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[Escapism vs. Realism] Finding realism in unreal dramas


Signal

By @Greenfields

I knew immediately that this was the theme for me. K-dramas are my escape from everyday life, but realistic K-dramas helped me find my way back to it. My idea of realistic dramas is not necessarily slice of life, but rather dramatic plots with elements of realism. This is usually realistic characters and their realistic reactions to the extraordinary or unrealistic situations in which they find themselves, in addition to, of course, slice-of-life plots.

When I got into K-dramas last year, I had hit rock bottom. I had just returned from an LLM at the University of London that I hadn’t wanted to do (forcibly sent by my father), spent a ton of money while there, and had no wish to pursue law as a career. As a result, I was working part-time and earning peanuts, essentially doing nothing while my peers seemingly went from accomplishment to accomplishment in their legal careers. Depression hit, and I wallowed in it, until I discovered the magically clean land of K-dramas.

As strange as it sounds, at a time when my real life and the people in it couldn’t reach me, realism in dramas did. And it played an integral role in making me re-evaluate my life. The characters in Pinocchio, for instance, were always at work. They weren’t sitting at home and watching dramas, but took action to change their lives. They made mistakes, learned from them, and moved on.


Pinocchio

Also on the move was the most badass lady in dramaland, Signal’s Cha Soo-hyun, played by the beautiful Kim Hye-soo. She embodied the kind of woman I admire—intelligent, no-nonsense, yet distinctly feminine, professional woman working her way up in a difficult, male-dominated career. The sweet and naive demeanor of the younger Cha Soo-hyun gave me confidence in my own abilities. As a shy and quiet science nerd in high school to whom success in science and math-related subjects came easily, the loud and brash atmosphere of law school was a culture shock. I got through it with no small amount of effort and now I needed to get over the fear of failure I had somehow developed over the course of my time there. If I wanted to be a lawyer, I needed to believe that I could be one.

And do I even need to mention the inspiration that can be found in the fighting spirit of Misaeng’s Jang Geu-rae and the other entrants into the corporate world? My working environment suddenly didn’t seem quite as bad.

It took me four months of binge-watching dramas and witnessing a suicide in person to finally take action to change my life (a rather drama-like turning point, indeed). My next step was a small one, not the best or adequately researched, but it gave me confidence in my ability to be a litigating lawyer. I found that I had run away from the challenges offered by law school for nothing. I had allowed the abilities of the other kids to scare me into inaction. And that once I tried and put in the effort, I could do it too.


Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju

Existential questions of what I wanted to do with my life settled, I now faced my next challenge—finding love, something else I shy away from. But this can mostly be attributed to my all-girls’ convent school upbringing. I connect with women very easily, but tend not to know how to connect with men.

Thus, a recurring trend in dramas these days that I enjoy is the thoughtful male lead paired with the confident female lead. Not the horribly insufferable chaebol who becomes kind to his beloved after she wins his heart, but those who are sweet from the beginning—not unlike many real-life nice guys. Easy examples are Jung Joon-hyung and Kim Bok-ju in Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju, Go Dong-man and Choi Ae-ra in Fight My Way, and Ahn Min-hyuk and Do Bong-soon in Strong Woman Do Bong-soon. While Weightlifting Fairy and Fight My Way are straight-up slice of life, Strong Woman is clearly a comic book in drama format. But Min-Min sets the bar for the modern urban male. Perceptive, thoughtful, and intelligent, he is perhaps a perfection no real-life man can match.


Temperature of Love

But presently airing dramas contain a number of realistic men, like the ones from Lingerie Girls’ Generation (though they’re more aptly categorized as boys), Ohn Jung-sun from Temperature of Love (who so realistically pursued Hyun-soo, then left without saying goodbye), and Kwak Hyun from Hospital Ship. Sadly, Kwak Hyun isn’t happy these days, and Hospital Ship is quite unrealistic to begin with, so I’m wavering on continuing this one.

