landscape of Korea’s performing arts. He reinterprets foreign theatrical works into the local context for Korean audiences, while also successfully and creatively adapting traditional Korean performing arts for the modern stage, as a playwright, art director, and acting instructor. Kim Moon-hwan Theater Critic | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


heater maestro Lee Youn-taek is even busier these days thanks to his serving as art director of a local theater festival to commemorate the 100th anniversary of August Strindberg’s death. The festival, which opened on September 13 and continues through January 2013, will present various theatrical works at four venues, including Lee’s own Guerrilla Theatre. The name of the theater was borrowed from Lee’s nickname, “Cultural Guerrilla,” by which he is popularly referred to by the domestic media. I met with Lee at his theater in Hyehwa-dong, downtown Seoul. To understand why he is called a guerrilla artist, it is important to have a look at his life story.

A ‘Guerrilla’ of Korean Performing Arts Born in Busan in 1952, Lee was a notable academic achiever from early on, graduating from the city’s most prestigious secondary school. He then entered the Seoul Institute of the Arts, but dropped out. He returned to Busan and opened a small independent theater that soon ended in financial failure. To make ends meet he worked here and there, trying his luck in the southern cities of Masan, Miryang, and Chungmu. For a while, he worked at a post office. In 1979, at age 27, he became a recognized poet when his poetry works were published by a literary magazine. He began to publish his poems and literary criticism thereafter. During that time he also worked as a staff reporter for the Busan Ilbo, a local daily newspaper, in addition to publishing a book of poetry and a collection of critical essays. As a growing number of small theaters in Busan began to close their doors due to financial difficulties in the mid-1980s, he quit his work as a journalist and set up his own theater in 1986 and also formed a theatrical troupe. Initially, his stage work focused on a series of situation dramas, and his repertoire gradually expanded to experimental plays that adapted Korean traditional performing arts to the modern stage. His progressive efforts attracted the attention of artists and critics based in Seoul, exactly the impact he had intended by pursuing what he calls a “rebellion against the capital’s cultural hegemony.” Years later, he wrote scripts for TV drama series and film scenarios, and even produced a movie based on his theatrical works. The media tagged the versatile and rebellious Lee as a “cultural guerrilla” and he seems to revel in this progressive image, adopting the moniker for the name of his theater. Furthermore, he intends to attach greater significance to the term “guerrilla” by committing his stage works to experimental innovation. A self-reflective modernist who emphasizes deconstruction and reconstruction through his poetry and criticism as well as the stage, he claims to have turned his back


Lee Youn-taek directs actors at the open-air Seongbyeok (Fortress) Theatre in Miryang Theatre Village.


on mainstream influence and cultural hegemony that hold the value of pure nonpolitical art and literature above all. He is also highly critical about the mainstream view that looks down on regional culture as a cultural periphery. “Busan is the second largest city in Korea, but cultural hegemony is concentrated solely in Seoul, the metropolitan capital,” he complains. To counter this bias, he tends to shun mainstream culture. Instead, he remains committed to his locality and regional roots. His tireless pursuit of traditional Korean culture is aligned with this mindset, as he strives to build linkages between Korea’s traditional theatrical heritage and contemporary avant-garde experimentation. He re-formulates traditional musical drama, which has long been neglected by the intellectual class, into contemporary stage works. Lee’s persistent engagement in musicals, dance projects, and festivals reveal his keen interest in connecting with a broader audience. His emphasis on communication with the masses derives from his childhood experiences. Living in a poor neighborhood populated by the families displaced by urban redevelopment projects, Lee earned respect for being the only neighborhood tutor and intellectual leader among his peers during his teenage years. He used to gather the kids from around his neighborhood to present improvisational plays. This might explain why he maintains a personal interest in Bertolt Brecht, who advocated the importance of education through theater, and Heiner Müller and Tadeusz Kantor, who were heavily influenced by Brecht. Lee defines himself at times as a kind of modified Marxist in terms of his style. He also does not hesitate to describe his thoughts as Nietzschean or anarchistic. Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children” was remade by Lee through creative fusion with the traditions of Korean performing arts. Similarly, he also transformed Kantor’s “The Dead Class” into “Heojaebi Nori ” (The Rite of Puppets, 1994) by extensively integrating elements from traditional Korean performing arts. His own theatrical company is called Street Theatre Troupe, reflecting his reformative vision of theater and performing arts.

A scene from “Ogu — The Ritual of Death,” written and directed by Lee Youn-taek (above) and August Strindberg’s “A Dream Play,” directed by Lee Youn-taek for a local theater festival commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Swedish playwright’s death (right). Lee continues to explore ways to combine Korean traditional performing arts and contemporary avant-garde experiments.


Amidst a bucolic setting, the artists study and practice theatrical arts, honing their acting skills while living in a communal environment. Lee considers this gathering of performing artists as an ideal theatrical community, inspired by his belief that such a community is uniquely shaped by the individuals that comprise it, each one having a distinctive personality.

Contemporary theatrical techniques are widely applied to his staging of native traditional performing arts. In his “Ogu – The Ritual of Death” (1989), which features traditional shamanic exorcist rituals, he employs stage props of exaggerated sexual organs that call to mind the work of Slovak-born mime artist Milan Sladek. Another example is his “Wonjeon Yuseo : A Ballad of Once Upon a Time” (2009) in which he places a mound of trash on the stage, which seems to have been inspired by Kantor’s legendary stage designs. Kantor notes that his stage direction is based on the Heideggerian theory that seeks to distinguish between a “thing” and an “object.” According to the avant-garde Polish stage director, the French term emballage (to pack) refers to a ritual process of folding, binding, and sealing. By creatively applying “packing” techniques to various stage objects, Kantor sought to express the Heideggerian argument in which a thing can be understood as an action.

Itinerant vs. Settled Life Lee’s appreciation of locality is demonstrated by the development of his artistic community in Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province. There he leased a shuttered primary school building in a small village and established a community of stage actors and technical staff. Amidst a bucolic setting, the artists study and practice theatrical arts, honing their acting skills while living in a communal environment. Lee considers this gathering of performing artists as an ideal theatrical community, inspired by his belief that such a community is uniquely shaped by the individuals that comprise it, each one having a distinctive personality. Even though his theatrical oeuvre has been made into a film that received critical acclaim, he is still firmly attached to his primary roots of theater and staging. He believes that theater has a transformative power to create a close community, even out of a group of strangers. When asked if the communal lifestyle of his Miryang Theatre Village has been influenced by the avant-garde Théâtre du Soleil, founded by Ariane Mnouchkine in France, he denies it. Lee says that he regards the Parisian stage ensemble as a special elite group and part of a cultural hegemony, heavily funded by the French government. He would rather be compared with Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theatre in the United States, or Dario Fo’s Compagnia Dario Fo-Franca Rame in Italy. His idea for the Miryang Theatre Village is to develop a contemporary version of Korean traditional itinerant artists’ groups, called namsadang pae . I hesitated to ask him whether the Miryang community is being subsidized by the local city for its regular operational expenses and theater festivals. According to Lee, the ideal form of theatrical life and training is best realized from a nomadic lifestyle. He expects the Miryang Theatre Village to become a living museum of theatrical arts, a fulfillment of his vision. Lee believes that settlement should be preceded by a nomadic experience. Indeed, his Street Theatre Troupe has a nomadic aspect, traveling to a number of


countries and staging performances around the world. The troupe staged “Ogu – The Ritual of Death” at the Tokyo Performing Arts Festival in 1990, as well as in Essen, Germany for the 1991 World Theatre Festival. The troupe also performed “The Flight of Lee Chung-sop” at La MaMa E.T.C. Annex Theater in New York in 1992, Lee’s adaptation of “Hamlet” at the Rostov Theatre Festival in Russia in 1996, and “Ogu – The Ritual of Death” and “Hamlet” at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin in 1998. His “Mother” (Eomeoni ) was presented at Taganka Theatre in Moscow (1999), “Hamlet” at Toga Village in Japan (2000), “Mother Courage and Her Children” at the Shizuoka Performing Arts Center in Japan (2007), and “Hamlet” at the 2010 International Shakespeare Festival in Romania.

Renewed Awareness of Theater’s Essence While he continues to roam the world with his Street Theatre Troupe to give performances, Lee maintains his artistic and intellectual pursuit of the origin of his theatrical oeuvre. He says that his visit to Lake Baikal in 1996 after the Rostov festival shook him to the core with a sense of awe, as if encountering the origin of existence itself. Especially impressive were the stone gravesites scattered around the lake. They reminded him of Korean traditional shamanic shrines in local villages, which have provided him with rich artistic motifs. He also deplored the fact that Korea’s nationalist ideologies, reinforced by the division of the peninsula, have prevented artists from experimenting beyond ideological constraints. Lee celebrates his 60th birthday this year, his artistic sensibility remaining ever



fresh and young. He confesses that he can still feel his heart pounding when he reads poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Valéry, and Gott­ fried Benn, or listens to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. He is pursuing realism through postmodernist methods. Early on, the young Lee Youn-taek was heavily influenced by Yoo Duk-hyung, a legendary figure of Korean modern theater and president of the Seoul Institute of the Arts. Yoo studied stage lighting and direction in the United States and returned to Korea to put on his experimental works in the early 1970s. Thanks to inspiration from Yoo, Lee says that he came to understand the intricate relationship between verbal and bodily expression,

1. Theater critic Kim Moon-hwan (right) interviews Lee Youn-taek at the latter’s Guerrilla Theatre in Hyehwa-dong, downtown Seoul. 2. An open-air performance at Miryang Theatre Village.

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where the play scripts are embodied by acting. Recalling that Yoo introduced Antonin Artaud to Korean theatrical circles for the first time, it is reasonable to assume that Lee was also directly and indirectly influenced by the avant-garde concepts of the French poet, playwright, and theater director. Lee also admits his interest in the U.S.-based Living Theatre. However, he distances and differentiates himself from his senior Oh Tae-suk, with whom he seems to share similar interests and influences in theatrical direction. In addition to writing and directing for the stage, Lee is very passionate about teaching the art of acting. He established Uri Theatre Institute in 1994 to offer acting instruction for theater performers and has conducted acting workshops in Germany and Japan, among other countries. With these efforts bearing notable fruit, he recently published a book on acting theory, titled “Soul and Material.” According to him, theater is “serious play,” based on a renewed awareness of life and tension, imagination and vitality. Noting that Korean people say “take a breath” to suggest a pause or a retreat from daily cares, he advises actors to calmly observe different breaths that weave with unconscious exhaling and inhaling. “By doing that, a human being gains self-awareness as a subject in relation to the outer world, instead of being passively controlled by external realities. He then establishes his existence as the subject of his own life and an object of the whole universe,” says Lee. Recognition of his theatrical virtuosity is evidenced by his teaching positions at Sungkyunkwan University, Dongguk University, and Youngsan University. He has also served as art director of the National Theater Company of Korea.

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Now he wants to take a pause from activities in his familiar terrain. He intends to “take a breath” from playwriting and stage direction, leaving Miryang behind to settle in Gimhae Doyo Village. There he plans to focus on composing poems, rewriting ancient Greek plays, and reflecting on the history of Korean theater. Another dream of his is to write a children’s play. To prepare for this, he recently graduated from the Elementary Education Department of the Korea National Open University. His interest in history is long-running and very much a key aspect of his theatrical philosophy. He asserts that he has always been interested in social theater as a reflection of current socio-political realities, rather than historical theater for storytelling or delivering his personal viewpoint and style. Thanks to his boundless virtuosity and versatility, Lee is poised to leave an even larger imprint on the history of modern Korean theater as the cultural guerrilla of our time.




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Kim Kyk-chen

Exquisite Furniture Fittings: A Master Craftsman’s Family Legacy Artfully crafted metal fittings add a rich expressiveness to traditional wooden furniture. At the helm of a metalworking enterprise now in its fourth generation of family ownership, Kim Kyk-chen (Kim Geuk-cheon) has preserved the centuries-old tradition of handcrafting tin-nickel alloy furniture fittings, one of the revered handicraft specialties that have been handed down for generations in the southern port city of Tongyeong. Park Hyun-sook Freelance Writer | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


n the traditional Korean house, there are separate living quarters for the male and female family members, a vestige of the long-standing influence of Confucian moral principles. Furniture in the men’s quarters would typically be simple and spare, in keeping with the modest character of a Confucian scholar. In contrast, exquisite and graceful furnishings usually adorn the inner room of the women’s quarters. Since the basic forms of traditional Korean furniture are uniformly simple with a natural symmetry, such a notable difference is due to the ornamental metal fittings, called duseok (also known as jangseok ). These metal fittings are traditional handicraft works, which add a sense of aesthetics to the functionality of Korean furniture as well as other woodcraft articles. The fittings are made of various metals and alloys like cast iron and tin, as well as tin-nickel (baekdong ) and copper-zinc (hwangdong ) alloys. Each material has its particular appeal: the tin-nickel alloy produces a silvery sheen reminiscent of the icy snow on the branch of a tree in winter, while the copper-zinc alloy results in a lustrous golden hue. The metal fittings are not simply decorative; they are fully functional as door hinges (gyeongcheop ), corner covers (gwissagae ), corner fasteners to reinforce right-angled joints (geomeolsoe ), handles for drawers or doors (deulsoe ), and padlock plates (jamulsoe-apbatang ). In contrast to the plain, functional fittings used for men’s furniture, those applied to women’s furniture are more decorative in appearance, without sacrificing functionality. The tradition of handcrafting metal furniture fittings flourished during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), with its decorative quality reaching a peak toward the end of the era. This craft thrived in the southeastern areas of Korea, especially in Tongyeong, on the southern tip of South Gyeongsang Province. Tongyeong has also been known as a center for the production of furniture coated with black natural lacquer and inlaid with iridescent mother-of-pearl from the shells of abalone, conch, and other shellfish. A quintessential aspect of traditional Korean craftsmanship, lacquered furniture with mother-of-pearl inlay has long been cherished for its subdued resplendence. Accordingly, it would be finished with the application of ornamental metal fittings made of a brilliant, silvery tin-nickel alloy crafted into such shapes as butterflies, flowers, cranes, clouds, birds, and plum trees.

