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Herring: A Delight from the Winter Sea

Essential Ingredients 2021 WINTER 247

Herring: A Delight from the Winter Sea Herring: A Delight from the Winter Sea Herring has long been a staple food around the world. In Korea, gwamegi, herring dried in the sea breeze, is eaten wrapped with seaweed, dried laver, garlic and vegetables. This is a common dish, but various other traditional recipes have also been passed down. Herring is familiar to people all over the world. The thin, blueback fish, silvery white from center to belly, live in schools in cold coastal currents with a temperature of 2-10 degrees Celsius and a water depth of less than 150 meters. Herring yields in Korean waters are very irregular, but the catch this winter is known to be good. “The most eaten is pollack; the best eaten is herring.” This old saying means that among the three typical fish on the Korean table – cod, pollack and herring – herring is the tastiest. Herrings are called cheongeo in Korean, which literally means “blue fish.” Diverse herring species roam the seas in large schools. The North Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) is the most popular in Northern Europe, while the Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) is caught off the coasts of Northeast Asia and North America. White fish, such as cod or pollack, are low in fat, but herring has a fat content as high as 20 percent. As a cold-water fish, it spawns from winter to spring and gets fat in late autumn. In addition, it’s rich in free amino acids, such as glycine and alanine, that make its flesh taste sweet. Korea’s earliest known atlas of fish, “Register of Rare Fish in the Jinhae Sea” (Uhae ieobo), written in 1803 by Kim Ryeo (1766-1821), says the taste of herring is “sweet and soft, and very deli-cious when grilled.” Chef and writer Park Chan-il describes the taste in a similar way. In his 2012 book, “Half of the Memories Are Taste,” he recalls the grilled herring that he ate with a friend at the Sokcho seaside along the east coast: “On a windy winter day, the herring sprinkled with coarse salt and grilled over charcoal was soft and sweet.” RECIPES Herrings are eaten in many ways. On the east coast, where most herrings are caught in Korea, they are eaten raw, dipped in sauce or mixed with various ingredients. Sometimes they are boiled to make a broth for rice porridge, or covered in flour and egg batter, pan-fried and then braised in a soy sauce-based soup. In the Gyeongsang region, along the southeast coast, they are also cooked in a kind of stew. One record says that in the Jeolla region in the southwest, large quantities of herrings were steamed in a cauldron over boiling water and eaten dipped in red pepper paste. However, herrings taste best when grilled. Sprinkled with coarse salt and grilled until golden, their soft meat is sweet and savory. Chef Park explains, “Herrings are very oily, so when grilled they cook in their own oil, turning amazingly delicious.” Saltwater fish contain trimethylamine oxide (TMAO), a non-protein nitrogen compound that helps maintain the balance between seawater and body salinity. When this compound is decomposed into trimethylamine (TMA) by microorganisms, it gives off a fishy smell. Herrings, full of oil in winter, contain a lot of polyhydric fatty acids, which means they go rancid easily. It also means their fishy smell is stronger, but this can be alleviated by adding doenjang (soybean paste) to herring stew or applying some on the fish before grilling it. Not only do the fragrant substances in doenjang cover the fishy smell, its proteins bind to the substance that causes the smell and prevent it from volatizing. Since the 1990s, however, herring recipes ha-ven’t been diverse. On January 27, 1996, the daily Dong-A Ilbo carried an article saying, “These days, it’s hard to see Gyeonggi regional style dishes such as herring stew, herring boiled down in soy sauce, salted herring and herring porridge.” The fish tend to come and go, which is a major culprit for this lack of variety; yields have always been inconsistent. Swimming in large schools following cold currents, they have at times been caught in hauls among the largest of any fish. Then they would sometimes disappear, for up to almost 10 years at a time. “A Record of Penitence and Warning” ( Jingbirok) by Ry u Seong-ryong (1542-1607), an account of the Japanese invasions in the late 16th century, describes a strange event just before the outbreak of war: “Fish from the East Sea were caught in the West Sea and gradually reached the Han River; the herrings, originally from Haeju, had not been found there for more than 10 years because they had moved to the Liaohai Sea off the Liaodong Peninsula, where they were called xinyu[meaning “new fish”].” A similar explanation is found in the encyclopedic book, “Topical Discourses of Jibong” (Jibong yuseol), written in 1614 by Yi Su-gwang (1563-1629). It says that herrings, which had always been plentiful in the southwestern sea in spring, were not seen there for over 40 years. But “War Diary” (Nanjung ilgi) by Admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598) states that herrings were caught and exchanged for provisions to feed his soldiers. Scholar Yi Ik (1681-1764) quoted Ryu Seongryong in his book, “Miscellaneous Explanations of Seongho” (Seongho saseol), in explaining the situation. At the time that Ryu wrote his book, herrings, which had previously been found only in the sea off Haeju, in Hwanghae Province, could now be caught in all Joseon waters. He wrote that herrings were “caught in Hamgyong Province [in the northeast] every fall” and “gradually moved to Jeolla and Chungcheong provinces [in the southwest and west] in spring. They were caught in Hwanghae Province [further northward in the west] between spring and summer, but as they gradually moved west, they grew smaller and more common, so there was no one who couldn’t eat them.” Yi Ik assumed that the huge change in herring catches and locations was due to the way the fish followed the changing climate and environment. Although this speculation was made 250 years ago, it was spot on. An analysis of herring catchesin the seas around the Korean Peninsula between 1970 and 2019 by the National Institute of Fisheres Science says that catches increased in the East Sea as the water temperature increased, whereas they fell in the West Sea as the water temperature rose. It’s because the East Sea has cooler water than the West Sea. According to this study, herring catches have been very unstable over the past 50 years. The annual haul approached 5,000 tons until the early 1970s before falling below 1,000 tons in the mid-1970s. The figure began to rebound in the late 1980s, peaking at 20,000 tons in 1999, but plummeted to below 2,000 tons in 2002. In the mid-2000s, catches surged again, reaching a whopping 45,000 tons in 2008. The herring boom continued the following year, and on December 20, 2009, KBS reported on its primetime news broadcast that the missing herring had returned. According to the report, herring, a cold current fish, was being caught not only in the East Sea but also in the warm southeast and southern seas, and as a result, gwamegiproduction resumed in Yeongdeok, North Gyeongsang Province. Herring is familiar to people all over the world. The thin, blueback fish, silvery white from center to belly, live in schools in cold coastal currents with a temperature of 2-10 degrees Celsius and a water depth of less than 150 meters. Herring yields in Korean waters are very irregular, but the catch this winter is known to be good. In Yeongdeok, North Gyeongsang Province, and other coastal villages along the East Sea, winter is the busy herring drying season. With the heads cut off, the fish are repeatedly frozen and thawed in the cold sea breezes. The result is savory gwamegi without a strong fishy smell. © Jeon Jae-ho DRYING Though gwamegi originally refers to dried herring, due to falling catches of the fish since the 1960s, it was mainly made from saury (kkongchi) in the coastal regions of North Gyeongsang Province. In a column in the Dong-A Ilbo on May 9, 1939, the ichthyologist Jeong Mun-gi (1898-1995) wrote, “In North Gyeongsang Province, which is a prolific herring region, dried herrings are called ‘gwamigi,’ which is an important local specialty.” These days, gwamegi is often eaten wrapped in vegetables such as cabbage or sea plants such as laver, seaweed and sea tangle, whereas in the past, it was grilled or cooked in soup with mugwort. Where the word gwamegi comes from isn’t clear. In his book “Record of Hunting and Fishing” (Jeoneo ji), the late Joseon scholar Seo Yu-gu (1764-1845) wrote that whole herrings were tied together with straw rope and hung in the sun to dry. That is, they were dried whole rather than cut open at the back. Seo claimed that herrings have transparent eyes that can be pierced with rope to tie them up, which is why they are called gwanmok, meaning “piercing eyes.” Some say that this word evolved to become gwamegi. Although drying whole herrings isn’t the most common method, it has continued to this day. Usually, the fish are cut in half, their intestines and bones removed, before drying in the sea breeze for a short period of time. Drying whole herrings takes a long time – longer than saury – as herrings are wide-bodied and oilier. If a whole saury can be dried in a half month, a whole herring takes at least a month. However, the longer the drying period the deeper the taste. Herrings dried whole in the middle of winter also have eggs, which make them even more flavorful. The herring is back; this year’s catch is plentiful. In Samcheok, Gangwon Province, on the east coast, various ways of processing the fish – making fish cakes, stewing and deep frying – are being developed to promote consumption. The National Institute of Fisheries Science explains that rising yields since the 2000s are due mainly to higher water temperatures in the East Sea. Herrings taste best when grilled. Sprinkled with coarse salt and grilled until golden, their soft meat is sweet and savory. When grilled, the oily herring is soft and melts in your mouth, its flavor amplified. On the downside, the fish contains a lot of fine bones, which makes it rather fiddly to eat. Scale the washed herring, make a few cuts on it and sprinkle with salt. Grill the fish until the meat turns yellowish and has a sweet and savory flavor. © Shutterstock CATCHES However, researchers caution against unrestrained fishing. Given the precedent of plummeting catches resulting from overfishing in the North Atlantic, experts say that catching young herring should be banned. Notably, overfishing in Norway in the 1970s caused herring catches to nosedive to less than one ton, with numbers taking 20 years to recover previous levels. There is still a lot we don’t know about how herrings migrate in schools. Although they have returned to the East Sea, they remain difficult to catch in the other waters in Northeast Asia, such as the West Sea [Yellow Sea] and the sea off Hokkaido, Japan. The reasons have yet to be found. Rather than recklessly catching, we must therefore be humble in the way we treat these fish – and nature as a whole. Jeong Jae-hoon Pharmacist and Food Writer Park So-jung Illustrator

