Alright, it’s time for part 2 of Konas keeping up with Korea. Here are some more sources and media I have and continue to consume to try to hold on to at least a little bit of a connection to Korea.
News / Stories / Facebook-Pages:
During my semester, I liked pretty much every English-speaking Facebook site on Korea I could get my hands on. I’ve since had to turn it down quite a bit because it got too painful to sift through back home. However, here are a few favorites:
-> Visit Seoul – Official site of the Seoul City Tourism organization. Lots of infos about events and sights in Seoul (duh)
-> Seoul Korea – Official site of the Seoul government.
-> Humans of Seoul – Modeled after the famous Humans of New York photo project, if you’re into that kind of thing. The majority of the pictures I’ve seen are pretty mellow though, so it’s not all just smiling faces and cliched inspirational messages or whatever
-> AngloInfo Seoul – Part of a global expat network, so this site is visited by a lot of English-speaking Expats. Shares a lot of links to worthwile articles and contains a bit of commentary. There’s also a website with classifieds and discussion boards, but I never visited it. Can be a decent resource for foreigners in Seoul and will certainly be a bit more critical and ‘real’ than all the tourist-y sites.
-> VisitKorea – Korea Tourism Organization. English and German sites – Obviously, this is all geared towards tourists, so you get a rather one-sided picture of Korea. Everything is incredible and amazing, gorgeous pictures as far as the eye can see, and countless sightseeing destinations to explore. Nothing wrong with that of course, and the content is curated really well and quite lovely, but it can be a bit much at times and cause some serious Fernweh.
-> To counteract the tourist-y ‘Everything is awesome’ sites, I also started following two English-speaking Korean newspapers: The Korea Times and The Korea Herald. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually read one of their articles, but it felt good just having their stories pop up and glossing over the headlines every now and then. It’s a good counterbalance to the overly positive and glamorous information, since most of the stuff on there is just perfectly average and banal – local politics, ongoing societal debates, corruption scandals, trade negotiations, crime, that kind of stuff. It kind of grounds you and reminds you that Korea is not some perfect utopia, but a country with problems and societal issues like every other one.
-> CAUExchange – During my semester, the CAU International Office also started a blog to provide some English-speaking help for exchange students. I noticed that a few more posts have gone up since then, but they stopped in June. Not sure if this will be updated again in the future, but there are still some interesting posts in there for (future) CAU students. Now I kind of regret never having gone to the library, as the system they have to reserve a seat in it(!) sounds like an…interesting experience.
I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm, so it seemed logical to try some Korean literature. Here’s what I’ve read so far:
When you search for Korean fiction, the #1 book you will invariably come across is Shin Kyung-Sook’s ‘Please look after mom’, which has become an international bestseller. It’s a family drama about an elderly mom that goes missing at Seoul Station on a family visit and her family’s desperate search for her. Not exactly the type of book I would normally go for, as the topic can be quite clichéd – your mom sacrificed a lot for you, you should talk to her more often, yada yada. Certainly an important message, but not necessarily one that sounds like it would make for a captivating read to me. However, the book is great. Shin’s writing (and the English translation) is haunting and beautiful, the story is captivating and unfolds beautifully as Shin tells you more about the titular mom and her family through the narration of different family members. Lovely.
I liked this book and Shin’s writing style so much that I also picked up ‘I’ll be right there‘. The topic is a bit more up my alley as it is about a group of college students and their favorite professor going through turbulant political times in 1980’s or 90’s Korea. I won’t say too much more, but it also is a beautifully written and captivating book. As a bonus, the main character moves to Seoul and spends a lot of her time exploring the city by foot, which reminded me a little bit of my endless walks through the city and made me feel quite nostalgic.
Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’ also gets a lot of praise and….I really don’t know what to say about it. It’s utterly strange, bizarre, brutal, confusing, and pretty damn captivating. I still don’t know if I would recommend it, since it’s really weird…but that also makes it really hard to put down.
Finally, Hwang Sok-yong’s ‘Mr Han’s Chronicle’ from 1970 is a captivating tale of a Korean man that gets caught up in the Korean war and flees from the North to South Korea. However, he can never really escape the separation of Korea and its ugly after-effects. If the annotations by the German translator are to be believed, it is one of the most important pieces of post-war Korean literature and tackles a lot of important issues. On top of that, Hwang has lived a fascinating life and spent a lot of time as an activist, so reading up on his biography is also quite interesting.
Of course, I can’t talk about Korean media without talking about Korean music and/or K-Pop. Before going to Korea, my knowledge of K-Pop was limited to the following:
- It is a thing that exists
- That PSY Gangnam Style song…is also a thing that exists
And to be honest, that didn’t really change all that much during the semester. I didn’t really start listening to Korean music until after I was back home again and missed Korea so much that I did anything I could think of to recapture a little bit of its atmosphere. I did listen to a handful of songs while there, and one song in particular really stuck in my brain, but that was about it. Back home, I had a handful of artists that I was vaguely familiar with, and fired up Youtube and started listening to Korean music. Here are a few artists that I particularly enjoy.
Of course, Korean music is more than just K-Pop. There’s also hip hop, rock, soul, folk music, and pretty much any other genre you can think of. I think the only two artists that fully fit the K-Pop label are TWICE (pictured at the top) and GFRIEND. Those two seem to fit all the hallmarks of K-Pop – large, casted groups with annoyingly catchy songs, elaborate dance choreographies, and rabid fanbases. TWICE in particular is hard to get out of your brain once you’ve heard it a few times. Probably best to ignore the lyrics though.
My overall favorite artist is the rock group MC the MAX. Their latest album Pathos is really good, and No matter where(어디에도) will forever be *the* song of the semester for me.
Here are some more artists I really enjoy:
Of course, I’m far from an expert, and there are many more knowledgeable resources around all over the web. Youtube in general is a pretty good starting point. I usually hate their autoplay feature, but it’s pretty useful to discover new music.