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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Filtering by Tag: Hallyu

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.

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't Korean Wanderings: Part II

Part II – Atlanta, Fall 2012

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

Last week we left off with our hero (That would be me) about to embark upon an epic journey to Atlanta. 

So, I headed off to Atlanta to attend Dragon Con.  While there, I was sitting in a bar that looked out over the crowd in the atrium of the JW Marriott in Atlanta.  That is a very large convention (Back in 2012 50,000 people attended over four days) so there were well over a 1,000 people milling about below. 

That is when I noticed these young Asian men that kept going up to people in the crowd and trying to get them to do this dance with them while their buddy was filming them.  The three of them that were dancing stood out a bit as they were dressed in a tuxedo, a yellow suit, and a kind of cowboy outfit.  I figured it was something from some anime I had not seen or something that was trending in Asia that I wasn’t familiar with and didn’t think much more about it.

That weekend I had joined Twitter for the first time as many of the cosplayers I went to take pictures of in their costumes were using it to say where they would be at certain times in their costumes.  While at my hotel room that evening I kept seeing tweets that referred to doing something “Gangnam Style.”  At the time “Gangnam Style” had not yet gone mainstream viral in the US.  It was just starting to go viral with those attuned to East Asian trends.

At first, I had thought that Gangnam was an intentional misspelling of the word Gundam which was from a popular anime series.  At the time, it was popular for many people to use “Oh My Gerd” instead of “Oh My God” or “OMG” in posts as a way of being cute.  However, I kept seeing this throughout the evening and started to wonder if something more was going on with “Gangnam Style”, so I Googled it.

Due to my fondness for anime, I was aware of Japanese pop and rock music as it is often used for the opening and closing theme songs for various series or movies.  I was a big fan of a Japanese rock band called L’arc en Ciel and was used to listening to and enjoying music from anime soundtracks even if it wasn’t sung in English.  While I wasn’t aware of K-pop specifically at the time I was aware of a Korean artist called BoA who was popular in Japan and had sung the ending theme for a season of one of my favorite anime series.  I had also read an article several years before that discussed how popular the Korean drama “Winter Sonata” had become in Japan and had heard the term Hallyu.  So, I wasn’t completely unaware of the Korean entertainment industry.

So, on that fateful night in Atlanta as I Googled “Gangnam Style” I was open to what I would find due to my background and interests.  A further stroke of good luck was that the first thing that popped up on Google other than the video itself was a legitimate article written for The Atlantic magazine (Article) that treated it as something other than a musical oddity and instead explained something about Psy (The singer), the song, its message, who some of the folks in the video were, and listed some American artists that had positive things to say about it.  Therefore, when I first clicked on the video on Youtube, I was doing so with real anticipation of what I might find.

I wasn’t disappointed.  The song was catchy, and the video was funny.  The production value was much higher than I anticipated.  I watched the video a couple times trying to catch things that had been mentioned in the article and enjoying the humor used in the video.  Also, I realized after watching it that those guys I saw going around the convention doing that odd dance earlier in the day were dressed as Psy, Yoo Jae Suk, and Noh Hong Chul  from the music video and were getting people to do the “Horsey Dance” with them.

To be continued next week…Part III

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