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Category Archives: Korea Blog

Korea Blog: The Vertiginously Satirical Sci-Fi of Bae Myung-Hoon’s Tower

Bae Myung-hoon’s Tower (타워) comprises six interlinked stories, which take place almost entirely within a single building inhabited by 500,000 people. To that setting I imagine Western readers reacting with the look of the stunned distaste I sometimes receive when, back in the United States, I describe the standard form of middle-class housing in Seoul: clusters of […]

Korea Blog: Hotels of Pyongyang, a New Photo Book on the Magnificent Kitsch of North Korean Hospitality

Despite having dominated the Pyongyang skyline for three decades now, the Ryugyong Hotel has never opened for business. Topped out as the end of the Soviet Union plunged North Korea into economic crisis, the building stood for most of that period as an angularly mountainous 105-story concrete husk. With a motionless crane still perched on […]

Korea Blog: A Beloved Children’s Story Turned Psychedelic Rural Reverie, Go Yeong-nam’s The Shower (1978)

Given the increasingly frequent attempts of late to overhaul the American Young Adult canon, I’m not sure how many kids read Bridge to Terabithia these days. But when I was a grade-schooler in the early 1990s, Katherine Paterson’s 1977 novel of a country boy and city girl who imagine their own fantasy kingdom apart from the adult […]

Korea Blog: A Star Trek Writer Pays Novelistic Tribute to the Korean Alphabet’s Creator, King Sejong the Great

Apart from the pop music, television dramas, and movies that have made so many international fans in the 21st century, no aspect of Korean culture has fascinated Westerners as much as the Korean alphabet. In fact, if Westerners know only one thing about Korea, they tend to know that its language uses an alphabet, not a set of […]

Korea Blog: The Agony and Ecstasy of Learning Korean, Expressed by Memes

Worldwide interest in the Korean language has grown to enormous proportions — enormous, at any rate, compared to twenty years ago, when it might as well have had no proportions at all. Even I felt little desire to learn Korean back then, despite my having given precious megabytes on my Diamond Rio over to several Koreanpop songs […]

Korea Blog: The Harrowing Films of Kim Ki-duk (1960-2020)

Kim Ki-duk died last month, and not for the first time. The coronavirus caused his death in reality, whereas his cinematic death occurred nearly a decade ago. It happened in Arirang (아리랑), a film Kim shot alone in a spartan countryside cabin to which he’d exiled himself for the previous three years. In it the filmmaker takes […]

Korea Blog: Leenalchi’s Pansori at the Disco

Last month my girlfriend and I visited Mokpo, a somewhat down-at-the-heels port town on Korea’s southwest coast, hoping to have a look at its Japanese colonial architecture and a taste of its tangtangi, a local specialty involving raw beef and still-twitching squid. Though Mokpo lacks Seoul’s density of screens, it has just enough of them to make […]

Korea Blog: Five Years a Seoulite

I haven’t lived in Korea long — just long enough to forget that I live in Korea. This presents something of a professional danger, given the supposed subject of so much of my work. But like writing about Los Angeles when I lived there, writing about Korea guarantees me frequent reminders that I do indeed […]

Korea Blog: Michael Gibb’s Island-Hopping Travelogue “A Korean Odyssey”

Modern South Korea made its orchestrated debut on the world stage with the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Since that time, the most memorable English-language travel narratives about this country have been written by Englishmen. Simon Winchester’s Korea: A Walk through the Land of Miracles, which came out the year of the Games, seems to remain the best-known, though […]

Korea Blog: Revisiting the Late Kevin O’Rourke’s “My Korea,” a Curious Memoir of a Land that Gets in the Blood

Western expatriates in Asia often see themselves as having missed out on their adopted homeland’s golden age. I arrived recently, just under five years ago, and have since heard much about how I really should’ve been here at the time of the World Cup, if not in the 1990s. Some time ago I met an […]