Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I came home one day and Julie was sobbing. I asked her what was wrong.

"It's so sad. It's so, so sad," she told me through her tears.

"What happened? What's so sad?"

"This show." She pointed to the television. "It's so sad what happened to the couple in there." She was watching a Korean Drama, Stairway to Heaven, to be exact.

At her insistence, I watched it and that became my introduction to the world of Korean dramas. One of her friends had the series on a set of VCD's (these are CD's that have movies on them like DVD's, only the quality isn't very good) except that there were no English subtitles and it wasn't dubbed. The soundtrack choices were either in Cantonese or Korean with Cantonese subtitles.

Since I don't understand either language, I told Julie to take her pick. So she played it back in Cantonese and translated what was going on to me as we watched.

Actually, I kind of liked it. And indeed, it was sad. Towards the end of the 20 or so episodes, we switched to listening in the original Korean language which was much, much better. Listening in Cantonese makes everyone sound so harsh, like they are squawking at each other. The Korean language is much more melodic and it conveys the emotional nuances of the scenes, even if I have no idea what they are saying. I always prefer a movie in its original language - like they say, it loses in the translation.

That must have been about three or four years ago? Since that time I've downloaded many of the series and burned them onto DVD's, and we've watched many on television, as well. They all come with subtitles so we can listen in Korean but read the broken English to find out what they are saying. There are good ones and bad ones, but for the good ones I find I prefer watching them rather than American productions. Maybe its because I like watching Asian characters, or maybe it is because they are a lot "cleaner" than their American television counterparts, but aside from Jeopardy, the only other television I watch these days is pretty much Korean drama.

This is what I've learned about Koreans from watching the dramas so far:

The women are absolutely gorgeous. There is not a blemish on their skin, their features are perfect and, well, they are just beautiful. Is that how they all look? When they show scenes from Korea on the news, the women don't look like that. They look just like average people.

There is always a romantic triangle. Sometimes a few.

They like borrowing money but can't pay it back so loan sharks come over their house and start destroying the furniture and the character begs and pleads for another chance, which they receive, and the same thing happens again about a week later.

They like going to universities in the United States to study. Many times there is a dramatic scene at the airport because their lover races there at the last minute to try and talk them into staying.

Someone always contracts a terminal illness. This is usually discovered by having a nosebleed.

When that person who has the terminal illness has it confirmed by the doctor (I think there is only one actor in Korea who is certified to play that role in all of the series), they go shuffling down the street very slowly, like a zombie, sometimes right down the center of the road while cars zip by, honking at them but they are oblivious to what is going on around them.

People in the hospital are also able to just walk out whenever they want, and go shuffling down the street in their hospital gown, oblivious to cars honking at them.

Korean hospital rooms are the nicest in the world. They have their own refrigerators and sofas, tables, flat panel televisions, etc.

You would think Korean drivers are the worst in the world because invariably, someone gets run over in every series while they are crossing the street because even though the driver honks the horn repeatedly, it never occurs to them to slow down or stop the car.

Koreans like to whack each other on the head.

Whenever something bad happens, they like to drink about 30 bottles of soju and pass out, at which time their friend has to put them on their back and run through the streets carrying them home. Same when someone gets injured and needs to go to the hospital. A friend puts them on their back and they run to the hospital. I don't understand why they just don't drive them there or call a cab.

Korean fathers are mostly CEO's of companies and they hand over the reigns to their kids when they are about 20 years old, give or take a couple of years. An older, faithful manager (they call them "directors") who is not a family member will be resentful.

There is never any love better than your "first love" and Koreans will spend years searching for their long lost first love, who most likely has amnesia.

Koreans only kiss each other after they get married.

Korean parents like to arrange marriages for their kids with mates that their kids can't stand. The parents decide where and when the marriage will take place and at the appointed time, one or both of the kids don't bother to show up at the wedding, which greatly embarrasses the parents. Then they whack their kids on the head later on.

If you've ever had any kind of illness (or your parents, too), then no Korean parent will let you get married to their kid.

Those are a few of the things I have learned about Koreans and their culture from carefully observing Korean dramas. I've also learned a few words, like pabo (idiot), yabo (honey), yoboseo (telephone greeting), anyeoung haseo (greeting in person), komapsamnida (thank you), kumao (thanks - more informal) and paeha (emperor). I probably butchered the words but at least I can recognize them when I hear them. I think I know more Korean than Japanese words now.

You can learn a lot about culture by watching television shows. Look how much I know about Koreans now! I imagine they sit in front of television sets in their country watching American shows, learning about us: "In America, husbands and wives like to have affairs behind each other's back. And, uh, uh, well, that's about all I've learned so far."

Who is the chief justice of the Supreme Court in America? Judge Judy, of course!

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