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Pop Culture: Piggyback Rides


My Name is Kim Sam-soon

Hey, girlfriday here to kick off a new series that we’re doing, to call attention to some of the recurring motifs in kdramaland, by way of pop culture. Topics will range from cultural bits of Koreanness, to drama tropes, folktales, to things we simply find amusing or interesting, in tv/film/music. It’s intentionally broad, so that we can keep it free and loose, and we invite you to ask questions about things you’ve always wondered about, like why people in dramas always take out their cell phone batteries. (Answer: It’s a more dramatic action onscreen than pressing the OFF button, which is visually ambiguous.)

We thought long and hard about the inaugural post, and realized, of course, that it had to start with the mother of all drama tropes: The Piggyback Ride.


Iris

To discuss the piggyback ride, we have to start with a few things about Koreans: 1) drinking culture, and 2) skinship.

Koreans are like the Irish of the East. We drink. A lot. So it’s not really an exaggeration to see characters in dramas being socially pressured to drink, or killing multiple bottles of soju over one meal, especially after being dumped, fired, belittled, or otherwise trampled upon like any regular day in a kdrama heroine’s life.

That said, it is of course a drama trope to see characters literally pass out from drinking all the time. I’m sure if normal people did this on a daily basis, their mothers would have a thing or two to say.

“Skinship” is a made-up Korean-English word (used in Korea, not in the States) meaning levels of physical intimacy, or more simply, touching. Skinship can range from handholding to kissing, to sex, and people use it colloquially to ask how far things went. Example: GF: “I went on a date last night.” JB: “Was there any skinship?” GF: “Just the PG-13 kind.”


You’re Beautiful

Skinship has its own name precisely because it’s something to write home about. Touching, between adults and of a romantic nature, is a big deal. Now, I don’t mean Koreans are prudes. Far from it. I just mean publicly, culturally, Koreans are very aware of boundaries, politeness, and proprietary mores. People don’t go kissing each other on the cheek, for example. It’s just a matter of cultural difference. The result is, then, that touching means something.

The most common piggyback scenario is the classic I’m-too-drunk-so-will-you-be-my-knight-in-shining-armor-and-carry-me-home. Every drama has it, and every romantic comedy hero earns his stripes this way. Can you imagine drama hero bootcamp? Carry a 90 lb. actress on your back for two hours! Now drag her by the wrist! Practice your kiss! Sir yes sir!


The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry

If the piggyback comes early in the relationship, then almost always, drinking is involved. If one party is drunk and unconscious, then the other party isn’t hugging her—he’s merely being a gentleman and a hero. No, really! No butt-grabbing or anything, scout’s honor.

The piggyback is, in essence, an excuse for skinship, seemingly of the most harmless kind. Because it’s wrapped in a pretty bow of manly honor and a display of alpha male strength, it earns extra points for making women round the world swoon, thinking why can’t my boyfriend do that?

In practical terms, dramas need excuses for physical closeness. Especially if your characters are still in the You Suck Phase, as in My Name is Kim Sam-soon, above. So drinks plus piggyback ride is pretty much the go-to device, to force your characters to pass one level of skinship. It’s a tried and true squee-inducing method, especially if the characters still hate each other.


Personal Taste

Beyond the standard drinking and excuse for skinship, piggybacks are a direct callback to a little girl’s relationship with her father. Don’t worry; I’m not going to go all Freudian on you. I don’t mean it in an icky way. But don’t think that fiction in a patriarchal society doesn’t reflect the values that are deemed to be right in that culture.

Piggyback rides in essence infantilize women to equate them with little girls, and paternalize men, to equate them with fathers. In Personal Taste Kae-in makes a direct comparison between Jin-ho’s back and her father’s, and throughout that drama he carries her as a substitute for her father, or lack thereof. In dramas the piggyback ride is shorthand now for all of the above. It’s an intentional association to make the hero appear safe, trustworthy, secure…like a father.