Master craftsman Kim Kyk-chen runs a family business manufacturing tin-nickel alloy furniture fittings. His family has produced four generations of prominent craftsmen especially renowned for their skills in making metal hinges in the shape of butterflies.

Renowned Artisan Family of Tongyeong Kim Kyk-chen, 62, has been designated Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 64 for Metal Fitting Craftsmanship (duseokjang ). Born into a distinguished artisan family, he learned its centuries-old tradition of intricate techniques and craftsmanship from his father, carrying on the process of the family’s previous generations. His great-grandfather Kim Bo-ik was a metal fitting craftsman who worked at the Twelve Crafts Workshops of the Joseon Dynasty. When the Navy Headquarters of Three Provinces was relocated K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12


1. Kim checks that the metal surface is evenly flat and carefully shaved to bring out its silvery luster. 2. A bat-shaped chest door handle. The bat’s outstretched wings are in the shape of two carps facing each other.


to Tongyeong in 1604, the Twelve Crafts Workshops were founded to produce military supplies. Talented craftsmen from across the country gathered here to make furniture, clothing, ornaments, and other articles. Even today, these workshops continue to produce high-quality crafts, albeit on a diminished scale. Kim Kyk-chen’s grandfather was Kim Chun-guk, whose extraordinary talent in making furniture fittings was so highly acclaimed nationwide that his wares were affectionately called “Chun-guk’s metalwork.” Kim’s father, Kim Deok-ryong, also upheld the family’s honor with his masterful crafting of durable and artful metal fittings with a radiant silver sheen and charming details. The father’s exceptional craftsmanship earned him the Important Intangible Cultural Property designation in 1980. Kim Kyk-chen recalls: “The ladies who sought after my father’s wares would often wear out their rubber shoes from repeatedly coming to our house to obtain his works. A typical three-level chest will need 300 to 350 fittings, and it takes a very long time to make them. At least six to twelve months are required for preparation of the ingredients for the alloys to be used and the actual handmade production. In the past, the ladies of affluent families would go to great lengths to obtain the elegantly made metal accessories to adorn their furniture, personally visiting the artisan to press him to speed up the production process – wearing out at least six pairs of their rubber shoes by the time they finally got the desired items, as it was jokingly said.” His father worked with metals as though he were handling pliable clay, Kim recalls. His metal accessories were so attractive that there was a constant flow of orders from individual customers as well as local furniture makers. Kim Kyk-chen started to work at his father’s workshop at the age of 25, immediately after completing his military service. At the time, his father’s crew included some 20 junior craftsmen. It was not unusual for everyone to be constantly busy in order to keep up with an overwhelming flood of orders that required working overtime, but his father’s meticulous attention to every detail and process never faltered. “My father would often discourage his junior craftsmen, including me, from hurriedly doing our work. He taught us to take enough


time to achieve the desired result with lesser retouching, saying that an urge to correct your work resulted from inferior workmanship, which ends up compromising the beauty and functionality of the piece. He taught me to pay utmost attention to every detail even while working on a tiny piece, and I have always remembered that,” says Kim.

Work Begins with Alloying Metals Kim Kyk-chen uses a tin-nickel alloy composed of 70 percent tin and 30 percent nickel for his furniture fittings. High-quality alloys are readily available these days, but in the past metal craftsmen needed to carry out the work of alloying the metals themselves. Kim notes: “Too much tin in the alloy leads to discoloration, and too much nickel makes it prone to breakage. So, it is important to maintain the ratio exactly at seven to three. Alloying molten metals was such an important task that affected the entire year’s productivity, so in the 1970s and 80s when my father was still alive, we would conduct a sacrificial rite to pray for a good result before carrying out the annual business. It was done in late fall or winter since it involves working with extreme heat.” Even today, for special orders, Kim personally makes his own alloys. The craftsman explains, “Metals alloyed in a 1,300ºC blacklead crucible are cooled in a rod-shaped mold. Watching the rods stacked higher and higher in my storeroom, I feel as satisfied as a farmer harvesting his grain. Whenever I am commissioned to make fittings for a specific piece of furniture, I take out the right amount of the alloy rods for the project and melt them so that they can be hammered into thin plates.” The rods are repeatedly heated 20 to 50 times at a temperature of 1,300ºC and hammered countless times to varying thicknesses, in accordance with each item’s use and intended shape. Although he has practiced his craft for almost 40 years, Kim can still feel his mind clearing and his heart being filled with anticipation for the final product whenever he hammers each metal piece. The surface of the tin-nickel alloy, evenly flattened to a thickness of one-half to one millimeter, is shaved with a knife to bring out its silvery luster. With a pattern attached to its back, the metal plate is cut into a desired shape with a device resembling a straw cutter, and the surface is chiseled to give depth to the design. Decorative designs are engraved with a knife on the obverse side, which is sometimes inlaid with copper-gold or copper-silver alloys for added highlights. Once the engraving is done, nail holes are drilled and the edges are smoothed with a file, and then the surface is polished with a cloth Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

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穢 Suh Heun-gang

“In the past, the ladies of affluent families would go to great lengths to obtain elegantly made metal accessories to adorn their furniture, personally visiting the artisan repeatedly to press him to speed up the production process — wearing out at least six pairs of their rubber shoes by the time they finally got the desired items, as it was jokingly said.”

dusted with a fine powder of ground pottery shards. In this way, the tin-nickel metal fittings project an elegant silvery sheen. During Korea’s industrialization process, the furniture fittings made of tin-nickel alloy were on the verge of falling into disuse. Kim recalls: “My family has used tin-nickel alloy since my greatgrandfather’s generation. In the 1970s, however, as burning coal briquettes became the predominant means of heating homes, the gas emissions resulted in discoloration of tin-nickel furniture fittings in practically every household. As a result, the alloy was gradually replaced by stainless steel, which is more resistant to discoloration from carbon monoxide exposure. Later, as coal briquettes gave way to other means of home heating, tin-nickel alloy reclaimed its popularity as the most desirable metal for furniture fittings since its rich sheen, like that of platinum, couldn’t be mimicked by stainless steel.” In Tongyeong, where traces of the legendary naval commander Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598) are found everywhere, Kim Kyk-chen’s workshop stands across from Chungnyeol Shrine, which houses the admiral’s spirit tablet. In the modest workshop, with a floor area of about 10 square meters, Kim has created furniture fittings for 37 years, just as his father did until passing away at age 80. The old tools and various patterns that have been handed down generation after generation for over a hundred years are preserved in the shop, all part and parcel of this distinguished artisan family’s continuing legacy. In the future, Kim will be succeeded as the head of this historic workshop by his younger son Jin-hwan, who is currently working in the same trade as his father after studying handicrafts in college.

Symbolism of Diverse Patterns Traditional handmade metal fittings not only make the furniture sturdier, they also brighten up a room with their silvery luster. It has long been said that the qualities of a well-made furniture fitting, as exquisite as a flower petal, can compensate for minute flaws in the wood. But the fitting’s delicate appearance belies its durability, such that even when a wardrobe, for example, comes apart from wear and tear, its fittings remain intact. Just as jewelry designers can turn rough gemstones into beautiful jewelry, metal craftsmen also decorate their works with a variety of engraved pat-



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1. A furniture fitting in the shape of an exquisite chrysanthemum spray. As delicate as they look, such metal fittings are so sturdy that they “remain intact even when the furniture comes apart from wear and tear.” 2. A tall wooden chest is decorated with various functional metal fittings, such as door hinges, door knobs, corner covers, and drawer pulls in butterfly motifs.

terns. From antiquity, metal fittings have featured over two thousand different patterns, which range from flora and fauna (butterfly, bat, carp, chrysanthemum, daffodil, and lotus blossom) and pictographs to geometric shapes. Kim notes: “Patterns engraved on furniture fittings have symbolic meanings. A butterfly on a flower represents conjugal harmony and bats symbolize fecundity and good fortune. In the past, furniture used by women, and rice chests in particular, would often be fitted with a padlock in the shape of a carp for several reasons. Its affinity to water was associated with an ability to prevent fire and with eyes wide open, even when asleep, it was believed to protect the owner’s property. In addition, the fish, laying so many eggs at a time, was also associated with fertility, while its small mouth reminded people of a tightly closed pouch that would not allow any valuables to slip away. The favorite motif for men’s furniture, on the other hand, was bamboo, representing the Confucian ideals expected of honorable men — loyalty, filial devotion, dignity, integrity, and so on.” One of the regional specialties of Tongyeong is the metal hinge in the shape of a butterfly which symbolizes a prospect for receiving good news. It is an item that Kim Kyk-chen’s family is especially noted for making with consummate workmanship and artistry. Kim thinks of his father every time he makes a hinge in the shape of a butterfly — especially a tiger swallowtail. “Tiger swallowtail hinges fitted on a furniture door are so beautiful. Whenever the door is opened and closed, the butterflies on the hinges seem to flap their wings gracefully. My father was also such an elegant man. He couldn’t be too busy to relax and have a little peace of mind. He was a wonderful singer and smart dresser. From his hat down to his shoes, he was always so fashionably dressed. After he died, as I sorted out the articles left by my father, I was amazed to find his shoes in a wide array of colors and styles,” recollects Kim. There is an old Buddhist saying, “Sumeru within a mustard seed,” meaning that even though Mount Sumeru might be vast, it can still fit into a tiny mustard seed. Likewise, even though Kim Kyk-chen makes tiny pieces of furniture fittings in his small metal workshop, he rejoices in the vastly beautiful world that the work unfolds in front of his eyes. K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12



modern landmarks

SPACE Group Building

Urban Oasis by a Pioneer Architect Kim Swoo-geun (1931-1986) was a prominent architect who was widely recognized for his many contributions to modern Korean architecture, with his philosophy symbolically manifested in the SPACE Group Building. The building’s unique atmosphere and ingenious floor plans, which create an impression of openness for the functionally compartmentalized space, have made it a popular destination for weekend tours. Kim Chung-dong Professor, Department of Architecture, Mokwon University | Photographs The SPACE Group

A small hanok (traditional Korean house) nestles in the courtyard between the original SPACE Group headquarters and its new annex wrapped in glass, affording an enviable view of Changdeok Palace just across the street.


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he original SPACE Group Building was constructed in 1971 on a tiny lot of 100 square meters at 219 Wonseo-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul. Situated on a narrow strip of sloping land off the main road, the rather small building, even when not yet surrounded by larger buildings as it is now, gave hardly any hint of the space actually created inside. At first glance, the building may appear to have more than four floors because of the absence of slab lines on the exterior walls — covered with ivy at that — making it a challenge to distinguish one floor from another. Only the arched first-floor window on the façade and the four longitudinal windows above it provide a vague idea of how the floors are divided inside the building. The exterior cladding of dark gray and reddish black ceramic bricks, as well as broken brick scraps, gives the building an air of timelessness, which no mass-produced tiles could mimic.

A Mother’s Womb, an Ultimate Space The SPACE Group Building has several entry stairways in the front, each leading to a different space. Anyone who visits the building for the first time may find it hard to choose which stairway to take to enter the building. One entrance leads to a second-floor reception area, where a female receptionist used to receive visitors and phoned the people they had come to meet. As much as the entrance and the reception area were new to Korea at the time, so was

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the unusual structure of its interior, in which floors on either side of the building were located on different levels, and the multiple sections created by these alternating levels were connected by a set of stairs. Such a puzzling layout could lead visitors to wonder where they would find the master of the house. Before long, however, the cozy, intimate ambience of the building gives you a comfortable feeling of being in your own home. Architect Kim Swoo-geun, who designed the building, was once asked, “What is a house to you?” He answered, “My house is my mother’s womb. The womb’s house is my mother; my mother’s house is her house; and her house’s house is the environment. Philosophically, the environment represents space, and thus space is a house’s house’s house.” In the SPACE Group Building, Kim sought to realize this concept of space as a “womb,” or an “ultimate space,” by which he must have meant a space that would be conducive to meditation — to enable humans to attain their true humanity. Some of the people who had known Kim point out how the building’s intimate qualities reflect the architect’s character, with its interiors evoking the brick walls of an old house in the quiet countryside, the coffee shop as cozy as the living room of a friend’s home, and the walls and floors decorated with antique works of art. At the time of its construction, the SPACE Group Building was avant-garde in its unconventional design that melded the aesthetics of modernity and indigenous sensibility, creating a humanizing oasis amid the predominant Brutalism of relentless urban development. The building was described to be “as tranquil as a well of crystal-clear water” — a “wondrous” place. The building counts as one of Kim’s landmark works, according to Kim Jung-up (1922-1988), who taught the architect at Seoul National University and is himself well known as the designer of the French Embassy in Seoul, one of the outstanding examples of modern Korean architecture. When the SPACE Group Building opened, a large bronze bell and two traditional stone statues, the likes of which are typically found standing guard before ancient royal tombs, were placed at its front. Some people said these objects seemed rather out of place, but they were of a piece with the building’s character, which represents an aspect of Korean culture that the architect cherished. Today, the stone statues are gone but the bell remains.