I also have a special fondness for realistic friendships between women, a theme less often seen in K-dramas and in fact, under-emphasized in fiction all around the world. Age of Youth, its sequel, and Weightlifting Fairy are easy examples of how important girlfriends are to one’s happiness and sanity. In contrast, the presence of the jealous, petty, and manipulative second female lead nearly always puts me off. At present, my sadness at the depiction of the two-faced Ji Hong-ah and my love for the sweet Ohn Jung-sun are warring with one another as I watch Temperature of Love, and whether I continue the drama depends on which one wins out.


Age of Youth 2

While I mostly watch dramas set in the modern day, realism can also be found in sageuks. Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People was populated by a vast cast of characters who, despite the supernatural presence of the Mighty Child in their midst, were fairly regular people. The Princess’s Man’s Lee Se-ryung was another strong-willed woman who would make a great lawyer. She stood by her man against her father not solely for romantic love, but because she didn’t believe in her father’s ideology, and persuaded him back from the depths of a revenge-torn hell after her father massacred his family. The gravitas of sageuks and their realistic settings mean that they quickly become some of my favorites, earning a spot in my personal 10/10 ratings list.

Korean dramas aren’t a heavy subject steeped in deep meaning for me, as this write-up might imply. I watch mostly the lighter ones and the comedies, largely for easy laughs and to de-stress. K-dramas are entertainment, and sometimes entertainment can serve a purpose beyond that which is obvious, as it did with me. Once I looked beyond my own head, I found that the world isn’t as harsh a place as I had made it out to be, though it isn’t easy either. As I take on more and more responsibility, the time I spend on dramas is reducing, but I’m fairly certain K-dramas will always remain a part of my life. And of course, there is no way I could give up all the hot oppas—lawyers, chefs, baristas, CEOs, writers, revolutionaries, doctors, deliverymen, athletes, journalists, policemen, secret-identity-holders, some unemployed—that dramaland has to offer, unrealistic as they may be.

 
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I agree with almost everything you've said so far. I was a English/science nerd in high school, because of fear of failure I actually majored in something that while it interested me didn't call me as a life long career as well as being a career that would be hard to actually live off of, I was pushed to take the LSATs and while I did pass them and I actually got in to a pretty good school I was dreading it a lot because I couldn't see myself being happy litigating and being in front of a lot of people (i panic when I have to present to big audiences even though I enjoy being on stage and acting). So I ran away and took the exams for medical school in another country and passed and now I am finally finishing that program, BUT even though I enjoy medicine and love helping people I get performance anxiety so I am dreading taking the USMLE to be able to practice in the US and go back to my family. It's so scary and I keep postponing stuff by watching kdramas but I am finally getting the courage to go for it thanks to seeing how everybody is so active in working for their dreams in dramas and it shames me to think that even as I admire them I am being very passive over my dreams. Thanks to dramas where I see the heroine fail and try and try again I have hope that maybe even if I fail it's something that needs to happen and maybe another door will open if I actively search for it. (though I love medicine, medical dramas are a big NO for me, I can't get over the fact of how surreal they are even as they try to portray reality)

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My situation is an amalgam of yours and greenfields situation. Fear of failure, comparison and lack of effort. Unfortunately im in a drama slump so dramas are no help for now but damn JGR and candies have always been an inspiration for me to move on and try, it may work someday.
And Min I hope you ace your exams and do great in your field, most importantly I hope you stay happy in whatever you do :)

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"... seeing how everybody is so active in working for their dreams in dramas and it shames me to think that even as I admire them I am being very passive over my dreams." You hit the nail on the head.

Medicine is tougher than law, in my honest opinion. The pressure is greater. Good luck with the USMLE! I'm cheering for you from all the way on the other side of the screen. ^^

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The fact that fear of litigation drove you to medicine is impressive! Medicine seems much harder than law indeed. I wish you good luck with the USMLE! Although I don't believe you will necessarily fail, it is true that there is always another door somewhere. There is no set path you have to follow just because you did something else. So like the koreans would say: Hwaiting!

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Fighting! I hope you pass your USMLEs. I really do. Yknow, some of us just naturally get nervous/anxious. We don't "grow out" of some things. If you're like that then i sincerely hope you are able to find your own way of doing things in an amazing way despite these feelings of anxiety and lack of courage you may have.