Coffee Prince

In some dramas, notably ones like Coffee Prince where gender roles are played with, the device can be turned on its head. Han-kyul is actually the lightweight drinker, and Eun-chan piggybacks him all over town.

But once she outs herself as a woman, no surprise—the gender roles go right back to the norm.


Coffee Prince

Whether you see piggyback rides as your ultimate fantasy or a nefarious plot to take over the world is up to you. While riding piggyback doesn’t really appeal to me personally, I do see why it’s a staple in dramas. It’s a simple gesture, but loaded with romantic ideals and warm paternal associations. It eliminates the need to say to your audience: this is a caring, sweet, warm man, underneath the gruff exterior. The piggyback does it all, with some skinship to boot.

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i believe that piggyback ride is the sweetest thing and it let the guy express how he feelings about the girl n he is willing to carry her

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I loved the Sam Soon piggyback ride. Too funny. The Coffee Prince one was cute too. But honestly, that much piggybacking only comes in dramas. And LOL at that You're Beautiful pic. JGS's character was the best thing about that drama.

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thx for the posting.

Piggy back rides has been used to death in dramas but my question is this: Does a lot of female Korean drink soju along the roadside, get pissed drunk & had to be carried home that way in real life? When I just started my Kdrama addiction, I see a lot of this & remember thinking, gee....that's dangerous (thinking of rape here) coz the female is really so drunk that she is dead to the world!!!

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I would not consider myself a newbie in kdrama since I have been watching since 2004, therefore, I am familiar with all the cliches scenes and dialogue.

But up to now the scene the still amazes me is how Koreans can eat a BIG spoonful of rice without choking and sometimes in rapid succession. As an Asian, too, I LOVE MY RICE, but for the love of ....... I don't know how you do it!!! I tried, even using the Korean spoon I bought in Korea, but I can't seem to do it.
I don't have the knack for it or the dexterity to open my mouth wide enough so that it does not look like I am shoving something up my throat. In Kdramaland, no matter how big the spoonful of rice is, it does not touch the rim of the lips/mouth of the actor, and while chewing on it they don't gag. Do they even chew or just swallow? They make it look so "elegant" as compared to me looking so clumsy and comical. As I've said it never fails to amaze me.

I have to work on it, I know I can do it... hwaiting!!!!

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Haha! I'm loving this article. brought back lots of memories of the older dramas which I've watched. On another note, it also reminded me of one another hugging scene. I enjoyed seeing Choi Siwon as Sung Min Woo hugging Ye Eun (his daughter) in the drama Oh My Lady. So sweet....

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though piggy back riding is an overly used scene in kdramas, I always love and and always looking forward to it in every kdramas I watched, thanks GF and JB
for a wonderful insights to this fave scene of mine....one thing about kdramas that also keeps me wondering is the thing that #92 orion discussed about...the kissing scenes in kdramas....am just wondering why other kdramas can do it, properly, why other's can't....is it becasue of the time slot? is it becoz of that particular actor/actresses??.....I remember watching BTS of BOF wherein JunPyo and JanDi has a kissing scene and the director shouts 'cut!' and admonishes MinHo for moving his lips?...that's why all the kissing scenes in BOF end up like that....just like Orion says, it kills the mood, can't feel the 'great love' between characters if kdramas has that kind of kiss, just two lips touching, without any movement.....so I wonder what is the reason for this??

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reminisce this piggyback riding in korean drama,... oh how cute and sweet! kakilig talaga! :)

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For someone who has seen so many dramas with this "STAPLE KOREAN DRAMA REQUIREMENT", LOL you explained it well. You can always count on someone giving a piggyback . Good choices of dramas too.

This gesture also shows whether the couples really have "chemistry" or not. It ties in with "Is the drama going to be enjoyable" ... well at least for me, because if the main characters have no chemistry whatsoever, I start losing interest for the characters and eventually drop the show.