SPACE Theater and Art Magazine Apart from its original function as the headquarters of Kim’s architectural design firm, the SPACE Group Building became a favorite gathering place for people working in the cultural sector soon after its completion. In 1977, the SPACE Group built an annex to its corporate headquarters to house SPACE Theater and enlarge the SPACE Gallery. SPACE Theater was an incubator and hotbed of Korea’s Little Theater Movement in the 1970s, earning a place in Korea’s modern cultural history. A number of traditional performing artists, including Kim Duk-soo and the Samulnori Percussion Ensemble, and the late Kong Ok-jin, the legendary dancer renowned for her masterly solo performances of dance, song and drama, as well as young experimental actors and actresses, appeared on its stage before they became known to the wider public. With this building complex as his base, Kim Swoo-geun played a central role in promoting cultural movements on many fronts, leading TIME magazine, which interviewed Kim in 1977, to dub him as the “Swinging Lorenzo of Seoul” in acknowledgement of his various contributions. In fact, Kim’s cultural advocacy had predated the construction of the SPACE Group Building; it began with the publication of the monthly magazine SPACE in November 1966. Six years earlier, he had established the Kim Swoo-geun Architectural Design Office in a three-story building which had stood on the current site of Baeksang Memorial Hall in Anguk-dong. K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12

1. The original SPACE Group building clad in gray ceramic bricks is covered in ivy in summer. 2. A stone pagoda stands on the courtyard, which serves as a stage for cultural events held by the Space Architecture & Urban Services.



At this office, he launched SPACE, a monthly magazine dedicated to a wide variety of artistic and cultural fields — the fine arts, music, theater, architecture, etc. Acclaimed for its contribution to the cultural and artistic realms in Korea, the magazine has survived to the present after overcoming a number of financial crises. A serious situation emerged in the early 1980s, when the magazine was nearing the publication of its 200th issue. Kim continued to print 2,000 copies per issue, incurring a monthly loss of some 3 million won (about $2,900), with the mounting losses reaching a considerable amount. More recently, the magazine has again gone through another bout of financial difficulty.

The SPACE School In 1997, twenty years after the annex was added to the original SPACE Group Building, another building designed by Jang Se-yang (1947-1996), who succeeded Kim as head of the architectural firm, was constructed adjacent to the original. The new building, with one basement floor and five floors above ground, was built on a 660-square-meter lot, with a total floor area of 1,350 square meters. With the addition of this building, the SPACE Group came to have enough space to accommodate its ever-increasing business activities as Korea’s leading architectural design and cultural media group. Today, housing the archi1 tectural design firm, theater, gallery, Kim Swoo-geun Culture Foundation, and Seoul Institute of Architecture, the building has become an instantly recognizable landApart from its original function as the headquarters for an architectural mark for the Korean public design firm, the SPACE Group Building became a favorite gathering place for thanks to its recent appearance in a popular TV drama as people working in the cultural sector soon after its completion. the workplace of the leading man, who is an architect. SPACE Theater, housed in the building’s basement, was a hotbed of Korea’s In the past, SPACE Group was synonymous with Kim Little Theater Movement in the 1970s. Swoo-geun himself. Joining the group meant becoming Kim’s pupil. In effect, the company served as a school, where its employees referred to the architect as “the teacher.” Those who worked, or had worked, for this company were once called the “SPACE Tribe.” They took pride in working for Kim’s company, and even society at large acknowledged this as a particular distinction. Kim Swoo-geun passed away in 1986 at the age of 57. It is said that he refused to be separated from his sketchbook even while he was battling liver cancer. The architect, who liked to say that his favorite work was the work that he would do next, died after completing his trendsetting role for Korea’s modern architecture. It is thus timely to designate Kim Swoo-geun’s more memorable works, including the SPACE Group Building, as part of the nation’s modern cultural heritage. The Modern Cultural Heritage Division of the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea has placed the works of Kim Jung-up and Kim Swoo-geun at the top of the architecture list under 1. An interior courtyard down a few steps review for this year’s designation. It is meaningful for works of modern architects to be placed from the street entrance features a stone under the protection of the government. In recognition of the building’s public significance, the trough and open cistern. 2. 3. Interior views of the original building, SPACE Group provides a tour program of its facilities. At the company’s homepage (www.spain which floors on either side are located on cea.com), a group of five people or more can apply for a weekend tour to learn about and appredifferent levels connected by a set of stairs. ciate this unique creation by an influential pioneer of modern Korean architecture. Below is a spiral staircase.


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art riview

Multimedia Artist Kim Soo-ja Sewing Life with Breath The multimedia artist Kim Soo-ja, whose internationally acclaimed work weaves together the genres of conceptual, installation, and performance art, held her first solo exhibition in a long time under the title, “To Breathe.” The exhibition focused on themes that she has continuously explored, such as bottari and needlework. Koh Mi-seok Editorial Writer, The Dong-a Ilbo | Photographs Kukje Gallery, Kimsooja Studio

1. Multimedia artist Kim Soo-ja is widely known as the “bottari artist.” 2-3 Scenes from “Thread Routes, Chapter 1” (2010) 4. Scene from “Thread Routes, Chapter 2” (2011) 5. Scene from “Mumbai: A Laundry Field” (2008)




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im Soo-ja, a multimedia artist, has been called the “bottari artist” after the attention she attracted from the global art community when her work, “Cities on the Move – 2727 Kilometers Bottari Truck,” was shown at the 1997 Venice Biennale. The video work documents the artist’s 11-day journey in a blue truck loaded with colorful bottari, or bundles wrapped in traditional patchwork cloths, visiting various villages of her childhood. The artist sits atop the mountainous pile of bundles, while the background scenery passing by evokes the concept of nomadic life and migration in the modern world. Kim produced another similar work in 2007, this time traveling around the migrant neighborhoods of Paris, again on top of a bottari truck. As her performances became known to the international art scene, the Korean word bottari came to be known overseas as well. In her video works, the artist shows only her back. She believes that unlike the front, your back cannot be easily adorned and therefore shows itself in a more truthful manner. In another work, “A Needle Woman” (1999-2001), she stands motionless, clad in black and again showing her back, among the crowds of eight big cities, such as Shanghai, Delhi, and Cairo. Viewers can see the artist’s back only amidst the streams of passersby. It is a metaphor of Kim’s journey, presenting her as a needle that transpierces various cities and people, thereby connecting them together. The exhibition “To Breathe,” held August 29 through October 10, 2012 at Kukje Gallery in Seoul, represented a kind of interim retrospective of the artist’s major themes over the years. It featured 12 video works including new 16mm documentaries such as “Thread Routes Chapters 1 & 2” and “Mumbai: A Laundry Field.” The artist explained that she came to focus on video works as she searched for a way to express new meanings and perspectives without making something artificial but just showing things as they are.

Trail of Life After being born naked into this world, human beings live with cloth until the time they are laid to rest in the coffin. The trail of the threads, of which textiles are composed, thus follows the trail of life. “Thread Routes Chapters 1 & 2” (a series for which six chapters are planned) explore the accumulation of human life and culture, illuminating various traditions of spinning and lace-making unique to different areas. Chapter 1 presents a visual journey through Peru and Chapter 2 features scenes of Europe, including Belgium and Croatia. The videos, each about 20 minutes long and without a storyline, are poetic and contemplative. From a woman winding a skein in Peru, the camera pans an expanse of farmland, a transition that suggests the connection between weaving and farming. The unique textile-related cultures and customs are vividly depicted with captivating images. Women spinning and knitting lace are gracefully harmonized with the natural environment and local architecture. The intriguing natural landscape of Machu Picchu is reflected in the patterns found in folk costumes, while the fine lace patterns of Europe seem to be inspired by the churches adorned with human skeletons. As the flow of nature overlaps with the flow of bodily movements, the viewer can understand how human beings are also an integral part of nature. “Thread Routes,” which expands the motifs of thread and lace to the essential lessons of life and death in Buddhism’s koan , attests to the artist’s versatility to deal with a theme from micro as well as macro perspectives. “Kim is an artist who is equally adept at using a microscope or telescope,” says Ahn So-yeon, vice director of the Samsung Museum of Modern Art.

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“Mumbai: A Laundry Field” reveals the human drama unfolding in the slum areas of Mumbai on four screens simultaneously, accompanied by four audio channels. In scenes that capture such private activities as sleeping, cooking, and washing conducted in public spaces, or of commuters hanging onto the doors of overcrowded trains, the artist’s affection for these people living harsh lives is readily apparent.


From Mumbai’s Laundry Field to Nigerian Beach “My interests are wide ranging. I don’t especially prefer either nature or the big cities. I would go to any place that can provide questions and answers as raw material for my exploration of the world,” Kim says. “Mumbai: A Laundry Field,” produced from 2007 through 2008 in the Mumbai slums, is a duet of vibrant colors and sounds. The human drama of the needy neighborhoods unfolds simultaneously on four video screens, accompanied by four audio channels. In scenes that capture such private activities as sleeping, cooking, and washing conducted in public spaces, or of commuters hanging onto the doors of overcrowded trains, the artist’s affection for these people living harsh lives is readily apparent. “Mirror of Water, Mirror of Air, Mirror of Wind,” a trilogy filmed in Greenland, probes the dimensions of conventional painting works through the use of visual media rather than a traditional canvas. “To Breathe: Invisible Mirror / Invisible Needle,” the title piece of the exhibition, interprets digital color abstraction as a visualization of breath. With no images, the screens change color slowly as if filled with a visualization of the artist’s own breath. This work was first shown at an opera house in Venice in 2006.


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“Bottari – Alfa Beach” was filmed in 2001 on Nigeria’s Alfa Beach, a notorious site of the slave trade. It is a metaphor for the extreme sense of despair and loss of direction experienced by those who were uprooted and sold off as slaves. The artist described the horizon she saw there as “the saddest and most shocking line I’ve ever seen.”

Gwangju Biennale Exhibit Separate from her solo exhibition, Kim presented the video installation “An Album: Hudson Guild” as part of the 2012 Gwangju Biennale’s (September 7-November 11) theme exhibition, “Round Table.” Inspired by her longing for her father, who lost his memory due to a head injury before passing away, it asks questions about existence and the loneliness of old age. In the 31-minute video, elderly immigrants in their 60s to 80s, who live in a senior center of the Hudson Guild in New York City, appear one after another. As the artist quietly calls their names, “Marina,” “Peter,” the old people, first sitting with their backs to the viewer, slowly turn around. Revealing the ups and downs of their lives in their wrinkled faces and postures with unique expressions, they stare into the camera before fading into the background. As if it were a modern-day portrait by Rembrandt, this video, imbued with the people’s lives and psychological states, evokes a certain sadness. The act of calling out their names is like calling them out from the border of life and death, all too vividly conveying the reality of the here and now. Her Own Nomadic Journey While her family lives in Korea, Kim Soo-ja typically spends about five months a year in New York and the remainder traveling around the world. Even while traveling on her own to fulfill a hectic schedule of some 20 to 30 international exhibitions in a year, she maintains a calm and self-assured demeanor that reflects the mind-set of someone who accepts and loves her work for what it is, not as a means for accumulating personal wealth or fame. Turning 55 this year, she was born in Daegu and graduated from the College of Fine Arts at Hongik University. Early on in her artistic career, one day in 1983 she was suddenly inspired while sewing a blanket with her mother, sitting across from her. She realized that the needle is double-sided, being an instrument that can be a source of harm as well as healing. From that time, she was transformed into a priestess who uses the needle for healing. Bottari, made of patches from old blankets, became her canvas, and her own body the needle and thread for connecting worlds. Expressing her personal interest in immigration and cultural conflict through performance, Kim’s work has left an indelible mark on the world art scene. Art critic Rosa Martinez has acclaimed her work for its pursuit of a new cultural context somewhere between East and West, thereby creating a space of “beauty, healing, and awakening.” Indeed, prominent galleries and curators from around the world compete fiercely for the chance to invite her. Kim attributes this to her subject matter. “I touch on important themes of our time, such as immigration, flight, war, cultural clash, and identity. I believe that the immediacy of my works enables viewers to think about these themes and take an interest in them. Perhaps that is one reason why my work is successful,” she says. From the bottari to the needle, her interest has now moved on to the threads of life, delving even deeper into the human condition and the essence of life. This is also the dream of the artist who has pursued unity of life, art, and the world. Created from an open perspective rooted in the artist’s nomadic life, Kim’s works move people with their sensitive and poetic images. Viewers lose themselves in the images, reflecting on the connection between nature and humankind, surface and depth, settlement and migration, yin and yang, and space and time. By sublimating the different traditions and cultures of daily life to universal values of mankind, her work gives us the rare opportunity to confront the essence of being human and the substance of life. K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12

2 1. Scene from “Mumbai: A Laundry Field” (2008) 2. Scene from “Cities on the Move — 2727 km Bottari Truck,” a work that made Kim Soo-ja a name in the international art community.



