Kent's Korean Wanderings: Part IV
Part IV – K-pop to the Gateway Korea Foundation
Welcome to Part IV of my column. For those of you who are new to this you can see the prior three parts below.
Last week we left off with the beginning of my deep dive into Korean culture via the gateway drug known as K-pop.
This part of my column is a bit more personal as I discuss a bit where I was as a person back in 2012 when I first came across K-pop.
At the time I stumbled across K-pop I was going through a rather gloomy period in my life where I had been suffering from rather bad depression for over a decade. I often feel that my discovery of K-pop (Along with a few other things that occurred over those next couple of years) helped my recovery more than doctors’ treatments did. My stumbling across K-pop acted as a catalyst to several good things though.
From my reading and observations watching a lot of Korean television, I see that Korea has a very stressful academic environment for teens and young adults, and that the work environment is very stressful as well with its work week that is the longest among OECD nations and a lot of economic uncertainty for many workers even with good educations and ostensibly good positions. I have watched many shows on Korean college campuses where even students at a prestigious university like Seoul National are clearly feeling considerable anxiety and sadness over their prospects for the future. I feel that a lot of Korean entertainment is really geared at trying to relieve people’s stress and in a sense to bring “friends” into their home to laugh and eat with and help them forget about their worries for a few hours. In comparison I feel a lot of American TV does the opposite and just makes people more fearful and stressed about the society around them. Of course, this could be a false impression created by my somewhat limited exposure to Korea.
There is a story I remember hearing one time from a singer who was a regular on a TV variety show that was hosted by Kang Ho Dong and was notorious for very long 12+ hour filming days as it was pre-recorded and basically kept going until the producer thought they had two really solid and entertaining hours to show after editing. The singer related that a common saying of Kang Ho Dong’s while filming the show to try to pick up morale of the guests and regulars was “It may be 2AM for us, but it’s 8PM for our audience.” I always thought that was an enlightened comment by an entertainer who understood that their hard, but often financially and professionally rewarding lifestyle is made possible by the goodwill of their audience, and if they start to lose that perspective and fail to provide that positive, happy energy the audience will move on.
Late last Fall, I decided that after years of watching Korean TV shows and music videos and listening to countless hours of Korean music that maybe it was about time that I tried to learn Korean. I reached out to the Korean Presbyterian Church in Kirkwood as I live near there and had seen signs about language classes for children and thought that maybe they also had adult classes.
Not long after I started taking Korean classes it dawned on me that it might be fun to combine my passion for Korean culture with volunteering if there was a Korean cultural organization around St. Louis. The prior summer, I had visited a Korean festival in Chicago with a friend that lived there and that had planted a seed in my head that maybe there was an organization in St. Louis that put on a similar festival. A little searching resulted in finding Gateway Korea’s website.
I reached out to the GKF, joined up as a volunteer, and have enjoyed it thoroughly. It has been nice to meet people that share something I am so passionate about.
So now that I have given you an introduction to how I came to be so interested in Korean culture, I will now discuss my plans for this column.
I plan to write about music, movies, shows, and other topics relating to Korean entertainment and culture. Perhaps that will take the form of a travel log of an upcoming trip to Seoul this fall and a planned trip through the provinces in 2020. It might be a discussion of a Korean TV show I have come across. It may be about the music of a group or soloist I really enjoy. It could be something in Korean and American joint history that interests me. It might be something about the many kinds of Youtube and Vlive content out there that helps a fan who doesn’t live in Korea appreciate the music or shows.
I will be looking forward to feedback and discussion with anyone who reads my columns including this one. So feel free to leave a comment below.
Until next time.