Here's someone rooting for you ! ❤

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I love this! It's very similar to how I feel about dramas as well. I like to watch the light-hearted ones to de-stress and feel good, and I personally think that dramas have taught me a lot about life. We could all take a leaf from some of the characters' books sometime.

And I'm glad you found the inspiration to fight on and become a lawyer (wow!) through watching dramas. Now that's inspirational. ^^

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Thanks lezah! Dramas are indeed like quick lessons sometimes on how to face life. Also just wanted to say - I enjoy reading your comments on various posts on DB! ^^

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I love your piece, thank you for sharing how much k-dramas have helped you in your life! Some dramas say they hope to "give healing" to viewers, and in your case, you sound like you certainly experienced healing. *pat on the back*

In my case, I was feeling jaded with corporate working life so I actually stopped watching Misaeng because I felt it was too realistic for me. It hit home too hard. I could relate to a lot of what Jang Gu Rae was experiencing and I didn't want to watch someone else go through hard times again and again. Wimpy me decided to stop watching the show, and tuned in to something else that was easier to watch.

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Watching Jang Gu Rae was tough - it's the one show I didn't binge-watch. It took me two months to watch all the episodes.

*hugs* for the tough working environment. Fighting!

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Nice post.
I do hope the staff is working on how to click an author and get all entries by them ( like good old default feature every site has. Which even DB had before the new version)
It's so frustrating when the wall comes instead of posts by a said author, where it's mostly the comments made by them instead of the posts they wrote.
Thanks!

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Thank you Mia!

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"K-dramas are my escape from everyday life, but realistic K-dramas helped me find my way back to it."

Thank you my friend. This is why I watched dramas like Misaeng too while finishing grad school (partly procrastination, partly a real need for escape--refocus--renewal of my own life). Now, like you, I am taking on more responsibilities, though compared to my peers I'm way behind in a career. But I've learned that comparing ourselves to others is no good. We have our own time to grow. :)

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@wishfultoki - it's true that everyone has their own pace. Grad school is a haven for procrastinators. ^^ It's so easy to not do anything all day.

Also, thanks for reading and commenting. This is an exaggerated way to put it - but I'm a DB fan of your comments. I usually find myself agreeing with a lot of what you say. :)

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Hehe, I'm honoured. And I'm a fan of your comments too!

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This post really resonates with me.
It was really realism in some characters that helped me not only continue to watch future episodes, but it helps me reflect on life.
In the drama She Was Pretty, there was this one scene where the two female friends made up at the airport. It struck a chord with me on the value of friendship and I shed a few tears. Eventually one of my close friends watched that episode and she also cried over that scene. I guess in that way we connected and it brought forth such a heartwarming, satisfactory feeling of seeing true friendship not often depicted between the main female and the second female.
Since it was mentioned, Signal was quite a "real" drama for me despite the unrealistic concept the story was built on. Although I relate with Cha Soo-Hyun as well, it was Lee Jae-Han that really made such a strong impression in mind even now. It was that lonely and grieving expression of Cho Jin-Woong that really made me bawl out because of that movie theater scene, he reminded of someone I know. That person was also grieving over their loved one as everyone had each other.
I guess another third drama that showed realism in unrealistic was Beautiful Mind. My gosh did the first medical case with the kid and his father took me by surprise. Such raw emotion from the kid actor that I was reminded of myself.

Even though I'm going over more heavier dramas, I still enjoy lighter kdramas like this post has mentioned and I understand such feelings of admiration for fictional characters in sometimes unreal set-ups because, despite the settings, the emotions and struggles of the characters were real and are something we can relate to.
Anyhow, thank you for the lovely piece @greenfields :)

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Thank you sharing @bananachocolate :) Cho Jin Woong's performance in Signal was incredible, to say the least. And that scene was very moving indeed.

I'm really glad to see so many of my favourite DB commentators have commented on this, including you. ^^ Maybe it's because of a similar view of dramas.

