Category Archives: K Pop academy

Chang Kiha & The Faces – 장기하와 얼굴들

The indie music scene in South Korea is in rude health and making plenty of waves outside of East Asia. Whilst the Kpop phenomenon continues to win global approval , there are admirers aplenty for several Korean indie bands who are winning over Western audiences . Amongst my personal favourites are the bands UhUhBoo Project, The Koxx, Peterpan Complex and Goonamguayeoridingstella.
However, perhaps the biggest Korean indie act currently is Chang Kiha & The Faces. The group’s “retro folk sound” has seen them win critical acclaim as well as collecting numerous music awards and nominations since their debut.
Their unique quirky style makes them pleasantly unclassifiable, but are variously described as folk-inflected rock, or lo-fi alt-folky music with wry, often very funny lyrics.
Even the band name reflects the humour of many of the songs after Chang was nicknamed the “best-looking of the indie scene”. The band comprises of Chang ( the songwriter) on vocals guitar and percussion ( though not all at the same time presumably ), and bassist Jung Joong-yub, guitarist Lee Min-ki, drummer Kim Hyun-ho, and the evr-fragrant backup dancers Mimi Sisters.

Chang’s popularity can be easily traced back to his self-produced debut album from 2008 “Cheap Coffee” [싸구려 커피] which met with incredible fan response. (In particular, the song “달이 차오른다, 가자” “ The Moon is Waxing, Let’s Go “)
“싸구려 커피” (Cheap Coffee)








장기하와 얼굴들 – 좋다 말았네 M/V(Kiha & the Faces – I Almost Had It)

Cheap Coffee – Chang Kiha & Faces, 싸구려 커피









Hwang Sok-Yong , Tales from Korea

The acclaimed Korean author and political activist in conversation with English PEN , London, April 7th 2014.


“Even if you are alive somewhere, the absence of the other person who used to be there beside you obliterates your presence. Everything in the room, even the stars in the sky, can disappear in a second, changing one scene for another, just like in a dream.”
Hwang Sok-Yong, The Old Garden


Biog: Born in 1943, Hwang Sok-yong is arguably Korea’s most renowned author. In 1993, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for an unauthorized trip to the North to promote exchange between artists in North and South Korea; five years later, he was released on a special pardon by the new president. The recipient of Korea’s highest literary prizes and shortlisted for the Prix Femina Estranger, his novels and short stories are published in North and South Korea, Japan, China, France, Germany, and the United States.

As part of the 2014 London Book Fair focus on Korea, English PEN hosted an evening with Hwang Sok-Yong .The special focus on Korea derives partly from The British Council’s 18 month cultural literary exchange with South Korea , and the recent first time availability of English translations of a series of Korean novels. We were reminded of the rich  Korean history of printing that led to the printing of the Jikji in 1377, the oldest extant movable metal print book.

The author animatedly read an excerpt from “Princess Bari” ( see sampler link below), which reminded me of just how far I have yet to go in my Korean language studies.

The evening examined themes of  incarceration , modernisation, ideology and conflict  and conveying experiences through different writing styles.

Hwang pondered on the nature of violence and war when the protagonists are close , as in the Korean War. In particular he talked of the Sinchon Massacre, where the small town inhabitants who had previously freely shared food with their neighbours, tuned into a site of mass internecine murder. He described how ideology as depicted in The Guest can generate “self-other” conflicts. In Hwang’s view the competing interpretations of the massacre exposed the underlying motivations of the ideologies ; with the North desperate to avoid suggestions of a Civil war by blaming American imperialists , and the South wishing to avoid Christianity shown in a bad light.

Picasso Massacre in Korea.jpgMassacre in Korea a 1951painting by Pablo Picasso

Similarly, in Shadow of Arms , ostensibly set in the Vietnam War but also serving as an allegory for the Korean War to escape the strict censorship of the time of writing, Hwang sees war as business by another means. War is seen as an extreme expression of how capitalism can go wrong. It has been described as a war novel that does not depict a single gunshot; instead being a novel based on the author’s experience in Korea’s military corps fighting America’s war and the regional economic motivations for the conflict within the larger Cold War.

