Page 1





From Clay Stoves to Virtual Reality

Traditional Korean Kitchens: A Metaphor for Women’s Lives; Traditional Kitchens of China, Korea and Japan; ‘Something’s Always Simmering in That Kitchen’; Fond Memories of a Jeju Haenyeo’s Old Kitchen; A Glimpse of the Kitchen of the future

What’s Cooking ?

VOL. 31 NO. 3



SUSTAINING AGE-OLD CUSTOMS OF AUTUMN Kim Hwa-young Literary Critic; Member of the National Academy of Arts


© Joongbooilbo

huseok, the harvest moon festival, is one of the biggest holidays in Korea. The name evokes nostalgia in every Korean, calling them home to gather on an autumn night when the bright full moon rises high over the hills. When Chuseok comes around, all the roads around Seoul and the roads and expressways leading to ancestral graveyards in the countryside and other big cities are jammed with cars as people head off to pay their respects to their ancestors and visit their hometowns. Visiting the ancestors’ graves on major holidays such as Chuseok and Hansik (the Cold Food Festival in early spring) to tend to their burial sites and perform memorial rites is called seongmyo. This custom has been practiced over the ages as burial grounds are perceived to be sacred places where one’s ancestors reside both in body and spirit. Typically, Korean graves are located on a cleared piece of land on a mountain slope. The body of the dead is placed in a wooden coffin, which is buried deep in the ground. Earth is then piled on top to create a mound and grass is planted on it to prevent erosion. These uniquely Korean tombs require regular maintenance year-round. At Hansik, any damage to the tomb incurred between winter and spring is fixed and if the grass has worn thin it is resodded. Around cheoso, the 14th of the 24 solar terms in late August when the summer heat has begun to wane, the grass stops growing, signaling the time for it to be trimmed, weeds to be pulled out from the mound, and the surrounding area cleaned up. This task is called beolcho (“clearing out weeds”). It must be carried out in advance of Chuseok so the family can visit the grave and hold ancestral rites on that day. The graveside rites on Chuseok are especially important as this is when the newly harvested grains, the fruits of a year’s hard work, are offered to the ancestors. With changing times, however, many people skip the visit to ancestral graves entirely or entrust the care and maintenance of the tombs to graveyard superintendents, taking off for a holiday elsewhere. These are times when cremation, columbariums and natural burials are growing as alternative options and funerary service companies tend to the graves. A letter posted online by a housewife gives some insight into how city dwellers today feel about the loss of connection to the land of their ancestors, and how they try to sustain their vestigial ties. “It has been six years since my father-in-law passed away. Though he wanted to be buried in his hometown, his children, living in the city, thought it would be difficult to visit his grave if it was in the countryside and found an auspicious site in a graveyard close to the city. Since my father-in-law’s death, it has not been easy to visit my husband’s hometown. When we do take the time to visit, as we have no direct ties there anymore, we don’t feel the same about the place. Like kites with severed strings, our memories float around lost in the sky. But just once every year, taking advantage of this less busy time, we go back to my husband’s hometown with my brother-in-law’s family to cut grass at the ancestral graves. In order to depart before the sun rises tomorrow morning, I’ve prepared ice, watermelon to eat and water to drink as we work, and I will brew drip coffee in the morning before we leave.”

Editor’s Letter


Lee Sihyung

Reaching Out to a Broader Audience


Yoon Keum-jin


Lee Kyong-hee

It was years before “globalization” emerged as a trendy catchword in Korean society. Farther away was hallyu, the theretofore unheard-of wave of popularity of Korean pop culture abroad. In the autumn of 1987, between the 1986 Seoul Asian Games and the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Koreana was born. In its early years, this first-ever English-language magazine comprehensively covering Korean culture and arts primarily targeted overseas academic and diplomatic communities. In the ensuing three decades, however, our audience has significantly expanded and diversified. Today, we have readers all over the world who enjoy Koreana in 11 different languages. This remarkable growth in readership has posed consistent challenges for all involved with the production of Koreana. Though far from easy, it is a highly rewarding task to explore topics that would interest readers from such diverse backgrounds in so many different countries. It is yet another hefty but exciting job to organize the stories and finally put out a new issue every season. In the process, our editorial perspective has also grown wider and deeper. This issue’s special feature, “The Korean Kitchen: From Clay Stoves to Virtual Reality,” is probably one good example. The articles provide an enchanting glimpse of the Korean kitchen, sometimes through a scholar’s scrutinizing eye, sometimes with a poet’s lyrical heart, before finally, an IT technical writer concludes that the kitchen of the future will be a state-of-theart multipurpose space that will bring the family back to spend more time together. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this prediction will come true. Last but not least, I hope our readers will enjoy the fresh look and feel of the redesigned pages of Koreana. The magazine has been revamped in typography and page structures, with the masthead touched up to look more refined. The facelift is part of our continued efforts to improve the magazine and a modest anniversary gift for our readers.


Bae Bien-u

Charles La Shure

Choi Young-in

Han Kyung-koo

Kim Hwa-young

Kim Young-na

Koh Mi-seok

Song Hye-jin

Song Young-man

Lee Kyong-hee Editor-in-Chief

Werner Sasse


Matthias Lehmann


Ji Geun-hwa


Teresita M. Reed

Cho Yoon-jung


Kim Sam


Park Do-geun, Noh Yoon-young


Kim Do-yoon


Kim Eun-hye, Kim Nam-hyung,

Yeob Lan-kyeong


Kim’s Communication Associates

44 Yanghwa-ro 7-gil, Mapo-gu

Seoul 04035, Korea

Tel: 82-2-335-4741

Fax: 82-2-335-4743


Chung Myung-je

Hwang Sun-ae

Min Eun-young

Park Hyun-ah

Suh Jung-ah

Price per issue in Korea 6,000 won Elsewhere US$9 Please refer to page 104 of Koreana for specific subscription rates. SUBSCRIPTION/CIRCULATION CORRESPONDENCE PRINTED IN AUTUMN 2017 Samsung Moonwha Printing Co.


10 Achasan-ro 11-gil, Seongdong-gu, Seoul 04796, Korea Tel: 82-2-468-0361/5 © The Korea Foundation 2017 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the prior permission of the

Published quarterly by THE KOREA FOUNDATION 2558 Nambusunhwan-ro, Seocho-gu Seoul 06750, Korea

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,

“Mother’s Cupboard”

Kang Ji-hye 2017. Ink and color on mulberry paper, 130 × 97cm.

August 8, 1987), is also published in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish.


The Korean Kitchen: From Clay Stoves to Virtual Reality





Traditional Korean Kitchens: A Metaphor for Women’s Lives

‘Something’s Always Simmering in That Kitchen’

Hahm Han-hee

Lee Chang-guy




A Family Tree: Traditional Kitchens of China, Korea and Japan Kim Kwang-on



Seoullo 7017: The City’s Bridge in the Sky Han Eun-ju



‘Feign’ Series Shoots Audacious Artist to Fame Chung Jae-suk



A Glimpse of the Kitchen of the Future Kim Jee-hyun


Fond Memories of a Jeju Haenyeo’s Old Kitchen Heo Young-sun




A Shakespearean’s Passion for Korean Music and Dance

Political TV Programs Evolving: Why So Serious?

Choi Sung-jin

Hwang Jin-mee




Reading Poetry by the Lakeside Gwak Jae-gu


Kimchi’s Beginnings: Baechu , the Chinese Cabbage Park Tae-kyun



Virtuoso’s Life Shaped by the Rhythms of Janggu

74 AN ORDINARY DAY Pursuing Life’s Joys as an IT Developer Yi Ji-young

Kang Shin-jae



‘We Are All at War’ Kim Su-mi


Volunteerism Laying the Groundwork for Unification Kim Hak-soon

Shared Houses Bring Strangers Together Kim Dong-hwan

78 BOOKS & MORE ‘The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down’ A Buddhist Monk’s Advice on Achieving Peace of Mind



‘Haenyeo: Women Divers of Korea’ A Female Diver-photographer Zooms in on Jeju’s Haenyeo

‘Forte di Quattro’ Award-winning ‘Phantom Singers’ Release Debut Album Charles La Shure



Short Love, Long Story Choi Jae-bong

Mi in April, Sol in July Kim Yeon-su

SPECIAL FEATURE 1 The Korean Kitchen: From Clay Stoves to Virtual Reality



A Metaphor for Women’s Lives

Built in the late 19th century, the old house of Park Gyeong-jung is a prominent example of Korea’s traditional houses remaining in Naju, South Jeolla Province. Its kitchen, impressive with bold wooden beams and the traces of time on the soot-covered walls, is notable for its size and structure. From the perspective of gender sociology, the house casts light on some other aspects of life concealed by its architectural grace. Hahm Han-hee Professor of Archaeology and Cultural Anthropology, Chonbuk National University Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

4 KOREANA Autumn 2017

In the house of Park Gyeongjung in Naju, South Jeolla Province, Park’s wife and the family’s eldest daughter-in-law, Kang Jeong-suk, ladles soup out of the iron pot in the old kitchen. In a traditional Korean kitchen, where cooking and heating are carried out at the same time, the stove’s furnace should be at a lower level than the flues running under the floor of the adjacent rooms. In this house, the condition was met by digging a trench in the kitchen floor. The leftover charcoal was used in braziers, as seen in the foreground, inside the house.



raditional Korean houses seen from the outside are elegant and dignified. Whether grand tiledroof residences or humble thatched-roof cottages, they are graceful and attractive in their own ways. Although the thatched cottages of the commoners hardly exist any longer, there remain some of the old residences of the nobility, demonstrating the graceful beauty of traditional houses. When observed from inside, however, these attractive old houses seem to present considerable problems for modern living. They are especially unfriendly to women, who are in charge of housework in most homes. The residents of these houses — usually the eldest son of a family’s main lineage and his wife, who take the responsibility for maintaining their ancestors’ legacy — often admit that it is hard to live in them without some renovations. In most cases, the kitchen is the first place to be refurbished. Cooking and Heating at the Same Time The kitchen in a traditional Korean house was designed so that cooking and heating could be carried out at the same time. Wood and twigs were burned in the furnace below the clay stove, sending hot air flowing through underfloor flues to heat the floor, and the air in the room also warmed by the convective heat. In the meantime, the iron pots on the stove were used for cooking rice and other dishes. It was a very efficient system at a time when fuel sources were scarce. When these houses were built centuries ago, they would have been the optimal architectural solution for the natural and ecological conditions of the time. The kitchen, too, would have been built applying an array of scientific knowledge and technologies available back then. Gradually, however, technological development in the fields of fuels, tools and equipment brought profound changes to people’s lifestyles. So now, it seems impossible to stick to the old way of life in a traditional house without modernizing the kitchen. Recently, I had an opportunity to visit the old house of Park Gyeong-jung, distinguished for its style and size among the old residences remaining in the Honam region of southwestern

Korea. On the site where Park’s sixth-generation ancestor Park Seung-hui (1814–1895) had lived in a thatched cottage, his fourth-generation ancestor Park Jae-gyu (1857–1931) built the great house modeled after the royal palace. Park Gyeong-jung, the eldest son of the clan head family, lives in the house and takes care of it. He explained that the construction of the inner quarters and the detached outer quarters had begun in 1884, but it was only around 1930 that the entire compound was completed with all auxiliary structures. It was astonishing to see that a house of such size had survived the wars and social tumult of the ensuing decades largely undamaged. When I stood in the courtyard and looked at the house, a new, modern kitchen caught my eye. Located in a separate building, the new kitchen presented a striking contrast to the old one adjacent to the anbang (main bedroom) in the inner quarters. I was told that the kitchen and dining room had been built in a shed to the west of the inner quarters when Park’s mother, Yim Myo-suk, the 14th-generation eldest daughterin-law of the clan head family, became too frail to use the old kitchen. The life of a house continues only when people live in it. No matter how valuable a house might be, it is no more than a museum if no one lives in it. Therefore, a house should be renovated to accommodate the contemporary lifestyle — to the extent that it doesn’t inflict excessive damage to the original structure — so that the family can live in it generation after generation. In this sense, I found the old Park family house remarkable as it has maintained its vitality without losing its original elegance, and the modern kitchen in the new shed seemed to symbolize that enduring vitality. The Kitchen Extends to the Entire House Stories of the women who had looked after this house for generations came alive in the place where they spent so much time. The old kitchen, with its original features preserved almost intact, spoke intimately about the lives of the generations of daughters-in-law of this family, who would have been constantly coming and going.

The old kitchen seen from the back door at dusk. It has two doors facing each other for convenient access and better ventilation. The narrow wooden bench just inside the back door is where the women sat for a break to eat and rest. The shelves on the right side of the front door were for storing firewood.

6 KOREANA Autumn 2017


To prepare the daily meals, the women were always busy in and around the kitchen. They would draw water from the well in the courtyard in front to wash rice and vegetables, and went back and forth to the crock terrace where an assortment of condiments, salted seafood and kimchi were stored. Accordingly, the well and the crock terrace could be regarded as an extension of the kitchen in that they all contributed to the culinary life of the family. In addition, the grain shed and the foodstuff storage were buildings complementary to the kitchen. The maru (wooden-floored hall) of the inner quarters also functioned as part of the kitchen with a large rice chest sitting in one corner and spare dishes, plates and portable tables stacked on the shelves on the wall. In sum, the entire inner quarters played some role as the kitchen as we see it today. This was true not only for this house. The typical struc-

Outside the kitchen’s back door is a terrace with 40 or so crocks of various sizes. Located in a sunny place to facilitate the fermentation of soy sauce, soy bean paste, red pepper paste and other condiments, the terrace is a platform built with pebbles and stone slabs, raised some 20–30 centimeters for good drainage.

8 KOREANA Autumn 2017

ture of a traditional house resulted in such flexible use of space because Korean cuisine involves a variety of basic ingredients that are prepared on a large scale, requiring a considerable amount of space. When making enough kimchi to get through the winter, or seasonally preparing basic condiments such as ganjang (soy sauce), doenjang (soybean paste) and gochujang (red pepper paste), the women would expand the boundaries of the kitchen, often as far as into the master bedroom. On these occasions and during seasonal holidays, the warmer parts of the ondol (floor-heated) rooms were occupied by a motley collection of lidded basins and bowls with mysterious contents. On the threshold of winter, when people made kimchi to last through to spring, over a hundred heads of cabbages were piled up high in the courtyard, waiting to be washed and salted in huge basins. These days, the amount of kimchi each household makes for the winter has significantly decreased, influenced by

the big changes in demography and the diet of Koreans as well as the changing residential environment that rarely provides such large, open spaces. In a traditional house, the basic procedures for cooking took place inside the kitchen, but other places, such as the courtyard, the bedrooms and the wooden-floored hall in the inner quarters were also used whenever necessary. In a way, the entire house functioned as a kitchen, which shows how much housework women did in the past and how hard their lives must have been. The Lingering Smell of Smoke During my field research of a rural village in Naju in the mid-1980s, I met the eldest daughter-in-law of a clan head family. I recorded her daily routine as follows: “For Unamdaek [nickname meaning ‘a wife from the village of Unam’], the day begins at five in the morning, when she wakes up and makes a fire in the kitchen. The kitchen is a spacious place with firewood piled up in one corner, a stone mortar and a millstone in another, and a huge jar of water drawn from the well standing on the floor. There are two holes for large iron pots on the stovetop over the furnace, and she squats down in front of it to kindle a fire. “Before making breakfast, she offers a bowl of clear water to Jowang, the kitchen god, to pray for her family’s health and well-being. She puts the rice, washed and soaked in water the night before, into an iron pot to make steamed rice, which is served with a few side dishes on the breakfast table. Being the head family of a clan in easy circumstances, she used to have many helping hands. Her sisters-in-law and their daughters also crowded the kitchen, and it was only about 10 years ago that the family started to decrease to its current size. “After breakfast, she goes out to work in the fields, and comes back home at dusk, when she is even busier sorting out in the courtyard the crops and vegetables brought from the

The earthenware chimney is a device that lets out the smoke from the kitchen furnace, while sending air back to stoke up the fire. It has holes in all four directions for better exhaust of smoke.

I thought that her gray hair and the soot might be two expressions of the same thing, the product of her painstaking labor in the kitchen. The old woman’s skirt was permeated with the sooty smell of the kitchen, which her children would have remembered as the smell of home. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 9

1. A large part of the hall in front of the main bedroom is occupied by kitchen furniture, including pottery cabinets and a rice chest. The shelves high up on the walls are used for storing trays, portable dining tables and unused dishes. In a traditional Korean house, the hall in the inner quarters is an extension of the kitchen. 2. Kang Jeong-suk, the mistress of the Park Gyeong-jung house, cooks in her new kitchen built in a separate wing.

1 © Cultural Heritage Administration

fields, and then making dinner in the kitchen.” The old kitchen was dim and covered with soot, but it was actually clean and tidy. Since wood and pine twigs were used to make a fire to cook food, the smoke from the clay stove had blackened the walls and ceiling. The gray hair of Unamdaek sitting in front of the stove struck a peculiar contrast with the walls caked with black soot. At the time, I thought that her gray hair and the soot might be two expressions of the same thing, the product of her painstaking labor in the kitchen. The old woman’s skirt was permeated with the sooty smell of the kitchen, which her children would have remembered as the smell of home. In 1992, Unamdaek finally pulled down the old house and built a new one with a modern kitchen. Instead of making a fire to cook rice on a clay stove, she came to use gas for cooking and oil for heating. Slow Changes over a Centur y During the modernization of Korea in the 20th century, the country went through radical political, social, economic and cultural changes, which also transformed people’s everyday lives and thought systems. Just 10 years ago, the kitchen was considered a woman’s place, but not these days. Today, the word for the kitchen preferred by many young people is jubang, meaning “cooking room,” instead of bueok, which evokes the image of an outdated or underdeveloped place. 10 KOREANA Autumn 2017

Over the last century, Korea has witnessed consistent change and modernization in the kitchen. Given that the kitchen has long been the place representing a woman’s life, in compressed or metaphorical form, we need to pay more attention to the spatial and structural changes that occurred during this period, changes driven by the development of scientific technology and commercialism. In sum, functionalism and rationality rooted in scientism have made housekeeping much easier. But it has been a bumpy road: Proper development of urban infrastructure took a long time and the structure of individual homes had to be altered completely. Water supply started to reach cities in the late 1950s, but it took another 30 years before it graced the kitchen in every household. The use of efficient fuel sources, a prerequisite for modern kitchens, was yet another matter to be addressed as coal briquettes were still in use until the 1970s, even in cities. It was only in the 1980s that the energy systems for cooking and heating were finally separated. Modernization of Korean kitchens over the last century was in large part accelerated by the will of women like those of the Park Gyeong-jung house and Unamdaek. These women tried to improve their living conditions in their own ways, dreaming of transforming their daily routine, however limited. I would like to tell our daughters that it was all made possible by the rational thinking of ordinary women trying to make their home environment more convenient and efficient.

The Mistress’s Care is the Key to a Tidy Home Interview with Kang Jeong-suk of the Park Gyeong-jung House The old house of Park Gyeong-jung, which I visited on an early summer day, is a Confucian scholar’s residence from the late Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910). In a corner of the courtyard, the dark green leaves of the tea trees looked even fresher, having lost all their white flowers. Standing in the courtyard, I marveled at the beautiful house and the mistress’s care in keeping this old house so neat and tidy. Then the master of the house, the 15th-generation heir of the clan head family, and his wife, Kang Jeong-suk, warmly welcomed me. Hahm Han-hee: The house is very tidy, in spite of being so big and old. I wonder how you’ve taken care of this house and managed such a big household. Kang Jeong-suk: My mother-in-law, who passed away seven years ago, had a hard-working life. I work outside the home, running a kindergarten, so she did a large share of the housework, helping me all the time inside and outside the kitchen. Hahm: You speak as if your mother-in-law did everything, but your married life in this large clan head family couldn’t have been easy. Kang: When I got married, it was a large family with my husband’s grandfather, father, mother and five brothers living here. His grandmother had already passed away, but his grandfather had many guests visiting the house. Shortly after my wedding, a jesa (ancestral rite) for the fifth-generation 2

grandfather came around on the fifth day of the first lunar month, so I had to prepare for it as soon as I moved into this house. Even now, we have over 20 ancestral rites all around the year, some of them in the middle of summer. Last night, we had a rite for my husband’s great-great-grandfather. Another one for his grandfather falls on July 22, and still others for his father and mother are coming up in August. Hahm: From way back it’s been said that the most important task for the eldest daughter-in-law in a clan head family is to “carry out ancestral rites and receive guests.” In such a large family, the endless rites must have been hard for a new bride to deal with, but you talk about those days 40 years ago so nonchalantly, as if it all happened yesterday. To hold so many ancestral rites, you must need a big kitchen. Kang: When I had just married, the family was still using the original kitchen over there. The water was drawn with a bucket from the well outside. Unlike most other houses of that time, we had a drain inside the kitchen. It was a good drain, which made things easier for us. We still use the old stove from time to time for big events: preparing for important celebrations and seasonal rites, boiling bones to make beef stock, boiling down soy sauce, and the like. But we don’t use the kitchen to cook rice for our daily meals because the stove makes a lot of smoke. Hahm: What made you add a modern kitchen to the house? Kang: Making the fire, cooking rice and doing many other household chores — it was too hard to do all that in the old kitchen, so we built a shed with a new kitchen around 20 years ago. The daily lives of the women of this family prompt us to think again about the beauty of traditional Korean houses. Upon hearing their stories, it’s hard to simply admire the houses as a great architectural heritage from our forebears. Perhaps we should rather praise the women for preserving these inconvenient houses with their patience, perseverance and creative thinking. It seems clear that it’s the mistress’s mindset and care that keeps the house tidy and graceful, enabling visitors to appreciate the legacy of traditional architecture.


