How Koreanovelas Changed My Life

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Ten years ago, all East Asians in my country looked the same to me. Several years before that, I despised Kimchi, which I mistook as a kind of main dish included in a wide selection of foreign delicacies. When ‘Autumn in my Heart’ first aired on local TV, I thought it was just another tearjerker series from China. Korea, back then, was all but a geographical location to me, a country similar to America because it had a North and a South.

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Me and Jang Geum in Minsukchon, Yongin, Korea

It took me a 54-episode Korean TV drama series, fondly referred to as ‘Koreanovela’ in the Philippines, to take a second look at this country. Dae Jang Geum, first aired in the Philippines in 2005, and to me it was both a magnet pulling curiosity to Korea’s culture and a story inspiring the underprivileged. It was the first Korean drama I watched and my first window towards understanding Korea beyond its name. Seven years have passed and I never imagined being deeply attached to this country and its culture through something I thought would just be a regular pastime.

Koreanovelas. Koreans. Korea. They are all part of my daily life now – from my Korean mobile phone that wakes me up everyday up to the Korean facial wash I use before retiring for the night. Once I tried detaching from any Korean-related thing, but I realized that it was close to impossible. With a tongue being used to mixing Korean with my native language, fingers automatically typing Korean websites and a stomach craving for ramyeon and kimchi (yes, now, I got very accustomed to it being a yummy side dish), I just knew that Korea has been deeply imbibed in my system.

This tale is not mine alone. I hear (and read) the same story from hundreds of Filipinos (and other nationalities) drawn to Korea and its culture through Koreanovelas.  Not too long ago, a TV reporter discussing Hallyu or Korean Wave in the Philippines asked me: “What makes Korean dramas so attractive to Filipinos?” While many would mention the strong appeal of good-looking actors, the fast-paced plots and breathtaking sceneries, I gave a different response. Although an exciting plot and stunning visuals keep the audiences’ eyes glued on the screen, it is the core of the story and the values radiating from the characters that touch Filipino hearts and make them want some more. No matter how diverse the cultural landscape may be, a viewer can relate because the story is not foreign to him. Dae Jang Geum, Jumong, Queen Seon Deok and Dong Yi, all of which are historical and long dramas, have many Filipino ‘followers’ basically because the story of the main character is also, somehow, their story. Struggling with financial, family and other social issues, Filipino viewers identify with the journey of a character from the foot of a mountainous challenge towards the peak of success.  Full House, My Girl, My Name is Kim Sam Soon, Autumn in My Heart and Only You, all contextualized and transformed into Filipino versions, gave viewers the thrill of falling in love with a wealthy bachelor— something that many average Filipino female viewers would wish for in real life.

Stepping into the Korean Drama Land may seem like entering a sort of a Fantasy World, but for fans like me, we find a piece of reality in that magical space. I met Suh Jang Geum in 2005 after a big time failure and found Shin Mi Rae (City Hall) in 2009 while I was wallowing in depression. Both characters stirred me to rise above my seemingly hopeless situation. Many Filipinos like me step into a story and come out of the media tunnel with a new sense of courage to face another challenge in life. Fans all over the world meet at online drama forums/cafes to share our comments on Korean dramas as well as our own dreams and aspirations.  Korean dramas have such a power to connect lives from one end of the spectrum to another. It provides a bridge of understanding which transcends diverse cultures and personalities. Whether it is the glowing face of the lead character or an emotion-sweeping dialogue, Koreanovela fans find more reasons to smile.

 This is the kind of influence that a Korean drama may bring to its million viewers across the globe. Beyond the wealth of cultural information, Koreanovelas introduce fans like me into Korea’s artistic craft and diligence. While in the Philippines we often see stories drafted to fit the qualities of celebrities dominating the prime time TV, Korean producers put prominence into a good and worthy plot. They make the story appeal to its audience by finding artists that would fit most to their drama sketches. We see a wide range of variety in Korean artists who invest a lot into training and improving themselves. Most Korean drama reviewers admire scriptwriters who are able to create a kind of uniqueness into a seemingly cliché story. I, myself, have been wondering, “Where on earth do those writers find such mind-blowing lines distinct to every script?”

