Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Do you also eat vicariously?


Lee Soo-kyung of a cable drama series “Let’s Eat.” / Courtesy of tvN

Food-centric TV shows becoming hot trend

Ha Jung-woo in “Hwanghae”
Choo Sa-rang in “Superman Returns”
Yoon Hoo in “Where Are We Going, Dad?”
Webtoon-based film “The Hungry Woman”
By Chung Ah-young

Yoon Hoo, the son of singer Yoon Min-soo, was catapulted to stardom by “eating voraciously” on MBC’s high-rating reality show “Where Are We Going, Dad?” Choo Sa-rang, the daughter of Korean-Japanese combat sports star Choo Sung-hoon, is winning the hearts of viewers mainly for her “eating” scenes on KBS’s variety program “Superman Returns.” Ha Jung-woo is often portrayed as an actor who is good at “meokbang,” a new broadcasting term in Korean, which means “eating well” on screen.

Watching someone eat on TV is becoming a bizarre trend in Korea. As “meokbang” gives viewers vicarious pleasure, a growing number of TV shows are competitively obsessed with providing eating scenes.

First aired in November, a cable drama series “Let’s Eat” on tvN, the first of its kind, has been gaining popularity. The show features the eating scenes of characters who live alone. Based on romance and everyday routines, the drama portrays the female character played by Lee Soo-kyung relishing eating. In the drama, Lee plays the role of a 33-year-old divorcee who is happy to be living alone. One of her pleasures is food. Goo Dae-young played by Yoon Doo-joon, a member of K-pop group BEAST, is another foodie who lives alone too.

Park Joon-hwa, producer of the drama, said that Korean dramas have lots of eating scenes in which conflict erupts or settles down. “The drama focuses on building relationships between strangers through having a meal and ultimately relieving their solitude. It portrays the process of how people improve relations via food,” he said.

“The Hungry Woman,” based on the eponymous webtoon, deals with a single woman’s life in her 30s and connects it with food. It has so far had more than 3.2 million views on Naver’s TV cast. Yoon Sung-ho, director of the film, said that the recent trend is adding eating scenes to the ordinary story. “Isolated individuals find consolation by seeing others eating. Meokbang is a symptom of our society’s loneliness,” Yoon said.

The recent fad in watching someone eating is attributed to an increasing number of the one-person households in Korea. According to Statistics Korea, one-person households represented 9.1 percent of the total in 1990, 12.9 percent in 1995, 15.7 percent in 2000, 20.2 percent in 2005, and 24.2 percent in 2010.

The steep rise is attributed to the increasing number of young singles in their 20s and 30s who leave their parents, as well as those who don’t marry or get divorced along with the elderly who survive their spouses. Cultural critics said that those who live alone feel loneliness and find more vicarious pleasure by seeing someone eating.

The trend was provoked by Afreeca TV, the online channel, which aired the live-streaming service of eating enormous amounts of foods by its broadcasting jockey since 2009.
CNN reported in February that the show hosted by Park Seo-yeon airs hours-long eating scenes. After eating various kinds of large quantities of food such as pizza or beef, Park talks to her fans in a chat room which accompanies her live-stream channel.
“A lot of my viewers are on diet and they say they live vicariously through me, or they are hospital patients who only have access to hospital food so they also watch my broadcasts to see me eat. Fans who are on a diet say that they like eating vicariously through me,” CNN quoted Park as saying.
The program’s fans are mostly women and her show is more popular with women than with men.
CNN also quoted professor Park Sung-hee of Ewha University’s Division of Media Studies as saying that for Koreans, eating is an extremely social, communal activity, explaining why the Korean word “sikgu” means “those who eat together.” And Koreans hate eating alone.

Following Japan?

For a long time, cooking and food have been a central element of fiction in Japanese TV dramas. Korean shows seem to follow Japanese social and cultural trends to some degree.

In the 2000s, Japan’s NTV aired “Food Fight,” a popular drama series, based on an eating competition, and revolving around love and friendship. Also, “Late Night Diner,” which was first broadcast in 2009, deals with customers who come to a restaurant which opens at midnight. In the drama, people with diverse stories share them with others while eating.

