Tag Archives: youtube


YouTube Chef Maangchi Debuts New Cookbook

by SUEVON LEE | @suevlee

Emily Kwangsook Kim—better known as Maangchi—-gets approached all the time by strangers as she’s out and about. She may not recognize the friendly, excited faces that greet her, but to them, she might as well be their aunt, sister or close friend who’s been inside their kitchens for years, whipping up tasty Korean dishes and snacks.

Maangchi, as Kim prefers to be called, has become an online video sensation across the globe for her upbeat, easy-to-follow videos on how to prepare Korean food. She has a website featuring hundreds of recipes and a section where she posts stories of her travels and encounters with fans; a YouTube channel that’s garnered more than 580,000 page views; and a dynamic social media presence, including 11,600 Twitter followers.

In addition, on May 19, Maangchi comes out with her first major cookbook, Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) featuring her most popular recipes, from Korean soups and stews to kimchi to side dishes to noodles and party food.


How did someone with no professional culinary or video training become one of Korean cuisine’s most prolific and visible ambassadors to legions of home chefs? In today’s democratized Internet age, charisma, a well-developed skill and savvy for the online user experience can go a long way toward making the person-next-door into the next YouTube star.

Not only is Maangchi blessed with all of the above, she never even set out to become as well-known as she is today. Cooking was always a passion; making cooking videos, merely a hobby. It also hasn’t hurt that Korean food has undergone an explosion in popularity in recent years as hallyu, or the Korean wave, has become a tidal force.

Maangchi’s first video, uploaded in April 2007—and accompanied by the Morrissey song “Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself?”—was about how to make spicy seafood stir-fry, ojingeo-bokkeum. “When I made this video on YouTube, I was very nervous.

I didn’t know how long I would have this hobby,” says Maangchi in a phone interview with KoreAm, from her home in Manhattan. “Once I uploaded my first video, I was very surprised. [Viewers] asked me to make my next recipe. ‘Interaction is really going well,’ I thought. ‘This is so fun.’ I thought I’m going to keep this as a hobby forever.”

Her site grew so popular, Maangchi was able to quit her day job as a family counselor at a nonprofit to focus on her website, maangchi.com, full-time. In 2011, her website was named among the “most useful” by the Korea Herald, alongside Visit Korea, SeoulStyle, ZenKimchi and Soompi.

Her recipe for Korean fried chicken, yangnyeom-tongdak, recently surpassed her kimchi recipe as most popular on her website, hitting 2 million page views. (Save that one for your next spring potluck.)

Maangchi uploads a new cooking video every 10 days, using a digital Canon EOS 5D and editing footage on Adobe Premiere, which she taught herself how to use. Longtime fans who have been visiting her site since the early years may notice the considerably improved production values to her videos, as well as her upgraded kitchen with modern, stainless steel appliances.

With her charming enthusiasm, slightly high-pitched accented English, eclectic outfits and unique hairstyles (she’s been known to sport colorful wigs), Maangchi makes learning how to cook Korean food seem fun, easy and engaging. Her welcoming persona has expanded her network of online followers to points as far-flung as Moscow, Russia; Leipzig, Germany; and Pearland, Texas.

Cul-Maangchi-AM15-KidsMaangchi with young fans. 

Her clear instructions and collection of recipes elicit such feedback as, “I FINALLY found what I’ve been looking for: authentic Korean cooking as made by a Korean, for a Korean. This is my sister from another mother. Or, this is my mother from another sister,” as posted on updownacross, a blog run by New Yorker Joann Kim.

Maangchi also receives touching letters from fans, such as the woman who came across Maangchi’s site after her mother passed away, without having had the chance to learn how to cook Korean food from her. “‘One day I was cooking some of your recipes in the kitchen and my father came out from his room and said, ‘Oh, this smell reminds me of your mom! I feel your mom comes alive now!’” the fan wrote to Maangchi.