Turning to his time in prison, Hwang described the experience as one of many stored up memories from which he wrought enough material to publish 8 novels , such as The Ancient Garden. Hwang talked of adapting to prison life and the necessity to re-learn everyday living to survive. The Old Garden was described as an attempt to resolve the pain of his incarceration.

Hwang went on to talk of his meetings with Kim Il Sung who was evidently a huge fan of his writings, thus explaining their continued availability in the DPRK.The  former President apparently found Hwang an interesting character partly due to his inability to kow-tow to the leader. Kim had Hwang’s books audio recorded so he could listen to them as his eyesight  deteriorated in later life.

Lastly the author examined the price of modernity in South Korea and how capitalism had become sly and clever at exploiting the working class.  He described how the migrant workers of the countryside had literally built the modern Korea in the huge transitional period of recent decades. Yet it is the grand children of these workers who now form the modern poor in Korea.

I was fortunate to meet Hwang afterwards and exchange a few words in Korean, and to have him sign my copy of The Ancient Garden.


British Council Q&A with Hwang Sok-Yong On experience, imagination and living with history… February 2014.


Hwang Sok-yong sampler, by Literature Translation Institute of Korea





Korean Artists Association UK

Following an amazing  gyu bang workshop with Kim Yu Jin last week , I thought i would seek out some Korean artistic outlets in London. I found this amazing website with lots of great information and links and some amazing artwork from members. The rather lovely, Yu Jin herself will be running a ten week Korean boudoir handicraft workshop soon at the Korean Cultural Centre UK.


KAA Logo

Book review: Chinese Hoardes and Human Waves – Brigadier Brian Parritt CBE

I had the immense pleasure of meeting Brigadier Brian Parritt  CBE recently when he gave a fascinating talk on his personal experiences as a young gunner officer during the Korean war. Laced with humanity and humour his tales of the realities of conflict were a sobering reminder of the price of war. The book itself is a magnificent achievement, combining gripping personal tales, strategic analyses  and exposes of military errors and  a great and unexpected revelation of  his consequent life involvement in the complexities and nuances of military intelligence.
Watch an interview with Brig. Parritt  on the Korean War and his book here .

Rightly lauded by reviewers, it is available to buy here ( 20% off)

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The author as a young man. Remarkably ,as Brig Parritt asked me to say, he has barely aged at all.

Also by Brig. Parritt ,available to buy here for Kindle.

A great man .

Interactive tourist map

Interactive tourist map of regions and cities of South Korea. Click here to open up the map below in clickable mode.


top 5 tourist attractions – with links

1 Traditional Markets and shopping areas – Seoul

076     private 989    private 968    private 991   private 966

 Namdaemun Market, Dongdaemun Market, Myeong-dong and Insa-dong


2 Gyeongju Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto TourBulguksa Temple [UNE...

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The Seokguram grotto in particular defies adequate description. The carvings in hard granite are a testament to the mastery and skill of the ancient architects, and an enduring mystery of geometrical symmetry and precision.

 3 DMZ-Tour

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A slightly surreal and very sobering experience that brings home the tragic partition of the Korean peninsula.

4 Jeju UNESCO Natural Heritage Tour

  5 Famous Mountain Tour (Seoraksan Mountain, Jirisan Mountain, Geumgangsan Mountain)

Recipe for Korean-inspired bread rolls ( aka Kimbap baps)

Recently I had the pleasure of learning how to cook a couple of simple dishes from an eminent Korean chef  Ba-Oo (바우)  at the West End based School of Wok.


We made  seafood pancakes (Haemul Pa Jun/해물파전) and Korean barbequed beef ( Bulgogi/불고기 ).