Candle Maker Leads ‘Slow Life’ in his Adopted Homeland In the “slow city” of Changpyeong, in Damyang County, South Jeolla Province, a winding narrow road leads us to a traditional Korean house, the tiled roof peeking out over the stone wall. This is the slow café and guesthouse of Bin Do-rim, the German-born beeswax candle maker who has adopted Korea as his second homeland. Charles La Shure Professor, Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies I Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


rom his slow café and guesthouse, Bin Do-rim came out to greet us. He wears modernized hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), which has long been his trademark attire. And with his long white hair, beard, and his hands clasped behind his back, he could be mistaken for an ascetic who has just come down from the mountain. Actually, that’s not far from the truth — he lives in the mountains nearby where he makes beeswax candles in his workshop. Though Bin is probably best known for his beeswax candles, he did not set out to become a chandler. “I was not interested in candle making,” he says, “but in making use of the beeswax that I found out was not used in Korea and was being thrown away by the beekeepers.” At first he made beeswax candles just for family and friends, but soon the project grew into a business. He now sells them nationwide, with a website and two major distributors, and has even supplied candles for a historical film. But, as we sit on the wooden porch of the guesthouse, sipping plum wine that Bin made himself, it becomes clear that there is much more to this man than the candles for which he is famous.

From Dirk Fündling to Bin Do-rim In 1974, when Bin Do-rim was known as Dirk Fündling, he traveled from his native Germany to Korea, where he studied for his master’s degree at Seoul National University. He returned home in 1977 and began his doctoral studies at Bochum University, which had established the first Korean Studies program in Germany in 1975. Upon receiving his doctorate in Korean Studies, with a minor in linguistics, in 1984, he immediately returned to Korea to teach German at Hyosung Women’s University in Daegu (now Catholic University of Daegu). In 1990, he joined the German Foreign Service to work as an interpreter and translator for the German Embassy in Seoul. Along the way he met Lee Young-hee, who held a Ph.D. in German literature and also worked as a translator, and they eventually were married. In 2000, after Dirk left the German Foreign Service, he and his wife built a weekend house in the mountains near Changpyeong. But they loved the area so much that they soon decided to leave Seoul and move there permanently. In 2005, after more than 20 years in Korea, he finally decided to become a Korean citizen. Today, he is Bin Do-rim, an important and respected member of his community. The slow café and guesthouse here are just one part of what makes up the slow city of Changpyeong. Bin tells us a little about the history of the slow city movement. It began in Italy as the “Slow Food” movement, a reaction against the opening of the first McDonald’s in Rome in 1986. This led to the founding of the larger Cittaslow (Italian for “slow city”) movement in 1999, and since then many cities around the world have adopted this philosophy. Korea was the first country in Asia to establish slow cities, including Changpyeong in Damyang County, long known for its bamboo crafts. Bin explains that the slow city movement is not necessarily about speed, but about balance. “These


The beeswax candle maker Bin Do-rim enjoys tea and conversation with a guest in the open hall of his slow café and guesthouse. His wife, Lee Young-hee, sits to his left. The Korean script on the doors in the foreground encourages guests to dream and to learn from the snail, the mascot of the slow city movement. Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

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are small country towns where you have a healthy socio-economic structure. You have small enterprises, you have craftsmen, and you have small restaurants and small hotels, so everybody is more or less on the same level of living standards. It is traditional, not focusing on modern development, but it’s also not anti-modern. I think it’s more about the idea of small country towns where you have this balance.” His slow café follows this philosophy and offers visitors a place to experience a slice of traditional life and find balance in this modern world. “People who come here can drink tea, listen to music, relax, and stay as long as they want,” he says. “They can read books, they can make candles, or they can do needlework. And they can even write a letter.” He has a particular fondness for his letter-writing project, inspired by what he calls his “McDonald’s experience.” He becomes animated as he describes it. “People were using SMS, which reduces language to a couple of icons. Being a linguist, something about this bothered me. So here we have nice paper, we have nice envelopes, and you can write a letter with your hand and a pencil.” Achieving the ideals of the Cittaslow movement is not as simple as it may first seem. In the beginning, Bin says, the residents didn’t really understand what it meant to be a slow city. Progress, however, is ongoing, and Bin is optimistic. “It’s a slow process making a slow city,” he says, which makes a lot of sense. After all, one of the ideas behind the movement is that things worth having should take a while to create.

another thing entirely to feel as if one actually belongs to the society. “If you become part of a society, then you have to ask yourself if you can make it your own.” Reminiscing about his early days in Korea, he says, “In the 70s, when I came here, it was the dark ages of Korean history. At that time, it would have been much more challenging to say that I want to become a Korean. But nowadays, Korea is on the right track. It’s a free society, where you are not afraid of institutions. The basic idea is freedom and liberty, the liberty to speak out, to do what you like, and to not be afraid that the KGB or the CIA or the gestapo is behind you and listening to you.” Life within Korea is a big part of feeling Korean, of course, but Bin was also concerned about how he would feel when he traveled abroad as a citizen of Korea. For example, when he visited Australia as a Korean national, he says they were a little puzzled at first upon seeing his passport, but when he was going through passport control on the way home, the officer bid him farewell in Korean, saying “Annyeonghi gaseyo .” And now, when he visits Germany, he is a true foreigner; he is not even a member of the EU. But he is fine with all of this. Due to the natural distrust of nationalism that comes from his German heritage, he From Outsider to Community Member is very careful with the way he puts things, but it is easy Although he had spent over 20 years in Korea, it wasn’t until 2005 that Bin to see where his heart is. “Although I would not nordecided to become a Korean citizen. He laughs as he recalls that trip to the mally word it this way,” he says, “I can say that I am immigration office when he finally decided to apply for citizenship: “The first proud to be a Korean.” question they asked was ‘What took you so long?’” The decision to become a Of course, this is just one side of the equation. Bin Korean citizen was something that he arrived at gradually, over the course of may be a proud Korean, but is Korea proud of him? The many years. He breaks the decision down into two aspects: the technical aspect fact that Damyang and Changpyeong have entrusted and the emotional aspect. him with important responsibilities in the community is He quotes an old Latin expression, “Ubi bene, ibi patria .” Where it is good, a clear indication that he has been accepted here, and there is my homeland. “The technical aspect is that I live here,” he says. “Korea that acceptance can be seen on a personal level as well. He tells us that a neighbor“People who come here can drink tea, listen to music, relax, and stay hood friend recently asked him to officiate at his daughter’s wedding. “Of course, as long as they want. They can read books, they can make candles, everyone could see that I was not born here,” he says with a chuckle, “but they or they can do needlework. And they can even write a letter.” didn’t run out of the wedding hall.” And this is really what he means when he says that he feels like a Korean — that he feels like part of the is the center of my existence and will be in the future, so I should be a part of this country. I can’t any longer behave as a guest. If you stay with the perspeccommunity. “Here in this community, people care. They tive of staying here as long as you live, then I think you should become part of are interested, and we talk together. I feel at home.” the society and take up your rights and duties as such.” Bin certainly lives this He also points out an important difference between philosophy. He is a member of the local Advisory Committee on Sustainable country dwellers and residents of big cities like Seoul Development, and has recently been named chairman of the organizing comwhen it comes to attitudes toward people of foreign orimittee for the 2015 Damyang World Bamboo Expo. gin. “Here in the countryside it’s much easier to really The second factor of his decision, the emotional aspect, was whether he become a part of the society. I’m very much accepted, though I was not born here,” he says. When he says felt like a Korean. It is one thing to live in Korea on a permanent basis, but it is


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“here,” though, he does not just mean “Korea,” he also means “this community.” “They distinguish between people from here — born here, live here, marry here, die here — and people from the outside,” he explains. “In a way, it’s not much different whether you come from Seoul or from Berlin.” Bin may therefore have started out as an “outsider,” but being a “foreigner” was a relatively small part of that. Now that he lives in and contributes to the community, he is no longer an outsider, and being a foreigner matters even less. People may still treat him like a foreigner in Seoul, but here, surrounded by his family and friends, he is at home.

From One Divided Country to Another When Dirk Fündling left Germany to live in Korea, his native land was still a divided country. Not long thereafter, Germany was reunified, but Bin’s new homeland remains a divided nation. Having been born as a citizen of one divided nation and now living as a citizen of another, he has given a lot of thought to the issue of reunification. He says that while he was working at the embassy, German politicians were often asked about the issue by members of the Korean government. “The Germans always pointed out that they made some great mistakes, and that Korea should look into these mistakes and not duplicate them.” He notes that there are differences between the two situations. While Germany was divided by the conflict between the Soviet and NATO blocs, there was never any conflict between the two Germanys. “What you can learn from German reunification is that it will always go to the better part of the divided nation. United Germany became an extension of West Germany because the West was better off than the East, and it will be the same here in Korea as well,” he says. K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12

Bin Do-rim at his home in the mountains near the guesthouse; looking just like an ascetic, he lives in thrall to the making of beeswax candles.

This aside, he is cautious about making any sort of prediction. “There’s a lot of speculation, and I don’t want to add to that speculation,” he says. “I once did when I was serving at the embassy. I made a statement, internally, of course, that it would happen in the next five years. That was 15 years ago. So I’m a little more careful now. I don’t know when this will happen. I’m sure it will happen, though, because a system like North Korea can’t and won’t last forever.” He says that the world may be waiting to see what Kim Jong-un, the new leader of North Korea, will do, but he is skeptical about the possibility of reform. “I think the train has already departed, I mean, the train to reform like China or Vietnam. I don’t think North Korea can follow that path, although they might dream about it.” Despite his concerns, Bin is hopeful for the future of Korea. Although he has had an interest in Korea for many years and even served the German government as a window into Korea, his perspective is much different now. No longer is he on the outside looking in; he is a part of the society, working to make his community — and by extension the rest of his homeland — a better place to live.


on the global stage

Director Kim Ki-duk shows off his Golden Lion award for best film at the 2012 Venice Film Festival.


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Outsider Director Kim

Ki-duk Grabs

Golden Lion in Venice

The maverick filmmaker Kim Ki-duk won the Golden Lion award for best film at the 69th Venice Film Festival, held from August 29-September 8, in Venice, Italy. Uncomfortable, cruel, provocative — these are among the words that have accompanied this self-taught director along his 16-year career. Now, with the top award from one of the world’s three most prestigious film festivals under his belt, he has become the unlikely face of Korean cinema. Darcy Paquet Film Critic | Photographs Finecut Co


n January 2002, in a small Insa-dong café, I sat down to interview director Kim Ki-duk for the first time. His seventh film, “Bad Guy,” about a man who forces a middle-class university student into prostitution, was on release at the time, and was scheduled to screen in competition at the 52nd Berlin International Film Festival. The controversial film had provoked extreme reactions from viewers, but it was doing well at the box office (quite unusual for a work by Kim). Despite the cold weather, Kim was wearing only a T-shirt under his coat, his signature cap covering his close-cropped hair.

Part One: Kim Ki-duk, Provocateur “My films have done well at international festivals, but this is the first time one has been popular at home,” he said. Kim was already a well known figure for his public war of words with local film critics, who had at times referred to him as a “monster” or a “useless filmmaker.” But in person he was gracious and exceedingly well spoken. “In Korea, critics have written that my films are bad, or dangerous, and so not many people have gone to see them,” he said. “At international festivals, though, criticism has focused on what my films say about society, rather than just branding them as good or bad.” During the interview, we talked about his background, which contrasted sharply with that of other famous Korean directors. Growing up in a poor family, he dropped out of school at the age of 16 to work in factories in Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon district. He spent his twenties serving in the Marines and doing volunteer work at a church for the visually impaired. Having always loved to paint as a hobby, in 1990 he saved up enough money for a plane ticket to Paris, and spent the next two years making a living by selling his paintings on the street. It was then that he first became entranced with cinema. “I saw my first movie when I was 33, in Paris,” he said. “I had never seen one in the theater before, because in Korea I was always working.” Deeply impressed by works like “Silence of the Lambs” and the French film “Les Amants du Pont-Neuf,” he resolved to become a filmmaker, and shortly after returning to Korea he won a screenplay contest sponsored by the Korean Film Council. This gave him the foothold he needed, and in 1996 he made his debut with the low-budget film “Crocodile,” starring Jo Je-hyun. Over the next 12 years, he would make 15 films and establish himself as an internationally recognized director, despite having no formal training. Kim and I also discussed the particular characteristics of his films that distinguished them from films by other directors. Apart from the accomplished and creative visual quality of his films, he was known for being a provocateur. He admitted that his aim, sometimes, was to make his viewers uncomfortable, and to direct their attention toward a sector of society they’d prefer not to think about. “People look at the world of prostiK o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12


“My films are a means of kidnapping viewers and thrusting them into my world. I don’t mean to offend people, but the things I show in my films are genuine problems in our society.”

tutes and hoodlums and say, ‘This is trash, we need to clean this up.’ But these are human beings who deserve to be treated with respect.” He went on to assert that many middle- and upper-class Koreans treat the lowest echelons of society with contempt, and I was surprised to hear his voice trembling with emotion. Clearly, this was an issue that touched him deeply and one of the driving forces behind his creativity. “My films are a means of kidnapping viewers and thrusting them into my world,” Kim said. “I don’t mean to offend people, but the things I show in my films are genuine problems in our society. If mainstream society distances itself from the class of people I show in my films, it will only cause deeper conflict. With my films, I want to help both sides understand each other.”

