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Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Journey in Search of Korea's Beauty – the book.

A Journey in Search of Korea's Beauty Chinese EditionBook Cover

A press article in the English Chosun a few days back “Korean actor Bae Yong-joon's book ‘A Journey in Search of Korea's Beauty’ has been nominated as one of the best literary works of 2010 by China News, one of the largest newspapers in China” gave me the inspiration to write about this book as today’s topic.

The Japanese and Korean versions of this book, ‘A Journey in Search of Korea’s Beauty’ by Bae Yong Joon have been in circulation since Sept 2009. It went through 13 re-printings within a month of its release, and saw its skyrocketing rise to the bestseller list instantly. A year later only, in September 2010, saw its Taiwanese translation, followed by Chinese and now the latest in English, in December 2010.

A Journey in Search of Korea's Beauty Book Cover

I have been a big fan of Bae Yong Joon since ‘Winter Sonata’ days and without saying, this book is a ‘must buy’ for all BYJ fans like myself. I only managed to get a copy of this prized book on New Year’s Day, 2011. It came with a little bonus, in the form of a little desktop calendar with pictures taken from the book.

The moment I tore off the plastic packaging that came with the book, I put my nose in between the leaves of the book, as I just love the smell of new books and took a long whiff. Funny I should choose this page because, there staring at me were the words “Awakening your Sense of Smell with Words” a foreword by Lee O-Young, Korea’s First Minister of Culture, because I was certainly awakened by BYJ’s words while reading the book. It was a very beautiful piece, in praise of BYJ as an actor, and describing this book as “an aromatic endeavour” by BYJ, a good introduction to the book. I flipped over the pages of the book looking at the pictures and I was totally lost for words, they were beautiful. Incidentally, all the script and photographs in the book were all done by him. ‘Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder,’ how true, BYJ saw beauty in everyday common objects that most people would not even take a second glance, much less take pictures of.

After reading the book I’ve come to realize that there’s a poetic and philosophical side of him that we have not been exposed to before. He’s a very down to earth person, and very humble. He talks about his thoughts, feelings and aspirations with a little poetry woven in here and there. I did a quick read of the book just to get the feel of it but a book like this needs to be read over and over again to really understand and appreciate it. And it is now kept on my bedside table, so that I can read or even look at the pictures before I go to bed each night. He’s my inspiration!

As a a hint to his fans about this book he was going to write, I remember he posted a 2009 New Year’s message to his fans on his homepage, saying that  he was working on a book about Korean culture and that he was still in the research and study phase then. He also explained that it was a new experience for him and that it wasn’t that easy, but that he had studied well. He also hinted on what kind of book it would be “I think the book, which introduces Korean culture, will be halfway between a travel book and a humanities book. I hope to unearth hidden stories and locations of Korean culture and make it enjoyable to all. I am learning a lot through new places, new people, and new experiences.”

And now, to tell you a little about the book. The design of the book cover is simple, with just a black and white picture of Bae Yong Joon in a hat and very simple clothes.The photograph showing the back view of him walking towards the mountains leaves quite an impression on the mind.

According to Hollym Corp., the publishers, the book is “An Unfledged Yet Earnest Record of a Journey in Search of Korea's Culture”
A Journey in Search of Korea's Beauty was a yearlong project that Bae Yong Joon undertook in order to learn more about traditional Korean culture from the unfledged yet earnest point of view of one Korean, and to record in a down-to-earth way what he learned and felt in the process. He chose 13 subjects he has been interested in out of the traditional Korean culture and folded into six categories. This book is intended not only for foreign readers who would like to learn more about traditional Korean culture but do not have easy access to it, but also for Korean readers as well who are in search of this country's beauty.

1. Staying: In this chapter, the author introduces Koreans’ staple food, including bap and kimchi, and emphasizes the beauty of the hanbok, the traditional clothing, often quoted as beautiful lining. Not only that, he focuses on the colors of the hanbok and guides the readers to the world of natural dyeing he has experienced.

