Friday, November 1, 2013

KDrama Desires

If you know me offline, you are probably aware of my open love for Korean Dramas. It is possible you were forced to watch them in my home or endured hours of my babbling about them. You might have heard me say something perfectly rational like “I’m sorry, I can’t meet up for [some activity involving personal interaction] because [beloved KDrama du jour] is on.”

This morning over coffee, after witnessing me watching 14 episodes of  “Boys Over Flowers” on Netflix this week and once or twice remarking that I would do something or other in some number of minutes “when this episode ends,” Mom  looked at me and asked, “What is it with you and the Korean Dramas?”

I’ll tell you, like I told her.

My primary attraction to Korean Dramas is that the stories have a finite number of episodes and a beginning, a middle, and an end. And they really end. After 16 or 25 or some other number of episodes, it’s wrapped up with a bow on it. Over. Completed. None of this 50-year ongoing nonsense like General Hospital. My attention span is not equipped for American soaps. I want a story, not a lifelong commitment to fictional characters.

And speaking of the story ... KDrama stories tend to favor family values and issues of the heart. The drama may be based on a graphic novel. There might be generational differences as the younger character feels conflict over entering the family business (or not), or when a devastatingly attractive character from the upper class falls for a rather plain “commoner” to the utter horror of the wealthy parents and thorough delight of the less well off parents. There might be a stunningly beautiful dragon lady matriarch, especially on the upper class side of the equation. There is probably an adorable, intelligent younger brother in the mix to add comic relief to the stress of keeping the family from the brink of ruin.

Unlike American soaps, KDramas, for the most part, lack the near-nudity and bed hopping that seem commonplace in the midday soft porn of American soaps. I’m pretty sure much of my early sex education was delivered in the form of afternoon soap operas. It is still a cheap thrill on that rare, odd, glorious morning when I awaken with still neatly coifed hair and unsmudged makeup “just like a soap star,” except, unlike a daytime drama, there is never a witness to this miracle and I am likely wearing mismatched pajamas and not a shimmering designer evening gown or satin nightgown.

The downside for me with Korean Dramas is the invading sense of want experienced while watching them. The settings have me longing to revisit places I saw in Korea (like Namsan Tower, the markets, and Seoul Hyatt), and see those I missed (like Jeju Island and Busan). Note: This is not unique to Korea -- the same thing happens if I see a movie set in Paris or Reykjavik or Los Cabos or anyplace else I ever visited and enjoyed.

When a Korean drama series ends, it feels a bit like breaking up with a boyfriend. There is sadness, melancholy, closure, the freedom to move on to something else, and the wonder of what to do with all the new free time. Unique to the Korean dramas, there is relief at being spared an ongoing saga and string of characters killed off to later return as a previously unknown twin. (Yes, All My Children of my college years, I’m looking at you.)

KDramas often feature food and the result is I miss the food in Seoul even more. Sure, there was stuff I was afraid to eat like anything involving intestines and the silkworm larvae sold by street vendors. Thankfully, there is a good Korean restaurant in my current town and one I loved in my former residence in Tennessee that serve hot stoneware bibimbap (rice and vegetables with egg), but nothing quite compares to going to “Hooker Hill” in Itaewon at night to eat in the food tents that regularly and miraculously pop up after dark. Not to mention the pancake vendors in the pedestrian arts and antiques area of Insa-dong where we would shiver in the winter chill awaiting a fifty cent pancake filled with brown sugar and cinnamon, then step away from the counter to rejoin the end of the line and eat our way back to the front for another. Ahhhhh.

The cheesy hot pepper ramen at Yongsan Fast Food, down the hill from our apartment, radically and permanently changed my view of ramen. I miss the fish cake and the dried anchovies that seemed to be served everywhere. It’s now been 12 years living off my food memories. While I have worked out my own version of cheesy hot pepper ramen, I would fly back to Seoul in a heartbeat for the street vendor pancakes and fish cake I can’t find here.
F4 in Boys Over Flowers. Yaban Çiceği /2009 / Güney Kore

It’s depressing that smartly dressed, fashionable KDrama characters don’t exist in my real, American, every day existence. As a kid, I imagined adult life as a stretch of dinner parties populated by well-dressed people, and maybe when I was a kid, that’s what adult life was like. For one brief shining moment in the mid-to-late1980s, when Miami Vice inspired throngs of American men to give a crap about how they dressed, my life was like that. At the time, I had a (now-ex) husband who loved to dress well and sought opportunities to wear a suit and tie. (If only that trait could have offset all the problems we had. Sigh.) The law of nature seems to dictate that all good things must end too soon and it’s been a depressing landscape of men in crappy tee shirts, ball caps, and baggy-ass jeans ever since.  Except in my imagination. And my Korean dramas.

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