SPECIAL FEATURE 2 The Korean Kitchen: From Clay Stoves to Virtual Reality

A bowl of fresh clear water embodies the kitchen god called Jowang, the powerful deity in a traditional Korean house. The worship of the kitchen god, or the stove god, is derived from an age-old tradition of fire worship in Korean folk beliefs. Sometimes, a pine twig accompanies the bowl. Š Suh Jae-sik

12 KOREANA Autumn 2017

A Family Tree:


China, Korea and Japan

The East Asian style kitchen originated in China, was transmitted to Korea and then on to Japan. In each country, the kitchens took on their own unique structures and features according to the local climate and customs. Though the modern kitchen may be no more than a place for cooking and eating, the traditional kitchen was a place of faith, a place where women would pray for the well-being and prosperity of the family. Kim Kwang-on Professor Emeritus, Inha University


he oldest extant record to mention the Korean kitchen is found in the Chinese classic “Record of the Three Kingdoms” (San guo zhi) written by Chen Shou: “As the place serving the Kitchen God they have a reverent air, and are all located to the west of the gate.” It is just one line, but a valuable record that reveals the location and distinguishing feature of Korean kitchens. “West of the gate” applies to houses with a southern orientation, and in the past this was where the kitchen was located in almost all Korean homes. Scientifically, it was a well-thought-out location, for if the kitchen were located to the east of the gate, the strong Siberian winds would cause trouble with the smoke from the furnace. No similar concept lies behind the arrangement of Chinese and Japanese kitchens, the main reason being that no flues for directing heat to the rest of the house are attached to their kitchen furnaces. Hence, the book mentioned above makes special reference to the west side location of Korean kitchens.

Another important ancient source that provides an insight into the Korean kitchen within a particular era is found among the murals of Anak Tomb No. 3, which is dated to the 4th century and located in Anak County, South Hwanghae Province, in what is now North Korea. The occupant of the tomb is believed by some to be King Gogugwon of the Goguryeo Kingdom. Another theory argues that the occupant is Murong Huang, ruler of the short-lived Former Yan in the era of the Sixteen Kingdoms of China; yet another proposes that the tomb belongs to Dong Shou, a general of Former Yan who settled in Goguryeo in 336 and died in 357. Kitchens in Ancient Tomb Murals Depicted in the tomb murals is a remarkably intimate glimpse of domesticity: a busy, well-stocked kitchen, a free-standing building with tiled roof and gables. In the old days, in the royal palaces or the homes of the wealthy, the kitchen was a separate structure called banbitgan, located KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 13

In Korea, the body of the kitchen god usually takes the form of water. Water is not only an auspicious god that washes away misfortune and brings good luck, but also the god responsible for birth and new life, and a guardian deity who protects against fire.

behind the inner quarters occupied by the women of the household. An entry from the sixth month of 1666 in the “Annals of the Joseon Dynasty” (Joseon wangjo sillok) calls the kitchen maids banbi. But the two kitchens at Gyeongbok Palace, which were restored in 2015, are both named sojubang. This name appears in an entry for the 11th month of 1632 in the “Diaries of the Royal Secretariat” (Seungjeongwon ilgi), so it appears that in the 17th century at least, both banbitgan and sojubang were terms used to describe the kitchen. One royal kitchen carrying the name banbitgan, dating to the reign of King Sunjo in the early 19th century, remains intact at Changdeok Palace. The main objective in separating the kitchen from the other buildings was to prevent fire from spreading and to keep cooking smells at a distance. Another reason was that large amounts of food had to be prepared at the same time. For the same reasons, in some homes a kitchen annex called handet bueok, meaning the “outdoor kitchen,” was built near the main kitchen. Such free-standing kitchens were introduced from China. Among the 22 pictorial stone relief carvings discovered on tombs from the Han Dynasty, 10 are from the Shandong area, which bends across the Yellow Sea toward Korea. It is natural that the Goguryeo tomb murals, which were influenced by China, closely resemble those pictorial reliefs. In the Anak tomb painting, the crows depicted on the roof ridges are also a sign of Chinese influence. In ancient China, the crow was a symbol of the Sun God, and an emblem of dynastic kings, a tradition that was adopted by the Baekje people. The mill, stable, well, and meat storage with butchered animals hanging on meat hooks featured in the Anak Tomb No. 3 murals all reflect the Chinese style as well. Judging from the murals, the possibility of Dong Shou being the owner of the tomb cannot be ruled out. 14 KOREANA Autumn 2017

Koreans today use the words bueok and jeongji to describe the kitchen. Both words have the same meaning, and their usage differs according to regional parlances. The word bueok is mainly used in the western part of the peninsula, including the Pyongan and Hwanghae provinces in the north, as well as Gyeonggi Province, parts of the Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces, and Jeju Island. The word jeongji is predominantly used on the eastern side of the peninsula, in the Hamgyong and Gangwon provinces as well as parts of the Chungcheong, Gyeongsang and Jeolla provinces. Such regional divide suggests they were actually once describing two different types of kitchens. Linguistic Divide The earliest extant record to contain the word bueok is the Korean translation of Du Fu’s poems published in 1481. The first syllable bu comes from bul, which means “fire,” whereas the second syllable eok is a suffix indicating place. At the time, the pronunciation was closer to buseok, which is, interestingly, similar to the Jeju dialect word buseop, meaning “furnace.” The word jeongji originates from a type of house named gyeopjip found in Hamgyong Province, where the rooms are arranged in two parallel rows to keep out the cold, placing the kitchen in the middle. The Oroqen people who lived in the northwestern mountains of China’s Heilongjiang Province, close to Korea’s Hamgyong Province, traditionally lived in tents. A fireplace was situated across from the entrance, behind that a section called malo, or malu, and to the right were the jeongjidwi, the women’s quarters. The Korean word maru, referring to the wood-floored hall in a traditional house, is said to come from the Oroqen word malo, thus it can be conjectured that today’s Korean word jeongji, for kitchen, is of similar ori-

A mural in Anak Tomb No. 3, which is dated to the 4th century Goguryeo Kingdom, contains many valuable clues to ancient Korean kitchens. The tomb is located in Anak County, South Hwanghae Province, in what is now North Korea.

gin. That Heilongjiang Province used to be part of Goguryeo’s territory in ancient times makes this a fair assumption. The Chinese word for kitchen is chu. Originally, the word referred to the dish in which brine-pickled vegetables were served but it then changed to mean the place where food is prepared and cooked. Cooks are called churen or paoren, both literally meaning “kitchen person.” In Japan, the kitchen is called daidokoro or katte. The etymology of daidokoro is traced back to daibandokoro, a compound of daiban (a portable tray table) and tokoro (place) — referring to the room where portable trays of cooked food were prepared to be served at imperial palaces and households of the nobility during the Heian period. In later periods, daidokoro referred to the kitchen area in samurai homes and bigger farmhouses where large iron kettles were kept over a fire. It also meant a footed vessel used to store food at the royal palace and the homes of the aristocracy. Katte originally meant the right hand, which was used to pull the bow in archery. The meaning is said to have later changed to “livelihood,” based on the argument that the right hand is easier to use than the left, and it then changed again to mean “kitchen.” Where Gods Dwell in Ever y Home According to the “Record of the Three Kingdoms,” the earth gods were worshipped in different ways but they all resided on top of the kitchen hearth, west of the gate. The classification of earth gods reflects the same geographic-linguistic divide that has Koreans today use two different names for their kitchens: the kitchen god was worshipped in Seoul and the Chungcheong and Gyeongsang provinces, while the fire god was worshipped in Jeju and the Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces. The kitchen god is called Jowang, who is female, acknowledging that the

© Korea Creative Content Agency

person in charge of the kitchen was generally a woman. The fire god is called Hwadeok. This name is probably more familiar to the Korean people, as Jowang remains conceptual while Hwadeok refers directly to the fire that is used every day. The body of the deity is physically represented by a bowl of water placed on the ledge at the back of the kitchen hearth (buttumak) or behind the iron pot (sot) that was a permanent fixture in traditional Korean kitchens. Every morning, the lady of the house would pour a little bit of the water from the bowl on the stovetop, into the furnace, on the pot lid, and in the water jar, then fill the bowl again with water freshly drawn from the well and pray for the well-being and happiness of the family that day. In contrast, in the kitchens of Jeju Island where the furnace had no such stovetop, the stones that held the pots in place over the fire were worshipped as the kitchen gods. The typical Jeju kitchen furnace had three such stones, so there were three kitchen gods. Collectively, they were called Samdeok and offerings were made to each one of them. When moving to a new home, the family always took the kitchen gods from the old house to the new house to ensure that the good fortune enjoyed in the previous home would continue. Similar customs were KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 15

1 1. The typical Korean kitchen was located to the west of the front gate of south-facing houses to avoid the westerly winds from Siberia. The furnace was installed at the bottom of the wall joining the kitchen to the rooms to enable cooking and heating at the same time. Firewood was stacked up on the side opposite the furnace. 2. In Chinese houses, with some regional differences, the rooms were generally heated with braziers so there was no need for the kitchen furnace to be built close to the other rooms. Often the kitchen was a structure separate from the rest of the house. This type of kitchen was introduced to Korea, where it was called banbitgan.

practiced among the tribes of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces in China. In Korea, the body of the kitchen god usually takes the form of water. Water is not only an auspicious god that washes away misfortune and brings good luck, but also the god responsible for birth and new life, and a guardian deity who protects against fire. In contrast, in China the kitchen god is usually represented as a painting. Pictures of the deity painted on paper are either bought at the market or made at home, and sometimes a spirit tablet made of paper and mounted on wood is also used for the same purpose. In large Korean temples, a picture of the kitchen god is hung in the kitchen and the “Heart Sutra” is recited after the rice is cooked, both of which can be traced to Chinese influence. In the Chinese tradition, the kitchen god is a servant sent by the Jade Emperor in heaven to watch over the affairs of the human world, and as in Korea, she is female. In the northeastern part of Japan, the kitchen god, or god of the hearth, is manifested in a fierce looking wooden mask. Generally, the kitchen god comes down to the human world on the last day of the year, takes a look around all the houses, 16 KOREANA Autumn 2017

and then reports back to heaven. The emperor of heaven dispenses good fortune to the households that have accumulated virtue and punishment to those that have committed evil. Around the end of the year, taffy or the lees left over from brewing alcohol was stuck on the kitchen furnace to keep it quiet, as the furnace was believed to symbolize the mouth. People also tried to curry favor with the kitchen god by offering rice cakes or fruit and even a horse on which it could ride away. Chimney and Cooking Range: From Korea to Japan In his book “History of Kitchen Utensils,” the Japanese industrial designer Kenji Ekuan (1929–2015) noted, “It is astonishing to think that the kamado [cooking range] did not exist in Japan until it was introduced from Korea … Thanks to [the kamado] not only has fuel efficiency improved, the chimney has freed people from smoke.” It is also called kan kamado or kara kamado, both of which mean “Korean kamado.” The Korean cooking range is still revered at some Japanese shrines and museums today. After the introduction of the cooking range to Japan, the



© Zhao Jiankang

© Getty Images

3. In Japanese kitchens, cooking took place over a brazier before the kitchen range, kamado, or buttumak in Korean, was introduced from Korea. The cooking range was considered an amazing thing and is still revered as the kitchen god in the form of an iron pot in some Japanese shrines today.

iron pot naturally followed. Hakuseki Arai (1657–1725), a scholar-bureaucrat from the Edo Period, said, “In the old days, kama was the word for the cooking range, and later it was used for the kitchen pot also. This comes from Korean dialect. In Joseon, it is still used to refer to the iron pot.” “Kama” is the North Korean word for the cooking range, known elsewhere as buttumak. “Iwanami’s Dictionary of Ancient Japanese,” published in 1990, explains that the Japanese word “is rooted in the Korean word kama [gama].” Its entry into Japan is linked to the introduction of Hamgyong Province-style houses to the northeastern part of Japan. The wonder that the Japanese felt upon seeing the Korean iron pot for the first time can be surmised from the fact that the kitchen god in the form of an iron pot is still revered at Karakama Shrine in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture. The kitchen range not only brought the iron pot to Japan but also the chimney. A paper from 1906 titled “Comparative Study of Korean and Japanese” by Kaoru Nakata (1877–1967) says, “Today the kitchen range is called kudo, the result of a change in meaning, for in the past kudo meant ‘chimney.’ The similar Korean word is gulttuk ... This relationship was formed

in ancient times.” Kudo Shrine in Nara, Japan, takes a Baekje person as its principal deity and the iron pot as the earth god. The inscription on the side of the pot reads “dedicated in the eighth month of the foundation year of the Keian era [1648],” which indicates that the pot was newly made at this time. The surrounding area was once inhabited by many Baekje people. In an article contributed to a daily newspaper in 2007, Hong Yun-gi, professor of Korean studies at the University of Brain Education, quoted the historian Konan Naito (1866–1934): “The Kudo deity is King Gutae [Daeso], ancestor of King Seongmyeong [King Seong] of Baekje.” If one were to compare the kitchen culture of East Asia to a tree, China constituted the roots, Korea the trunk, and Japan the branches. As examined above in their historical contexts, the kitchens of the three countries took on different features and functions as they evolved to reflect the times, needs and circumstances of those who worked in them, which resulted in innovations and diversity. Just as flowers bloom on a tree’s branches, it can be said that East Asian kitchen culture has blossomed in Japan. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 17

SPECIAL FEATURE 3 The Korean Kitchen: From Clay Stoves to Virtual Reality



The kitchen is a place where people cook and eat food, but now and then, it becomes something far more than that — a work studio for some, and a depository of memories for others. Still others may find traces of their youth engraved there. In every kitchen, something is always simmering, whether it’s rice, soup, or longing. Lee Chang-guy Poet and Literary Critic Ahn Hong-beom, Ha Ji-kwon Photographers


house contains a lot of information on the people who live there. The kitchen, especially, where various domestic activities take place, is a practical space providing a vivid glimpse of the resident’s lifestyle and values. A discourse on the kitchen as such a place could be approached by focusing on social and cultural changes. Although the kitchen may not be the main agent of such changes, it has reflected them in some ways, albeit slowly. To examine how the role and appearance of the kitchen have changed with changes in time, environment and the method of controlling fire is a good way of comparing the lifestyle and culture of the past, present and future. Meanwhile, highbrow learning offers little insight because the questions and curiosity that intrigue us are usually outside the realm of systematic knowledge. One such question might be, “How did men use the kitchen, which used to be mostly a women’s place, and how do they remember it?” 18 KOREANA Autumn 2017

If an artist describes a certain place to be either overly gloomy and drab, or conspicuously bright, we should not take it at face value. In many cases, artists are self-contradictory people with a talent for amplifying or obscuring emotions. Even supposed conflicts or confrontations might not have existed at all. This happens because artists tend to see a place in reality overlaid with their internal landscapes. This distinct way of relating with a place is often more powerful than any empirical analysis, enhancing our understanding of, attraction to, and empathy toward people and spaces. The Kitchen, No Longer Ordinar y René Magritte, the Belgian surrealist painter famous for “This is Not a Pipe,” among others, is said to have spent a lot of time in his kitchen, eating, painting and receiving guests. He chose not to have a studio, which he considered to be an objectionable artistic cliché, just as a mustache and beret was

© René Magritte / ADAGP, Paris - SACK, Seoul, 2017

“The Golden Legend.” 1958, Oil on canvas, 97 x 130 cm. (top); “This is a Piece of Cheese.” 1936, Oil on canvas, 16.2 x 10.3 cm. René Magritte used his kitchen as a studio, which explains the everyday kitchen objects often featured in his paintings.


for some Parisian artists. He preferred to work in the kitchen of his small apartment, dressed in a suit. He would bump into the table, or burn his hand on the frying pan, or be hit on the elbow as the door was flung open by those coming in and out of the room, the mishap causing his brush to land in the wrong place on the canvas. At meal times, he had to stop working and put away all his equipment — his easel, palettes, brushes, and other things — and set them up again afterwards, repeating the same procedure a few times a day. Perhaps, this explains the everyday kitchen objects often featured in his paintings, including the cheese under a glass dome in “This is a Piece of Cheese,” or the baguettes flying like airplanes in formation in “The Golden Legend.” These ordinary articles, represented realistically, have been defamiliarized by the unexpected arrangements. Paul Nougé, the poet who initiated the surrealist movement in Belgium, declared that Magritte’s

boys,” he worked as an editor for the magazine “Women,” published by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. Given his background, it was quite unexpected for the man who “swaggered across the Gwanghwamun Crossroads, flaunting his light green double-breasted jacket, his dark curly hair flowing in the wind like Arctic ocean waves” to celebrate and write poems about Korean tradition, particularly the folk culture of his hometown Jeongju (aka Chongju) in North Pyongan Province. While the critic Im Hwa criticized his poetry for its regionalism, another critic Kim Ki-rim acclaimed his work for showing the “guileless face of our native land.” A Kitchen Where the Soup is Bubbling Baek Seok’s poetry is rustic in that it is rooted in a childhood spent in Jeongju, but is clearly different from hackneyed backwoods literature. The poet kept a certain distance from his

If an artist describes a certain place to be either overly gloomy and drab, or conspicuously bright, we should not take it at face value. In many cases, artists are self-contradictory people with a talent for amplifying or obscuring emotions. Even supposed conflicts or confrontations might not have existed at all.

work would make the viewer find that “the world has been altered, that there are no longer any ordinary things.” Magritte’s kitchen has been preserved in his former house in the Jette district on the outskirts of Brussels, now converted into a Magritte museum. Here the artist lived with his wife for 24 years after returning from Paris in 1930, when he was expelled from the French surrealist group due to a quarrel with André Breton, the founder and theorist of the surrealist movement. In 1946, when Magritte completed “This is a Piece of Cheese” in his little kitchen in Belgium, a Korean poet in his 20s published his first poetry collection entitled “Deer.” Born and raised in Korea’s modernization period, the poet Baek Seok attended Osan School and then studied English Literature at Aoyama Gakuin University in Japan. An elite and one of the stylish, well-educated group of young men called “modern 20 KOREANA Autumn 2017

childhood experiences to let his protagonists speak about them through restrained narratives. His poetry is characterized by rich language based on provincial customs saturated with shamanic beliefs, extreme imagism like that of the Flemish miniatures, and brilliant use of dialect. To the poet, food was one thing richly evocative of his hometown — 46 different dishes are mentioned throughout 33 poems in his anthology “Deer.” The names of the local dishes are unfamiliar even to most Koreans. The kitchen, as the source of various dishes, also makes a frequent appearance in his poems, and the pots in the kitchen always have something bubbling in them. “We would sleep until morning when the fragrant smell of muijinggeguk wafted through the side door and the paper windows, the kitchen bustling with boisterous sisters-in-law.” (from

Baek Seok’s poems often describe kitchen scenes where fragrant soup is always bubbling on the stove. When something was boiling in the kitchen, it meant hot food and warm rooms.

“The Family in the Fox Haunted Village”) “On the eve of a big holiday, the kitchen was fresh and bright under the lamplight, the lid of an iron pot rattling up and down, with savory beef bone soup simmering in it.” (from “A Night of the Old Days”) “The old, widowed father-in-law is making seaweed soup in the dim kitchen. / The soup for the new mother is also simmering in another solitary house across the village.” (from “The Tranquil Frontier”) In Korea, back in the old days, the kitchen was usually located beside the main room in the women’s quarters. A clay stove was built against the wall, with big and small iron pots placed on top. Wood was burned in the furnace underneath the stove to cook food and heat the adjacent rooms by sending hot air through the flues under the floor and out through the chim-

ney. When something was boiling in the pots on the stove, it meant warm rooms and steaming hot food, representing the domestic bliss of a properly functioning family. Muijinggeguk, the smell of which would have made the poet’s mouth water on a cold winter morning, is a dish native to North Pyongan Province. A kind of broth cooked with sliced radish and salt-fermented shrimp, it has both the clean taste of radish and the savory flavor of shrimp. Like a true “modern boy,” Baek Seok would strut along the streets of 20th-century Gyeongseong (Seoul) under Japanese occupation, but his taste, sense of smell and emotions belonged to the traditions of a northern village of 19th-century Korea, where “a child shaman dances on the blade of a straw cutter.” Probably, his misfortune came from somewhere between modernity and tradition, between the loss of the nation KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 21

and colonialism. As the poet grew older, going through five arranged marriages, frequently changing jobs and living as a wanderer, his poetry gradually filled up with regrets and loneliness instead of the warm memories of his hometown. Roy F. Foster notes in his biography of W. B. Yeats that Napoleon’s famous claim “To understand a man, you need to understand the world when he was 20 years old” fits Yeats perfectly. As a poet majoring in English literature, Baek Seok must have known about the Irish poet’s identity crisis in childhood and his inclination to the myths and legends of his home22 KOREANA Autumn 2017

land. However, Baek Seok failed where Yeats succeeded — finding his own voice in the midst of political and social turmoil in his fatherland. In the end, when the nation was divided after the Second World War and he was forced to choose between North and South, he went back to his hometown in Jeongju, and his highly individual literary attempts ended there. Later, the history of Korean literature had to describe Baek Seok in his later years as “a poet of lamentation and resignation,” who failed to push further with his exploration of the untouched imaginary world of Koreans.