Also, “Lonesome Gourmets” began airing its season 3 in 2012, and “Ms Hana’s Cooking” portrays a housewife’s cooking recipe, while “Just Eating” focuses on the eating binges of a man and a woman.

However, this is a cultural difference compared with TV shows from Western countries. On Western TV, cooking or food on screen is basically nonfictional, usually seen in teaching how-to-cook to the audience, except for cases in which characters gather to eat in a certain restaurant or bar.
Source: The Korea Times

Throwing new light on old treasures (Korean Culture)


“Human Figure,” China, early 8th century

National museum’s latest acquisitions highlight traditional Asian art 

By Baek Byung-yeul

The National Museum of Korea (NMK) has been ambitious in purchasing of Asian artworks since moving into its massive complex in Yongsan, downtown Seoul, in 2005. The museum’s new exhibition, "New Acquisitions of Asian Art," provides the first glimpse into this expanding collection.

The display features 66 items, including highly-rated treasures from China, Japan, India and Southeast Asian nations. They represent the cream of the crop of the museum’s assemblage of non-Korean artifacts, now at around 400, says NMK director Kim Young-na.

"I think this will provide a great opportunity for visitors to expand their knowledge of the artistic heritage of other Asian nations and celebrate the diversity in cultures," Kim said.
“Goddess,’’ India, 10th century

About half the artifacts in display are from China, from the bronze ware of Shang Dynasty (1,600 B.C.-1,046 B.C.) to artworks of Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). For visitors, sophisticated ceramic works, paintings and calligraphies can be educational as they are beautiful, with the museum providing a smooth explanation on how Chinese styles influenced the artifacts of Korea in respective periods.

''Human Figure,’’ an 8th century pottery piece from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), could be argued as the highlight of the museum.

The 37.7-centimeter horse-rider figure with fading colors is valuable because it is believed to depict a woman, judging from the round cheeks, beardless chin and make-up on the lips.

"It’s notable that the woman is dressed in male attire for horse-riding. These were during a time when horse riding became more common among women and male garments would have been more convenient for such activities than women’s dresses of that time," said one of the curators at the museum.

The museum’s new acquisitions from Japan include pottery, masks and paintings from the Edo Period (1603-1867).
“Merrymaking in a Grand Mansion,” Japan, 17th century
/ Courtesy of NMK

“Merrymaking in a Grand Mansion,” 2.8-meter long folding screen painting created in the 17th century, is another must-see, portraying people of high social status enjoying themselves in a luxury leisure mansion. There are people dancing to music and playing card games and women taking a bath.

"Goddess," a 10th century statue from India, is one of the eye-catching artifacts in India and Southeast Asian art corner, most of which are about Buddhist arts.
The 81-centimeter-tall statue is made of red sandstone and is notable for its voluptuous description of the female body.

Other than Indian arts, statues of Buddhist gods and goddesses from Thailand and Indonesia are also displayed, representing each country’s independent characteristics in Buddhist art.

The exhibition runs through June 22. For more information, call (02) 2077-9552 or visit

Love is __?


institute invites complaints from sexual minorities

By Chung Hyun-chae, Park Ji-won, Nam Hyun-woo

Love seemed to be a universal concept that embraced all. Recently, however, a national institute released a new definition of the concept that excludes minorities, in particular same-sex partners.

The National Institute of the Korean Language (NIKL) came out with a new definition of the word love — a feeling or affection for a person of the opposite sex.

According to the institute, which establishes language policies and updates the national dictionary, the concept of love exists only between a man and a woman, except when referring to love for friends, family, inanimate objects or country. The NIKL announced the new definition on March 31.

This is not the first time the institute changed the meaning of the word. Love used to be defined as a “feeling or instance of longing passionately for a partner of another sex by being attracted to the partner’s allure.” Five university students asked the NIKL to expand the definition because it seemed “discriminative to sexual minorities.” Thus, in November 2012, it replaced the phrase “partner of another sex” with “somebody.”

Given that Korean society is still closed for the most part to sexual minorities, the NIKL’s move was a bold step toward acknowledging that same-sex partners can love each other in a romantic or sexual way.

However, the institute’s decision invited complaints, mostly from conservative Christian groups. The Commission of Churches in Korea urged the institute to scrap the revision in October, saying, “Deleting ‘partner of another sex’ from the definition of love can be interpreted as defending homosexuality.”

