Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Changing times

Answer Me 1997: Hey, look! it’s the good old days.

As of this month, I’ve been watching Korean drama for three years. I was among the first wave of Americans that Netflix streaming exposed to kdrama, and a few months later I was part of a group of English-language drama blogs that were all established at about the same time. Although it’s not that long in the grand scheme of things, it feels like the dramaweb has changed a lot since 2011.

When I first started watching, the go-to sites were Drama Crazy and My Soju, both of which have long since disappeared. They were never quite legal, but their offerings were incredibly encyclopedic—they made it easy to watch older, less popular shows that can be difficult to find today. Of course, you had to wade through never-ending pop-ups and watch slews of incredibly annoying commercials, but that always seemed like a small price to pay.

Legitimate sources of streaming drama have become increasingly available since 2011, although they often lead back to the same source: Dramafever, which struck up deals with both Hulu and Netflix to air programming it had subbed. Viki had been around for several years by the time I found it, but its limited availability in app format made it easier to overlook than the ever-present Dramafever. Another player in the streaming world was Crunchyroll, although it hadn’t updated its library of dramas for years. The fact that Crunchyroll is back today with a whole new service at Kdrama.com seems like proof that Korean drama is still a growth industry.

An unfortunate side-effect of all this professionalization of dramas turned out to be the end of a number of fan-subbing operations. With S2, HaruHaru Subs, and Black Cat have all bowed out over the past year or two, either because of the increasingly fraught legal status of subbing or because professional sources provided subs so much more quickly. Today, Darksmurf and Viki seem to be the only large-scale English-language fan-subbing services that are still active.

Dramabeans and Koala’s Playground—the two most important news sites on the dramaweb—have remained constants since 2011, but many personal blogs have disappeared, either abandoned or taken down altogether. Fewer new Kdrama blogs seem to be appearing now, perhaps partly because there are so many other venues for writing about drama. Once upon a time, you had to create your own blog if you had something to say. Now Dramafever, Mydramalist, and even Dramabeans have been soliciting writing from the general public. This is great, but I really think writing for someone else is different from writing for yourself. On your own blog, it’s easier to be truthful and express your own opinions without worrying about what anyone else will think.

Like everything else, I’ve changed over the past three years, too. When I first started watching Kdrama, I somehow managed to breeze through two or three episodes a day, even while working a full-time job. I wasn’t selective at all and watched practically every new show that was subbed by Dramafever. Although I’m still watching Korean drama almost exclusively in 2014, many days go by when I don’t finish a single episode. And now I’m selective about what I watch—if people I trust didn’t like it, I stay away. It finally sunk in that being a completist is impossible; there are just too many new shows out there to watch them all. Instead, I’d rather watch what I’ll really enjoy and skip the junk.

My obsession with drama lead me to start this blog, where I wrote about all the puzzling and fascinating things I discovered in my voracious viewing. Because I watched everything, I saw trends rise and fall, and was able to make connections between shows that might not have been obvious to more casual viewers. I’ve posted here at least once a week for two and a half years, inspired by my desire to analyze the shows I was watching. The routine of coming up with a post every week has been good for me—in my adult life, I’ve never written more than I have since starting Outside Seoul. Blogging also kept me engaged in drama watching, always looking for new ideas to write about.

But there’s a reason why most blogs out there seem to focus on specific shows rather than Kdrama in general—it’s hard to come up with new things to talk about all the time. In my case, this is especially tricky because I’m watching so many fewer shows these days. I just can’t make the connections that I used to, and I can only come up with so many fun concept ideas, like the boyfriend bot or my field guides. 

I love writing for this blog, and won’t give it up anytime soon. Going forward, though, my plan is to post only when I feel like it, instead of updating every Tuesday come hell or high water. If you want to keep track of what I’m up to, you might want to sign up for e-mail updates (there’s a box for this to the right). Sites like Bloglovin’ are another good way to keep track of unpredictably updated blogs.  I’m also posting all the time on my two Tumblrs, one full of general randomness and one devoted to thoughts about the dramas I’m watching.

So this isn’t farewell, or even see you later. It’s more like I’ll be back.


  1. Ahh, I'm disappointed to hear that! Your blog has always been a part of my week. I suppose life does always seem to get in the way, though, so I totally understand. I wish you the best, and I'll still keep checking here every so often! ^^

  2. Aw, I'll definitely miss your weekly updates but I get what you mean about regular blogging, especially over such a long stretch of time! It's hard to keep churning out fresh and interesting ideas at such high frequency, even though you've been very good at it so far! I'll definitely pop by from time to time for your future posts, as well as your bite-sized chapter reviews on your tumblr :) Thanks for all your fun insights and reviews!

  3. What an interesting little history lesson you just gave us! You have a perspective I don't have because I've only been watching a year. I'm that later wave of viewers. I've seen most of the famous dramas and am now watching the new ones as they air, and that's a different experience too. I've enjoyed your insights and different kind of outlook. What a lot you were keeping up with! Good luck going forward.

  4. Curse you, real life, and your tendency to get in the way of drama watching! *Shakes fist in the general direction of the heavens*

    I can't help but selfishly hope that another Secret Love Affair will come along and make you explode in writing again. Until then, enjoy your break! I'm impressed you were able to be that consistent for that long.