A Buddhist monk is waiting for the soup to boil in the kitchen of Tongdo Temple in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province. The author of this article once lived in Sangwon Temple on Mt. Odae in Gangwon Province, cooking food and washing dishes for the people living and working there.

The former house of the poet Seo Jeong-ju stands in Sadang-dong, Seoul, inscribed on the Seoul Future Heritage List. The poet spent the last 30 years of his life in this house with his wife. His pen name Midang means “an incomplete house” and, by extension, “a person still in the making.” Contrary to this self-effacing name, many Koreans consider Seo as the greatest poet of modern Korean literature. An Empty Kitchen In the house, a receipt for the Community Security Fee dated 1978 can be found in a corner of the kitchen. Hanging on the wall is a framed photo of the poet and his wife sitting side by side on the garden’s stonewall, dressed in traditional summer jackets made with white ramie, squinting under the glaring sun. Providing a glimpse of the poet’s wife, Bang Ok-suk, is a newspaper article written in her youth carrying her own recipe for crab marinated in soy sauce: “It is made with freshwater crabs caught in rice paddies or in brooks. When chilly wind blows and the rice grows ripe, the crabs begin to fill up and grow dark innards. That is when you can make delicious crab marinated in soy sauce.” Seo wrote hundreds of poems throughout his life, but none of them expresses his thoughts on the kitchen. It is a bit extraordinary for a poet who observed “The three thousand bowls of clear water / that my wife placed on the crock terrace every day at dawn / and prayed that I won’t love another woman,” and wondered “Will she fill an empty bowl with my breath on the day I go up to heaven ahead of her?” (from “My Wife”) However, the disappointment is relieved by the poem titled “Poetics”: “The woman diver of Jeju Island, who makes a living by picking abalones from the seabed, / leaves the best ones underwater / saving them for the day her loved one comes. / So, leave the best abalones of poetry just there. / For how would you bear the emptiness of the heart depleted of poetry? / Gazing at the sea, yearning to reach it, that is what a poet does.” No one greets you in the house now. In the kitchen on the

first floor, a single can of beer sits on the table. After his wife died, the 85-year-old poet refused to take any food. In the three months before he died, he only drank beer, sitting alone at the kitchen table. It was my own wife who told me this story. It seems she knew how the poet felt. A Kitchen of Embarrassing Memories In 20th-century Korea, where patriarchal tradition still affected every household, men rarely talked about their feelings for the kitchen. Still, most men must have some memories associated with it. In my childhood, I used to stand at the kitchen door surveying the dim, dirt-floored interior whenever I was bored or hungry. My eyes always fell on the cupboard, the only piece of furniture with its contents hidden from view. Opening it, I would be hit by a mixture of the smell of sesame oil and the pungent, salty, or fishy smells coming from the ring marks left by bottles and jars of various unknown liquids. I would look cautiously around before taking a spoonful of honey from the jar and putting it in my mouth, or stealing some change from my mother’s wallet stashed away in the corner of the cupboard. In my early teens, the kitchen sometimes became a place for chores. One day, when I was tending the fire squatting in front of the clay stove, the girl who sat next to me at school suddenly appeared at our kitchen door and stared at me, leaning against the doorpost. For some unknown reason, she had apparently befriended my younger sister. I was so shy that I couldn’t raise my head to look at her, so I just sat still on the floor inhaling the smoke from the furnace. I couldn’t even thank her for the green wild pear that she had given me at lunchtime. When I grew older, I used to sit on the floor of the dark, damp kitchen, burning firewood and occasionally fumbling to write down the lyrics of my favorite songs from the radio. Besides, when I went to Sangwon Temple on Mt. Odae to become a Buddhist monk in the winter of my 20th year of life, it was on the narrow veranda connected to the kitchen where I gobbled up the cold noodles that an old lady devotee made for me. For a while, I stayed there in the temple’s detached cottage, where monks and woodcutters lived. I worked in the kitchen making fire, cooking soup for the people living and working there, and washing the dishes. In between chores, I would read Kim Soo-young’s poems instead of Buddhist scriptures. “With two rooms, one living room, a neat kitchen, and my poor wife under my care, / how embarrassing it is to live like others if only in appearance!” (from “A Sentinel of the Clouds”) Candid, upstanding and sensitive, Kim Soo-young may be the most rigorous poet in the history of Korean literature, who put his life and himself under the poetic microscope, recording them with the most honest words. This was the world that I encountered when I was in my early twenties. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 23

SPECIAL FEATURE 4 The Korean Kitchen: From Clay Stoves to Virtual Reality

Fond Memories of a


24 KOREANA Autumn 2017

The traditional Jeju kitchen was a place where women cooked over a fire pit and family members sat around on the earthen floor sharing a meal. Distinctly different from the kitchens of the mainland, it embodied the life of haenyeo, the female deep sea divers who spend their lives laboring in the cold, treacherous waters off the island. Heo Young-sun Poet Kim Mi-joo, Yi Gyeom Photographers


h Soon-ah is an 89-year-old haenyeo of Jeju Island, a female diver who harvests seafood with her bare hands for a living. She lives alone in a small, one-bedroom slate house in Pyoseon-myeon, located along a path that leads to the sea. It looks like it could have been a mom-and-pop store frequented by little children. It’s the perfect place for a woman who has spent her whole life toiling away in the sea and fields to live out her twilight years. Her house is entered by opening a sliding door facing the road. It’s a simple space with a sink, a refrigerator, a woodfloored hall that serves as a living room, a room with a bed, and a kitchen-cum-storeroom. The structure and layout are much like that of a studio apartment in the city. Oh adores this little old house. Opening the door to the yard, she can see the house where her married son and his wife live with her grandchildren. She busily tends to their vegetable garden so that it is free of weeds. A House with Two Separate Living Quarters It is a long-held custom on Jeju Island for parents to move out to an annex when they reach old age, and for their married children to move into the main living quarters. This is why traditional houses in Jeju often have two or three separate living quarters in the same enclosure. Since the living spaces are separate, parents do not usually eat with their married children. Instead, they keep to their own space and cook their meals separately. Oh sets the dishes on a round aluminum table that shows signs of long use. We eat together in her living room where KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 25

there is a sink and a refrigerator — a treasure trove of products from the sea, including sea urchin and seaweed. She serves pork seaweed soup made with fresh raw brown seaweed and chunks of pork brought to a boil and simmered for a long time. It’s a dish served only on special occasions in Jeju. Pork fat floats around the surface. I take a spoonful; it has a unique taste that is the perfect blend of the sea and the land. The distinctive taste can only be experienced in Jeju, like the taste of momguk (gulfweed soup), a classic Jeju dish made with seaweed and pork bone broth that women eat after giving birth. “I’m content with this little house and the life I have now,” says the old haenyeo with a bright smile. It seems the days when she had to sit on the earthen floor of the kitchen and stoke a fire are a distant memory. There was a time when she lived in a house with a spacious kitchen. In those days, Jeju people called the kitchen jeongji. It looked very different from the kitchens of the mainland, the biggest difference being that cooking and heating were done at separate places. There was a fire hole called gulmuk used for heating the rooms and a separate cooking fireplace called sotdeok. Yi Hyeong-sang, a county magistrate of Jeju in the 18th-century Joseon Dynasty, wrote in “Various Records of Service on the Southern Island” (Namhwan bangmul), “The fireplace in the kitchen is used solely for cooking.” When housing improvement projects were launched in the 1970s, furnaces made of cement were introduced in the kitchen and structural

1 © Gloria Cho

26 KOREANA Autumn 2017

changes were made to houses so that the fire could also be used to heat the rooms. The houses on the mainland used the same heat source for cooking and heating, so the kitchen had to be right next to the main room, whereas in Jeju homes, the main room and kitchen were far apart. Primitive Yet Practical Oh reminisces about her maiden home and the kitchen there. She recalls the five pots in the kitchen. “We put a stone on each side of the fire pit and one behind it, and placed the pot on top. The fire would blaze up through the three holes between the stones. After the rice was cooked, we scooped it into a large aluminum bowl. The whole family gathered around, each holding a spoon, and we all dug in,” she says. Back in those days, it wasn’t hard to locate the kitchen when you entered someone’s house. All you had to do was find the mulpang placed next to the kitchen door, that is, a flat slab of stone propped up by stone pillars where a round water jar was placed. It was a convenient setup that allowed women working in the kitchen easy access to fresh water. Water pipes weren’t yet installed in houses at that time, and an important daily task for women was fetching water and filling the jar. “When I was young, I used to carry a small water pot on my back and fill it with spring water. When I got home, my mother poured the water into the jar. Sometimes, I broke the pot on my way back and got a good scolding,” Oh recalls. When you opened the wooden kitchen door, a strong earthy smell would greet your nose. The clay floor, well tamped down, looked shiny. There was a small bush clover broom in the corner that was used to sweep the floor whenever possible. As soon as the women got back from working in the sea or the fields, they would head straight to the kitchen, sit on a ringshaped mat made of braided rush, and build a fire in the fire pit. “If the men in the house didn’t know how to make rush mats, they would make a wooden seat for the women to sit on while working in the kitchen,” Oh says. At mealtimes in the old days, the whole family, from children to adults, sat on their own rush mats laid out on the kitchen floor and ate together. On one side of the kitchen, there was a water jar placed on top of a flat stone, and on the other side, a cupboard called salle in the Jeju dialect, which was used to store tableware and utensils. After the meal, the dishes were taken outside through the back door and washed in the outdoor washing area that was enclosed with stones, then returned to the cupboard. The structure of Jeju kitchens differed slightly by region, but one common feature was that the iron pots were placed on stones, not on a clay stove. There were usually three to five pots

1. From the jar on her back, which she uses to gather potable water, a haenyeo pours water into a big storage jar for use in the kitchen. 2. A traditional Jeju house and its crock terrace at the Jeju Folk Village. The terrace and the vegetable garden are right outside the back door of the kitchen, making work a little bit easier for the women of the house. 3. A small tray table and a wooden basin await use on top of the kitchen cupboard, called salle in Jeju dialect.



depending on the size of the kitchen. In the large pots water was heated for family members to wash with after coming home from work. The pots had various uses depending on size, from cooking rice to making soup and side dishes. In thatchedroof houses, the kitchens were made from mud and stone and had a tiny door that allowed the smoke from the fire to escape. The old Jeju kitchens may have been primitive, but they were practical in terms of structure. “Back in those days, women didn’t suffer from what you would call female trouble. The heat from the furnace would naturally raise the body temperature, which had a sterilizing effect,” says a neighbor, Go Bok-hui. The old kitchens were hot and stuffy; the acrid smoke from the furnace stung the eyes making you tear up. When her mother handed her a poker and told her to stoke the fire, the 12-year-

old Oh had no choice but to stay put in front of the blazing kitchen furnace. Considerable know-how was required to control the fire with dry leaves or firewood, and it wasn’t an easy task for a young girl. Enduring the Heat and Smoke “Bean porridge and soybean soup were the most difficult to make,” says Oh. “You had to keep a close watch to make sure it didn’t overflow. If you looked away for even a minute, the broth would splatter all over the place leaving little to eat. What’s worse, imagine what would happen if the scalding hot broth splattered onto your skin? The trick to make sure that doesn’t happen is to add wild greens or sprinkle a little salt into the pot when the broth starts to boil.” Bean porridge and soybean soup are traditional dishes of KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 27

Jeju that are tricky to make. So before stepping outside to get soybean paste, Oh’s mother would tell her young daughter to watch the pot, cautioning her not to stir the soup too much and render it tasteless. Right outside the back door of the kitchen was a vegetable garden and terrace for crocks containing various condiments and sauces, so you could just step outside and get soybean paste or soy sauce for cooking. Also, near the kitchen was a storage room where grain jars were kept. It was hard work collecting firewood and making sure the supply never ran out. Kindling consisted of leftover fodder, pine needles, barley straw and dead branches that were stacked up on one side of the kitchen. Barley straw was the best for fueling a fire. After cooking on such a fire, the bottom of the 28 KOREANA Autumn 2017

pot became grimy with soot and had to be given a good scrub each time. If the pots were left unclean, people would think you were lazy. The pot lid was rubbed with pig fat to give it luster. A kitchen full of neatly arranged gleaming pots spoke for the industriousness of the lady of the house. At times, kind husbands would help out and clean the heavy pot, but it was usually the women’s job. A by-product of burning firewood is ash. The ash was pushed to the back of the kitchen furnace while stoking the fire and would pile up in the empty space of around 50 to 60 centimeters between the cooking fireplace and the wall. Called bulchi, the ash was swept into a container and used as fertilizer. In some villages, the ash was mixed with buckwheat seed and planted in the fields. Small amounts of the mixture were

The rice cooked in the kitchen was not just rice. It was the love of the mother, who would put up with the heat and smoke for her family, wiping away tears from burning eyes with a deep sigh. The sweet smell of barley rice wafted through the yard, stimulating the appetite.

In contrast to kitchens of the mainland, which are built with a cooking range, in the Jeju kitchen the cooking pots are placed above the fire on stones, arranged one on either side and one at the back. Each pot was used for a different purpose.

placed in the furrows, and a tool made from twigs was used to sweep over the soil to cover the seeds. This would produce a good harvest. A Place Filled with Warm Memories In the traditional Jeju kitchen, meals were prepared on an earthen floor that was kept as clean as a wooden floor. People sat on the floor and warmed their bodies in front of the fire; the ash was used to fertilize the crops that would feed them. The rice cooked in the kitchen was not just rice. It was the love of the mother, who would put up with the heat and smoke for her family, wiping away tears from burning eyes with a deep sigh. The sweet smell of barley rice wafted through the yard, stimulating the appetite.

From a modern perspective, the old Jeju kitchen may seem inconvenient. But it was a place that was in touch with nature; a place filled with love and warmth where family members gathered to eat together and receive guests. Today, most Jeju kitchens have been modernized, equipped with a sink and gas stove. Progress has made the island’s old kitchens a remnant of the past. Likewise, Oh’s childhood days when she used to sit in front of the kitchen furnace staring at the flickering flames are now a distant memory. Today, the traditional kitchen of Jeju exists only in folk villages. It was a place where the gentle breeze from the bamboo grove would float through the door, cooling the sweat on the woman’s forehead as she tended the fire; a place embracing all things from the land and the sea. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 29

SPECIAL FEATURE 5 The Korean Kitchen: From Clay Stoves to Virtual Reality

A Glimpse of the


The kitchen of the future will offer maximum convenience thanks to cutting-edge technologies. Cooking will require far less time and effort, and fresher food will be enjoyed with minimum cost and energy consumption. The kitchen will turn into a genuine family hub where the whole family can communicate and spend quality time together. Kim Jee-hyun IT Tech Writer


or 40 years I have seen my mother move busily between the refrigerator, gas stove, sink and dinner table. But nothing in the kitchen seems to have changed much. With my wife, it’s more of the same. The kitchen has had new additions like a dishwasher and an induction cooktop, but the overall cooking time hasn’t been notably reduced. The only change is that my mother moves more slowly than before and my wife somewhat faster. Will the kitchen be like today’s 10 or 20 years from now? No, it won’t. A phrase from “Exemplar of the Pure Mind” (Myeongsim bogam), a collection of famous quotes from ancient times, says, “First look back on the past if you want to know about the future.” Already there are clues here and there to help us envision what the kitchen of the future will look like. 30 KOREANA Autumn 2017

The future kitchen will undergo big changes based on the latest information technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and the smart home platform. Three Core Technologies Electronic home appliances can be controlled simply with voice commands if they are connected to the Internet. This is the IoT. Only computers, smart phones and tablets have been connected to the Internet so far, but many more things will go online over the next 10 years. An amazing world where even windows and mirrors, as well as refrigerators, are connected to the Internet is just around the corner. The main point of the IoT is not the simple fact that things are connected to the Internet, but that the connected things can

A smart table that combines the functions of the cooking table, stove and dining table will be used in the kitchen of the future. Š Nefs


Home appliances, including TVs and refrigerators, will produce a massive amount of data when connected to the Internet of Things, and carry out a wide range of work when embedded with artificial intelligence. The kitchen of the 21st century is not just for cooking and eating, but has multiple functions.

produce a huge amount of data. Take the refrigerator, for example. Information on the kinds and condition of groceries inside, as well as monthly wattage, will be stored as data. The data can simply be emailed or downloaded onto blogs or Facebook and used when needed. AI helps the computer to understand and execute voice or text commands. AI-based services are quite different from those carried out following commands input via a keyboard or the click of a mouse. With AI technology, a simple voice command can control devices to obtain information and services. Currently, this only applies to a small number of devices, but many more, including kitchen appliances and even cookware, will be controlled by voice commands in the future. Finally, the smart home platform refers to a system in 32 KOREANA Autumn 2017

which almost all home appliances are controlled by AI. This may all sound like dreams of a distant future, but actually, it will very soon become reality, considering that major smart home technologies have already been commercialized. A 3D printer that can make pizza or cheese has already been developed. New Kitchen Design In 1926, Margarete SchĂźtte-Lihotzky, the first female Austrian architect, designed a milestone prototype of a modern kitchen called the “Frankfurt Kitchen.â€? Since then, the kitchen has taken on a modern look, furnished with a sink, cooking space and storage space for food and cookware. There will be a sea change in the kitchen design that has

Š LG Electronics

been in place for almost a century. In the current structure, the worktop, stove and dining table are separate units. But in the not so distant future they will come together on one table. New hardware such as robotic kitchen assistants and a 3D printer will stand in a corner of the kitchen, perhaps. A concept kitchen for 2025, produced jointly by Swedish furniture maker IKEA and American design company IDEO, indeed looks feasible. Embedded with a camera, hidden induction coils and a display, the cooking table in the concept kitchen will automatically recognize what kinds of groceries are on it. Then it will tell you the amounts you should use and how to handle them, depending upon recipes. By following the instructions shown on the table you can cook a delicious meal with the least amount of fuss. There is no need to bustle about or keep

peeping at a cookbook on the table. The cooking table is not the only thing that will experience a big design change. The size of the refrigerator, which usually occupies the most space in the kitchen, will be reduced and the kitchen racks and shelves will have more functions. Groceries will be delivered to your home by a drone, as online shopping becomes more convenient. This eliminates the need to store groceries in the refrigerator for an extended period of time. Racks and shelves will be equipped with a temperature controller sensor and function as a refrigerator to some extent, so they will help keep food fresh. Currently, a considerable amount of groceries go neglected and are left to rot in a corner or in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. Food waste can be cut down by storing grocerKOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 33

In the current structure, the worktop, stove and dining table are separate units. But in the not so distant future they will come together on one table. New hardware such as robotic kitchen assistants and a 3D printer will stand in a corner of the kitchen, perhaps. Family members will be able to enjoy more quality time together in the kitchen when it becomes a multipurpose space thanks to state-ofthe-art technologies.

ies on smart racks and shelves that allow you to keep track of them easily. All the better if a disposer could handle food waste immediately, and the water used for cooking and washing dishes could be separated and recycled. A Multipurpose Space With a “home farm� equipped with an artificial solar system, you can even grow your own vegetables. Of course, many people already grow vegetables like lettuce and red peppers on the home veranda, but the home farm will increase efficiency. This suggests that the kitchen will also play the role of the veranda. In a sense, once the design and structure of the kitchen change, the whole kitchen experience will also change. The kitchen is essentially a space for cooking and eating food. But the kitchen of the future will clearly be based on a 34 KOREANA Autumn 2017

different concept. Thanks to various technological innovations, cooking time will be significantly reduced and family members will spend more time communicating with each other over meals. Virtual reality (VR) devices are also expected to play a part in changing the concept of the kitchen. With a pair of VR glasses, you can see a VR display of the kitchen that offers information on the groceries in the refrigerator and utensils in the drawers. Experiences such as breaking a favorite utensil and being unable to replace it because you forgot the brand name will be a thing of the past. Through VR devices, you can also check the current state of the microwave oven and the dishwasher, or check the amount of calories in food. The smart table can function as a place to play games or as a computer for your child when it is not used for preparing food.

