On the one Korean drama I can’t forget

Sometimes certain stories come into your life right when you need them the most. 

On December 14, 2017, I wrote that sentence and saved it to a draft titled ‘Lingering thoughts on Because This is My First Life.’ 

For the rest of 2018 I couldn’t remember what those lingering thoughts were.

Funnily enough, now, a year later, I do. Something about it being this time of year, with the holidays and New Year coming up, and with it, inevitably, all the conversations about family, memories, nostalgia, tradition — stuff that’s always made me nauseous — also made me remember the Korean drama Because This is My First Life.

I have, in many ways, been a thorn in my parents’ side for the past several years. I’ve broken from tradition in a number of ways, forcing them to scrap and rewrite the playbook of raising a Good Indian Girl time and time again. One of these ways is my being in a relationship that doesn’t, and will never, conform to their expectations. Trying to contort myself and my partner to fit into that mold continues to cause me great pain.

Because This is My First Life is a show that reached out and spoke to my heart one year ago, and it still does so today. With its main couple and their unconventional relationship, their love for each other challenged by tradition, their strained familial relationships — it’s a story that paralleled my life shockingly well. (Minus the, you know, whole contract marriage deal).

Both characters realizing what they value in themselves and in each other, and then acknowledging that those things are different from what their families value, was heart-bursting moment for me. 

The finale wasn’t about solving all of the issues and living Happily Ever After. It was an acknowledgement that relationships take honest work. And family might not always come around, but you can still be yourself and be happy. It’s okay to prioritize that happiness.

The last few minutes of the finale has some of my favorite lines in all of K-drama land:

계약 내용은 일년마다 갱신되지만 대전제는 항상 똑같아. 우리의 사랑은 최우선으로 할 것. 물론 일반적인 일은 아니다. 각자의 집으로 갔던 첫 명절에 어머니는 나에게 전화를 걸어 우셨고 우리 아빠는 상을 엎었다. 하지만 그게 다였다. 그 이상에 큰 일은 일어나지 않았다. 그냥 우리는 남들에게 또라이 부부가 되었고 그 만큼 우리의 생활에 충실할 수 있게 되었다.

결혼이든 비혼이든 혼인 신고를 하든 안 하든 무엇을 택해도 생각보다 그렇게 심각한 일들은 일어나지 않는다. 중요한 건 어떤 형태로든 옆에 있는 이 사람과 지금 이 순간을 함께 하는 건. 그래서 오늘도 우선 우리는 사랑만 하기로 한다. 그리고 지금 이 순간을 사는 여러분에게 모든 진심을 담아 건투를 빈다. 어차피 이번 생은 우리 모두 처음이니까.

Every year we renew our contract but the terms always stay the same. That our love will be our top priority. Of course, this is easier said than done. When we went to our separate homes for our first long holiday, my mother-in-law called me and cried over the phone and Dad flipped over the table. But that’s all. Nothing else happened. We simply became known as the weirdo couple to others and were able to stay true to ourselves that much more.

Whether you choose to get married or remain single, whether you choose to register your marriage or not, whatever you end up doing, the consequences are not as severe as you’d think. The important thing is that, whatever form it takes, you share this moment together with the person by your side. That’s why, once again today, we decided to love each other first and foremost. And to all of you living in this moment, with all of our hearts, we wish you good luck. Because, for all of us, this is our first life anyway.

I’m not a romantic and I certainly don’t believe that putting love first can solve all of your problems. But this message to me was more about staying true to yourself — you might disappoint others in your life, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to be a big deal. People will continue to live their lives.

If this is a hopelessly Western way of thinking, well, I’m not going to defend myself. For the most part, I still tend to live my life conforming, trying not to rock the boat, but some things are just too important.


Fun fact: I didn’t finish a single drama in 2018.

I say this as I watch Memories of the Alhambra on Netflix, so maybe 2019 will be different? Alhambra strongly reminds me of Nine (also now on Netflix), which I absolutely loved and have actually watched twice. But it also reminds me of Sword Art Online and Ready Player One, both of which I hate. Heh. So we’ll see if I stick with it. I’m two episodes in and I haven’t rolled my eyes too much yet.

I often tell people that Nine is the drama that pretty much ended all Korean dramas for me. In the five years since it ended, I’ve only finished three dramas — Signal, Age of Youth, and Because This Is My First Life.

Maybe I’m becoming more discerning? Picky? Impatient? I’m not sure. Nevertheless, I’ll continue to keep an eye out for another drama that charms me as much as First Life did.

Interview with Jung Yumi (Elle Korea 2018)

I’ve liked a lot of projects that Jung Yumi has been in, but the one I can’t forget is Que Sera Sera, her first TV drama. It’s possibly one of the most horrifying and hard-to-stomach (i.e. amazing) melodramas I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen it 2.5 times myself and the opening song still always gives me goosebumps.

That said, I think it was her role as Joo Yeol-mae in I Need Romance 2012 that really made me a fan. I was surprised at the frankness with which that show addressed love and female sexuality and relationships that didn’t conform to societal norms; plus, I have a soft spot for shows with female leads who have close circle of girl friends. Writing aside, I adored Jung Yumi’s punchy line delivery and the spark she gave her character. [Shameless plug: I’m currently captioning I Need Romance 2012 in Korean on Viki if you’re looking for a fun drama to study with.]