Cul-Maangchi-AM15-GarlicMaangchi peels garlic before making kimchi in New Zealand in 2011.

Maangchi, who is in her 50s, was born in Imsil in North Joella province and raised in the South Joella city of Yeosu, where her father ran a fish auction business. She was drawn to food from a young age. As a kid, she writes in the introduction to her cookbook, she would try dishes made by her mom, grandmother and aunts and “quietly determine who made the best version of each dish.”

That discerning palate took on a commanding influence in the schoolroom—Maangchi would organize group lunches in which each friend was responsible for a particular dish. Her Korean culinary knowledge is honed from family and friends, years of practice and sharing recipes with fellow Korean expats in Columbus, Missouri, where she lived when her ex-husband was getting his Ph.D.

“Since I was young, I have been cooking from memory, and sometimes, I’m learning from some other people,” Maangchi says. “Each recipe has my own story. Like for tangsuyuk, I learned how to make the crispy crunch batter from my close friend. All recipes over the years, I learned from my grandmother, all different people.” (The trick to the crispy batter, she explains in her book, is to mix potato starch with water in a bowl, allow the starch to settle to the bottom, then drain the water and mix the remaining starch with an egg white to create a coating. “As with crispy fried chicken, double-frying is essential,” Maangchi writes.)

Cul-Maangchi-AM15-JudgingJudging a Korean cooking challenge at Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Campus in 2013. 

Maangchi moved to Toronto from Korea after she and her first husband divorced, once their two children were all grown up. She worked various jobs, including as a cashier, movie extra, translator and interpreter. It was in Toronto where she recreated herself as “Maangchi,” or “hammer,” slayer of villains in the popular South Korean online video game “City of Heroes.”

The online moniker stuck—even after her addiction to the video game subsided after three-and-a-half years. By then, Maangchi had turned to a new hobby, making cooking videos and uploading them to a fast-growing video sharing service called YouTube.

Maangchi, whose tough name belies a sweet demeanor, credits her accessibility on camera to her years spent as an educator. She attended teachers’ college in Seoul and earned a certificate in social studies and a master’s in education.

In 2011, Maangchi was selected by YouTube as one of 25 up-and-coming video creators to receive a $35,000 grant through the company’s NextUp program. She used the money to travel and meet her fans all over the world in what she coined the “Gapshida! Journey” (Let’s Go!). She visited nine countries and 11 cities, sampling home-cooked foods in such places as Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

maangchiL to R: Members of a NYC gathering sample Maangchi’s homemade kimchi; Maangchi leads a Korean cooking class at Whole Foods Culinary Center in NYC in April 2011

“If I’m selected,” she recalled thinking, “I’d like to meet my readers all around the world. I want to meet them. We’ll make videos together. Sometimes I want to encourage my readers to make their own food and make them just like [I make mine].

“I had a chance to taste the food that my readers made, home-cooked food,” Maangchi adds.

Her zest for food—not only Korean, but of other cultures—is reflected in the panoply of global food friends that frequent her online forums and leave superlative comments. She re-posts their food photos based on her recipes and attends Meetup events organized in her honor. She also frequently posts about Korean food customs and personal recollections from her days growing up in Korea. She already has three self-published cookbooks through Amazon (downloaded more than 6 million times through her website).

Cul-Maangchi-AM15-malaysiaMaangchi with her fans in Malaysia during her Gapshida! Tour in 2012. 

Maangchi says visitors are drawn to her site for all sorts of reasons. There are the non-Koreans who have tried a Korean restaurant for the first time; the second-generation Korean Americans who want to replicate their mother’s cooking at home; and the Korean adoptees from all over the world. Not least of all, there are the Korean drama enthusiasts.

“Some people come [to my site] from Korean dramas—they love Korean dramas,” Maangchi says with a laugh, pointing out how they’ll seek out her recipe for jjajangmyun (noodles in black bean sauce) because their favorite stars have eaten it on screen.