Suppose you suddenly start discussing plans for a family trip over dinner, you can simply turn on the display and do an online search on the table rather than waiting to finish your dinner and doing a search on the phone or computer. In the future, you can watch a movie or play a game with your family on the table. In Korea, the traditional extended family has gradually downsized to the nuclear family structure. But people are so busy these days that it’s often hard for the family to get together at home. If the kitchen of the future turns into a multipurpose space where all family members can enjoy quality time together, relationships may be restored and more conversation may take place. The kitchen of the future, brought about by technological progress, no longer belongs to wives and mothers only. It is a space for the whole family to communicate and spend time together. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 35


The City’s Bridge in the Sky The Seoul Station Overpass, built in 1970 to connect the east-west traffic flow around the city’s major railway station, was once seen as a symbol of Korea’s rapid economic growth. Recently, it was reborn as Seoullo 7017, an elevated walkway and garden in the heart of the city. It has emerged as a popular new attraction of Seoul, but critics continue to argue that the public architecture project was carried out without proper consensus. Han Eun-ju Architect and CEO, Soft Architecture Lab Ha Ji-kwon Photographer

36 KOREANA Autumn 2017



iaducts are usually found in scenic mountains with deep valleys. They are built to connect hiking trails and provide better views of the landscape by overcoming geographical limits. In the sense that they change the hiker’s body movement from following the topography to transcending the natural setting, they are structures of high importance. These poetic structures do not exist in the mountains only. There are also sky bridges over urban valleys between high buildings, connecting vital points in the flow of the city. Seoullo 7017 is such a case. Formerly a part of Seoul’s transportation infrastructure, the overpass has been transformed into a rest area for pedestrians. In the past, people who crossed the overpass by bus or car had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the cityscape from a height no pedestrian could reach. Now, however, the situation is reversed as the overpass has been remodeled to allow pedestrians to enjoy the view of that very cityscape at a slow, relaxing pace as they stroll along the newly opened walkway or sit and relax under the trees planted in large pots where once cars were stuck in traffic. Just the thought of looking down on the heavy rails passing through Seoul Station and promenading over the city as if walking on clouds is pleasing enough; this is exactly what happens on Seoullo 7017. Shift in the Public Space Paradigm The old overpass ran 1.15 kilometers from Namdaemun-ro 5-ga to Manri-dong and connected neighboring areas cut off by the railroads running through the city. It had helped to smooth the traffic flow in the heart of Seoul, covering Seoul Station, Namdaemun Market and the Myeong-dong area, and served as a kind of artery administering oxygen to the tissue of the city. With the start of the new millennium, however, a discussion began regarding the demolition and rebuilding of the overpass due to its deterioration, at the end of which, in spite of the various opinions offered by merchants and residents of the neighboring areas, the Seoul Metropolitan Government made the independent decision to turn the overpass into an urban park. Subsequently, an international design competition was held and the project proceeded at lightning speed. The overpass was once a symbol of urban development in the process of Korea’s rapid industrialization. From the 1970s onwards, the traffic volume on weekdays in the heart of Seoul grew rapidly due to expansion of the city’s middle class and a consequent increase in the number of cars. The traffic authority began to build interchanges at major junctions in a bid to deal with the rising traffic volume. At the time, the construction of an overpass was regarded as a proud achievement in construction technology, a necessity for industrialization and a solution to the traffic problem. The vision of an overpass running

38 KOREANA Autumn 2017

between high-rise buildings overlapped with the image of urban development using cutting-edge technology, and about 100 of them were constructed in Seoul alone — a symbol of the city’s bright future. Upon entering the 21st century, however, the urban lifestyle changed, and as new values regarding urban structures and spaces came to the fore, the industrialization paradigm changed considerably. Moreover, one research project after another showed that the role of overpasses in easing traffic flow was not as great as expected. In particular, the degeneration of neighboring areas prompted a stream of criticism questioning the usefulness of overpasses and inviting a change of perspective. It became evident that the poor environment of the nearby build-

On Seoullo 7017, reborn as a public space after serving as a traffic overpass for decades, people can rest and relax in the middle of the city.

ings and their surroundings resulted not from the traffic noise but from spatial isolation. Social interest shifted from the function of overpasses to the spaces underneath them. In addition, the real estate boom starting in the early 2000s sparked moves to redevelop the undervalued areas languishing in the shade of the overpasses, which spurred on the advocates of demolition. The Ddeokjeon Overpass in Dongdaemun District was removed in 2002, and discussions on the demolition of overpasses and their actual execution have remained active ever since. So far, about 30 percent of Seoul’s overpasses have been torn down. Most famous among them was the Cheonggye Overpass, which opened in 1971 as an arterial road across the city’s central area and was

pulled down in 2003. As a result, the surrounding areas came back to life. From Cars to Humans As such, the changed function of the Seoul Station Overpass is in line with the social consensus on urban spaces seen from the long-term perspective. Indeed, the change did more than resolve the spatial isolation and backwardness of adjacent areas which had usually been remedied with demolition; it transformed an existing structure to serve a different function that was considered necessary for the city. From the outset, it was expected that a kilometer-long elevated park overlooking the train tracks of Seoul Station would



give pedestrians the pleasure of a lofty stroll in the city center. As the city of Seoul announced in the planning stage, a project inspired by New York’s High Line was certainly welcome to regenerate the city’s urban infrastructure, not for cars but for people, taking into account the growing perception that a city belongs to its citizens. The greatest attraction of Seoullo 7017, so named because it was born in 1970 and reborn in 2017 as a pedestrian passage, is the way it connects Seoul Station with major tourist attractions such as Namdaemun Market, Myeong-dong and Mt. Nam. Tourists can relax and enjoy the city view, which was impossible from underneath the overpass, and they can also experience the 600-year history of Seoul as the nation’s capital while strolling along the path leading to the Seoul City Wall. Some people have found the blue lights on Seoullo at night fantastic, and others expressed approval of the small visitor 40 KOREANA Autumn 2017

facilities and kiosks. Those who have walked along the path applaud the fact that a walking trail has been created in the middle of the city. In particular, some 24,000 trees of 228 kinds were planted in pots to create a sky garden providing shade. As stated by the Netherlands-based architecture studio MVRDV, which was in charge of the project, when those trees take root, branch out and are clothed in time, Seoullo 7017 will become even more beautiful and establish itself as one of Seoul’s top attractions. Social Consensus Process Skipped On the other hand, more than a few merchants at Namdaemun Market still believe the overpass was necessary to smooth traffic flow. Harsh criticism of certain sculptures and installations before the opening or problems like the lack of convenience facilities on the walkway have obviously resulted from

As the city of Seoul announced in the planning stage, a project inspired by New York’s High Line was certainly welcome to regenerate the city’s urban infrastructure, not for cars but for people, taking into account the growing perception that a city belongs to its citizens. 1. Seoullo 7017 is seen through the windows of a café near Seoul Station. The new landmark has changed the cityscape viewed from nearby buildings.


hasty implementation of the project, which did not undergo the due process of gathering public opinion. It was not the shape of the concrete flower pots or the kinds of plants planted in them that aroused people’s attention. Whether they were critical or supportive, those offering their opinions on a public architecture project in the middle of the city would always wonder, “Was the social consensus process adequate?” It is necessary, therefore, to look into whether any administrative opportunism was involved in the planning of Seoullo 7017, whether decisions were made hurriedly with a hidden political agenda, and whether the international design competition was exploited to augment the project’s prestige and publicity effect. Looking back, architectural projects have often served political agendas due to their outstanding visual effectiveness. Ironically, however, the higher the social awareness of indi-

2. A family looks at Lee Woo-sung’s work, “Kiss Kiss,” exhibited at Hello, Artists!, a gallery on Seoullo 7017, operated by the Naver Culture Foundation.

viduality grows, the greater the importance of public interest becomes. This is because a greater diversity of desires regarding people’s private space extends to public spaces. Thus, the key point in the planning and realization of public spaces in a modern city is the way social consensus is formed. An urban architecture project such as Seoullo 7017 is not merely a visual accomplishment; it is tantamount to building an elevated bridge over the valley of social perspectives consistent with citizens’ diverse opinions. The process should always start with a reflection on the intended purpose of a given project and the public’s values. In the past several months since its opening on May 20, Seoullo 7017 has turned into a different space, with the trees having grown noticeably in the meantime. As the trees take root and grow, it is expected that the love and interest of Seoulites for the walkway will also grow. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 41


‘FEIGN’ Series Shoots Audacious Artist to Fame

Young artist Kim Hyun-jung is renowned for her audacity, which is often described as “feisty and provocative.” The 29-year-old “arttainer” delights in entertaining the public with her unconventional paintings that she hopes will play a part in expanding the global presence of Korean art. Chung Jae-suk Editorial Writer and Senior Culture Reporter, The JoongAng Ilbo Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

“Feign: Sweet Whispers (feat. Limit Excess).” 2016, Ink and light color and collage on mulberry paper, 120 × 176 cm.

42 KOREANA Autumn 2017


Kim Hyun-jung, dressed in hanbok , works on a painting at her studio in Nonhyeon-dong, Seoul. Like the subjects of her paintings, she is fond of dressing in traditional costume.


he sign on a small building on Nonhyeon Street in the heart of Gangnam in southern Seoul reads “Kim Hyun-jung Art Creative Center.” This is what artist Kim Hyun-jung calls her studio. Occupying two floors of the building, including office space for her 10 or so employees, it could be likened to an art start-up. Kim is known for her paintings of women dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean costume) placed in a modern setting, which she has registered as a trademark. She won the 2015 Korea Creative Innovation Award in the art category and was named in Forbes’ list of “30 Under 30 Asia 2017: The Arts.” With requests for lectures flooding in, she has had to hire an assistant to manage her schedule. Dressed in a gorgeous hanbok for the interview, the artist appears to have popped out of one of the paintings in her “Naesung” (Feign) series. “Hanbok has become my trademark. In fact, people don’t recognize me when I don’t wear one. I own around 30 sets, and combine the tops and skirts in various ways with the help of a stylist. The more I wear hanbok, the more I appreciate its graceful and glamorous beauty,” she said. 44 KOREANA Autumn 2017

In the Korean dictionary, naesung is defined as “feigning innocence on the outside, but being wily inside.” Kim had a hard time coming up with the equivalent in English, as she felt it was a uniquely Korean term and no English word could fully capture the exact meaning. Elegant Yet Daring The duplicity of human nature is the theme that runs through Kim’s work. The “feigning women” in her paintings portray a striking incongruity between their attire and actions. Elegant in traditional Korean dresses, one rides a motorcycle delivering McDonald’s hamburgers; another sits on the floor with her voluminous skirt rolled up, eating pizza or scarfing down instant noodles. The translucent skirt reveals the silhouette of the body and the crisp texture of the fabric is rendered in collage. The juxtaposition of traditional Korean costumes and modern city life seems to be at odds, and yet presents an offbeat exuberance, the audience being drawn to the beautiful young women in the paintings. “I was inspired by the elegant and enigmatic image of hanbok,” said Kim. “I thought, what if I painted women dressed in

formal traditional attire, but in a casual everyday setting. Deviating from the norm and freeing oneself from other people’s judgment are filtered through the concept of ‘naesung.’” Her strategy seems to have worked; her solo exhibitions attract tens of thousands of people. Aspiring to make art that connects with the public, this clever young artist makes active use of social media and has amassed a sizeable fan base of over 110,000 followers. Double Major in Business Administration Kim first had art lessons when she was eight. “I’ve been doing art my whole life, so there is nothing I can’t draw,” she confidently declared. Even so, she wasn’t without worries when she entered an arts middle school. When she decided to pursue art in earnest, the words “artists are poor” made her hesitant. But not dissuaded, she was determined to break this stereotype. How awful it would be if all that aspiring young artists could look forward to was worrying constantly about how to make ends meet. Kim double majored in Oriental painting and business administration at Seoul National University. She studied the ins and outs of the art market and the biographies of famous artists who have achieved financial success. To survive as an artist, she pursues ambitious projects, such as developing a wide array of products imprinted with her paintings and forming collaborative art marketing partnerships with several companies. “I’m interested in the commercialization and popularization of art. Art doesn’t have to be highbrow,” she said. “What concerns me most these days are the limitations of the Korean art market and the hardships young artists are faced with. I try to communicate with the audience to come up with ways to make art more accessible. I’ve even worked as an art dealer. My philosophy of arts management is connecting with the public. By producing artworks that everyone can enjoy and appreciate, I want to help popularize art.” 21st Centur y Korean Genre Painting Kim seeks to incorporate unconventional techniques to dispel the preconception that traditional Korean paintings are old and staid. While adhering to traditional techniques using hanji (Korean mulberry paper) and pale ink wash, she boldly combines them with modern elements. For instance, she borrows the storyline of Western fairy tales like “Cinderella” for the theme of her “feigning women” paintings. She has also extended her “Feign” series to photographic works. In some of her paintings, she places a modern woman inside a masterpiece of the 18th-century Joseon period. “Kim Hong-do, the master of genre painting of the Joseon Dynasty, and Shin Yun-bok, also of the Joseon era, whose bold genre paintings were ahead of their times, have been major

“Art doesn’t have to be highbrow. What concerns me most these days are the limitations of the Korean art market and the hardships young artists are faced with. I try to communicate with the audience to come up with ways to make art more accessible.” influences in my work,” said Kim. “The candidness and humor in their paintings, the bold composition and ingenious brushwork have been a great source of inspiration. Following in their footsteps, my dream is to create Korean genre paintings of the 21st century.” Kim is currently working on paintings of feigning women at a laundromat, sauna and jjimjilbang (Korean-style bath and sauna complex), a portrayal of our times through the lives of women in contemporary Korean society. “My current work is figurative,” she explained. “Using a slender brush, I try to express even a single strand of hair as realistically as possible. Eventually, I want to expand into installation and media art. If the concept of ‘feign’ is expressed in a tactile form, it will be easier for the audience to grasp the idea than just by looking at a painting.” With her sights set on the global art world, she considers installation artist Suh Do-ho an example to follow. “For his installation ‘Home Within Home,’ Suh created a life-size traditional Korean house with traditional fabric, reinterpreting the distinctive Korean aesthetics and producing an artwork with global appeal,” Kim said. “I want to introduce the unique aesthetics of Korean inkand-wash painting, hanbok, and hanji to the world, and achieve international recognition,” she added. “In that sense, I should take some pointers from the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. His collaborations with foreign luxury brands are a good example of how fine art can be translated into commercial products that blend into our everyday lives. My dream is to make art KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 45

1. “Feign: Oops.” 2012, Ink and light color and collage on mulberry paper, 145 × 117 cm.


a part of everyday life like music, so I need to learn from his expertise in integrating art and commerce.” A young artist with remarkable potential, Kim obviously places priority on the quality of her works rather than the number of exhibitions. As a popular artist whose exhibitions draw large crowds, she receives quite a few exhibition offers but doesn’t agree to them all. Identity, Judgment , Popular Belief “I usually start my day at nine in the morning and paint all day until seven o’clock in the evening,” she said. “Once I focus on a piece, I don’t eat anything all day and just paint. Then, after I’m done, I eat ravenously. The painting of the woman binge eating as she sits in front of an open refrigerator is actually me. I need to be in tune with the painting if I’m to complete it. I’ve produced over 300 paintings in the past few years, and each time I try hard to approach my work with a fresh perspective. I couldn’t tolerate myself more than anybody else if I became complacent and kept painting the same old stuff over 46 KOREANA Autumn 2017

2. “Feign: Where is your rainbow?” 2016, Ink and light color and collage on mulberry paper, 178 × 127 cm.

and over.” Kim’s paintings have a strong presence that often overpowers the interior décor, so it’s hard to hang them up just anywhere. This is probably one reason why her paintings do not sell so well. But she has no intention of toning them down and making them nice and pretty. “I can’t compromise when it comes to my paintings; they’re my babies. Most of them are self-portraits, so how can I deny who I am? It feels good when people look at my work and laugh at the subject matter and title. I feel they have understood my intent to defy convention,” she said. Kim has big aspirations to play a part in expanding the global presence of Korean art and dreams of the day it gains worldwide recognition. “I’m thinking about connecting the themes of personal identity, people’s judgment, and popular belief. I’m a young artist at the starting line, so there’s no need to rush. I have the grit to roll up my hanbok sleeves and move forward with determination.”





Shaped by the Rhythms of Janggu Lee Bu-san, who began to play the janggu (a traditional two-headed drum) at the age of six, has created his original rhythmic repertoire by combining farmers’ music (nongak) with traditional dance beats, and integrating the regional traditions of Korea’s southwestern and southeastern provinces. Having played the janggu for almost 60 years, the master musician’s life continues to be shaped by his devotion to and his artistry with the traditional drum. Kang Shin-jae Freelance Writer Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

48 KOREANA Autumn 2017


he boy’s house was always buzzing with visitors, who would come to their reception room to play the janggu with his father. Every morning, the boy would wake up to the invigorating sound of drumbeats rising with the bright morning sun. Eventually, he mastered the rhythms of traditional music even before he learned reading and writing. In 1961, he had the first physical contact with the sound he had been familiar with for so long. The six-year-old boy instinctively rapped out the rhythms lingering in his mind on a janggu that happened to be within reach. Listening to the sound, standing still and thoughtful, was his father, who was a renowned drummer designated as a “Living Human Treasure” for Honam Udo Gimje Nongak (Farmers’ Music of Gimje in the Style of the Western Honam Region), listed as North Jeolla Province’s Intangible Cultural Property No. 7-3. Father and Son Ensemble At the time, the janggu was more than just a musical instrument. For ordinary people in the countryside, when all they could do for entertainment was watching soap operas on the neighbor’s black-and-white television, one of the few in the entire village, the performance of a farmers’ music band was a great pleasure. They would revel in dancing to the delightful music played by rural musicians on the two-headed drum, small gong (kkwaenggwari), conical oboe (taepyeongso), and a couple of other instruments. Among all the instruments they used, the janggu provided a major source of livelihood for the band. Even at the time when most people lived in dire poverty, playing the drum enabled them to earn money to augment their incomes from farming or other rural work. When the solo performance called seol-janggu, played standing up and walking about, succeeded to arouse the audience to breathless excitement, the player’s waistband would soon sport thick wads of bills tucked into it by thrilled listeners. For this reason, anyone with talent among the poverty-stricken community would join farmers’ music bands and travel across the nation to earn a living by performing music. Although fully aware of the joys and sorrows of such a nomadic life, the boy’s father could not just ignore his son’s obsession with that particular drum; he had shown little interest in other traditional instruments, such as the daegeum (transverse bamboo flute), ajaeng (seven-stringed fiddle), or sogo (a small hand drum). Eventually, he sat down with his son, facing each other on a sand enclosure, where his band was playing to

Lee Bu-san, playing lively rhythms with sticks in both hands, is a virtuoso of seol-janggu , an improvisational solo genre of the traditional two-headed drum.

work up the crowd at a traditional wrestling match. The young drummer’s delicate sound, boosted by the warm, solid strokes of his father, rose up above the steamy haze in the sand. Ever since, the sound has never left the mind of Lee Bu-san, who has lived as a janggu player for 59 years already. Learning to Play Dance Beats In the long time it has taken the boy’s soft dark hair to turn gray, he has followed his father’s footsteps as a musician. A recent performance by Lee Bu-san, now recognized as a virtuoso of seol-janggu, seemed to illustrate the course of his life as an artist. Lee came out on the stage with a janggu slung across his chest, and started to beat a rhythm with sticks in both hands, the two drumheads making two different tones: a deep, low-pitched thumping alternating with clear, high-pitched notes. His legs gracefully moved to the rhythm. While one hand was beating a drumhead, the other hand merrily played with a stick, spinning it or tossing and catching it. Attuned to the sound that he was making on the drum, his movements were decidedly different from the typical gestures of other players. In our talk later, the musician recollected his encounter with dance: “I think it was in 1973. I had a performance in Busan, which was attended by some of the leading figures of Korean dance, such as Lee Mae-bang, Kim Jin-hong and Lee Do-geun. They liked my performance, and then told me that seol-janggu could be a great addition to their dance repertoires. That is how I got to teach dancers how to play the janggu, and got acquainted with the rhythms for dancing apart from those for farmers’ music. I learned to play for different traditional dances — Monk Dance (seungmu), Exorcism Dance (salpuri), Dance of Peace (taepyeongmu), and so on. The same rhythm, let’s say gutgeori, an equivalent of 12/8 meter, is to be played differently between a dance accompaniment and a farmers’ band music.” The time he spent adapting his music for dance moves of eminent dancers was hardwired into his body, and the experience of familiarizing himself with unaccustomed beats was integrated into his performances. Lee remarked, “Our folk music scarcely has scores, so you have a degree of freedom to play with the rhythm — either slowing down or speeding up — within a certain time span, and the skills for that come from experience. That is why words can’t teach the improvisational charm of seol-janggu. It has to be felt by the player.” As his career matured, the name Lee Bu-san became closely associated with his favorite instrument. Various contests of traditional percussion music tried very hard to invite him to join. In time, his art form was designated as Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 11-1, under the title of Jinju SamKOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 49