Last month, Jung Yumi wrapped up filming Live, her small screen comeback after four years. She was interviewed in this month’s Elle Korea on her past projects and her acting style in an article titled ‘정유미의 호흡’ (translated below).

Now, I’ve translated the article’s title (maybe too literally) as ‘Jung Yumi’s Breathing.’ 호흡 is an interesting word. It literally means breathing or respiration, but in the context of the article, it’s more referring to Jung Yumi’s laissez-faire way of doing things. She goes with the flow, marches to the beat of her own drum, so to speak.

Disclaimer: All copyright belongs to the original source. I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy.

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Interview with Gong Yoo (Elle Korea 2018)

Gong Yoo is one of those actors who consistently takes me by surprise and I’m not really sure why. He’s good and he picks pretty solid projects. I’ve seen (ahem!) five of his dramas and three of his films over the years and every single time I’ve found something beautiful and moving in his performance.

I’ll admit that I still have an embarrassing soft spot for Biscuit Teacher and Star Candy, but Coffee Prince is the one that will continue to stand the test of time. I still recommend it to Korean drama neophytes when they ask me for recs.

Speaking of time, good grief, how can it already be TEN YEARS since Coffee Prince aired?! Elle Korea published a brief interview with Gong Yoo where he reflects on one of the most beloved Korean dramas of the past decade and as well as his most recent success with Goblin.

(Disclaimer: All copyright belongs to the original source. I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

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Interview with Lee Min-ki and Jung So-min (Marie Claire 2017)

So 이번 생은 처음이라 / Because This Is My First Life wraps up this week. This interview came out in October, right before the show started airing so it’s kinda old news at this point, but I needed something to occupy me between episodes and it’s been ages since I’ve translated celebrity news anyway, so here it is.

Man, this drama. I came for the contract marriage trope (and also Lee Min-ki because I literally can’t remember seeing him in anything other than Dalja’s Spring) and stayed for the earnestness, the poignancy, the tender heartache present in all the characters.

Growing up, I thought a lot about love and marriage and how they relate to each other, given that my family feels one way about it and the society I grew up in feels the almost exact opposite. And now with those two worlds currently colliding in my life, this drama couldn’t have made a more timely arrival.

이번 생은 처음이라 will soon be the only Korean drama I’ve managed to finish in 2017. I may be speaking too soon, but I think it’ll be sticking with me for a long, long time after as well.

(Disclaimer: All copyright belongs to the original source. I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

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썸 타다

I love picking up new Korean slang.  Once you have a new word or phrase down, it’s like a whole new vista of meaning opens up.  All of a sudden, drama dialogue, radio shows, tweets, and forums start making more sense and you start hearing the word everywhere.

That’s how I felt when I learned 썸타다.

I first came across the word 썸 as the title of a popular song that was topping the charts about a year ago.  I thought it was a bit odd, but hey, a lot of songs have nonsensical titles, so I didn’t give it a second thought.  Funnily enough, the lyrics of the song describe EXACTLY what the title means, but I only discovered that recently.

Anyway, I’d been hearing the phrase ‘썸 타다’ over and over again in the drama 호구의 사랑 (Hogu’s Love).  It wasn’t until that scene where Hokyung presents “research” on the concept that it first occurred to me that this is some (pun intended!) type of slang.  Heh.  She says:

“‘썸’은 썸띵(something)에서 파생된 단어다. 시간이 돈인 현대 사회에서는 짧은 시간 안에 최적의 파트너를 골라내야 한다”며 연애하기 전에 이 사람이 나의 귀중한 시간과 돈을 써서 만날 가치가 있나 탐색하는 썸 타는 시기가 반드시 필요하다. 결론적으로 썸은 진화된 인류에 새로운 소셜 스킬이다.”

“‘Some’ is derived from the word ‘something.’  In this culture where time is money, and you have limited time to find a suitable partner, you want to be able to know if a person is worth your precious time and money before starting a relationship.  That’s why you need a period of investigation, when the two of you are ‘something.’  In conclusion, ‘some’ is a new social skill that humanity has evolved.”

So what exactly is 썸?  It defines a relationship status in which you’re scoping out someone as a potential long-term partner.  In American dating culture, this would be the phase when you’re casually seeing someone, but not committed to exclusivity.  I’m not sure if that concept exists in Korea (i.e. if you’re dating, are you automatically assumed to be a couple/exclusive?), so maybe that’s why this new term had to be invented.

Now while browsing Naver 지식in, I came across some users who suggested a slightly different, albeit not mutually exclusive, definition – and one that better fit the concept of the aforementioned song.  썸 seems to describe a relationship in which both parties are more than friends but not quite lovers.  They’re in a ‘flirtationship’ of sorts, but they’re not officially together.  They might do special, couple-y things together but insist to others that they’re ‘just friends.’  But you’re not just friends.  And you’re not exactly lovers.  You’re some(썸)thing to each other.

Oh boy.  When I read that – well, I’ve been in 썸-type of relationships myself… For a time it’s all fun and giddy, but ultimately it’s not sustainable.  After a period of time, you’ll always get to a crossroads.  Do I actually want to be in a relationship with this person?  Or are we good as just friends?  Sometimes it sucks to give a definitive answer to that question, but doing so is better off for everyone’s mental health!