Sweet Taste of Mixed Time

On the Road 2021 WINTER 271

Sweet Taste of Mixed Time Sweet Taste of Mixed Time Gunsan, a harbor city on the west coast, transformed from a poor fishing village into an international trade hub amid the turmoil of modern history. The unvarnished image of Gunsan, where so many stories still seem to simmer below the surface, steadily resists the speed at which cities change so easily today. In the early 1900s, foreign culture, most notably that of Japan, was introduced to Korea through Gunsan, just upstream from the West Sea [Yellow Sea]. The exposure has left indelible reminders, some of them sobering. But that buttresses Gunsan’s uniqueness, making it a popular tourist destination. When I set out for Gunsan, in North Jeolla Province, I thought of a bowl of hot jjamppong, the spicy, red noodle soup that fuses Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine. It contains a robust mixture of ingredients, including stir-fried vegetables, seafood and meat. When Koreans talk about an especially vivid potpourri, it’s dubbed “jjamppong.” Fittingly, Gunsan is noted for its version of the dish. The bullet train from Seou l doesn’t cover the entire 200 kilometers southwest to Gunsan.Transfer is needed at Iksan, a major railway junction, to a slow, old train that travels the last 20 kilometers. The passenger cars creak and rattle, the peeling paint slips a little more, and a peculiar odor suggests a multitude of years of passenger service. It could have been a time machine that I had imagined. Perhaps that explains how I decided on the first place to see in Gunsan, where past and present are suffused in a montage of historical reminders and enduring memories. Founded by a Japanese monk in the early 20th century, Dongguk Temple is the only Japanesestyle Buddhist temple left in Korea. Construction materials were brought from Japan, and the original form of each building, including the main hall, remains well preserved today, with its decidedly austere rather than ornate aura still intact. This building served as the main wing of the Gunsan Customs House from 1908 to 1993, processing seabound exports. It is now an exhibition hall. One of the three major examples of Western classical architecture in Korea, the building is a state-designated piece of Modern Cultural Heritage. TIME TRAVEL In its halcyon days, trains regularly ran through Gyeongamdong Railroad Town, carrying wood and paper between Gunsan Station and a paper factory. The railroad tracks are no longer used by the city’s 270,000 inhabitants, and when the trains came to a standstill, so did time in this urban village. Remaining here today is a display of school uniforms from the 1960s and 1970s, along with snacks and sundry knickknacks from bygone days. I lingered for a good while, walking along the quiet tracks. The scent of vanishing time tickled the end of my nose, threatening to bring on tears. Leaving Gyeongamdong, I decided to refuel with a bowl of jjamppong before embarking on a proper exploration of Gunsan. The port city boasts a roster of restaurants known countrywide for this specialty noodle dish. I chose Binhaewon.Housed in a 70-year-old building that has been designated as cultural heritage, its jjamppong is tame enough for palates that don’t embrace spicy food. Combined with the old-fashioned atmosphere of the place, the soup with its mellow flavor from fresh seafood provided deep comfort for the soul – the flavor of time boiled down to its essence. My stomach now comfortably full, I wanted to feel the energy of the past, when Gunsan anchored the most productive rice-growing region in the nation and bustled with commerce and trade. I headed for Modern History Culture Street, which abounds with examples of early modern architecture. As I looked around the Gunsan Modern History Museum, the Modern Architecture Museum and the Modern Art Museum, I found the drive and vitality of the city still alive and realized that things left by time and history are imbued with a unique creative quality. How can something worn and faded by time still be beautiful? Slivers of architectural beauty can be seen in the vintage aura of old streets that have endured through history.I had vague glimpses of the traces of attempts to achieve beauty rather than just focus on function. The building with the most elegant architectural charm is the old customs house, where rice was once collected for transport on the Geum River, which runs through Gunsan before spilling into the West Sea [Yellow Sea], a short distance away. The warehouses were first built centuries ago during the Goryeo Dynasty. Gunsan had remained a small fishing village for a long time. But it was a natural choice to be turned into a port when Japan began to pressure Korea for rice. The fertile Honam Plain surrounding Gunsan yielded harvests that saturated warehouses, and the city began to handle foreign trade at the dawn of the 20th century. Many Japanese resided here during the colonial period and influenced the city’s development. This is the old house of Keisaburo Hirotsu, a Japanese merchant who became wealthy by operating a dry goods shop in Gunsan. It is a typical Japanese samurai house of the 1920s, with its original form well preserved. The large garden and the grand exterior give an idea of the lifestyle of the wealthy Japanese upper class in those days. DISPARATE HARMONY The Gunsan Customs House was designed by a German, built by the Japanese with red bricks from Belgium, and has a Romanesque window, English-style entry and a Japanese-style roof.Surely this must be a prime example of jjamppong architecture in Gunsan. Standing in front of the building, I felt a range of emotions. Today, Gunsan remains an active player in international trade and continues to handle rice shipments. Americans, not the Japanese, are the largest foreign presence. The U.S. Air Force operates an air base here. In this section of Gunsan, called Gyeongamdong Railroad Town, there are a myriad of foods and games from the past that trigger sweet memories. These days, lines form for dalgona, the honeycomb candy featured in the Netflix blockbuster series “Squid Game.” Not far from Modern History Culture Street is Dongguk Temple. At a glance, its ambience differs from that of other Korean temples. Since it was built during the colonial period, the architectural style is obviously Japanese and the unadorned yet stylish main hall reflects Japanese minimalism. The small temple sits comfortably, with a bamboo forest at the foot of Mt. Wolmyeong as its backdrop. In the courtyard is Sonyeosang, literally “statue of a girl” but more commonly known as the “Statue of Peace.” The statue is a reminder of the imperial Japanese military carrying away young Korean women and girls to serve as sex slaves.During the colonial period, Japanese landowners exploited sharecroppers in the Gunsan region in order to take as much rice as possible. Eventually, the sharecroppers rose up in revolt. As I spent time in the hushed courtyard of a religious facility that has endured the storms of history, I felt a strange sense of liberation. Though ironic, it was perhaps because all the futile hatred of the past had vanished. Maybe this was why all the things left intact at the temple seemed in harmony to me rather than looking awkward. The same feeling came over me at the Japanese-style house in Sinheung-dong. Although it’s just a private home once occupied by a wealthy Japanese businessman, this is also a lovely place that has weathered the tempests of time. The picturesque garden and the inner wing with large windows ref lect human desires for beauty. In the nearby Wolmyeong-dong area, the worn bricks, narrow alleyways and rusted metal gates vaguely recall another era. In the face of those remaining traces of turbulent history, I thought about the meaning of things that stay the same over a long period of time. It surely is comforting to observe the silence of the things that don’t change in a world that keeps changing at the speed of light. Dazzled by time travel, I headed for Korea’s oldest bakery, Lee Sung Dang. It opened during the Japanese occupation, catering to Japanese patrons who were fond of Western bread and baked goods.I tried the bread filled with red bean paste (danpatppang) and vegetable bread (yachaeppang), the bakery’s signature menu items, and relished the tastes of past and present blending on my palate. All over Gunsan, several layers of time intermingle.A nation in demise, Japanese occupation, postwar modernization, contemporary high-tech and auto manufacturing – the way these eras mix and yet remain intact is peculiarly inspiring. RECORDS IN LITERATURE “What a hapless country this is! What has it ever done for me? Why are they trying to sell my land, which the Japanese left behind when they left?You call this a country?” “If you wait, the government will make sure that you’re properly compensated.” “Forget it! From this day on, I’m a citizen without a country. Your country should work for the good of its people so that you can put your trust in it and want to live in it. But seizing your land and selling it off now that we’ve regained independence – can you call this a country?” This is a modern paraphrase of the last scene from the novel, “Story of the Rice Paddy” (Non iyagi), by Chae Man-sik (1902-1950), published in 1946. From among Chae’s many works, this passage suddenly came to mind when I stood in front of the Chae Man-sik Literary Hall. It was probably because of the special sense of history that Gunsan consistently imparted to me. The Chae Man-sik Literary Hall has collected more than 200 works written by Chae over some 30 years, including novels, plays, critiques and essays. A Gunsan native son, Chae had great skills for satirically depicting the condition of Korean society before and after national liberation from Japanese rule. “Story of the Rice Paddy” is one of his most important works. It describes the ordeal of a family living through the turbulent modern era, faced with chaos in the wake of liberation. The protagonist’s father, falsely accused of joining the Donghak Peasant Revolution (1894), is threatened by the authorities: “Do you want to be punished or will you give up your land?” He gives up more than half of his paddies. Under the ensuing colonial rule, the paddies he retained aren’t enough to support the family, so the protagonist sells these to a Japanese – an action considered treacherous by other Koreans. After liberation, he expects the Korean government will recover his land and return it to him. Instead, the government sells it. Through this character who has never had a country that he could call his own, Chae portrayed the confusion of the transitional period and the injustice and mistrust felt by ordinary people. Chae was one of the few Korean literary figures who really “repented” having sided with Japan. A fter liberation, he wrote the novella, “Transgressor of the Nation” (Minjok-ui joein), serialized in 1948-1949, in which he acknowledged and regretted his pro-Japanese activity. Their outstanding literary value aside, this is how Chae’s works have survived as modern cultural heritage of his hometown. All over Gunsan, several layers of time intermingle. A nation in demise, Japanese occupation, postwar modernization, contemporary high-tech and auto manufacturing – the way these eras mix and yet remain intact is peculiarly inspiring. Before returning to Gunsan Station, I stopped at Jungdong Hotteok, which has been selling syrup-filled pancakes for 70 years. Transmitted to Korea from the Qing Dynasty of China, hotteok are thin pancakes filled with syrup. Most hotteok are pan-fried, but at this shop they are baked in a brick oven, so they are sweet but not greasy. Pleasantly nourished and relaxed, I turned my footsteps toward the railroad tracks to return to reality. That clean, sweet taste of being left inside history. It was the taste of Gunsan. Trains no longer rumble along the 2.5 km stretch of track in Gyeongamdong Railroad Town. Instead, tourists dressed up in old school uniforms walk along the tracks, lined by old houses and shops, recalling their student days. Walking around the city, tourists will often come across lyrical murals adorning winding alleyways. While fancy photo zones are set up at famous tourist attractions, many simple murals evoke warm feelings The Chae Man-sik Literary Hall, dedicated to the life and work of one of Korea’s major writers of the 20th century, has an exhibition room, a library and an audio-visual room, as well as a literary-theme walking trail and park outdoors. Jjamppong, a spicy noodle soup fusing Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine, is a signature dish of Binhaewon. The Chinese restaurant is also known as a shooting location in “The Thieves” (2012), one of the highest-grossing films in Korean movie history. At Jungdong Hotteok, the sweet pancakes are stuffed with a syrupy mixture of Gunsan’s famous glutinous barley, black beans, black rice and black sesame seeds, tasting light and savory. Park SangNovelist Ahn Hong-beomPhotographer

Podcast Airs Voices for Change

Tales of Two Koreas 2021 WINTER 257

Podcast Airs Voices for Change Podcast Airs Voices for Change “Sabujak,” a podcast produced by university students, hands a microphone to North Korean refugees in hopes of increasing acceptance of the group in South Korean society. The radio broadcast helps them let down their guard through candid conversations under assumed names. “To tell the truth, I’m from North Korea.” Any North Korean refugee living in South Korea needs considerable courage to utter this simple statement because it typically invites suspicion, derision and discrimination. “Sabujak” (podcast_sabujak) attempts to soften these hardened attitudes through candid conversations with North Korean refugees. The radio podcast, run by university students in Seoul, thereby aims to remove prejudice toward resettlers from the North and break through the emotional wall that segregates them. In the student operators’ ideal world, “I’m from North Korea” should elicit a response as nonchalant as, “Oh, yeah? I’m from Daegu,” rather than condescension. Hence the name of their podcast: a crafted mashup of Korean words that mean “a small, amicable chat with friends from North Korea.” Most of the guests are reluctant to be identified for fear that their families in the North may face abuse. They prefer using nicknames, which have included “Kyongsong Pine Mushroom” and “Hyesan Potato Rice,” suggesting links to Kyongsong County in North Hamgyong Province and the city of Hyesan in Ryanggang Province, with their signature foods. Most guests on Sabujak, a podcast produced by university students, want anonymity. But some guests allow their real name or face to be revealed. Park Ye-young, head of the Unified Korea Cooperative, appeared in a three-part program from October 11 to 13 this year, under the nickname “Kim Chaek Hairy Crab.” From left: Sabujak staff members Park Se-ah and Ahn Hye-soo, and Park Ye-young. © Sabujak GUESTS The promise of anonymity helps persuade North Koreans to accept an invitation to the talk show. At the beginning of the podcast, most guests waver. But soon, nostalgic thoughts seemingly melt away the hesitation to speak candidly about their life and birthplace. After leaving the recording studio, many say they feel more confident about coping with their life in the South and being more forthcoming. “After each program recording, guests say, ‘I’ve tried so far to forget bad memories about North Korea. But speaking about my experiences today, I’ve come to accept my past somewhat more.’ I feel happy then, because of whatever small, positive effects our podcast can have on them,” said Park Se-ah, a Yonsei University student and a producer of the program. She joined the podcast as a volunteer, a follow-up after tutoring children from North Korea and a budding interest in North Korean refugees. The podcast began in 2018. It was the brainchild of Park Byung-sun, then a business administration student at Yonsei University. Now he works at a consulting company. “I launched it in the hope that South Koreans would feel no distance from, and become more friendly with, North Korean refugees if they heard about refugees’ experiences on a podcast,” said Park. “I thought I shouldn’t turn away from the prejudice and discrimination that refugees experience in our society. I therefore concluded that I should launch a podcast that would broadcast their unedited stories as they are.” THE BEGINNING The first broadcast aired in August 2018 through Project Jieum, a social startup club at Yonsei affiliated with Enactus. An international non-profit organization, Enactus was founded by the U.S. National Leadership Institute in 1975. Jieum, whose metaphorical meaning is “intimate friends,” has expanded its membership base beyond Yonsei to include students from Catholic University of Korea, Sogang University, Seoul National University, Sungshin Women’s University, Ewha Womans University and Chung-Ang University. Three teams of three student staffers operate the podcast. Everyone has to be a multitasker, extending invitations and serving as a host, editor or director from one broadcast to the next. The podcasts are recorded at Studio Bombyeot (Spring Sunray) near Hongik University nearly every week of the fall and spring semesters, with each term considered a “season.” A show usually consists of three parts, each lasting 12-15 minutes; the first segment is about life in North Korea and foods from the guest’s hometown, the second about escaping the North, and the third about settling down and living in the South. Before recording, producers have an online chat with the guests to create a natural rapport and outline the program, but no defined script is drafted. The format is a free-f lowing conversation. Political or religious topics are off limits in principle, but are sometimes lightly touched upon at a guest’s behest. During the initial seasons, most guests were college students; it was easier to invite them as they were the same age as the producers. Of late, guests from various age groups are appearing as the program becomes better known and previous guests introduce it to their relatives and acquaintances. So far, the show has hosted about 130 guests. Most can be described as ordinary people; this is by design. In addition to addressing the emotional distress and barriers refugees endure in South Korea, the producers aim to chronicle the stories of North Korean individuals who have never been in the spotlight and to convince South Koreans that refugees have more in common with them than they realize. One of the most memorable guests was a businessman who was wanted by the North Korean State Security Department for his activities as a broker for defectors from the age of 15. Another impressive guest was a high school student nicknamed “Kilju Meatball.” He was born and grew up in Kilju County in North Hamgyong Province, home of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. A few guests have revealed their real names.One was Na Min-hee. With a solid family background, she enjoyed a comfortable life in Pyongyang and secured work in Europe to earn hard currency for the North Korean regime. Another identified guest was Joo Seong-ha, who now works as an international affairs reporter for the Dong-A Ilbo, a prestigious Seoul daily. Park Ye-young, head of the Unified Korea Cooperative, wanted to reveal her real name, though the producers had given her the nickname “Kim Chaek Hairy Crab.” “We were cheered up when Park thanked us South Korean university students for running a podcast with a deep interest in issues of the divided Korean nation and unification,” said Ahn Hye-soo. A hn, a senior law student at Sungshin Women’s University whose grandfather hailed from Hwanghae Province, North Korea, joined the podcast after hearing about it by word of mouth. Sabujak tries to present the details of each North Korean refugee guest as candidly as possible without exaggeration or generalization. The podcasts are recorded at Studio Bombyeot (Spring Sunray) near Hongik University. The photo shows Sabujak staff at the studio. They are, from left, Ahn Seong-hyeok, Ahn Hye-soo and Park Se-ah. OPERATIONS Students from North Korea have also participated in the podcast’s production since Season 3, which began in September 2019. They include Ahn Seong-hyeok, a senior political science student at Yonsei, and Park Beom-hwal, a sophomore physical education student at Seoul National University. A hn f led from Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province with his parents and arrived in the South in December 2011. He is the current head of the podcast. Audience feedback is Sabujak’s most important communication tool. Listeners submit comments or messages on Instagram. Response has mostly been positive. Some listeners even send “card news,” rearranged from broadcasts of the previous week. © Sabujak “I joined the staff at the suggestion of a friend of mine who works at the podcast,” said A hn. “I feel overwhelmed with pride when guests say they’re too busy to think of their hometown often but can talk about memories of the old days thanks to our program.” Season 7 began in August 2021. The podcast receives support, including expenses for renting recording studios and costs for live broadcasting, from agencies such as the Wooyang Foundation, a charity organization; the Cultural Center for Inter-Korean Integration under the Ministry of Unification; and Yonsei University’s Institute for Higher Education Innovation. The accumulated number of online searches for Sabujak topped 200,000 in September 2021, a healthy number considering that radio podcasts have to compete for attention among troves of video platforms and audiobooks. Listeners give feedback via comments or send direct messages on Instagram. Response has been positive, with encouraging and supportive comments, which naturally buoys the volunteer staff. Among the refugees, the podcast is a popular attraction, making it easier to secure guests. To supplement the podcast, producers have published an essay book titled “I Will Live an Ordinary but Special Life,” a collection of stories from 12 guests from Seasons 1 and 2. The book sheds light on what motivated them to f lee North Korea, how they resettled and what difficulties they encountered in the South, revealing their thoughts, emotions and memories, and stressing similarities and differences between the two Koreas. The producers say that in the process of talking with their guests, they came to realize their own view of North Korean refugees was too gener- al. They admit that when they first became involved with the podcast, they assumed that all of the refugees would think similarly and could be placed in a “single category.” In contrast, they have learned that their guests have more sophisticated perspectives and behavior. For one, they seldom describe South Koreans in broad strokes, but tend to see Southerners as “individuals with characteristics and peculiarities.” An essay collection titled “I Will Live an Ordinary but Special Life” introduces unique North Korean foods with illustrated recipes. In the book, 12 podcast guests introduce their hometown food, along with their own experiences and memories related to the foods. © Project jieum CHANGED PERSPECTIVE Thus, the producers have gradua l ly detached themselves from generalities, acknowledging that the parade of guests has presented a much more nuanced cohort. Now, they try to portray North Korean refugees not as a group of people with a particular image, but as distinct individuals, each with their own aspirations and difficulties. “When we have a debate on national unification in class, students are equally divided in their opinions. It’s most heart-wrenching to hear young people call each other ‘enemy,’” Ahn Seong-hyeok said. “I want to broadcast North Korean refugees’ stories for a long time, so that our podcast can faithfully play the role of a bridge between South and North Koreans to help them have a better understanding of each other.” Kim Hak-soon Journalist and Visiting Professor, School of Media and Communications, Korea University Han Sang-moo Photographe

