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Classical Journey to Excellence

Focus 2021 AUTUMN 933

Classical Journey to Excellence Classical Journey to Excellence Young classical musicians from Korea have clinched top awards at prestigious music competitions around the world this year, gaining footholds for their future career. Kim Su-yeon won first prize in piano at this year’s Montreal International Music Competition, the first for a Korean pianist. © Denise Tamara, Courtesy of Kumho Cultural Foundation The COVID-19 pandemic delayed or canceled international classical music competitions in 2020, but the contests have resumed this year, with young Koreans once again breaking through ceilings and finishing first in various categories. These winners include pianist Kim Su-yeon, who excelled at the Montreal International Music Competition; cellist Han Jae-min and pianist Park Yeon-min at the George Enescu International Competition in Bucharest, Romania; and pianist Lee Dong-ha and the Arete String Quartet at the Prague Spring International Music Competition. Meanwhile, baritone Kim Gi-hoon won the main prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, which is regarded as the world’s most authoritative vocal competition. A Korean has won its song prize in the past, but Kim is the first to be awarded the main prize. Early education and fierce competition are the main explanations for the exceptional performance of Korean musicians in international competitions. With the exclusion of singing, the primary aim in musical disciplines is to identify and nurture talent from a young age. To that end, a continuous effort is exerted to groom future generations. Korea National Institute for the Gifted in Arts, affiliated with Korea National University of Arts, offers courses for young musical prodigies. Students from third grade and up can apply for intensely contested admissions. But to stay enrolled is another challenge entirely; students must pass annual auditions. In general, those selected based on latent talent and potential rather than skill turn out to be more successful. Compared to the past, channels for entering international competitions have also expanded, thus providing greater opportunities for young musicians to prove their talent. Kim Su-yeon The Montreal International Music Competition is dedicated to discovering and supporting young talent under the age of 33. Korean musicians have garnered awards in the competition’s violin and voice categories several times. But this year, Kim Su-yeon, 27, was the first to win in piano. The prize is worth 180,000 Canadian dollars in total value, including a cash prize of 30,000 Canadian dollars, a tour of three North American cities and an album release on the Steinway & Sons label. The Montreal contest was held virtually via video recordings. Kim’s repertoire included three pieces of her choice – Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109; Scriabin’s Sonata No. 2 in G-sharp minor, Op. 19; and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, M. 55 – as well as three of the “Twenty-Four Preludes” by Canadian composer John Burge, which were compulsory. Kim, who lives in Salzburg, Austria, also reached the semi-finals of the Queen Elisabeth Competition held in Brussels, Belgium. It nearly overlapped with the Montreal competition and also required a video recording. “Since I wasn’t playing in front of an audience, I was less nervous. But playing in front of the camera and recorder still gave me the jitters,” Kim recalled. She said she felt like an actress having to act in front of a wall, pouring out her emotions to it as if it were a fellow actor. Kim has received critical acclaim for having “a remarkably sophisticated technique with incredibly detailed articulation and miniature values.” She nurtured her musical talent and imagination, learning an extensive repertoire at the Korea National Institute for the Gifted in Arts and earned her master’s and doctorate degrees at Mozarteum University Salzburg, where she is currently continuing her studies in the advanced program. The Montreal contest was held virtually via video recordings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kim’s final repertoire included pieces by Beethoven, Scriabin, Ravel and Canadian composer John Burge. This is a screen capture of YouTube footage of the competition. Han Jae-min, Park Yeon-min The George Enescu International Competition is part of a larger festival honoring the Romanian composer and violinist. Held biennially, it is one of the biggest music festivals in Eastern Europe. Adding himself this year to the list of previous Korean winners, Han Jae-min became the youngest winner in the competition’s 53-year history. The 14-year-old cellist competed for the first time against noticeably older contenders. He received a cash prize of 15,000 euros and invitations to future music events, including the 2022 George Enescu Festival. “I thought it would be a great experience and also a chance to get an objective assessment of my ability,” said Han. Unlike other participants who had their own piano accompanist, Han played with a Romanian pianist who had been assigned to him by the organizer. This afforded him a deeper understanding of the Romanian sentiment, and hence worked to his advantage in his semi-final rendition of George Enescu’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in C major, Op. 26. Born into a family of musicians, Han started playing piano and violin at the age of five before taking up the cello, fascinated by its deep, resonant sound. After finishing eighth grade, he entered Korea National University of Arts, becoming the youngest student ever to be accepted. Park Yeon-min won the first prize in the piano section of the same competition. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Seoul National University’s College of Music and her master’s at Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media in Germany, where she is currently enrolled in the advanced program. Park was among the 14 semi-finalists in the 2020 International Franz Liszt Piano Competition, but it was canceled due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, she buckled down to prepare for the George Enescu competition, for which she chose the notoriously difficult piece, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. Her performance, marked by overwhelming power and fervor, won her the top accolade. Cellist Han Jae-min performs at the 2020 George Enescu International Competition, held in May this year in Bucharest, Romania. The 14-year-old won first prize in the cello section. He was the youngest ever winner and participant since the competition’s inception in 1958. © Andrei Gindac, George Enescu International Competition Pianist Park Yeon-min won first prize for her performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 at the 2020 George Enescu International Competition, held in Bucharest, Romania. Park debuted at the Kumho Young Artists Concert in 2014. © Andrei Gindac, George Enescu International Competition Early education and fierce competition are the main explanations for the exceptional performance of Korean musicians in international competitions. Lee Dong-ha, Arete String Quartet Pianist Lee Dong-ha, 27, won the Prague Spring International Music Competition in May despite a lack of experience abroad; the contest was his first international competition. He chose some of his favorite pieces for his performance, but since they were pieces that many pianists also enjoy playing, he worked hard to bring his own individual interpretation to the stage. Lee said that there were difficulties due to the competition being moved up a month, but that it was a meaningful experience in that he was able to receive objective and detailed feedback about his performance from the judges. The Prague competition, established in 1946, is for musicians who are under 30 years old. After graduating from Yonsei University, Lee earned his master’s degree from Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media and is currently studying for his doctorate at Münster School of Music. The Prague competition’s string quartet section was held this year for the first time in 16 years, with the Arete String Quartet winning five special prizes in addition to the top prize. The quartet included Beethoven’s compositions in its performance. Formed in September 2019, the Arete String Quartet consists of violinists Jeon Chae-ann and Kim Dong-hwi, violist Jang Yoon-sun and cellist Park Seong-hyeon. Their debut performance at the Kumho Young Chamber Concert in 2020 was broadcast live on KBS Classic FM, an unprecedented achievement for unknown musicians. They are now receiving recognition as rising stars following in the footsteps of the Novus String Quartet and Esmé Quartet. Pianist Lee Dong-ha performs at the 2021 Prague Spring International Music Competition, his first international contest. He said that more meaningful than winning first prize was the feedback and advice he received from the distinguished judges. © Petra Hajská, Prague Spring International Music Competition The Arete String Quartet, which was only formed in 2019, is also on the fast track. The group won first prize in the string quartet section of the 2021 Prague Spring International Music Competition, in addition to five special prizes. © Petra Hajská, Prague Spring International Music Competition Ryu Tae-hyung Music Columnist