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Oh yay! Thanks for putting this up @guest-beanie and DB! And for giving more direction to my meandering thoughts. :)

I just realised that in comparison to many other posts on DB, I write in longer sentences replete with commas. I'm definitely a lawyer. 😌

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Thank you Greenfields for your thoughts and for your story.
To me it was very touching, maybe because in the last couple of years I had a similar situation which was very hard for me to go through and just like for you, kdramas were my safety net, my comfort and my motivation. The energy of the main characters who didn't just sit it out or wallowed in their misery was very helpful.

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"The energy of the main characters who didn't just sit it out or wallowed in their misery was very helpful."
That's exactly it.

Thank you for reading and commenting @nelly :)

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This struck a chord with me, too. I did a LLB with the Uni of London but honestly didn’t have the social skills to pursue Law as a career. I clung to dramas during that time, even as I resented them, or rather myself for doing nothing proactive with my time other than watching pretty people fall in love. Now I don’t know how to go back without spending a ton of money I don’t have to get qualified in something I did years ago where I’m not competitive anymore. Honestly, four months is a pretty amazing turnaround time in my book. Good on you.

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Four months is fast, it took me longer. But I told myself it is OK to take some time off for introspection and to recharge. Everyone has their own speed of dealing with things. I hope you figure things out too at your own pace.

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Thanks. :) Turn around time was actually a year. The last four months of which were filled with dramas.

I hope that you were able to find something else that did suit you?

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I relate so much to this! After my law studies I fled to study something else for a while before finally getting to start working as a lawyer this year. Kdramas are a great way to cheer up and find motivation when you're feeling low. And so Ive come to believe that as long as you work hard, it is ok to fail sometimes and not be perfect. There is always another way if things go wrong, and happiness isn't defined by your career anyway.

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"and happiness isn't defined by your career anyway", this statement has opened another dimension to m. It is pretty contrary to the situation I am currently in and what I am believing due to that situation. I hope you could delve more into it and so that I can get a hold of this statement too.

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@saturtledaisy and @wapz - I agree with the statement that happiness isn't defined by your career. I think it's a sign of maturity to know that a career is the means to an end, and not the end in itself.

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Happiness can only be found within yourself. If you are happy, even if you don't have a great carrier but value your friends/ family/ hobbies/ travels/whatever it is that makes you happy then it doesn't depend on your job. A career might not be the thing to hang all your happiness on, but this depends on what kind of person you are. If you are a person with a lot of drive and the need to succeed I can tell you whatever, you will never be able to truly connect to that statement. If on the other hand you are more of a social person and youre freetime is the most important thing to you, because of whatever, then you will connect to it.
Please be aware that I don't value one person more than the other, it is just to higlight that people are very different and their understanding of happiness include different things.

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I also have a special fondness for realistic friendships between women, a theme less often seen in K-dramas and in fact, under-emphasized in fiction all around the world. Age of Youth, its sequel, and Weightlifting Fairy are easy examples of how important girlfriends are to one’s happiness and sanity.

Yes! So glad you called attention to this.

The importance of female friendship was one of my favorite elements of Splash Splash Love. I loved that Dan-bi forged a friendship with the desperately lonely Queen Soheon, an incarnation of her present-day best friend So-heon.

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Or is it Splish Splash Love? I've seen both.

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I haven't seen this one! Will do - more power to the awesome relationships between women!

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Basically agree with everything you say, especially:

I now faced my next challenge—finding love, something else I shy away from. But this can mostly be attributed to my all-girls’ convent school upbringing. I connect with women very easily, but tend not to know how to connect with men.

same, except that I STILL can't connect with men that easily.

"Min-Min sets the bar for the modern urban male."
oh yes, so true :-D thank you for pointing it out.

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Hehe and I'm 27! 😌 One would think I'd have overcome it by now.
Good luck on the quest for love!

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You'd definitely overcome it, the way you overcame other obstacles on your way of becoming a lawyer :-)
I wish you well for both love as well as a successful career.

And as for me.....I'm sure that one day, after ages & ages, I'll overcome it
lol XD

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I wish you well in both love and career too!

