I found this book on the shelves of the Asian American Writers Workshop library. I’m taking a workshop there these days since I’ve been working on a travel memoir that recounts my time in Korea as a Kpop trainee at a music label, one that was obliquely mentioned in Euny Hong’s book several times.
I spent about two years living and working in Korea doing a variety of things, but I was heavily involved in the Kpop and the indie music scenes, while simultaneously learning the ins and outs of the intense education machine that Korea has built up over the past couple of decades. Half of my time I was a Kpop singer and musician. The other half of my time I was a teacher in private schools and private academies. Needless to say, my life was very strange for a few years.
Hong’s book supplies a great background in contemporary Korean culture and the reasons why it’s become what it has. She investigates the roots of Korean pop culture, including a wide variety of topics such as the lasting effects of Neo-Confucianism, the government’s repeated financial investment in cultural export (since the birth of Korean democracy - the year I was born!), to the Korean sense of han, a mix of shame and guilt, that motivates Koreans to succeed.
I wanted to read Hong’s book because it’s becoming more and more clear to me that there are very few books written about Kpop and modern Korean society in English. Writing my travel memoir has been a way to help remedy that and also make sense of my personal journey. But Hong’s book has also given me the conviction that there is indeed space on the bookshelves for my story, too - something that's less like an in depth piece of journalism and more of a personal, behind the scenes look at contemporary Korean culture today and the charmingly crazy characters who make it so unique and absurd.