Flowers That Never Fade

Guardian of Heritage 2021 WINTER 360

Flowers That Never Fade Flowers That Never Fade The traditional craft of making paper flowers with naturally dyed hanji has barely been kept alive. Requiring a lot of time and money to produce, paper flowers have been largely replaced by natural flowers. Venerable Seokyong, initiated into the vanishing craft in the 1980s, has committed himself to recreating all the paper flowers that were once used to adorn Buddhist ceremonies. Lotus buds made with hanji, traditional mulberry paper, dyed with mugwort and textured with tiny pleats. To make traditional paper flowers, hanji is colored with natural dyes, moistened, and then textured with pleating, folding, rolling and pulling techniques. The most difficult is pleating, whereby tiny creases are made in the paper by pressing with a sharp knife. Paper flowers, or jihwa, were extensively used in the past to decorate the sites of Buddhist and shamanic rites as well as royal court ceremonies. They were also important to rites held in commoners’ homes, such as weddings and funerals. Today, paper flowers have been largely replaced by fresh flowers that are grown all year round in greenhouses, but they can still be seen gracing grand ceremonies at Buddhist temples. Flowers hold important symbolism in Buddhism. In a famous episode, Sakyamuni Buddha held up a lotus flower and Mahakasyapa responded with a smile as a sign that he understood the wisdom that the Buddha wanted to deliver. In many Buddhist scriptures, flowers stand for awakening. And in the Buddhist context, the Korean word jangeom (alamkaraka in Sanskrit), meaning “adornment” or “glory,” refers to embellishing a temple with flowers to worship the Buddha. After all, the craft of making paper flowers began in Buddhist temples as picking flowers was considered akin to taking a life. One Buddhist monk has been carrying out the “magnificent and solemn” work for 40 years now, as a form of spiritual practice. Since his first exhibition in 2008, Venerable Seokyong has endeavored to make this traditional craft known to the wider public. His skills and efforts were officially recognized when the art of making paper flowers was designated as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Gyeonggi Province in 2017. Natural Dyeing Anyone seeing Venerable Seokyong’s paper flowers for the first time exclaims at the exquisite colors and ornate craftsmanship. It’s painstaking for human hands to create such beauty, and the work requires unwavering perseverance. Starting with the preparation of materials, each flower is produced through a laborious process often stretching over a year, which is why the monk regards it as spiritual practice. The procedure includes dyeing traditional mulberry paper with natural dyes, folding the paper in tiny pleats to make petals, forming the petals into blossoms, then attaching stems made with bamboo strips. The glue alone takes over six months to make. Whole wheat or glutinous rice is fermented in water, with the froth forming on the surface continuously skimmed away and the water changed over and over again for three to six months until all the grain substances are removed, leaving only starch. The entire process is repeated again to obtain a glue that prevents the paper from being eaten by moths. Venerable Seokyong makes a peony with pleated paper. Recognized for his skill and contribution to restoring the traditional craft over four decades, his craft was listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Gyeonggi Province in 2017. Yeongsanjae, or the Rites of Vulture Peak, which was placed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009, is usually held for three to five days. For these elaborate rites, Venerable Seokyong starts making flowers about a year and a half ahead of time. “Looking at the paper flowers set ablaze after each rite, I tell myself, ‘This is the end, I won’t do this anymore.’ But before I know it, I find myself preparing for the next rite,” he said. Dyeing paper is the first real step. The monk uses plants collected and dried throughout the previous year. Blue is obtained from indigo, red from sappan wood, yellow from gardenias, green from mugwort, and purple from wild grapes and red-root gromwell. In addition, pale yellow is extracted from onions and bright red from safflowers. Indigo and safflower dyes are the most difficult to extract; the craft of indigo dyeing, which involves a very complicated fermentation procedure, has even been preserved as Korea’s state-designated Important Intangible Cultural Heritage. Whatever the dyestuff, the colors are acquired by repeatedly dipping the paper into the dye and drying it. “We usually dye paper in the spring, although we can do it whenever necessary,” the monk said. “Paper dries perfectly in March and April.” Moistening and Pleating The most critical part of the entire process is controlling the moisture level of the paper before it’s folded into flower petals. The tiny pleats on the petals easily come undone when the paper is a little too dry. But when it is too damp, it’s hard to pleat the paper at all. The procedure that Venerable Seokyong calls “feeding moisture” may look simple but it can only be done with great sensitivity at the fingertips, developed through long years of experience. To treat the paper, a towel is soaked in water then wrung and spread out, and a piece of hanji is placed upon it. In this way, towels and sheets of paper are alternately layered in a stack, which is wrapped in plastic and stored in a warm room for a couple of hours. Then the paper is felt to check that it’s in the right condition for pleating. Flowers made with such carefully moistened hanji can last for decades without losing their shape. “You can’t fold flowers when it rains. If it is unavoidable, the heating has to be turned on to lower the humidity. In summer, even using an electric fan can make the paper too dry. Hanji is extremely sensitive to humidity. The right state is when the paper feels slightly stiff,” Venerable Seokyong explained. The flowers that he makes most frequently are those used to decorate the Buddhist altar: tree peonies, herbaceous peonies, chrysanthemums and lotus f lowers. In secular terms, peonies symbolize wealth and prosperity, but in the sacred context, they are a symbol of the Buddha-mind, the heart of mercy and compassion. For this reason, the upper part of the altar is decorated with peonies, the middle part with chrysanthemums and mythical white lotus blossoms (pundarika in Sanskrit; darihwa in Korean), and the lower part with lotus flowers. The first step in making the petals is to form fine winkles in the dyed paper by pleating, folding, rolling and pulling it. The most difficult technique is pleating, which involves pressing the thin paper with a sharp-edged knife. This work demands total concentration: with just a little too much pressure, the knife cuts through the paper. “Once, a visitor at my exhibition asked me where the finely pleated paper was sold,” the monk recalled. “If I ever resorted to an easy solution, like using ready-made paper, it would be impossible to make the flowers look like real ones in nature. I feel pain in every joint of my fingers after working long hours pleating paper, but I repeat each and every step, thinking of it as spiritual practice.” Various kinds of knives, awls and hammers are used to make paper flowers. The stems, made of bamboo or bush clover strips, are shaped with hammers and fishshaped knives, and chrysanthemum petals are fixed with an awl. “I feel pain in every joint of my fingers after working long hours pleating paper, but I repeat each and every step, thinking of it as spiritual practice.” Restoration of Tradition If preserved properly, these paper flowers are said to last for over a thousand years, but few remain today. The paper blossoms are burned after each ceremony, so no artifacts exist to illuminate the entire history of the craft. There are also no descriptions of the procedures in historical literature. In the 1980s, Venerable Seokyong learned to make a few kinds of paper flowers in traditional methods that had been barely passed down at one temple. His teacher was Venerable Chungwang, who served at Guin Temple, the headquarters of the Cheontae Order of Korean Buddhism, located in Danyang, North Chungcheong Province. After wards, Venerable Seokyong traveled around the country to learn from a handful of living artisans with the aim of restoring the original forms of traditional paper flowers. He simultaneously referred to paintings of paper flowers in historical documents from the Goryeo and Joseon periods. Paper flowers are most frequently seen in Buddhist paintings, especially Nectar Ritual paintings dedicated to the souls in the netherworld for their rebirth in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss. Based on paintings that depict paper flowers with relatively high accuracy, he has recreated many different species. As far as he knows, around 60 different species used to be made, of which he has recreated about 25. He believes his mission is to seek out and restore all the rest. Of the various reference materials that the monk has collected for this purpose, a book about Korea published a century ago is especially valuable because of one black-and-white photograph. This piece expresses the Lotus Repository World of Vairocana, which represents the blissful land of the Buddha. For realistic depiction of lotus blossoms, Venerable Seokyong once observed the blooming and wilting of the flowers for four straight days. “Fan-shaped Arrangement of Bulduhwa.” 220 ×180 cm.A type of traditional display of paper flowers with the number of flowers progressively increasing upwards. Bulduhwa (literally “Buddha’s head flower”), a species of hydrangea, blooms in trees commonly found on Buddhist temple grounds around Buddha’s Birthday. “In the mid-2000s, when I was serving as chief monk at Gogwang Temple of the Cheontae Order in Copenhagen, I took a trip to Sweden,” he recalled. “In a bookstore there, I came across ‘I * Korea’ [Elanders Boktryckeri Aktiebolag, 1912], written by William Anderson Grebst, a journalist who had visited Korea in the late Joseon period. How glad I felt when I found in the book a photo of peonies made with finely pleated paper.” Venerable Seokyong has worked to show the traditional craft of paper flowers to the world, holding exhibitions in Denmark, Canada, Japan, Belgium and the United States. In June 2014, when he participated in the Charles County ArtsFest in Maryland, U.S., he ran a booth where locals could try making their own paper flowers, which proved to be very popular. In July 2017, he exhibited more than 30 works at “Korea Art & Soul,” an annual festival sponsored by the Korean American Cultural Arts Foundation. Viewers raved about a magnificent fan-shaped arrangement that stood two meters high and a coneshaped arrangement that included more than 250 flowers. “At the ArtsFest, President Peter Murphy of the Charles County Board of Commissioners came to me and told me how impressed he was by my work. Then he took his county commissioner badge from his lapel and put it on my robe. All the reporters there were quite surprised,” he said. Currently, Venerable Seokyong has a workshop in a leased building in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province. Although the minimal conditions for training students have been provided since his craft was officially recognized as provincial cultural heritage, his circumstances as an artisan still leave much to be desired. “I just hope to have a stable place where I can concentrate on my art and many people can come to learn this craft,” he said. “Cone-shaped Arrangement of Peonies.” 200 × 85 cm.This bouquet of peonies is a recreation of the paper flowers depicted in the Nectar Ritual painting preserved at Yakusenji Temple in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. Painted in Korea in 1589 during the mid-Joseon era, it is known as the oldest extant painting of the Nectar Ritual. Lee Jung-eunCEO, Cheyul Ahn Hong-beomPhotographer