Thanks for this segment.

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@54 budsdiana: It might have to do with the kind of rice that's being eaten. I can definitely eat large quantities of sticky white rice, which is moist and does not require a lot of chewing, especially if it's cooked to retain a lot of water. It's essentially like eating porridge.

But, I can't really do the same with long grain rices, like the ones common in Southeast Asia, as the are drier. I also certainly couldn't eat brown rice as fast either, because it requires a lot of chewing.

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23) girl picks up broken pieces of glass object, and gets a cut in her finger. sure it's probably pretty painful but she's not agonizing over it and the guy makes such a big fuss over it.

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hahaha to be honest I always fall for the piggyback ride scenes too. But then again, it probably is because I haven't got one since forever. I know that if they switched the piggyback ride with the carrying her in his arms type of scene, I wouldn't be as touched since I actually hate it when my bf carries me that way. I can't help but feel like "omg what if he drops me, i'll land on my head!!" and that took away all the romantic feelings :D Then again, i'm terrify of height so may be that's why.

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Kudos on the great post topic!

I've seen a fair share of Kdramas over that last few of years and part of the fun for me was just figuring out what on earth was going on. Funeral protocol was especially a mystery (and still is, to some extent).

It's part of the reason I started reading here: I had this feeling I was missing some import part of a drama because some of the culture was over my head. And in some cases, I was right. Thanks for all the clarification, dramabeans! Can't wait for more, girlfriend!

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Gosh! I really luv this article! You're genius... In fact, I just discuss this matter with my colleague a few days ago... Now, I already got the answer :-)... Thanx!

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love this site. i can so relate to all the questions posted here. Been learning Hangeul so i can fully comprehend all the nuances of of their language. Love all their expressions and the weird sound they make when frustrated or exasperated. Keep it up. Love to learn everything about Korean culture.

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We need to have more instances of women carrying men in korean dramas.
Come on. What did we work out at the gym for?

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yh the whole piggy bank scene is a must i aint gonna lie
this was good to read thanx girlfriday ^^

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thanks gf for this.. though i feel that in real life, piggybacking is very common between mothers and kids, u see them everywhere... couple piggy backing is so rare..

on another note, have u watched madtv's korean drama parodies on youtube? they're hilarious..

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oh thank you for suggesting the kdrama parodies on youtube--I've laughed so hard, my stomach hurts and my cheek muscles are sore!

I'm just devouring everything here on Dramabeans, I am so grateful for this community.

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Do one on Bus Rides!

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What about the back hug? Can you do an article on that? Did mangas about back hugs happen first or do they actually occurred in novels or dramas first?

Great article thanks!

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Loved this article and been hoping for more like this :D Really gives me insight on why the characters do certain things in a particular way because I don't understand the Korean language and so have to rely on subtitles :) I totally miss out on the nuances of banmal vs jondaemal so having articles like this and the extended glossaries are a major lightbulb and "OH" moments for me :D

I wonder which Kdrama first came up with the pull out the battery to stop the cell phone from ringing scene. For the longest time, I speculated that Korean made phones didn't have a Off switch :P

But I digress, can we pretty pretty pretty please have an article on the whole drinking thing? Its like a science or maybe its an art either way I'm getting awfully confused at :-

- why people don't usually pour alcohol for themselves...
- who pours for who... juniors vs bosses, girls vs boys?
- why some people turn their heads or cover the glasses when they drink up? Is it a sign of respect, habit or ...?
- are beer bombs really that common?! Love those whenever they show it :D It was cute in Becoming a Billionaire where Lee Shin Mi was teaching Bu Tae-hee how to make beer bombs to get closer to her colleagues :D So fancy :)

- AND that one thing that gets me.....are all girls expected to make that sound when they drink soju?!?!?!