Gyeongju: Ancient Capital, Open Museum

On the Road 2021 AUTUMN 518

Gyeongju: Ancient Capital, Open Museum Gyeongju: Ancient Capital, Open Museum A city in which historical sites are interspersed among scenic parks and trendy 21st century establishments, Gyeongju, once the capital of the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-A.D. 935), burnishes its reputation as a “museum without walls.” The 13.4-meter-high, three-story stone pagodas at Gameun Temple site in Yongdang-ri, Gyeongju, are the tallest pagodas of the Unified Silla period. Overlooking the sea east of Gyeongju, these pagodas are all that remain of the ancient temple, which was built after King Munmu of Silla unified the Three Kingdoms in the seventh century. The twin pagodas are designated National Treasure No. 112. As I eagerly set out for Gyeongju, the cradle of Korea’s Buddhist culture, I recalled Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the iconic American writer and pioneer of the Beat Generation who embraced Buddhism. I would once again be borrowing the name of his seminal 1957 novel, “On the Road.” Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Kingdom, which expanded by subduing rival states to rule two-thirds of the Korean peninsula between the seventh and 10th centuries. In its halcyon period, Gyeongju was the fourth-largest city in the world, with an estimated one million inhabitants, and its grandeur was comparable to that of Constantinople (Istanbul), Changan (Xian, China) and Baghdad. Indeed, apart from the Roman Empire and the dynasties of Egypt, there are few countries in human history that have lasted for as long. Silla adopted a broad perspective, building up an unmistakable global profile. Its ruling elite actively engaged with China, which traded with Arab and European nations via the ancient Silk Road. This explains the Roman glass that has been excavated from some Silla tombs. In Korea, which has seen much of its territory repeatedly obliterated by imperialism and war, we can only be thankful that vestiges of Silla’s resplendent civilization remain today in the southeastern corner of North Gyeongsang Province, some 70 kilometers north of Busan. Beyond the antechamber and corridor are the most celebrated works of ancient Korean Buddhist sculpture: a rotunda that represents a lotus blossom, a seated Buddha image, and various Buddhas, bodhisattvas and devas carved into the walls. For preservation purposes, visitors can only appreciate the marvelous Buddhist pantheon from behind a glass wall. © National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage, Han Seok-hong Global Profile It had been a long time since I last visited this ancient city. So, like a foreign explorer riding in by boat, I approached Gyeongju from the eastern shore via the ruins of Gameun Temple. The name “Gameun” reflects the idea of being “moved by grace,” specifically the grace of King Munmu (r. 661-681), who completed the unification of the Three Kingdoms. He began construction on the temple in hopes of blocking Japanese invaders with the mercy of the Buddha, but died before its completion. In his will, he asked for his ashes to be buried in the East Sea – and indeed, his wish was fulfilled – so he could return as a dragon to protect the country. Today, the site of the temple isn’t steeped in hype the way other historic spots in and around Gyeongju are. It may even seem rather neglected. There are no entrance fees, nor was any supervisor or manager in sight during my visit. The ruins include little more than a pair of three-story granite pagodas and the underground remains of some temple structures, but the majestic grandeur of the pagodas is arresting. In ancient times, the sea licked just below Gameun Temple, underneath the floor of the main hall. There was a channel for the king-turned-dragon to enter and leave. Who knows whether the two pagodas protected the dragon, or the dragon protected the pagodas? The sarira reliquaries discovered inside the pagodas when they were dismantled for restoration are replete with the delicacy of Silla’s metal art. These objects, now housed at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, are unbelievably beautiful. It’s as if these treasures, once ensconced deep inside the pagodas to stay invisible, laid the groundwork for the glorious Silla civilization. They have a modesty that’s luminous but outwardly inconspicuous, teaching us that true beauty needs no packaging – it shines on its own. The seated Buddha statue of Seokguram Grotto, in Gyeongju, is considered a masterpiece of Buddhist art. Seokguram is a granite cave temple built on the mid-slope of Mt. Toham in the eighth century, with Greek and Roman architectural styles introduced to Korea via the Silk Road. © National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage, Han Seok-hong   Enigmatic Splendor Wanting to see more of Silla’s mysterious beauty, I headed straight for the heart of Gyeongju. Ahead was Mt. Toham, which blocks the sea winds that blow toward the city. Four kilometers eastward, overlooking the East Sea, was Seokguram, a mountainside grotto hermitage of Bulguk Temple. Seokguram and Bulguk Temple are undisputed choices when exploring the beauty of Gyeongju. In 1995, they were among the first five Korean sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In 2000, an additional series of five historic areas around Gyeongju also became World Heritage sites. Seokguram, completed in 774, is the acme of Buddhist art and architecture. Reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, the grotto chapel is a stunning testimony to the architectural exchange that existed between regions and religious beliefs in ancient times. The area is covered in white granite that was unsuitable for making into a cave and carving images upon, so an artificial grotto was built by assembling hundreds of pieces of granite. This differentiates Seokguram from Buddhist grottos in India or China, and imparts its distinctive beauty. The grotto features scores of skillfully carved figures representing its Buddhist tenants. Past an arched entrance, antechamber and narrow corridor lies a rotunda housing a Buddha that stands 3.5 meters high, with a realistic, serene appearance. Sitting cross-legged in meditation on a raised, lotus-engraved pedestal, this image of Sakyamuni is recognized as a masterpiece of Buddhist art. Above his head is a dome, also in lotus design; its construction is another example of Greco-Roman influence. Much of the grotto is now covered for protection. What remains visible can only be seen in passing in a long queue, but I found it enough to be awestruck by the sublime beauty of the sculptural art. The expressions seemed to instantly burn themselves into my mind’s eye. Bulguk Temple is located about 15 kilometers southeast of Gyeongju. Known as the “Temple of the Buddha Land,” its history traces back to 528. It is a head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the largest Buddhist sect in Korea, and is classified by the Korean government as Historic and Scenic Site No. 1. It is also regarded as the prime jewel of the pinnacle of Buddhism in Silla. In the temple’s main courtyard, Dabotap (Pagoda of Many Treasures) and Seokgatap (Sakyamuni Pagoda) face the main hall, Daeungjeon (Hall of the Great Hero). Discovered inside Seokgatap was a copy of the Great Dharani Sutra, which demonstrates the quality of Silla’s woodblock printing. The pagodas, registered as National Treasures, and the elaborate stone terraces forming the foundation of the temple grounds are the only original structures that remain. The rest has been reconstructed over the ages. Bulguk Temple at the foot of Mt. Toham features a famous pair of pagodas – Dabotap (Pagoda of Many Treasures), seen in the foreground, and Seokgatap (Sakyamuni Pagoda) – standing in the main courtyard. The temple and Seokguram Grotto represent the apex of Silla Buddhist art. In 1995, they were among Korea’s first five sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. Daereungwon is a sprawling complex of some 125,400 square meters, containing 23 tumuli, the largest group of ancient tombs in Gyeongju. Located in Hwangnam-dong, the heart of the ancient city, its mesmerizing aura transcends time and place. Are life and death in harmony or disharmony? How should we understand the chasm between modernity and antiquity? Such ubiquitous distinctions alone make Gyeongju sufficiently unique. The Divine Bell of King Seongdeok, made in the eighth-century Unified Silla period, is the largest extant bell in Korea. It is 3.66 meters high, 2.27 meters in diameter around the mouth, 11-25 centimeters thick, and weighs 18.9 tons. The sound tube at the top, unique to Korean bronze bells, helps create a deep, resonant sound. The surface of the bell is decorated with exquisite patterns, including flying apsaras. The Dong-ni Mok-wol Literary Museum commemorates two famous Gyeongju natives, novelist Kim Dong-ni (1913-1995) and poet Park Mok-wol (1916-1978), who left indelible marks on modern Korean literary history. The museum offers tours to their birthplaces and sites that served as backgrounds of their works Recreation of novelist Kim Dong-ni’s workspace. The museum devotes separate galleries to Kim and Park, where their respective images and personal items are exhibited. One of Kim’s manuscripts displayed in the recreation of his workspace. Books, Burials and Bell Leaving the temple overwhelmed by the scale and depth of time and space reflected in the ancient relics, I came upon the Dong-ni Mok-wol Literary Museum, which honors novelist Kim Dong-ni (1913-1995) and poet Park Mok-wol (1916-1978). Both were Gyeongju natives and bequeathed beautiful works. At the museum, I recalled the inscription on the Divine Bell of King Seongdeok, a great temple bell crafted in 771 during the Unified Silla period, which includes this line: “The people of those days disdained riches and respected literary talent.” I heard a poem being recited in the gallery dedicated to Park Mok-wol. The lyricism of the poet reveals a concentrated insight into life and nature, echoing the English poet William Wordsworth. In this way, cultural artifacts are not the only treasures of Gyeongju. In addition to the museum, visitors can take tours that include the authors’ birthplaces and locations that inform the background of their works. Leaving the literary museum, I took refuge in Cheonmachong, or the Tomb of the Heavenly Horse, at the Daereungwon tumuli park. My toes suddenly felt cold. I was so engrossed with the wonderful sights that I’d failed to notice that my feet were wet from the rain that had fallen all day. The park includes 23 mounded tombs that resemble small, grassy hills. In and around Gyeongju are several hundred tumuli, 35 of which are presumed to be the tombs of Silla kings. I had imagined the inside of the royal burial chamber would be either dreary or frightening and mysterious, but it was beautiful. When I thought of the labor that had been mobilized to build the tombs and the care put into conducting funeral rites with all the ornate trappings, I marveled at the diligence of these ancient people. My next destination was the downtown Hwangnam-dong area. The disparity between the ancient tumuli and the urban strip felt slightly disorienting. It was tantamount to recognizing life right from where I had just perceived death. Are life and death in harmony or disharmony? How should we understand the chasm between modernity and antiquity? Such ubiquitous distinctions alone make Gyeongju sufficiently unique. To wrap up my short visit, I headed for the Divine Bell of King Seongdeok, which is housed in a pavilion on the grounds of the Gyeongju National Museum. This was the enigmatic piece I had most wanted to see. Though half abraded, that exquisite line in the inscription on the bell, memorializing a great king by saying that people during his reign disdained riches and respected literary talent, seemed vividly projected, like a hologram. The bell emits a sublime sound with a deep resonance; Silla’s bell makers appear to have fully understood the theory of wave mechanics. The powerful reverberations might even be the ceremonial roar of a dragon, amazed at its own brilliance, as it protects the numerous sites and artifacts that exemplify the beauty of this city. Gyeongju remained an important regional stronghold during the dynasties that followed Silla. I felt the city’s old splendor and glory, as well as the beauty entrenched in something that has endured through the ages. I also felt the greatness of the hearts and minds of those who endeavored to safeguard their cultural heritage. Park Sang Novelist Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

Off-campus Vacancies

Image of Korea 2021 AUTUMN 458

Off-campus Vacancies Off-campus Vacancies “Studio, One-Bedroom, Shared Apartment, Fully-Furnished Room, New Construction, To Rent…” Housing flyers cling to alley walls, trees, telephone poles and bus shelters, awaiting the attention of students and non-students strolling near Seoul’s many universities. But nonchalant glances are the most that they muster. As more and more colleges took their classes online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the student population drained away from these normally bustling neighborhoods. Korean and international students returned home. Landlords responded by cutting rent rates in half, apparently hoping to attract non-students or persuade students to wait in Seoul for in-person classes to resume. But it still wasn’t enough to halt the exodus. In the past, staying would have come with less solitude. Seoul’s university districts were full of boardinghouses that compensated for the modest number of university-owned dormitories. Instead of renting an apartment and doing all the cooking and cleaning themselves, students far from home and family could count on warm, home-cooked meals made by the boardinghouse “auntie.” If she was particularly kindhearted, she might even tidy up rooms and do the laundry. Such nurturing care helped students through their homesickness, and the tenants often became very close to one another, forming bonds like siblings. Indeed, boardinghouse life reflected the communal mindset that characterized the rural towns many tenants called home. Two trends marred this homespun environment. First, university enrollments soared in the 1980s and remained high thereafter. Demand quickly outstripped the supply of boardinghouse rooms. Construction of student housing with self-contained units and minimal common space emerged as a profitable business. This dovetailed with the second trend: a shift in priorities and social behavior. As Korea became more urbanized, the communal spirit once fostered by its agrarian roots ebbed. Individual privacy and autonomy became more valued and pervasive. Studio apartments averaging some 20 square meters soon dominated student housing construction. And before long, a sterile landlord-tenant relationship replaced the warmth between boardinghouse owner and student. Now, pandemic-related restrictions have silenced residential buildings and emptied sidewalks that were formerly filled with students. A south-facing balcony and a modest little kitchen, a slightly cramped but clean bathroom, a built-in closet and desk, a single-person bed… Once overflowing with the dreams, worries and passions of young ambition, the studio now stands empty, with only the sunlight remaining the same. Whether it once again will have a new tenant with fresh hopes depends on vaccination coverage and the direction of the pandemic. Universities hope conditions will allow them to gradually open in-person classes. That should move students from their homes and return them to the off-campus studios. But, of course, the pandemic may deliver yet more surprise, keeping those housing flyers as just an afterthought. Kim Hwa-young Literary Critic; Member of the National Academy of the Arts

