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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 think Girlfriday X JavaBeans X Awesome is the new OT3 of the Internet.

*adoration in slightly creepy internet way*

Thank you for what will be a hella entertaining and informative series.

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Woops Sorry Girlfriday, I thought you were Javabeans! Thanks for your funny article. I didn't understand what skinship was in Samsoon, and I was googling it but couldn't find a good definition.

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LMAO for that Coffee prince picture!

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Now do the Wrist Grab! The Wrist Grab!!

Ah but thanks for articles like these. I only recently discovered your site and I have come to love what you guys write- that's what sets you apart from other sites. Keep up the good work!

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Yey! Lovin this idea! Great first post for it!!

So, my question is: what's up with the Time Gaps of DoOms/Going abroad? Almost every drama has this somewhere. The time gap itself is almost understandable in some circumstances but why does it ALWAYS have to be abroad? And, usually studying X abroad? Why can't they study in Korea???? WHY MUST THEY BE SEPARATED FROM (INSERT HERO/HEROIN's NAME HERE) FOR NO REASON?! Is this just an uncreative plot device used to prove so and so's love is "strong enough to transcend time and space" or is there something more to it I'm not getting?

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If it wasn't abroad, how would they be separated?
Anyway...people all around the world think they have better chances of employment if they study abroad, most likely USA.

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I want to try a "piggyback" ride. I hope someone could give it to me too...someday.

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I love piggyback rides! Cause they always do it! LOL. I think it's overused but never boring, imo.

That said, I really pity the heroes. I wonder if they go and train up their upper body just to piggyback their female leads for a long period of time. Though I doubt their female leads are heavy enough...but still...

My favorite is actually from the Successful Story of a Bright Girl, where Jang Hyuk's character actually placed a hand on Jang Nara's head as he brought her into the house so she won't hit her head at the door (which she did in their NG scenes... :P ) That is absolutely sweet.

like how Minwoo grabs the handbag for Kaehwa. All these small details are just pure love. (Sorry, I digressed!)

Actually, there's also the other instance where piggybacks are given: Broken heels.

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Please most of their co-stars are under 100 pounds and 5'6 feet tall. Do you think they're heavy like us? Most of us are above 100 pounds. That's the difference between us and kdrama girls. If we can't even be compared to them, how can we expect to find men like that. They're most likely either taken or in the k-pop industry...--'

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Other reasons for piggybacks besides, twisted ankle that recovers immediately, Drunken haze that no one saw coming, and bizarre illness that can only be helped by physically running your friend to the hospital:

"I need to reach that thing over there that is so very important and just out of reach. Oops we fell into each others arms"

Some convoluted high school or college race/sport

Not long after the couple has been together, "She" usually finds a way to horse around in a montage date and will jump on his back directly.

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another great entry.
I think I might be the only one here that loves piggyback rides. I used to make my boyfriend give me piggyback rides. Usually it was climb on a nearby high object like a bed or a ledge, but when that wasn't possible there was always the run and jump on his back. I think I did like it more after starting to watch Kdramas, but it wasn't far fetched to me since I was a bit of a monkey when young and never totally lost the inclination. Though I see both the points you make about the piggy back- the alpha male thing and the paternal thing, I feel it also can be more of a pure skinship thing or more of the girl in control thing. These would not be the drunk piggy back but the willing awake piggyback. Think the piggyback in The World That They Live In, where she is on his back while vacuming. He wouldn't have gotten her to help clean if he hadn't carried her around. I do admit that this type of piggyback is rarely seen, but it is another exception worth mentioning in addition to Coffee Prince above.

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LOL wow the article is so true .. after reading the personal taste paragraph part it actually now makes a lot of scene.

I'm going to enjoy reading these new topics ;D

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Wow great article! Thanks GF!