As for her fans, Maangchi adds, “These people consider me as their sister or mom or relative. I feel really close [to them]. I never feel lonely.”


All photos courtesy of Maangchi

This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


Q&A with the Founder of Tapastic, a Global Webcomics Portal

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

As one of the most wired countries in the world, South Korea has constant access to some of the fastest high-speed Internet and niftiest smartphone apps. Consequently, Korean web cartoons, or “webtoons,” have swiftly become a popular and powerful storytelling medium over the past decade.

Several webtoons have already been adapted into successful Korean films and dramas, including Misaeng, The Girl Who Sees Smells and Secretly, Greatly.

According to KT Economic Research Institute, major search portals Daum and Naver attract more than 6.2 million webtoon readers daily, and the market size of Korea’s webtoon industry is estimated to double to $800 million by 2018.

However, webcomics have yet to reach that same level of popularity, accessibility and community in the United States—and that’s where Tapastic comes to play.

Billing itself as the “YouTube of webcomics,” Tapastic (a portmanteau of “tapas” and “fantastic”) is a San Francisco-based webcomics portal that offers more than 105,000 comics created by over 5,400 artists worldwide. The company launched only three years ago, but it now boasts $3.4 million in backing from Korean and American investors, including Daum Kakao, SK Planet and former Facebook Chief Technology Officer Adam D’Angelo.

Chang Kim, the founder and CEO of Tapastic, is no rookie when it comes to building new digital platforms. He co-founded TNC, a Korean blogging service that was acquired by Google in 2008, and subsequently worked as a product manager for Blogger. Prior to that, he was a content strategy manager for Samsung Mobile.

Kim recently took time out of his long train commute in San Francisco to speak with KoreAm about Tapastic’s beginnings and growth as well as the globalization of webtoons. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.


KoreAm: Can you tell us a bit more about Tapastic and its mission?

Chang Kim: Tapastic, in a nutshell, is an open platform and community for comics. For readers, it’s the best service to find and enjoy bite-sized, snackable comics. So overall, Tapastic is like YouTube or SoundCloud, but for comics.

We believe there are so many talented comic creators who want to express their awesome stories in a visual format. Our mission is to build the best platform for these comic creators to share their authentic visual stories, build a strong brand and massive fan base and make money from their creative works.

What inspired you to create this publishing platform for webcomics?

I remember ​Koreans using social networks, Internet telephony, virtual gifts, online gaming and many other Internet services as early as the late ’90s—when the rest of the world was only beginning to grasp what the ​Internet was. But the Korean companies that provided those services largely remained in Korea, instead of becoming global brands.

So I really wanted to give it a try myself—namely, spotting an interesting and innovative Internet service model in Korea and taking it to the global market. While researching the Korean market, I found out how crazily popular webtoons were and thought it would be cool to build a webtoon site with global content from global talent​. That was the beginning of Tapastic.


Comics artists are able to self-publish their works on Tapastic. What would you say are some of the benefits for these creators?

Tapastic is not just a content publishing site. It is, first and foremost, a thriving community and social network around comics. Fans can not only follow their favorite creators but also support them on a monthly basis. It’s like buying a cup of coffee every month for their favorite​ creators to show appreciation and help them continue their awesome work.

We really focused on building awesome community, and as a result, we have fantastic community engagement. For example, our site’s overall engagement metrics grew by almost 10 times over the last year or so alone. So the first benefit for comic creators joining our platform would be becoming part of this ​very ​enthusiastic community.

We also help creators make money from their content through our monetization features. Creators can ​earn ads revenue, get monthly support from their fans or sell their completed comic series in our Premium section.

Why do you think webtoons are so popular in South Korea?

​I​t’s simple: Korean webtoons have some of the most amazing stories. That’s how webtoons could​ attract mainstream users who didn’t necessarily read a lot of ​comics before (that includes myself), and also why some of Korea’s top TV dramas and movies are based on webtoons. By building an open platform and attracting talented visual storytellers, Korean webtoons were able to build a rich library of awesome stories, similar to the way YouTube attracted many new talents and a massive volume of fresh, high-quality content.