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You know, I was just thinking about that motif... I watched my first Korean drama nearly three weeks ago (Personal Taste) and now I've torn my way through Boys Over Flowers, Playful Kiss (what's available of it so far anyway) and Goong. I'm an Irish American. There's no Korean in my background at all, and here I am completely addicted to these shows. I'm so glad I've stumbled across this blog and found that I am not alone!

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Can someone explain how someone with a high fever miraculously recovers within a few short hours when sponged with cold water and lots of TLC from the giver? Isn't a flu (which sometimes accompanies a fever, which is most likely induced by an infection) take a few days to recover from ?

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all this time i have wondered..whats up with all this piggyback stuff..thanks, you do deconstruct kdrama.

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I have a question that has been burning me. When it's a guy carrying another guy, is there a specific cultural significance to that? (besides cuteness and bromance factor) Usually it involves stealthy and swift manhandling that impresses me (aren't guys heavy?!?). I've seen it in Coffee Prince between Min-Yeop and Harim twice and in Fantasy Couple between the ex-husband and his butler. I'm sure it's in other dramas too.

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The reason why kisses are so poor in kdramas is simply government censorship which restricts what and what cannot be shown on korean television. If you look at some of the older kdramas from the 1990s, there's hardly any skinship. Kissing in the early 2000s was restricted to light touching of lips only. Kissing in movies is entirely different and much more realistic from a western perspective.

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girlfriday..
I Freakin LOVE ur posts xDD
quite apart from being extremely insightful and intelligently critical, which all articles on this blog are, your posts betray that sardonic yet indulgent sense of humour which makes all the difference & makes for such a downright fun read.. Id like to give u a hug (LOL skinship..)
ahem that aside :P Really glad I discovered this blog. Finally people who aren't afraid to think about what they see, and say what they think. Too many forums exist where if you try to analyze, digest or otherwise examine what the drama is trying to achieve or the kind of thinking that went behind its making, a hundred angry voices tell you to shut up and not make a big deal out of it..its just a drama! u like it or u stay away! ..as though liking or disliking something was a matter of intuition or some other god given commandment..
brr so yes I find the thought given to drama cliches and deconstruction of drama narratives here extremely gratifying.. good job ppl! im glad u exist!! heh xP

And yes finally a plausible explanation for the stampede of piggyback rides one sees in k-romcoms.. I had figured some of it myself by researching but was never adequately convinced as to its need until ur comprehensive analysis.. so ur telling me all that excessive drinking soju like water and drunkards arnd every street corner has some basis in truth? Damn I'm emigrating to Korea! xD

I agree with the paternal piggy back riding theory. It does infantilize girls and hey Freud for all his failings had some pretty sound theories in that respect (disturbing though it is for most of us to admit).
Harking back to Freud but not so much to the Patriarchal touch (well actually yes that too if you consider motherhood & nurturing also as a socially imposed role on women- which on second thoughts it is-) so yes falling within the Patriarchal worldview as well-
is the reversal- the guy warming to the girl when she plays the nurturer/the mother- when he is sick taking care of him & falling asleep by his bedside, being excessively concerned over his diet, making him eat etc etc (the whole: women in our hour of need uncertain coy & hard to please, when pain & anguish wring our brow ministering angel thou) #_#

btw isnt skinship also a japanese-english word? I was under the impression it was?
In any case excellent post completely loved it & loved the references to coffee prince & sam soon specially.. two of my fav dramas \m/ :D

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thank you Mistress. I was so confused about the significance of the ubiquitous piggyback ride-it shows up in the weirdest places. Of course all the women leads seem thin and light as a feather, but come to think of it so do some of the men. How do they do it?? practice, practice!!

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What about Autumn Story, where the girl DIES while the guy is giving her a piggyback ride?

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DANG~ that's gotta be some sad (and freaky) scene if she dies on his back...

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Another one with kind of a same situation : The Granny piggybacked at the end of Can you hear my heart. So touching. Nice way to leave this world. But i'm not sure the man ( her grandson if i remember correctly ) will keep it as a "good" memory.