Refocusing with a Wider Lens

Tales of Two Koreas 2021 AUTUMN 1059

Refocusing with a Wider Lens Refocusing with a Wider Lens A young Briton’s book of candid photographs and short personal essays illuminates her emotional struggles as a foreign resident in North Korea and challenges common perceptions of the North Koreans. Lindsey Miller arrived in North Korea with rock-bottom expectations. The 2017-2019 posting of her diplomat husband would mean encounters with heartless, robotic people who would openly exhibit hostility, she thought. Still, undaunted, she grabbed her camera and ventured out of the foreign district in eastern Pyongyang. Lindsey Miller didn’t plan to write about North Korea, but after leafing through her photographs, she felt compelled to share her experience and visual interpretation. “North Korea: Like Nowhere Else,” a compilation of 200 photographs and 16 essays, was published in London in May 2021. © Lindsey Miller Being part of the diplomatic community afforded Miller the advantage of not having a minder who might interfere with her photography. Her early photos were mostly of buildings; she thought their exteriors and designs were exotic. But her attention soon shifted to capturing images of everyday people and learning their stories. Returning home to the UK and resuming her life as a composer and music director, Miller didn’t intend to produce a book. She says that after two years in North Korea, she feels even less knowledgeable about the country than when she first arrived there. But with her photos stoking memories, she felt compelled to share her encounters. The result is “North Korea: Like Nowhere Else,” a compilation of 200 candid photographs and 16 short essays based on her interactions and arc of emotions while in the North. “North Korea and the experience I had there are so much bigger and more complex than I could have ever imagined, and it can never be summarized in a simple sentence,” she says. “My book conveys an immersive, sensory experience of what day-to-day life was like for me living as a foreigner in North Korea. It explores the complicated, emotional impact my experience had, but most importantly, it shows how I saw the daily lives of the North Korean people.” One of her favorite photos is of North Korean soldiers on the move in a truck. It reflects the book’s aim of seeing North Korea not only in terms of amilitary state, but as a place where people lead their daily lives with the same joys, familial love and aspirations that can be found anywhere else. Young soldiers gaze back at Miller’s camera in one of her favorite photographs. Some ended up waving and blowing a kiss toward her, defying their stonefaced image in the West. © Lindsey Miller “My book explores the complicated, emotional impact my experience had, but most importantly, it shows how I saw the daily lives of the North Korean people.” Interactions “If we spend more time with the men in the photograph, and knowing the context I detail in the caption, how would our perceptions change and what would that say about us?” Miller asks. The soldiers were in their early 20s. They exchanged greetings with Miller, and one blew her a kiss. Everyone laughed and she blew a kiss to him in return. In general, Miller found North Koreans to be “very friendly, kind and curious.” But moving beyond spontaneous encounters was usually impossible. As a foreign resident, she wasn’t permitted to visit a North Korean’s home without an escort, and like all foreigners, she owned a local mobile phone that didn’t connect to the telecommunications network used by North Koreans. “Conversations themselves were frustratingly limiting,” Miller says. “Certain topics had to be avoided because of the risk to the person you were speaking to, and to yourself. And so there you were, two people, stuck in the middle of this controlled cage, trying to balance natural curiosity with careful small talk in an effort to actually get to know each other.” “It was also difficult developing relationships with Koreans as there was never any clear line between authenticity and falseness in social situations. You never knew if the person you were speaking to was genuinely interested or if they had been tasked with an ulterior motive.” Despite the hurdles, friendships were formed and so were connections, even if fleeting. “I was once invited to have drinks with some North Korean students,” she recalls. “They asked where I was from while drinking heavily and it felt like I could have been anywhere in the world. Music was playing, students all around were drinking and having a great time. After five minutes they said, ‘We can’t chat long because of security, but it was great to meet you.’ It was moments like that which were precious, and I wish I could have gone on for longer.” These barriers to interactions meant that questions naturally lingered. For example, why were schoolchildren carrying backpacks emblazoned with Disney characters, cultural symbols of North Korea’s so-called “greatest enemy,” the U.S.? Questions In 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump’s Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un elicited inquiries. Miller had learned about it through international news services, but North Korea’s state media reported it a full day later. Her North Korean acquaintances came and asked questions about what was happening. “That year brought some much-needed relief, and with the slogan ‘we are one’ being used so frequently, along with seeing Kim Jong-un shaking hands with Donald Trump, it really felt like something had changed, whether that was actually the case or not. My North Korean friends said many times how much lighter they felt,” Miller notes. Many North Koreans also asked her about British culture but didn’t seem to understand gender equality or same-sex marriage. Questions about South Korea were broached, but they were usually geared toward politics or her personal view of the two Koreas’ future rather than details about life in the South. Miller’s attention was most drawn to young women in Pyongyang, especially those in their late 20s and early 30s, her own age group. They seemed to value work and their career more than marriage and childbearing. Many asked what it was like to not have children and have a career. The 2018 North-South pop music concert in Pyongyang was particularly meaningful, given Miller’s career in music. “I felt incredibly privileged to be watching that concert and to see the expressions on the faces of the audience. It was a moving experience as well for many of the performers, some of whom had family from the North now settled in the South. It was an emotional event and one which I will never forget.” On a more practical note, North Koreans who attended the pop concert were happy that TV broadcasts included the South Korean song lyrics, Miller says. They struggled to hear the words through the rhythms and lyrical patterns in the South Korean pop songs, which are very different from those in North Korean music. A huge portrait of Kim Jong-il looms over a subway station in Pyongyang. Images of the late leader are ubiquitous in the North Korean capital. © Lindsey Miller Unhurried, elderly North Koreans are seen in front of a worn apartment building. Miller was always curious about what North Korea’s older generations had seen and done, and what their successors would undergo. © Lindsey Miller Marching soldiers pausing to give friendly waves grace the cover of Miller’s book, which provokes readers into regarding North Koreans in more approachable terms. © Lindsey Miller Outside Again Miller visited South Korea for the first time after returning to the UK from North Korea. “It was so poignant to visit South Korea after having been to North Korea first, and visiting the DMZ from the South after having visited it from the North was very moving and emotional,” she says. “What North Korea taught me most was the value of compassion and human connection. In such an isolated place, I was so thankful for the cherished friendships I managed to build with a few North Korean individuals,” Miller says. “In the beginning, I never thought those kinds of friendships would be possible, but I was wrong. It wasn’t easy, but it was possible.” Those friendships now exist in a vacuum. There is no way to stay in touch – no links through email or telephone – and even if she knew postal addresses, letters and parcels would undoubtedly be intercepted. “Once you’ve left, it’s like a lifeline has been severed,” Miller says. “Writing this book probably means I won’t be able to go back. But I would want to be able to look my North Korean friends in the eye and know that I was honest in recounting my experiences and the truth of my time there. That I was honest about the lives of the North Korean people and I didn’t sugarcoat the facts because I wanted to go back someday. If we continue to sugarcoat the facts for our own selfish gains, we’ll never discuss the truth of the situation in North Korea. North Korean people deserve better than that.” “Perhaps with this human focus, we can inspire change in how we speak about North Korea and consider the 25 million people living there in a more personal, connected way. It starts with us,” Miller adds. A Korean edition of her book is scheduled to be published on September 15. Kim Hak-soonJournalist and Visiting Professor, School of Media and Communications, Korea University