Lee Kun-hee Art Collection Unveiled

Focus 2021 WINTER 408

Lee Kun-hee Art Collection Unveiled Lee Kun-hee Art Collection Unveiled The family of the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee has donated some 23,000 pieces from his extensive collection of ancient and modern art. Special exhibitions of carefully selected pieces at two state museums elicited enormous public interest. “Clearing after Rain on Mount Inwang” Jeong Seon (1676-1759). 1751. Ink on paper. 79.2 × 138 cm.A representative work of eminent Joseon court painter Jeong Seon, this ink and wash painting depicts the mist of a summer rain receding over Mt. Inwang in Seoul. Born and raised in a nearby neighborhood, Jeong captured the mountain he knew very well with bold brushstrokes. He broke away from the tradition of conceptual landscapes and advanced an approach that encouraged painters to depict the actual landscape they see. When the late chairman of Samsung Group, Lee Kun-hee, passed away in October 2020, the vast art collection that he left behind became a hot topic of public interest and speculation. The Samsung family’s love of art goes back to Lee’s father and founder of the group, Lee Byung-chul. Lee Kun-hee and his wife multiplied their inherited collection. The public has seen some of these items before; the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul and the Ho-Am Art Museum (named for Lee Byungchul’s pseudonym) in Yongin, some 40 km south of Seoul, exhibit paintings, ceramics and other ancient and modern artworks from the collection. But the entire breadth of the art trove had remained undisclosed, piquing public curiosity. Some claim that the “Lee Kun-hee collection” exceeds the artistic and cultural value of all the holdings in the National Museum of Korea or the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). Estimates of its monetary worth presumably run into trillions of won. In April 2021, Lee’s family announced that it would donate around 23,000 artifacts and artworks from the private collection. Antique pieces were gifted to the National Museum of Korea and works by renowned Korean and foreign artists went to the MMCA. In honor of the donation, the National Museum of Korea held a special exhibition, titled “A Great Cultural Legacy: Masterpieces from the Bequest of the Late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee,” from July 21 to September 26, 2021. The MMCA opened its exhibition, “Lee Kun-hee Collection: Masterpieces of Korean Art,” on July 21. It will stay open until March 13, 2022. Scores of works by prominent modern Korean artists were donated to municipal art museums in regions from which the artists hailed: works by Kim Whanki (1913-1974) and Chun Kyung-ja (1924-201 5) went to the Jeonnam Museum of Art in Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province; paintings by Lee In-sung (1912-1950) and Seo Dong-jin (1900-1970) landed at the Daegu Art Museum; and works by painter Park Soo-keun (1914-1965) arrived at a museum that bears his name, located in Yanggu County, Gangwon Province. “Water-Moon Avalokitesvara” (left) 14th century. Ink and color on silk. 83.4 × 35.7 cm.Avalokitesvara is a bodhisattva who is believed to show compassion to many sentient beings, just as the moon’s reflection in the clear water can be observed in many different places. The delicate harmony of patterns and soft colors visible under the translucent garment demonstrates the exquisite beauty that is characteristic of Goryeo Buddhist painting. “Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara” (right) 14th century. Ink and color on silk. 93.8 × 51.2 cm.Avalokitesvara with a thousand arms is known to save humans with the countless number of hands and eyes. Korean Buddhism has a long history of faith in this omniscient bodhisattva of compassion, but this is the only extant painting of the subject. The bodhisattva is depicted with 11 sides of the face and 44 hands, each holding an auspicious object. Masterpieces Among the donated pieces, the most significant are the artifacts and artworks that went to the two national museums, which include seminal works in the history of Korean art. The National Museum of Korea received some 21,600 artifacts that span prehistoric periods to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). They range from earthenware, pottery, sculptures and wooden furniture to calligraphy and paintings. From among them, the museum selected 77 pieces for public viewing that represent the acme of aesthetic achievement and artistry of their respective periods. Some of the highlights included the ink-and-wash painting “Clearing after Rain on Mount Inwang” (1751) by eminent court painter Jeong Seon (1676-1759) of the late Joseon period; gilt-bronze Buddhist statues designated as National Treasures; and “Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara,” a Goryeo Buddhist painting that renders the graceful beauty of the bodhisattva in elaborate detail. The exhibition’s centerpiece was “Clearing after Rain on Mount Inwang,” which depicts the scenery of the mountain located to the west of Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul. The painting was produced at a time when the Grand Tour was the trend among European artists, which elevated the attention paid to landscape paintings. “Clearing after Rain on Mount Inwang” is comparable to the works that Welsh landscape painter Richard Wilson produced during his visit to Italy in 1750. While Wilson’s oil paintings faithfully render the idyllic scenery with the use of true-to-life colors, Jeong used lucid brushstrokes and subtle differences in the shading of the ink to produce a realistic depiction of a misty shroud receding over the mountain that he knew well as he lived nearby. The MMCA received 1,488 pieces from the late Lee’s collection. This is the single largest donation in the museum’s history, and more importantly, it includes some rare and iconic works from the early 20th century. The 58 modern and contemporary works featured in the special exhibition include some of the most notable pieces by artists who have made major milestones in Korean art history. “Women and Jars” Kim Whanki (1913-1974). 1950s. Oil on canvas. 281.5 × 567 cm.The topless women, white porcelain jars, cranes and deer featured in this painting are motifs that Kim Whanki often depicted from the late 1940s to the 1950s. Produced as a large mural, the painting evokes transcendent decorativeness through the stylized figures, objects and animals facing the front or side, set against the pastelcolored background. © Whanki Foundation · Whanki Museum Significance The first half of the 20th century was a gloomy period of turmoil and devastation, from Japanese occupation to the territorial division into North and South and the outbreak of the Korean War. Hence, a significant portion of artworks from this era were destroyed or lost, leaving a huge gap in the country’s art history. Under such circumstances, that a considerable number of artworks produced during this period of hardship and deprivation are being shown to the public should be held in high regard. “Paradise” (right) Baik Nam-soon (1904-1994). Circa 1936. Oil on canvas. Eight-panel screen. 173 × 372 cm.Baik Nam-soon was a first-generation Korean female painter who studied Western painting in Tokyo and Paris. The scenery depicted in this largescale painting obviously blends Eastern and Western utopias, reminiscent of ShangriLa and Arcadia. It reflects the artist’s rumination on how to work on Eastern and Western motifs and techniques. After her husband, Im Yong-ryeon (1901-?), also a painter, went missing during the Korean War, Baik moved to America with her children in 1964. Not much about her career has been known since. “Jackstones” (Gongginori) Chang Ucchin (1917-1990). 1938. Oil on canvas. 65 × 80.5 cm.Chang Ucchin is recognized for his distinctive style of simple, fairy-tale like depictions of familiar, everyday subjects, such as houses, trees and birds. This is Chang’s seminal early work, which earned him first prize at an art contest hosted by the daily Chosun Ilbo when he was 21 years old. Lacking in detail but showing a good composition, the painting brings to light the artist’s efforts before he developed his signature technique. Particularly noteworthy are “Paradise” by Baik Nam-soon (1904-1994), “Jackstones” (Gongginori) by Chang Ucchin (1917-1990) and “Echo” (Sanullim) by Kim Whanki. “Paradise,” Baik’s only large-scale work discovered to date, is an oil painting executed on a canvas reminiscent of a traditional eight-panel folding screen, a melding of Eastern and Western artistic styles. “Jackstones” is one of the precious early paintings by Chang, which won him a prize at an art contest hosted by a newspaper company when he was 21. Its realistic depiction, which recalls genre painting, is distinctly different from the artist’s heyday works marked by simplicity and child-like innocence. Kim Whanki moved to New York in 1963 and continued his work there. “Echo,” a magnum opus from the height of his career, is a dot painting that he finished in 1973, a year before he passed away. It has attracted multimillion-dollar bids at auctions in Seoul, New York and Hong Kong. Public interest in the donated artworks is evident in the huge rush to book tickets to the exhibitions. Such an enthusiastic response stems in part from the curiosity about the art trove of the richest man in Korea, coupled with the latest boost in cultural consumption afforded by an increase in national income. The MMCA received 1,488 pieces from the late Lee’s collection. This is the single largest donation in the museum’s history, and more importantly, it includes some rare and iconic works from the early 20th century. “Composition” Lee Ungno (1904-1989). 1971. Color on fabric. 230 × 145 cm.Lee Ungno is highly regarded for opening a new horizon in Korean art with his tireless experimental spirit transcending genre and motif. The “Abstract Letter” series he began producing in the early 1960s manifests his formative experiments. Unlike his earlier works that show lyrical tendencies, the letters in this piece are more three-dimensional and abstract. “Work” Yoo Young-kuk (1916-2002). 1974. Oil on canvas. 136 × 136.5 cm.Yoo Young-kuk delved into mountains. He regarded them to be the epitome of the sublime mystery of nature and a medium for experiment with pictorial elements, such as form and color. Produced at a turning point during his artistic journey, the painting displays a more uninhibited form and color compared to his absolute abstraction in previous years. Public Interest Another inf luence has been celebrities who are well-known art enthusiasts, most notably BTS’ leader RM, who enjoys visiting art exhibitions in his free time. This has played a part in sparking a strong interest in art among the general public, particularly younger generations. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the two exhibitions had to strictly limit the number of visitors per time slot. The heated competition to make a reservation even led to incidences of scalpers illegally selling the free tickets. Until not too long ago, many people used to liken a trip to an art gallery to a special event reserved for a small number of art aficionados. But in recent years, perceptions have gradually shifted, especially among younger generations. Going to a gallery or an art museum and dropping by a nearby café is seen as a leisure activity for anyone. Now, the unveiling of artworks from Lee Kun-hee’s collection is pushing the public’s enthusiasm for the arts several steps forward. “Yellow Road” Chun Kyung-ja (1924-2015). 1983. Color on paper. 96.7 × 76 cm.Chun Kyung-ja liked to draw women and flowers in a dreamy atmosphere, making use of traditional oriental pigments and the properties of paper. She depicted her oldest daughter-in-law in this painting, which displays her exotic style based on her color sensitivity and literary lyricism. Ha Kye-hoon Art Critic