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great article! GF you are a good writer and I enjoy your writing and certain phrases make me laugh (in a good way tho').
piggyback and skinship who would think of writing about it but you did, bravo.

anyway I hope kdramas will not drift away from Asian values, to stay difference from the western influence, that I find satiate.

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It's not a Korean thing but a Korean telenovelas staples, right? Tried piggybacking my niece of +/- 30kg. She kept slipping. And I earned some sore backs.

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I just found this and thought that it informative. I'm more of a princess than a piggy backer. I have a question. Why don't they ever catch a cab? In the drama a guy will piggy back a girl for what seems like miles they also do the running to the hospital piggy back.

The tying of the shoelace is a very smooth move if done properly. Imagine a man you like kneeling on one knee in front of you, lifts your foot and rest it on his knee, then says something like "I worry you might get hurt" as he ties your shoe, then looks up at you when he finishes and says "now you will be safe and I won't have to worry". I guarantee that you will blush and tee hee.

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Oh! Oh! OH! I have a question!!!!
Heehee I'm sorry, I'm just so excited to be learning so much about Korean culture (can you tell I just finished watching Coffee Prince for the first time? can you? haha)
I totally noticed the whole piggyback thing but something leaves me more confused than that:
SINGING.
Do all Kdrama heroes sing to their love interests over the phone? If so, that's so damn cute xD
Anywho, I just love this place and I'm spending way too much time explaining myself...
besos from Venezuela ^^

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I'm at a time in my life where skinship or here in a america hugging and intimacy is starting to become more popular and i at the beginging of my school year hated it but that was because i only knew the guys for like 2-3 months and i was like y r u touching me. anyway now it's like reading this its like oh ok well if i wanna go to korea when im older i guess i'll have to read up on the culture and stuff.. point is that im middle school aged student and when i try explaing skinship to my friends i get a really big urge to hug something or to be hugged... i find that weird about myself.. anyway this was really informative and cool to read , it's like a new light reading this =)

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Thank you SO much for posting this! I've been wondering about it for some time now! lol That's one of the things I like about 'You're Beautiful.' The one and only piggy-back ride I can think of isn't between the two main characters, it's actually in the second episode, after Tae Kyung has fainted from Mi Nam throwing up on him Jeremy carries him to the car via piggy back ride.

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I just love that post !
Something i suggest for later thesis : I'm always amazed at the way they include props into the story, example :
- mobile phones : they are living beings in the story, specialised in bad timing. Removing the battery is indeed a way to tell them "shut up".
- To stay in the tone South Korean = Techfreak : The using of digicodes that look like spaceships on chaebol houses. If you get the combination then you're my soulmate ( or an irritating folk : stepmother, privacy invading cousin... ). LOL...
- And my favorite for the road : The Devil Posessed Elevator.
If you're a girl, NEVER NEVER, ride an elevator in South Korea : You'll be stuck inside for sure. With a love rival, an annoying mother in law, a nosy sister of your actual flame, a stupid Boss.
Or your boyfriend who thinks it's perfect place to date and forcefully kiss you. You'll catch a cold, you'll die or even worst, make a fool of yourself.
- One cliché that really bothers me : IV drip to treat any disease or sickness, from indigestion to headache, to cancer, to amnesia, to eyesight problem. Universal Secret Recipe : I'm interested !
- Loan sharks : Is it so common to borrow money from them in SK ? When you see all the troubles that come with the money in Kdramas, i wouldn't deal with them even if a gun was aimed at my head.
THAT said, i love dramas and i enjoy so much those conventions : They are like old friends to me. :)

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way to go! looks like if you are trying to perfect a formula for a sure hit kdrama, combine all the elements stated above ^_^

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I've watched probably 3 k-dramas where the couple gets married. However, there was no minister or judge officiating the wedding. Why is that? Can you explain?