What differentiates Korean webtoons from traditional American comics?

The U.S. has a rich comics tradition. Everybody has fond memories of “mainstream comics,” such as Calvin and Hobbes, which actually once had a great impact on U.S. culture and society in general. But today, the comics industry in the U.S. has become a niche market—think superhero comic books sold in local comic book stores.

Though comics continue to be a major source material for blockbuster movies and TV dramas in the U.S.​, comics as a medium ​itself ​has largely become a niche. We hope Tapastic will help users, especially young millen​nials on mobile, re-discover the great storytelling power of comics.

There are, in fact, already quite a few ​popular webcomics in the U.S., such as The Oatmeal. What the U.S. doesn’t have yet is a platform and community like YouTube​. That’s what Tapastic is trying to ​bring about. ​

Tapastic offers a translation service for its creators, which is a rather unique feature for a webcomics portal. How many series have been translated into another language?

We’ve translated more than 60 high-quality Korean webtoons. Given that webtoons started in Korea, there’s still ​a lot of great content that has never been introduced to the global audience​. Right now, we’re doing translations by ourselves, partly because translating comics in the correct fashion is quite difficult. In the future, we plan to add crowd-sourced translation feature.

Are there any Korean artists from Tapastic who have successfully crossed over to the American market? And are there non-Korean creators who have found success in Korea?

Most of the Korean webtoons that we’ve brought on have been very well received by the ​American fans, thanks to great art quality and compelling stories. But in this age of social media, content quality is often only half of the equation. Creators that thrive are the ones who actively engage with their fans and constantly communicate with them. Content publishing is increasingly becoming a two-way street.

We’re now starting to see some Korean creators more actively engaging with their fans. Mika is a good example. She’s based in Korea and never published her comics outside of Korea before joining Tapastic, but now her fanbase lies mostly outside of the country. And she’s really actively ​interacting with her fans.


We’re also planning to introduce high-quality global webtoons to the Korean audience. A Tapastic comic series titled Juju’s Diary, which created by a Brooklyn comic studio, was introduced on Daum’s webtoon section and found great success, which led to the creation of the series’ second season.

Where do you see the medium of webcomics in the next five years? Do you expect to see more international collaborations?

We definitely think webtoons will gain more popularity outside of Korea. The concept of Internet-based open publishing platform and community around visual stories is obviously globally translatable. In the Internet industry there’s the saying, “Mobile is eating the world.​“ Mobile Internet is changing people’s lives in a fundamental way (think Uber, for instance), ​and no industry, including the comics industry, will be spared from those fundamental changes.

Can you recommend some webcomics to our readers who are unfamiliar with the medium?

I personally like comedy series. My personal favorite is Cheer Up, Emo Kid; it’s slightly vulgar, yet crazily witty. I also like Lunarbaboon (I’m a father of two), Sarah’s Scribbles, and Medical Tales Retold (fan-submitted wacky medical stories). In other genres, the amazing art quality of Fisheye Placebo is knocking my socks off every single time I’m reading that comic.


You can read more webcomics through the Tapastic website or mobile app (available on iOS and Android). To learn more about Tapastic, visit their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter @tapastic.

All images courtesy of Tapas Media

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Link Attack: East West Players Honors Susan Ahn Cuddy; North Korean Soccer; Amadeus Cho in ‘Avengers’

Interesting reads from around the Internet. Take a gander!