Toran: A Mysterious Tuber

Essential Ingredients 2021 AUTUMN 443

Toran: A Mysterious Tuber Toran: A Mysterious Tuber Taros, which are soft like potatoes yet chewy due to their sticky mucilage, are an old ingredient mostly eaten in autumn in Korea. The starchy tubers, called toran in Korean, are much more versatile than commonly known. ① Taros, generally grown in fields, have a large leaf attached to the end of a thick stem. They are a versatile ingredient, no part of which is wasted. Well-dried taro leaves are eaten as namul (greens) or ssam (leafy green wraps) in the summer. The stems are slightly dried and peeled, briefly boiled and stir-fried with perilla seeds to make a side dish with a crispy texture. Taro tubers (the root) have a unique, slippery texture that is not to everyone’s liking, but has a distinctive quality unlike any other ingredient. ② The sticky substance in the cross section of a taro tuber is mucin, a polysaccharide mucilage which breaks down protein to aid digestion and absorption. Mucin is also found in eels, lotus roots and yams, and is an excellent lubricant for the stomach and intestines. ③ The needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals contained in taro starch cause itching and produce an acrid taste. To deal with itch-producing taro skin, quickly boil the taros in rice water and peel the skins by rubbing them off. ⓒShin Hye-woo Food is like a riddle, each food item hiding many facts. Think of a taro, for instance. When peeled, the tuber looks very much like a potato. How, then, did it end up with a totally different name? When taros first appeared on the Korean peninsula, gamja, the Korean word for potatoes, didn’t yet exist. Taros were dubbed toran because they looked like eggs from the earth (to meaning “earth” and ran meaning “egg”). Written records say potatoes were first introduced to Korea around 1824, during the late Joseon Dynasty. But mention of taros can be traced back six centuries to a Goryeo Dynasty medical book from 1236, titled “Emergency Prescriptions in Local Medicine” (Hyangyak gugeupbang). Similarly, “Collected Works of Minister Yi of the Eastern State” (Dongguk isang gukjip), an anthology of prose and verse on a diversity of topics written by Yi Kyu-bo and dated 1241, notes that taro soup was cooked in the countryside. Taro soup is marked by the unique, slippery texture of taro. Clear soup made with beef, radish and taros, and seasoned with soy sauce has a simple but deep flavor. It is a traditional dish that is mainly eaten at Chuseok, the autumn harvest festival. © Korean Food Promotion Institute Wisdom for Detoxification Like the potato, the taro is a stem tuber. Tubers are plants with bulbous underground structures for storing nutrients, from which the roots and stems grow. In Korea, taros are traditionally eaten on Chuseok, the autumn harvest festival held in the eighth lunar month. “Recipes for Korean Dishes” (Joseon yori jebeop), a 1917 cookbook by Bang Sin-yeong (1890-1977), includes a recipe for toranguk, or taro soup: “Wash the taros well and boil them. Add them to clear soup or beef bone broth and boil with a few pieces of kelp.” This is a Seoul-style taro soup recipe. In the southern provinces, taros are boiled in a savory broth made with ground perilla seeds. At first glance, taros cooked in soup look much like potatoes. But when you put one in your mouth and chew on it, the texture is completely different. Because taros are rich in sticky mucilage, they have a slippery, squashy feel. Some people hate taros because of this texture, but most forms of mucilage are good for our health. The polysaccharides that make up the mucilage in taros act as prebiotics – plant fiber that is a source of food for beneficial intestinal bacteria. These polysaccharides easily absorb water and swell in size. One study shows that thanks to this property, mucopolysaccharides can be used to make orally disintegrating tablets (ODT), which dissolve on a patient’s tongue without water. Aside from water, the most abundant property in taros is starch. The starch granules in taros are small and digestible, but can’t be eaten raw because they contain sharp, needle-like calcium oxalate crystals. Taro leaves and stems also contain calcium oxalate crystals, which are stored together with proteolytic enzymes, giving them an acrid taste when eaten raw. First, the needle-like crystals pierce and wound the mucous membrane of the skin. Then the enzymes act on the wound, causing inflammation and pain. Therefore, it’s important to wear gloves when handling taros; getting taro juice on your hands can make them itchy. Such toxicity is a common characteristic of plants in the arum family (Araceae). Animals avoid eating them because they can’t avoid the pain and itching on their mucous membranes. It’s why the plants are known to thrive even on islands where goats graze. But humans are unique omnivores; we can overcome the toxicity of taros by cooking them with fire. Taros or taro stems are soaked in water for a day, then boiled before being used to cook any dish. The thick water left behind is discarded. When pre-heated in this way, the enzymes in taros denature and stop working, and the oxalate crystals dissolve in the water and are removed. They don’t go away completely, but the irritation is reduced enough to make taros edible. If one buys taros or taro stems in the fall and, unaware of this process, boils them in soup right away, they will still have an acrid taste and be difficult to eat. A dish made of taro cut into bite-size pieces and boiled down in soy sauce and sugar with green shishito peppers and whole garlic. It has a deep, savory flavor, especially when eaten with the boiled down sauce. © 10000recipe To get rid of the acrid taste of taro, boil briefly, cut it into slices and bake them to make chips with a crispy texture and savory taste. Low in calories, this makes a good diet snack. © momcooking Diverse Dishes and Desserts Koreans refer to something solid and substantial in content as being like altoran – taros that have been cleaned of their hairy skin. The prefix al- denotes something that’s been removed from anything that either wraps around or is attached to it, as in albam (peeled chestnut) and almom (naked body). Until the advent of potatoes and sweet potatoes, taros were a very important crop for farmers to reduce hunger. In this context, it can be understood why altoran became synonymous with substance. Despite being a food ingredient with a long history, taros are only eaten during the autumn holiday season in Korea. They begin to appear in markets in September, but are hard to find after the Chuseok holiday, when taro soup is a popular traditional dish. In the past, however, taros were cooked not only in soup, but served steamed, grilled, pickled, or even used to make songpyeon (half-moon shaped rice cakes). They were also steamed, peeled, mashed and mixed with glutinous rice flour before being pan-fried to make taro cakes, and mashed taros were even mixed in a batter with other vegetables and pan-fried. These days, it’s much easier to find taro stems than taros themselves because the stems are used in yukgaejang (spicy beef soup). The peeled and dried stems are boiled in water and then soaked in cold water for several hours to remove the acrid taste. They are then boiled together with assorted other vegetables and beef to make the spicy soup. The taro stems are as chewy as beef but in a subtly different way, which makes the soup taste even better. Taros are mainly grown in Gokseong County, South Jeolla Province, which accounts for half of Korea’s taro fields and more than 70 percent of total production. Gokseong is also where an array of taro dishes can be tasted. Perilla taro soup, made with plenty of ground perilla seeds, is a signature dish of Gokseong, the fragrant aroma of taros blending well with perilla and beef. Clear taro soup, steamed taros, taro pancakes, taro flour and scorched taro are also worth trying. There are many processed products on offer as well, such as taro bread, taro scones, taro cookies, taro chips and taro chocolate chips. Recently, ice cream and apple pie made with taro are also available. These are snacks developed for young people who are unfamiliar with taros. However, those young people who have never tasted taro soup may already be familiar with the taste of taro if they have tried taro bubble tea or taro milk tea. Toran, the Korean variety of the taro plant (Colocasia esculenta), is native to tropical Asia and the Pacific Islands. Depending on the cultivation area and variety, taros may be white or purple, but they all have a sweet and savory taste and a soft texture. There are numerous dishes, desserts and processed foods made with taro all over the world, from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas to island nations in the Pacific such as New Zealand. There is enough of a variety, so one can travel around the world tasting many different taro-based foods. Those young people who have never tasted taro soup may already be familiar with the taste of taro if they have tried taro bubble tea or taro milk tea. Toran is the Korean name for a variety of taro cultivated in the tropics, which is eaten around the world under various names such as taro, kalo, talo, dalo, dasheen and eddo. Also called the “tropical potato,” taro grows well in wet climates and swamps. Even the younger generation who may not know taro as a food might be familiar with taro tea made by mixing taro powder and milk. © Sutterstock TARO FLOWERS' WARNING Toryeon is another Korean name for taros. The name comes from the plant’s thick, broad leaves resembling lotus leaves (ryeon meaning “lotus”). For many older Koreans, the sight of taros brings back memories of their childhood in the countryside, when they carried a taro leaf over their heads on a rainy day in place of an umbrella. On the contrary, not many people have seen the taro f lower. In the past, taro f lowers were so rare that they were said to bloom once every hundred years. As taro is a tropical plant, it didn’t f lower easily in Korea’s temperate climate. However, starting about a decade ago, taro f lowers have bloomed annually in many places across the country. This is because the climate of the Korean peninsula is changing to a subtropical one, with high temperatures and humidity. The taro f lower is another warning that global climate change demands urgent and effective response. Jung Jae-hoon Pharmacist and Food Writer Shin Hye-woo Illustrator