While all good things never last, members of the foreign fan community whisper to what we refer to as ‘Korean drama gods and the powers that be’:  “Please don’t run out of creative juices to weave another lovely story. Despite the many production issues that you have to go through, please remember that there are many hungry souls waiting for your episodes. There are countless foreigners awaiting your culture’s introduction and a million lives hoping for your touch.”

And in the case of my nation, we hope one day you hear the wailing cry of Filipino fans hoping to meet and learn from Korean actors, directors and scriptwriters, whom we greatly treasure in the depths of our hearts.

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Korean drama society core leaders during the Korean First Lady’s visit in KCC

xxx

This was a commissioned article intended to be published in a Korean daily, but since there’s no news of publication, I’m posting it here to commemorate the day I’m reviving this blog. Yehey!

Korean Drama Society in the Philippines

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Now this is what I call a “big attempt” towards inviting Filipino Kdrama fans to have their own “space” in the world of Hallyu Wave in the Philippines.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Korean-Drama-Society-in-the-Philippines/197312633614495

This facebook page is an initiative to form an umbrella group for individuals and groups who are fans of Korean dramas. As much as KPop has been gaining a high level of attention in the Philippines, there hasn’t been an organization that caters to Filipinos who love Korean TV Drama Series and Artists.Korean dramas have crossed the Philippine shores since 2003, long before KPop music and artists gained their popularity. While KPop organizations have been mushrooming throughout the country, it’s only proper to have a group where all Filipino KDrama lovers would “feel at home” and freely interact.

As a staff of the Korean Cultural Center  (with headquarters currently located in the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the Philippines), it is a personal delight to hope for a day when there will also be a recognized organization catering to Pinoy KDrama aficionados.

Here’s a brief background on Kdramas in the Philippines.

Since Endless Love I: Autumn in my Heart (가을동화) in 2003, Korean dramas have been a vital part of Philippine TV shows, providing its sponsor channels with good ratings. To date, there are approximately 136 Korean dramas dubbed in Filipino and aired in leading local channels: GMA Network 7 and its sister channel QTV 11, ABSCBN 2 and sister channel Studio 23, and TV5 (formerly ABC 5). More than ten recent Korean dramas are lined up to be shown this year including Cinderella’s Sister (신데렐라 언니), My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (내 여자친구는 구미호) and even My Princess (마이 프린세스), which is still airing in Korea now.

Koreanovelas, as Filipinos fondly call Korean TV drama series, have been culturally integrated in the Philippine society for the past seven years. Some of the highly rated series were replayed last year, like My Name is Kim Sam Soon ( 내 이름은 김삼순) and Princess Hours (궁). A number of dramas also had a Filipino remake, the latest being Green Rose (그린 로즈). As a Philippine Studies professor in the University of the Philippines Diliman observed,

…The  tremendous popularity of Koreanovela on Philippine television comes at a time when a significant number of Korean students come to the country to learn intensive English. The curiosity of Korean culture is heightened and the interface  between Filipino  and Korean  grows. To date, Filipinos  consider Korea  as  the  soap  opera capital  in  Asia  and  the  capital  of  digital  technology  as  well. All  these  references  to Korea  as  capital contribute  to  a  level of  exoticization  in  terms of how Filipinos  construct  and  interpret  the Koreanovela from their point of view. (Flores 2006)

With Korean pop culture advancing in the country and Filipino fans growing in number, Hallyu will definitely continue to be cultivated in Filipino hearts.

The term “Koreanovela” was coined following the popularity of Mexican and Asian television drama series in the Philippines. The term telenovella is a combination of the word ‘television’ and the Spanish term ‘novella’, which has the same meaning with ‘novel’ in English, thus making telenovellas refer to television dramas airing in longer periods of time. Add the name of the place of origin and we get “Mexicanovela”, “Chinovela” and “Koreanovela”.