  5. "It finally sunk in that being a completist is impossible" - I'm almost at that point, although if I get too far into a drama, I'll probably finish it. But i'm getting better at dropping it in the early days.

    I definitely think posting when you want to rather than feeling like you have to post every week is the way to go. Makes it more fun for you :-)

  6. Ahh has it really been 3 years? I was one of those early waves of Netflix viewers, though I started blogging later than you. It's been so long though! And I already kind of passed my heyday of Kdrama blogging. It's enough these days if I can finish 1 drama in the span of several months.

    I'll be checking in with you of course! (And since I'm always on tumblr... speaking of one of those waves of Kdrama fangirling... that's easier to do). Really appreciated your regular updates all these years though! As well as your reviews :)

  7. My Soju!!! Those were the days. That's where I watched my first Asian drama, Fated to Love You. It was more like five or six years ago for me though, lol.

  8. That's so true!
    Once I always finished the drama I watch, no matter what. But this year I drop several shows even at the first ep and only watching what I really like.
    I also start blogging and you're one of my inspirations. Thanks for your post ^^

  9. Hey Amanda, I miss your posts already! :)

  10. Hi Amanda. Would love to hear what you think of Fated to love you. A half review would be awesome. Jang Nara's character is very refreshing and Jang Hyuk is plain hot.

  11. Amanda,

    I stalk your blog from time to time as your posts are so intelligent and perceptive and introspective as well.

    I see that you’re re-watching SKKS again, and oh the discussions I wish I could have with you over a cup of coffee.

    As I don’t’ have a tumbler account and can’t seem to find your email address on this blog but REALLY wanted to share some things about SKKS that might make perk your interest, am leaving this comment here. Do feel free to delete if you wish.

    I love this drama so much. I read and loved the original book (and its sequel even more) and if I had the free time and energy, I would actually take on the task of translating it into English, but alas, real life.

    One interesting fact is that no one actually knows the real identity of the author – she goes by the pen name Jeong Eungwol – but having read the books so many times, I can’t help but feel that she is a modern-day Yoonhee. You can tell that her knowledge of the Confucian classics isn’t just based on one or two reference books. Yoonhee’s struggle is so very much similar to the struggle that all bright young women face when entering into academia, which in Korea still remains an extremely patriarchal and closed society.

    I don’t know if this will interest you as a viewer of the drama (and not the book) but it is in the beginning of the sequel (The Days of the Gyujangkak Gaksin) that Seonjoon’s father, the minister, finds out in the midst of the wedding process that Yoonhee has been cross-dressing as a boy. Of course he has a fit and actually tells her to commit suicide, be she says no – she is sorry for having deceived but does not feel that she has done anything that merits the taking of her precious life. She then goes on with her day to day life, working as a low-level government official in the palace where Seonjoon’s father inevitably comes across her from time to time and cannot help but be impressed by her ability to deceive everyone whilst doing her job so well at the same time. At the end, he is won over by her intelligence, wit and capability (without her intending to do so) and not only allows her to marry his son but also allows her to follow him (in male attire again) along with the Jaeshin and Yongha to Qing China as diplomatic envoys in order to see the wider world.

    I don’t think I’ve come across a female character in a Korean drama that is as intelligent as Yoonhee and equal to the male characters. What I really appreciate is the fact that Yoonhee’s abilities come from her own agency – it’s because she reads, she thinks, she transcribes – rather than being some great talent that she is born with.

    Finally, the weird green things that you were wondering about – Yoonhee’s offering that Yeorim made everyone eat. They are mugwort rice cakes. Rice cakes are traditionally ‘party food’, usually made by steaming white rice power mixed with delicacies (nuts, jujube berries, etc.). The poor could not afford such delicacies so instead mixed mugwort, a herb that grows almost everywhere in Korea, with the smallest amount of rice power possible – just enough the bind the entire batter – and made small patties that were steamed. Hope this alleviated your curiosity somewhat.

    Am looking forward to your thoughts on the rest of SKKS.


  12. You have been nominated for a Sunshine Award!

  13. Hey, Amanda!

    I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for The Sunshine Award. If you have time, I've got some really...erm...interesting questions for you to answer: http://saryre.blogspot.com/2014/10/you-are-my-sunshine-aka-sunshine-award.html

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Hey when can we see your reviews again....?
    It has been so LONG since you last posted....miss your writings...

  16. this is sad, since i recently started reading and looking forward to your post :(

  17. I just found your blog... And i really love it...
    And now I'm wondering, why there's no post anymore?? T.T

  18. Dear Ms. Amanda, how are you?.
    I am writing from one of the bleakest counties in South America, the formerly great Venezuela. I have enjoyed so much your posts, and fought depression reading your writings. When your government tries to suck your dreams, you need every space to find them again. Hope to read you soon, FGB4877.

  19. As I was reading and before I finished the post, I was thinking " Well maybe she doesn't have to post every Tuesday, she could just post every once in a while". lol

    I discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago and like you, I just started watching kdramas 3 years ago on Netflix, Prosecutor Princess, was my first one.
    I watch at least 2 episodes of something everyday even though I work full time. I watched Faith over two days. Sometimes I finish a drama and tell myself that I'll take a break, but I'm completely obsessed.

    Anyway, I'm extremely appreciative of people like you who take the time to blog about this topic.

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