Part Two: Kim Ki-duk, Philosopher All artists change and mature as they grow older. For some, however, the change is particularly dramatic. One of the reasons that Kim Ki-duk has captured the imagination of many film enthusiasts around the world is that his career in cinema has undergone several notable transformations. He began in 1996 as an unknown, self-taught director who was deeply conscious of his status as an outsider in the film industry, and in Korean society in general. In films like the viscerally cruel “The Isle” (2000), which caused one journalist to pass out during its competition screening at the Venice Film Festival, and “Address Unknown” (2001), about a troubled community on the edges of a U.S. Army base, he used violence and cruelty as a tool to shock his viewers out of their complacency. Film scholar Steve Choe argued that Kim’s films “seem to unsettle liberal tastes with images that violently force viewers to reconsider their familiar notions of cinema going.” French critic Lagandré Cédric observed, “People don’t talk to each other in Kim Ki-duk’s films, people hit each other. Relationships are always frontal, direct, decoded, never mediated through language, which would neutralize the violence.” But as time passed, Kim began to change. The film that marked the opening of a new phase in his career was “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring” (2003), about four stages in the life of a Buddhist monk. It wasn’t simply that this film, set on a beautiful remote lake, was largely free of violence. Kim was now interacting with his audience in a fundamentally different way. The provocative nature of his early films had been replaced by a different, gentler form of provocation, in which viewers were coaxed into seeing the world from a new point of view. Audience expectations were overturned not through violence, but through surprising creative touches and by placing the viewer inside the perspective of someone else. One of Kim’s most critically acclaimed films is “3-Iron” (2004), which despite being shot in only 10 days received rapturous praise from international critics,



2 1. Kim Ki-duk (left) poses after winning the Best Director award at the Venice Film Festival in 2004 for “3-Iron” with Alejandro Amenábar, a Spanish film director, who received the Grand Prix of the Jury for “The Sea Inside.” 2. Scene from “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring,” a film that marked a new phase in Kim’s career. 3. Poster for “The Bow” (2005) 4. Poster for “3-Iron” (2004)

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and won the Best Director award at the 61st Venice Film Festival. It tells the story of a man who breaks into unoccupied homes but doesn’t steal anything — he lives there for a time, instead, and even fixes broken appliances. One day, he develops a relationship with a woman who is beaten by her husband, and the two begin to pursue this odd, alternative lifestyle together. For many viewers, “3-Iron” felt like an invitation into an intriguing new world that operated according to its own set of rules. The film becomes quite experimental at the end, leading us to question its relationship with reality. This was Kim Ki-duk as philosopher, putting forth deep questions about life and morality, and encouraging viewers to draw their own conclusions. Kim Ki-duk had achieved tremendous success on the film festival circuit, and both “3-Iron and “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring” had performed very well in commercial releases in Europe, North America and Japan. On the other hand, his films still failed to attract viewers in Korea. “Spring, Summer ...” sold only 55,000 tickets in Korea despite grossing over $2 million in its U.S. release, which at the time was the best-ever performance for any Korean film in the United States. “3-Iron” sold 94,928 tickets, in spite of its Best Director award in Venice. Two years earlier, Lee Chang-dong’s similarly challenging “Oasis” (2002) received a major box office boost after winning the same award in Venice, and ultimately grossed more than 10 times as much. Kim’s frustration at being overlooked in his home country was apparent. Prior to the release of his 13th film, “Time” (2006), he declared that if it failed to reach 200,000 admissions, he would no longer release any of his future works in Korea. Ultimately Kim went back on his pledge, even though “Time” resulted in just short of 30,000 in ticket sales. But clearly, the Korean audiences had some unresolved issues with Kim’s filmography. Perhaps it was partly an image problem, in that most viewers were more familiar with Kim’s combative public persona than with the films themselves. But it also seems that, whereas non-Korean viewers were attracted to the originality of Kim’s work, domestic viewers found his portrayal of Korean society to be unfamiliar and alienating. The standoff between the director and his home audience continued.

The Return of Kim Ki-duk From 2008 to 2011, Kim Ki-duk disappeared. Struggling with artistic block, and feeling betrayed by the local film industry, he moved to a remote cabin and broke off almost all communication with the outside world. As his silence continued, people began to whisper that perhaps his career was over. However, in 2011 he appeared at the Cannes Film Festival to present his documentary self-portrait “Arirang.” A highly unusual work in which Kim pours out his thoughts and frustrations to the camera, “Arirang” made it clear that Kim had been spending time agonizing over his future, and the meaning of filmmaking. The documentary was the fruit of that


struggle, and it won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes. Later that year, I met Kim Ki-duk again, when he presented the experimental work “Amen” (2011) at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain. I was struck by the transformation: Kim’s hair had grown long and turned gray, and he had begun dressing in modified versions of traditional Korean clothing. Apart from that, he looked genuinely happy, like someone who had released a burden from his shoulders. Although still critical of the mainstream Korean film industry (“The big distributors have no interest in producing original films,” he said), he seemed to have come to peace with his position in Korean society, and his relationship with the Korean audience. Not only that, his passion for making films had been reignited. “Kim is filled with ideas for new movies,” I was told by one of his co-producers. Sure enough, Kim’s “Pieta” (2012) was hailed by critics as a return to form at this year’s Venice Film Festival, where it was awarded the Golden Lion. This was not only the most prestigious prize ever won by the director, it was the first time in history for a Korean film to capture the top prize at one of the world’s three most pres-




tigious festivals: Cannes, Venice, or Berlin. After reaching a crisis in his career just a few years earlier, Kim Ki-duk had reached the pinnacle of fame. He also seemed, for the first time, to be establishing a broader relationship with the Korean audience. Even before the screening at Venice, Kim had agreed to promote his film on television for the very first time, and his open, friendly manner went a long way toward reversing the negative image that many Koreans had held of him. Not only that, “Pieta” itself, despite some scenes of disturbing cruelty, contained a central relationship that mainstream viewers could easily connect with on an emotional level. The film was like a blend between his early, provocative style and the contemplative reflection of films like “3-Iron.” Actress Jo Min-soo’s performance was widely praised, and instead of feeling alienated by the work, many Koreans took pride in its winning the Golden Lion. It seems particularly meaningful that an outsider like Kim Ki-duk, who has stubbornly pursued his own vision and resisted following mainstream trends, now possesses the most prestigious award in Korean film history. Other Korean directors will surely receive their share of recognition in the future, but at the moment, Kim Ki-duk has become the unlikely face of Korean cinema. There is an element of random chance in all festival awards, depending on the composition of the jury and the inevitable negotiations that take place during deliberations. It’s very possible that Kim might have won the Golden Lion for “3-Iron” back in 2004, if a different jury had been in place. However, it seems appropriate that he is being honored now, at this stage in his career. His films maintain their distinctive edge, but it seems that finally, Kim Ki-duk has come to peace with himself, and his country.


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1-3. Scenes from “Pieta.” Actress Jo Min-soo has drawn as much attention as director Kim Ki-duk. 4. Poster image of “Pieta” hangs inside the Seoul Cathedral of the Anglican Church of Korea, where a production review of the film took place on September 19, 2012. (Photo courtesy of NEW)

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along their own path

A Soup Kitchen Where Love Blooms The menu makes no mention of noodles, even though the signboard clearly reads “Mindeulle Noodle House.” It serves up a cafeteria-style meal consisting of a bowl of rice and generous servings of seven or eight side dishes. A simple “Thank you for the meal” is all the payment that is required. Whenever anyone with a disability arrives, Suh Young-nam, the proprietor of the soup kitchen, assists the person to a seat, and even spoon-feeds him. Kim Hak-soon Journalist I Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


hile it may look like a typical soup kitchen for the homeless or needy, Mindeulle Noodle House is quite different in regard to its activities and treatment of visitors. Nobody is ever turned away, no 1 matter how often they may come by. Indeed, some people come five times in one day and eat a full meal each time. In an exceptional case, a person had seven meals here in one day. A hungry person will always feel hungry. Homeless people coming from all over Seoul and its vicinity are allowed to help themselves to as much food as they can eat.

Every Visitor a VIP Here, the rule is not the usual “first-come, first-served.” If many people arrive at the same time and have to stand in a long queue, those who are so hungry that they can’t wait in line are allowed to go first. Hanging on the wall is a whiteboard that lists the names of regular visitors. Suh goes around making the visitors feel welcome and takes notes about their preferences: how much rice they like to have, what kind of soup they prefer, and whether they like more or less of the solid ingredients in their soup. Suh’s notepad also contains details about each visitor’s past and current circumstances, and even hopes for the future. He calls each of the 400 to 500 daily visitors a “VIP,” which in his mind means “the highest guest sent by God.” Framed words on the kitchen wall tell us why he runs this establishment: “Freedom from possessions; the joy of being with the poor; and sacrifice for a better world.” Suh, 58, is a former Catholic friar turned layman. He opened


Mindeulle Noodle House (mindeulle means “dandelion”) on April Fools’ Day 2003, on Hwado Hill, an ordinary low-income neighborhood in Hwasu-dong, Incheon. He paid attention to details that others would fail to notice. Though not necessary for a soup kitchen, he went to the local public health office and received a clean bill of health, then registered as a restaurant business operator. He even attended three months of cooking classes. On a recycled signboard, he wrote the name of the soup kitchen in a pale yellow color that is not easily noticeable, out of respect for his visitors’ pride. When he started the kitchen in a cramped space measuring little more than nine square meters with a paltry budget of some three million won (about $2,700), he had intended to serve noodles. But after hearing that hunger soon returns after a bowl of noodles, he changed to a rice menu. Still, he stuck with the name Mindeulle Noodle House since it reflects his determination to keep operating the soup kitchen until its visitors are well-fed enough to seek out noodles. Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


Four Principles When he opened the soup kitchen, Suh vowed to adhere to four principles: don’t receive any government subsidy; don’t launch any donation drives; don’t accept condescending donations from the wealthy; and don’t form a supporters’ group. Places that receive government subsidies must limit visitors to one meal per day with a serving of no more than 155 grams of rice each time. Suh calls these government rules “cold-hearted.” He refuses to operate by such rules that prevent hungry people from eating their fill. Instead, he runs his soup kitchen with small amounts of money sent by individual donors from across the country and with the help of volunteers. He considers neither the formation of a supporters’ group nor the acceptance of rich people’s money consistent with his purposes. “Many think that homeless people seek out soup kitchens because they are lazy. But, in fact, they have to spend all day standing in a queue to get a meal coupon at noon to have a bowl of rice at K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12

1. A sign on the wall of Mindeulle Noodle House 2. Suh Young-nam (center), who runs the soup kitchen, and volunteers are busy handing out food to the “visitors.”

5 p.m. So, how can they do anything else?” Suh pays great attention to the pride of his visitors. He never mentions or implies any moral or religious precepts, such as: “Don’t waste your life away.” One day, when a clearly drunken young man entered, Suh warmly welcomed him. Sometimes he even hands out cigarettes to visitors after their meal. The “VIP” visitors range from teenagers to elderly people, some in their 80s and 90s. The once small, cramped kitchen that could accommodate only six people at a time was enlarged to 24 seats when Suh rented a house next door. The number of donors and volunteers has steadily increased as well. Some people donate money, while many others make donations in kind. Neighbors generously help out by contributing rice, cabbage kimchi, diced rad-


ish kimchi, pumpkins, cucumbers, meat, and salted mackerel. The building owner returns a third of the monthly rent as a donation. “When I visit the market, an old woman vendor gives me a few boxes of bean sprouts. A homeless man once donated the money he had earned by collecting waste paper. Some office workers and market merchants take a day off and come by to help as volunteers,” Suh said. During our interview, a 78-year-old woman handed Suh a plastic bag full of crabs and clams that she had gathered on nearby Deokjeok Island. About 20 volunteers work here regularly. When the kitchen is short-handed, the visitors offer to help out. Once, when Suh found himself with a surplus supply of rice, he distributed one thousand 20kg bags of rice to needy households in the neighborhood. Suh’s biggest supporters include his wife, Veronica, and his daughter, Monica, who is on a leave of absence from her graduate studies. His wife donates all the money she earns from her clothing store in east Incheon.

