I was working late last night (yes, I do have a day job) and on my way home after an exhausting day. Sometimes I just zone out on the train ride home, last night I was just browsing various social media sites on my phone when I happened upon Stephanie Kurze’s post “We Have It Good” on Crazy For Kdrama.
She talked about how she gets frustrated when certain shows she likes aren’t subbed in English or now that she’s learned a little Korean, things aren’t translated as they should be. Although she states that it is certainly a lot easier to follow K-Entertainment these days than 10 years ago, I can certainly understand where some of her frustrations are coming from.
The Hallyu wave is certainly an astounding thing. I don’t know if that’s sounds weird to some people but let me explain. I’m Korean-American so I grew up in the culture and my experience may be a little different. My parents showed me Korean children’s programs such as Kiss, Kiss, Kiss (뽀뽀뽀 – Ppo Ppo Ppo) alongside Sesame Street. Although I was born in the States, my first language was essentially Korean which I promptly forgot when I started attending school.
It wasn’t until my tweens when I was introduced to K-Pop. The only Korean music I knew of was the old fogey ones that my parents listened to. I never associated “youthful, modern and fresh” when I thought of Korea as even my family in Korea had this idea of America. They wanted to wear our clothes, listen to our music, watch our movies. So it was quite a revelation when I first started listening to K-Pop music in junior high school. I think I bought a new tape weekly.
As for K-Drama, I want to say my first real drama was Love in Your Bosom (사랑을 그대 품안에) which was Cha In Pyo’s debut drama in 1994. That’s also the drama where he met his future wife, Shin Ae Ra. While Last Match (마지막 승부) came out earlier that year, I feel like I watched that around the same time as this drama.
I remember my mom lugging VHS tapes home from the city and then back again, since she rented the dramas from a video store near her workplace. Back in the 90’s this was the only way to watch K-Dramas as far as I knew and the tapes were often delayed by a month from the original broadcast in Korea. So we often waited until we could get 10 episodes of a drama and then stay up all night watching them back to back. Way before the phrase “binge watching” was coined.
The problem when watching these dramas is that sometimes I didn’t understand the dialogue. Certainly, I understood simple conversation Korean to get by at family functions. So I would elbow my mom and go, ‘What did they say,’ so that she could translate for me. That probably gets super annoying right around the 20th time within a single episode. I couldn’t even tell you how I would have gotten through the Sandglass (모래시계) if it weren’t for my mom because I didn’t really understand the events of the 1980 Kwangju student rebellion. During high school, my Korean friends and I excitedly gushed over the latest episode of a drama we were all watching, like Star in my Heart (별은 내 가슴에), while my non-Korean friends could only look on. It’s not like we intentionally meant to exclude them but it was so exciting to find people (who are not your parents) that gush about the same thing you’re gushing about.
For music, I even looked at the jacket covers of my tapes to read the lyrics. If there was a word I didn’t understand, I would pull out the Korean-English Dictionary to find the meaning. I think watching dramas and reading song lyrics was better than any Korean Language Class my parents paid for. I remember watching Top Ten Music (가요 톱 10) and a few other music programs and recording performances of groups I liked creating a video mixtape of sorts. I still have those tapes if someone can find me a VHS player.
There weren’t many K-Pop concerts back in the day, especially in NY, but they were usually tied in with Korean Cultural Festivals, such as the Chuseok Festival. Those events used to be filled with only Korean faces but I can’t express how incredibly surprised and proud how far the Hallyu Wave has come. Even if it means I have to stand on a long line in the hot sun.
I guess the one advantage of understanding the language is that I don’t have to wait for subs. So when I received a question recently about how she could find an English subbed episode of Real Men: Female Special, I was so surprised to discover that none the usual suspects were subbing it. Although fan groups of Girls’ Day are subbing Hye Ri’s segments, I wish I had the time to do the full episode myself. In the meantime, if I’m watching a certain show that’s not being subbed, I’m here and happy to answer any questions you may have. If I’m able to find and share answers to your questions, I always happy to spread the knowledge. There’s no fun in being the only, lonely fangirl in the Hallyu-verse. Bueller…? Bueller…? Bueller…?