East West Players Honors Susan Ahn Cuddy in ‘Born to Lead’

Above photo: The 100-year-old veteran attended the performance along with her son Philip Cuddy. It was the first time she’d seen the EWP Theatre for Youth play about her life that is currently on tour. (Pasadena City College Courier)

kenneth choi

Kenneth Choi joins horror-thriller Stephanie

The Allegiance and Sons of Anarchy star has joined Universal’s horror-thriller, Stephanie, which is directed by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. The story centers on a young girl named Stephanie (Shree Crooks) who is abandoned by her parents. When her parents return to claim their daughter, they find supernatural forces are wreaking havoc, with Stephanie at the center of the turmoil. (The Hollywood Reporter)

Korea to punish local governments for paying native English teachers

The central government has threatened to take punitive measures against financially struggling local governments if they insist on paying the salaries of native English teachers. (The Korea Observer)

Songun soccer: Football politics in North Korea

NK News explores North Korea’s complex relationship with soccer and how politics eventually became involved.

It’s Time For Us To Update Our Image of North Koreans

Daniel Tudor, former Korea correspondent for The Economist, writes on The Huffington Post that we must start paying proper attention to the North Korean people themselves–they are where the only real hope, he says.

Adrian Cho

Leonardo da Vinci inspires Ottawa Jazz Orchestras latest chamber jazz

Bassist and bandleader Adrian Cho’s Ottawa Jazz Orchestra has a long track record of tackling some of jazz’s seminal works, whether its pieces by Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Charles Mingus or Benny Goodman. But this Thursday, the group mounts its first evening of all-original music, written by Cho and trumpeter Rick Rangno. (Ottawa Citizen)

The chaebols: The rise of South Korea’s mighty conglomerates

CNET’s Cho Mu-hyun details how these “cornerstones of the economic, political and social landscape” helped “save South Korea from crushing poverty and defined a country’s role on the global stage.” Part one of a series.

Joy Cho

Blogger Crush: Joy Cho of Oh Joy!

Style Bistro profiles L.A. native John Cho, who runs one of the top blogs on the Internet, as well as a thriving YouTube channel, a line of party supplies at Target and a graphic design business. She is also a wife, author and mother of two.

Man Charged With Repeatedly Stabbing Ex-Girlfriend Inside Subway Restaurant In NJ

Yoon S. Choi, 48, of Silver Spring, Md., is charged with first-degree attempted murder, third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon. (CBS News, Philadelphia)


Will Avengers: Age Of Ultron Introduce Amadeus Cho To The Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Dr. Helen Cho (played by South Korean actor Claudia Kim) is a world-renowned geneticist and an ally of the Avengers. From her offices in Seoul, South Korea, to sharing workspace with Bruce Banner in his lab at Avengers Tower, Dr. Cho’s research and technology help keep the Avengers in the fight. (ComicBook.com)


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[VIDEO] YouTubers React to ‘Mukbang’ (Eating Broadcasts)

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

While South Koreans may not be considered the most enthusiastic about cooking, there’s no doubt that many Koreans love to eat and watch people eat.

Mukbang, or eating broadcasts, is a wildly popular fad in South Korea. Mukbang stars make as much as $10,000 a month by live-streaming themselves devouring a wide selection of food, thanks to hundreds of viewers who reward their binge-eating habits with virtual balloons that can be converted into cash.

For their latest reaction video, YouTube channel The Fine Bros. had their fellow YouTube buddies react to mukbang streams. Needless to say, there were some furrowed brows and confused glances at the screen.

Several YouTubers compared mukbang stars to people who live-stream themselves playing video games. When they learned just how much these professional eaters earned from their broadcasts, all of them expressed shock while some joked about making a career change from YouTube to mukbang.

“We are quitting YouTube. We are eating and live-streaming,” said Mari of Smosh Games.

Another YouTuber commented, “That’s the American dream, honestly. And to see that South Korea is doing that before us is a travesty.”

You can watch the video below:

What are your thoughts on mukbang? Would you enjoy watching people eat delicious food in front of a camera? Let us know in the comments below!


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[VIDEO] 100 Years of Korean Beauty in One Minute

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

In the latest episode of its 100 Years of Beauty web series, YouTube channel Cut highlights the evolving beauty trends of North and South Korea.