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This is the exact reason I return here--because I get insight into Korean culture that helps me to understand the shows I'm watching better. Huzzah. Cheers.

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I loved it! I guess piggyback got its name from coffee prince's ajussi "I'm carrying a pig and you?"... Sighs* The awkawardness of Tae Kyung when he was assaulted with daebak hugs by Mi-Nyeo was unique... From the perspective that he was not really affectionate (his mom's traumas) and the skinship korean rules :) (maybe?) You're beautiful rocks!

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It's interesting that your header/banner picture is Park Si Hoo, but you don't mention the piggy-back ride in Prosecutor Princess, which is one of my favorites.

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It's interesting that your header/banner picture is Park Si Hoo, but you don't mention the piggy-back ride in Prosecutor Princess, which is one of my favorites. I have never left a comment here before , so it is odd that your filter would censor this comment.

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Why do kdramas seem to have a bathroom moment or they talk about human waste (poop) and show someone on the toilet? You cannot kiss properly and kiddie-rated skinship yet there is almost always a poop or toilet scene. I have always wondered about that.

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Yes I noticed this also. It doesn't offend me. It is kind of a salt of the earth thing, maybe it is the spicy food. Maybe the poorly executed kissing is starting things really cool before things get really hot, which according to Kdrama rules we will not be seeing. I like it when the female lead says to male lead (about the 9th episode) "I'm attracted to you but I am still evaluating your character because I want to make sure I don't get involved with some one unworthy" (ie Descendants of the Sun). Also the modesty that is displayed by male characters is so cute. I agree the female lead is likely to walk into the bath room unannounced long before there is any hand holding. (Roof Top Prince) (Attic Cat)

I would like to see more product placement of condoms. It is the new normal we all agree on that right? And more straight forward requests for STD testing by women because who wants to consider intimacy with someone who isn't decent enough to do that. Kdrama is powerful stuff and young people with raging hormones need a message from their idols to play it straight. I hate to see a teachable moment in a motel room go by.

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Actually Attic Cat is not a good example.

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Hello from Ireland.
So There is no historical context for the pggyback.
The last time I saw it was in the movie Samaratian girl, where one girl piggybacks another. Have you seen the movie. I thought it strange why a director who i suppose could be called radical would include such a visual cliche into his movie. Although I suppose the fact that it's one girl carrying another is not the norm

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love your explanation, I'm currently into Kdramas right now and your explanation answers a lot of question. Im wondering though, is this a common thing that koreans do or just in kdramas?

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i kno this is kinda late, but i cant help it *shrug*
a girls gotta say what a girls gotta say:P

as an asian in america i just casually touch people i know well...not reallly intimately, but like an arm around the shoulder, ruffle the hair
with people im close to, they get hugs, kisses on the cheek, and looped arms (did i say that right? i'm pretty sure y'all know what i mean :D). Good thing is though, i always ask for permission before i have skinship like that for the first time with a person (courtesy of my mom who isn't all that into skinship)

i actually wish i could get a piggyback like in dramas but i can tell tht its not gonna happen cuz i swore off drinking, don"t get sick, and don't wear heels aka stilettos as a general rule (what can i say? why torture myself for i guy? if he's the one, he'll fall in love anyway ^^)

yea i use parenthesis a lot, but don't we all? :)

i just realized, this is long. yup, i'm one of those people that write a ton randomly and cant stop until everything i have to say is out and then some

i'm working on it though ^^

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[…] FONTES: Drama Beans […]

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[…] a few online essays examining this phenomenon. One of the more interesting ones I read was on the Drama Beans website that examined the cultural meaning of piggy-back rides in Korean films. One thing that […]

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[…] Drama Beans, Black Out Korea, […]

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[…] FONTES: Drama Beans […]

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Awww... I remember when Lee Shin piggybacked Gyu Won, or when Moon Jae Shin piggybacked Kim Yoonhee. Squeefest! ♥

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[…] FONTES: Drama Beans […]

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