Crash course in romance - a bouquet of flowers with an open tiger lillie in the foreground, some close lillies to the side and a red rose standing tall at the back

2023 Grateful 42: Crash Course in Romance

I’ve never had a hankering to be anything but Irish. I’ve never coveted an accent or a way of life. Yes, I would like to spend more time in India but I don’t have any great desire to be Indian. I thoroughly enjoy going to Portugal, and yes, on occasion, when things here seem a tad too much, I could imagine myself living there (but only by the sea). I fell in love with Georgia but can’t see myself there, either. Right now, though, I’m taking a crash course in romance and have a thing for Korea.

Korea has never been on my list of places to visit. I knew little, if anything, about the country. That changed when during a Communications Bootcamp I ran a while back, a participant from Korea presented their home town, Suncheon. I found it fascinating. I thoroughly enjoy giving these workshops and always, without exception, learn from them. I added Suncheon to my list of places to visit and know I will get there one day.

A while later, that same participant showed up in an Accent Clinic I ran and this time, during a conversation, they told me they were hooked on a Korean TV show streaming on Netflix called Crash Course in Romance. I was curious. I checked it out and now I’m hooked too.

The series follows the bittersweet relationship between a banchan shop owner whose daughter enters the war of Korea’s college entrance exams, and a top hagwon instructor.

I now know that banchan are small side dishes served along with cooked rice (Score! I found a use for the six divided plates I found at a flea market). Rice and side dishes – that I could get used to. I also know that a hagwon is a for-profit private institute, academy, or cram school. Back in the day, in Ireland, Leeson Street was our hagwon.

The series is an eye-opener. I had no idea that competition was so fierce or that parents were so driven.

Well-known for its high-achieving students, South Korea’s education system is quite demanding. Students spend much of their time, often between 12 to 16 hours per day, at school or at a special after-school academy called a hagwon.

The mind boggles. Really it does.

I loved the clothes.

The series influenced Korean fashion. Gmarket and announced on March 13, 2023 that the flower patterned blouse of Nam Haeng-seon (played by Jeon Do-yeon) in the drama are gaining popularity. It was named as “Southbound fashion”. According to Gmarket sales data, the sales growth rate of retro fashion such as lace/ruffle blouses (67%), chiffon blouses (62%), and printed blouses (92%) was high during the airing of the drama.

Mind you, they’re all rail thin and would look good in a potato sack.

I’m being drip-fed a new episode every Sunday and am now just two shy of the final.

You have to watch it in Korean though – don’t opt for dubbing. The language is so expressive, so animated. The social commentary is classic. And the soundtrack is magic. Lee Juck’s The Opposite Side reminds me of a song I can’t bring to mind – any thoughts?

When I go to Suncheon, I’ll probably fly into Seoul and there I can tour the series locations. And if I lose a few kilos and grow a few centimetres, I might be able to carry off the mommy fashion.

In yet another Bootcamp, I mentioned the series to participants and one of them warned me to be careful. Their friend had watched Extraordinary Attorney Woo and was now hooked on Korean TV.  You don’t need to ask what I did as soon as I had a chance. Now I’m engrossed in this series, too.

Park Eun-Bin’s portrayal of being on the autism spectrum is fascinating. Naturally, it sparked debate on how accurate her portrayal is. Eun-Bin says the series is ‘a hymn to the misfits of the world.’ It’s delightful. And it’s educational. Each episode gives additional insight into life in South Korea. And however accurate it is, it raises awareness of autism and how many people go undiagnosed. I had never heard of echolalia – the precise repetition of words or sentences, often out of context. I hadn’t realised how difficult ordinary things like holding hands might be or that holding someone tightly can calm them. Cue the hug chair.

The hug chair has inner walls that can apply deep pressure on the chest or on the legs. This allows to feel the limits of your body and focus on sensory information and reduce tension to help people with autism feel better in their environment.

I’m coming close to the end of that series, too, and am looking for my next South Korean TV fix. I’m thoroughly enjoying the education and am grateful for the conversation that sent me down this particular rabbit hole and for the crash course in romance.


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