“My hometown Gimje has a great expanse of plains. The idyllic atmosphere of the rural town must have created an undercurrent in my music. So far, I’ve tried to express every subtle sound, like beans rattling down on the linoleum floor, raindrops falling on leaves, and so on.” cheonpo Nongak (Farmers’ Music of Jinju and Samcheonpo), originated from the Gyeongsang provinces. For the native of Jeolla, it was an unusual honor and recognition that transcended the entrenched rivalry between the two regions. “The farmers’ music of western Honam that I learned in my childhood is ornate and delicate, while that of Jinju and Samcheonpo is bold and powerful. People say that my seol-janggu performance embodies both styles, which must be attributed to my extraordinary experience,” said the master musician. Drumhead Leather and Tonal Quality I wanted to know more about the stylistic quality that my untrained ear could not grasp. What, then, was the root of the sound that he played on his instrument? Lee replied, “My hometown Gimje has a great expanse of plains. The idyllic atmosphere of the rural town must have created an undercurrent in my music. So far, I’ve tried to express every subtle sound, like beans rattling down on the linoleum floor, raindrops falling on leaves, and so on. Most janggu players have their own color, or voice, which does not change even when played on a different janggu.” However, not every janggu is capable of expressing such subtle sounds, the musician observed. He then called attention to the leather used on the drumheads: its type and condition determine the quality of the sound that the instrument makes. “The leather for drumheads should be thin to effectively express delicate sounds. Ordinary cowhide is too thick for me. Certainly, it is used for other types of janggu for classical — as opposed to rustic — music (jeongak) or popular folk songs, but not for percussion ensembles. My own instrument, made from calfskin imported from Germany, sounds quite soft,” he explained. Dog skin immersed in brine was a familiar sight in his childhood. After a couple of months’ brining, the dog skin is shorn of hair, and secured to a board with nails to be stretched before it was dried and attached to his father’s janggu. Farmers’ music, as the name implies, was popular music played in the fields to relieve farmers from the tedium of work. Seeking the comfort 50 KOREANA Autumn 2017

of music in their daily toil, people made their own instruments. When a dog died in the village they made leather for the two heads of the drum, and the trunk of the paulownia tree on a nearby hill provided logs for the hourglass-shaped body. In this way, music became one with life for those who made and played their own instruments. In whatever spare time that was found, they would shed sweat over the task of choosing and cutting the right tree, hollowing out the log, carving it into the drum’s body. They would painstakingly prepare and stretch the leather, hearing in their heads the pleasant sound that it would make. With cautious concern, they would stitch up the tears in the leather, listening for any possible change in the sound. What could all these amount to? Where else could one find such an honest sound? “I’ve never seen a janggu that is better than the one I made as a boy,” declared the musician before going on in more detail about the making of the instrument. “The mallet held in the left hand is made of a bamboo root — not any bamboo root, but a straight one protruding out of a cliff. The sap is removed by immersing it in salt water. It is important to choose one that has distinct and even-spaced joints,” he said. Being able to modify an instrument to fit one’s preference must mean that one has complete mastery of the instrument. Perhaps that is why the musician said no, he didn’t feel the need, when asked if he played only janggu made by renowned artisans. He claimed he could always find a janggu that produced a desired sound: he could simply tune it for that purpose. Sound Minds Create Good Sounds Whether talking about musical talent or about the instrument, Lee Bu-san kept returning to the subject of a musician’s character or mindset. He asserted, “Playing the janggu, an irritable person tends to produce harsh sounds, and an amiable one, soft sounds. Just by listening to their music, you can see through to their character.” He thinks that the temperament of the janggu player is a key factor for the success of the ensemble’s stage performance. As a founding member of the percussion ensemble Durepae Samulnori, consisting of players of the small gong, the large

Children dance to the rhythms that Lee plays on his drum at an apartment complex in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province.

gong (jing), the barrel drum (buk) and the janggu, he has led thousands of performances at home and abroad. Concerning the role of the janggu in an ensemble, Lee noted: “It’s said that the buk sets the pace of the ensemble’s tempo. In reality, however, when we find it difficult to keep a steady tempo, it is the janggu that can fix it right, leading other instruments to follow its beats. I didn’t know that in the past, but years of experience have taught me that the janggu has a vital supporting role for the harmony of all the four instruments.” Sitting beside him and listening to his comments, Lee’s pupil Kwon Jun-sung added, “Just as the player’s character affects the sound of an instrument, his considerate nature is fully at play in the performance of his band. He controls the flow of the music, helping the instruments at odds with one another to get back on track. It is something that requires excellence in both skills and character.” Made self-conscious by his pupil’s compliment, the master musician now touched upon the matter of etiquette among fellow performers. Regardless of your seniority, he maintained, whether you have been in the performing arts for 10 years or 50 years, it is your duty to arrive in plenty of time to get ready at least 30 minutes ahead of the performance. He firmly believes that the artist — the human element — should come before the art, no matter who achieves what in their artistic pursuits. This humanist mindset was also evident in his response when I

asked him to name the most memorable stage he has performed on in the course of his career: “During my band’s tour around 11 states in the U.S., I met an Asian couple who came to clean my hotel room. They didn’t seem to notice it when we were talking in Korean in their presence, but after a few days, I overheard them speaking to each other in our language. It turned out that they were too embarrassed about their circumstances to say hello to their compatriots. I told them not to feel that way since we Koreans are all brothers and sisters wherever we live. I invited them to our performance, and they were so happy because they had never had such an experience in their busy life. And it made me happy, in turn,” Lee recalled. While he was getting prepared to be photographed, he showed me a pamphlet with a picture of him playing the janggu, fully dressed in a musician’s costume and a conical hat. Professing his satisfaction with the representation of himself, he told me that the same picture had been tattooed on his back so he could bear in mind, in life and in death, his life-long devotion to music. Indeed, his back had the picture with his motto in a classical Chinese phrase expressing his will to keep playing the janggu wherever he would be. It is his determination that would be cherished until the end of his life, he said with a smile on his face. I did not need to ask any more questions, and realized what he meant when he said he worked out every day to be able to play his instrument. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 51


‘WE ARE ALL AT WAR’ Playwright and theater director Park Kun-hyung talks about social issues through the lives of ordinary people. “All the Soldiers are Pathetic,” whose premiere garnered a huge response last year, has returned to the stage again this year. The mere fact that so many people support and can relate to the play reflects the public’s thirst for social change. Kim Su-mi Theater Critic

Photo for the poster of “All the Soldiers are Pathetic,” a Theater Company Golmokgil production written and directed by Park Kun-hyung, which premiered at the Namsan Arts Center in March 2016. Thanks to raving responses, the performance continued into 2017 at the Incheon Culture & Arts Center and the Seongnam Arts Center.

52 KOREANA Autumn 2017

KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 53 © Lee Gang-mool, Namsan Arts Center


ll the Soldiers are Pathetic” by director Park Kun-hyung, premiered in Seoul in 2016, has opened again this year in nearby cities, including Incheon and Seongnam. The play won the Dong-A Theater Awards for best play and best audiovisual design last year. It was also selected as one of “Top Three Plays of the Year” by the International Association of Theater Critics Korea and one of the “Top 7 Performances of 2016” by the Korean Theatre Review, a monthly published by the National Theater Association of Korea. In addition, it was officially invited to Festival/ Tokyo 2016, Japan’s leading performance arts festival. Theater Director spotlighted in the Socio-political Context While “All the Soldiers are Pathetic” received a raving response from the art and culture community, over the past few years it was actually the socio-political community that discussed Park Kun-hyung and his works most frequently. Park was one of the artists on the controversial “blacklist” drawn up by the previous administration of Park Geun-hye, which included figures who criticized the government or satirized politicians. In 2013, the National Theater Company of Korea planned to stage Aristophanes’ three comedies, and in September that year, Park presented a contemporary adaptation of “The Frogs.” The original work by Aristophanes, a famous Greek comedy writer of the 4th century B.C., is recognized for parodying prominent figures. Park thought it would be meaningless to stage the play as is, so he superimposed 2013 Korean society and politics on it, injecting a satirical interpretation into the original. The show proved so popular that tickets were hard to get hold of. Although some critics were skeptical of the theatrical execution, the audience found it “fun,” “gratifying” and “liberating.” Conservative media stirred up controversy by commenting that the play disparaged former president Park Chung-hee. In 2015, “All the Soldiers are Pathetic” was selected as an

eligible candidate for a creative grant from the Arts Council Korea, but following outside pressure to pull out on the grounds that “soldiers were negatively portrayed,” Park Kun-hyung eventually withdrew from the program. As the public got wind of this, the issue made headlines in the press and tickets to the show, which opened at the Namsan Arts Center in March 2016, were soon sold out. The Single Truth Per vading All Episodes The playbill of “All the Soldiers are Pathetic” reads: “History is not recorded chronologically but should be remembered as the cries of the people. Theater Company Golmokgil [Alleyway]’s new production ‘All the Soldiers are Pathetic’ sheds light on certain moments in 1945, 2004, 2010 and 2016, when identical cries were heard in Korean history. Regardless of time and place, the people cried out that they wanted to live.” A compilation of four independent events occurring at different times and in different places, the play is about soldiers who face crises and eventually death: a soldier deserting his military base in South Gyeongsang Province, Korea in 2016; a Korean soldier voluntarily joining the Japanese suicide squad in Okinawa, Japan in 1945; a Korean youth working for the U.S. military in Fallujah, Iraq who was kidnapped by an armed group in 2004; and members of the Korean navy who lost their lives when their warship sank off Baengnyeong Island, Korea in 2010. However, director Park Kun-hyung focuses on neither the military nor the individual soldiers. It is the powerless members of an organization who suffer when that organization wields its brutal power. It is the numerous ordinary people who are deprived of their right to survival at the whim of a handful of powerful people who pretend to work for the country out of patriotism but actually pursue their own interest in power. When faced with death, these ordinary people choose survival over justice or a noble cause, and love for their families over loyalty to the country. The soldiers in the play thus speak on behalf of the ordinary people, expressing realistic and universal

Director Park Kun-hyung, who talks about family and social issues through the lives of ordinary people, is wary of art for art’s sake and eschews art without zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times.

54 KOREANA Autumn 2017

“We all are to blame that the political scene is not changing. It means that art is not doing its job properly. Art for art’s sake is useless. Art needs to be sensible, intelligent, and responsible for the contemporary time.”

© Seongnam Arts Center


hopes and dreams. Park talks through the fugitive soldier: “We are all at war. We are all soldiers in that we either have to kill or be killed.” The fugitive soldier, afraid of a society where he fails to find the meaning and value of life, chooses to kill himself by placing himself in front of his fellow soldiers’ guns. The tragic circumstances tell the audience what was going on inside the head of the young soldier who had so desperately wanted to find the purpose of life and live a good life. Despite the different forms and different times, the deaths of the nameless soldiers are all alike. They perish with the same sadness and loneliness in their hearts. They did not wish for world peace; all they wanted was to have dinner with their family. Standing between them and their simple dreams are the greed and illusions of those in power. Unless their greed and illusions stop, the ordinary people’s hopes and expectations will remain futile, bear unhappiness and bring unfortunate outcomes. War y of Art for Art’s Sake Park Kun-hyung is a shy man. Nothing about him is striking; he has bushy hair and wears old glasses and clothes that look somewhat scruffy. When he is embarrassed, he runs his fingers through his hair, and occasionally he smiles with his lips tightly sealed. He looks like someone you would randomly run into in your neighborhood. His stage design is very simple, too, featuring a few boxes and a couple of sticks. The actor’s lines are far from spectacular. Nevertheless, his productions are special, and it was the audience, not theater critics, who first noticed it. His shows are often sold out, for he has gained the kind of fandom more commonly associated with celebrities or actors. His plays are full of life. The scenes and the lines on stage are so real — it’s as if you were overhearing conversations in the subway, on the bus, or on the street. Park debuted with

1 © Lee Gang-mool, Namsan Arts Center

56 KOREANA Autumn 2017

“Ode to Youth,” whose script was based on actors’ real lives. His plays mainly deal with family matters and social issues revealed through the lives of ordinary people. They draw responses from a wide spectrum of viewers, ranging from the young to the middle-aged. Park was one of the main figures behind the success of small theaters during the 1990s and 2000s. Contrary to his quiet and shy appearance, Park is firm and determined on the inside. He is known for both his tolerance and leadership: he has a way with the actors, speaking his mind without ever raising his voice during rehearsals. He keeps pondering the role of art and how it must function. In that sense, small theater is a perfect fit for him. He is wary of art for art’s sake. When I interviewed him more than 10 years ago, Park said, “A very good actor without zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times, can be poison to society. A lousy artist is better than a venomous artist. We all are to blame that the political scene is not changing. It means that art is not doing its job properly. Art for art’s sake is useless. Art needs to be sensible, intelligent, and responsible for the contemporary time. We are not going through a revolution right now, so we need to participate in politics to make a change. People who do not vote do not have the right to criticize politicians.” Quietly Changing the World Park describes himself simply as one of the many people who carefully studied ordinary people’s hardships with a magnifying glass, but that he was lucky to get noticed. Quiet though he is, he knows how to get to the bottom of things as a director. Such tenacity is what changes the world. The citizens’ candlelight protests in the winter of 2016 changed the government leadership in Korea and removed from power the blacklist creators who had plunged the art community into despair. It was indeed a peaceful people’s revolution. The power that drives change is a slow current, quiet and deep.


1, 2. “All the Soldiers are Pathetic” is a compilation of four independent events occurring at different times and in different places. The soldiers facing unfair deaths under urgent circumstances speak on behalf of the ordinary people whose trivial, realistic hopes are crushed in events beyond their control.

2 © Lee Gang-mool, Namsan Arts Center




Laying the Groundwork for UNIFICATION As of this year, there are about 30,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea, according to the Unification Ministry. They have started a new life with humanitarian support. Far from simply remaining beneficiaries of support from others, some of them have turned themselves into contributors by launching volunteer groups or social enterprises. Kim Hak-soon Journalist and Visiting Professor, School of Media and Communication, Korea University Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

UniSeed volunteers, mostly undergraduate students who are North Korean defectors, hand out lunchboxes to homeless people near Seoul Station.

58 KOREANA Autumn 2017


he notion that North Korean defectors are content with merely receiving help is a stereotype as wrongful and unhelpful as the view that they are simply preoccupied with the hardships of adapting to their new environment. Those are sheer prejudices. That generosity and altruism are innate human qualities is well established by biological and behavioral sciences, including the tendency of people in need to help others in a worse situation. A small group of people has broken the hard shell of such prejudices. They formed a volunteer group called UniSeed, consisting of some 50 undergraduate students who are North Korean defectors and six young South Koreans. Members of UniSeed, short for Seed of Unification, raise funds for meals they themselves prepare and distribute once a month to people who live rough near Seoul Station. These students from North Korea believe that homeless people are in worse situations than they themselves who are going through tough times surviving in a new society. The group works on a variety of charity activities yearround, reaching out to share what comforts they can offer to people in need: They pool money to give gifts to child welfare facilities and make kimchi that they deliver, along with coal briquettes for heating, to residents of poor neighborhoods. Almost every month, they also gather donations for daily necessities and clothing to send to defectors who are hiding in China and other countries. Through such activities, they are putting into action their group’s slogan: “Young people of the two Koreas should get together to communicate with each other through sharing and become one by loving each other.” A Taste of Unification About 10 UniSeed volunteers arrive at the kitchen of the Mallihyeon Methodist Church near Seoul Station at 1 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month. They are assigned different tasks and work quickly and efficiently, mindful of a self-imposed deadline. They cook rice, soup and pork bulgogi; they stir-fry dried anchovies, make a salad of squid with cucumbers, or pickle kimchi. They prepare different kinds of soups and side dishes each season. They make hot fish-cake soup or soybean paste soup in winter, fresh wild greens salad in spring, and chilled cucumber soup in summer. At 5 p.m., the young volunteers deliver the boxed meals they prepared as an early dinner to about 200 homeless people at Seoul Station Plaza. It costs them 600,000 won to make boxed dinners for about 200 people; they chip in their own pocket money and raise the rest of the amount by selling small handicraft items they produce. Sometimes, they join contests to raise money, and the cash prizes they win help fund the meals they prepare. It is not easy to raise money and cook so many meals but they feel rewarded when they hear words of thanks

from the people they serve. Esther Um, the founder and head of UniSeed, is a senior majoring in Chinese language at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. She began delivering boxed dinners to homeless people in Seoul in July 2014. She launched the effort with the help of four other students from North Korea with 2.5 million won she had received as scholarship. Like any fledgling effort, they learned by trial and error how to do such outreach right; even with the best intentions, gestures of caring can fall short. They once made 700 boxes of tofu rice (fried bean curd chunks stuffed with rice), a North Korean dish, to distribute among homeless people, wanting to help alleviate their hunger and at the same time to offer a taste of North Korean food. But contrary to their expectations, the recipients of the boxed meals did not seem to like it. The unfamiliar food did not suit their taste. This taught the volunteers a lesson: Helping is not one-sided giving; it must be a response to what people in need want. They realized that more than anything else, people who live rough just want a warm bowl of rice and delicious soybean paste soup. This prompted them to prepare homestyle meals. Touching Hearts Hurt feelings come with the territory, and volunteers learn to take them in stride. Some of the homeless men would snap at them in a fit of temper, “Why didn’t you bring us water?” Others simply rejected their lunch boxes, saying, “I’ll not eat what pinkos are giving us.” But as time went by, heartwarming gestures came, too, moving the volunteers’ hearts. On an autumn day in 2014, Um was about to leave after serving boxed meals when one of the men approached and handed her a bag of three small glutinous rice cakes and an orange. She was deeply moved by this small gift, thinking aloud, “He must have received them from someone and stashed them away to eat later…” On a sweltering summer day in 2015, another man made a fan out of cardboard and fanned perspiring volunteers who were delivering warm food to them. A growing sense of appreciation for the volunteers arose from the people they served, manifested in different gestures. When it rained, some of them would hold umbrellas over the busy volunteers, and after the boxed meals were delivered, more and more of them joined the volunteers in cleaning up the area. Some even came back to return their meals, having found it hard to eat them after hearing that they had been prepared by young defectors who were struggling for survival themselves. Three years after the launch of UniSeed, the volunteers are now being received with open arms. Um said she once heard a man say, “I sometimes sense that people from other volunteer groups work mechanically. But I can feel sincerity in what the KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 59

UniSeed people are doing.” This made her decide to hang in there despite difficulties, she added. Cho Eun-hee, a UniSeed volunteer from North Korea, said, “At first, I didn’t have the courage to approach homeless people because I was scared. But now, I can ask them how they’re doing. I can’t wait for our days of service to them.” UniSeed decided to reach out to people who live rough on the streets in the first place because its members believed that their lives were no less tough than that of people with disabilities or elderly people living in poverty. Kim Mi-jeong, another volunteer, observed, “South Koreans don’t seem to like seeing us help homeless people. They seem to consider them undeserving of help because they drink too much or behave in an unruly manner.” Sense of Self-worth Um barely reached South Korea on her second attempt. In March 2004, she fled North Korea but was captured in China and repatriated in October that year. In 2006, she fled to China again, and in 2008, she finally reached South Korea. In the process, she had to helplessly watch her mother and younger sister get caught by Chinese police in Yanji, northeast China. Hopeless and desperate, she considered ending her own life. But then she happened to see an old man on a street who had no limbs and held a brush between his lips, writing calligraphy to make a living. Deeply touched by the scene, she regained her courage to live on. She suddenly felt compelled to

help other people and visited an institution for people with disabilities. But when she said she wanted to do volunteer work there, a staffer told her to show them her ID card first. It made her feel very sad. “For a defector, even doing a good deed is neither simple nor easy,” she thought. She then went to Angels’ Haven, a welfare center for people with disabilities that an acquaintance had told her about right after she arrived in South Korea. Thus began her volunteer activities. Every Saturday, she rose early in the morning, helped people wash themselves, and cleaned every corner of the center. She never skipped a single Saturday despite her busy schedule as a student and part-time worker. Sometimes she had a nosebleed. But the volunteer service was the only pleasure she found in South Korea. She said, “I’ve strongly felt through doing volunteer service that I’m also needed somewhere. I found my pride buoyed significantly when I realized that I could do something for somebody else, not simply letting myself be helped by others.” She dedicated herself more to doing volunteer service after tragedy struck her family once again. She became deeply depressed when she received news about her younger brother’s death in the North and when her mother, whom she had managed to spirit out of the country by spending as much as 10 million won in bribes, was diagnosed with cancer. Once again, she was on the verge of suicide when the faces of volunteers, who had cheered her up and showed sympathy for her, flashed across her mind. This second close call made her realize, she

Volunteers of UniSeed, short for “seed of unification,” hold up a banner announcing a plan to give food to homeless people at Seoul Station Plaza. UniSeed was founded in 2014 by Esther Um (fourth from right), a senior majoring in Chinese language at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

60 KOREANA Autumn 2017

said, that “doing volunteer work is also a solution preventing defectors from making extreme choices.” She has a point: Statistics show that the suicide rate among North Korean defectors is three times as high as that of South Koreans. Rising above the devastation caused by her own family’s tragedy, Um launched UniSeed in 2014 to help other defectors regain their sense of self-worth. She persuaded people she knew to allow volunteers to use a kitchen and supply them with chopsticks and lunchboxes for the meals they would prepare. She also founded Osundosun, meaning “amiably and harmoniously,” a social enterprise that produces and sells North Korean foods to raise funds for a more stable operation of UniSeed. In 2015, Osundosun won a top prize in a national social venture competition sponsored by the Korea Social Enterprise Promotion Agency. Its staff underwent a refresher self-reliance course run by the Korea Racing Authority. Since November 2016, Osundosun has been running a food truck business with the help of the SEAM (Social Entrepreneurship and Mission) Center, a faith-based community project in Seongdong District, Seoul, that supports social enterprises. Um now plans to expand her services by launching UniSeed Company based on the food truck business. She envisions branches of UniSeed Company sprouting at each college and university campus for young people from both Koreas to join hands and create an environment for unification. Through this effort, she wants to see defectors become a bridge for the era of unification, instead of simply being South Korean residents. This will open a genuine way for defectors to settle down here, she believes. Returning Love Received Besides UniSeed, there are other volunteer groups operated by defectors. One of them is the Chakhan Volunteer Group. (The word “chakhan” here refers to defectors who have arrived in South Korea; its pronunciation implies “good” or “good-hearted.”) Chakhan is made up of 10 small volunteer clubs selected by the Korea Hana Foundation, an agency under the Unification Ministry helping defectors to settle down here. Since its launch in November 2015, Chakhan has been organizing joint volunteer work by its member clubs, each with more than 50 percent of North Korean defectors as their members, two or three times a year. An official of the Korea Hana Foundation said, “The Chakhan project was launched to help defectors strengthen their resolve to settle down smoothly here and achieve social unity by raising their awareness as contributors, not simply as beneficiaries. Through volunteer service, they can return love, which they have received here, to neighbors in need.” In April this year, Chakhan volunteers planted trees in a forest developed on a landfill in Incheon, thinking of their own

