Gateway Korea Foundation

The Gateway Korea Foundation provides opportunities for the Heartland Community to learn about and experience Korean culture. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, the Gateway Korea Foundation will draw from communities across the American Midwest to nurture a greater understanding and appreciation for Korean culture.

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Kent’s Korean Wanderings Blog - September 13, 2019

Filtering by Tag: East Asia

Kent's Korean Wanderings: Part III

Part III – Beyond Gangnam Style

Welcome to Part III of my column.  For those of you who are new to this, you can see Part I and Part II here.

Last week we left off with me having stumbled across K-pop accidentally.  I had just watched Gangnam Style and was about to fall victim to the “evils” of Youtube as my epic journey continued.

So, I had just completed watching “Gangnam Style” several times. 

It was at this point that I happened to notice a bunch of other Korean music video thumbnails being suggested by Youtube.  So, I started clicking on some videos.  The next video I clicked on was 4Minute’s “Volume Up” as I had read that Kim Hyuna who was in Psy’s video was in that group, so I thought I would check it out.  That was probably a good video to click as I later found it was a very high budget video and it showed not only in the quality of the song, but the quality of the video. 

Within a few hours I had discovered several artists such as Girls’ Generation, 2NE1, Big Bang, K. Will, Sistar, IU, etc.  While some songs weren’t my cup of tea, I found a lot that were.  In a future column I plan to discuss the highlights of the music I discovered that first night and first week and why those videos hooked me on K-pop and slowly started my descent Korean culture.

I was also Googling furiously to try to learn more about the Korean music industry and these groups.  I was really impressed with the production values of the songs and videos and the choreography that so many videos showed.  I had not really followed American pop music as I was more of a classic rock and jazz listener, but these K-pop songs were such ear worms or featured such great choreography in so many cases that I was really intrigued.

Somewhere in the course of that evening, I ran across my first clips of a Korean variety shows such as Running Man where members of one of these groups were doing something ridiculous and I started laughing even though in many cases I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said.  I found all sorts of videos that fans of the groups had put together of clips of them being funny on variety shows.   I also found clips of interview shows such as “Happy Together” and “Star King.”  I began to learn who MC’s are such as Kang Ho Dong and Yoo Jae Suk.  Many of these videos were only in Korean, but fortunately some of the more popular groups’ English-speaking fans had subtitled videos, so even though I spoke no Korean, I could follow along with these videos I was finding. 

Also, that evening I found some English-language Korean entertainment news sites such as Soompi and AllKpop that also helped expand my knowledge and turned me on to other groups and shows.

Over the remainder of that weekend, over the next several months, and now nearly seven years, I took a deeper dive into the world of K-pop and Korean variety shows.   I was enjoying learning about the fan culture, the industry, the groups, and the soloists.  Along the way I also began to dive into Korean history, geography, culture, food, and even language. 

I branched into watching shows like “Immortal Songs” and learned more about the history of Korean pop music and even a little about Korean history and politics.  I caught movies like “A Taxi Driver” spurring me to read quite a bit about the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement, I also traveled virtually all over Korea through the shows “Family Outing” and “1 Night & 2 Days.”  I saw the good in Korean culture and the bad.

Despite some of the negatives that I ran across at times, I found that my interest in K-pop and Korean entertainment was positive.There was something about the music, the way the artists presented themselves, and the format of the variety shows that almost always made me smile and laugh. When friends ask me why I am so into K-pop, my simplest answer is that, if there is a soundtrack to happiness, it’s K-pop.

To be concluded next week…Part IV

Kent's Korean Wanderings: The Blog Begins & Part I

How a Middle-Aged Midwesterner Found His Passion

Welcome to what I plan will be a minimum quarterly if not monthly column to appear on the Gateway Korea website that I hope you will enjoy.

So, what will I write about?  I will talk about that later as I think I should first introduce myself and then the focus of my column will make more sense.  For now, I will just say that this will not be a serious news analysis or Korean culture commentary.  While I may occasionally touch on a serious topic, that will not be the focus.

As I wrote this first column, I realized it was too long, and telling a story seven years in the making wasn’t something I could easily condense into a single page.  So, this first column where I introduce myself and explain how I came to be so interested in Korea will come out in several parts with an update each week until it is finished.

Part I – Who is Kent Vesser?

Some who are reading this will have met or seen me at DanO 2019.  For those who didn’t attend DanO this year and even some that did, but perhaps didn’t have a chance to speak with me, I should probably introduce myself.

My name is Kent Vesser.  Except for seven years spent living in Montana while away in college and working some, I am a lifelong resident of St. Louis.  I joined the Gateway Korea Foundation in Spring of 2019 just a few months before DanO.  I serve on the PR Committee and help elsewhere as needed with events.  I work as a lead data center engineer for Enterprise Holdings where I have been employed for almost twenty-six years.

As you may have surmised from my headshot over on the Gateway Korea Foundation’s Facebook page, I am not of Korean descent.  Nor do I have a partner or close friend, prior to joining Gateway Korea, who is of Korean descent.  Perhaps surprisingly, I have never visited Korea, but that will be changing in about a month when I take my first trip there. 

So, you may be wondering how I ended up joining Gateway Korea and wanting to write this column?

Well settle in with your favorite drink and maybe a snack and I will tell you a story about my Korean journey, why I became so passionate about Korean culture, and my plans for this column.

So where to start?

I have always been interested in East Asia, even when I was quite little.  It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what spurred my interest.  I suspect it is a combination of many things I was exposed to as a child ranging from some Korean friends of the family, to a Taiwanese classmate in elementary school, to anime and kaiju films at an early age, and to simply always being interested in history and geography.  As a result, I simply found that I always enjoyed learning more about East Asian cultures and history.

I would say my journey to volunteering at Gateway Korea began in earnest about seven years ago. 

As I mentioned I have been a lifelong anime fan ever since I saw Speed Racer on TV as a small child back in the early 70’s.  Back in the late 2000’s I stumbled across several professional cosplayers on the Internet that did really elaborate theatrical quality costumes of their favorite anime, video game, or comic book characters.

In 2011, I had by dumb luck befriended a couple that lived in Atlanta over the Internet and become good friends with them.  He was from Alabama and his wife was from Taiwan.  They had met as post-graduate students in college and now lived in Atlanta.  After about a year of knowing them, I thought it would be nice to meet them in person, so I started looking for an excuse to go visit Atlanta where they wouldn’t feel pressured that the only reason I came down was to meet them.

That excuse came in 2012, when I discovered that one of the major anime/comic/gaming festivals called Dragon Con is held annually in Atlanta.  Not only were a bunch of those cosplayers, whose work I admired, going to be there debuting new costumes, but it would also give me a chance to meet my friends.

So I booked a hotel room near the convention, invited my friends to join me for dinner one night, and prepared to make my trip.

To be continued next week…Part II