2. Leaving: Along with a 10,000 year lasting lacquer craft and a 1,000 year lasting hanji (the Korean traditional paper), we learn about traditional pottery making and about Buddhism that holds a crucial place in Korean history. The writer meets artisans and monks to seek craftsmanship and courtesy that was handed down through the ages.
3. Letting Go:
On an empty site, once enjoyed great honor of the great Kingdom, we reconsider past and present and make plans for the future.
4. Contemplating:
King Sejong the Great hoped for all the people to be able to read and write. We recollect dreaming King’s invention, hanguel, and tangible assets from the National Museum of Korea.
5. Returning:
Compared to world famous wine, Korea’s traditional wine takes no lower position. We take a look at traditional liquor and hanok, the traditional Korean housing which is built based upon human engineering.
6. Leaving, Once Again: The last chapter contains beautiful photographs taken by Bae Yong Joon during his journey.

Editor's Review
Value of Traditional Culture
Although Korean traditional culture is a world-recognized unique and scientific heritage, we often take it for granted just because it's around us in our everyday routine. That might be the reason we can't clearly introduce what it's like to foreigners when we're asked to do so. Bae Yong Joon also was in that position and came up with the idea of necessity to look further inside ultimate beauty of Korea.
To know something also means to know that some things are unknown. Never forgetting that some things are unknown or unknowable seems to be good for us. It makes us humble and pure. And it makes us try harder. It fills us with the desire to learn. Too much and we are made fools, too little and we are made arrogant. But in the right amount, the unknown can be good for us. (p. 280)
Travelling helps us to become more mature beings. People get to know themselves better and figure out new things on the way. Especially, an attempt looking for origin gives us the chance to value the true beauty in itself. This journey for traditional culture supports to find real beauty of Korea. It fills in our sprit and empties our mind from abundance at the same time so we can stand on the firm ground as a whole. Every step Bae Yong Joon took to the past resembles Korean culture which implies rustic simplicity and exquisite taste. This book concentrated more to spiritual heritage than tangible assets. It is remarkable that Bae Yong Joon actually tried to make kimchi and had a meal at a temple to show how the process worked out.
Beauty of Daily Surroundings
Bae Yong Joon reified his wish to reconnect cultural beauty of past and present through this book. A Journey in Search of Korea's Beauty vividly delivers photographs he took himself that show his accurate observation and fertile imagination. He devoted himself to every single step of the whole process with sincerity. In this book, you will see how different he seems at the end of his journey. It also includes routes he traveled, in his wish to share the experience and to promote cultural visits.
The very advantage of this book is that it contains whole process of certain parts of our heritage which cannot easily get attention nor be experienced around us. Bae Yong Joon put it on record for us to develop empathy with real beauty of cultural heritage and to preserve tradition. Thanks to his enthusiasm, we can indirectly experience the genuine beauty of Korea without actually having participated in the process.
Good books let readers follow and agree to the writer while reading. They also should linger in readers' minds and encourage them to move forward after reading. Page after page, I was amazed how shallow my knowledge about Korea was and I definitely wanted to pack and leave for a cup of Donjeongchun right at the moment. But if you're in Korea, take a good look around you before you leave and you'll find something right there as well. I have learned that fact from A Journey in Search of Korea's Beauty.

This was what the Korea Times had to say when the English version of the book was released, “The book brings well known subjects including ``hanji’’ (Korean traditional paper), bibimbap and “Hangeul,’’ (Korean alphabet), along with other unique features such as the National Museum of Korea and home cooking.
Whether the reader is a fan of Bae or not, the book will be a great endeavor in search of Korea’s beauty, and also a chance to peek into the life of one of Asia’s best known actors. Korean actor Bae Yong-joon fueled hallyu, or Korean wave, through his dramas, and now he is hoping to step closer to his foreign fans with something more personal.”