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*You'll

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"But this can mostly be attributed to my all-girls’ convent school upbringing."

Also went to an all-girls school until high school then went to a liberal university. I only had a handful of male friends at the university and I would rather hang out with my girl friends. Guess you can take the girl out of convent school but you can never take the convent upbringing out of the girl, hee.

Kidding aside, I admire your tenacity for overcoming life's setbacks. Witnessing a suicide is one thing that I don't wan't to experience ever. It was tragic for that person to kill himself/herself but inadvertently, he/she "saved" you since you decided to be more proactive with your life.

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Like Dostoievsky. He was going to be executed for treason but a last minute letter had him and his fellow conspirateurs trown in jail. It seems that the Tsar just wanted to scare the Bejeezus out of them, but Dostoievsky took the lesson to never take anything for granted (starting with his very existence) and never to settle for anything less than perfection. The Tsar kind of saved him.

Hope you are allright.

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Thanks @sriracha very true about the girls' convent ^^ And also about the girl that killed herself. I didn't know her, but she did indeed have an effect on my life. That's the only way I can look at it.

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... realistic characters and their realistic reactions to the extraordinary or unrealistic situations in which they find themselves...
What came to my mind here is Cheon Song-yi confessing to Do Min-joon, him replying he's an alien.. Yet she kept badgering him to answer if he likes her. To hell with being an alien, do you like me? Priorities of a girl in love!
I enjoyed reading this @greenfields and to your chosen career I wish you all the best! 😊

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Oh that's a good pick for realism! 😊 I'm too shy but I've seen people be very proactive with romance.

Thanks @kayedrama!

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My dear Guest Beanie, thanks for writing this long and beautiful post. I am also glad you are back in your feet again and I am sorry you had to go through so much.

Changing subject to Asian Dramas:

Sometimes writers, by avoiding realism, are able to reach a more subtle level of reality. Some so called "fantasy" dramas are able to develop really smart and utterly applicable to real world. One example that comes to mind is that smart last episode of "Orange Marmalade" (if you see only the episodes in the present -except the one before going into Joseon- and you can have some larguesse over green acting), wich is (with these limitations in mind) quite a little smart, brave and inspiring show about the experience of discrimination. The whole Orange Marmalade band standing for their bandmates in front of a fearful mob of scared parents and their "looking for another entrance" strategy is a smart translation of what was done during the 50's and 60's during the Civil Rights Era.

Another "fantasy" Drama (this one Japanese, if you don't mind) that blew my mind was Kasuka Na Kanojo (if you are into school Dramas). Of course we have the jaded ghost-seeing teacher and his love interest, the ghost of an idealistic female teacher who died 30 years before (Tsundere meeting ahead!!!). But with the exception of some fantasy elements like being a ghostly "tail" to a runaway student couple and a possesion before someone could hurt herself, all solutions and events seems not only smart and plausible, some of them are very practical indeed.

Sometimes by using fantasy, good writers are able to reach a deeper layer of reality.

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You make an excellent, excellent point. I've read the 'Orange Marmalade' manhwa and it's indeed amazing - the theme of discrimination is deftly presented in a world where the supernatural is normal.
Will check out the Jdorama you suggested.

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Please, if you feel so, look for "Flowers for my Life". It is a lovely celebration on the role of death in life, the value of a good-lived life and the value of the people in our lives. If there is a gem of a K-Drama, this is the Crown Jewel.

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Oh wow. Thanks for that recommendation. I'm currently watching Andante which is exploring the same themes in such a sensitive manner. Will be sure to check out this as well.

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Some so called "fantasy" dramas are able to develop really smart and utterly applicable to real world.

Well said, @fgb4877. Science fiction (or speculative fiction) is one of my favorite literature genres precisely for this reason. Fantasy pushes the every cultural boundary by describing or imagining the best and worst of possibilities.