Dishing Up Bite-size Memories

An Ordinary Day 2021 WINTER 307

Dishing Up Bite-size Memories Tteokbokki, simply put, is the soul food of Korean cuisine. Slight variations may reflect tastes of a certain region or era, but this humble dish never wavers as a go-to snack. At Galhyeon Market Grandma Tteokbokki, her acclaimed shop in northwestern Seoul, Kim Jin-sook carries on a 40-year tradition, bringing the signature taste of a secret family recipe to loyal customers day after day. To be Korean is to have at least one formative memory that involves tteokbokki. The mouth-watering smell of rice cakes smothered in a piquant sauce always seemed to lace the alleyway between home and school;this is a siren call not easily forgotten, no matter how many years have passed.The first written record of tteokbokki appeared in Siui jeonseo (“Compendium of Proper Cookery”), a Joseon Dynasty cookbook compiled in the late 19th century. It described a “royal court dish made by stir-frying plain white rice cakes with beef sirloin, sesame oil, soy sauce, scallion and mushrooms.”The most common tteokbokki today is made with gochujang (red pepper paste), not soy sauce. Street food vendor Ma Bok-rim (1920-2011) is known as the godmother of this version, transforming a food originally identified with royalty and high-quality ingredients into an inexpensive favorite of the masses.In 1953, shortly after the Korean War ended, Ma visited a new Chinese restaurant with some guests. In observance of the opening, each table received celebratory tteok (rice cake). After Ma accidentally dropped a piece of the tteok in her bowl of jjajangmyeon (noodles with black bean sauce), she found the result to be shockingly delicious. At home, she experimented with gochujang, which cost less than Chinese black bean paste, and soon opened a shop in Sindang-dong, then on the eastern outskirts of Seoul. Thus, today’s standard tteokbokki was born – and so was a famed tteokbokki hotspot.By 1970, tteokbokki was firmly established as a popular snack among Koreans. At the time, snack stands that catered to tweens and teens were all the rage, with some even hiring DJs who would play customers’ requests. Listening to one’s favorite song on the way home from school while sharing tteokbokki with friends became a fond pastime of an entire generation of youth.In the 1980s, Kim Jin-sook’s mother-in-law, Jin Yang-geun, then in her m id- 4 0s, bega n sel l i ng t teokbok k i from a market stall in the Galhyeondong neig hborhood of Seou l’s Eun- pyeong District. The stall didn’t even have a sign, but three girls’ high schools nearby ensured a robust lunch crowd. FAMILY’S LIVELIHOODKim and other family members began to work part time at the stall when Jin’s hip surgery meant she could no longer work. Eventually, Kim decided to ladle tteokbokki full time. She admits now that she didn’t realize what the commitment would entail.A large-scale urban renewal program led to the demolition of the Galhyeon Market in 2015. But Kim and her husband, Kim Wan-yong, kept their tteokbokki business alive, opening a new shop in the same spot as the former stall. The name of the shop: “Galhyeon Market Grandma Tteokbokki.”“ She was a l ready over 80 at the time, but my mother-in-law never really liked being called ‘Grandma,’” Kim laughs. “The menu is exactly the way it was at her stall in the market: tteokbokki, sundae (blood sausage), two types of dumplings, boiled eggs and seaweed rolls.”Jin Yang-geun’s basic tteokbok ki recipe is still used, but the proportions of the sauce have changed slightly to shave the edge off a tiny bit and soften the flavor all around. The result is less sweet, less salty and less spicy. Kim puts a lot of effort into selecting her ingredients, always keeping health and sanitation in mind. Her unwavering consistency and devotion pay annual dividends: the shop is a perennial on any list of Seoul’s best tteokbokki spots. Kim Jin-sook and her husband, Kim Wan-yong, owners of Galhyeon Market Grandma’s Tteokbokki in the Galhyeon neighborhood of Seoul’s Enpyeong District, spend their day on the exact spot where Mr. Kim’s mother opened a food stall to serve the bite-size rice cakes smothered in a savory sauce some 40 years ago. PERENNIAL HOTSPOT Galhyeon Market Grandma’s Tteokbokki is particularly beloved by diehard tteokbokki fans for the long-term consistency of the Kims’ signature flavor. The sauce they use was invented in the 1980s by Ms. Kim’s mother-in-law. The recipe is a carefully guarded secret. Kim’s husband arrives at the shop at 7 a.m. In the first hour, he sets up all the necessary utensils, which were cleaned the night before. Then he puts the water on as he steams the sundae, boils the eggs and makes all the other necessary preparations.“The wheat flour tteok for tteokbokki is all clumped together, and separating those pieces, one at a time – that’s hard work,” Kim explains. “You can get tteok that comes separate, but it doesn’t taste as good. Separating by hand means another step for us, but a tastier product for our customers. One box of tteok comes to 324 separate pieces, and we sell about 10 boxes a day.”Once the two hours of prep are over and 9 o’clock rolls around, the shop opens for business. Kim comes to work around 10 a.m. Husband and wife don’t follow any strict division of labor, as both have to be able to do everything in case the other is away.The most important step in the recipe is the “initial boil.” Each piece of tteok, separated by hand, is briefly blanched in boiling water before being deposited into the actual cooking pan. If this step isn’t completed properly, the tteok can become mushy and formless, or tough. The key is being able to sense the state of that day’s fresh tteok, which is invariably slightly different from the days before and after, and adjusting the heat and timing accordingly.“People often joke about quitting their office job and setting up a tteokbokki stand, but this line of work actually requires a lot more care and attention than they realize,” Kim says.The secret to t teokbokki that is tasty enough to draw an endless line of customers is in the sauce – specifically, the ratio of ingredients, the level of heat and the exact cooking time. It doesn’t matter how good the ingredients are if the ratio, temperature or timing isn’t precise. Jin Yang-geun created the process and the sauce with 10 ingredients.All of this is now the family’s precious trade secret. After a long-delayed price increase, one serving of tteokbokki is 3,500 won these days. “When the minimum wage goes up each year, that’s reflected in an uptick in the price of every ingredient, which means we’re forced to raise our prices a bit, too,” Kim says. “But at the same time, because most people eat tteokbokki as a snack rather than a proper meal, it’s not easy to pull off. We worried and debated about it constantly for six and a half years before we finally raised our prices by 500 won in April of this year.”Kim calls a single serving of tteokbokki a “rubber band.” This is because even though one serving is supposed to be 17 or 18 pieces of tteok mixed with fish cake, she always ends up scooping on a little extra if the customer is a student or a laborer.At less than 10 pyeong (33 sq. meters), the shop is quite cozy, though it’s been a full year since customers have eaten inside due to COVID-19. In one corner sits an electric rice cooker and an induction stove top; this is where the couple makes breakfast and lunch for themselves. The shop closes around 8 p.m. and by the time the couple cleans everything and returns home, it’s usually 10 p.m.“We take one day off a week, on Mondays. In all the years since we opened shop, we’ve ta ken a total of three days off that weren’t Mondays. One was the day after I had surgery, one was the day our son entered his military service, and one was the day he finished it,” Kim explains. The secret to tteokbokki that is tasty enough to draw an endless line of customers is in the sauce – specifically, the ratio of ingredients, the level of heat and the exact cooking time. Made by blanching plain white tteok in boiling water and then combining it with various vegetables and fish cake in a gochujang sauce, tteokbokki is nothing more or less than “soul food” for Koreans of all ages and backgrounds. PROMISE TO CUSTOMERS“There are times we want to take more time off, of course, but these hours are a promise we’ve made to our customers. And it’s not just folks from the neighborhood who come, you see. We get people from all over the country, going out of their way to come eat our tteokbokki, and I would hate for them to be disappointed. Besides, our days off aren’t that different anyway. I handle the house chores that need handling and go to the hospital to get treated for my carpal tunnel syndrome. An occupational disease.”Most of their customers are warm and friendly. Some have been known to drop by with cold drinks when the weather gets hot, for the Kims to have as they work, and others even bring them extra vegetables from their garden. “There are people who remember my mother-in-law from years ago and bring their children by for a visit, or even come by in a group after an elementar y school reunion. Those are customers who come to feast on memories rather than tteokbokki. Seeing customers like that reminds me of warmth, kindness and ways of spreading goodwill. I’ll find myself thinking, this is what living in the world is really about.”That’s what makes Kim feel so wistful about the fact that the shop will eventually disappear one day. The plan is to keep the place going for another 10 years, then shutter it for good. She doesn’t want to pass down such a challenging business to her two children. Though, of course, that may probably change in case, after trying other lines of work following their own dreams, either of them finally decides to carry on their family business of filling bellies, creating memories and warming hearts.

Change in Study Habits

Lifestyle 2021 WINTER 259

Change in Study Habits Study cafés, a blend of conventional rented workspace and coffee shop, are in vogue among students, office workers and even the elderly.Offering spaces for individuals and groups, they have grown increasingly popular amid the ongoing pandemic. Study cafés started appearing in large cities about a decade ago and rose in number gradually. Then the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a dramatic increase as school and office shutdowns forced students and adults to find a safe place to work on individual and group assignments. Seats are typically separated by a translucent plexiglass barrier to create a workspace that feels less isolated. © TRISYS When COVID-19 shut down her university library, Park Jeong-eun headed for a study café, one of the few types of commercial spaces that has boomed during the pandemic. The café’s ambient noise seemed odd at first, but now the senior political science student at Inha University in Incheon is hooked on the environment. Most study cafés have no staff working onsite and try to boost competitiveness by advertising special offers. Many of them provide good snack bar services. Some even develop snack bar menus each season for customers. © THENEWWAYS “I gradually adapted to the new surroundings, which provide a good environment for studying despite few movement restrictions,” said Park. “It’s become a favorite place of mine because I can concentrate better. Of course, I hope the pandemic will abate and I can use the school library again soon. But even then, I think I’ll come here again with my friends.”Study cafés are a hybrid of a dokseosil (commercial study space) and a coffee shop. Most of them have no staff. Users buy a fixed amount of time at a kiosk and have their temperature checked by an automatic scanner before entering. They are free to sit anywhere and when their purchased time expires, the electricity at their workstation turns off. If you want more time, you simply top up at the kiosk. Most f loor plans have 50 to 100 seats. There are long tables with partitions as well as separate rooms, which are for online or face-to-face meetings, those clattering on laptops and notebooks or anyone seeking total isolation. Ambient noise, which, according to extensive research, improves concentration and task performance, is the main difference between study cafés and dokseosil.Natural sounds such as gently f lowing water and soft breezes are played continuously through surround-sound speaker systems.When study cafés first appeared about 10 years ago, most of the customers were high school students and young job seekers. But amid the pandemic, the shutdown of public and university libraries, a lack of quiet places to study and lockdown fatigue triggered continuous waves of college students and office workers. DRASTIC INCREASEThe soaring rush quickly attracted the attention of corporate strategists and fledgling franchise owners, hence a stampede to open study cafés. They are now a new blue chip in the startup market. By February 2021, there were 40,824 study cafés across Korea, an 18 percent increase from 2020, with the buildup showing no signs of abating.“The number of study cafés has increased dramatically since last year. They’re considered a good startup business idea as they need little labor and personnel costs and there’s constant demand for them,” said Yoon Hyung-joon, president of Trisys, an operator of franchise study cafés. He has about 100 cafés, a modest total compared to the 600 to 800 outlets owned by the biggest franchisers.Kim Sin-ae opened a Trisys franchise in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province in February 2021. The pandemic was at its peak in Korea and she had the only study café in her neighborhood – until 10 or so more opened in the ensuing months.“One study café opens each month. The market is saturated, but I think the craze will continue for the time being,” she predicted. “Even after the pandemic comes to an end, it’ll enjoy its high popularity. There’ll be a continuous supply of student customers, and study cafés will be still attractive to them. Under these circumstances, each shop will have to maintain its own competitiveness.”Before the franchise, Kim spent 16 years running another type of space for students in Seoul: an after-school academy. A study café is less stressful because she doesn’t need to deal with many people, but there is more physical work to do, refilling the soda fountain and the coffee cart every morning and evening, along with diligent cleaning. Before a curfew was imposed for social distancing, her café never closed.“Sales are way down now because we close at 10 p.m. But I achieved more sales from this business, when it was open 24/7, than from what I had earned from the cram school earlier. I think I made the right decision to change my line of business,” Kim said.The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only factor propelling the popularity of study cafés. They also accommodate a dramatic shift in methods of teaching and learning. That shift should help maintain high usage even after the pandemic.Traditionally, education in East Asia was based on rote memorization. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), young men preparing for civil service exams sequestered themselves in the back rooms of Buddhist temples in the mountains to memorize classical texts. A passing performance was the ticket to a successful public career and comfortable life.In the postwar era, the university entrance exam became the new milestone event. Passing the exam promised social status and financial stability. Students spend their entire adolescence preparing for exam day, and anyone over 30 years old has likely used a neighborhood dokseosil and, of course, libraries during their high school days.But in some ways, these spaces can be too quiet.The sound of a door opening and closing or footsteps passing seem to reverberate to a distracting level. The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only factor propelling the popularity of study cafés. They also accommodate a dramatic shift in methods of teaching and learning. STUDY CULTUREIn the past decade or so, universities began to jettison midterm and final exams, which were essentially tests to see which students were best in recalling memorized facts and figures. Instead, they put greater stress on critical thinking to prepare students for jobs in Korea’s advanced economy. Projects and reports, often completed in groups, became more prominent in coursework. Today, students must prove their ability to identify and solve problems.This means that simply memorizing facts and figures alone in a quiet place is no longer adequate. Now, students need a space to discuss and study together with their classmates. In a way, then, study cafés were the natural choice; they offer a more relaxed and harmonious atmosphere than a dokseosil or library, which eschew ambient noise, or a gosichon, a cluster of private dormitories where students and civil service examinees prepare for tests.Not surprisingly, ordinary coffee shops have also seen a rise in customer traffic. Tired of working at home and holding video conferences, many office workers want a change of scenery and a chance to talk face to face. A new portmanteau buzzword, “coffice,” refers to a coffee shop that is like an office space, where workers meet over a cup of java.Lee So-mi, a content designer, felt cramped working from home during lockdown. She used a coffee shop for several months, but it wasn’t easy or comfortable to occupy a table for long after ordering only a single cup of coffee. Furthermore, it was difficult to find a suitable shop on days when she had to participate in a video conference. To her, study cafés were like a new world. There, she was able to work without being disturbed and attend video conferences in a separate room. They were inexpensive and the pay-as-you-go system was a great boon to her because she was working irregular hours. Users buy a fixed amount of time at a kiosk before entering. They are free to sit at an open table or in an individualized seating area with plexiglass shields. Most tables have an electrical outlet to power customers’ devices. © INGStroy Inc.   FAVORITE DESTINATIONA coffee shop’s aim is to sell drinks and hope for a constant churn of table turnovers. One-cup customers who stay for several hours aren’t welcomed. Study cafés provide spaces that strike a balance between a coffee shop and dokseosil. In fact, they have become a favorite destination for people from a wide range of age groups, not just the younger generations.“Of course, the majority of customers are students and office workers,” said Kim Sin-ae, the study café operator. “But there are elderly customers as well. It seems that people of a broad range of ages are using our shop to develop themselves or study to earn professional licenses or certificates. While running my study café, I’ve come to throw away my outdated notion that only young people study.” Some study cafés develop their own menu to generate food sales. Some located near schools offer student customers free snacks and drinks. © TRISYS