The video begins with Korea’s beauty standard of the 1910s, when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule. According to the video, Korean women of that era preferred to have ornamented hairstyles and natural makeup, with pale skin, natural brows and no contouring.

Once the video hits the 1950s, beauty standards become divided not only by decade but also by region. After the Korean War, North and South Korea had extremely polarized standards of beauty because the two countries adopted different economic systems.

Robin Park, the researcher for the video, said that the North’s standards of beauty were based on a woman’s ability to work and contribute to society. As a result, North Korean women used minimal products, and makeup trends in North Korea remained almost unchanged from 1959 to the early 90s. Meanwhile, South Korea mirrored Western or Japanese beauty trends and experimented with various makeup products.

As of 2015, South Korean beauty standards emphasize bright, clear skin and accentuating natural features. The final South Korean look in Cut’s video, however, seems to embody the sexier style of K-pop stars, such as CL and Hyuna, instead of an average present-day South Korean woman.

You can learn more about the research behind the looks below:


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Jubilee Project Shines a Light on Seoul’s Red-Light Districts

Pictured above: From left to right, Jubilee Project founders Eddie Lee, Jason Y. Lee and Eric Lu. (Photo by Hannah Gweun)

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

When a South Korean pastor first asked brothers Eddie and Jason Y. Lee to produce a documentary about prostitution and sex trafficking in Seoul, they were taken aback.

The co-founders of the nonprofit Jubilee Project, known for its socially conscious short films and public service announcements, had previously filmed in the infamous red-light district in Thailand, but for some reason, they couldn’t fathom the idea that there was anything near comparable occurring in their motherland, a country the second-generation Korean Americans had visited many times in the past.

But, after being invited by Onurri Church Pastor Eddie Byun to travel to Korea last February and explore the country with eyes wide open, they ventured into parts of Seoul that took their breath away.

“We came out of a subway [station] and just across the street from a grocery store, we saw these glass windows, similar to the kind you see in Amsterdam,” recounts Jason, during an interview at Jubilee Project’s office in Los Angeles. “There was this moment when I was like, ‘Where am I? This is not Korea. This is not the Korea I know.’ And the most perplexing thing is that right next to these windows, where all these women were behind, there was a police station. I was baffled by not only how [prostitution] could exist so blatantly, but also how authorities could allow it.”

Armed with hidden cameras, the brothers spent about a month during their first trip to Korea going undercover in the three main red-light districts in Seoul, speaking with pimps, johns and sex workers. They returned to the States with some 150 hours of footage.

Save My Seoul, a documentary feature, is the result of over a year’s worth of labor. Slated for a spring 2015 release, the film allows viewers to see a far different side of South Korea—beneath its shiny veneer of catchy K-pop and innovative skin care products and smartphones—as they follow Jason and Eddie in their exploration of Korea’s disturbingly rampant sex trade.

It is Jubilee Project’s first feature-length documentary and most ambitious, in-depth effort to date. Since its founding in 2010, in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, the nonprofit Jubilee Project has been dedicated to telling stories that inspire change and empower others to take action. The group has partnered with several non-profit organizations in order to create over 100 short films, PSAs and documentaries that call attention to such important issues as bullying, autism and poverty. Their videos, usually between three and 10 minutes long, have garnered a total of about 16 million views on YouTube.

Pastor Byun, who had seen Jubilee Project’s previous shorts, reached out to the Lee brothers because for years he had wanted to make a film about the sex trade industry in Korea. It’s an issue close to his heart: Byun runs the Seoul-based HOPE Be Restored, which provides safe houses for victims of modern day slavery and helps them readjust to society. Last year, he published a book, Justice Awakening, a handbook for Christians who want to help end human trafficking.

“It’s hidden, but once you know what to look for, you’ll realize it’s everywhere,” Byun says in Save My Seoul.

