Annyeong (Hi), fancy a K-drama?

By Felicia Chong

Korean dramas or better known as K-dramas have quite the following in Malaysia. The k-drama bug bit me more than a decade ago. At that time, I was late in the game. I didn’t even know it was a big deal, though I thought it was strange that my friend’s little sister always insisted that she got her boxed sets of whatever k-drama she fancied (Coffee Prince anyone?) every time she went back home. Of course, I had watched my fair share of those Mandarin-dubbed K-dramas usually shown on TV when I was in high school but the interest was fleeting. When I left to further my studies abroad, that flimsy tie was completely severed and wasn’t missed.

My first viewing of K-drama in its original language was ‘You are beautiful.’ It was such a hit that until today I remember that wretched ‘pig-rabbit’ stuffed toy the hero made for his object of affection, who was a girl who pretended to be a man to join a band. Quite a popular trope in k-dramas, I kid you not. Why did I continue after watching such craziness? Instead of being thwarted, I ventured on to more K-dramas. Of better quality in terms of plot, I might add. It was like a thirst that couldn’t be slacked. The more dramas I watched, the more intriguing their world became to me. I ended up buying a fair share of those boxed sets myself. Sigh!

So what do I get out of watching these dramas? I would say, a whole lot! Because of it, I self-taught myself Korean as I was so enthralled by the language. I would note down oft-repeated phrases phonetically at first. But it wasn’t enough! I wanted to at least be able to write and read as well. I started memorising the Korean alphabet (Hangul) and practiced writing the characters meticulously. I listened more intently while watching and tried to read words in Hangul and every time I recognised a word, I did a dance mentally. K-pop music was the order of the day but that’s another story. As for pronunciation, I’d repeat certain scenes and parroted what was said. Pretty soon, I could even understand some of what oppa (a term of endearment for an older male) was saying without reading the subtitles. K-dramas were my lifeline to learning Korean as I obviously didn’t have any chingu-deul (friends) around to practice speaking with. When I had Korean students in my class, I’d sometimes try out some phrases and their shocked faces filled me with glee. To date, although I’m still not fluent enough to hold a full conversation in Korean, I can understand most common phrases at a casual level and am able to read at an elementary level. I do occasionally tell my language students of my foray into the Korean language to let them know I understand their challenges in learning a foreign language like English. The struggle is real, honestly.

K-dramas may not be everyone’s cup of tea and even I have become pickier in what I choose to watch as in ‘Ugh! You’re the horrid second lead from a drama I watched aeons ago, NEXT!’ For what it’s worth, they’ve opened a door to all things Korean to me: culture, food, skincare and even its own delightful quirkiness. I have laughed, cursed and cried, commiserating with the characters and when it ends, it’s like saying goodbye to an old friend. Oh well, the next K-drama awaits.