A Life of Miracles

In Love with Korea 2021 WINTER 258

A Life of Miracles Catholic Father Kim Ha-jong, born Vincenzo Bordo in Piansano, Italy, arrived in Korea in 1990 and embarked on a life dedicated to looking after the poor. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, his welfare center distributes lunch boxes to hundreds of hungry and homeless people each day. For the past 30 years, an apron has been a necessity nearly every day for Father Kim Ha-jong.His office at Anna’s House soup kitchen in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, has a picture of Cardinal Stephan Kim Sou-hwan, the late archbishop of Seoul who was at the forefront of Korea’s democracy movement against military dictatorship in the 1970s to the 1980s. As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to menace the world, Father Kim Ha-jong is quietly spreading a different sort of virus.He defines sharing as a “virus” that infects people with highly contagious happiness. At Anna’s House, the social welfare center that he operates in Seongnam, a satellite city of Seoul, sharing takes many forms. Since early 2020 when the pandemic first appeared in Korea, the most palpable of those forms has been the daily preparation of hundreds of lunch boxes for the poor and homeless.Father Kim first opened his soup kitchen years before COVID-19. Most other soup kitchens shut down when indoor dining restrictions went into effect, but Father Kim refused to succumb. “You can’t close a soup kitchen because stomachs don’t go on vacation. Seventy percent of the people who come here have only one meal a day. If we don’t give them anything, they don’t eat,” he says. FREE LUNCH BOXESMaking the switch to lunch boxes was difficult. It required a different operating system and higher costs due to packaging, as well as health risks for everyone involved. But since January 2020, with the permission of city authorities, Anna’s House has been providing some 650-750 lunch boxes daily with no major problems.To Father Kim, every day feeding the needy is a miracle. He recalls one day when he realized that there was very little rice left. “Each day, we use 160 kg of rice. We only had two days’ worth left. I was worried, but the cook said, ‘Jesus will send some.’ The next day we found 100 sacks of rice left out front.”In this way, people donate food , money, clothes, masks and various other goods. Many also volunteer their time to take care of food preparation, packaging, cleaning and managing the long queues for the lunch boxes. The volunteers assemble from all walks of life. They include not only Catholics but also Buddhist monks and Muslims, as well as celebrities, office workers and students. There’s even a dog named Louis Vuitton, who makes people smile.The needy come from all quarters of Seongnam and even Seoul for the lunch boxes, which are handed out at 3 p.m. As they pass out the meals, Father Kim and the volunteers greet each recipient and say, “Welcome. We love you.”“It’s true that the pandemic is giving us a difficult time. But here, it has become a time for the virus of love and sharing. It’s another experience of the pandemic that is really beautiful,” Father Kim says.Before finishing high school, Vincenzo Bordo, the future Father Kim, had already decided to join the priesthood. After his university studies in Oriental philosophy and religions, he joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, whose focus is on serving the poor. His interest in Asia led him to Korea, and shortly after his arrival in May 1990, he started working with a nun who looked after poor families.In his book, “A Moment of Fear, Miracles Every Day,” published in 2020, Father Kim recalls a turning point in 1992. He met a half-paralyzed man in his 50s who was living alone in a moldy basement and relying on neighbors to bring him food (or not eating at all on days when they didn’t). After talking to the man and tidying up the room, Father Kim hugged him with his permission and smelled a stench so foul he felt like retching. At the same time, he felt an indescribable happiness and peace. DEDICATIONRealizing that so many people were left out of the welfare system, Father Kim started a canteen for the needy the following year. Korea was a different place back then. “People would ask me why I was feeding the homeless. They told me I shouldn’t do it because they are alcoholics who will only cause trouble. It’s not like that anymore.Our society has really changed,” he says.In the wake of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, many people lost their livelihood and became homeless. The following year, Father Kim started a soup kitchen with the help of a benefactor whose mother’s name was Anna, hence the name Anna’s House. He started serving free meals every day except Sundays.For many years, the soup kitchen operated out of a space provided by Seongnam Cathedral. But it had to be vacated in 2018. As the time to leave approached, Father Kim’s anxiety rose. Seongnam city officials advised him that greenbelt restrictions on the land across the road would be lifted and he could build a new place there. It wasn’t a viable solution, though; he didn’t have the money to buy the land. “I wondered if it was really the end,” he recalls. “I thought I might really have to stop and retire.”Help came in the form of an interview request. Father Kim reluctantly relented, taking an appointment he mistakenly thought was with a local newspaper. But it turned out that the interview was with KBS, a national TV network, for its “Human Theater” (Ingan Geukjang) program. After the episode of Father Kim aired, “another miracle happened.” Donations flooded in, quickly reaching 1.2 billion won, enough to buy the land. A NEW HOMEAnna’s House reopened in a new building in 2018.Although the soup kitchen is its primary concern, Father Kim’s efforts have led to an expansive list of services. Anna’s House currently offers medical care, rehabilitation, legal aid services and humanities education on a weekly basis; shelters for the homeless, elderly and runaway teens; a share house for youths; and a mobile outreach program for runaways and other vulnerable young people. Father Kim says that it is love that gives him the energy to serve the needy in what was once a foreign country to him but is now his home. Whenever tough times have pushed him to the breaking point, someone always emerged to help keep Anna’s House open. He attributes the timing to the power of love. Before COVID-19, the outreach program AJIT (acronym for aideul jikineun teureok, meaning “truck that safeguards the kids”) met with scores of boys and girls on the street each night. The pandemic has halted many activities, but Father Kim still takes AJIT, now a little bubble car, on the road from time to time. AJIT in Korean means “hangout” or “safe house.”“We give hope. We plant the seeds of hope in people. The seeds can become big trees or fail. Nobody knows. But we are called to do whatever is possible,” he says.For the past 30 years, Father Kim has donned an apron almost every day. On Sundays he swaps it for cycling gear and goes riding along the banks of the Han River, relishing in a precious moment of relaxation. Although wonderful things keep happening, it is mentally stressful – not to mention physically exhausting – to look after others so carefully day after day. When he noticed that his heart was beating faster than usual, he went to the doctor and was advised it was due to stress. For a while he had to give up his morning espresso, the only Italian habit that he has retained. “You can’t close a soup kitchen because stomachs don’t go on vacation.Seventy percent of the people who come here have only one meal a day. If we don’t give them anything, they don’t eat.” GOD’S SERVANTFor all his hard work and giving, what does he receive in return? “Working with the poor makes me happy. For me, this isn’t a job. My mission, my life here, is to welcome these people, to love them and help them,” he says. This mission is reflected in his Korean name Ha-jong, which means “God’s servant.” The surname Kim is a tribute to Andrew Kim Tae-gon (1821-1846), the first Korean-born Catholic priest who was executed during the anti-Christian Joseon Dynasty and canonized in 1984 along with other Korean martyrs. Father Kim’s work has not gone unnoticed. He has received many awards, including the prestigious Ho-Am Award in 2014. When asked which of the awards means the most to him, Father Kim beams and talks about a group of kindergarten children who recently presented him with a bundle of worn 1,000 won notes that they had saved up. Another reward that made him particularly happy is his Korean citizenship, granted by presidential order in 2015. Long before his naturalization, he decided he would stay in Korea forever;he even signed the papers for posthumous donation of his organs.“I am Korean, not a foreigner,” he says. “When you fall in love, there is no reason for it.” At 1 p.m. every day, volunteers gather at the kitchen in the basement of Anna’s House to prepare lunch boxes. They must move quickly to pack rice, side dishes, soup, bread, canned goods and other items. Father Kim (white cap) always works with them. From 3 p.m., Father Kim and volunteers distribute lunch boxes to homeless people who line up in front of Seongnam Cathedral across the road from Anna’s House. For about two hours, more than 700 lunch boxes are handed out.

Metal Crafting, Hands-on Only

Interview 2021 WINTER 234

Metal Crafting, Hands-on Only Made entirely by hand from start to finish, the works of metalsmith Sim Hyun-seok communicate the artist’s restrained aesthetic and warm sensitivity. Each day in Sim’s studio is as regular as clockwork, dedicated wholly to a process guided by his belief that handmade objects enrich our lives. Sim Hyun-seok in his metalsmithing studio in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province. Most of his works are variations on common, everyday objects, a result of his process in which he devises solutions to his own needs and then turns the most successful of these experiments into his art. A few years ago, Sim Hyun-seok moved his workshop and home to Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province – a decision that reflected his longstanding desire to live a life of farming and raising f lowers. Until then, he had spent most of his time in Seoul’s Hwagokdong neighborhood, working in the studio of his teacher and mentor. It was an apprenticeship that spanned some 26 years, a commitment that may be difficult to understand for today’s younger generations, who prioritize free time and self-care. After so many years of approaching each day with the mindset of a “student,” the metalsmith remains modest and straightforward even today, simply accepting the various ins and outs of a given process.Sim’s works are all objects that people use in daily life, from fashion accessories and home goods to his signature pinhole cameras, which he made entirely by hand, down to the smallest component. After majoring in arts and crafts at Konkuk University, Sim went on to deepen his study of metalsmithing at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, earning a master’s degree. In 2015, he received the Metalwork and Jewelr y Award of the Year from the Yoolizzy Craft Museum (founded in honor of Professor Yoo Lizzy, a pioneer of contemporary Korean metalwork), and has since shown his work in numerous galleries and institutions in and outside of Korea, solidifying his reputation as an artist of exceptional skill with a fascinating body of work. Silver seems to be your go-to material. Why?In the royal court of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), silver spoons were used to make sure that the food didn’t contain any substances that might be harmful. When certain toxins come into contact with silver, the color of the metal changes to black. This also means that silver is quite good at absorbing harmful ingredients. That’s why I keep pieces of silver in water. It maintains freshness and improves the water quality. Because silver ware is expensive, people tend to lock it away in their display cabinets, but if you do that, it will discolor. Silver that’s used every day doesn’t change color.People also tend to think that silver is tricky to work with because it’s so soft, but that’s not exactly true. We use a lot of sterling silver in metalsmithing, which is actually 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper, making it quite hard. And more affordable, too. What are you working on now?I’ve been steadily working on a line of accessories, including a dog-shaped brooch, and I continue to work on pieces that explore geometric shapes. I need the fun projects so I can keep working on the meticulous fine art pieces, too. It’s a balancing act.Recently I’ve been making stainless steel cutler y. Stainless steel is a great material for making cutlery. It’s so much stronger than most other materials, and unlike silver, brass, or copper, it doesn’t change color. At the same time, though, it can be rather difficult to work with. It has to be welded rather than just soldered, and there are certain aspects that really require a more industrial set-up than a private workshop – so I’m currently trying to figure out whether and how I’ll be able to work with it in my usual way. Geometric accessories. Sim usually uses sterling silver, a harder metal, and has recently started using stainless steel as well. Courtesy of Sim Hyun-seok Cute, playful accessories. Preferring to give his practice a sense of balance, Sim takes turns between meticulous, aesthetically oriented projects and those more lighthearted and fun. Sim’s most representative work is his fully-functioning, silver pinhole camera. Every part of the camera – from its body to every gear and component inside it – was made by hand. Just one of these cameras takes at least a few months to produce. What is your “usual way”?I mean where the entire process is completed with my own two hands, start to finish. I have a good understanding of what I’m actually capable of doing, and I always want to do the very best I can within the bounds of that ability. Small objects that fit right in your hand can be some of the most challenging to make, and those are the very things that I want to get better and better – and better still – at crafting. How did you get into pinhole cameras, your signature work?The pinhole camera is, indeed, the piece that helped raise my profile in the world at large, but it’s been quite a few years now since I last made one. Around 20 years ago, I lucked into a good deal on a Leica camera, but to take proper pictures of my pieces, I had to purchase a different lens. When I looked into it, I saw that it cost around US$900 to US$1,000. So I thought maybe I’d try making one myself. And so I did. When I used it, the pictures actually came out pretty nicely. Then I thought: I bet I could make the body of the camera, too. That’s how I ended up making a full camera with my own two hands, and the pictures I took with it could be developed properly, too, just like any camera. I’d say that pretty much sums up my creative process. I make something that I need myself in that moment, and if I’m satisfied with the result, then that’s when I begin the work of turning it into an actual piece…. Was there a special reason for your long apprenticeship?When I was in college, I had the good fortune of meeting the artist Woo Jin-soon, by chance. He was invited to lecture at our school, and we got to know one another. There were a lot of things about him that appealed to me, from the way he worked with silver to his general aesthetic. He had pursued his studies at Konstfack in Stockholm, Sweden’s largest university for arts, crafts and design, so he could also teach me what kind of work artists were making in Northern Europe and how, which was great. I was with him from 1992 to 2018, working in his studio every single weekday from five or six in the morning to three or four in the afternoon – with a Saturday thrown in there every now and then, too. Eventually, though, he had to move out of that studio, and that’s when I ended up moving out here myself.These days, I get started at nine in the morning and work until six in the evening. I’m always thinking about living each day as well as I can. Rather than thinking ahead to where I want to end up, I try to be more like a leaf floating along on the surface of a stream – just getting through the day, making a little headway in the direction I’m headed without sinking too far or getting stuck. I tend not to make too many plans. This aspect of my personality probably helped when it came to staying on as an apprentice for so long. “Small objects that fit right in your hand can be some of the most challenging to make, and those are the very things that I want to get better and better – and better still – at crafting.” A piece by Sim Hyun-seok, exhibited at the 2009 Craft Awon group show, “The Peddlers’ Travels.” Many of Sim’s most moving works are tiny, requiring intense concentration and extreme attention to detail.Courtesy of Sim Hyun-seok What was unique about your apprenticeship?Well, to tell the truth, I’m a pretty careless person, and it was only over the course of learning from my teacher that people first began to tell me that I was meticulous. And in following each necessary step all the way through, I became habituated to that kind of thoroughness, and that, in turn, shaped my approach to my own practice. Take sanding, as one example: 240, 400, 600, and so on – as the fineness of the paper goes up, it makes sanding the metal that much smoother. I never skip any steps with sanding and use the sandpaper that fits each stage of the polishing process before moving on to the next. It doesn’t actually make that much difference in the end, even if you do skip a few steps, but this is just the way I’ve always done it.If I were to give you another example, when you’re soldering two panels together, you use this compound called borax. Borax helps the soldering process and prevents oxidization. The thing is, it’s surprisingly difficult to keep the workspace clean when you’re working with those materials, so it doesn’t take long at all for the studio to become chaotic. But both Mr. Woo and I are pretty exacting when it comes to cleanliness, so we were always tidying things up and washing our hands before actually starting to work. Many people find my pieces to be very precise; I think it’s very likely that that’s a reflection of my commitment to this kind of step-by-step process. Is there anything in particular that you’re currently looking forward to?I just want to keep this steady pace going. I do have plans for an exhibition abroad, so I’ll have to make some preparations for that. Ah, come to think of it, I would like to try launching a “Craft Repair Shop.” Since I’m someone who works with metal, I’m actually pretty good at splinting or joining broken kitchen tools and things like that, and bringing them back to life. One of the merits of metal pieces is that they don’t shatter. Even if a metal piece gets crumpled badly, if you can apply enough pressure from the other side, it’s usually possible to recover its original shape, to a certain extent. Just like it’s possible to use a needle to sew up a torn leather sofa. Mending broken objects like that and giving them new life, making it possible for the original owner to keep on using them for a long, long time – now that’s meaningful work.