Korea Tourism Organization also had this to say of BYJ, one of their appointed goodwill ambassadors of the ‘2010-2012 Visit Korea Years,’ “Rather than simply enjoying the sights, Bae began his journey with the aim of better understanding the true essence of Korea: its culture, arts and tradition. He explored 13 different themes on his journey, met with the masters of each theme and tried it out for himself. His documentation of his adventures is written so candidly that it's almost as if the reader can hear Bae’s voice telling the story. As a major Hallyu star familiar with a variety of different cultures, Bae was able to pinpoint 13 themes of Korean culture that many Koreans could identify with.

The text includes topics such as Gimjang (making Kimchi), Gajeongsik (home-made meals), and Cha (tea), which bring new light to Korea’s food culture. The book also provides easy explanations on themes like Chil (Korean lacquering), Dojagi (porcelain), and Hanok (traditional Korean house), which are quite tricky for even native Koreans to explain. In the book, Bae also elaborates on his thoughts on topics like the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the National Museum of Korea, and Temple Stay: the culminations of Korean culture.”

Caught this review while reading the Good Reads site. “Not your ordinary travel book as actor Bae Yong Joon goes in search of cultural heritage and in doing so discovers more about himself and life.”

The most endearing parts were Bae's philosophical insights and struggles while the discovery of the Art of Tea and Temple Stay left me wanting more. The sections on Hanbok and Kimchi were very well done along with the culture of wine and games.
The book was detailed enough for me to feel literally a part of the journey into the mountains and welcoming homes and arts of Korea. That said, the book was a good read for anyone interested in journey and in areas of Korea that many or most Koreans don’t even have detailed knowledge of.
Much more than a travelers guide to Korea. The stories are smart and the writer provides a good amount of philosophical questions on living that provides an added reward to readers. Very endearing book.”

So what are you waiting for? With all the good testimonials that we have seen and read so far, it should help us in our decision – to buy or not to buy? Whether you are  a BYJ fan or not, I hope that you will consider buying this book and add it to your collection, because it is worth the money and it makes good reading.

I remember reading about the launching ceremony of his book in Japan in September of 2009, where he said, "It’s my first time to hold a press event for a book so I’m nervous and very excited. "This book is not a fancy one written by a professional expert. It’s written by a beginner who wanted to learn more about Korean culture," Then he continued to tell the audience on why he wrote this book "It was during a press conference in Japan (when I first thought of writing a book). One reporter asked me if there were any places in Korea I would like to recommend to fans. When I couldn’t find an answer, I realized how little I knew about our culture. My first plan was to write a book about tourists spots and restaurants in Korea, but then I thought it would be more meaningful if I explored the culture and the people first.”

He was hospitalized for 5 days just before the launching of his book due to fatigue and stress, and yet he managed to appear on stage with his signature smile throughout the whole ceremony. At the launch, he also confessed that he had lost 10 kilograms and he now understood the difficulties authors and reporters had to go through when writing. "The most difficult thing was meeting the deadline," he said laughing. "It was interesting, as soon as the deadline came closer, the words came to me!"
"I have learned that it is not ability, fame or money that is important (in preserving the Korean culture), but a true heart. I thank everyone who taught me this,"

Well, looks like his book’s a success, and especially the fact, that the book has been nominated as one of the best literary works of 2010 by China News, one of the largest newspapers in China, adds testimony to it.

Here, I would like to make a suggestion and I hope that you will give me your kind support. For the comprehensive and intensive research that BYJ has done on Korea’s culture he deserves to get an Hon. Doctorate in Humanities from a prestigious university in Korea. Do you think that’s possible? I hope that the people who are in a position to do that will recognize the effort he made to write this book.

That man seems to have the “Midas Touch,” everything he touches seems to turn to gold. Today BYJ is acclaimed to be the richest Hallyu star in Korea. Films, dramas, modeling, endorsements, TV advertising, restaurant owner, entertainment agency and now author, I wonder what next? I heard about him being one of the main shareholders in a Japanese company, Ottowintech.