The lesson ended in true “Ready Steady Cook”  ( Ready Steady Hanguk perhaps?)style with a cook-off , which I’m delighted to say saw a victory for our team of budding 요리사.win

Inspired by this I decided to attempt to combine my twin loves of baking and Korea. After a few false starts I eventually settled on a kimbap/김밥 inspired bread roll. Kimbap is a traditional Korean snack made from steamed white rice (bap) and various other ingredients, rolled in gim (sheets of dried laver seaweed) and served in bite-size slices.

video here:

ingredients: 500g strong white flour, 10g salt, 10g fresh yeast ( or packet dried yeast) , 325g water, 4 sheets dried seaweed sheets, soju, sesame seeds, poppy seeds.

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So these are relatively straight forward to make and combine a crusty bread roll with seaweed, sesame seeds and soju. The way they are shaped ensure that the gim seaweed is spread throughout the roll .Great as a savoury snack and they go particularly well with seafood or kimchi , or even fishfingers!


East Asian traditional dress

A comparison of the traditional costume  of China, Japan and Korea.


The traditional costume is associated with the adopted dress of a geographic region, rooted in the history and cultural influences of the area. In this way they become deeply associated with the national identity and character and an outward symbol of national pride. Traditional clothes often signified particular societal roles and occasions or denoted status; and may have included formal and informal versions. In this post I will look at the similarities and differences between the three East Asian culture’s traditional costumes.

Unsurprisingly, given the shared history, cultural influences and geography, the traditional costumes of China, Japan and Korea share many similarities. Whilst Western dress might be loosely termed as relatively simple and individualistic, the authentic Asian dress is perhaps better characterised as elaborate and elegant. In all East Asian cultures the style, colour and elaborateness of the dress signify status.

East Asian dresses are often adorned with intricate embroidery of symbolic images such as: peacocks, blossom, fish, dragons, pheasants, flowers and butterflies. They will also usually be fashioned in luxurious fabrics like silk, satin and brocade. East Asia includes the present countries of China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

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Historically China was the predominant East Asian presence and heavily influenced its neighbouring peoples, perhaps best exemplified by the widespread use of silk across the region. The traditional clothing from China Japan and Korea tends to conceal the shape of the body and is highly decorated and uses bold colour combinations.

All East Asian traditional clothing open down the front like a coat allowing a range of extravagant hairstyles and headwear to evolve , which further characterises the regional dress.

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Traditional wedding wear



Korea – Hanbok

The traditional clothing of Korea is called the Hanbok, which is an abbreviation of the term Han-guk pokshik meaning literally “Korean attire.” Traditional Korean clothing has its roots extending back at least as far as the Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. – 668 A.D.), as evidenced by wall paintings in tombs dating from this period. The Korean hanbok represents one of the most visible aspects of Korean culture. The Hanbok is a very symbolic item of clothing; everything from the material used, to the colours selected, and the design patterns are carefully chosen by the individual to represent individual status, tastes, and aspects of the Korean culture. The common Hanbok today consists of two pieces, a jeogori and either chima or paji. The jeogori is a blouse like over-shirt with flowing sleeves which are usually cut longer for men than women. Chima and paji are the traditional bottom garments, a chima is a skirt for women and paji are baggy pants for men.

Colours and materials which make up the hanbok signify class and social status for the wearer. Traditionally, the upper class of society wear light weight, high-grade materials such as silk adorned with patterns and woven intricacies. Upper class society members wear bright colours while commoners wear only white.



Jeogori composition: 1. hwajang 2. godae 3. kkeutdong (somae buri) 4. somae 5. goreum 6. u 7. doryeon 8, 11. jindong 9. gil 10. baerae 12. git 13. Dongjeong

  How to Tie the Jeogori-strap  1. Place the short strap on the right over the long strap at the left.
2. Place the short strap under the long strap and pull it over.
3. Make a loop in the half-ribbon shape using the long strap, and place the short strap at the lower part.
4. Hold the long strap with the left hand, while moving the short strap to the lower part and pulling it to the
upper part with the right hand.
5. Pull both straps slightly to the upper and lower directions to make the perfect shape.
6. The difference in length of the long and short straps when hanging naturally should be adjusted to
approximately 5 to 7cm.ff - Copy


Silk is the main fabric used in making hanboks, but summer hanboks are often made with ramie or hemp and winter hanboks are frequently made with brocade or satin. Some decorations such as gilts or embroidery can be attached to hanbok, and characters such as 囍 (Hui 희, happiness and joy) and 福 (Bok 복, fortune or luck) or flower patterns are frequently used as part of the adornment.