In response, the NIKL said the revision was not intended to promote homosexuality, but to reflect the current use of the word in Korean society. Nevertheless, the institute said it will review the definition of love once again and change it to reflect conventional perception.

“We change the meaning of words after receiving revision requests from many people through various means such as the Internet and telephone,” said an NIKL researcher surnamed Han.

The NIKL reviews the definition of words every quarter. During the reviews, researchers and linguists discuss the definitions based on their use and opinions from citizens and experts.

Han explained that the institute’s latest revision of the definition of love reflects opinions that the term “somebody” was too broad and vague.

“If they changed the meaning based on ordinary usage, they had to stand by that revision,” a Korean language teacher at a university said on condition of anonymity. However, the teacher questioned how much people’s use of the word love could have changed significantly in less than two years.

The Solidarity for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights of Korea released a statement on March 31 that limiting the meaning of love to something that exists only between a man and a woman clearly discriminates against sexual minorities.

“The NIKL’s move is against the new Korean society, which accepts differences,” it said in the statement.

Young Koreans interviewed agreed that defining love is quite difficult but that the definition of love should not be limited in terms of gender.

“When I was younger, I believed there was only one type of love — Eros,” said Hwang Dan-bi, 23, a senior at a four-year college.

She said she is straight but doesn’t think the word love should be defined as a feeling only between a man and a woman.

“As I grew older, I realized that love isn’t just about the heart beating fast. I think love can be enjoying delicious food, strolling down a street and sharing thoughts with someone else.”

“If I share those feelings with a friend of the same sex, shouldn’t I call it love?” Hwang asked.

She said she has a number of gay and bisexual friends whom she met during her stay in Canada last year. At that time, she realized that people of other sexual orientations are no different from straight people.

“They longed for love and boasted about what they did with their same-sex partners. And they were excited to plan their next dates, just like me. If the word love is defined as affection between a man and a woman, what should we call their feelings then?” she said.

A college freshman surnamed Lim, a lesbian, also said love is just an honest emotion.

“I can express my feelings, without display, to my girlfriend. We are just who we are to each other, and we are not just same-sex friends. I think it is love,” Lim said.

Regardless of one’s sexual orientation, some people say that love doesn’t have one exact definition. They have their own meaning of love based on their experiences.

“Love is the feeling of deep affection toward all creatures,” said Gil Min-sub, 29, an office worker.

“I think love is an irrational, illogical emotion because it is something that’s hard to define,” said Kim Yeon-joo, 24, a college senior.

Older citizens interviewed, however, have mixed opinions about the NIKL’s new definition of love.

“I am a Christian, so I’m just being honest when I say I’m anti-gay,” said a civil servant in her 50s. “But I’m still unconvinced that deleting the phrase ‘partner of another sex’ promotes homosexuality,” she said.

“In Korea, love is still widely considered as a feeling between people of opposite sexes. If the NIKL reflects that, then it’s an appropriate move,” Kim Chang-hwan, 48, said.


Should we define love?


Renowned linguist Roland Barthes said language is “quite simply fascist.” This is because words affect how people perceive a concept. When we refuse to accept a different meaning of a word and regard it as wrong, we are tacitly allowing ourselves to be compromised by discrimination.

As the NIKL said, a word’s definition should reflect its current use. However, many people have pointed out that the NIKL’s new definition of love disregards the existence of sexual minorities in the country. It implies that a gay couple’s relationship is not love even though they do the same things a straight couple does.

Barthes also said, “To try to write love is to confront the muck of language; that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive and impoverished.”

A gay man in his 30s who declined to be named said love is a simple, unsophisticated feeling.

“For me, the feeling of love isn’t something big. It is the feeling of wanting to take off my jacket and cover my partner because the weather is cold,” he said.

“I think love is the desire to take good care of someone, which comes from the heart,” he added.

Perhaps this issue may be meaningless to those who do not have a special someone, but it is nevertheless something worth thinking about. 
Source : The Korea Times

Sunday, March 23, 2014

North Korean Defectors Ambivalent About Life in the South


Many North Korean defectors in South Korea are satisfied enough with their life in the South to bring their family over but feel that fierce competition and discrimination are hard to overcome. Their feelings remain ambivalent even after a considerable time spent living here.

