[Community] Falling sideways into healing
It was early 2009 and I was in college; living by myself in a different country from my family. At the same time I was dealing with a devastating long-term illness that made not only attending school but just performing the basic functions of life a daily battle. I wasn’t well enough to take more than one class at a time, and even that was a herculean effort that took me days to recover from—especially given that my nights were given over to pain and insomnia.
Around the same time, I had fallen sideways into the endless, addicting black hole that was Asian dramas. My long love for anime had led me to reading manga, because I wanted to know how Inuyasha ended and The Final Act had yet to air. After I finished Inuyasha, I discovered the classic manga Hana Yori Dango, and a fruitless search for a subbed version of the (apparently terrible) ’90s anime led me instead to the live-action drama. I never looked back, and devoured every Japanese drama on MySoju. They got me through the long nights, and distracted me from the reality of my dire situation—J-drama’s uniquely dry, wacky humor and short seasons were perfect to cheer me up. Hani Yori Dango is still a nostalgic favorite (and it holds up!).
But then I ran out of shows to watch. So I took the plunge and finally clicked on the extremely weird-sounding K-drama that had consistently been the top-rated show for all the months I’d been visiting MySoju’s home page: The First Shop of Coffee Prince, featuring a bunch of dudes in black vests. Okaaay.
I don’t need to tell any of you what happened next. Japanese shows might have brought laughter into my life after a very long time—and a few very special ones deeply moved me. But Korean dramas completely wrapped themselves around my heart and delivered an emotional experience that transported me completely from the life I was living. I still remember Gil Ra-im (Ha Ji-won) saying in Secret Garden that Oska’s music was like a painkiller for her, and that’s why she would be a lifelong fan of his. It’s corny as hell, but it’s exactly how I feel about K-dramas.
It was on Soompi that I first came across a mention of Dramabeans. It’s been over ten years so things are a bit hazy, but I think it was an article about the Korean adaptation of Hana Yori Dango, which was basically catnip to me, although I ended up hating Boys Over Flowers and dropped it after a few episodes. It didn’t matter though—I had found my community here at Dramabeans, and it became one of the few sites I visited every single day. Not only had I found a place to discuss the shows I had been watching alone–to the mystification of my family members (whom I later brought over to the dark side, mwahaha)–more important were the friendships I made here, first as a Beanie, then much later, as a recap minion.
These were some of the darkest days of my life. I was struggling to even make it to class once a week, when even getting dressed to go out was an excruciating ordeal. I spent most of my time alone at home, because the chemicals that I would encounter in the outside world were so severely debilitating to me—and it was hard for anyone to come over for the same reason. My mom visited as often as she could, but it was difficult considering that she had my very young sister to take care of. Even when she came, the jet fuel that entered the house with her would make me sick for days. I was never not in pain.
I say all this to express how very much I needed to escape into the world of gorgeous actors and beautiful clothes, of the bonds between lovers, friends, and family that can overcome anything. They gave me all the beauty and comfort and happy endings that I could not dream of for myself when I didn’t even know if I would be able to survive my illness, let alone live some semblance of a normal life. But K-dramas gave me love. They gave me healing. They made me swoon and laugh and sob. They broke my heart over problems I didn’t have so that I could finally grieve for what I had actually lost. They gave me music (oh, did they ever).
And they opened up the world to me when I was confined to a small room. Not only did I make online friends when I wasn’t able to go out and meet my real-life ones, I found a whole new language and culture that I had been woefully ignorant of before. Korean language and culture were fascinatingly new and yet delightfully familiar all at once. As an Asian American I’ve never once felt represented on U.S. television, and while I’m not Korean, K-dramas did provide me with a level of comfort and recognition. Here was a family dynamic that looked a bit like mine, sensibilities that I both value and have struggled with in older members of my family, emotionally complex storytelling from a female point of view—and I identified with all of it so viscerally. Even the very fact of watching an entire cast of people of color onscreen, even if they didn’t look or talk like me, was such a novel and thrilling experience.
So here I am today: much healthier and able to live a full and fulfilling life, even if I have setbacks now and then, and doing my Master’s in Critical Asian Humanities at a highly competitive university. I’m planning to write my thesis about something that directly relates to the questions brought up by my experience watching Korean television as a nomadic descendant of South Asian immigrants. My people have our own complicated history with borders drawn by colonizers in the aftermath of a long occupation, and I’m fascinated by the ideas of national identity that have taken hold in these young, postcolonial nations and how they’re expressed through culture and media. Korea is one of my focus areas, and Korean is what I’m using to fulfill my program’s Asian language requirement.
On a less academic (but still very nerdy) note, I now co-host a podcast about K-dramas with two friends I first met because we all wrote for Dramabeans. They’re only some of the amazing people I’ve met writing for this site; forever friends even though we’ve never met in real life. Recapping also showed me how much I love to write about pop culture, so now I regularly write movie reviews (I’m a baby film critic!). I found the true meaning of storytelling, and the desire to share that meaning with others.
Most of all, this decade–with all its ups and downs and changes–has had one constant. I finished my undergrad and moved from Canada to the U.S. where my family is; I emerged from my long, dark tunnel of illness and figured out my next step. All the while, I had this community by my side. I carried you all in my pocket when I stood waiting for the bus in those frigid Toronto winters. I lived for the excitement of waking up to your comments the day after I had spent 14 hours on a recap, writing through pain and exhaustion during the particularly rough periods. Beanies made me laugh and think—and sometimes moved me to tears—with your hilarious wit, your intelligence, and your kindness to each other and to me. It’s been the best fandom experience of my life, and I’m confident that nothing else will top it. You are the awesomest, and I can’t believe such an incredible corner of the internet even exists.
To my Dramabeans community: thank you. ❤︎
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