Hanbok in film


The colours of the hanbok traditionally represent different virtues; white represents purity, integrity, and chastity, and was the most common colour for common clothes. The upper class and court figures wore clothes in red, yellow, blue, and black in addition to white. These colours symbolise the five traditional elements in Oriental cosmology (fire, earth, water, metal, and wood). Dyes were made from natural materials such as flowers or bark.

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Children’s hanbok – all little boys love dressing in hanbok as you can see.

China –Hanfu


The basic garment of China, for both sexes, was a robe like or tunic-like wrapped garment. Elites wore robes, usually of silk, that were wrapped around the body and tied closed with a waist sash. Such robes were either long enough to require no lower garments or somewhat shorter (e.g. thigh length) and worn over trousers or a skirt. Trousers and skirts were not closely tied to gender and were worn by both men and women. Both sexes considered it socially essential to wear their hair bound up in a topknot or other dressed style, and covered with a head cloth or hat of some kind. Elite women favoured highly colourful patterned silk cloth for their clothing. Fashion in women’s clothing went through an era of rapid change during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), when a wealthy and cosmopolitan imperial culture stimulated consumption and emulation, and novelty was supplied by cultural influences, via the Silk Route, of Persian and Turkic peoples.


Chinese dress changed radically after the end of the imperial period in 1911. A new form of men’s clothing, called the Sun Yat-sen suit, developed on the basis of European military uniforms and won widespread acceptance; this suit had a jacket with a high, stiff “mandarin” collar, four pockets, and a buttoned front, with trousers in matching cloth. A new women’s dress, called the qipao or cheongsam, evolved in Shanghai and other Chinese cities in the 1920s and 1930s.


Historic Chinese garments share some of the characteristics of those from Japan and Korea but the outline is generally more flared and the sleeves are not so deep.


Robe, China, 19th century.

The features of the later, slimmer Chinese robe that make it distinct from other East Asian garments are the method of closure and the shape of the sleeve ends. In the later Chinese style mentioned above, robes are cut with the body and sleeve in one piece. These integral upper sleeves reach to elbow level; to make them full length additional fabric is joined on. In the case of dragon-patterned official robes, which were worn by a broad sector of the male population, the lower sleeves are in a contrasting plain dark material and are sometimes crimped or banded with gold. The sleeves end in outward-curving ‘horsehoof’ cuffs which match the collar band.

A Chinese robe closes securely right across the front. This is achieved by using an extra length of cloth which is seamed vertically down the centre to form a complete overlap. At the top this overlap curves down and is edged with a band that is a continuation of the neck binding. The robe is fastened at the neck, along the band and down the right side with button and loop closures


The Cheongsam evolved by merging with western patterns that show off the beauty of a female body. Its features are straight collar, strain on the waist, coiled buttons and slits on both sides of the dress. Materials used are usually silk, cotton and linen. Cheongsam is the most popular Chinese attire in the world today.




Japan – Kimono


The traditional clothing of Japan is the kimono. The word Kimono literally means, “something worn.” A Kimono is a long, T-shaped robe which extends from the shoulders to the ankles and is fastened in the middle by a belt called an obi. Kimonos have long, wide sleeves, some as wide as a meter. Like the Korean hanbok, the kimono began as a unisex robe which evolved into distinct men’s and women’s styles.


A traditional red Uchikake kimono with cranes

Like the hanbok, the colours and designs of the kimono make subtle statements about the wearer’s social and cultural status. For a woman, the style and colour of the kimono can give visual cues about her marital status as well. For example, subdued single colour kimonos which are patterned only below the waist are reserved for married women, while brightly coloured and completely patterned kimonos are worn by unmarried women. In addition, there are other single and multi coloured kimonos used for various ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, and the Japanese tea ceremony.