“I’ve strongly felt through doing volunteer service that I’m also needed somewhere. I found my pride buoyed significantly when I realized that I could do something for somebody else, not simply letting myself be helped by others.”

hometowns back in the North, together with volunteers from Kia Motors. The event was doubly significant in that South and North Koreans joined hands planting trees that will be sent to the North after they have grown, affirming their shared dream for national unification. The defectors who planted trees that day were volunteers from Chakhan member clubs, such as Gwangmyeong Hana Hyanguhoe (Gwangmyeong Hana Residents Group), Hana Bongsahoe (Hana Volunteers Group) and Saeteomin Haetbit Saranghoe (Defectors Who Love Sunshine). “I heard of ‘volunteer service’ for the first time in my life after I arrived in South Korea,” said Kwak Su-jin, the head of Hana Bongsahoe, which is affiliated with the Korean Red Cross. “We started volunteer service to help neighbors in need and change people’s perception of defectors.” Ahn Yeong-ae, who hails from Musan in the North Korean province of North Hamgyong, said, “Most mountains in the North are bald. I planted trees in hopes of transplanting them to my hometown after unification.” Chakhan volunteers’ joint service activities started on May 14, 2016. They did their first volunteer service in a ferry port village in Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi Province. It is one of South Korea’s northernmost villages, close to the Demilitarized Zone. They served North Korean dishes to the elderly, painted the walls of houses, cleaned roads and beautified the streetscape. The dishes the volunteers prepared included popular North Korean foods, such as cold noodles garnished with shoots of wild fatsia greens, North Korean-style dumplings, tofu rice and soy-meat. In May 2016, Chakhan volunteers mowed and trimmed greenery around the tombs of the unknown soldiers at the National Cemetery. Besides Chakhan, about 50 other groups of North Korean defectors have also been doing volunteer service across the country since 2015. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 61




for Korean Music and Dance Which would be greater: the geographical distance between Mansfield, Connecticut, in the United States, and Seoul, or the cultural distance between gugak (traditional Korean music) and Shakespearean theatrics? Lauren Ash-Morgan is bridging these seemingly two separate worlds. Choi Sung-jin Executive Editor, Korea Biomedical Review Jeon Jae-ho Photographer

62 KOREANA Autumn 2017


here would be few Koreans — even among professional performers — who can sing chang (traditional narrative ballads) to their own accompaniment on a native zither. Indeed, few would even want to learn this archaic music form, called gayageum byeongchang. For a foreigner, naturally the barriers are many and high — language, techniques, and difficulties grasping emotional nuances. But Lauren Ash-Morgan has made possible the seemingly impossible. On most weeknights, she can be found at the National Gugak Center in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, learning and practicing traditional Korean dance and song, and instrumental music. “It was humiliating when I started out because it was an entirely new form of movement. I don’t have a typical dancer’s body, I didn’t have the right dance clothes, the classes were conducted in Korean, and as the only non-Korean in classes, I stood out and doubted that I would ever look right doing this,” Ash-Morgan said, recalling her first lessons in Washington, D.C. “But it is a style and technique that even Korean people have to learn nowadays, and the adults in my classes are learning it, just as I am. In some ways, I have an advantage, as an art major, over many of my classmates.” Her Korean teachers agree. “Ms. Lauren can catch the drift of what I’m saying and does exactly what I tell her to do,” said the master who teaches her to sing chang while playing the gayageum (12-stringed zither). Her dance teacher noted the way she immerses herself not just in techniques but the meaning of every movement. Lauren Ash-Morgan performs a gayageum sanjo on the lawn at Namsan Park in Seoul.

How Did it Begin? Ash-Morgan’s stage career is far longer than can be imagined from her age of 34. A native of Mansfield, Connecticut, she has been performing since age 10 when she began taking theater workshops. At the age of 11, she joined the Kid’s Company, a youth theater ensemble in her hometown, and grew up performing on stage. At school, she took a particular interest in Shakespeare while being involved in music performances. She majored

in music education in college, specializing in voice, and received a Bachelor of Music from Ithaca College in New York State, where she developed an interest in world music and ethnomusicology. After graduation, she spent a year in Seoul in 2005, working as a music teacher, and began to study traditional Korean music, particularly the gayageum and janggu (two-headed drum), at the National Gugak Center. She then attended graduate school at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying under Dr. Robert Provine, an East Asian music expert, and earned her M.A. in ethnomusicology with a focus on Korea. During her studies, she spent two years learning traditional Korean dance and pansori (narrative song accompanied by a drummer) at the Washington Korean Performing Arts Center as well as taking some gayageum and janggu lessons. In 2010, she was invited to participate in the National Gugak Center’s International Gugak Workshop and has remained here ever since to study traditional Korean music in connection with Korean dance. In 2011, Ash-Morgan auditioned for the Seoul Shakespeare Company’s production of “Macbeth” and was cast in the lead role. That’s when she met Michael Downey, her then onstage husband who is now her real husband. Since that time, she has been active in Seoul’s English-language theater scene, playing major roles in many productions, and even landing the leading role in the independent feature film “Amiss.” In 2014, she became the artistic director of the Seoul Shakespeare Company, and has also been the producer of the company’s shows while continuing to act and create costumes for the group. “I am trying to remain balanced artistically between the worlds of gugak and classical theater, and find ways to bring elements of gugak training and aesthetics to the world of Western theatrical practice, presenting the techniques and spirit of Korean traditional performing arts to a wider audience,” she said. “I am preparing workshops for teaching Shakespeare with hopes of incorporating Korean dance and vocal training into classical theater training in the future.” KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 63

Ash-Morgan believes that gugak and Western theater can benefit each other. “Music has a definite influence on theater by helping to train breathing and gracefulness in voice. Both movements and emotions are interconnected, as the extension of the other. By practicing pansori, for example, I could acquire a stronger, lower and deeper voice, which I use on the theater stage without worrying about injuring my vocal cords,” she said. “In Korea’s traditional music, there is also a concept called han — a sense of accumulated and condensed sadness and bitterness — from which real artists create a cathartic effect with passion and energy. This intense emotion of sadness is almost universal, a quality shown in lots of classic tragedies on stage. However, we should not necessarily remain in a passive feeling but push against it to share cathartic feelings with the audience.” A Triple-role Player Ash-Morgan’s typical week is divided between three major activities: teaching four classes (16 hours) at Kwangwoon University; learning Korean music and dance, mostly at


nighttime; and acting and producing Shakespearean plays. As her work with the Seoul Shakespeare Company is voluntary, her entire income comes from teaching English conversation and presentation. “The university teaching job gives me financial support and time to engage in artistic pursuits,” she said. Aside from diligence, passion and commitment, Ash-Morgan must have something else that has enabled her to learn traditional Korean music and dance in a relatively short time and seemingly with fewer difficulties than some might expect. Korean dances that are considered traditional today developed under the influence of prominent teachers, each with their own style that has been passed down over the last couple of generations in teacher-to-student lines, sometimes hereditary, and sometimes non-hereditary, she explained. “I’ve studied four different lines of Korean dance, with four different teachers, and they’re all quite distinct from each other. I’ve found that any time I begin with a new dance teacher, I need to quiet my own movement instincts and focus on the details of what makes that teacher’s style unique; not just the technique, but her own personal neukkim — her feeling, character, or aura, or how she expresses her personality and feelings through the dance,” she said. “It’s not just about learning choreography; for me, it’s about emulating the character of my teacher when she dances, which requires attention to every complex detail. Then I can try to find that feeling within my real self, like I do when I am performing as a character on stage or in film.” Ash-Morgan is grateful that she had the opportunity to learn the basics when she was still living in the U.S. among a supportive group of people. As she sees it, Korean tra-

2 1. Lauren Ash-Morgan is both an actor with the Seoul Shakespeare Company and its artistic director. She plays the role of Beatrice in the 2016 production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by her husband, Michael Downey. 2. A scene from “The Winter’s Tale,” staged in April 2017 under the direction of Michael Downey. Lauren Ash-Morgan performs the role of Paulina. On the left is John Michaels in the role of Antigonus, and on the right is Josh Kroot as Camillo.

“I am trying to remain balanced artistically between the worlds of gugak and classical theater, and find ways to bring elements of gugak training and aesthetics to the world of Western theatrical practice, presenting the techniques and spirit of Korean traditional performing arts to a wider audience.” 64 KOREANA Autumn 2017

in her graduate work. “With the Seoul Shakespeare Company, I find the mirror image of that experience. In the U.S., I was doing gugak; in Korea, much of my life is focused around doing Shakespeare,” she said. “Having performed pansori back in the States and now being in Korea and doing Shakespeare, in each case, I am performing something foreign to the nation in which I live, but sometimes considered archaic in the nation of the art form’s origin.”

© Robert Michael Evans

ditional dance movements are so integral not only to the dances themselves but also to singing and instrumental performances that it’s easy to think of the movement style as a part of “Koreanness,” as if it’s something passed down through the blood. “Over time, my teachers realize that they can just leave me alone and allow me to blend into the group, and that I will learn just fine on my own,” she said. “At the National Gugak Center, when a new year of classes starts, at least a few of my classmates have either shared a class with me in the past or seen me perform in the annual festival, so it’s much less awkward now than it used to be.” When she was living in the U.S., she spent a lot of time in Korean linguistic and cultural spaces. The idea of migrant minorities’ cultural areas, and the importance of such cultural spaces where people can gather and be themselves, was one of the points she emphasized

Gugak and Shakespeare: Strange Bedfellows? In comparing the similarities and dissimilarities of gugak and Shakespearean theatrics, Ash-Morgan said, “To most Korean people, gugak is unfamiliar, difficult to understand, perhaps boring, though performed and loved by a vibrant and innovative sub-community of gugak artists within the larger Korean society. It is a similar case with Shakespeare in English-speaking countries; many people consider the language awkward, old, and potentially boring. Shakespeare is a large part of the shaping of our culture, and, particularly for the U.K., a part of national identity.” Likewise, gugak, while unfamiliar to many Koreans, holds a special place as a symbol of Korean national identity. Ash-Morgan said she finds the parallels between gugak and Shakespeare guite fascinating: “Both seem old and weird to the uninitiated and yet enjoy enormous popularity and vibrancy among a particular subset of the population. Both have historical and cultural depth, but also room for artistic innovation and the ability to touch modern audiences.” Between teaching, dance and music lessons, and theater, Ash-Morgan has little time for anything else. Even on weekends, she edits videos of her productions or creates stage costumes, including hanbok (traditional Korean clothes). Her hectic schedule makes her a fan of Seoul’s superb public transport system, especially the subway. “I do much of my work in subway trains. Had the Seoul subway not been this convenient, it would have been much harder for me to juggle three balls at the same time,” she said. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 65


66 KOREANA Autumn 2017



Near the bottom of the southern region of the Korean peninsula is the historic city of Jinju with a population of 350,000. Flowing through the heart of the city is the Nam River. In the past it was the scene of wretched battles when the Japanese invaded and in modern times it was dammed to form Jinyang Lake. In Jinju, time flows with the water. Gwak Jae-gu Poet Ahn Hong-beom Photographer KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 67


itting by a window overlooking the lake, I read a young poet’s first anthology. Poetry, water and travel are all very similar in nature. Water quietly flows over the land and then stops, just as poetry flows through the spirits of human beings and stops at some point. Travel is a way for people to flow through time. When people stop traveling and lie down to rest for a moment, that’s when their hearts grow warm. Naechon is a village by Lake Jinyang. I’m fortunate in being able to start my travels here. I sit inside a café and look out the window, turning over the pages of the poetry book. At the traditional market in the city where I live, a young couple opened a bookstore named Simda. The word means “to plant,” as in “to plant trees” or “to plant flowers.” “Who’s going to come to the market to buy books? I hope you don’t end up starving to death.”

68 KOREANA Autumn 2017

The market merchants worried for the couple, but their concerns have turned out to bring good tidings. People began to seek out the little bookstore which is no bigger than 10 square meters. Tourists getting off at the nearby train station would make their way through the narrow market aisles to find it. Some came to read the travelogues, poetry books and picture books on display in the tiny bookstore. Television folks and journalists also came. Did Bronze Age Humans Have Poetr y? When I stopped by the bookstore on my way to Jinju, the owners handed me a volume of poetry. “Dam Dam.” A mind as peaceful as flowing water ... It is the first poetry anthology by Chang Sung-hui. While reading the book, deep inside me I sensed the no small turmoil and misfortune experienced by the author in her life.

A day when I was sick and alone I melted in the cold and lost all form. I am a sham. I press down my feet wet from walking so long In square shoes My beloved coldness spilling down, down As my high heels click noisily. The long names I could not soon give up Remain thick on my tongue. This is a poem titled “Ice.” I liked the way ice is used as a metaphor for tears. The expression “My beloved coldness” is also a metaphor for tears. Also, my eyes are caught by the


2 1. The downtown area is seen beyond the railings of Chokseongnu on a bank of the Nam River, which flows through the city of Jinju. First erected in the Goryeo Dynasty, the pavilion has been rebuilt and repaired many times over the years. During the Japanese invasions of 1592–1598, it served as command headquarters for the defense of Jinju Fortress and today is a province-designated cultural property that is popular with local residents as a place to stop and take a rest. 2. The Jinju Bronze Age Museum features an exhibition of relics excavated from the Daepyeong-myeon area in Jinju.

“square shoes.” Surely, life is like endlessly groping in the air wearing a pair of square high heels. The water on the lake is tranquil. I drive along Route No. 1049 following the lakeside. After about 10 kilometers, I see a sign pointing to the Jinju Bronze Age Museum. The museum is dedicated to exploring the lives of the people who settled in the delta here around 1,500 B.C., and displays relics from that time. How did they live, those people from 3,500 years ago? At the museum, I read that some 400 pit dwelling sites had been discovered in the area and was amazed to see that the food, clothing and shelter of the Bronze Age people were not so different from ours today. They ate rice cooked in earthenware pots over a fire and grilled fish caught in the river. Carbonized peach pits were also discovered. I looked at a kitchen loft where grains were stored, a weight used for spinning thread and dark red pottery dishes. Suddenly I wondered how the people back then expressed the flow of their thoughts, whether they dreamed of crossing mountains and rivers and traveling about. I closely examined the surface of the pottery vessels and noted that they were all undecorated. For the people who lived here 3,500 years ago, poetry certainly did not yet exist. Also, traveling alone was probably impossible. The notion that humankind is the lord of all creKOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 69

ation is likely a conceit born of the intellectual arrogance or narcissism of humans regarding the civilization they have created in modern times. Aesthetic Language of Unfortunate Times I get back on the same road and continue driving. The mimosa trees lining the lakeside are in full bloom. In Korean, these trees are called haphwansu (“joyously united tree”) or haphonmok (“twilight united tree”). The fern-like leaves open out along the twigs during the day, but when the sun goes down they fold up over each other. Under the shade of a mimosa on a hillside with a view over the lake, I take out the poetry book and start reading again.

The gods and wine These names I held to be safe antidotes. Though winter is gone my breath is white, My body yearns for the grave. This warlike weather, how much hotter can it get A question mark attached to every breath. The wind blows and the rain falls Walking without an umbrella You are like the shade of a fallen tree. The above poem is titled “Though Walking Without End.” The person walking without an umbrella is the poet herself. In the 1980s, which were like the shade of a fallen tree, I was in my twenties and “the age of poetry” had arrived in Korea. Through political oppression and persecution people wrote poetry. Farmers, carpenters, bus drivers, steelworkers, teachers, miners, nurses — everyone wrote poetry. Poetry was solace for people and a haven for their spirits. Poetry volumes that sold a million copies were published one after another. And the people loved that period.


70 KOREANA Autumn 2017

I thought that poetry dwells in the hearts of people in pain, and that it embodies the journeys of suffering spirits. For a moment, I wondered whether the Bronze Age people of 3,500 years ago had no poetry because they knew no pain.

To the young poet who wrote “Dam Dam”: Do not despair. You have your beloved language at your side and the day will come when you record in whole the sadness and beauty of the human spirit. The Heart Redder than the Poppy Chokseongnu is a stately pavilion inside Jinju Fortress. To Koreans, this beautiful structure standing over a bend of the Nam River is both a living reminder of their painful history and an enduring consolation. In 1592, the Japanese invaded Joseon. The wars that raged for the next seven years are known as the Imjin Waeran. When the Japanese forces, consisting of 20,000 soldiers, attacked Jinju Fortress in the tenth month of that year, Kim Si-min, the magistrate of Jinju, defeated them, leading a force of just 3,800. By the end of the seven-day battle, the Japanese had lost 300 commanders and 10,000 soldiers, which gives an idea of the wretchedness of the war. Kim Si-min was shot and died in the battle at the age of 39. The second battle at Jinju Fortress began in the sixth month of the following year. The war was waged amid monsoon rains


and ended with the fall of Jinju Fortress. All the Joseon soldiers inside the fortress died either fighting the Japanese or by jumping into the Nam River, and the civilians sheltering within the fortress were slaughtered. The Japanese sent as many as 20,000 severed heads of Koreans back to their country. It is said that the bodies of those who had drowned blocked the flow of the river. Although the city had fallen, the Japanese suffered great losses and failed to occupy the Honam region to the west, the granary of the country, eventually forcing them to give up their ambitions of conquering Joseon. Hence the profound significance of the battle. From this historic battle, the story emerged of a woman who bloomed like a flower after the war. Nongae is known as a gisaeng, an artistic entertainer, although some records say she was simply a commoner. However, her social position is not important. After the Second Siege of Jinju, the Japanese soldiers held a victory banquet, with several gisaeng in attendance. At the party, Nongae enticed the enemy commander, Keyamura Rokusuke, to the edge of a cliff, wrapped her arms around him and jumped to their death into the Nam River below. Locals call the rock from which Nongae jumped Uiam (Rock of Loy-

1. At the Jinyang Lake Observatory, visitors look out over the water to enjoy the scenic view at twilight. 2. Under the Jinju Fortress walls is a street full of antiques, stretching 600 meters, that is named Insa-dong. Antique stores began to appear here one by one in the 1970s and the street looks much the same today.


alty), while the shrine dedicated to her memory is called Uigisa (Shrine of the Loyal Gisaeng) and stands overlooking the river. The poet Byeon Yeong-ro memorializes Nongae: Noble anger Is deeper than religion, Fiery passion Is stronger than love. Ah! Over the water Bluer than the pea flower, Flows a heart Redder than the poppy. The beautiful sleek eyebrows Quiver up high And the pomegranate lips Kissed death! Ah! Over the water Bluer than the pea flower, Flows a heart Redder than the poppy. The October Lantern Festival, held in honor of those who died in the wars of resistance against the Japanese invasions,

72 KOREANA Autumn 2017

is the pride of the people of Jinju. In recognition of the unique story behind the festival, the International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA) in 2015 granted Jinju the World Festival and Event City Award. When the festival begins, the Nam River is covered with brilliantly colored floating lanterns. At night, the heavens seem to be filled with more paper sky lanterns than stars, recalling the Siege of Jinju, when defenders and civilians caught inside the walls used such sky lanterns to give news of their situation to those outside, while people outside sent news from home to those inside. A visit to Jinju in early October rewards the traveler with magnificent scenery and may bring unexpected joy. You can write your name and your dreams and wishes on a lantern and send it soaring into the night sky. Then, who knows — how those lanterns must have raised the spirits of the people of Jinju, carrying their hearts’ wishes and pleas to the heavens during those cold and desperate nights of 425 years ago as they confronted the invaders, with the Nam River their last defense. A Novelist’s Beloved Antique Street I love the old street wrapped around the fortress walls of Jinju. It’s called Insa-dong, like the famous antique alley in Seoul. And there’s someone I always think of whenever I visit this street: the late novelist Park Wan-suh.


Sites to Visit in Jinju

328km Jinju Jungang Market Jinju Fortress

Naechon Lake Village

Park loved this street. Insa-dong in Seoul is too busy and the goods are too expensive, but its namesake in Jinju is quiet and the people are still kindly and big-hearted. As Park used to say, it’s still an enjoyable place to walk around. And no wonder. The merchants there have all read at least one or two of her novels, and one brought out his copy for her to autograph. Only a writer knows how it feels to be with people who treat your work with respect. Park was especially fond of wooden furniture from the Joseon period. “Joseon wooden items are never overwhelmed, even when they are placed with sophisticated Western paintings or abstract art. They do not lose their dignity and have the quiet presence to complement or offset still objects,” she said. Thinking of her, I browsed a number of antique stores. The

Battle scenes from the Japanese invasions are re-created every year with colorful floating lantern effigies during the October Lantern Festival, which takes place on the Nam River.