Moments Worth the Stress

An Ordinary Day 2021 AUTUMN 446

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

Indoor Gardening Blooms

Lifestyle 2021 AUTUMN 432

Indoor Gardening Blooms CULTURE & ART--> Indoor Gardening Blooms The coronavirus pandemic has sowed widespread interest in gardening. Greenery calms nerves and brightens rooms, while homegrown vegetables help people cope with soaring food prices. Home gardening is occupying green thumbs from all generations as COVID-related restrictions force more stay-at-home activity. A medley of online classes presents the best ways to grow vegetables and flowers. © CLASS 101 Forced to work from home, Park Eun-jin, 36, first purchased a small plant as a balm for the weariness of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now her balcony is filled with greenery and she wonders how she even lived without plants. “I had coronavirus depression. But I now feel comfortable and stable when I take care of my plants,” she says.Kim Kyeong-seon, a 39-year-old working mom, had associated gardening with her parents’ generation until she stumbled upon a one-day, online gardening class. Soon, her balcony held plants to provide an activity for her children, who are unable to attend school or visit a weekend hobby farm because of COVID-related restrictions. When the pandemic abates, Kim plans to enroll in an offline class devoted to “planterior,” a portmanteau of “plant” and “interior” that stresses the decorative and calming effects that indoor plants offer.About a decade ago, retirees began embracing interior gardening. Now, the pandemic has stoked interest among those who are both younger and older, dubbed “farmrini” – a mash-up of the words “farm” and “eorini” (“children” in Korean). Originally, farmrini referred to beginners in RealFarm, a social network game.Since it’s easy to start – just put soil in a cup and combine it with a seedling, water and sunlight – novices, many of whom have never had a home with a yard, quickly gain confidence that their dirt-covered hands will produce something enjoyable and practical. In today’s apartment complexes, the primary form of housing, balcony gardens are seen everywhere, with rows of vegetables and decorative flowering plants stacked on metal shelving. In older neighborhoods, vegetables may occupy patches of ground and line narrow alleyways in pots.In a way, the mood for home gardening was primed before the pandemic. Seoul Botanic Park, the first of its kind in the capital, opened in October 2018 and has since greeted more than 10 million visitors. In the wake of this success, “botanic” has become a favorite label on the nameplates of all types of places – an apartment complex, a hotel, a wedding hall, a coffee shop, a real estate agency, a billiard parlor, a hospital and a convenience store. Many people cope with coronavirus blues by looking after plants, which helps produce serotonin, a chemical thought to regulate anxiety. © Park Hee-ran Caring for potted plants, children can experience nature in their living room. Now that apartments have become the major form of housing in Korea, living rooms, balconies and rooftops are turning into miniature gardens. © Getty Image Korea/p> Botanical TrendEven before that, Korea’s Big Three department store brands – Lotte, Shinsegae and Hyundai – had begun trying to outdo each other with garden displays. Early this year, Seoul’s largest department store, The Hyundai, upended the traditional design of retail shopping locales. It committed a whopping 49 percent of its entire business area to indoor gardens and resting places, de-emphasizing floor space crammed with shelves and products.Retail sales illuminate the home gardening boom. Lotte Mart, a hypermarket chain, said its January sales of gardening supplies increased 17.6 percent in 2019 and 18.7 percent in 2020, year-on-year. In 2020, when pandemic restrictions froze non-essential movement and shuttered businesses and schools, sales of flowerpots and vases rose 46.5 percent and 22.3 percent, respectively. Online shopping platform Interpark said its sales of gardening supplies increased 32 percent on-year in the second half of 2020. The hydroponic cultivator rental business is also thriving. According to the Korea Invention Promotion Association, the value of the hydroponic cultivator market is expected to grow from 10 billion won in 2019 to a staggering 500 billion won by 2023. The related exhibition industry is soaring as well. A special exhibition titled “Hello, My Houseplant” was held at Sejong National Arboretum in South Chungcheong Province early this year, and an exhibition under the theme of “Gardening” will continue at Picnic, a cultural complex in Seoul, until October.After the pandemic subsides, restoring a myriad of options outside our homes, food prices may still sustain interest in indoor gardening. Year-on-year, the price of scallions and garlic rose 130 percent and 53 percent, respectively, in May 2021. Both are essential in making kimchi and various other side dishes, so many households are cultivating them especially. The interest in growing scallions inspired yet another portmanteau: “patech,” from “pa,” the Korean word for scallion, and “jaetech,” a derivative of the Japanese word “zaitech,” referring to financial engineering methods applied to make investments that have high potential. The longer the green thumbs can hold down food budgets, the better the chance that vegetables will continue to be seen growing on apartment balconies and shelves next to windows. Planterior and Pet Plants The planterior trend came on the heels of interior gardening. Analysis of credit card purchases by the Hana Institute of Finance showed an eight percent and 10 percent drop in the sales of flowers and flowering plants from January to February 2020, respectively. But in March, when COVID restrictions were tightened, the trend sharply reversed, rising four to 30 percent each month from April until October. In some households, plants are much more than a way to dress up the interior. They have become pets. This notion has softened feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially among singles and the elderly. The interest expanded after celebrities, including members of the mega-hit boy band BTS, began tweeting about their plants and referring to them as pets.Government analysis of consumer trends toward flowing plants showed the number of clicks or searches on the floriculture industry and flowers increased about 10.3 percent on-year in 2020, a reflection of the growing interest in planterior and pet plants.Stephen Kaplan, an American psychologist, put forth an attention restoration theory that suggests time spent with nature can relieve mental fatigue. Plants boost serotonin levels and reduce depression and anxiety. Those who have been fascinated with home gardening have likely experienced the healing power of plants. This increases the chances of home gardening being accepted as a lifestyle even after the pandemic recedes.What’s next? Perhaps a firm like Herbert, an Austrian startup that has a system called “Ponix,” enabling plants to be grown vertically to create wall designs and fixtures like picture frames; or Vincross, a Chinese startup that has developed a robot plant that moves like a pet animal. For plant care services, plant clinics and hotels will treat houseplants and allow travelers to drop off their plants and then retrieve them after their trip. There is even an online service that gives diagnoses or prescribes medication for houseplants. In some households, plants are much more than a way to dress up the interior. They have become pets. Easy-to-follow online lessons reach beyond simply putting soil and plants in a pot. A variety of classes are on offer, including plant arrangement for wall decoration. © CLASS 101 Home gardening classes are also called “plant curation” courses. They provide closer looks at growing cycles, the dos and don’ts of growing plants, and ways to use them to spruce up spaces. © CLASS 101 Jeong Dae-heon President, Korea Gardening Life Association; Reporter, Monthly Magazine Gardening

Steering Tourism Elsewhere

In Love with Korea 2021 AUTUMN 477

Steering Tourism Elsewhere CULTURE & ART--> Steering Tourism Elsewhere From her base in Sunchang, a rural town in North Jeolla Province, Lea Moreau makes forays to lesser-known destinations around Korea in hopes of sharing with others her urge to experience the wider world. Every Wednesday and on weekends, Lea Moreau serves as Sunchang County’s Tour Bus guide, usually wearing a dress inspired by hanbok. The bus stops at major attractions of the Sunchang area, including the traditional Gochujang Village, Mt. Gangcheon County Park and Mt. Chaegye. Hailing from Yzeron, a village of around 1,000 people near Lyon in France, Lea Moreau describes herself as “not a mainstream girl.” Much as she admires BTS and Blackpink, currently among the top K-pop groups, her favorite Korean artists are the indie rock band Se So Neon. And rather than the attractions of Seoul, she prefers life in a small town.In Sunchang, a rural town in North Jeolla Province with rich folk culture and customs, Lea promotes tourism as a county civil servant. Naturally, tourists are surprised to have a non-Korean assigned to extoll the county’s tourist hotspots. Her Korean pronunciation isn’t perfect, but Moreau smoothly creates a pleasant vibe as she conveys insights.While Sunchang is famous for its gochujang (red pepper paste) and has many scenic spots, it is also rather off the beaten track. To attract more visitors and help them move around easily, the county created a bus tour in 2019 and searched for an onboard guide.A friend of Lea’s who runs a jazz café in town recommended her. “My friend argued that I could help attract both Koreans and foreigners because I speak French, English and Korean,” Lea says. She already had a YouTube travel channel and some experience in the tourism industry. When the county decided to create the position of tourism promotion officer for her, it had to get the green light from “higher up” authorities to hire a foreigner into the civil service sector. Six months later she was employed. Locals call her the “French gongmuwon,” meaning the “French public servant.” Lea is a popular figure around the county. She rides about on her scooter, its cubbyhole filled with items such as work gloves, a pair of baggy work pants, a camera and a hanbok. In the course of her job, she never knows when she’ll need to lend a hand to farmers in the fields or be inspired to shoot a video. She also considers TV appearances on shows like KBS’s “My Neighbor, Charles” to be an extension of her duties. She wants to dispel the idea that there’s little to see in small towns and show there’s much more to Korea than Seoul, K-pop and K-dramas. Wanderlust It was a love of travel that brought Lea all the way to Sunchang from Yzeron. Growing up in the French countryside, she was always curious about the rest of the world. A family backpacking trip around Bali as a child lit the fuse. “We rode on motorbikes. My parents put my sister and me between their legs. I think that trip really changed my life,” she recalls. “It taught me that there are other people, other cultures and other languages. And I realized that learning another language would open up many more opportunities.”After graduating from high school, Lea spent 18 months in Australia, working, learning English and occasionally enjoying diving at the Great Barrier Reef. Then she moved to Thailand, from where she traveled across Southeast Asia. Finally committing herself to the travel industry, she completed an online course that earned her a bachelor’s degree in tourism management. One of her course requirements was a six-month internship in any country. A Korean friend recommended Pedro’s House and Voyager’s Café in Gwangju. She arrived in 2016 and ended up working at the guesthouse for almost two years.“I loved Gwangju,” she says. “I learned about Korean history when I was very young from my grandfather, who loved history. He taught me about South and North Korea. But I didn’t know at all about Gwangju and the democratic uprising there on May 18, 1980. It was a good place to learn about contemporary Korean history and society.”While living in Gwangju, she traveled extensively in the Jeolla region, especially to remote places, including many nearby islands. However, those trips were taxing for a foreign backpacker due to a lack of tourist information for non-Korean speakers. That prompted her to write a guidebook with Pedro Kim (aka Kim Hyeon-seok), the owner of Pedro’s House. The book was never published, but they went online and created the YouTube channel “Jeolla Go.”Later, curiosity about the Gyeongsang region led her to a stint at a cultural center on Geoje Island, where the shipbuilding industry accounts for most jobs. When she returned to Gwangju, the opportunity in Sunchang provided an answer for her pursuit of something permanent. The COVID-19 pandemic has halted foreign visitors, so trilingual Lea Moreau is speaking Korean almost exclusively these days as only small numbers of domestic tourists visit Sunchang. They will be surprised to find a foreigner is their guide. © Lea Moreau A Guide on the Go As a tourism promotion officer and seasoned backpacker, Lea delights in helping other travelers discover overlooked sites. She wants to dispel the idea that there’s little to see in small towns and show there’s much more to Korea than Seoul, K-pop and K-dramas.Sunchang, Lea points out, is home to one of the longest chulleong dari, or “wobbly bridges,” in Korea. It is also one of the best places in the country to enjoy the cherry blossoms in spring, being less crowded than Jinhae or Hadong. In autumn, meanwhile, the colorful foliage at Mt. Gangcheon National Park is enticing.Soon after starting her new job, however, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, bringing tourism to a virtual standstill. The Sunchang tour bus, with its smiley face and roof that opens, specially made by joining two buses together, now only carries about 10 people a day, three days a week. In accordance with pandemic protocol, everyone undergoes a temperature check before boarding. The tours are conducted in Korean, unless foreigners are on board.At a time when most travel is virtual, Lea’s promotional work continues thanks to social media. Once every week or so, she uploads something new to Jeolla Go, and she also collaborates with Sunchang Tube, the county’s official YouTube channel. This is the work she enjoys the most. “I love filming. When I was in high school, my class traveled to Madagascar and I was in charge of filming our trip. It wasn’t really good quality back then, though,” she says.Evidently her skills have improved; she won a prize in a tourism video contest last year. With the prize money of 1.5 million won, she bought a drone for her film panoramas. Around Sunchang , Lea is known as “the French public servant.” She is officially an employee of the Sunchang Microbial Institute for Fermentation Industry and her duties include promoting the gochujang (red pepper paste) and doenjang (soybean paste) for which the county is famous. © Lea Moreau Living the DreamLea recently renewed her contract with Sunchang County for another three years. “For me, the most important thing is meeting people and sharing part of their daily lives to understand more about Korea,” she explains. “The main reason that I’m staying in one place is the people I meet and friends that I make. Koreans are really welcoming. If they see a foreign face, especially in the countryside, they’ll try to offer help. For me, such an encounter is an adventure in itself.” Lea appreciates the efforts of her coworkers at the county office to teach her about the government system and work with the fact that her Korean isn’t perfect. “I know they have really invested in me and trust me,” she says. For that she is grateful and spends 10 hours a week taking online Korean lessons.Lea’s personal motto is, “Don’t dream your life, but live your dream.” She has many goals for the future, such as writing a book about living and traveling in Korea, doing a travel TV show, and contributing to the local community by helping to promote local businesses to provide them with a greater voice and more visibility. More than anything else, Lea says she hopes to continue inspiring people to travel and to share her global journey. Cho Yoon-jung Freelance Writer and Translator Heo Dong-wuk Photographer