Mexicanovelas (‘Marimar’, 1995) were the first to have successful runs in the country but after the first phenomenal Chinovela came in the Philippines (‘Meteor Garden’, 2002), the Filipino audience warmly accepted more drama series from other parts of Asia, Koreanovelas becoming their top favorite.

Korean dramas have found their way in Philippine television since 2003. The first Filipino-dubbed Korean drama aired in 2003 was Bright Girl (명랑소녀 성공기) but the one that gained popularity on the same year was Endless Love I: Autumn in my Heart (가을동화).

Since then, Koreanovelas have become a significant part of the daily schedule of leading TV channels in the Philippines. In this generation, there is no day when you cannot encounter a Korean drama (also called K-dramas) in Philippine television.

I wish one day, there would be a recognized organization for Kdrama enthusiasts in the Philippines 🙂

Daemul’s OTP: Epitome of An Adorable Mature Love

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Photo collage credits to Greener, Screencaps to Joynara & others in Soompi

Yes, to me, this is a perfect picture of a very adorable mature love.  Since watching Dae Jang Geum (the first korean drama I’ve seen in full), I’ve always been inclined to appreciating dramas depicting characters in deep “mature love” than those wallowing in shallow conflicts and with feet dancing to the tune of cha-cha, going back and forth with cursing and liking.

Something I’ve read from a Live Journal link, thanks to Joynara of Soompi (Sorry, I don’t have time to search for that link and quote the exact words used), caught my attention. The writer mentioned something about romantic plots in Kdramas. To his/her observation, there are two kinds of romantic plots that dominate in Kdramas: one with characters who start as enemies and develop as lovers and one with a character that worships the road that the other treads upon from beginning to end. I must say that the first brings more action and excitement to a story but the latter is more likely to make you cry in awe of an unwavering devotion.

That is what I loved in Daemul’s OTP (Side note: It’s because of Daemul and the posts at Soompi that I found out about this acronym for One True Pair. And I call myself a Kdrama queen?). They did not actually present a unique love story, but something in their relationship showed a kind of freshness that will make you watch their scenes together over and over again.

Ha Do Ya and his hundred and one percent devotion

If there is a man on earth like him that I know, I might not be able to stop myself from pleading the throne of God to give him to me!

His love and devotion is as solid as a rock that stood hundreds of years. He fell in love at first sight of Seo Hye Rim sitting in a provincial bus, smiling widely while practicing lines for a news broadcaster recruitment screening.  He went out of his way to help this woman he doesn’t even know and risked his life for her as he rode his motorbike in jetlike speed. He fought for this woman and was even jailed without her knowing what exactly he went through after bringing her to the bus station in time to catch the last ride to Seoul and make it to her exam.

He knew that at his state that time, he wouldn’t even be qualified to hold out a rose before this woman with a promising career. His was a life led in uncertainties and playfulness. After a life-changing encounter, he pledged to give out all his best and become a respectable prosecutor. First for his father. Second for that unforgettable woman whose super cute photo in Snowhite costume he posted on the first page of his major law book.

The journey wasn’t easy but he surpassed all the struggles and went straight to Seoul with his prosecutor certificate at hand, ready to be presented to the only woman he’s seriously adored Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall ever since he met her. Only to be crushed with the sight of this woman cuddling her husband-to-be.

He could have left that place and vowed to forget her. But he didn’t. He might have tried, while playing with countless women around, but he just couldn’t. The sound of her voice and the echoes of her name on both television and radio have kept that love alive.

And when that woman’s husband left this world, he showed, again, his steady devotion. I’m sure that despite the awkwardness of him supporting his love who mourns deeply for the loss of her own love, a gleaming hope was born in the corner of his heart. A shining anticipation for a possibility of a dream becoming fulfilled. But he covered that hope and instead gave her selfless support and protection. He didn’t mind being unnoticed while holding out an umbrella for her who cries out her heart in the rain. He didn’t mind getting bruised for her on his first day of assignment in his new office. He didn’t mind playing with and making his rival’s son happy. He didn’t mind getting all those mosquito monster attacks just to protect that son of hers. He didn’t mind the shame in front of his staff while releasing that desperate order to block her from leaving the country. He didn’t mind pretending he didn’t care when she confronted him of his obvious feelings for her. Nor did he mind getting stabbed and face death just to save her.