Moments Worth the Stress

An Ordinary Day 2021 AUTUMN 670

Moments Worth the Stress CULTURE & ART--> Moments Worth the Stress Managers of apartment complexes are magnets for complaints and conflicts in need of solutions and mediation. To keep thousands of people safe and content, they are supposed to display a special set of skills. Lee Sang-yong, the manager of an apartment complex of 510 units, arrives for his interview 30 minutes later than scheduled. He’d called to request the delay. An urgent matter had arisen; a resident had made a noise complaint to the supervisor of a nearby construction site.After rushing to keep the confrontation from boiling over, Lee hurries back, barely taking a breath. “It’s pretty much always like this. After all, I’m the one they come to with problems and complaints,” he says. Sixty-two percent of South Korea’s population lives in apartments. The managers of apartment complexes must ensure everyone is content with their mini-community – no small feat considering the range of priorities, tolerance levels and demands found among hundreds, often thousands, of residents. Resolving conflicts and complaints comes with the territory. And that requires superb “people skills” as well as the administrative diligence to maintain a safe, clean environment. Before he became an apartment manager, Lee spent 32 years in the military. His motto as a commanding officer was always “1 percent is giving the order,99 percent is following up.” This military command system of keeping orders simple and making verification thorough has served him well in overseeing Hillstate, a 10-building complex nestled in Seoul’s Mapo District, overlooking the Han River. After retiring from the military as a lieutenant colonel in 2009, Lee Sang-yong began an entirely different career as the manager of the Riverside Hillstate apartment complex in Mapo District, Seoul, overlooking the Han River. A Range of Complaints“It’s fine when we can talk it out, but sometimes you get people who just aren’t being reasonable,” says Lee. He recalls one resident who insisted his building was sinking because the refrigerator of every unit was in the same spot, creating a perilous aggregation of weight. Unconvinced by a history of unblemished inspections since the building’s construction, the resident forced the issue on the board of resident representatives. Three specialized contractors were contacted separately and all three said nothing was wrong. “No matter how nonsensical a complaint may seem, you can’t just ignore it. You have to take steps to address it, and then inform the person who made the complaint of the outcome,” Lee says. The most common complaint, not to mention the biggest headache, is about noise. Hillstate is in a very quiet residential area, so noise from a single unit or vehicle can be distinctive. One resident complained that vehicles simply entering and exiting his building’s garage were too noisy, refusing to recognize that it was communal area that couldn’t be entirely subject to personal whims.A few weeks before the interview, a resident complained that children living on the floor above were so noisy that he couldn’t fall asleep. A security guard contacted the household in question only to be scolded for calling at such a late hour. Lee says he was quite perturbed.“I can understand the upstairs resident’s perspective, of course, but what else was the guard supposed to do? When it comes to noise complaints like that between units, in many cases there’s honestly not much that can be done. Sometimes it’s not even clear whether it’s the unit directly overhead or not. Plus, hearing that your downstairs neighbor is complaining about you can cause bad blood, so I train my employees to be careful with their phrasing in a lot of different ways.”Up to the 1980s, becoming a housing manager was done casually, with property owners hiring acquaintances who would learn the job on the fly. Today, an examination must be passed. Some 1,500-2,000 people succeed in the exam each year, but without the proper personality and social skills there is no job.Those who qualify must also accrue at least three years of experience managing an apartment complex of fewer than 500 units before they can work at a complex larger than that. Lee supervises 15 employees, including security guards, cleaners, administrators and a bookkeeper. He tries to maintain an open line of communication with residents and employees alike. Lee’s workdays are both repetitive and highly structured. His duties include making complex-wide intercom announcements, which have increased in frequency with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting procedures. Each day, from morning to night, residents approach Lee with specific issues to resolve. Listening intently, he suggests solutions based on a full understanding of the residents’ perspectives. Military to ManagementAfter Lee retired as a lieutenant colonel in June 2009, an acquaintance suggested that he take the exam for housing management certification, thinking that it might suit his personality. Lee received his certification in 2011 and started his new career the following year at a complex that had 250 units. Seven years later, he moved to his current complex, which has a mix of singles and families in units that are comparatively spacious. “One good thing about this job is that there’s no retirement age,” says Lee. This doesn’t mean that everyone can keep working into their old age. While getting older doesn’t necessarily translate to no longer being good at your job, there are residents who think differently. Young people have lots of ideas but not enough experience; by contrast, older people can tell what’s wrong with a machine on the fritz just by listening to it, but they tend to resist change. There are pros and cons to both, Lee says.Lee’s workday officially begins at 9 a.m., but it actually starts at 8:05. Accustomed to rising early from his military years, he awakens automatically at 5 every morning.“On Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, I don’t come directly to my office but make a round of the complex first,” he says. “On Monday, it’s to make sure nothing happened over the weekend; on Tuesday, it’s to check in after the recycling company has been through here to make sure everything is all cleaned up; and on Friday, it’s to give everything a look over before taking off for the weekend.”Empathy and PatienceAsked if there was ever a moment when he wanted to quit, Lee replies, “I can’t say that it’s never happened.” It’s not so much the difficulty of the work that riles him; it’s when residents are unreasonable and demand the impossible. When helplessly exasperated, irate residents invariably declare, “I pay your wages!” That’s when Lee is overcome with sadness. He then steps back to calm himself. After a kind of mind controlling period, a solution is usually agreed upon.Fortunately, the current complex doesn’t have any extreme bullies. Indeed, what it does have is a great deal to celebrate.Many residents offer up snacks and beverages when they see staff members working around the complex. One household in particular pays a fruit vendor 60,000 won every Tuesday to provide fruit to the complex’s six security guards and five cleaners. This amounts to annual expenditures of over three million won that has been done since before Lee arrived. “I’ve heard that it started with the parents, and now the daughter is keeping the tradition going,” he says. When he visited the household to express thanks, the family humbly requested anonymity. Lee leaves for the subway at 6 p.m. and arrives home shortly before 7. By 10:30 p.m., he’s usually in bed. Weekends are spent going out to eat something tasty with his family, watching his favorite baduk (go) TV show, or heading to the outskirts of the city to visit relatives and help tend their vegetable gardens. Born in the countryside, he grew up helping his father with farm work. Even today, spending time working the land helps ease his mind.When asked what qualities are most important for a head manager to have, Lee chooses empathy and patience. As the work involves dealing directly with people, one must be able to meet them with understanding and consideration, and to control one’s own temper. Thanks to his generosity of spirit and tireless attention, the complex stays well centered. Last year, many residents volunteered to help plant flowers by the front gate. Afterward, they gathered to enjoy rice wine and chat in the complex courtyard. “These little moments become opportunities to find out what’s going on,” says Lee, adding that some residents are shy about broaching an issue even if it has merit. Sometimes, as Lee makes his rounds, a resident will approach him and say, “Thank you for the other day, you were a real help, we know you work hard.” Then he thinks, “Ah, the residents do see the effort I put in. I was right to choose this path.” These are the moments that make it all feel worthwhile. Thanks to Lee’s generosity of spirit and tireless attention, the complex stays well centered. The complex that Lee manages includes 10 buildings with 510 households, yet is small compared to neighboring complexes. It is located in a forest of high-rise housing that constitutes one of the core residential districts of central Seoul’s western edge. Hwang Kyung-shin Writer Ha Ji-won Photograper


A Local Jukebox Musical Hits Home

Art Review 2021 WINTER 236

A Local Jukebox Musical Hits Home Pop ballads by the late composer Lee Young-hoon (1960-2008), which stirred up the emotions of youths in the 1980s and 1990s, remain ever popular. The musical “Gwanghwamun Sonata,” a compilation of these old-time favorites, was successfully staged this fall for a third run, setting a new milestone in homegrown jukebox musicals. “Gwanghwamun Sonata” is a jukebox musical based on hit ballads of Lee Young-hoon (1960-2008), a popular composer of the 1980s and 1990s. The stage design features Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbok Palace, and the road along the wall of Deoksu Palace – the backdrop for Lee’s song lyrics that evoke nostalgia among those who loved his songs.© CJ ENM The most popular musicals these days are either “moviecals” based on well-known movies of the past, or jukebox musicals woven with old pop songs. “King Kong,” featuring a giant gorilla doll roaming the stage, or “Mary Poppins,” adapted from the movie of the same name directed by Robert Stevenson, are examples of the former genre. “Jersey Boys,” seasoned with popular tunes of American rock band The Four Seasons, and “Mamma Mia!” featuring the hits of the Swedish group A BBA are synonymous with the latter. Currently, numerous jukebox musicals, also known as pop musicals, are enjoying popularity on the global stage.The rage for jukebox musicals has made its way into Korea as well. Deserving particular attention is “Gwanghwamun Sonata,” which was performed at the Seoul Arts Center from July to September and will be touring other cities around the country until year-end. “Gwanghwamun Sonata” is a so-called tribute musical, with a story spun around songs composed by Lee Young-hoon and sung by Lee Moon-sae. It’s difficult to discuss Korean popular music of the 1980s and 1990s without mention of these two names. Lee Young-hoon in particular left behind numerous hits, as if he had Midas’ golden touch.Audiences of the musical hum along to Lee’s hits, including the eponymous “Gwanghwamun Sonata” (1988), “When Love is Gone” (1987), “Under the Shadow of Street Trees” (1988) and “Old Love” (1991). Therefore, it can be said that, like most popular jukebox musicals, “Gwanghwamun Sonata” successfully plays on nostalgia, attracting not just dedicated musical fans but also those who loved the late composer’s songs. When “Sunset Glow” (1988), remade by the idol group Big Bang in 2008, plays during the curtain call, the audience finds it difficult to stay seated. This “sing-along curtain call,” which brings the audience to their feet to sing at the top of their voices, is an extraordinary experience. Sing-Along Curtain CallUniquely, three different versions of “Gwanghwamun Sonata” have been staged. The first attempt to build a musical around Lee Young-hoon’s songs was made by Gina Lee, a popular musical director, and was staged in 2011 at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. Some say that the composer created the basic plot himself when he was in the terminal stage of his cancer. Depicting the intertwined love and lives of a young woman and two men, the show was a huge hit with middle-aged audiences, making it a rare box office success for a local creative musical premiered on a large stage. A follow-up run opened at the LG Art Center the following year.“Gwanghwamun Sonata 2” by director Kim Gyu-jong, performed in 2013, was a spin-off of the previous work. As emphasis was placed on live performance, it was staged mainly in small theaters, with each musician positioned on a checkerboard-shaped set, adding to the appeal of its music elements. This concert-like version went on tour in several Chinese cities, such as Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanchang and Fujian. Musical actress Cha Ji-yeon, who leads the narrative in her role as a time travel guide, received rave reviews for her display of explosive energy. This latest version of the musical “Gwanghwamun Sonata” was written by playwright and director Ko Sun-woong, mixing memories, reality and fantasy, and directed by Gina Lee.© CJ ENM Three Versions The third version of “Gwanghwamun Sonata,” re-written by famous playwright and director Ko Sun-woong and directed once again by Gina Lee, premiered in 2017 at the Grand Theater of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts and had a second run in 2018. It had its third run this year. The story traverses memory, reality and fantasy as the dying protagonist revisits his past to find true love.Living up to the name of its director, who is known for her stylish staging, this version earned acclaim for its dreamy yet poignant mood and effective presentation of Lee Young-hoon’s music, which remains as appealing as ever. The gender-bending casting, where actors were given roles regardless of their gender, was another attention-grabbing factor.The success of this show can be attributed to the skillful production crew, the cast of well-known singers and actors, good chemistry between the director and music director, and the sophisticated stage design. The marketing strategy and perfect timing contributed as well.Lee Young-hoon didn’t get his start in the popular music scene. He began his career composing background music for plays, broadcasts and dance performances, expanding to popular music in the 1980s when he was in his mid-20s. That’s when he met singer and TV host Lee Moon-sae, who, despite having debuted in 1978 and released his second album, was more famous as a radio DJ than a singer at the time.However, when the two musicians collaborated to put out Lee Moon-sae’s third album in 1985, the title song, “I Don’t Know Yet,” was so popular that it stayed in the number one spot for five consecutive weeks on a TV music program. Many of the other songs on the album were also hits and Lee Young-hoon emerged as the top lyricist and composer in the Korean pop music world. Lee Moon-sae’s fourth album, “When Love is Gone,” released two years later, sold 2.8 million copies and is listed on Korea’s 100 best pop music albums. A Legendary DuoThe duo worked together up until Lee Moon-sae’s 13th album, “Chapter 13,” released in 2001. When their collaboration became less frequent, Lee Young-hoon made music for TV dramas and movies. He also released an orchestral album featuring rearrangements of the songs he had written for Lee Moon-sae. Today, a monument erected in praise of Lee Young-hoon’s songs on the road a long the wall of Deoksu Palace in Jeong-dong, near Gwanghwamun in central Seoul, continues to attract people who fondly remember those times.In Korea, “Mamma Mia!” is considered the be-all and end-all of jukebox musicals, but there’s a lot more to talk about when the genre is segmented. Jukebox musicals can be divided into two types: compilation musicals like “Rock of Ages,” which introduces rock from the 1980s, weaving together various songs from unspecified musicians under a common theme; and tribute musicals like “Gwanghwamun Sonata,” which only use the musical assets of a specific artist. While the former has the advantage of freely mixing the music of various artists to suit the given theme, time or format, the latter holds appeal not only for musical fans but also the fans of the chosen artists or their music. If the musician in question is no longer active or has passed away, the interest is bound to double. In a flashback to the 1980s, when young people took to the streets to protest military dictatorship, rock singersongwriter Yoon Do-hyun in the lead role plays the piano and sings Lee Young-hoon’s 1988 hit, “My Old Lover.”© CJ ENM It can be said that, like most popular jukebox musicals, “Gwanghwamun Sonata” successfully plays on nostalgia, attracting not just dedicated musical fans but also those who loved the late composer’s songs. FamiliarityThe reason for the popularity of moviecals and jukebox musicals is simple: the audience doesn’t have to deal with unfamiliar songs and stories at the same time. It isn’t always easy to sit through dozens of new songs performed on stage for a few hours straight. While it’s natural for any composer to attempt to present as many beautiful songs as possible, employing all their musical capacities, an audience may not be able to digest it all. Therefore, they might repeat variations of the main melody or create and distribute a concept album before the curtain goes up for the premiere of a musical.In that sense, the jukebox musical format certainly has advantages. The songs performed on stage are already familiar to the audience and, as they are played live, the vibrancy and dynamism are incomparable to listening on the living room audio or through a small speaker on the desk. This is the reason jukebox musicals attract not only musical aficionados but also fans of the original songs or artists. Furthermore, as the audience already knows the content, the producer can be relieved of the burden and risks of promotion.