Facilities for Children Feeding the hungry isn’t Mindeulle Noodle House’s only mission. It also helps homeless people with a determination to get back on their own feet by offering them a place to stay, daily necessities, and even clothes. About 20 such people live “alone but together” in rented homes of an informal community. There are several Mindeulle homes near the soup kitchen, from which some of the residents have recently left after becoming self-reliant. Four years ago, thanks to an increase in donations, Suh opened a facility for children that consists of Mindeulle Dream Kitchen for Children, Mindeulle Dream Study Room and Mindeulle Chaekdeulle Library, in a small three-story building located about 150 meters from Mindeulle Noodle House. There is a dining area on the first floor and a study room on the third floor. Any needy child who can’t afford private tutoring or other after-school care can come to the house to read or study, and also for dinner. “I opened this facility because I thought children would feel uncomfortable eating together with the adults at Mindeulle Noodle


House. I rented the first floor, but borrowed the third floor space for free. An acquaintance of mine remodeled the dining area for no cost. The tables were also donated and a volunteer group paid for a fire insurance policy,” Suh explained. About 100 children visit this facility every day. Most of them are elementary students from low-income families who have nowhere to eat or study after school. The dining area is open from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. And of course, the meals are free. So as to not hurt the children’s pride, Suh places a movable screen near the window. The shelves of the study room are filled with children’s books and biographies of great people donated by supporters and publishing houses. This room is managed by his daughter Monica.

Offer of Hope Through his contact with so many homeless people, Suh has come to believe that what they really need is to find their purpose in life. “The most important thing is to give them hope,” he said. And for this, about two years ago, he opened Mindeulle Hope Center, a cultural center for the homeless in nearby Inhyeon-dong. The Catholic Diocese of Incheon provided 320 million won (about $290,000) for the construction costs, and among the many others who also helped out, Lee Il-hoon, an architect and longtime friend, remodeled the facility. 1 The first floor consists of a room where visitors can wash their feet with warm water, a computer room with the latest equipment, a library, and a movie room. The second floor has a wash room, shower room, sleeping room, and rest area. Visitors can take a shower and do their laundry, and while their clothes are in the dryer, take a nap or watch TV in casual outfits available on this floor. To use this facility, visitors simply have to complete a membership application, with basic personal information. Interestingly, this facility gives 3,000 won and a pair of socks to anyone who reads a book and prepares a written review of the book to read before other members. The money is very valuable to these individuals. Another well-known facility is Mindeulle Clinic, where six doctors from Inha University Hospital have provided volunteer serKo re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


vices since 2010. About 100 patients with chronic ailments visit the clinic each day. In addition, Mindeulle Store provides free clothing, shoes, and bags to the homeless and needy neighbors. In 2011, Suh also began sending aid packages of clothing and daily necessities to children of a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Payatas, Quezon City, the Philippines. Mindeulle Noodle House is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, except Thursdays and Fridays. On the off days, Suh does the

1. Suh Young-nam leans against the wall of Mindeulle Noodle House. He helps his “visitors” to stand on their own feet. 2. Children spend the evening at Mindeulle Dream Study Room after having supper at Mindeulle Dream Kitchen for Children.

pitality, which Dorothy Day (1897-1980), an American Catholic social activist, established for the homeless and jobless people in New York City during the Great Depression in the 1930s, and has remained in operation ever since. Moreover, “All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day” written by Jim Forest had a “Many think that homeless people seek out soup kitchens because decisive influence on Suh’s own life. they are lazy. But, in fact, they have to spend all day standing Whenever he has a difficult time, Suh likes to read Kim Nam-ju’s poem “Love,” in a queue to get a meal coupon to have a bowl of rice at 5 p.m. So, which hangs on the wall. It reads: “Only love / can overcome winter blues / and how can they do anything else?” wait for spring. / Only love / can plow up the wasteland / and sow the ashes of its own bones. / It can plant a tree / on a hill of spring / over a thousand same things that he has done since he was a Catholic brother: he years. / And on the harvested field, / only love, / only human love, / visits prisons across the country, where he talks with death-row knows how to split an apple into two pieces / and share them with inmates and long-term prisoners, and even gives them money. His others.” wife and daughter also help prison inmates to write letters to their Mindeulle Noodle House, where love spreads like dandelion families or friends. In 2011, the Korean government conferred on spores in the breeze, may remind you of Job 8:7, which reads: Suh the Order of Civil Merit Seongyu Medal in recognition of his “And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very dedication to the needy and disadvantaged. great.” Mindeulle Noodle House is modeled after the House of HosK o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12


Korean Genealogical Records Written by Chung Seung-mo, Translated by Lee Kyong-hee, Seoul: Ehwa Womans University Press (2012), 160 pages, 15,000 won

This is a welcome book authored by a leading scholar of the rural and communal history of Korea, and a highly informative publication about one of the most important means by which Korea in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) became a rigid, patrilineal class society. These records constitute a useful source of information for understanding the increasing repression of women during the Confucian-oriented dynasty, and the problems concerning adoption and social stratification within the clans. Translated from the Korean edition of Hanguk-ui jokbo , this book is not always easy to read: too many texts are listed by their titles, or many names of authors are mentioned only in passing, which do not make much sense to most non-Korean readers. But skipping these names and certain repetitive descriptions would not prevent the reader from learning a great deal about the structure and social functions of Korean genealogical records. The book concentrates on records written after the 15th century and only briefly touches upon earlier materials. That is understandable since only limited sources remain from earlier eras. But it is also a pity, because an important social change is thus not given enough prominence: the shift from a society that had treated sons and daughters as equals to an increasingly male-dominated one of the last five centuries. The four chapters deal with the social significance and functions of genealogical records in Korea; the history of Korean genealogical records, such as how they gradually adopted the style of Chinese family pedigrees; production of genealogical records, elaborating on who prepared the records and why and how, as well as the reasons for the compilation of numerous fake records and the roles they played in Joseon society; and how to read genealogical records and decipher their meanings. The explanations are well illustrated with photographic images of diverse types of records. Unfortunately the translation and the editing leave room for improvement. Especially, some titles need further explanation and interpretation in view of their archaic Sino-Korean style and classical implications, let alone revealing occasional inconsistency in translation. Also, many readers will wonder why a family chart tracing the lineages of an individual on both the paternal and maternal sides up to 16 greatgreat-grandfathers is named “Diagram of Eight Great-Great-Grandfathers.� The index is scanty and lacking in academic principles. Such shortcomings aside, the book is valuable as a long overdue introduction for English-speaking readers to a vital aspect of the social history of Joseon, which continues to influence the social fabric and mind-set of Koreans to a certain extent even today.

Books & More

Jokbo Reveal Inner Workings of Korean Society

Werner Sasse Koreanist and Painter


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Gugak Archive: Repository of Korean Traditional Music http://archive.gugak.go.kr/ Korea has the world’s longest history of national music institutes, the earliest of which dates to the seventh century. “Samguk Sagi ” (History of the Three Kingdoms) mentions Eumseongseo, a music institute established in 651 by the kingdom of Silla. The Goryeo Dynasty counterpart was Daeakseo and the Joseon Dynasty version Jangagwon. These national music institutes were responsible for the musical accompaniment and dance performances for royal rituals and other official occasions. Today’s National Gugak Center, the modern embodiment of this lengthy heritage, maintains and strives to expand the official archives of traditional Korean music, dance, and other performing arts, on the basis of Korea’s traditional musicology. These activities underpin efforts to foster contemporary re-creation of the nation’s artistic traditions. Each year, more than 3,000 archival works resulting from Korean traditional music performances, education, and research activities are added to the National Gugak Center’s collection. The center’s archival project began in 2007 in order to coordinate efforts to assemble, maintain, and make effective use of various resources on traditional Korean music and performing arts. So far, more than 180,000 archival works have been accumulated, including 30,000 digital resources. About 120,000 items have been collected from private sources at home and abroad. Starting July 2012, the National Gugak Center provides access to 70,000 materials in the archives through its website www.archive. gugak.go.kr. Among these, about 2,000 music recordings and video clips are freely available online, while access to the remainder requires a phone call to the center due to copyright issues. Rare data and resources can also be viewed at the website, including several thousands of gugak video clips and recordings collected between 1966 and 1981 by Robert Garfias, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. This web-based archive was created with the objective of compiling reliable resources on Korean traditional music and performing arts. The center plans to expand exchange and collaboration with other related institutes and pursue consignment of private collections. While seeking to increase open-access resources, priority is placed on the provision of multilingual services to facilitate search and retrieval of materials by Korean Studies experts and researchers. Joo Jae-keun Senior Researcher, National Gugak Center

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A flash mob of thousands cheering Psy and “Gangnam Style” throngs the Place du Trocadero in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on November 16, 2012.

“H still puzzled these days. Just as some netizens

aving my glory days 12 years after my debut, I’m

have said, I was propelled involuntarily into the global market; I actually didn’t anticipate this success of breaking into overseas markets, so I haven’t even had time to analyze all this.” This is what Psy said at a press conference upon his brief return to Korea in late September to fulfill commitments he had made earlier in his performance schedule, including a gig at a campus festival. He came despite clamors by some overzealous Korean netizens urging him to remain in the United States until he ascended to the top of the Billboard chart there. Groping for an explanation for his spectacular rise to global fame, Psy said, “We Koreans like to forward and share hilarious videos when we find them, right? I guess

that’s what they did. It all started because my music video was funny. As a singer and musician, I find it funny that I attained success by being funny. But I think I get it. The very feeling shared and liked by the whole world is indeed laughter.”

Singer-songwriter of Multiple Hits Psy is a popular veteran singer who is familiar to almost every Korean. He has created and released a number of hit songs, most notably “Bird,” released in 2001; his other known titles include “Champion,” “Entertainer,” “We Are One” and “Right Now.” “Gangnam Style” is from his sixth album so far. Scandals involving his illegal marijuana use and charges of evading mandatory military service, which led him to fulfill another military assignment,

Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’

‘B-grade ’ Sentiment Takes the World by Storm On November 24, 2012, four and a half months after its release in Korea, “Gangnam Style,” the music video by the Korean rapper Psy, became YouTube’s most-watched video of all time with more than 800 million views. “Gangnam Style” is now a worldwide sensation, and its creator has risen to global stardom overnight. Psy says he made it big with his own style but without any ambition to be recognized on the world stage. Who is this singer Psy? And what is he really trying to say in “Gangnam Style?” Lim Jin-mo Pop Music Critic; Professor of Cultural Communication, Kyung Hee Cyber University


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might have torpedoed even a more popular star’s career in Korea, but Psy managed to overcome those dark days thanks to his unique style of music. He also wrote the lyrics and music for many hits of other singers, such as “Novice” by Lexy, “Because You Are My Woman” by Lee Seung-gi, and “I’m a Guy Like This” by DJ DOC. Psy is a professional dance musician. Listening to the pulsating rhythm of his tunes, you just feel like dancing along. In addition, the lyrics of his songs are always unconventional and humorous. On stage, he pours every ounce of his tremendous energy into his nonstop dancing. His passion and total dedication on stage is infectious and thrilling to audiences, winning over legions of fans and earning him performance awards. The “Gangnam Style” video exemplifies his ability to connect with and sweep up audiences in the moment, reveling in his one-of-a-kind passion. The “Gangnam Style” video is, above all, a triumphal achievement of Psy’s creative musicality. It is undergirded by a seductive techno beat with a repetitive rhythm that breaks down inhibitions and carries one along with the music. The lyrics are hilarious as well. This is how he has captivated audiences and become known to people all over the world. The lyrics, which are in Korean, could lose a lot of punch in translation, but the song’s rhythmic beat and cultural implications resonate across languages and contexts. Thus, when he raps, “She loosens her hair when the time is right,” or “Uneven are his thoughts rather than his muscles,” his humorous observations about young people, who are free enough and also have their own ideas, the message comes across clearly enough. Another factor that contributed to the music video’s phenomenal success is its title: “Gangnam Style” was a master stroke in branding. It is easy to create many variations, inspiring imitation and virally catapulting the original to further heights. Already there is an endless list of copycat versions (as well as parodies) such as “London Style,” “New York Style,” “Pervert Style” and “Police Style.”

Not Just Horsing Around Psy, age 36, has always been different from the mainstream wave of youthful, attractive K-pop performers who aspire for global fame. His malchum or “horse dance,” far from elegant, is absolutely different from the synchronized dance movements that characterize K-pop groups. It is actually a comical dance. He says, “I once asked foreign reporters the reason why my song was getting more popular every day. They said I reminded them of ‘Austin Powers,’ the character in a B-grade comedy movie. To be honest, I like the appeal of grade B. I think I was born to be grade B.” K-pop singers, who strive endlessly to advance into the global market, have achieved varying degrees of success by knocking on the door of the American market. Tireless efforts to gain popularity and corporate marketing schemes play a huge role in the pursuit of this dream. In contrast, all the publicity and explosive popularity of Psy sprang out of demand from the American pop music marK o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12

ket itself, rather than any efforts exerted by a particular PR agency or the singer. As elated netizens jokingly observed, he was “propelled involuntarily to advance into the global market.” It is said that “Gangnam Style” became a global sensation after it was chosen as a must-see video by CNN. Ultimately, the viral sensation that catapulted “Gangnam Style” was created by a combination of two factors: Psy’s musicality and Americans’ choice. The “Gangnam Style” boom calls to mind the Latin Pop duo of Los del Río, who fascinated the world with their “Macarena” songs and dancing in 1996. Both of these imports broke into the American market with their captivating dance music. Once again this proves the extent to which dance music can excite people and create collective enthusiasm.