His love was consistent and very supporting. He’s not perfect but he was always sincere about his feelings for her. He waited patiently. He gave her strength even during times when he doesn’t have enough for himself. He always rushes to her side and doesn’t mind getting soaked on a heavy downpour or getting smashed with flying eggs. He did not even go far away when she harshly refused his help. Nor did he show any sign of enormous disappointment at her who did not recognize his shaking voice while making that desperate call on the night of his father’s death.

He just stood like a fortress for her. Bringing food for her every time. Enthusiastically feasting on her cooking even when his stomach is about to burst. Thoughtfully preparing an extra pair of pants for her to use when riding his motorbike. Bringing her to places of comfort in the midst of confusion and pain. Laughing with her. Crying with her. Shouting with her.

He just held her hand with all the warmth that his whole being can give. Even when she refused his proposal for a lifetime of partnership, support, care and protection, he kept coming back for her.

 

He learned to be content with her hugging his back every time they ride his motorcycle. He learned to just pour out his love on her despite the scrutiny and rejection. He was okay with a once in a while sweet return of affection even if what he is doing is actually a flooding of adoration.

His stability, dependability and unwavering love for her were too great to contain. All these qualities were portrayed while he washed her feet. It was not surprising to hear if he was willing to wait for five or ten more years before finally claiming her as legally his own. He has waited a lot and has nothing to lose anymore (except for age). Nothing can threaten that love, nothing can break his ultimate devotion for that one woman whom he fondly calls “Ahjumma”.

 

Seo Hye Rim and the genuine purity of her heart

To me, she was not actually an outstanding woman. Well, since Go Hyun Jung carried her character, of course, she’s superbly gorgeous, but on the other hand, she is not the type of “being too good to be true”. Maybe because I have friends who live out their principles with dignity and strength like she does so she did not really come extraordinary for me.

But I admire at how she honored her husband. She could have fallen easily into the trap of loneliness and be tempted to accept Do Ya’s love earlier, but she showed how she was also a true loving wife. And she knew how to be fair towards Do Ya and his father.

I loved how she balanced between accepting Do Ya’s support (well, she didn’t have much choice given her situations) and maintaining an invisible line between friendship and romantic relationship. That’s not easy. Though they have grown to be very comfortable around each other, she knew where they both stand. And when she finally realized that she had fallen for him, she still constrained herself. (If that was me being showered with all the care and affection, I could have allowed him to hug me all night after a long tiring day. But of course, that is me who can’t even sleep without a teddy bear or a big pillow to hug!).

And she has her own ways of showing both her gratitude and love. I was one with the crowd who collapsed the day she admitted her love for him in public (though I would have preferred her using the term “love” rather than “like” when she said “I don’t know when it started but I have come to like him too.” Well, that’s part of Korean culture and language. Got no right to complain, haha!). I was also one of the countless fans who rewinded almost a hundred times their scene with her initiating a soft kiss on his lips in the middle of a field filled with Presidential guards (whom I bet knew what was going on despite their backs turned at the the couple surrounded with many ants hungry for a sweet delicacy).

She lived out a kind of purity that is hard to maintain in this corrupt and self-serving world. That purity was not just evident in the way she handled politics, but more so in the way she accepted Do Ya in her life. She was true to herself, to her husband and to her son. It all showed with the symbolic items she carried when she was dangerously on board with the hostages she was trying to save. She treasured her husband. She dearly loved her son. And she hanged on to Do Ya’s love as her living and present source of strength. Yes, for a long time, she needed Do Ya as a friend, but when the time came that she had to face all the consequences that comes with admitting her own feelings and returning his love, she did not hesitate to let it all out. Others may call the public declaration of her love for Do Ya as a campaign strategy, but I would call it pure honesty. She wants to be clean and clear inside and out. She could have just ignored the scandal and made excuses for that video, but she chose to confront her critics and enemies with fearless eyes. She could have chosen other ways to protect herself and Do Ya, but she decided to declare the truth and finally love Do Ya in the open.