Pundits say this failure to integrate fully into South Korean society must be addressed before reunification.

In a survey by the Chosun Ilbo of 200 North Korean defectors at the end of January, 71.5 percent said they are satisfied with their life in the South, compared to 22.5 percent who said neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, and 4.5 percent who are not satisfied.

Ninety-one percent of the respondents said they are familiar with the ways of South Koreans, with 63 percent describing themselves as South Korean. Only 25 percent still identify themselves as North Koreans and 10 percent as neither.

Asked whether they would like to bring family members from North Korea here, 51 percent said they will do so as soon as possible and 42.5 percent if they get the opportunity.

Most said their image of South Korea improved once they got here, with 82 percent, as against a mere 5.5 percent who said it got worse. Most North Koreans in other words are adapting to the life here reasonably well and comfortably.

Freedom and affluence were cited as the most satisfying elements of life in the South.

North Korean defectors walk across a crosswalk in Seoul. North Korean defectors walk across a crosswalk in Seoul.
Kim Hee-jae was originally from Tokchon, South Pyongan Province, where it was "still hard to feed myself in the North despite working in the mine for 20 hours a day. Now in the South, I can earn according to how much I work, and I can even save a little."

Kim Yong-hwa came from Pyongyang. "I used to get stopped and checked seven times every time I went to Sinuiju from Pyongyang, but here I can travel freely without having to worry about the police."

Cho Kyong-il, who now studies in a South Korean university, said, "At first, South Korean society was strange, but now I'm totally adapted to it. After a few years, young North Korean defectors will fully adapt to the economic and social system of South Korea."

But many defectors are economically disadvantaged here and suffer discrimination. Only 26.5 percent of the respondents earned more than W1 million (US$1=W1,068) a month, or roughly the minimum wage, while 45 percent said they earn nothing and 18.5 percent that they make less than W1 million.

Just 27 percent had permanent jobs, and 46.5 percent had never worked here or were unemployed at the moment. Only 25 percent worked at least 20 days a month and 27 percent eight hours or more per day.

Many also complain that prejudice and discrimination against North Koreans can make them feel like second-class citizens.

Kim Song-chol from Nampo said, "There is serious discrimination against North Korean defectors and rigid social stratification. Moving up the social ladder into the middle or upper-middle class is virtually impossible."

Some defectors who come from the North Korean elite or have a good education manage to make a good life here, but those who do not struggle to adapt.

Jong Kwang-song from Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province. "Because competition is so fierce in South Korea, it's hard to survive and adapt." And Park Chung-kwon from Hamhung added, "South Koreans are not friendly to those who are different and tend to treat them as outcasts."

Song Won-jun was shocked how many people commit suicide in the South. "People are so individualistic, inhumane, and cold-hearted." He said

Source: The Chosun Ilbo English News

Cherry Blossom to Bloom Later This Year


Cherry blossom will start to bloom about two or three days later than usual this year and five days later than last year, due to the cold temperatures in early March, the Korea Meteorological Administration said.
Cherry blossom at a stream in Busan on Thursday /News 1 Cherry blossom at a stream in Busan on Thursday /News 1
This year's temperature in the period was 3.4 degrees Celsius on average as against the average of 3.8 degrees.

According to the weather agency, cherry blossoms will start to bloom on March 27 starting with Seogwipo, Jeju, spreading to southern parts of the mainland from April 1 to 12, central parts from April 7 to 11, and northern Gyeonggi and Gangwon Provinces after April 10.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Samsung unveils upgraded Galaxy


Shin Jong-kyun, president and CEO of Samsung Electronics’ IT and Mobile Communications Division, gives a presentation on the flagship Galaxy S5 smartphone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Tuesday. Samsung unveiled the Gear Fit, a fitness band, Sunday, in a move to strengthen its presence in the wearable devices market. / Courtesy of Samsung Electronics

S5 armed with fingerprint scanner, heart-rate sensor

By Choi Kyong-ae
BARCELONA ― Samsung Electronics Monday unveiled its latest Galaxy S5 smartphone equipped with a larger screen and fingerprint scanner.