Rhee Seund Ja Jinju Museum of Art

shopping god grabbed me, and I bought a glazed earthenware vessel for the equivalent of three hundred dollars. If Park were here she would say, “Oh! Where did you find that? You have a wonderful eye for things.” Where Poetry Begins, Where Poetry Belongs The Rhee Seund Ja Jinju Museum of Art opened in 2015. Born in Jinju in 1918, Rhee was one of the painters who, along with Kim Whanki and Lee Ung-no, made 20th century Korean art known internationally. A large number of her works in the museum bear poetic titles. Paintings with titles such as “The Texture of the Wind,” “Murmurings of Dawn” or “The Carefree Mermaid” touch and settle warmly in one’s heart. During the Japanese colonial period in the first half of the 20th century, Rhee studied in Japan, and in 1951 at the height of the Korean War, she went to study in France, a kind of displacement that certainly left its mark on her work. How could she forget the suffering of her homeland and the people left behind? I thought that poetry dwells in the hearts of people in pain, and that it embodies the journeys of suffering spirits. For a moment, I wondered whether the Bronze Age people of 3,500 years ago had no poetry because they knew no pain. Back then, people were more compassionate and more at peace than we are today. It may be that our history as human beings who write poetry is in fact a step backward. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 73



an IT Developer

74 KOREANA Autumn 2017

Embedded software developers work to maximize the convenience of product users by arranging and combining symbols that are simply illegible to the untrained eye. As you might expect from someone doing this kind of work, Kim Yoon-ki admits, “For about half the month I end up working overtime.” But he also shares his plans to realize a long-held dream 10 years from now. Yi Ji-young Reporter, Ha Ji-kwon Photographer


he IT developers we see in TV dramas or films are usually portrayed like magicians. Peering into a black screen, they frantically type away at the keyboard and then suddenly, the screen changes and top-secret information appears. For laypeople who know nothing of the processes involved in program design, it’s a mysterious and amazing sight. Sometimes it even seems as though people with such skills are living in a different world. In reality, however, IT developers come across quite differently. Eight years into the job, Kim Yoonki begins by calmly saying that his everyday life is “no different from that of your average office worker.” He works from nine to six, with an hour’s break for lunch from eleven thirty to twelve thirty. There are times when he can leave work at six on the dot and others when he ends up staying late. Coffee Maketh the Software Developer The first thing Kim does when he gets to work is to have a cup of coffee with his colleagues. He calls these coworkers his “brothers.” As soon as one of them sends word via the company’s instant messenger, the brothers all gather in front of the coffee shop on the ground floor of their building. While they wait for their coffee, they chat about this and that. The short gathering lasts about five to ten minutes at most, but for Kim it’s a precious moment that marks the start of each day. “There are three or four brothers who entered the company at the same time as I did. Sometimes they

don’t come to the office but go straight to outside assignments from home, so we make a point of meeting whenever we can to encourage each other. I’m the youngest of the brothers. Talking through my problems with big brother who is three years older, or discussing things I’m curious about, really helps me in my work,” he says. In the IT field they like to joke that “coffee maketh the software developer.” As soon as they get to work they have a cup to get their senses together, then another to keep them awake while working, and then another later on to focus a disheveled mind and regain concentration. In this way, IT developers drink coffee the way most of us drink water. The Iron Rule of Overtime Kim’s weapons are a desktop PC loaded with a 12-core processor, a 32 inch UHD monitor, and an old keyboard that hasn’t been replaced once since he began his job. With these tools he goes about his work as if going to battle. He is an embedded software developer. Embedded software is the kind of software found in home appliances like TVs and refrigerators that carries out specific functions. It is essential for devices connected in the Internet of Things. But when he introduces himself to other people, Kim simply says he is “a developer.” If he starts talking about his work in detail, the explanations just get longer and longer, and people who are unfamiliar with this field keep asking him all sorts of questions. There’s no way of knowing when those conversations will finally come to an end, and it’s exhausting. Having experienced this a few times, Kim now keeps his


self-introduction to a minimum. There are also some occasions where meeting new people results in embarrassment: “If I say I’m an IT developer, some people come back with things like ‘You must be great at video games!’ or ‘I’ve got a virus on my PC, do you think you could fix it?’” “Just as there are all kinds of different ball games, including basketball, football and baseball, it’s the same with IT development. There are a range of different areas — the web, embedded software, servers,” Kim explains. “You wouldn’t expect a pro basketball player to be great at baseball, would you? I specialize in just one particular area. I can’t be an expert in everything, so I can’t bear it when people ask questions as though it’s all the same thing.” IT development is a bit like writing a novel. It’s not a task you can complete by just working hard all day. You have to check whether what you did the day before operates as it should, and if for some reason it doesn’t, you have to identify the problem and fix it. This process is repeated over and over again. In the way different stories and plotlines come together to form one plausible narrative as a novel, every thread has to be in order for a program to work. If you can’t solve a problem encountered in the work you have already done, then you can’t make any further progress, and you end up working late day after day until you manage to get things untangled. Kim works late about half of every month. “I have my own iron rule for when I’m working overtime,” he says. “I have coworkers who sleep for a couple of hours in the office to save the time it takes to get home and back, but no matter how late I end up working, I have to go home to sleep. That way I can come back again to start fresh. It’s how I get the motivation to work another day.”

With his office located in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, and his home in Incheon, it’s not a short commute, but Kim continues to adhere to this rule. The Secret to Happiness at Work Kim likes the sounds of his colleagues talking to each other, the tick of the clock, and the quiet that sometimes falls on the office. He says it helps him concentrate. However, once a period of deep concentration passes, there comes the “jinxed time,” when no matter what you do things just don’t fall into place. As an escape at such times, Kim searches the Internet for this and that and the day passes in a flash. “In developing you go through a process called the ‘build.’ Once you’ve worked out your software in a language the computer can understand, it’s a process of verifying whether the computer can properly process that content. This stage takes much longer than you would imagine. So as a developer, my best weapon and friend is my high performance computer, because it minimizes the time I have to wait in boredom,” Kim says. Even when it comes to love there are dull moments, so work is not going to be any different. Like anyone else, Kim sometimes gets tired of his routine and the repetitive tasks he has to perform. The secret to not giving up is to find enjoyment in the task of development itself. And it’s crucial to have hobbies and activities to help you relax and recharge. “There are developers who are only interested in computers and so they completely immerse themselves in their work, but many others enjoy various pastimes and rich cultural lives. Most developers are highly curious people and they end up taking up all kinds of hobbies. The same goes for me,” he says. Whenever Kim has the time he reads. A book

Kim has a dream. He wants to become an interdisciplinary developer who combines IT and the arts. Rather than leaving his current work behind, he wants to use the skills he has acquired as the foundation for an even better kind of work. 76 KOREANA Autumn 2017

Kim Yoon-ki (sitting down, facing the camera at right) and his embedded software development team gather for a meeting. Software is embedded in items like household appliances, enabling the performance of certain functions.

he particularly enjoyed recently was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life.” On weekends he catches up on the latest developments in his field and watches movies. He also joined the guitar group at his office and gives occasional concerts. In the past he also liked to run and would complete a four kilometer jog before returning home from work. He has taken part in two full-length amateur marathons, and completed both. “Enjoying pastimes is actually a way for me to get more enjoyment out of my work. It’s my secret to working happily,” he says. Of course there are developers in quite different circumstances. Many suffer from depression due to the stress levels of the work they do. It’s a job where the office lights stay on all night, and eating and

sleeping at the office can quickly become routine. Fortunately, Kim enjoys his work and feels a sense of achievement. He even has time to pursue the joys of life. Kim has a dream. He wants to become an interdisciplinary developer who combines IT and the arts. Rather than leaving his current work behind, he wants to use the skills he has acquired as the foundation for an even better kind of work. “About 10 years from now I want to open a gallery. Something like a craft workshop for IT developers,” he says. “I want to progress from being a developer who creates things with codes to become an engineer who designs and produces things that are more tangible. I’m not sure when it will be, but it’s a dream I really want to achieve.”




Charles La Shure Professor, Department of Korean Language and Literature, Seoul National University

78 KOREANA Autumn 2017

A Buddhist Monk’s Advice on Achieving Peace of Mind ‘The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down’ By Haemin Sunim, Translated by Chi-Young Kim, Art by Youngcheol Lee, 288 pages, $18.00, New York: Penguin Books [2017]

In a world plagued by the many problems we see today, how can anyone maintain their sanity, let alone peace of mind? Haemin Sunim (sunim, also Romanized as seunim, is a Korean title of respect for Buddhist monks) looks to the Buddhist concept of mindfulness for guidance; indeed, the very first thing the reader sees at the top of the cover of this book is “How to be calm and mindful in a fast-paced world.” Mindfulness entails being fully aware of what is going on within you and around you, but it goes beyond that. It is realizing, as the author notes in the first chapter, that “the boundary between the mind and the world is actually thin, porous, and ultimately illusory.” One important aspect of mindfulness is being able to observe phenomena without reacting to them, understanding that our reactions are not necessarily connected to those phenomena. Yet, “The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down” is not an esoteric, metaphysical exploration of Buddhist thought. The eight chapters deal with topics that will be accessible and appealing to all readers: rest, mindfulness, passion, relationships, love, life, the future, and spirituality. Each of these chapters is in turn divided into two sections that begin with short essays and continue into brief meditations, formatted almost as poetry rather than prose. And while Haemin Sunim’s writing is certainly deep and profound, the book and its author could not be more down to earth. In the chapter on life, for example, he begins meditations with phrases such as “Life is like a slice of pizza,” or “Life is like jazz.” What makes this such a powerful text is Haemin’s spirit and attitude. While he is without a doubt dispensing wisdom, he does not do so from a high and exalted place, but as a brother who has been through what you’re going through — yes, even love unrequited. The meditations are effective because they are in touch with reality; the essays are moving because of how open and honest the author is about his own trials and experiences. Reading “The Things You Can See” feels like having a conversation with a close friend who really gets you. No doubt in part due to the conversational nature of the text, the book flows easily and reads quickly. It could, in fact, be read in a single sitting, but to do so would be missing the point. Both the essays and the meditations are rich food for thought. In addition to the essays and meditation prompts, the chapters are punctuated by the beautiful artwork of Youngcheol Lee (or Lee Young-cheol), intended as “calming interludes, to be lingered over much like the meditation prompts are meant to be.” The works largely depict one or two human figures in beautiful natural settings, but the proportions give the reader pause for thought: Nature is vast while the figures are tiny. Yet, rather than being overwhelmed by or lost in nature, the figures seem to complete the scene, showing the interconnected nature of all things. “The Things You Can See” is written for everyone. Haemin Sunim has been influenced by and engages with spiritual traditions outside of Buddhism, and his insights into the workings of the human mind transcend the categories of “religion” or “spirituality.” This is one book that will certainly reward the time spent with it.

A Female Diver-photographer Zooms in on Jeju’s Haenyeo ‘Haenyeo: Women Divers of Korea’ Words and photographs by Y. Zin, 192 pages, 58,000 won/$84.95, Seoul: Hollym International Corporation [2017]

“Haenyeo: Women Divers of Korea” offers a window into the lives of the famous female divers of Jeju Island, off the south coast of Korea. These divers harvest shellfish and other seafood off the seabed, free diving in waters some 5 to 20 meters deep, and last year, their culture was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Y. Zin has been working to honor the culture, traditions and values of the haenyeo for a number of years now, and this book is the result of what she calls the “Happy Haenyeo Project.” Although haenyeo are respected for their skill and dedication, their lifestyle has often been negatively associated with poverty and a harsh life; Y. Zin hopes to show that, while this may have been true in the past, the haenyeo who dive today primarily do so out of love for the sea and their work. If anyone is equipped to carry out such a project, it is Y. Zin. She is an accomplished diver, holding a world record in

sidemount cave diving, and often speaks at diving expos and conventions. She is also a skilled underwater photographer; in fact, she is the first National Geographic underwater photographer to hail from Korea. Her abilities as both diver and photographer, not to mention her love and respect for the haenyeo, are evident in the full-page color photographs that adorn the book. To peruse the pages is to step into a day in the life of a Jeju haenyeo. We join the smiling women as they prepare for their dives, follow them into and under the sea — a magical world of brightly colored corals and bountiful harvests — and then gather around a campfire on shore as they chase away the chill of the ocean before heading to the fields to work on their farms. The book celebrates a time-honored Korean lifestyle in a way that presents these divers not as objects of wonder or fascination, but as real people preserving traditions they love and cherish.

Award-winning ‘Phantom Singers’ Release Debut Album ‘Forte di Quattro’ By Forte di Quattro, MP3 Album $9.49, London: Decca Records [2017]

Forte di Quattro’s eponymous debut album comes hot on the heels of their firstplace finish in “Phantom Singer,” a Korean TV singing competition for male crossover quartets. Inspired by the success of the classical crossover group Il Divo, the show’s producers aimed to showcase hidden talent (so-called “phantom singers”) from all musical backgrounds. In that they introduced to the world the melodies of Forte di Quattro, the project must be considered a success. Forte di Quattro brings together a variety of musical talent: the classically trained Kim Hyunsoo (tenor) and TJ Son (bass), musical actor Ko Hoon-jeong and stage actor Lee Byeori. When singing solo, each singer’s

training and background is easy to discern, but when they join together the result is a seamless harmony. Fans of the TV show will be happy to hear that the group’s debut album is comprised mainly of the songs performed during the competition. Perhaps unsurprisingly, half the songs are Italian (unfortunately with no translations in the accompanying lyric booklet). Of the remaining songs, five are Korean — including original songs written for the group — one is a Swedish folk song, and one is Coldplay’s smash hit “Viva la Vida.” Overall, it is a strong debut effort from these new stars, setting the stage for what hopefully will be more to come. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 79


Political TV Programs Evolving

WHY SO SERIOUS? Political entertainment programs are the hottest television content nowadays. In the past, politics were mostly the stuff of current affairs and cultural programs like the news, “talking heads” shows and investigative documentaries. But a new format that takes its cues from entertainment talk shows combining both expert commentary and humor has taken their place, enjoying high ratings. Hwang Jin-mee Pop Culture Critic


olitical entertainment shows on cable TV networks are causing a sensation. Their high ratings are in part attributable to recent events such as the presidential impeachment grabbing people’s attention, but another reason behind their success is the distinctive approach these new programs are taking. Two characteristics are commonly found in political entertainment shows. The make-up of the panel — politicians, pundits, lawyers and other political experts — is not different from conventional political shows that used to dominate current affairs programs. What is different is that the shows’ hosts are not news anchors or commentators who exude gravitas, but entertainment celebrities. But while the combination of expert panels and entertainers may be considered a superficial variation, the more fundamental change is the way they discuss politics on the new shows. The new genre still deals with current affairs but the panel does not just engage in heated but often boring debates; instead, a dash of humor is added to the recipe. The Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation’s “100 Minute Debate” with journalist Sohn Suk-hee, known for his rigorous anchoring style, aired on terrestrial TV from 2002 to 2009. It followed the then common debate rules to the letter, and that was the 80 KOREANA Autumn 2017

key to its success. “Ultimate Debate Battle,” hosted by anchorwoman Baik Ji-yeon on cable network tvN, began airing in 2008 and was more casual than MBC’s “100 Minute Debate,” but it still stayed largely within the boundaries of conventional current affairs programs. Changing Formats Contemporary political entertainment shows have an altogether different format. The debates do not follow strict rules but put more emphasis on a natural flow of conversations. Although debates may get intense, there is always room for playful banter and a back and forth of witty jokes, or for using some random non sequiturs to comedic effect. The viewers’ attitudes have changed, too: No longer do they simply expect plain facts and impartiality from the programs. Instead, viewers enjoy learning about current affairs from persuasive speakers whose views correspond with their own. That is why the personal styles and chemistry of the panel are so important. Take the conservative lawyer Jun Won-tchack, for example, who until recently appeared on JTBC’s “Ssulzun” (“Battle of the Tongues”). Progressives regularly slammed his right-wing perspective on many issues, but he would smooth ruffled feathers with his personality and humor. The other panelist who is still on the show is Rhyu Si-min, a prominent progressive politician and former journalist. Rhyu

voiced his opinions on all issues but did not engage in pungent debates with Jun who usually held opposite views. Instead, the two preferred engaging in a two-man comedy routine, much to the enjoyment of their audience. Channel A’s “Outsiders,” another talk show about current affairs featuring former National Assembly members Chun Yu-ok and Chung Bong-ju, follows the same format. The silver-tongued panelists, regardless of their political leanings, contribute greatly to the popularity of the political entertainment genre. Their expert knowledge of current affairs helps to raise awareness of important issues, allowing people to chuckle about them at the same time. Changing Media Landscape Amid the changing media landscape, cable TV networks’ newly launched political entertainment shows are now competing with one another. In 2011, two major developments in the Korean media market paved the way for the new genre. One was the introduction and rapidly growing popularity of political podcasts, including “Naneun Ggomsuda” (“I Am a Weasel”), notorious for lampooning then president Lee Myung-bak; the other was the launch of new cable TV networks, made possible by an amendment of the nation’s media law to deregulate the media market, which led to the mushrooming of cable TV networks operated by newspaper companies. At the time, podcasts were quite new in Korea, and the popularity of “Naggomsu” (short for “Naneun Ggomsuda”) created a boom of the alternative media market. Enabled by the high penetration of smartphones, podcasting allowed users to listen to content downloaded on their devices anytime, anywhere. Because of the unique way the programs are distributed, podcasts are not considered broadcasts and therefore not subject to the Broadcasting Communications Act. And these programs were not shy about criticizing politicians. Political criticism and accusations can be serious issues, but the program was spiced with touches of satire, lighthearted jokes, sometimes salty language and hints of conspiracies, blowing more conventional shows out of the water. In that sense, “Naggomsu” provided the basic template for today’s popular political entertainment shows. While the emergence of podcasts was a big bang for political progressives, the launch of cable TV networks heralded a watershed moment for conservative voices. Traditional media such as the Chosun Ilbo, the

bailiwick of conservatives, jumped on the bandwagon of cable TV networks as the commanding status of newspapers was dwindling. Targeting right-leaning middle-aged and elderly viewers, they focused on conservative topics and fell back on the overused formulas of earlier talk shows. Entertainmentization of Politics In 2009, IT entrepreneur Ahn Cheol-soo had first appeared on an entertainment talk show on terrestrial TV, winning fame and jumpstarting his political career. Entertainment talk shows soon proved to be effective breeding grounds for politicians turning, as in Ahn’s case, an entrepreneur into a strong presidential candidate. Joint TV debates had long been the highlight of presidential election campaigns, but in 2012 the debates were reduced to a minimum as the ruling party’s candidate Park Geunhye was debate-averse. As a result, creating a favorable public image on TV entertainment programs became more important for presidential candidates than verifying their policies and qualifications through debates. During the 2017 presidential election campaign, political content was a bestseller once again. New formats were introduced that were well-received: SBS’s “National Interview,” for example, differed from the traditional joint debates in that it invited each presidential candidate to the studio individually where they were interviewed by several panelists. On other shows, including “Ssulzun” and “Gangjeokdeul” (“Powerful Adversaries,” TV Chosun), candidates appeared on talk shows together to engage in debates with panelists, replacing the conventional presidential debate format. The entertainmentization of politics may be an irreversible trend, but it is not without its negative side effects. Throughout the campaign, fan clubs of politicians, similar to those of teenage pop idols, dominated public opinion, and even after the election was over, they demanded unconditional support and loyalty, thereby silencing legitimate criticism and minority views. However, people’s interest in politics has reached an all-time high and political entertainment shows are certainly here to stay for the time being. Therefore, it is necessary to have a healthy and constructive debate about the entertainmentization of politics. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 81