It'd be really cool to do a cross-cultural analysis b/w the various asian melodramas. To showcase their idiosyncrasies, and delve into the makings of a real drama :D

As an Indian, I can tell you...there is a HUGE difference b/w Kdramas and bollywood. The realism in K dramas is so much more... I kid you not... youtube any action sequence...especially from Southern India, and you'll see the ONE good guy combat 20 people, and somehow manage to kick them without making actual contact....and the funniest part is the sound effects that the director employs in the action sequence

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2hPgcFgCVc

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yay, thanks for this post! what a good idea for a series!
haha, i actually felt so proud that i recognised all but one of the scenes/dramas (although i guess those are all pretty popular trendy dramas so its not too much of an achievement...)

ooh, two questions...
in kdramas the leading females are usually played by pretty hot actresses
why must they always be called unattractive, either by their romantic interest, or by their mother or friend or something?
example: mnikss, bbf, tamra the island
do people in kdramaland think that i will empathise with a character more if she is ugly?

and mean mothers (or mothers-in-law)
are korean mothers that crazy? are they that obsessed with who their child marries? why are they presented as this crazy on kdramas?
it frustrates me so much when mothers try to break up or at least somewhat oppose their child's (usually son's) relationship...
example: smile you, bbf (this seems to be a reoccuring one for cliches...), you're beautiful, wwswtm, mnikss

and the wrist grab would be a good one too

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I always fascinated by watching piggyback ride in K drama/movies. The drunk girl, the broken heel and twisted ankle girl are most common. There are many scenes on carrying a sick person, g/f, wife, mother , father carry and run to the hospital. I wonder is the hospital always that near to your place that you piggyback the patient? No taxi, no ambulances, no relative's car to send the patient to the nearest hospital? Caring is one but to carry the heavy person on your back and run to the hospital is very unusual in modern day life.

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Love the piggyback rides in all the dramas. I've noticed, the girl always ends up with the guy who gives her a piggyback, and not his rival who does not.

@Girlfriday

I want to know about the pricking of the finger for indigestion. Does it really work? Is it done on the left or right hand?

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some ideas....

-the norebang scene usually in a drunken outing, whether alone or with your friends
-The Han river
-Korean mothers or even worse mother-in laws for first sons
-Couple rings, t-shirts, shoes, and so on
-Of course the wrist grab and the lips only skim kiss

that's all I can think of for now

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Awww~ Piggyback rides... Thanks so much for the sweet article, GF!
Look forward to reading more of this series.

Poor guys whose girlfriends are K-drama fans, though... Hihihi!

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Great new segment! thanks for the lesson on piggyback rides. i didn't know "skinship" is a korean term which i slowly started using since watching WGM lol!

so what i want to know is why do male leads always literally run after the girl instead of using transportation? i mean it's not like it's going to get them there any faster. what's the emphasis or symbolism of that action?

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LOVED the drama hero boot camp comment. And thanks for clearing up the cell phone bit. I was starting to wonder if samsung made two different versions of their phones..(the US version actually having off buttons).

What i'm wondering about is why the k-drama hero ends up usually being a jerk? I know it has a bad boy appeal but i'm seriously getting brainwashed into thinking that a nice caring guy is boring and i'm not in love unless i meet someone that i hate initially and fight with constantly.

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I love this girlfriday! The Piggyback is probably one of the many reasons that drew me to Kdramas. It's not like I haven't seen or experienced(as a rider or the ride) piggyback before but the way they are used in Kdramas(and I'm assuming, in Korea) is very heartwarming. In my comfort drama 'Spring Days' Go Hyun Jung was pretending to be asleep while Ji Jin Hee was telling her how much he is suffering because of how heavy she is. Both pretending to dislike but honestly loving the piggyback. And then there was the brotherly piggyback wherein Jo In Sung knows he couldn't take Ji Jin Hee to the hospital by car after JJH's accident so he piggybacks him all the way there. In both cases there was a one way conversation(because those being carried are unconscious) and what's being said in those conversations is helping the story move along. These two are my favourite piggybacks scenes.

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love this post!
I think, the best piggyride back is YEH and GY in coffee prince.
LOL! YEH carry GY home by herself. She's strong girl.. XD

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I wish I could get a piggyback now *sigh* Thanks for the entertaining article :)

@nattacatta
I used to wonder too about the crazy mother-in-laws from hell portrayed in the dramas. Then I got one of my own ... and realised, that's why they appear in the dramas. The writers probably have one of those too.