In contrast to brightly coloured and patterned kimonos worn by women, men’s kimonos tend to be single dark colours such as navy-blue, black, or charcoal grey. Men’s kimonos are simpler than women’s kimonos and while the women’s ensemble may include as many as a dozen items of clothing, a man’s will not include more than five.


A traditional wedding kimono with tsunokakushi (wedding headpiece)




Modern styles of furisode
Kimonos range from extremely formal to casual. The level of formality of women’s kimono is determined mostly by the pattern of the fabric, and colour. Young women’s kimonos have longer sleeves, signifying that they are not married, and tend to be more elaborate than similarly formal older women’s kimono.[5] Men’s kimonos are usually one basic shape and are mainly worn in subdued colours. Formality is also determined by the type and color of accessories, the fabric, and the number or absence of kamon (family crests), with five crests signifying extreme formality. Silk is the most desirable, and most formal, fabric. Kimonos made of fabrics such as cotton and polyester generally reflect a more casual style.

    komino                                    kimono    How to fold a kimono              


Modern East Asian dress

Modern interpretations of the traditional costumes, attest to the enduring legacy and influence of the East Asian costume. So that whilst the traditional attire may be increasingly confined to special occasions , the style and traditions continue to  endure and evolve.


modern take on tradition

Korean language and script 한국어/한국말 and 한글.


Having lived near New Malden, the heart of the British Korean community,for several years; I became fascinated with the elegance and simplicity of the Korean alphabet and script – Hangul. Many businesses and restaurants advertise their presence in both the Roman and Korean alphabet. I have since embarked on a  Korean language learning odyssey , which has proved utterly compulsive and life-enhancing.

It was with some anticipation therefore, that I attended a lecture at the KCCUK recently given by Dr Jae Hoon Yeon , professor of Korean language and linguistics at London University’s SOAS.  Many students of Korean will be familiar with his essential language text books , such as ‘Get Started in Korean (Teach Yourself)’isbn9781444175059-detail– London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Many fewer people will be au fait with such academic papers as  ‘Is there ergativity in Korean? – The definition of ergativity and other uses of the term ‘ergative’ [in Korean].’ Han-Geul (Journal of the Korean Language Society)2008. One for the pathologically keen perhaps? ( and an honourable mention to anyone who comments on here to explain what it means).


The lecture itself was an enjoyable romp through the history of the Korean language , starting with the 4 hypotheses on the its origin. Handily identified by the compass points the alternative explanations explore the roots of Korean. Namely the East theory ( originated from Japan), the West theory ( originated from western languages),the South theory ( originated from Polynesian languages) and the North theory ( originated from the Altaic language family). Of these only the latter seems plausible although many consider Korean an orphan or isolate language and perhaps a minor or distant relative of the Altaic language family.

There then followed an explanation of the development of Hangul during the reign of King Sejong (1418–1450) and the differing views on how much personal influence he exercised on the alphabet’s invention. Certainly the Annals of King Sejong allow us to date the origin of the script to December 1443 ( or January 1444 depending on how one calculates the date of the lunar calendar).

Periodic Table of Hangul


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The alphabet itself is a model of logic and elegance with the basic consonant shapes based on the phonological properties of the sound and the physical articulations; and the basic vowel symbols following a more philosophical and abstract notion.



See here for an excellent explanation of linguistic and philosophical origins of the Korean language and here for the associated study page by Stephen Wright Phd.

We then moved forward in time to contemporary Korean , where we explored divergences between language uses between North and South Korea that have developed with dialectical differences and linguistic policies. Differences include, intonation, lexicon,accents, verb endings, use of honorifics and alphabet order.

Finally we looked at the  6 dialectal divisions in South Korea and some of the differences in pronunciation between for example Jeju and Seoul speakers.

This is , of course a vast subject , and one that I shall be returning to often to provide a more rounded resource. I might even post on ergativity!