Indeed, what the filmmakers found was that paid sex seems to be available in cafes, barber shops, DVD rooms, karaoke rooms and “juicy bars.” In recent years, Internet chat rooms have made it disturbingly easy for underage girls to sell sex to patrons online.

“There’s a saying in Korea that goes, ‘If you’re a rich man in Korea, then it’s your paradise,’ because you can literally go anywhere and pay for sex if you wanted to,” Jason says. “Even if you’re not looking for red-light district brothels, there are so many businesses that are actually doing sex work behind the scenes.”


According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Korean Women’s Development Institute, 5 out of 10 Korean men have admitted to purchasing sex at least once in their lifetime. More alarmingly, the Korean Institute of Criminology estimates that 20 percent of Korean men in their 20s pay for sex at least four times a month.

“Someone described it as an open secret in Korea, where everyone knows, but no one wants to acknowledge it,” Jason says. “It’s almost as though the culture accepts it and turns a blind eye to it.”

Aside from activists, academics and a few government officials, not many were willing to talk on the record to the filmmakers about this so-called open secret, afraid of painting Korea in a negative light. A surprising exception, however, was a head pimp of one of the city’s red-light districts, who casually consented to an interview on camera.

“When you think about the fact that you’re sitting with this man who is running a red-light district that is a series of illegal brothels that enslave hundreds of girls—if not thousands of girls—every night to just have sex and not make any money, it’s a pretty crazy moment,” Jason recalls. “It was really interesting because he said that he believes that he’s helping these girls.”

But what the Lee brothers found after meeting with many of the young women and girls working in the sex industry was that prostitution is often not a choice. “It’s a matter of survival,” he says.

He adds that it’s fairly common for Korean sex workers to enter the industry as teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19. Most of these girls are runaways from broken homes, where they have suffered from physical, sexual or emotional abuse. They fall into the sex trade because of a lack of options for them, Jason says.

The filmmakers also came to the conclusion that Korea’s sex trade is in many ways tied to what they called a “broken Korean culture,” fed by a long, complicated history of females being treated as sexual commodities.

Prostitution in Korea can be traced as far back as the Goryeo Dynasty when kisaeng, or trained artists, were sanctioned by the state to entertain men of the elite landholding classes. While kisaengs were stigmatized by the Confucian idea that a woman’s self-worth is measured by her chastity and adherence to men, their services were in high demand and considered customary.

Then, during the Japanese occupation, thousands of “comfort women,” as they were euphemistically called, were forced into sexual slavery—a grave crime that continues to haunt Korea, as Japanese leaders deny culpability and refuse reparations for the survivors.

Though there were laws banning prostitution from the 1950s through the ’80s, it only grew during the military rule of South Korean President Park Chung-hee. South Korea, at the time, desperately needed foreign currency to rebuild its war-torn economy, and so in 1962, the government designated “camptowns” around U.S. military bases as “special tourism districts,” where prostitution was legal. Camptown prostitutes were even required to register with the government and carry medical certificates to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

It was not until 2004 that a South Korean law banned prostitution entirely. However, despite government crackdowns and arrests, the red-light districts expanded underground and to other businesses. According to the Ministry for Gender Equality, about 500,000 women participate in the Korean sex trade industry, while women’s rights groups, such as the Korean Feminist Association, believe that number could be as high as 1.2 million. If the latter figure is right, then that means that one out of 25 women in the country is selling her body.

“To be honest, there is nowhere that you can access prostitution as easily as in Korea,” says Dr. Sun Young Park, a former criminologist at the Korean Institute of Criminology, in the film’s trailer.


In Save My Seoul, after the filmmakers went undercover to meet some of the girls and women working in the sex industry, they were eventually able to gain their trust and get them to share their stories.

“When we first introduced ourselves, they were making fun of our bad Korean,” recalls Jean Rheem, Save My Seoul’s producer and editor. “They had these really bubbly and bright personalities. I don’t think that’s particularly common for people who came out of that situation, but for these girls, I think it was because they were together with their friends.”