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I think piggyback rides are "forced hugs", you have to hold on for fear of falling, hugging him with 50% of your body. Just like motorcycle rides where you have to hug for dear life. The girl is dependent, the guy feels macho.

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lol fun post! :)

As inappropriate as I always am: *crush nycgrl's hubby*

o Cdrama and Jdorama have sth that is similar in effect as piggyback by carrying the damsel in his arms お姫様抱っこ/ 公主抱/ 横抱. It's less patronizing imo, can be more romantic, but much more 'in her face' literally and figuratively

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Don't forget the Jimjilbang needs an article too. Although it is not allowed, I want to live in one after my last visit to Korea. It is sooo much more than what they show in the dramas

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interesting topic! and i think the forced piggy back ride by LMH in personal taste was rather innovative!

also, after watching some NGs, I think it must be one of the hardest part to act -- to talk normally and look cool when feeling like your back is going to break any minute!

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I Love the piggy back ride in Prosecutor Princess..
hahaha so romantic...
I'm an Asian, an asian people not as extreme as West culture in terms of skinship.. so I can understand why piggyback ride often as a device to make the main couple in korean drama as a reason to make a skinship without being shy into each others.
Yes, it's all about culture... I'm asian, so I can relate to Korean culture... ^^

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i've submitted a definition for KADDICT at the urbandictionary.com ( kindly visit the site coz i know you guys can give a much better and precise definition than i do )that's a tribute to us who can never get enough of the dramas!

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Dear JB and GF,

Thank you sooo much for the Korean Culture Segment. I really really appreciate it and it is one way for me of learning the Korean Culture, starting with Oppa and Noona articles.

About piggyback riding, since I live in Asia, actually I'm familiar with piggyback. However, in our country piggyback is usually done for children. It's like if mother or father or older sister/brother wants to take care the younger child, usually the age is below 10 years, then they usually piggyback the younger child. It is also usefull if mother is working and she has to take care the younger child, then she will give piggyback the child while she is working.
But I never see an adult getting piggyback in my country, as in public space.
So by your explanation, and after watching K-drama, I understand that in Korea piggyback is another way of skinship...
For me, probably I will feel pitty to the man who has to carry a woman in a romantic stroll in the evening... I cannot imagine how tired the arms of the man after they finished the piggyback riding ha..ha..ha..

If I may request another article in the future, probably, is an explanation of how the marriage arrangement tied in with family tradition in a Korean family? What I mean is, if a lady marry to a gentleman, is she supposed to stay with the gentleman family? is it apply for the first son or the 2nd and 3rd son also? Is the lady supposed to serve all the gentleman's family for the rest of her life?

I saw many K-dramas put emphasis on the first son responsibility to bring the lady he married to his house, but only for the lady to serve the family. On another K-drama I also saw a rich family who has maid, so it seems like the family lives very modernly, but still required the daughter in law to work or serve the family.

Again, kamsahamnida...

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I love this part of Dramabeans...it teaches a lot about Korean culture. Just a heads up but I also heard the term "skinship" in Hana Kimi (JDrama)....so I dunno which country it actually started from.

Thanks!

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I don't think I ever got a piggyback ride from my father. He had a bad knee. I tried though!

Surprisingly I'd figured most of this out just from watching dramas, with subtitles no less since I don't speak a lick of Korean. I've seen so many piggyback rides, and I haven't even seen that many dramas so far!

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haha thanks, that was fun to read gf! keep it up :D

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i love piggyback scenes in kdramas they are so lovely and romantic that i always make my brother get me a piggyback ride and most of the time he doesn't!

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Ojou_Belle is right...I was always under the impression that "skinship" was a Japanese-English word. I heard it in Japan when I was there in the early '90s, and didn't hear it in Korea until more recently. Maybe it's come to have this sexual/relationship meaning in Japan now, too, but originally it just meant the physical closeness of mother and child, and was thought of a good thing for child development.

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ah.. no soundtrack? :D hehe.. will read this anyway

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Christ, even Dae Jang Geum did this once.