Bringing Fantasy Back and Forth

Interview 2021 AUTUMN 505

Bringing Fantasy Back and Forth 문학 산책--> Bringing Fantasy Back and Forth Jeon Min-hee began her career among the 1990s internet vanguard of fantasy writers. Her books, often revisions of her past works, are blockbusters in China, Japan, Taiwan and Thailand, as well as at home in Korea. She took a break for an interview at a cozy café near Gyeongbok Palace, central Seoul. Fantasy writer Jeon Min-hee made her debut in 1999 on PC network Nownuri with “The Stone of Days.” Her detailed descriptions and lyrical prose have produced an avid following at home and abroad. No conversation about the past, present or future of Korean fantasy writing would be complete without including novelist Jeon Min-hee. Her first novel, “The Stone of Days,” dispatches Fabian, an 18-year-old store clerk, to find four jewels from a necklace he has received from his father. With a record 4 million page views on the portal site Nownuri, “The Stone of Days” remains a “legend” among diehard fantasy fans.Jeon’s unique fantasy-world creations have devoted fans in the online gaming industry as well. Nexon’s classic 2003 RPG (role-playing game) TalesWeaver and XL Games’s 2013 RPG ArcheAge are both adaptations of her books. Many years have passed since your debut.I began my first series in 1999, so it’s been 23 years now. The first installment of my three-part series, “Children of the Rune,” titled “Children of the Rune – Winterer” (2001-2009), first came out in paperback in 2001, so this is also the year that “Children of the Rune” turns 20 years old. Children of the Rune” also was a huge sensation.Children of the Rune – Winterer” was seven volumes in total, and “Children of the Rune – Demonic” (2003-2020) came to nine volumes. In 2018, we switched publishers and put out a revised edition of the whole thing. We ran the numbers then, and while this isn’t exact, we had sold around three million copies at that point. Why have you constantly revised your books?Most fantasy novelists don’t like to revise their works. There are very few of us who go back and change our writing when the opportunity comes up, the way I tend to do. This is because spending that same time writing new works is generally more enjoyable, not to mention better in terms of generating new income or solidifying your reputation.I revise and polish until I feel satisfied with the new version, but then when I look back again after more time has passed, I invariably see more things I’d like to supplement. For example, when “The Stone of Days” was re-released in 2004 by a different publisher, the parts in it that felt immature were so obvious to me that I couldn’t bear to let it go to print untouched, though of course, I did have a lot of fondness for it as my earliest work. It’s possible, though, that if I had let that go then, I wouldn’t have started returning to and revising my other works either. “People tend to think that fantasy novels are built out of whole cloth directly from the imagination of the author, but in actuality, they have a foundation of wide-ranging research and meticulous study.” Jeon’s signature work, “Children of the Rune,” consists of three parts: “Children of the Rune – Winterer” (2001-2019), “Children of the Rune – Demonic” (2003-2020) and “Children of the Rune – Blooded” (2018-). The storyline is about children struggling to survive and forge an identity amid post-civilization power struggles. How have readers reacted to the revisions? Because these revisions go beyond polishing sentences and actually involve adding in new plot points and episodes, readers’ opinions tend to be split. Some readers who felt like they now had to buy the revised editions probably felt frustrated. But the number of readers who enjoy the revised editions has gradually grown. Some readers even organize everything that’s changed and share details with one another. Why do your stories have a lasting impression? When I first began serializing my writing on the portal site Nownuri in my twenties, I had no real sense of my readership and just wrote whatever I wanted to. Then as my writing got surprisingly popular, it occurred to me that there must be many people whose tastes overlap with mine. That gave me the confidence to concentrate on making sure that my writing continued to be an accurate reflection of my own taste. So I let my stories grow organically, following the ideas as they came to me. I wonder if this isn’t one of the charms inherent to fantasy as a genre. Fantasy novels aren’t limited to any single time period, after all; they have a universality and appeal that can cover and bring together multiple eras. You balance between creating worlds and details. People tend to think that fantasy novels are built out of whole cloth directly from the imagination of the author, but in actuality, they have a foundation of wide-ranging research and meticulous study. For example, to set a story against the backdrop of an imaginary city that doesn’t exist in real life, one must first thoroughly research the cultural history of human cities through the ages. It’s this kind of prep work that makes elaborate compositions and detailed descriptions possible. How did you start writing fantasy novels?started studying the genre when I was quite young. Back then, I was just writing whatever I wanted to write, but when I looked back, I realized I had been writing fantasy. I became more conscious of the genre distinction as I became active in the fantasy group on Nownuri – and that’s when I really started writing it properly.Thinking back now, I was very lucky. The 1990s were a moment when fantasy novels were just starting to gain traction [in Korea], and there was something about the zeitgeist that just made sense to me. I think now that my personal taste happened to resonate with people who liked those kinds of stories, and that energy ended up being quite powerful. I was a college freshman in 1994, so when I became a senior, in 1997, Korea was experiencing the [Asian] financial crisis. There were just no jobs for anyone, including recent graduates. Since there was no way for me to make money anyway, it was a chance to try my hand at something I enjoyed. What drew you to the fantasy genre? I think it was probably as a young child, as I made my way through a series of “world classics” intended for children. I liked stories that felt distinct and different from everything else. For example, I really loved “The Brothers Lionheart” by the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, who also wrote the “Pippi Longstocking” series. In fact, I realized later on what a big impact that book had on “Children of the Rune – Winterer.” What distinguishes your novels?I don’t think I’m the right person to try and identify that. Every now and then, there will be readers who write a piece of their own critiquing my world building. For example, there are readers who categorize my works as “young adult fiction.” I think that makes sense.These days, young adult literature has a stable place in the Korean literary market, but when I first started writing, the category didn’t even exist. There was a reason I chose young adults as my target readership. In the pre-modern period, there were coming-of-age ceremonies and rites of passage for children, and I wanted to write about a rite of passage for readers who were that age – in the process of transforming from child to adult. To me that’s the structure of “Children of the Rune – Winterer.” Children find themselves in a situation where no one can help them, not even their parents, and will ultimately come face to face with the original object that they ran from in fear. You must have many long-term readers as well.The last volume of the second series of “Children of the Rune” came out in 2007, and the first volume of the third series, “Children of the Rune – Blooded,” was released in 2018. That’s a gap of over 10 years. There may well be readers who have forgotten my books in that time. Certainly, there must be readers who have grown up and gotten jobs or gotten married. But when I had a book signing at Kyobo Bookstore one snowy winter morning, more than 500 readers still showed up. I honestly couldn’t believe it. These were readers who started with “Children of the Rune – Winterer” when they were in elementary and middle school, and now they had come as adults, in their twenties and thirties. What are your plans moving forward?Actually, my schedule is completely packed for the coming year. I’m in the middle of a script for a new game that I’ve got to keep working on, and I’ll be continuing to write “Children of the Rune – Blooded,” as well. Shin June-bong Reporter, The JoongAng Ilbo Han Sang-moo Photographer