The Power of ‘Grade B’ “Gangnam Style” has now gone beyond just a global musical sensation to become a social phenomenon that deserves to be carefully analyzed. It has grown into a truly unique phenomenon that is stirring so many parts of the global village. What is the message that’s hidden in this song? In the music video, Psy actually looks small and not very bright. Looking like a wreck, he is a far cry from the easy grace of the elite that he impersonates. As Psy himself readily acknowledges, he seems more like B grade material, a supporting actor, or someone who would barely make mid-range in a group. He is a clown, a Pierrot. But he insists that he’s got style — the style that defines Gangnam, the Beverly Hills of Korea. It’s hilarious. This absurd claim is what makes the video so funny and accounts for its explosive popularity. If a handsome movie star like Jang Dong-gun or Kang Dong-won claimed the “Gangnam Style,” showing off their entitlement and elegance, it would have met with resentment rather than heartfelt warmth. This is the power of affection and empathy that can only be elicited by grade B instead of grade A, second or third class instead of first class, supporting actor instead of lead actor, and lower class instead of upper class. People everywhere take delight in subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of the ways of the high and mighty; it’s fun to poke fun at the society that’s dominated by successful people at the top and to see their cool and self-importance taken down a notch or two. This is how the international media analyzed the universal embrace of Psy’s video. An interesting irony is that Psy himself actually comes from an affluent family in Gangnam. The great comedian Charlie Chaplin once said: “I remain just one thing, and one thing only, and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician.” A long time removed from Chaplin’s era, people the world over are now captivated by this exhilarating pop song that parodies high society. Just as we enjoy the humorous antics of a clown while at the same time feeling the pathos of life, we dance along in the “Gangnam Style” and find reason to concur with the mockery hidden in the song.


Gourmet’s Delight


Longtime Asian Staple, Now a Global Health Food Tofu has been a vital source of protein for Koreans for a long time. In recent years, it has become hugely popular around the world amid the surging trend for healthy diets. Ye Jong-suk Food Columnist; Professor of Marketing, Hanyang University | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer



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ood side dishes are tofu, cucumber, ginger, and greens; a good gathering is a couple with children and grandchildren.” Kim Jeong-hui (1786-1856, pen name Chusa), the preeminent calligrapher and epigrapher of the Joseon period, penned this paean to the simple joys of life in his later years. It shows how tofu was greatly enjoyed by Koreans as part of good living.

‘Fat-free Cheese’ Tofu, or the soy bean curd called dubu in Korean, a nutritious food consumed by Asians for centuries, is now widely known to people around the world, as a result of the heightened interest in healthful living in recent years. In many Western societies, concern about the health risks from regular consumption of high-calorie, high-fat animalbased foods and the desire to maintain a healthier diet have contributed to a growing popularity of health foods, like tofu. Made by combining soy milk with a coagulant, like bittern (sodium chloride), to form curds, tofu is similar to cheese in its production process but is known to have greater health benefits. It is more digestible than beans, another star of a healthy diet, while boasting a comparable nutritional value. It has thus come to be called “fat-free cheese,” which has helped to boost its popularity as a diet food among health conscious people worldwide. According to CNN, Hillary Clinton had tofu served regularly in the White House when her husband, Bill Clinton, was president of the United States, to help keep him healthy. Tofu is now commonly available in American and European supermarkets, and more and more restaurants are offering tofu dishes.

2 1. The soft tofu, called sundubu, can be eaten as an appetizer or a snack. 2. Packaged tofu sliced and garnished with red pepper slices.

History of Tofu Ancient sources, such as the Chinese compendium on medicinal herbs Bencao Gangmu (Boncho Gangmok in Korean) and Korean encyclopedic compilations, including Myeongmul Giryak and Jaemulbo , state that tofu was created about two thousand years ago by Prince Liu An (179-122 B.C.) of Huainan, during the Han Dynasty. On the other hand, the Japanese food scholar Shinoda Osamu (1899-1970), citing the section “On Tofu” from Lin Haiyin’s Zhongguo Doufu (Chinese Tofu), maintains that there are no references to tofu in books of the Sui (589-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties. Rather, he notes that Qingyilu (An Investigation of Diverse Curiosities), written by the early Song Dynasty scholar Tao Gu (903970), mentions tofu for the first time. Meanwhile, a Korean scholar of the Joseon period, Jeong Yakyong (1762-1836), quotes various ancient Chinese texts in his etymological book Aeon Gakbi (Misuses of Standard Vocabulary) which indicate that tofu had been eaten even before Prince Liu An’s reign. Despite these conflicting accounts, the city of Huainan, located in China’s Anhui Province, holds its Tofu Cultural Festival on September 15 every year to commemorate Liu An’s historic achievement. In Korea, tofu was first mentioned in the book of poetry Mogeunjip (Collected Works of Mogeun) by Yi Saek (1329-1396), a statesman and member of the literati of the late Goryeo Dynasty. He wrote the following lines: Daily greens bland, But tofu tastes fresh; Right for the toothless, Good for old men. Korean tofu dishes were developed mainly at Buddhist temples, where tofu was referred to as po . There was always a joposa , literally a “temple for making tofu,” near royal tombs for the preparation of ceremonial food. This can be confirmed by a passage from Jeong Yak-yong’s Gyeongse Yupyo (Designs for Good Government): “Only those temples that protect fortresses of the Namhan and Bukhan Mountains and other provinces, and those that prepare tofu for royal tombs can be exempt from taxes, but K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12




not the others.” Accordingly, the best-known types of tofu were named after temples, such as Bongseon Temple Tofu and Yeondo Temple Tofu. Korea’s tofu-making skills during the Joseon period must have been so extraordinary as to be known even in China, the original home of tofu. In the annals that document King Sejong’s reign (1418-1450), the Sejong Sillok , the emperor of the Ming Dynasty is quoted as having praised the skill of Koreans in making tofu: “The side dishes you have offered are excellent, especially those made by the female cooks, so quick and nimble, who prepare the food and then arrange it with such harmony and beauty, and they make such exquisite tofu.” Tofu was introduced to Japan by way of Korea. In the Joseon Sangsik Mundap (Dialogue on Common Knowledge in Korea), the author Choe Nam-seon (1890-1957) offers two accounts about how tofu made its way into Japan. One is that a Japanese general learned how Koreans made tofu during the Hideyoshi invasions of 1592-1598. The other is that the Korean Bak Ho-in, who was abducted to Japan during the war, made Korean-style tofu in what is today’s Kochi Prefecture, which is regarded as the home of tofu production in modern Japan. But there is also a view that tofu existed in Japan as early as the Heian period (794-1192).

1. Packaged tofu sliced, excess liquid drained off, and fried golden brown in a pan. 2. Spicy soft tofu stew with seafood. 3. Tofu steak served at Kongdu, a fusion restaurant in the Seoul Museum of History. 4. Tofu kimchi, a popular Korean bar food, is typically served with alcoholic drinks.

Tofu Kimchi, Pan-fried Tofu Tofu is often added to soups or stews that are part of everyday Korean meals. Soft tofu, called sundubu (“pure tofu”) in Korean, and biji , the leftover byproducts



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Tofu kimchi, a popular dish of boiled tofu slices served warm with sauteed kimchi and pork, is a typical accompaniment for alcoholic beverages. Tofu is also simmered in soy sauce, or pan-fried to be eaten dipped in spicy sauce.

of tofu production, are both favored ingredients for stew dishes. As such, tofu has been a vital source of protein for Koreans since ancient times. Tofu kimchi, a popular dish of boiled tofu slices served warm with sauteed kimchi and pork, is a typical accompaniment for alcoholic beverages. Tofu is also simmered in soy sauce, or pan-fried to be eaten dipped in spicy sauce. Pan-fried tofu is a tasty side dish that can be easily prepared. Packaged tofu, readily available at any supermarket, is first sliced into large cubes and any excess liquid drained off. It is then pan-fried until golden brown and served with seasoned soy sauce for dipping. Large rectangular pieces of firm tofu can be salted lightly, dusted with flour, coated with beaten eggs, and panfried in oil as an offering for ancestral rites. In the restaurant Baengnyeonok (“Hundred Years House”), located in Seocho-dong in southern Seoul, you can enjoy a variety of popular tofu dishes, such as white sundubu stew that is eaten with a seasoned soy sauce, red and spicy sundubu stew, and tofu jeongol (hot pot), all of them everyday dishes found on the dining tables of most Koreans. Nowadays, tofu can also be enjoyed in modern crossover cuisine, such as those served at Kongdu, a fusion-style restaurant on the first floor of the Seoul Museum of History, which offers Western-style tofu-based dishes, thereby demonstrating that tofu, which Korea has helped to introduce to the world, is returning in all-new versions. K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12



‘Listening to Books’ A Celebration of Reading “Paju Booksori 2012” is a harvest season celebration of books hosted by Paju Book City to foster a lively reading culture. It is one of an increasingly popular round of book festivals, such as the Seoul WoW Book Festival near Hongik University, that are held in autumn around Korea.

Lee Kwang-pyo Head, Management Strategy Department, Channel A | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


unbal-dong, Paju City is roughly an hour’s drive north of Seoul along the Han River. Located here is a publishing complex that was founded in 2003. Some 250 publishing companies maintain their offices in this sprawling complex of roughly 875,000 m² (215 acres). They employ some 8,000 workers and generate 1.2 trillion won (about $1.1 billion) in annual sales. By 2014 the complex will have been expanded to 1.56 million square meters to accommodate another 300 or so publishing and printing companies. The charm of Paju Book City derives from its atmosphere of serene modernity created by the clusters of publishing firms, projecting a culture of knowledge amidst the quiet of the countryside. The distinctive architecture and refined character of each of the buildings add to this unique ambience. Right in the middle of this “city” stands a traditional Korean building from an old provincial manor house, which was moved here and restored. A stream flows by reed fields, alongside conference facilities and lodging units for visitors who want to stay overnight in the area.

‘One Asia Through Books’ Booksori, the festival name, literally means “the sound of books.” It is an apt coinage inviting readers and book lovers to immerse themselves and revel in the world of books, thereby restoring and celebrating the place of literature in cultural life. Paju Book City was bustling with visitors throughout the festival. Parking spaces were at a premium and festival crowds rubbed shoulders with each other as they walked about. But the bustle was a good thing. It meant that people and books were living and breathing in the same space. Paju Booksori, now in its second year, is said to be the largest book festival in all of Asia. As such, this year’s theme was “One Asia Through Books.” Around 130 events, including exhibitions, lectures, conversations with authors, poetry readings, concerts, and book sales, were held in the buildings of some 100 publishing companies and at other indoor and outdoor venues around the complex. An estimated 450,000 people visited the festival during the nine-day period. In addition, the “World Booktown Symposium,” aimed at building closer relations between book towns around the world, was headlined by the guest lectures by Nobel literature laureate Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio of France and Japanese historical novelist Kenichi Sato. The festival also fea- 1. A child looks at a large book sculpture at tured a celebration of the 250th anni- Paju Booksori 2012, held at Paju Book City. versary of the birth of Jeong Yak-yong, 2. A storytelling event at the Seoul WoW Book Festival, held near Hongik University. a famed Joseon-period scholar of 3. Children's story characters come to life at Sirhak (Practical Learning), whose the Seoul WoW Book Festival. 1


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pen name was Dasan. A number of lectures and seminars were offered, including a “Memorial Lecture on Dasan Day,” which shed new light on the life and philosophy of this key figure of Korea’s age of enlightenment. And to celebrate the 569th anniversary of the creation of Hangeul, the Korean writing system, a special exhibition titled “Hangeul Excursion 569” took visitors time-traveling through history, which proved especially popular with family groups. An innovative and scientific writing system, Hangeul is the only script in the world whose creator is known. The exhibition offered a look back through over five centuries of Korean life and the 1 role that Hangeul has played in it. The displays brought Hangeul and the nation’s cultural history to life by revealing linguistic and etymological information from ancient letters and genealogical records, along with artifacts of material culture from various periods, such as ordinary modern-day items like socks, charms, powder cases, and cigarette packs decorated with Hangeul script. Another popular event was “Kim Sowol Literature Day,” which honored Kim Sowol, one of Korea’s best-loved lyric poets. This

and take your leave, I will let you go without a word. At your feet as you go I will scatter armfuls of azaleas from the slopes of Yaksan in Yeongbyeon…

Han Seo-yeong, an office worker who came to the festival with a friend, gently closed her eyes and recited these lines, and then, careful not to disturb their lingering echoes, quietly said, “Meeting Kim Sowol here like this… what a beautiful autumn it is.” From September 15 to 23, around 130 events, including exhibitions, Festival visitors also showed a keen lectures, conversations with authors, poetry readings, concerts, and interest in the movable type printing workshop. As type printing in Korea book sales, were held in the buildings of some 100 publishing companies disappeared after the introduction of computerized typesetting in the 1980s, and at other indoor and outdoor venues around the complex. An many people were surprised that there estimated 450,000 people visited the festival during the nine-day period. was still a place where type is handset, character by character. There are specialty shops in the provinces that event, which commemorated the 110th anniversary of his birth, make business cards and other items with movable type, but this included readings by eminent poets of today, such as Kim NamPaju workshop is the only facility that can produce entire books jo and Shin Dal-ja, at various publishing houses and bookstores, using this otherwise obsolete method. as well as a concert that featured musical interpretations of Kim The workshop opened its doors in 2007, after acquiring old typeSowol’s poetry. casting machines and letterpresses from around the country and Some moments at the reading sessions provided evidence of the hiring type printing technicians who no longer had any opportunity special place that the written word holds in Koreans’ hearts. When to apply their skills and were working in other fields. Visitors could the poets read some of Kim Sowol’s most famous works, such as experience for themselves the process of letterpress printing. It “Azaleas” and “Flowers in the Mountains,” many in the audience can be a heady experience to observe how books were made for recited the poems along with them. centuries before the development of modern electronic presses: the countless pieces of lead type crammed tightly in place, type pickers going back and forth between type cases to pick out type, Flowers bloom in the mountains, and the heavy scent of lubricant and ink from the printing presses flowers bloom, through autumn, spring, and summer, that churned out the individual book pages. flowers bloom. The flowers in the mountains Examining the pages of poetry anthologies printed here with lead in the mountains type, the visitors could readily detect the distinct impression of each off on their own they bloom… and every letter. They said, “If you run your hand over a page, you When you sicken at the sight of me


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1. The book café Olive Tree is among some 100 “first-floor bookstores” which have opened at publishing companies in Paju Book City under their “Bookstore Street” project. 2. “Street Book Fair” is a popular event among young people visiting the Seoul WoW Book Festival.