It goes to show that BYJ is an enterprising young man with good foresight. He doesn't act in that many number of films/dramas as compared with others. His big break in his acting career came with the release of the drama ‘Winter Sonata’ which became the turning point in his life. He became the favorite of the Japanese overnight, not only with the younger set but the older ahjummas as well. His fans in Japan itself outnumber those in his homeland, no wonder he always like to go to Japan for his big events, like the launching of this book. According to his agency, Keyeast, the publishing copyright for the book were sold to a Japanese book agency for a whopping 800 million. The average copyright for foreign books in Japan is around 92 million won.

Not only does he own restaurants in Korea and Japan; but did you know that his “Yonsama kimchi” enterprise, which sells the spicy pickled vegetables under his name in Japan is doing very well indeed. Seems like it has sold some several billion wons worth of kimchi. It just goes to show that people will buy anything if it comes in the right packaging. Oh, I almost forgot, not only does he make plenty of money, he’s quite a philanthropist too. God bless him.

This book has also been made into a television documentary showing Bae’s travels through a video featuring the photographs and writings from the photo essay.

BYJ, the photographer

“The documentary is divided into eight episodes, each tracing Bae's journey to explore the country's culture, art and traditions.

The program introduces pottery master Cheon Han-bong, hanbok (traditional Korean costume) designer Lee Hyo-jae and pansori (Korean traditional vocal and percussional music) master Yoon Jin-cheol. These virtuosos do more than just simply recount the details of their specific area of skill; all serve as guides, linking and exposing the world to the country's true beauty hidden beneath the established practices.

In addition to portraying Bae and the specific route he took, several foreign dwellers have participated in the documentary. MBC LIFE producer Lee Jae-moon deemed this opportunity as a shortcut to arouse interest among other foreigners.

"Our plan was for the world to perceive Korea's beauty through this program. Since most natives are already aware of the country's underlying grace, we thought that portraying Korea through the eyes of a foreigner would enhance the ability for others to relate to the experience", Lee said at a preview of the documentary Wednesday.

Despite its title as Bae Yong-joon's documentary, Lee mentions that the star's appearance and the primary photos he took makes up only about one third of the film. Although the producer is anticipating disappointment from Bae's fans, he explained the reason behind his decision by clarifying his main objective which was to simply depict the Korean culture thoroughly presented in the book.

"I thought Bae had captured the precise essence of Korea's nature. So I asked myself, 'Wouldn't making this into a documentary be a great way to raise awareness of our culture?'" he said.

He did not want the focus to be on Bae, but rather, expected to lure a bigger audience through Bae's contribution.

Moreover, many famed musicians have participated in the documentary's soundtrack. This includes Kim Joon-seok, music director of the 2008 movie "A Frozen Flower", female R&B group Big Mama, soloist Lee Ki-chan, girl group Rainbow and music director of the phenomenal drama "Sungkyunkwan Scandal". (2010) Park Sung-il. With their help, Lee hopes to not only tell the world about Korean culture but also of the nation's talented singers and actors.

Producer Lee aims to make the program a cultural inspiration for all. Up until now, only individual celebrities have been globally recognized. Lee strives to surmount that principle. "It's time our Korean culture shone with dignity", he said.

Let’s Buzz Korea! I guess that’s about all for now. See you around!

Special thanks and appreciation to the following
Photos and articles © courtesy:

http://www.hollym.co.kr/english/detail.asp?book_seq=238

http://www.hancinema.net/photos/fullsizephoto148103.jpg

http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/ena/FU/FU_EN_15.jsp?cid=814192

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/art/2011/01/135_78966.html

http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/01/11/2011011101299.html

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9971696-a-journey-in-search-of-korea-s-beauty

http://www.mbclife.co.kr/program/program_main.asp?program_no=103

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CniRLekM1c&feature=player_embedded