Another option was to marry Do Ya before she got elected. Though that is, of course, complicated, she could have just chosen that option since she really did love Do Ya. But she didn’t want to be unfair between Do Ya and the Korean citizens. Her heart may be big enough to love both, but she knew that she can only devote herself to one at a time.

A Wise and Faithful Love Beyond Age


Sometimes I’ve been thinking over the kind of love that happens because the other person is so in love with you. In my aunt’s words, that would be “opportunism”. But as I look back to the love story of these two characters, I realize that it was not really who loved first or who loved more that matters. I realize that it’s all in the faith and confidence in each other developed while going through a series of struggle and pain. It’s in the ability to wait in respect of the other’s feeling or condition. It’s in the ability and firmness of decision to stay consistent and true. It’s in the enduring desire to protect the other person regardless of the weather, the position, the situation.

It is in that confidence beyond distance and time that makes a love mature between two people with similar yet different aspirations.

Daemul made me want that kind of love. That kind of adoration that doesn’t have to be manifested in a passionate kiss. That kind of pure devotion that can be simply communicated by holding the other person’s hand. Softly. Warmly. Steadfastly.

—-End——

Next writing project: “The Day the Word ‘Ahjumma’ Sounded Sweet to Me”

My Korean Drama List (Top 10 and Others)

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I’ve been watching Korean dramas since mid-2005. Since then I was hooked. And I guess detaching will take me almost forever.
My Top Ten Dramas of All Times

  1. Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace)
  2. City Hall
  3. Pasta
  4. Daemul (whether it ends great or not)
  5. Star’s Lovers
  6. On Air
  7. Princess Hours (Goong)
  8. Endless Love: Winter Sonata
  9. You’re Beautiful
  10. My Name is Kim Sam Soon

A common denominator I noticed in most of my top choices  is having “empowered female leads” (Seo Jang Geum, Shin Mi Rae (City Hall), Seo Hye Rim (Daemul), Seo Yoo Kyung (Pasta), Oh Seung Ah (On Air) and Kim Sam Soon.  Well, I’m not saying they are totally independent of men. But they are not much of the “Cinderella” or “Candy” type of characters as drama critics would call the meeker women in dramas of the 90’s. I wish I can grab an original DVD copy of all these 10 dramas, because I can watch them over and over and over again and won’t get enough of it. But so far, I’m very thankful that I have the City Hall DVD.  It’s my first ever original korean drama DVD.

Other Dramas I finished watching (in no particular order) until this month of the year:

  1. Endless Love: Autumn in My Heart
  2. Endless Love: Summer Scent
  3. Endless Love: Spring Waltz
  4. Love Story in Harvard
  5. Lovers in Paris
  6. When It’s At Night
  7. Goong S/ Prince Hours
  8. Full House
  9. Partner
  10. Coffee Prince
  11. 9 Ends 2 Outs
  12. Marrying a Millionaire
  13. Ms. Kim’s Million Dollar Quest
  14. The Man Who Can’t Marry
  15. General Hospital
  16. Gourmet
  17. Jumong
  18. Boys Over Flowers
  19. My Girl
  20. Beautiful Days
  21. I’m Sorry I Love You
  22. 1% of Anything
  23. Attic Cat
  24. Beethoven Virus
  25. Cinderella Man
  26. Lawyers of Korea
  27. Love Marriage
  28. Sweet 18
  29. The Painter of the Wind
  30. Which Star Did You Come From?
  31. When It’s At Night
  32. Fireworks (2001 SBS)
  33. Fireworks (MBC 2006)
  34. Papa
  35. Invitation
  36. Please Take Care of the Young Lady
  37. Air City
  38. HIT
  39. What’s UP Fox
  40. Bad Couple
  41. Personal Taste
  42. Queen Seon Dok
  43. Prosecutor Princess
  44. My Sweet Seoul
  45. I am Legend
  46. East of Eden
  47. Playful Kiss
  48. The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry
  49. Cinderella’s Sister
  50. Money War
  51. A Rosy Life
  52. Worlds Within (The World That They Live In)
  53. Shining Inheritance
  54. All About Eve
  55. Triple

More to come, for sure! Hope I to find time in writing about all these dramas.

