010. towels

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i had done a lot of preparation for my first trip to korea in 2011, but i never anticipated that one of my first culture shocks would be the size of the towels.  during the first week that i was there, i stayed at hi seoul youth hostel.  i reserved a private room for 4 days and it was like i was staying at a luxurious hotel, but without the price tag. 10/10 would recommend.

while i was checking out my quarters, i noticed that the bathroom had been stocked with what appeared to be hand towels only. so i called the front desk and requested some bath towels.  when i received these “bath towels” i discovered that in korea, there was no apparent distinction between bath towels and hand towels.  it was rather shocking since i was used to using huge towels at home after a bath or shower.  i later learned that this is because most korean homes don’t have adequate space to store gigantic towels, so the smaller towel is a clever way to utilize available space and still get the job done.

a friend later taught me how i could use one of these towels to wrap my hair after a shower, a skill i am rather proud of.  however, i never became advanced enough to use less than two towels per shower.  it’s still a bit of a work in progress.



my brother visited from korea earlier this month and brought me some illustrated books to add to my collection.  this book is easily the pretties of the lot.

설빔: 여자아이 고운옷

written and illustrated by 배현주, first published in 2006

it’s simple to read, even for me, and the illustrations are beautiful.  it’s all about a little girl getting dressed up for new year’s (설날).  new year, new day, new morning.  the day that we can make a new start on everything.  the first snow of the new year falls from the new clouds.

but among all of the “new” things that come with the new year, the best one is new clothes…

설빔 1 설빔 2설빔 3 설빔 4설빔 5 설빔 6설빔 7

daily 한복

Wearing 한복 is typically reserved for special holidays and events like lunar new year or a family wedding.  Outside of that, most people just don’t have reason to wear it very much (unless you’re a shaman or you work at a cultural site–palace guards, anyone? Those guys must get so hot in the summer.)  No one asked me, but I think it’s kind of a waste because 한복 is so unique and elegant.

Just look at how beautiful! ↓↓ (@mayjeon)

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But I totally get it.  Even if there were more occasions to wear 한복, it’s not exactly the most convenient article of clothing, especially for women.  The voluminous skirt and underskirt in particular make it difficult to justify wearing for anything more than special occasions or for a few hours while wandering around and taking photos with friends, which has become a popular activity for girls and couples and tourists.  It’s just not practical.

Dying over here ↓↓(@hanbok_travelarts) (but seriously who could wear this in real life?)

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Then one day, some really cool designers decided to change all that.  Enter the recent trend of the  modernized or “daily” 한복 (개량 한복, 일상 한복, 데일리 한복, 생활한복).

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These artists have found ways to modify the 한복 for daily life without compromising the beauty and elegance of the original design and are encouraging people to wear 한복 once again.  생활 한복 has shortened the length of the skirt and has made other adjustments that allow it to be worn easily in daily life. Some 일상 한복 have additional modifications such as shorter and/or more narrow sleeves on the 저고리 (the upper garment), or a zipper to fasten the 치마 (which traditionally is tied in a bow with a single loop called 옷고름), and use of modern fabrics, patterns, and colors for both top and bottom pieces. Many daily 한복 shops also sell modern variations on traditional 한복 accessories.

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Some purists do not like this trend, but I think the work of these modern 한복 designers is important because not only are they creating beautiful clothing, but they are encouraging cultural pride as well.  데일리 한복 its not a substitute for traditional 한복 but an adjustment in the design that makes it easier for people to wear and appreciate 한복 and Korean culture more frequently and I think that’s lovely.

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Best of all they are really, really pretty.  THEY’RE SO PRETTY.  OMG THEY ARE SO PRETTY. Have I mentioned how pretty they are?

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These are my three fave 생활한복 accounts to follow on Instagram.





In 2012, we went to a really nice restaurant in old 송도 to celebrate my husband’s birthday with formal traditional Korean food.  We had our own room and servers would quietly come in and out to bring us all of the courses like we were kings. It felt like we were in one of those restaurants that rich people go to in Korean dramas to make back door deals or seal nefarious political/business alliances or blackmail each other or congratulate each other on the successful execution of diabolical plans. You know what I’m talking about, right?

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Our chopstick and spoons were made of brass.  Really heavy, well-made, and simple. And ever since that meal, I started noticing other nice restaurants with brass bowls or utensils, and I’ve longed for brassware of my own.  They’re so beautiful and so deliciously heavy (I have a thing for heavy flatware).  After spending several years fantasizing about owning some, I recently decided to see if I could get my hands on a set, and immediately started crying because IT IS SO EXPENSIVE.
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I found two person set of bowls, 접시 and eating utensils for about $1,400 on Ebay. Oh, that price seems outrageous to you? How about $700 for a single setting? No?  Then how about just some chopsticks and spoons? NOPE. $70 for 수저? Pfffft. You can “buy now” a set of spoon and chopsticks for about $40. That is still so insane so I looked on G-Market and found one person 수저 for 20,000원. Still pricy. Le sigh.

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Obviously this 방짜유기 is cheaper to buy in Korea, but as I found from my G-Market searches, they’re still quite pricey there too. Traditionally they were used to set the royal table, and in 1983 were named an “Important Intangible Cultural Asset” — so it’s an artesianal, traditional art and of course it’s going to cost a lot.  If I ever become disgustingly wealthy, the first thing I’m going to do is buy myself a whole ton of Korean brassware.  But for now, I’ve adjusted my expectations and have settled on finding some decent bronze-colored chopsticks and spoons instead.

못 먹는 감

The other day, my husband and I were listening to the Melon playlist in the car together, and my ears perked up at a curious phrase: 못 먹는 감. I was so excited because if I’d heard this song earlier in my Korean studies, it would have just slipped past me.  This is why I love listening to Korean music–I seem to hear and pick up on different things each time.  Anyway, I understood the phrase to mean, “the 감 (persimmon) you can’t eat” but it seemed like there was more to it than my basic translation. So I asked my husband to explain.

못 먹는 감 comes from the idiom 못 먹는 감 찔러나 본다, which is kind of tough to explain. It essentially means to pierce the 감 that you can’t eat. 찔리다 means to get/be pierced or poked. I don’t understand the grammar of 찔러나 본다, but idioms can’t be understood by simply translating and breaking down the grammar. My husband instead focused on explaining the meaning behind this seemingly bizarre phrase.

Essentially, 못 먹는 감 찔러나 본다 is rough equivalent to the English expression, “sour grapes”. Just as the phrase “sour grapes” refers to someone who is bitter because they can’t get something they want (grapes, in the original fable), the Korean idiom uses the persimmon to stand for the object of desire. However, a small difference is that in the Korean idiom, you know you can’t have it but you still give it a try (poking at it).

My husband told me that people often use this phrase in the situation where a guy is trying to get a girl who is just way out of his league, just trying anyway even though he knows he’ll fail. So the song which started this whole discussion (못 먹는 감 by 산이 & 매드클라운), is describing someone doing just this. The song is about completely striking out, and the girl in question becomes a case of “inedible persimmon” to the narrator.

So interesting. Aren’t you SO INTERESTED???! Why aren’t you as interested in this as I am? Ugh I could really go for a persimmon right about now.