Kimchi’s Beginnings


THE CHINESE CABBAGE Chinese cabbage, or baechu, is the main ingredient of kimchi, the most popular of the traditional Korean side dishes. The crunchy-tender white stemmed and curly light-green-leafed cabbage is an indispensible part of the Korean diet since the 17th century, when it started to be cultivated in Korea. Though relatively undervalued compared to other vegetables belonging to the Brassicaceae family, baechu packs more nutritional and medicinal value than usually thought. Park Tae-kyun Research Professor, Department of Food Engineering, Korea University 82 KOREANA Autumn 2017


he poem “Heart of Baechu” by Ra Heeduk, included in a middle school textbook, touches the reader’s heart with affectionate lines anticipating a good harvest. “Words spoken without fail all summer / As I walked along the furrows in the fields. / I’ll be happy because of you, / I’ll be happy because you’ve grown well. / Tying your leaves tight in late fall, / I see the insides so full as you’ve grown healthy.” Just as the poet personifies it in her lyrical imagination, so familiar and important to Koreans is the vegetable called baechu. The Brassicaceae Family Baechu is one of the three vegetables Koreans consume the most, along with daikon radish (mu) and chili pepper (gochu). This particular cabbage belongs to the Brassicaceae family, which includes daikon, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale, among others. While broccoli and cabbage, often served on the Western table, have long been established as health foods, baechu and daikon have not been fully recognized yet for their nutritional and health value, as less research has been done on their effectiveness. Baechu originally comes from China, but there is also a local cultivar named “Korean cabbage.” Baechu is classified into three kinds depending on the shape — that is, how the leaves hold together. The hard-head (gyeolgu) baechu is so tightly bound it resembles a cannonball; the semi-hard-head (bangyeolgu) baechu has only the stems tightly held together; and the leaves of loose-head (bulgyeolgu) baechu are not held together at all. From these three, only the first two varieties are grown for consumption, not only because they grow fast and yield a lot of heads, but also because they are easy to handle and store. Most people might not know that “Korean cabbage” is further categorized into Seoul baechu and Gaeseong baechu. Seoul baechu is smaller with light-colored leaves, whereas Gaeseong baechu is taller with darker leaves. Tasty and Nutritious A low-calorie food, baechu is much healthier than is usually known. Raw baechu is low in calories, 12 kcal per 100 grams, about half or lower than cabbage and red cabbage. Even cooked or pickled in salt, it yields only 14 kcal, not much of a burden for the body. Its sodium content amounts to 11 mg, lower than cabbage (18 mg), while its vitamin A content,

which boosts the body’s immune system, amounts to 263 IU (international units), significantly higher than that of cabbage (98 IU). Baechu is also rich in fiber which protects against constipation and lowers the risk of obesity. It is easier to digest than other vegetables, and tends to reduce in volume when heated. That it rarely ferments and thus seldom gives rise to gas in the intestines is another merit. One thing specifically emphasized in discussions about the effectiveness of baechu is that it has been proven to have a controlling effect on cancer. A medical science team at Harvard University conducted research on the dietary habits of 47,000 people registered for a follow-up study between 1986 and 1996, and concluded that the more baechu and broccoli one consumes the lower one’s risk is of developing bladder cancer. Other research also indicates anti-cancer effects of baechu, such as the one conducted by the Korea Food Research Institute which showed that the size of liver cancer in laboratory mice fed with baechu and daikon was reduced to half, in comparison with those fed with other vegetables. Traditional Winter Staple Food As implied by a Korean saying, “Baechu of the fall is eaten with the door locked,” the flavor of baechu harvested in late fall is the most excellent, and it is even easier to digest. The reason is that it consists of 96.6 percent water, and is thus a vegetable wellpaired with meat. A generation or two removed from dedicated housekeeping, young people today who buy kimchi instead of making it themselves would not know how to recognize good baechu. A good one is heavier and tightly filled. Its lower base — the stem — is tightly closed, and its leaves are thin and tender. If the outer leaves of a baechu have dark spots, its inside leaves are likely to have them, too, and that baechu should be avoided. In the past, when baechu was not available yearround like today, it was harvested in the fall in time for the kimjang (winter kimchi making) season. Baechu harvested in late fall after the first frost is the tastiest. As time passes and the temperature drops, the leaves hold more tightly together but lessen in flavor. Koreans make soup with baechu, eat baechu raw and seasoned, or make pancakes in thin flour batter in the fall and winter in certain areas, especially in the Gyeongsang provinces, in the southeastern part of the KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 83

country. But baechu is mainly used for kimchi. From the old times, kimchi has long been a staple food. In the winter, fresh vegetables were hard to get, and kimchi was almost the only food supply for essential nutrients such as vitamin C. This was particularly important for poorer people who had difficulty getting other food. The importance of kimchi as a side dish led to the special custom of kimjang. Traditionally, a lot of kimchi is prepared around the time of ipdong, the beginning of winter. To make a lot of kimchi alone is hard, so neighboring women helped each other. Because baechu is decisive for the flavor of kimchi, it was an important task for women to get the good quality bae-

chu for the kimjang season. The proportions of the mixed ingredients for kimchi vary depending on the area and families’ tastes, and the kimchi flavor varies accordingly. Moreover, for kimjang, pickled shrimp, fresh oysters, or raw fish are added and fermented slowly, so it is more nutritious than the usual kimchi. It is known that in the 17th century, baechu like the kind available today began to be grown in Korea. Kimchi is assumed to first have been made shortly thereafter, but in the 18th century, red spicy kimchi appeared, the way it is made today with chili peppers. That is because the chili was introduced to Korea later than baechu, and the earlier kimchi was probably made only with salt.


84 KOREANA Autumn 2017

Baechu has not been investigated to the extent that cabbage has, but undoubtedly, the two share much of the same nutritional value and similar medicinal effects. 2

The 18th century in Korea, when kimchi resembling today’s favorite side dish appeared, was a period when the economy was booming. As the consumption of rice as staple food markedly increased, the wellpaired kimchi enjoyed its heyday as well. This wonderful combination is still valued today. According to a paper by a research team of Dankook University’s Department of Food and Nutrition, published in the “Journal of Nutrition and Health” in 2016, the top foods that Koreans consume more than three times a day are cooked rice and kimchi in first and second place, respectively. However, due to the increasing Westernization of local diets, Koreans’ meat consumption is rising, while their rice consumption keeps falling. As the consumption of rice decreases, that of kimchi might decline as well, as it was a side dish originally developed to add a burst of flavor to the otherwise bland tasting rice. A Top Food for Longevity In the West, cabbage is regarded like baechu in Korea. Cabbage, nicknamed by some “a doctor for the poor,” is cheap, and along with olives and yogurt, it is considered one of the top three foods that promote longevity, hence the popular tag. Cabbage is known to have been liked by the Greek philosopher Diogenes. Some tales claim that Diogenes, who famously told Alexander the Great to stop blocking the sunlight, lived until the age of 90, despite an unsanitary environment, probably because he regularly ate cabbage. Cabbage belongs to a food group that is low in calories but high in calcium and vitamin C.

1. Baechu can be used for soup or for ssam, assorted condiments wrapped in a baechu leaf slightly pickled with salt. Bossam, slices of boiled pork and fresh oyster wrapped in soft baechu leaves, is a favorite Korean dish today. 2. Well ripened kimchi is cut bite-sized and nicely arranged in a dish. Baechu kimchi is an indispensible side dish for rice, the staple food of Koreans.

With only 24 kcal per 100 grams, it is preferred by people on a diet. One interesting reason for cabbage being highly rated by the medical community is its vitamin U content. A research team at Stanford University determined as early as 1949 that cabbage juice is effective for treating gastric ulcers, and such experimental results have been confirmed as recently as this year. Drinking cabbage juice for a week can help reduce ulcers, which is made possible with Vitamin U, later identified as glutamine, a kind of amino acid. Glutamine, a major ingredient for artificial condiments, helps stomach cells regenerate. Recently, cabbage has also garnered attention as an anti-cancer food as well as helping prevent fractures through strengthening muscles and bones. Baechu has not been investigated to the extent that cabbage has, but undoubtedly, the two share much of the same nutritional value and similar medicinal effects. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 85


Shared Houses Bring Strangers Together

The concept of home sharing is broadening with its appeal growing wider. It once meant temporary housing for college students or office workers wanting to save on costs while deriving emotional support from living with peers; home sharing is also used as an alternative welfare program for the elderly, providing an option to avoid the problems of living alone. Now, sharing homes by formal agreement with strangers is a new lifestyle whose effects are being felt in the housing market. Kim Dong-hwan Reporter, The Segye Times Jeon Jae-ho Photographer

Tenants of a shared home in Dapsimni, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul spend time in the common living room. This house run by Sharehouse WOOZOO, a shared housing agency, is well divided into private and shared spaces.

86 KOREANA Autumn 2017


im, an office worker in his late 20s, is living in a shared house, or a “share house” as it is more popularly known. He has lived in Seoul for two years and seems to be very satisfied with his life in such lodgings. How does he like it? He couldn’t paint it in brighter colors. “I like it because there is someone who welcomes me just like family whenever I arrive home. I have no idea what other places look like. But people here get along well with each other,” he said, adding “Sometimes we go out together, for drinks or for a movie. I can enjoy privacy in my own space and find emotional stability in the company of others in our own living room and kitchen.” A New Housing Style According to Statistics Korea’s “Household Projections: 2015–2045,” the number of single-person households in the country was about 5.3 million in 2016, accounting for some 28 percent of all households. The figure represents a more than 1.5-fold increase over 2006 when there were only 3.38 million one-person households. In a report titled “The Socio-Economic Effects of Changes in Household Structure,” the Korea Insurance Research Institute predicts that the percentage of solo households will reach a whopping 36.3 percent in 2045. Honsul (drinking alone) or honbap (dining alone), unheard of in Korea’s gregarious culture until recent years, have become a new trend as a result of the huge rise in one-person households. Consequently, a new housing trend is also being created to fit the growing single lifestyle. Shared houses have drawn more and more attention over the past few years, alongside the growth in popularity of small apartments or officetels (studio apartments). The demographic trend has given rise to shared houses as an option to help people share the cost of high rents and overcome loneliness and inconvenience. This reduces their economic burden because they also share utility bills, maintenance and living expenses. Once they pass a screening interview, they can enjoy a better life at a far lower cost than they would have to bear alone. In a shared house, each person has only one room to himself. But the housemates share the liv-

ing room and the kitchen. In many cases, two people share one room as roommates, with a curtain hung between their beds for a semblance of privacy. Unlike at boarding houses in which landlords rent out a few rooms to boarders, tenants of a shared house take care of housekeeping and maintenance on their own. Bright Side, Flip Side Another Kim, an office worker in his 30s, is living in a shared house in Itaewon, Seoul. He said, “I’ve never thought of myself as lonely since I began living here.” He reasons that it is good for his mental health to always be around other people. As many as eight men live in the shared house where he lives. “We’ve become so close that we can open our hearts to each other,” he said. “You may wonder if it’s boring to live with men only. But it’s much better than you may believe. In fact, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.” By living with other people who have lived different lives, he can learn many new things through vicarious experience, he explained. Living together in a shared house in Sangdo-dong, in Seoul’s Dongjak District, male student tenants agreed that it is good to have someone around to tell “See you later” as you leave, or “I’m home” when you arrive. They feel reassured knowing that there is someone they can talk with in the house, just like their own family. However, something good can have its downsides too. It is good to be around like-minded people. But it can be uncomfortable to live with other people with quite different lifestyles or ideas. Some think nothing of other people touching their belongings, while others raise their voice over little things. Kang, a 20-something woman who lives in a shared home in Sinchon, Seoul, said that unnecessary conflicts are the biggest drawback of the house sharing system. She feels bad when she finds something went missing from the refrigerator or when she has to clean the house because someone else has neglected their duty, she said. Sometimes people feel resentful, leading to arguments when someone fails to fulfill a responsibility, she added. To avoid such problems, some shared houses accept only people with similar interests. Tenants of a shared home in Seongsu-dong, Seoul


Honsul (drinking alone) or honbap (dining alone), unheard of in Korea’s gregarious culture until recent years, have become a new trend as a result of the huge rise in one-person households. Consequently, a new housing trend is also being created to fit the growing single lifestyle. have a meeting every month to prevent unnecessary conflicts and to understand each other better. After the monthly meeting, they open their hearts to each other over snacks and drinks. Sometimes they pool money and throw a party. An Emerging Market Trend With home sharing increasingly considered a new business sector, new enterprises have emerged to develop a market for potential tenants of shared homes. It was in the latter half of 2012 that home sharing began to garner attention as part of the so-called sharing economy. WOOZOO, one of such

1. Tenants put up their schedules on the notice board to prevent inconveniences that may occur. 2. Housemates have a meal together. Shared housing is drawing attention as a new housing style that enables people to save on costs and develop rapport with other tenants.


88 KOREANA Autumn 2017

companies that came into the market around that time, is currently operating a total of 52 shared houses in 13 areas in Seoul. According to data provided by the company, some 7,000 people have applied for vacancies in shared homes run by WOOZOO; more than 300 people have been accepted; and a staggering 75 percent of tenants have renewed their tenancy agreements. A man in his early 30s working in the service sector has lived in a shared house run by this company for over two years. He raised chuckles when he said, “I want to keep living here unless I’m evicted.” Housing preferences differ from person to person. Mindful of this, shared homes are being built in Korean and Western styles, and builders are offering unique interior designs. This makes it possible for everyone to choose houses according to their own taste. Shared homes in Korean hanok style are highly popular among foreign residents. These days, many new apartments are taking design cues from the concept of home sharing, catering to different tastes and needs, as shared houses have emerged as a new type of profitable rental property. In terms of management, security, amenities and community facilities, shared houses certainly have more advantages than stand-alone houses. “Home sharing suits the demands of both potential tenants, who want better living conditions while paying just the same level of rent as for a studio apartment, and landlords, who prefer wolse (monthly rent) to jeonse (Korea’s unique property rental system based on lump-sum deposits),” a real estate expert explained. “It seems that the uptrend for shared houses will continue in the housing market.” It is wrong to regard shared houses merely as a

2 © Sharehouse WOOZOO

means to generate profits just because they have made ripples in the housing market. Local governments are making avid use of shared houses as part of their welfare programs. For example, the Gyeonggi provincial government is running a pilot program providing 70 shared houses for college students and young workers at industrial parks to help relieve them of their housing cost burdens. The Korea Housing and Urban Guarantee Corporation, a public organization under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, is also operating shared houses called “Hug Share Houses,” which cater to students looking for jobs. Its first Hug Share House in Seoul’s Seongdong District has recently accepted a total of 20 tenants. Rental rates for shared houses run by local governments or public corporations are below market value. Those shared houses run by the Gyeonggi provincial government require only about 30 to 50 percent of the regular jeonse deposit, and the Hug Share Houses program rents out rooms at 60 percent of

the going market price. Furthermore, the Hug Share Houses program is also providing student tenants with job search consulting and financial support to help improve their credentials. An Alternative Welfare Program There is yet another type of shared housing, purposely designed not only for home sharing but also for boosting communication across generations. One such example is the “Different Generations Under One Roof” program, run by the Seoul metropolitan government. It is a project simultaneously addressing the issues of an ageing population and the housing problem facing young people. Senior homeowners rent out their empty rooms to undergraduate or graduate students at low prices. This is good news for students because they don’t have to pay deposits and may find such houses near their schools. And for the otherwise lonely elderly, it means they can have somebody around every day.




Short Love, Long Story


Choi Jae-bong Reporter, The Hankyoreh

© Lee Cheon-hui

90 KOREANA Autumn 2017

im Yeon-su is an intellectual writer. Writers may write to earn a living, but it is unusual to find a writer who is not an intellectual, and it may indeed be redundant to mention one word alongside the other. However, I would like it to be understood that here “intellectual” is meant to indicate the abundant reading and deep reflection revealed in his work. The first work by Kim Yeon-su to gain recognition was a full-length novel, “Walking Pointing at a Mask,” published in 1994. This work, which received the prize awarded by the literary magazine Jakga Segye (Writers’ World), alludes strongly to the postmodernism that had a deep influence on Korean society and culture in the 1980s and 1990s. Although the novel was experimental and challenging, it exhibited a playfulness characteristic of a young man in his early twenties. After gaining recognition, Kim Yeon-su distanced himself from the aggressive experimentalism of his first work while developing his own form and style, but without completely shaking off the postmodern world view. He was concerned with the problem of interrogating the boundaries between truth and falsehood, fact and fiction, reality and text, while focusing on doubts and inquiries about fiction. In the suggestively titled collection of short stories, “I Am a Ghost Writer” as well as the novel “Goodbye, Yi Sang,” centered on a non-existent work by Yi Sang, a modernist writer of the 1930s, where he distinguished between the real and the fake, the reciprocal relationship between work and life, these features can be confirmed. Another characteristic of Kim Yeon-su is his cosmopolitan sensitivity. He is not only a writer; he enjoys overseas travel, has a deep knowledge of pop music, and has translated foreign novels by such writers as Raymond Carver. Like Haruki Murakami, who has also translated several of Carver’s works, Kim enjoys running marathons from time to time; these similarities in cultural tastes and lifestyles, rather than imitation, are affirmations of a common world view with which the author imbues his work. Foreign place names and foreign characters also appear

This short story, with the intriguing title of “Mi in April, Sol in July,” is about the narrator’s aunt, whose Korean name is Cha Jeong-sin and whose American name is Pamela Cha. Each name evokes a number of different stories. Between the two names, there are hidden times when happiness, unhappiness, wounds and consolation intersect.

in “Mi in April, Sol in July.” In fact, since the 2000s, it has become very common for foreign characters and foreign places to appear in Korean fiction. Therefore, it might seem that to point out Kim Yeon-su’s cosmopolitan inclination is rather simplistic. Anyway, in this story, the maternal aunt of the narrator, originally named Cha Jeong-sin, has gone to the United States, taken the name Pamela, and married an American man named Paul. We learn that the couple lives in the small coastal town of Sebastian in Florida. The narrator goes to New York to meet his girlfriend and takes the opportunity to visit his aunt in Sebastian. He admits that, “all the tales told by Aunt Pam that day and the next evening had a big influence on our own marriage.” So the main character of this story is Aunt Pamela and the narrator is the messenger who, influenced by his aunt’s stories, transmits them to the reader. “If the last face you see at the moment of death is not the face of a person you’ve loved for your whole life, then no matter what kind of life that person lived, you cannot help but say that his or her life has been unfortunate. So marry without reservation, then have babies. That’s all I want to say.” This is the heart of the stories his aunt tells, and she admits that it has been a source of strength in her own bitter experience. The novel is made up of her experience and the background out of which the now elderly aunt has reached this conclusion about life. The aunt, who was a very beautiful actress in her youth, eloped with a married man who had been the director of the movie she had appeared in. The place they eloped to was Seogwipo, on Jeju Island. The two lived in a house with a tin roof, looking out to the sea, until one day the man’s wife appeared with their child, ending his aunt’s idyll after three months. The aunt describes the rain falling on the tin roof: “In April, when we first set up house, it was mi, then it gradually rose up the scale, until by July it was at sol.” Then she recalls, “For those three months, every night I lay in the director’s arms listening to the rain.”

After restoring the man she loved to his wife and removing the child she was carrying under pressure from her family, Cha Jeong-sin goes to America alone and starts a new life as Pamela Cha. She meets Paul, falls in love and marries him, but her love for him was not enough to exorcise her love for the movie director. Readers cannot tell whether it is because of the difference between first and second love, or because of the difference between frustrated and fulfilled love, or whether it is for both reasons. Because what lies deep inside another person is an abyss that cannot be observed precisely. However, it is a painful moment for the aunt, who cannot forget Seogwipo as it had been the setting for her first love, a kind of honeymoon, when Paul, who is dying of cancer, says that he wants to visit Seogwipo before he dies. The reason Paul wants to go to Seogwipo at the southern tip of Korea on the far side of the earth is because he thinks he should “look at the shape of the terrain, and explore the overall feel of the city, so that he might be reborn there.” This idea comes from a misunderstanding of the Eastern notion of reincarnation, but he hopes to meet up with his wife again after he dies. After Paul’s death, Pamela returns to Seogwipo for good. But the real reason for her to return to Seogwipo seems to be in order to savor her memories of the time she spent there with the long-deceased movie director Jeong Gil-seong. One day, she receives a visit from the director’s son, Jeong Ji-un. For her, it seemed the fulfillment of her dream of seeing the face of one she has loved for a lifetime at the moment of death. She must have been unhappy that her dream could never be fulfilled because she had been separated from the director, who died while still relatively young. In the end, the conviction that she had loved a person worth loving, seemingly affirmed by meeting the son who resembled the man she had loved, appears to be of great comfort to her. In this way, love passes, the person(s) who were loved are dead and gone, but their story continues without an ending. Stories have long lives. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 91

Subscription/Purchase Information

How to Subscribe Subscription Rate

Fill in the subscription form on the website ( > Subscribe) and click “Send� button. You will receive an invoice with payment information via e-mail.

Postal Address

Annual Subscription(airmail delivery included)

Back Issues*(per copy)


1 year

25,000 won

6,000 won

2 years

50,000 won

3 years

75,000 won

1 year


2 years


3 years


1 year


2 years


3 years


1 year


2 years


3 years


1 year


2 years


3 years


East Asia


Southeast Asia


Europe and N. America 3

Africa and S. America 4


* For back issues, additional charge for airmail delivery 1 East Asia (Japan, China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) 2 Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, East Timor, Indonesia, Brunei, and Singapore) and Mongolia 3 Europe (including Russia and CIS), Middle East, North America, Oceania, and South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) 4 Africa, South/Central America (including West Indies), and South Pacific Islands

Join our mailing list

Be the first to know when the new issue comes out; sign up for the Koreana web magazine notification e-mails by sending us your name and e-mail address at * In addition to the web magazine, the contents of Koreana are available via e-book service for mobile devices (Apple i-books, Google Books, and Amazon).

Reader Feedback 104 KOREANA Autumn 2017

We need your feedback to improve the quality of Koreana . E-mail us any comments or suggestions at

Welcome to the Archive of

KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS Koreana Magazine (1987 ~ 2017)

· Special Feature · Cultural Focus · Heritage · Art Review · People · Travel · Entertainment · Lifestyle · Food · Literature

54 KOREANA Autumn 2017

R E A D KO R E A Don’t miss out on our latest issue!

SUMMER 2017 When Twentysomethings Begin Storytelling

Why Translate When You Can Write?

Book Reviews & Excerpts

Free Book Giveaways! KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 55


Profile for The Korea Foundation

Koreana autumn 2017 (english)  

Koreana Autumn 2017 (English)

Koreana autumn 2017 (english)  

Koreana Autumn 2017 (English)