I’m obsessed with Korean drama and now it’s inspired my perfect escape from middle age

Gwangjang market in Seoul – Alamy Stock Photo

“Are you going to travel 5,000 miles with strangers on the Internet to see concrete underpasses where fictional things happened?” My plans for a vacation based on a Korean drama surprised some of my friends.

My love affair with Korean drama (or K-drama, as it is often known) began in April 2020 during the first Covid lockdown. In a family message group, my brother, who lives in Sydney, told us how his wife, Sarah, had been enchanted by a Netflix show called Crash landing on you.

He was amused by both the program and his interest in it, and between supervising the teenagers’ online lessons and making soup from old vegetables, I decided to give it a try. It took me two episodes to absorb the different conventions, but then I accepted it: this warm, witty, wildly romantic narrative offered the perfect escape from the pandemic.

Thanks to Gangnam Style and supergroup BTS addressing the UN, not to mention Blackpink’s recent attendance at a state banquet, K-pop’s cultural export may have a stronger foothold in the British consciousness than K-drama. There is some crossover between both the fandom and the artists. The two also share a refreshing refusal to limit themselves to conventional genre categorization and a strong commitment to the highest standards in their art forms, particularly in the aesthetic aspect.

Polly (right) and her friend Sarah recreating the K-Drama Goblin scenePolly (right) and her friend Sarah recreating the K-Drama Goblin scene

Polly (right) and her friend Sarah recreating the K-Drama Goblin scene

But is not fair What attracts me is the appeal of K-drama actors, it’s K-drama’s commitment to telling a complete story in a single series. The 16-hour episode format allows for total immersion in both location and character. Without relying on the hope of continuing seasons, their stories have a proper arc and conclusion; They are similar to reading a satisfying novel. In fact, since Romance is an extra book and When camellias bloom to Because this is my first life; Even his titles generate intrigue and shelf appeal.

Son Ye-jin as Yoon Se-ri in Crash Landing on YouSon Ye-jin as Yoon Se-ri in Crash Landing on You

Son Ye-jin as Yoon Se-ri in Crash Landing on You – Shutterstock

I broadcast my discovery to my local friends’ chat group. Most ignored my strange new obsession, but Liz, a neighbor down the street, fell in love the same way I did. With Sarah, we began a separate chat of daily cheerful exchanges about new dramatic discoveries, favorite actors, and the wackiest plot points. Liz and Sarah started studying Korean. I started reading Korean literature and making kimchi with my older vegetables.

And then, two and a half years later, with over 200 dramas watched each, we were ready to plan a real escape. Liz pulled out a map of Korea and started putting red thumbtacks and sticky notes in important places in our favorite shows. Our travel team grew, as Liz’s husband Matthew, who was not interested in Korean dramas but was interested in Korean history and infrastructure, and Diane, a friend she had made in another K-group chat online drama, they asked me to join us.

All of us, in our fifties and sixties, hoped that our common passion could last three weeks in each other’s company, helped by the non-negotiable requirement that all those not married have separate rooms.

The location wish list we submitted to our chosen travel company, Inside Asia, was eccentric and avoided many of the major temples, museums and palaces. Somehow, our advisor Sam made sense of it by creating a combination of three weeks of English-speaking guides, non-English-speaking drivers, bus tickets, train tickets and eight different hotels, to take us on a loop in the sense of clockwise across the country. for a luxurious mid-life version of a backpacking adventure.

Seoul is a must-visit citySeoul is a must-visit city

Seoul is a must-visit city – Alamy Stock Photo

I hoped to find real life in South Korea a different place from the virtual version I had spent so many hours inhabiting, so that my romanticism would disappear. A country is not a theme park and I was aware of some of its complications and contradictions. Instead, we arrived to a pink sunset over Seoul that set the tone for the rest of the vacation. We feel intoxicated by the overwhelming familiarity of the small screen. It was as if we had entered our own drama. “But it’s real! It’s really real! Incredible”, our constant mantra.

For three weeks the sun shone, transportation worked perfectly, and helpful guides found us the places we wanted to find. We sigh happily together over shuttered cafe facades, tunnel entrances, random flights of stairs, hospital lobbies, abandoned theme parks, pavilions with lily ponds, breakwaters, lighthouses, and more. Our nerdiest moment occurred at a ski resort convention center in the off-season, where we stopped by a bustling pharmaceutical sales conference to photograph a particular wall and section of carpet.