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Oh man, this was so relatable! 2017 has been a big year for me in terms of dramas - I went from following a couple, that so happened to catch my interest and were airing when I had time, to binge watching a whole host of dramas this year. K-dramas have become an essential to me and are often the reasons I can still smile nowadays. Your paragraph on university really resonated with me - I started uni about a week ago and already feel lost. Am I doing the right degree, was I right in not going after my passions, am I doing something wrong cuz I don't have friends at the moment....all these questions flood my brain and more often than not, I don't know the answers to them. And that's when I turn to K-dramas. My tastes in dramas vary as I usually go for something with a good plot and good characters but they always hit home with me (well, most of the time at least!)
Though a lot of scenes in dramas are something my 18 year old self can't quite relate to yet, there has been an abundance of moments that have really stayed with me and have helped me to move forward as a person. I come for the escapism - to stray away from the problems that come as I transition into adulthood, to help mend the loneliness I feel, to have a good laugh when humans seem like too much and moreover, to connect with something unreal so that I can feel something real inside of me. Hence it is the realism I always end up staying for and what gives me the fuel to tackle life's many obstacles. It's weird, having fictional characters be your sort of guiding light into the world before you but I find that it gives me the courage to push further and as you've mentioned, think beyond myself.

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Thanks for sharing! I'm sorry you've had a tough start to university - I'm sure you've heard a lot of "it'll get better" and "uni days were so much fun" from your family - and they're right. :) Do join a club if you have trouble making friends, and/or have a talk with your professors and professors from other courses or sit in a couple of their lectures if you have time.

As someone who like you, sometimes turns to fiction characters for understanding and a push of courage, I sympathise and want to reach across the screen and give you a hug. Well, I guess a virtual one will do. :) *hugs*

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I completely agree with your take on K-drama! I was also in a pretty bad shape when I started to watch dramas last year and I've never looked back since. You said it best:

"My idea of realistic dramas is not necessarily slice of life, but rather dramatic plots with elements of realism. This is usually realistic characters and their realistic reactions to the extraordinary or unrealistic situations in which they find themselves, in addition to, of course, slice-of-life plots."

I also love Min-hyuk from SWDBS and Jung-sun from Temperature of Love, so I can definitely relate with your choices. Don't give up yet on ToL, let's just skip through Hong-ah's petty antics!

As for Hospital Ship... I have to admit that Hyun is one of the last couple of reasons why I'm still watching. I've ended up pressing the forward button quite a few times just to check out selected scenes, preferrably with him in it.

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Thanks Wandergirl! I love how fiction has this strange way of being more than just a story. :)

I am indeed skip-watching ToL and Hospital Ship! But Hospital Ship seems like a lost cause - last week, I pretty much finished all four half hour episodes in 15 mins. 😢 Why is Kwak Hyun so perfect?!

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I’ve finally come back to this, @greenfields. I knew I wanted to take time and really digest your thoughts and writing because I enjoy reading your other comments when I see them. With a math/science bent myself, I’m in awe that you are a lawyer! I love these guest beanie write ups because I feel that I get to know everyone a little better through them. I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t mention any romantic connection in your real life yet. So, now that you’ve found success in your work, let’s hope that kdramas motivate you to find your true love as well!!! (I’ll be waiting to hear!)

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thanks Ally! I also always enjoy reading your comments, particularly those on medical shows or on the OT, and loved your guest write up! ^^ I'm amazed that you manage a life with family and music together with a career as a doctor and a love for Korean dramas. Where do you find all these hours? I suspect you have a magic-pillow-device.

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It takes a village, as they say. I have amazing support! I try not to take friends or family for granted. And I really only watch one drama at a time and may binge watch another once a month or so! And I barely do music! But thank you. There are so many amazing people in the world—and remarkable Beanies on Dramabeans!

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Wow I admire your boldness in sharing your story with us! I found kdramas at a time when my personal life was extremely difficult too...(laid off from my job, chronically ill family members) and kdramas were my source of comfort and sort of were therapeutic to watch in those moments when I felt most alone.

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I'm sorry you had to go through such a tough time. And that's the beauty of the narrative device, comfort, empathy and therapy are all on offer. K-dramas are particularly kind. ^^
I hope things are better with you now. *hugs*

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