At the “Unpacked 5” event held at the Mobile World Congress here on Monday, the Korean technology giant introduced the new flagship phone which focuses on basic features such as photo-taking, download speeds and battery life.

It comes with a 5.1-inch display, wider than the 4.99 inches of its predecessor, the Galaxy S4. Features such as waterproof and dust-resistant capabilities and a fingerprint scanner are newly added to the latest model.

Analysts say the lack of wow factors may disappoint some consumers because top-tier players such as Samsung and Apple have surprised the world with bold innovations in their flagship phones.

How the new phone is taken by the market will determine Samsung’s future earnings growth in an ever-saturating smartphone market.

Samsung’s decision to adopt a fingerprint scanner in the Galaxy S5 was hailed by some participants at the event. But others said they were not impressed by the “familiar” technology as they expected something more dramatic from it.

Apple already introduced the finger-scanning function in its iPhone 5S last year. The technology allows users to unlock their phones with the press of a finger. 

“Innovative features do not mean everything … but I expected bold features such as an iris scanner,” a project development manager at Inatel, Brazil’s state-run telecom institute, told The Korea Times on the sidelines of the annual trade show, which lasts through Feb. 27. 

However, Samsung went practical this time with the new phone given what its mobile chief said during the event. Samsung apparently came up with a streamlined product by eliminating some flashy but little-used functions.

“People are easily excited about the newest and latest technology, and we are working on that too. But our philosophy is to listen to consumers,” said Shin Jong-kyun, president and CEO of Samsung’s IT and Mobile Communications Division.

“What we have learned is surprisingly simple in this ever-changing industry. We can only succeed when consumers choose us. Our consumers want durable design and performance, yet powerful cameras, faster and seamless connectivity and to stay fit,” he said.

To meet the demands, Samsung has improved camera functions, enhanced wireless capabilities and bolstered fitness- and health-related apps in the Galaxy S5.

The new smartphone comes with a 16-megapixel camera which enables a user to take a picture in 0.3 seconds, as well as other functions available on the digital SLR cameras favored by professional photographers.

The “download booster” function linked with the Long-Term Evolution and Wi-Fi services will help boost download speeds by nearly five times. And the Galaxy S5 has a heart-rate sensor, the first of its kind for a smartphone, for a regular checkup by the user.

Last but not the least, Samsung introduced Gear Fit to take the lead in the wearable devices market. The fitness band came on the heels of the release of the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo. The two computerized wristwatches are powered by the Tizen operating system being developed by Samsung and its partners to challenge the dominance by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. All Samsung phones run on Android.   

Still, wearable devices won’t likely to be an immediate growth driver for Samsung though Apple and Google are expected to join the wearables market later this year. Sony is also a leading player in wearables. Another worry for Samsung is cheaper smartphones offered by Chinese competitors.

Given everything, betting big on the Galaxy S5 does make sense for Samsung. It remains to be seen whether the new product will help boost slowing smartphone sales.

Samsung sold 320 million smartphones last year, followed by Apple’s 153 million units and Sony’s 38 million units, according to Strategy Analytics.
Source: The Chosun Ilbo

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bags of charm


A peek into the Simone Handbag Museum

By Kwon Mee-yoo of The Korea Times

The average male might consider the handbag an unnecessary element of everyday life. And that would be one of the many reasons why women consider them, well, idiots.

When it comes to understanding why the handbag is so valuable and essential to women, men have always been left at something of a loss. But French thinker Jean-Claude Kaufmann offers to help.

“The handbag is a key piece in the day-to-day construction of identity,” Kaufmann once said, expressing his unique interest and insight into the item in his book “Le Sac, un Petit Monde d’Amour (The Bag, a Small World of Affection).”

“Veritable extension of the self, the handbag accompanies a woman throughout lots of life events, while stocking many of her intimate memories.”

Park Eun-kwan, president of local handbag company Simone, subscribes to Kaufmann’s theory that the handbag is much more than just a fashion statement — it’s an extension of one’s personality. While the company manufactures products for global fashion houses like Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Coach, Park’s ambition is to launch his own brand, named “0914,” by 2015.