‘The Disaster Tourist’

Books & more 2021 WINTER 247

‘The Disaster Tourist’ ‘The Disaster Tourist’ By Yun Ko-eun Translated by Lizzie Buehler 186 pages, £8.99, London: Serpent’s Tail [2020] An Eco-Thriller Leaves Disturbing Questions Having been tied down by a pandemic for the past year and a half, many of us are dreaming of the trips we will take when we finally emerge into the new normal. But what if, instead of a tropical beach or an old city, your next destination were an area destroyed by a recent earthquake, a city swept away by a tsunami, or even a community sucked into the earth by a sinkhole? This is the premise of Yun Ko-eun’s novel, “The Disaster Tourist,” in which the protagonist, Yona, works for Jungle, a company that organizes just such package trips.Why on earth might one want to visit a disaster zone? Jungle’s customers aren’t necessarily lovers of the macabre or those who revel in the misfortune of others. Some, like a col- lege student, see an opportunity for “ethical tourism” to help devastated communities. Others, like an elementary school teacher who brings along her five-year-old daughter, hope the experience will be an educational one. Sometimes it can be as simple as the desire for something different from one’s dayto-day life. But there are deeper forces at work as well, Yona knws; being in such a shattered place reinforces the ever-present threat of disaster and also reaffirms that the traveler is indeed still alive. It’s the joy of not having been chosen in the lottery of natural disasters. This hits rather close to home for this group of travelers, whose trip comes shortly after a tsunami crashes into the coastal Korean town of Jinhae, a disaster never witnessed by the reader through the eyes of any of the characters but whose horrible aftermath is felt throughout the book.Turning their backs on the calamity at home, the travelers embark on a trip to the island of Mui, off the coast of Vietnam. Yona is unique among the group in that she isn’t there of her own accord. Having been sexually assaulted by her boss and realizing she’s been marked as undesirable at her workplace, she submits her resignation. To her surprise, though, she is given a month off and sent on one of the company’s holiday packages – not as a customer, but to evaluate whether the package should be discontinued. So she travels to Mui with the others, where she encounters an old sinkhole, a rather unimpressive volcano and a reenactment of a massacre perpetrated by one tribe on another, and stays in the home of a member of the victim tribe.Yona’s story would have been relatively unremarkable had she returned to Korea as planned to submit her report. But a moment of carelessness separates her from her group on the way to the airport, and she finds herself stranded in rural Vietnam. Another such moment leaves her without her wallet and passport, stolen by a pickpocket. Berating herself for being the incompetent traveler she has always so despised, she makes her way back to Mui – where she uncovers a chilling reality beneath the surface of life on the resort island.The novel combines an unsettling tale of twisted plots with cutting social commentary that will leave you haunted and contemplative, especially if you’ve ever traveled abroad on holiday. What exactly do we want when we look for a “genuine” experience, and what lies behind the facade that has been carefully constructed to satisfy our desires? What happens when a community finds itself wholly dependent on an industry that threatens to swallow it whole, like a gaping sinkhole? As the story barrels toward its conclusion, still shrouded in its own gravity, you will find yourself simply trying to hold on. Even after the last page is turned, the book and the questions it raises will stay with you. ‘Homo Maskus’ By Kim Soo-yeol Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé 73 pages, $10.00, Seoul: Asia Publishers [2020] Human Prism on Jeju and Beyond This is a short collection of new poems by Kim Soo-yeol, who hails from Jeju Island, off the south coast of Korea. This fact may not seem immediately important, but Jeju has always occupied an unusual place in Korea: part of the nation, but on the periphery and often pushed to the margins. Jeju pulses through Kim’s poetry here, exemplified by “Offerings for the Dead,” “Decalcomania” and “Farther than the Moon,” which give us glimpses into life, death and history on the island.Yet, Kim’s poetry goes beyond History with a capital “H.” Tragic events such as the April 3 Massacre on Jeju in 1948 and the Gwangju Uprising in 1980 are viewed through the tightly focused lens of history on a much smaller, more individual and more human scale. Kim also reaches beyond Jeju, writing of a “Berlin Morning” or “A Day in Copenhagen,” or telling the story of an old man “In Gaoan Village,” China.Indeed, while the poems feel very Korean – and more specifically, very Jeju – they also seem to touch every corner of the earth. This is in part because the other themes the poet explores, such as old age and death, are so universal. The collection ends with two poems, including the eponymous “Homo Maskus,” that will no doubt strike a chord with readers struggling through the pandemic. The Halfie Project By Becky White and her Halfie Project team www.thehalfieproject.com Sharing and Exploring Hybrid Cultural Identity The halfie project, in the words of its creator Becky White, is part art and part research. On the one hand, it’s an exercise in telling people’s stories, and on the other, an inquiry into questions of identity – specifically what it means to be half-Korean. Half-Koreans are often in an awkward position, as they (to borrow White’s words) “belong to both worlds, but don’t belong to anywhere at all.” That is, when in the culture of their other half, they are considered Korean or Asian, whereas when they come to Korea, they are seen as foreign.The project focuses on those common experiences and questions, seeking to create a space where those of mixed cultural backgrounds can come together to share their stories and talk about issues of identity and belonging. The team has a website, which is home to “The Halfie Project Podcast,” as well as a YouTube channel and Instagram. Interviews with other half-Koreans form the backbone of the content, but they also tackle questions of Korean identity, such as trying to define slippery concepts like nunchi or han, and offer insightful cultural commentary on important issues including mental health. If you are half-Korean – or half-anything, as the team welcomes all – or are simply interested in issues of mixed cultural identity, this project is for you.

An Armful of Understanding for Connections

Books & more 2021 AUTUMN 693

An Armful of Understanding for Connections An Armful of Understanding for Connections “My Brilliant Life” By Ae-ran Kim, Translated by Chi-Young Kim, 203 pages, $14.00, New York: Forge Books [2020] This 2011 novel by Kim Ae-ran tells the story of a young man named Areum and his brief but brilliant life. He suffers from premature aging; at 16, he already has the body of an 80-year-old man. What this story is about, though, is much deeper. Areum is obsessed with a task he hopes to complete before his 17th birthday: to write the story of his family. He begins with the story of how his parents met, gleaned from what they have told him. He is a keen enough observer to notice that their stories do not match up in all details, though, and mature enough not to be tempted to take one side or the other. He is, in fact, “on the side of the story,” as if the story were something that existed separate from the people who tell it.No story is told without a motive, even if that motive is simply to entertain. For Areum, the story is a gift he intends to give to his parents, since he will not live long enough to win awards or earn a college diploma. Like any eager child, he wants to impress his parents, and he imagines that they will marvel at his rich vocabulary and elegant sentences. But this is only the surface layer of his motivation. When he appears on a television program featuring people in need, he ends up feeling wronged because he looks so much better on TV than what he feels inside. Thus he learns what it’s like when someone else tells your story. As a result of the program, he receives an email from another critically ill teenager, a girl named Seoha. When she reveals in their email exchanges that her secret dream is to become a writer, Areum’s motivation to tell his family’s story is renewed. This is another level of his desire to write his story: the desire to form connections with others. We may try to impress others when we write, but what we really want is for them to understand us. Understanding is the connective tissue that draws the whole universe into a single living being. Without it, we are all discrete entities, islands adrift in a cold sea. Once we understand, though, we see that we are all connected in ways we might never before have imagined.So while the story of Areum is necessarily a sad one, it isn’t tragic – or, at least, the connection we end up feeling with Areum and his family elevates it above tragedy. There are no easy answers to the questions that Areum faces, but embarking on the journey with him as he seeks them is rewarding. We feel the fullness of his brilliant life as he lives it to the best of his ability. In fact, his name in Korean means “an armful,” and this seems apt; to read this novel is to embrace Areum and his family, and our arms become so full that all we can do is hold on tighter. A Bitter Love Song to Hope “Hope is Lonely” By Kim Seung-Hee, Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé, 129 pages, £10.79, Lancashire: Arc Publications [2021] The poetry of Kim Seung-hee, translated into English here by Brother Anthony, can be uncomfortable, even disconcerting to read, but like all good poetry it inspires a strong emotional response in the reader. This collection, which brings together selected works from Kim’s last two collections in Korean, “Hope is Lonely” and “A Croaker on a Chopping Board,” takes a somewhat unique approach to poetry translation: it presents the Korean original and the English translation side by side. This is in recognition of the fact that, as the editor notes, translated poetry is neither English poetry nor foreign poetry, but something else entirely – something that does not replace the original but exists in an almost symbiotic relationship with it.The collection has much to offer even to those who may not be able to read the original texts. While the poems might at first seem dark and sad, sometimes even chilling, there is hope and healing on the other side. The titular poem, “Hope is Lonely,” appears on its face to be a paean to despair, but a closer reading shows that it is a bitter love song to hope. Despair is easy, but hope is hard, and yet the poet refuses to abandon it, calling it a “life sentence.” We may be reading Kim’s poems in translation, but her voice rings out, shaking us to our senses and pointing us toward the light. A Resonant YouTube Channel on K-Pop and More “DKDKTV” By David Kim and Danny Kim, YouTube DKDKTV got its start in 2016, when creators David Kim and Danny Kim decided to combine two popular trends: K-pop and reaction videos. Ironically enough, they weren’t originally fans of K-pop, but after developing an interest in groups like BTS, Big Bang and EXO, they began reacting to popular K-pop videos, offering their Korean perspective to an English-speaking audience. As these videos gained traction, the channel began to branch out into other video series. Today, DKDKTV has over 700,000 subscribers and a loyal fan base with its own moniker: the Ducks. Danny, David and other regular and guest hosts bring the Ducks the latest news and happenings in the K-pop world. A good place to start is the weekly news program, “DK News.” For more in-depth discussion, there is KSTea, an hour-long livestream where the duo “spills the tea” on the K-pop world with co-host and former K-pop star Christine Park (aka Soobeanie). David and Danny also create explanatory videos for foreign fans, such as the two series, “KPOP Explained by a Korean” and “KPOP History Explained.”Although the channel focuses primarily on K-pop, Danny and David have a wide variety of interests and often venture to try new video ideas. One particularly interesting series is “DK Asks,” where a reporter conducts “man (or woman) on the street” interviews to get an idea of what younger Koreans think about outstanding issues. Charles La Shure Professor, Department of Korean Language and Literature, Seoul National University


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