In Love with Korea 2021 SUMMER 719

Nikolaos Kordonias NIKO’S PERFECT CONTENTMENT In a tiny alley just a block away from Ik￾seon-dong, in the center of old Seoul, an unexpected haven of Greek culture beck￾ons. Niko Kitchen, occupying a hanok, or tradi￾tional Korean house, showcases its devotion to true Greek cuisine, building a loyal clientele. The owner and chef, Nikolaos Kordonias, better known simply as “Niko,” grew up on Samothrace, an island in the Aegean Sea that is home to the mythical Sanctuary of the Great Gods, including Nike, the winged goddess of vic￾tory. Niko’s description of his ancient birthplace is idyllic. It conjures familiar images of a Greek island filled with whitewashed villas: “Beauti￾ful, quiet, nice people. The pace of life is slow.The people are laid back, easygoing. They don’t worry. They have their houses, their work. They don’t expect a lot from life. But they have their standards and they’re happy.” And of course, there is “very good food.” The conversation lingers on organic produce, fresh chicken and tasty fish from the cobalt blue water around Samothrace. Growing up, the food that his mother and grandmother cooked captivatedhim. “It was the smells, I think,” Niko says.All of that informs his life and work today. When he arrived in Korea in 2004, he immedi￾ately noticed the scent of different foods. Soon,aromas guided the direction of his casual walks. “The smell of food stalls, the cooking in the street. It was different. It was in the air – the chili, the kimchi,” he recalls. Every morning, owner-chef Nikolaos Kordonias personally opens the gate of his restaurant housed in a traditional￾style Korean home near Changdeok Palace, Seoul. The nameplate sports a transliteration of Niko Kitchen. Making Korea HomeNiko had accepted an offer to work at Santo￾rini, the now-closed Greek restaurant in Itae￾won, a vibrant Seoul neighborhood with inter￾national flavor. He had no prior inkling of what Korea might be like, no experience except for childhood taekwondo lessons. But coming here wasn’t a difficult decision; moving was natural to him. After working on cruise ships traveling around Mediterranean and Caribbean seaports, he studied at a culinary institute in New York andworked in Manhattan with leading chefs. Then he spent about six years in Canada, where an acquaintance owned several restaurants. While cooking in Itaewon, Niko met Seo Hyeon-gyeong, who happened to be working in the same building as Santorini. They ran into each other coming and going and ended up get￾ting married. Niko packed away any thoughts of returning to Greece and Seo shelved plans of leaving for Japan, where she had lived for manyyears. “Some things are just meant to happen,” Niko says of the way Seoul became his perma￾nent home. In 2018, Niko and his wife opened Niko Kitchen. He wasn’t looking for a hanok specif￾ically, but its architectural style pleased him.When he took ownership, two stone statues of haechi, mythical fire-eating animals, came with the café that had previously occupied the build￾ing. They stand guard now in the exquisite little courtyard filled with potted flowering trees.Niko Kitchen is in an alley off a road once used by Joseon Dynasty soldiers when they patrolled around the royal ancestral shrine. Adja￾cent to the shrine is Changdeok Palace, a UNE￾SCO World Heritage site. Close by is a historic Buddhist temple, and just a few strides along the alley is the Saekdong Museum, exhibiting tradi￾tional Korean fabric featuring colorful stripes. The restaurant is open every day, and Niko does all of the cooking. His wife calls him a workaholic, but Niko seems perfectly happy. “This is my life and I like it,” he says. “I like food. I like people to like the food and smile and come back.” Between lunch and dinner, Niko allows him￾self a break; he strolls around Seoul, to palac￾es and temples, and to Cheonggyecheon, the restored stream flowing across the downtown area. Before the pandemic, he enjoyed relaxing at a sauna, but that’s on hold for now. Being in a quiet spot away from the buzzing activity of Ikseon-dong, Niko Kitchen has few walk-in customers. Nevertheless, it’s always fullybooked. Korea’s insatiable appetite for cooking shows led to the restaurant, and Niko appeared as both a guest and a judge on several TV programs, such as Yeogi GO and O’live Show (on the cablechannel Olive). As media exposure swelled, would-be diners appeared early in the morning, and telephoned and emailed at all hours. Nikoacknowledges the benefits of the TV exposure, but for now, he wants to focus on his own kitch￾en. The diners have a leisurely meal, sip wine and unwind. This is what Niko likes to see, the mood that he wants to create. Niko does all of the cooking alone. His menu features Greek home cooking and dashes of Spanish and Italian dishes. Niko Kitchen has only four or five tables, so reservations are recommended. Niko hopes to eventually have a bigger restaurant and serve Greek food exclusively. Discovered by FoodiesThe menu is based on Greek home cooking.Moussaka, a traditional dish made of eggplant and ground meat, is a perennial favorite withcustomers. Other popular dishes are Greek salad made with feta cheese, burrata salad, chicken souvlaki and shrimp saganaki.Because Greek food can still be unfamiliar to many Koreans, the menu also includes pizzas andpastas, but made in Niko’s own style with hand￾made sourdough. He opted for fusion cuisine so that his hands wouldn’t be tied. He likes the free￾dom of ladling up Spanish or Italian dishes when he’s in the mood. However, the keys to his food always remain the same: Mediterranean style, healthy and made with fresh, natural ingredients; mostly vegetar￾ian, no sugar and minimum deep frying. In the early days, procuring Greek ingredients posed problems, but these days he can find everything he wants online. When a particular type of cheese or some other ingredient has to be obtained in a hurry, he stops by the shops in Itaewon, where he still lives today, on the way to work. Like most restaurants, Niko Kitchen lost business to the COVID pandemic. But it has fully recovered now. Many customers are regu￾lars, including staffers from the Greek Embas￾sy and even the monks from the temple nearby, whose colorful façade featuring scenes from theBuddhist sutras can be seen over the top of the restaurant’s front gate. The diners have a leisure￾ly meal, sip wine and unwind. This is what Nikolikes to see, the mood that he wants to create. Greek salad made with fresh tomatoes, olives, cucumbers and onions, and topped with crumbly feta cheese is one of Niko Kitchen’s signature dishes. Reminders of Greece decorate Niko Kitchen.Magnets bearing photos of famous places in Greece cover one side of the refrigerator. Days AheadWhen he muses about his adopted country, Niko mentions well-kept buildings and roads, an absence of public eyesores like graffiti, and theeducated and polite population. “This is like a paradise, the perfect place. That’s why I’m happy to be here,” he explains.Although he says he doesn’t really miss Greece, once the pandemic is over and the worldbegins to heal, Niko would like to go back to Samothrace. He wants to relax a bit, see his fam￾ily and friends, eat some good food and do somesea fishing. He’s also looking forward to the next step in his life, which is to open a bigger restau￾rant where the menu will be exclusively Greekdishes, not fusion. He’s been testing the waters and now has an idea of what people like and don’t like. Thus, he anticipates applying all his experience and knowledge in one place. “I want to make people happy – and make some money,too,” he says. “Eat good food and you will feel good.” This is Niko’s simple philosophy. That said, his wife chips in with a revealing rejoinder: Niko likes hamburgers and occasionally indulges in Ken￾tucky Fried Chicken. Food is what brought him to Korea, what keeps him here and what makes him happy. “At the end of the day, if people aren’t satisfied, then you’re tired. But if people are satisfied and smile, then all your problems and fatigue go away.” Cho Yoon-jung Freelance Writer and Translator Heo Dong-wukPhotographer


An Armful of Understanding for Connections

Books & more 2021 AUTUMN 458

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

Candor and Humor of a Father-Son Duo

Art Review 2021 AUTUMN 422

Candor and Humor of a Father-Son Duo A rare art exhibition by a father and son duo proved to be pleasantly entertaining as well as poignant and insightful. Joo Jae-hwan was an important figure in the minjung art movement, which resisted military dictatorship in the 1980s. His son, Ho-min, a popular webtoon artist, has clearly inherited his father’s knack for storytelling with wit and humor. “Portrait of Homin” (left). Joo Jae-hwan. 2020. Acrylic on canvas, plastic toy. 53.2 × 45.5 cm. “Portrait of Joo Jae-hwan.” Joo Ho-min. 2021. Digital drawing.Painter Joo Jae-hwan and webtoon creator Joo Ho-min, who are father and son, pose in front of their portraits of each other, hung side by side at the Seoul Museum of Art. Joo Jae-hwan, the father, has viewed the major incidents of modern history with a keenly humorous eye, and his son is famous for the webtoon “Along with the Gods,” which is a witty take on the boundary between life and death based on Korean myths. © Park Hong-soon, Monthly Art Are you tired of lofty, incomprehensible art exhibitions and simply want to enjoy art without having to think too much? “Homin and Jaehwan” delivered just that. Held from May 18 to August 1 at the Seoul Museum of Art, the exhibition seemed lighthearted at first glance, but was never without depth. The uniquely acerbic exhibits brought social issues to the fore without feeling grim; the candor and humor underlying the two artists’ works were thought-provoking as well as entertaining. Joo Jae-hwan has delivered his messages mostly through a combination of image and text. His texts are poetic metaphors that prompt viewers to imagine an implied narrative. In contrast, Joo Ho-min explicitly presents text as a narrative message in speech bubbles, offering cinematic imagination. The joint exhibition by this father-son duo highlighted the similarities and differences in their methods of employing image and text in their respective genres. “Spring Rain Descending a Staircase.” Joo Jae-hwan. 2010. Acrylic on canvas. 193.7 × 130 cm.This work was first displayed in the inaugural exhibition of the Reality and Utterance art collective in 1980. A parody of Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase,” it satirically expresses the absurdities and oppression suffered by the socially marginalized. Over the following 10 years, Reality and Utterance led socially engaged art through the minjung misul (“people’s art”) movement. The FatherJoo Jae-hwan began studying Western painting at Hongik University in 1960, but dropped out due to family circumstances. He tried his hand at several jobs before settling as an artist when he was nearing 40. “I began my career as an artist naturally, as if I was born to do so,” he said.The art collective, “Reality and Utterance,” which was formed in 1980 and dissolved 10 years later, initiated the minjung misul (“people’s art”) movement, a turning point for art to become more socially engaged. As one of the founding members, Joo made a strong impression at the group’s first exhibition with his painting, “Spring Rain Descending a Staircase,” a parody of Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase.” Several variations have since been made on the theme. The “spring rain” refers to the urine of the men on the staircase. The streak of “rain” that grows thicker as it cascades down the stairs symbolizes the absurdity and oppression that people at the bottom of the social ladder must endure.As can be seen in his installation works, “Water vs. Illegitimate Children of Water” (2005) and “A Stolen Towel” (2012), Joo gets inspirations from his everyday surroundings. The former is composed of empty beverage bottles and cans hanging from a huge drying rack, hinting at environmental issues; the latter raises the question of a lack of morality in modern society through a towel supposedly stolen from a neighborhood sauna. Joo recycles abandoned everyday objects to convey a social message with a touch of humor and satire, which are the defining characteristics of his art. In a recent interview, he compared his extensive art world and sense of humor to “an intransitive verb rather than a transitive verb.” He added, “I have had this unchanging belief to this day that I should not make viewers yawn at my exhibition. But time has taught me that every artist has a world of their own.”During his younger years, Joo rebelled against social inequality, military dictatorship and Korea’s stereotypical monochrome paintings. Living in a democratized society, he has now calmed down and often finds himself thinking deeply about how “everyone has reasons of their own.” He learned that “there are always two paths in society – a path of hope and a path of despair – intertwined to go along together. It is human fate to embrace both positivity and negativity.” He went on to confess that he also learned how helpless an artist is.“Once your work is hung on the wall for exhibition, you become powerless. Evaluation is entrusted to the viewers. And when the viewers find something new that you’ve never thought of yourself, then it becomes a whole new learning experience.”On this very point, Joo Ho-min is in rapport with his father. He strongly values what his readers think. He grew up watching his artist father at work from over his shoulder. Probably influenced by his father, he began drawing cartoons in middle school and was pleased to see his friends having a good laugh over his work. He has since become “addicted” to the instant feedback of people reacting to his cartoons. Wanting to “give them bigger laughs,” his career began in 2000 when he started uploading his cartoons to an internet community site. “Water vs. Illegitimate Children of Water.” Joo Jae-hwan. 2005. Aluminum drying rack, various drinks. Dimensions variable.Empty PET bottles and cans hang from a large drying rack as a warning about environmental issues. In this visual commentary on modern man’s desires and double standards in consumption, Joo focused on the fact that the more carbonated drinks you consume, the thirstier you get. “8601 Diamonds vs. Stone Rice.” Joo Jae-hwan. 2010. Pot, stones, copy of a photo in glass frame.70.8 × 53.7 cm.The story of a mother living in a poor neighborhood in Brazil who has to put a hungry child to sleep isjuxtaposed with Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God,” a platinum human skull covered in diamonds, to pinpoint income disparity in a capitalist world. “A Stolen Towel.” Joo Jae-hwan. 2012. Acrylic on canvas, towel collage. 66 × 53 cm.This work satirizes the lack of ethics in people who steal towels from public baths in their neighborhood.Joo Jae-hwan selects familiar, mundane objects and episodes as his motifs for intuitive expression. “Happy Tears.” Joo Jae-hwan. 2008. Acrylic on canvas, marker ink. 96.3 × 96.5 cm.This is a parody of Roy Lichtenstein’s “Happy Tears.” Involved in a case of illegal funds accumulated by a Korean conglomerate, which made headlines in 2008, it delivers a message about polarized society. Father and son, fine arts and webtoons, analog and digital, image and text, all placed side by side, “Homin and Jaehwan” was a jubilant festival for everyone who enjoys a bit of storytelling. “What Are They Doing Down the Stairs?” Joo Ho-min. 2021. Digital flex print. 740 × 220 cm.Joo Ho-min’s large installation parodies his father’s well-known painting, “Spring Rain Descending a Staircase.” It is his reinterpretation of his father’s sense of humor and resistance. The SonThe younger Joo made his name known with “Jjam” (2005), his official debut work about military life, and became one of Korea’s most famous cartoonists with the hit series, “Along with the Gods” (2010-2012), a fantasy action story about death and reincarnation through seven trials in hell. “Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds” (2017), the film adaptation of the web comics, attracted over 14 million viewers, the third largest audience in the history of Korean cinema. The sequel, “Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days” (2018), was also successful, drawing over 12 million viewers.As a YouTube streamer with 230,000 subscribers, Ho-min confessed that he “wanted to run away” while preparing for the “Homin and Jaehwan” exhibition because “comics are not for exhibition, so they look awkward when displayed on a museum wall.” He was nervous about how it would be received by viewers, but such worries turned out to be needless. The paintings and installations of Joo Jae-hwan that filled the second floor of the museum provided plenty to see. In comparison, the third floor looked somewhat bland, with digital prints of important scenes from Joo Ho-min’s major works and his sketchbooks of storyboards on display. Nonetheless, many visitors carefully examined them and lost themselves in the stories he created. Just as book readers can take flights of imagination by reading between the lines, the sparse space provided a break, allowing visitors to relive the scenes and enjoy the stories even more. The books that the cartoonist used for reference in his creative work were also displayed, showing how ordinary objects can turn into valuable sources of imagination. Visitors look at scenes from Joo Ho-min’s webtoon “Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds,” which reflects Koreans’ view of the afterlife. The exhibit features elements from various myths and stories that appear in the webtoon. CollaborationMost notably, the exhibition was a collaboration by a father and son who work in different genres. Portraits of the two artists, hung side by side at the entrance of Gallery 1, drew the attention of visitors: “Portrait of Homin” (2020), by the father, is a collage of an ice cream and sunglasses, and “Portrait of Joo Jaehwan” (2021), by the son, is a webtoon-style digital drawing. Both father and son were pleased with each other’s rendition of themselves. The father said that looking at his portrait done by his son made him feel he had “aged well.” The son said that his father’s work was “just so funny.”The younger Joo created the gigantic installation, “What Are They Doing Down the Stairs?” (2021), which is a parody of his father’s work, “Spring Rain Descending a Staircase.” The father’s work is about descension from top to bottom and movement from left to right, but the son’s work features multiple characters in upward movement, helping and pulling one another, thus extolling cooperation and synergy. It is his own reinterpretation of his father’s spirit of resistance and sense of humor.Joo Ho-min said that he had taken his artist father “for granted” when he was young, but now, as an artist himself, he realizes “how difficult and wondrous” it all was. He expressed respect for his father, saying, “I already find it challenging, but my father, who is 80 years old, is still working so hard. It amazes me how he kept it up all these years.”The exhibition concluded with a video show by the streamer son and the painter father. In the format of “pick your favorite” tournament, the younger Joo repeatedly showed his father two of his works at a time and had him choose his favorite. The elder Joo shared stories about the particular artwork he picked, his hopes at the time he created it, and relevant memories about his son.Asked whether he was displeased to find his name didn’t appear first in the title of the exhibition, Joo Jae-hwan replied that he liked it better that way. “It doesn’t matter if the genre is paintings or cartoons, and it certainly isn’t important whose name comes first. That kind of thinking is very old,” he added.Father and son, fine arts and webtoons, analog and digital, image and text placed side by side, “Homin and Jaehwan” was a jubilant festival for everyone who enjoys a bit of storytelling.