Last week, I was wondering if I should get a job on watching and writing about dramas. I certainly won’t get bored and will work to the fullest! Haha! Me and my drama addiction. Tsk, tsk!

Unspoken but Answered Prayer: My City Hall Director’s Cut DVD Story

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What a happy day!

Out of my curiosity for the korean drama City Hall last year, I signed up in Soompi.com and since then, my days online became more exciting as I  got to know many good people across the globe.

I was often active in City Hall and Kim Suna’s soompi thread discussions whenever I would have the time to post comments. But one thing I avoided there was the exchange of thoughts and excitement towards buying the  limited edition of the City Hall director’s cut DVD  with all the heart-melting goodies that come with it. From the beginning I knew that I couldn’t afford to buy  such a package because in my country, the cost can be equivalent to almost a month’s salary. Since I was supporting my family, I couldn’t spare a big amount of money for the things I’m really fond of. And so, I just kept quiet whenever the “Inju citizens” would talk about how to get their copy of the DVD.

But one day, someone in Soompi sent me a personal message asking me if I am excited to receive the City Hall DVD parcel. Though I was a bit hesitant, I managed to give that person an honest reply about the reasons why I couldn’t buy this DVD set for myself.  Fifteen minutes after I sent the reply, I received a message from the same person telling me that I have to have my own DVD copy and that she is willing to send me the full amount so I can buy it.

I was shocked. I barely knew her and we only communicate online so I was really surprised with her offer. In all honesty, I was shy and I wanted to refuse it but in the end, I knew that I really wanted to have that DVD so I accepted her gift.

Last week, she sent the amount through international banking. As soon as I got it, I asked my Korean student to order the DVD for me. After two hours of processing the order, I was able to purchase the DVD package. Six days after, the parcel arrived in my hometown. My mother  sent me a text message informing me of the delivery. I was at work then (at a very stressful environment) but all the negative energy zapped out when I heard the great news. I still couldn’t believe receiving such a precious gift.

I opened the package with Dia, my long lost twin sister.  After work, I went straight to the hospital where she was confined (I hope she gets released today. She had serious problems with her throat.). I wanted so much to enjoy the gift with her.

A kid's excitement

Can’t remember when was the last time I was soooo excited like this.

The Gift

Dia's first hospital confinement

With my twin sister

The Poster with Signatures from the Main Cast

It was an unspoken prayer. A wish I just hid in my heart. I did not realize God was listening. I forgot that He wanted to shower me with big surprises because His love is as vast as the sky above. Thanks to the angel He sent to add joy in my heart 🙂

No Other Mayor Like That

“And most of all, 365 days out of the year, Mi Rae is never fake; she is always sincere and real. I have never once seen a mayor like that in my whole life.”- Jung Boo Mi to Jo Guk, City Hall Episode 9

Background: Jung Boo Mi, Mi Rae’s very close friend, said this to Jo Guk when the latter is trying to pay for/return the application fee that Boo Mi paid for Mi Rae to run for mayorship. Boo Mi refused to accept the money from Jo Guk because she herself believed that the money is not a waste and that Mi Rae can be elected as Inju City’s next promising Mayor. That money was all Boo Mi had, being an unemployed mother of three children, yet she was willing to put it all in the line.

These lines, to me, can only come out of someone’s untainted trust. And to be able to gain that trust doesn’t only mean that someone was a good friend. That kind of trust is not something seasonal that pops out when it is expected to. It is a kind of trust that is  (to be continued)