When the Bookstore Street project is completed, readers will be able to experience books in a variety of ways at Paju Book City, not only during the festival period but all year round.

Seoul WoW Book Festival Paju Booksori is only one of a growing number of book festivals held in Korea. Book festivals are held here and there around the country, most of them in autumn. The National Library of Korea and the National Library for Children and Young Adults in Seoul, as well as public libraries in the provinces, host a wide variety of book festivals. The National Digital Library stages the “Digital Book Festival,” while cultural and historical spaces, like the open areas in front of Seoul City Hall and Deoksu Palace, are used as sites for book-related events. These events include conversations with authors, seminars that allow publishers and booksellers to meet and discuss the promotion of book culture, book readings by parents for their children, quiz games on books by specific themes, and discussions of various topics. And of course — the main attraction of any book event — the sale of books at discount prices. For bibliophiles, book festival sales are an ideal opportunity to stock up on books. Indeed, bulk purchases are facilitated by special delivery services that will bring bundles of books straight to your front door. The Seoul WoW Book Festival, held every September along the streets in front of Hongik University, in Mapo-gu, Seoul, is a typical — and increasingly popular — autumn book event. The streets around Hongik University, known as a haven for youth and artistic pursuits, are home to a large number of publishing enterprises. While the visitors to Paju Booksori are mostly families, visitors to the Seoul WoW Book Festival are primarily students and young people. Events here include “Street Library,” where publishers sell books at a discount, “WoW Market,” an open flea market for books, and talk sessions with authors. The world is now inundated with digital content, and video media may have well overtaken print media, but Koreans hold deep in their hearts an abiding affection and reverence for books. This may come from their pride in Korea’s rich tradition of printing culture, which includes the oldest extant woodblock printed book in the world, the “Pure Light Dharani Sutra” (ca . early 8th century), and the world’s oldest book printed with movable metal type, “Jikji” (1377). Standing amidst the bountifulness of these delightful banquets of books beneath the autumn sky, you can feel anew the certainty that printed books will forever be with us. 2

can feel the forms of the letters pressed into the paper. The feel of the page as you turn it is the unique charm of type-printed books.”

Publishing Complex with Cultural Sensibilities Most of the people who frequent Paju Book City are those who are involved with the publishing industry. So it was natural for those working here to discuss the importance of attracting the general public, the consumers of books, to this complex in order to breathe life into Korea’s publishing culture. They thus called for the “book city” to be transformed from a complex for publishers to a space where readers come to enjoy books. Accordingly, the “Bookstore Street” project was launched in 2011 to convert the ground floors of some 100 buildings into bookstores. The number of places where readers can gather for conversation or to simply take a break has been on the rise as well. Song Young-man of Hyohyung Publishing Co., who is overseeing this project, says, “The first-floor bookstores do not only sell books. When the Bookstore Street project is complete, it will be overflowing with a wide variety of content related to books. Many of the offices were built on large lots and thus still have additional space for art halls, museums, and concert halls.” He confidently adds: “We will be creating a new arts and culture complex.” The Paju Booksori festival began as part of these efforts. It is a festival for everyone: those who write books, those who make books, and those who read books. This year’s festival again demonstrated this idea. The “open-air knowledge markets” held in 100 or so publishers’ buildings provided a perfect example. They offered visitors an opportunity to hear presentations by writers and tour the stylish publishing house offices. The architect Seo Hyeon, author of “Architecture: Listening to it Like Music, Seeing it Like Art” and professor at Hanyang University, said, “They were comfortable and enjoyable events. Being able to talk about architecture and about my book while sipping tea in the offices of the publishing house which put out my book was a very rewarding experience for me as an author. It was also a valuable opportunity to grow that much closer to readers through my book.” K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12


Journeys in Korean Literature


Marsyas, or Perhaps Pierrot Uh Soo-woong Arts & Culture Reporter, The Chosun Ilbo


he classical aphorism gi-un-saeng-dong , which translates roughly as “the life force possessed by all creation,” is sometimes applied to an artistic work of extraordinary refinement. As a description, it is fitting not only for the exercise of aestheticism that is his work, “The Cat, The Snake, and The Grave,” but also to the man himself: Sim Sang-dae. Any proper introduction of this author must necessarily include mention of his penname, Marsyas Sim. In Greek mythology, Marsyas is the half-god half-mortal who challenged the gods to a contest of artistic prowess and then was punished for his hubris by having his skin flayed from his body. To this choice of sobriquet — an otherwise unassailable declaration of confidence in the potency of his own artistry — the literary community responded with a mixture of boos and cheers. For a better understanding of Sim’s world view and sense of humor, a good place to start would be the writer’s own words about his lived experience, particularly of want and loss, that gives depth and authenticity to the artistry of his writing. Earlier this year, Sim received the sixth annual Kim Yu-jeong Literary Award for his novella, “The Button.” (Kim Yu-jeong [1908-1937] is a celebrated pioneer of modern Korean literature who passed away at the young age of 29.) Recognition for Sim has been relatively scarce, with this honor being his first in a decade, since the 2001 Modern Literature Award he received for the short story “Beauty.” During his acceptance speech for the Kim Yu-jeong award last spring, Sim waxed eloquent on the topic of “the three requirements of the writer’s life,” which he identified as rejection, poverty, and disease. While perhaps somewhat wordy, it is worth citing here, as it may pique the interest of those young readers and writers today who seem to be so intent on looking exclusively inward. First, consider rejection. Rejected in love by Park Rok-ju, the master singer and gisaeng , the young Kim Yu-jeong had once fallen into true despair. Citing this heartbreak and the countless love letters it produced, Sim asked his audience to “think of the sentences


required, how thick, how electric, to try and reach a woman who has rejected one’s love. In many ways, the work of Kim Yu-jeong owes a great deal to the lady we know as Park Rok-ju.” His voice rising with emotion, he continued: “The kind of love you are willing to die for; the kind of rejection that has you vomiting blood; the kind of parting that rots your heart to a shapeless mass — these are the life requirements we writers today no longer meet, and ought, truly, to feel envious about.” Poverty and disease, too, were presented in much the same light. Sim began by quoting a comment from a netizen who had explicitly compared writers to celebrities. On an Internet forum, the netizen had complained that “literature these days is really pathetic and uninteresting. Musicians and comedians at least do drugs — how come no writer is even trying that?” Sim reacted to this complaint by pointing out: “This person is clearly ignorant of one very important fact. Writers can’t afford to buy drugs.” Then he recalled the letter Kim Yu-jeong wrote on his deathbed, losing his struggle with tuberculosis, to his close friend Ahn Hoe-nam (the son of renowned 19th century writer Ahn Guk-seon). Requesting an emergency loan, Kim had written in this letter: “As soon as it arrives, I will use the money to buy 30 chickens to roast and eat. I feel this is the only way for me to come back to life.” In his twenties, Sim worked in a public bathhouse as a scrubbing attendant (ttaemiri ). In this same speech, Sim mentioned the altercations he had with the old man who worked as the changing room attendant. What must he have looked like, Sim asked, to this old man: a mere “scrubber” lounging around on the heated floor of the changing room, working his way through the complete works of Choi In-hoon and Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.” And with that, Sim declared: “I would like to share the honor of this award with that old man, the changing room attendant.” If pathos is art — if, indeed, there is a point at which life becomes art — the first figure of 21st century Korean literature to come to my mind would have to be Sim Sang-dae. Even from the very Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Sim Sang-dae The story that marked the debut of Sim Sang-dae (born in 1960) as an author, “The Cat, The Snake, and The Grave,” also earned him the reputation of a literary aesthete.

depths of life’s misery, Sim has held firm to his self-respect and pride: a sense of self-respect built on a determination to lean on no one but himself, and pride based not on a dismissal of politics, economics, or world affairs but rather on an unshakeable belief in the worth of the written word. In Sim’s work, you can find both the vanity of intellect and mettle of the soul. As his debut work, “The Cat, The Snake, and The Grave” can be understood as the first roar of Sim Sang-dae, an aesthete to the core. Consider this passage from the story: “Leaping lightly down, the cat bites into the old man’s neck. The cat’s teeth sink deep into the flesh of the old man’s throat. Sharp claws dig into each of his shoulders like thorns. With faltering steps, the old man grabs onto the vines. Clawed hands rake the air. Fingers shove into the cat’s eyes, gouging their way in. Grapes burst. Petals are crushed underfoot. But the cat never lets go of the old man’s throat. The shadow of the mountain reaches across the roof of the hut. Collapsing and rising, rotting and sprouting, each source of shadow in the mass of light and dark is writhing, howling. The old woman takes up a knife. (Abridged) The feeble light beats a hurried retreat west across the sky. Along the edge of this sky of K o r e a n a ı W i n t e r 2 0 12

light and misery and chaos and despair, the sunset burns brighter than any flowerbed.” In the story, an old Buddhist monk bears witness to this gruesome scene. The bodies of an aged father, his young daughter, a cat, and a snake lay strewn about a bed of trodden flower blossoms. And above this flowerbed of humans and animals, a sunset more garish than any flowerbed retreats westward across the sky. Few debut works so deftly employ the alluring hues of nature to call to Eros and Thanatos, the instinct of life and the instinct of death. With this story, Sim shows us that beauty is a part of the very essence and fabric of life, and that a life lived coveting this beauty is, in fact, the most sincere life of all. Indeed, at the heart of this pride of self beats the deepest of faiths in the power of art. Ten years ago, this reporter had the opportunity to greet the rising sun with the author at a certain bar in Insa-dong, Seoul, frequented by writers and artists. In this perfect place for first meetings that lead to long conversations, the writer and this reporter awoke on the wooden benches, side by side, still feeling the effects of the night’s work of drinking. Then, as now, Sim’s resolute artistic philosophy was that of Pierrot: that a writer must never, under any circumstance, lose his pride or sense of humor; that a writer is not one who teaches the reader, but rather one who shows , with his entire being. “All this clowning I do,” he went on, his tone confessional, “it’s to hide my shyness. A man who can’t be flippant from time to time is a man who has no opportunity to meet his true self.” In this mundane day-to-day world we share, Sim has been the ultimate man-about-town, unaffected by accusations of frivolity, unafraid to be criticized as a quibbler. In the realm of his literary works, however, he has never once faltered or given in, never seemed even the slightest bit irresolute. “The Cat, The Snake, and The Grave” is a fascinating work that offers a glimpse into the literary roots of the steadfast author Marsyas Sim and master aesthete Sim Sang-dae.




ike the very first memory of being born from our mother’s womb, the origin of Koreans is buried in the deep darkness of prehistory. Korean history books typically begin with a statement: “There is now no way of knowing when humans first began to live on the historical stage of Korea.” We call this primeval darkness myth. On a tall and distant mountain in this darkness of myth stands a mysterious tree with a luxuriant bough. Hwanung, the son of the god of heaven, came down to earth and settled beneath that tree. He ate garlic and mugwort, made a bear-woman his wife, and had a son. The descendants of that son came down from the mountain and embarked on a long, arduous journey. They followed and followed the rising sun. The sun rose and set. When the sun set, the old year passed, and when the sun rose again a new year began. This is why the Korean word for “sun” (hae ) also means “one year.” At times they flew on the backs of butterflies. When dusk fell, they went into flowers to rest, and if the flowers treated them coldly they would rest on the leaves. At times they rode on their mothers’ backs and at other times they walked holding their fathers’ hands. When one generation ended the next began, and then the next, following the rising sun all this while. Finally they reached a place whence they could go no further. At the edge of the world they found a place they called “the land of the morning sun.” Here began their history. Before them was the vast, open ocean, the bare-faced ocean, the ocean at the waking of the world. At the edge of the ocean, the first sun began to rise. Koreans ended their journey there. Drawn by a distant memory of that first rising sun, when a year comes to its close, Koreans board trains and travel to the easternmost coast. And there in the darkness they wait with bated breath for the sun to rise. These people of the land of the morning calm know that the sun rising over the coastal town of Jeongdongjin, which lies directly east of Seoul, is the first sun in the world. In their thousands they hail the dawn of a new year, at one with their ancestors in faith that the sun will always rise again from the ocean, from a place deep within their hearts.

Greeting the First Sun in the World Kim Hwa-young Literary Critic; Member, National Academy of Arts Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

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