Rheem, who conducted half of the film’s interviews, says that the filmmakers coming from America seemed to help break the ice, as it piqued the girls’ curiosity. The Jubilee team bonded with the girls after sharing some of their Jubilee Project videos on YouTube and promising the girls anonymity.

“In terms of opening up to talk about the actual issue, it took [the girls] some time to really, really trust us,” Rheem says. “But ultimately, we just spent as much time as we could with them. And I think they could see that we came from a genuine place of wanting to really learn and do something about the cause.”

Rheem recalls one girl in particular, identified as “Esther” in the film, who was so brave in sharing her story. At the tender age of 13, she left her abusive home only to find herself in the hands of pimps, who exploited her for two years.

“For victims like her, it’s extremely difficult to reacclimatize to the society due to trauma, and this is especially true in Korea where the stigmatization against sex workers is high,” Rheem explains. “So many survivors choose to guard their past and move on with their lives. However, for Esther, she risked her safety by choosing to trust us with her story, if it meant that she could aid in [preventing] other troubled girls like her from ever experiencing what she had to endure. She believed in the effort, as long as it can help even just one person.”

Jason emphasizes that the goal of the film is not to make Korea look like a terrible country. Instead, he hopes that the film will help people re-evaluate the problematic culture in Korea that condones sex trafficking, and the larger, universal issue of just how we treat other human beings.

“Our purpose of the film is to grow awareness. If we’re able to grow awareness and begin a dialogue about [sex trafficking], then we can at least change some of the perspectives of people not only in the U.S. but also in Korea,” says Jason. “For every girl that we help prevent going into the sex industry, we’re changing their lives and their world.”

As a female activist at the end of the Save My Seoul trailer, says, “If people really knew what’s going on, there’s no way they can ignore it.”


Images courtesy of Jean Rheem/Jubilee Project

This article was published in the February/March 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the February/March issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days)


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[VIDEO] This is What Happens When You Bring Asian Food to School for Lunch


Chow mein. Pork buns. Dumplings. Fried rice. Eggrolls. Adobo. Hungry yet?

This is just a small sample of all the Asian food that I grew up with and deeply love. However, as a child, despite how often I ate Asian food (everyday) and how much I enjoyed Asian food (I wanted it everyday), you’d be hard-pressed to ever find rice and tocino in my lunch pail. Instead, my Hello Kitty lunch pail was home to PB&J sandwiches, go-gurts and of course, lunchables.

Early on, I learned to associate my beloved Asian food with home and (as 11-year-old Eddie Huang says in Fresh off the Boat after making the mistake of bringing noodles for lunch) I associated “white people food” with school.

This is probably why I laughed out loud to the Domics short animation “Asian Food.” The animator of Domics very humorously (and accurately) describes the struggle of bringing Asian food to school for lunch around non-Asian classmates.

With our grade school lunch days long behind us, it’s easy to laugh this situation off as children being children. But who am I kidding? We’ve seen adults overreact to Asian food too. Admittedly, many of our delicious dishes (like blood sausages and century eggs) look absolutely horrifying to people who are unfamiliar. But like the other kids in this animation, they just don’t know what they’re missing.

Now excuse me while I go get my hands on some sweet corn.


Originally published on Audrey Magazine

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Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 3.43.14 PM

[VIDEO] Extroverts vs. Introverts According to a Korean YouTuber

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Korean YouTuber Goteng recently posted a video that explores the differences between introverts and extroverts. The comparisons are made through lighthearted and slightly exaggerated scenarios, such as ordering at a restaurant, making a romantic confession and tripping in public. Currently, the video has over 350,000 views.

As an introvert myself, I can attest to how painfully awkward and difficult it is whenever I have to flag down a waiter and ask for extra banchan, or side dish. The struggle is real.

Watch the video below:


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