But before taking that critical step, Park wanted the opportunity to step back and examine the culture and history of the handbag and put them in meaningful context. The result was the Simone Handbag Museum on Garosu-gil in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, which explores how an item that was supposed to be a functional complement to the wardrobe emerged as a key driver in the business of desire that is fashion.

At the museum, Park’s passion for handbags is evident. Even the building of the museum, which Park named as Bagstage, is shaped like a shopper bag. Aside of the museum, which is claimed as the world’s only museum entirely dedicated to handbags, the building is also home to Gallery 0914, an art exhibition space, and two fashion shops.

Museum for handbags 

The Simone Handbag Museum is located on the third and fourth floor of the building and features a variety of valuable items, such as 16th-century silk bags to the contemporary classic that is the Hermes Birkin Bag.

The third floor is highlighted by handbags manufactured in the early 20th century. Seeing how the shapes and function of the handbags changed through the course of time is a delightful experience.

“In the early 1900s, the ‘art nouveau’ style was in vogue and many bags are in elaborate curves. Then after the 1920s, the shape of bags became simpler as the designers focused on function of the bags. The famous gas mask bag used in Britain during the 1930s was also a product of necessity that reflected where society was at the time,” said Ko Ji-na, a curator at the museum.
The Simone Handbag Museum in southern Seoul is claimed to be the world’s only museum entirely dedicated to the handbag. / Courtesy of Simone

It was after the end of World War II when aesthetics became critical in the making of handbags. They became smaller and more decorative. A magazine-shaped clutch bag from the 1970s illustrates the influence of pop culture in design.

The shapes and designs of handbags have become more imaginative recently. Anne Marie’s Champagne Bucket Purse is a fun and deceptively elegant accompaniment to an evening dress, while the dog-shaped bags from Fuzzy Nation convey unique exuberance.

Recent products from the traditional fashion houses Chanel, Hermes, Coach and Gucci are also on display at the museum, highlighted by the Hermes Birkin, acquired by Park through an auction for about 100 million won (about $94,000).
Kim Yong-ho’s “The Woman is Going Into Her Bag”

The fourth floor takes visitors a further step back in history, highlighted by Western and Asian artefacts of the 16th century that could be considered as equivalents to the modern handbag.

“These bags, while beautiful, were defined by their functions. The perfumed sachets were necessary as these were times when people didn’t hit the showers every day. Some of the bags here aren’t really bags, but tie-on pockets attached to dresses, which were much more puffier than now,” Ko said.

As dresses got slimmer, bags increasingly became independent items and were designed with more sophistication. In the 20th century, the bags became sturdier, using metal frames and leathers, Ko explained.
Material Bazaar exhibition of the Simone Handbag Museum

Bag is psychology 

There is also a separate exhibition in the building’s basement, part of nine-segment project running through September of 2015, featuring some imaginative art work devoted to handbags.

The first part of the program, which is currently on display and will be until Dec. 29, is titled “Bag is Psychology,” featuring the works of photographers Kim Young-ho and Hong Jong-woo and psychiatrist Kim Hyun-chul.

On one wall, Kim Hyun-chul wrote his own ode to the handbag, inspired by Kaufmann’s writing, arguing that bags convey an unconscious part of their owners’ desire. So attempting to buy a new bag doubles as that person’s attempt to gain distance from her past, according to Kim.
The Bagstage building,where the museum is located

Kim Young-ho’s “The Woman is Going into Her Bag” is displayed in a space which resembles inside of a bag. Viewers have to walk through a slit of a bag to see Kim’s images printed on mirrors. Images of an opened bag and a naked woman are reflected on each other through the mirrors, which Kim says illustrates women’s urge to look into someone else’s bag.

Hong’s work is more dramatic, making subjects of his photos as heroines of a movie. He randomly interviewed people and asked what was inside their bag and took pictures of them.
A mannequin showing a Louis Vuitton creation

Bag stage also has Material Bazaar, which features some 8,000 different types of leather from cowhide to sharkskin, and offers four-week workshops to create a bag of one’s own.

Those not satisfied with just seeing all these handbags can make a purchase at the 0914 Shop on the first floor.

The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission is 5,000 won. For more information about the museum, visit or call (02) 3444-0912.