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Onara, Dae Jang Geum

After the conclusion of thesis defense along with a breath of relief comes a sense of void. For four years the research project has incorporated into my life. I have scheduled all my plans around the dissertation in order to give me best effort and mindset to writing it. The idea of a free Saturday seems so foreign to me now. Summer session begins on May 26 and the class will read three novels: The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, and The Master and Margarita. I’ll be reading these books along with my students and book bloggers. On top of preparation work and syllabus, I still have plenty of spare time since I’ve finished the dissertation. I can finally do the things I’ve wanted to do for a long time. One is to watch the entire (70 episodes) Korean television drama series Dae Jang Geum.

Based loosely on the historical figure depicted in the Annals of Joseon Dynasty, the highly popular show focuses on Jang-geum (played by Lee Young Ae), the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea. The main theme is her perseverance, as well as the portrayal of traditional Korean culture, including Korean royal court cuisine and medicine. The clip I have attached is Onara, the theme song of the series. The song is in the pansori style, a particular type of Korean music that emerged during the Joseon Dynasty and was very popular in the 19th century. It utilizes the vocals of a singer and a drummer to tell a themed story. The refrain (“He-iya di-iya he-iya naranino”) is called chu-imsae and, in traditional pansori, it is supplied by the drummer to give rhythm to the song in addition to the beat.

Since the song is in archaic Korean the meaning of the song can be ambiguous. But one explanation is that the song depicts a girl who longs for a man that she cannot be with. So she accepts the way it is and moves on with her life. Onara gives me a sense of hope and imbues in me the strength to move on through tough times. Who knows? In addition to catching up on 5 years worth of TV I might even have time for some “airport” or light fiction, like the Shopaholic series! Books that sit on the shelf and that I have put off forever: Last Temptations of Jesus Christ, Les Miserables, The Dubliners (gosh James Joyce), Divisidero, Seeing, Slammerkin, and the bundle of newspaper book sections, would come to rescue.

7 Responses

  1. I’m ‘rereading’ AK (diff. translation-this time, going w/ P&V) as well as Brothers K this summer! Maybe I’ll grab the P&V edition of Master and Margarita and just pretend I’m one of your students. 🙂

    I love that feeling of freedom…obviously, I’ve never done a disseration, but I did a big honors thesis my senior year, and after the oral defense was over I felt light as a bird!

  2. This is the first ever Korean drama that I watched in its original undubbed form and I loved it. Dae Jang Geum sparked my interest for Korean culture ^^ It’s the reason why I am the Korean addict that I am now.

  3. Have fun with your free time.

    Let us know what the students think of the novels. I am interested in hearing about it. Many Communists countries were defunct by the time these students were in high school.

  4. My family and I stayed up to watch Dae Jang Geum when it was on TV a while back. It is pretty absorbing, especially the way they always end the episode on a cliffhanger that takes several more episodes to resolve. Great soapy drama.

    It must be great to finally be able to just read whatever you want without that feeling of “not attending to more important things”

  5. The song is very unique. It sounds like kids are singing the first verse. It must be great to enjoy all the free time and liberty to do the things that you put aside. Enjoy!

  6. Having lived in Korea, this might be quite interesting to me. I certainly recognize the topography and to some degree the look, though I only experienced the “modern” Korea at the end of the 1960s. Makes me a little nostalgic.

  7. […] The Tale of Genji Posted on April 11, 2009 by Matthew After watching the Korean epic series Dae Jang Geum, which was based on the true story of the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty of […]

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