Us also We explored the few temples, museums and palaces we had allowed, slept on the floor of a traditional-style guesthouse or hanok, He wandered through fish and flea markets, rode bicycles, climbed mountains, paddled in the ocean, and walked through rice paddies and bamboo forests. He developed a secondary obsession with bright orange-fruited persimmons.

Tourists can stay in traditional-style guesthouses called hanoks.Tourists can stay in traditional-style guesthouses called hanoks.

Tourists can stay in traditional-style guest houses called hanoks – Alamy

We ate barbecue and bibimbap and bulgogi and I drank too much soju. We had chicken and beer by the river, banana milk and cup noodles. ramyeon outside a convenience store. We sing karaoke in the noraebang. Sarah and I even braved the “Nudity is Mandatory” women’s bathhouse, where every inch of me was scrubbed to a state of softness never seen before.

But it was the people around us who really made us feel like we were floating around the country in our own dramatic bubble. We spotted familiar character tropes on screen everywhere we went. There was the couple of high school students on the bus, heads together staring at a phone screen with their little fingers intertwined, the harried office workers taking smoke breaks on a skyscraper rooftop, the groups of elderly hikers. , walking along steep mountain trails with visors. and walking sticks, the mother tenderly placing her own food on her son’s rice bowl, the couple in matching outfits photographing themselves against the fall foliage, even the delivery man on a motorcycle swerving down an alley making pedestrians: us! – jumps out of the way.

The Cheonggyecheon River flows from west to east through central Seoul.The Cheonggyecheon River flows from west to east through central Seoul.

The Cheonggyecheon River flows from west to east through central Seoul – Alamy Stock Photo

We had gone to locate individual locations, but instead we found the entire country like an apparent movie set in action and ourselves wandering around as “extras” in the background.

we were noisy Additional features. During our sabbaticals from work, housework, and the various caring responsibilities that come with our stage of life, responsible for absolutely no one’s well-being or comfort but our own, we talked nonsense about dramas, actors, and our own lives. , we laugh out loud and often, and I don’t care if our trip made sense to anyone else or not.

Our enthusiasm must have been contagious. “I like to be on vacation with enthusiasts!” Matthew – or vacation Oppa as we baptize him using the Korean term to refer to an older brother or boyfriend, he said at one point with his characteristic generosity.

Squid Game is perhaps the most popular Korean drama to dateSquid Game is perhaps the most popular Korean drama to date

Squid Game is perhaps the most popular Korean drama to date – Netflix

Three days after the end of our trip we found ourselves leaving Yongin Daejanggeum Park. A permanent film set hidden in a mountainous rural area, 60 kilometers south of Seoul, used to make sageuk – Korean historical dramas, but also open to the public. We had a great time poking around the maze of ad hoc buildings that represent eras of the 6th- at 19th19th century Korea, we discovered places familiar to us from the many series filmed there, and the excitement increased when we found some forbidden areas and actors and film crew present.

It was as I was heading to the gift shop that I saw a tall figure emerging from the back of a large black minivan. I froze and let out the same guttural screech I had once made while hiking in Alaska after seeing a black bear up close. Sarah, was louder: “Rowoon! I’m your Australia fan! The shocked bear, or in this case, the 27-year-old K-pop idol-turned-lead actor, grabbed Sarah’s outstretched hand and hugged her before being pushed by her distraught manager into a building.

Our vacations always had a happy ending. In news that may surprise those who have only seen Squid Game, Korean dramas specialize in them. But, while the five of us screamed, laughed, and exclaimed together on the trip back to Seoul and beyond, it wasn’t so much the chance encounter with an impossibly handsome leading man that was the source of our jam-packed vacation finale. smiles, it was that we had experienced it together and we all understood the meaning. That was the real joy. The only very No- The question that remains about K-dramas is: will there be a season 2?

Polly and her friends traveled on a (very) bespoke tour organized by Inside Asia (0117 244 3380) which also offers a 12-night trip to the best of South Korea for £4,362 per person, including three-star accommodation, activities, varied meals and all domestic transport, but excluding international flights.

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