The Dark Abyss of Human Relationships

Books & more 2021 SUMMER 699

The Dark Abyss of Human Relationships The Dark Abyss of Human Relationships Bluebeard’s First Wife By Ha Seong-nan, Translated by Janet Hong, 229 pages, $15.95, New York: Open Letter [2020] This short story collection by Ha Seong-nan is a journey into the darkest depths of human relationships. The prose is often dream-like, painting lyricalportraits of loss, isolation and despair, eschewing a rigid narrative structure in favor of a gossamer web of vignettes designed to evoke rather than proclaim.Thus we feel the impact of her tales on a deeply emotional level, sharing in the pain and heartbreak that many of her characters experience.Ha’s characters have complex relationships with the world around them. This world is not simply a cruel, impersonal force that will crush the indi￾vidual without a second thought; it is very clearly made up of other human beings, wherein lies the great horror of existence. Sometimes these people aredistant “others,” such as children running around in the apartment upstairs, city poachers terrorizing a small mountain village, or a fiancé’s mysteriousgroup of friends. At other times, they are those closest to us: husbands, wives, daughters, sons. Whether these “others” are near or far, a major theme run￾ning through this collection is our inability to ever truly know anyone else. Even those we think we know the best may be harboring some dark secret −perhaps we would just rather not know and stay safe in our delusions.There is an argument to be made for the latter interpretation, given the actions of the protagonists themselves. A policeman dispatched from Seoulto an isolated mountain village treats the villagers as strange and inscruta￾ble, making no effort to become part of their community. A couple that hasmoved to the outskirts of Seoul in pursuit of an idyllic lifestyle with a green lawn cares more about their dog, running around on that grass, than theirdisabled son, who cannot even walk. In these characters, we can see reflect￾ed our human tendency to shun that which does not live up to our dreams orexpectations. While we would be hard pressed to call these and other protago￾nists sympathetic, we also cannot fail to recognize that they are, after all, onlyhuman.Another thematic thread that runs through the collection is the “outskirts.” Most of the stories are set either on the outskirts of Seoul or farther off in thecountryside. Even those tales that start in the city often move beyond the city limits. This migration to the margins may happen for any number of reasons.Whatever the case, once we leave the city, we find ourselves in an uncertain liminal space where the usual rules of society do not apply.Ha’s tales will likely leave you unsettled, but with much to ponder.Because they often refuse to drive straight at the point, or to even claim that there is a single point, they will reward continued exploration and repeatedvisits. A Welcome Study of a Significant Era of Korean Art Korean Art – From the 19th Century to the Present By Charlotte Horlyck, 264 pages, $60.00, London: Reaktion Books [2017] This book doesn’t attempt to be, in the author’s words, a “definitive, encyclopaedic reading” of Korean art during the 100-odd years from theend of the 19th century to the beginning of the 21st century. Instead, it focuses on important milestones in this tumultuous time in Korea’s his￾tory. Throughout it all, Horlyck delves into how art has related to the search for a Korean identity.The first chapter illuminates the final years of the Joseon Dynas￾ty, when Korea emerged as a modern nation and art became increasing￾ly politicized. The second chapter discusses the colonial period, during which the perception of art shifted from something monopolized by theelite to something that could belong to everyone. The third chapter deals with the development of socialist realist art in North Korea after WorldWar II, driven by the ideology of Kim Il-sung. The fourth chapter par￾allels the third, covering the same period in the South, where abstract art came to the fore. The fifth chapter introduces minjung art, or the “art of the people,” in the 1970s. The sixth and final chapter sheds light onchanges in the way Korean artists have been approaching their task over the past few decades.Taken as a whole, the book is a welcome introduction to a period in Korean art that might not get due attention. It also deserves recognitionas a rare endeavor in English. Soothing Tones of Familiarity and Freshness 2020 JAZZ KOREA FESTIVAL LIVE at Boomiz Song Ha Chul Quartet, CD (27 minutes), Streaming for free on YouTube and iTunes, Seoul: Gatefor Music & Art [2021] This EP by the Song Ha Chul Quartet, released in February 2021, is a liverecording of a performance at the Jazz Korea Festival, hosted by the KoreanCultural Center in Ankara, Turkey. The festival was held online in November2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.With its clean, pastel tones, the album is not just for fans of “Koreanjazz,” but for everyone familiar with jazz, and even newcomers.The first track is “Straight Life,” which is also the title track of the quar￾tet’s 2017 debut album. Following Suh Soo-jin’s funky drum performance,Song Ha-chul’s saxophone announces its presence with a bold, distinct soundreminiscent of Hank Mobley.“Marionette,” featuring the saxophone played over Lim Chae-sun’sdreamy piano, is superbly beautiful, with the atmosphere of Stan Getz’s“Manha De Carnaval.” Like the familiar passage of time, worn down dayafter day, the piece drifts to a lonely end.In “Going Up,” Lee Dong-min makes a placid opening with his bass,and Song Ha-chul’s saxophone rushes in with a sound as puffed up as cottoncandy. The next song is “Somebody’s Gold Fishery,” where the saxophone’sagility and warmth combine assertively to take the mood to its peak. Charles La ShureProfessor, Department of Korean Language and Literature, Seoul National University Ryu Tae-hyung Music Columnist


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