I think it's a real weakness of K-dramas that they rely so much on tropes and conventions.

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OMG so that's why?I was thinking what's with the piggyback thing are the guys weaklings or what.....I see I see.There is a meaning behind it...lol.
Curiousity...so does suju actually taste nice or rather what does it taste like?We all know know ( well some of us do anyway) KD is KD but people don't really do that do they?
I want to know what is is this saranghaeyo thing in the middle of the street and the 100th day anniversary?
Oh oh....what's with this Nam San Towers and the padlocks?Even I am beginning to recognise the tower,that long long flight of steps,Han river and the under the bridge scene...hahahaa....
Thanks....

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wow, i learnt a lot from this post. very interesting, add on my knowledge on korean culture. now i can appreciate the storyline better.

thanks

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Really enjoyed this article. I'd really love to see more of these cultural motifs!

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I don't like piggy-back rides either XDDD

Urgh, do I see a wrist-grab post coming? XD

Thank you for this post!! ^-^

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Drama hero bootcamp! LOL!!! Made my day, Girlfriday, you're awesome!! haha

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wouldn't happen in real life, sad.

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Very nice post. Really enjoyed it. It's funny how dramas can tell a lot about a culture, but also terribly misinform or exaggerate things. I did notice this piggyback thing with many series, but it does seem like something you wouldn't see Koreans do all that very often. :P At least, if in a romantic capacity, not in public.

Although I'm all for piggyback rides in kdrama, I find them a veery early stage of maybe-romance (unless done like the later ones in Coffee Prince) and I don't think they can carry the romance very well. Especially when it's just done as a necessity cause the other party is wasted.

It stills pisses me off that kissing (rather pecking) is so childish in most kdrama and a kiss is really the seal for a normal adult relationship. They can have all the piggybacks they want, but unless the skinship moves on from such "innocent" expressions of it, I can't, as a westerner, feel that the relationship is full and secured. :P

And to steer away from piggybacks and to kissing, if you're gonna do it, do it right. I can "fall for" the romance notion between two characters the way the plot makes me so, but when it's time to kiss and I see those now-I'll-kiss-u-like-we're-7-years-old kisses, it makes the illusion just shatter.

Piggyback is a nice "safe" way to show skinship, but if you're gonna move on from that, as you should, do make sure it's realistic. People, adults, don't kiss like that. It's disrespectful to adult viewers and to the actors as well, when you force them to act badly. They work so hard to make a story and character convincing and then are forced to do a kiss that just ruins it all.

Take "You're Beautiful" as a very good example. LOVE that series. Seen it about 13-15 times already. Now, the actors do a good job. There's some skinship to begin with and the story is convincing too. Then comes the kiss moment and it's aaaall gone for a while. I mean, I cringe at the kisses there. It's like the woman has lip herpes and he's too scared to touch her lips with his. The only fragment of a second where you see a proper kiss, is during the first angry kiss, when he grabs her and wee see them from the side and that happened by accident cause Jang Keun Suk pulled her too hard! Ahahahaha!

I mean, adults don't kiss that way. They just don't. When you kiss someone you like, it's not as "innocent" as that. Especially if you're at an age where your hormones are raging and/or love that person. And it's one of the first and supposedly passionate kisses. You might give them pecks if you've been going out for a while and are going out shopping or something and you just want to give them a quick peck.

If the kiss involves holding on to the other person and it actually lasts more than a second, it's just not realistic that you'd kiss them that way.

@girlfriday Meaning, I'd love to see an article on the awful kdrama kissing, why it happens, exactly who are to blame, what the cultural reasons might be and all that. Cause as a European, it really ruins the story for me when I see such things. I mean, I'm not saying I want deep tongue kisses all the time, but they could make them better. Also, why do some series do it? How come they get permission or aren't critisized etc etc? I mean, if Personal Taste and Coffee Prince could have proper adult kissing (which was amazing btw), why can't more series have it? Also, do Korean viewers like this kind of kissing in kdrama or do they also want to see more realistic things?

Being European, I'm clueless about the culture and possible "rules" about such things in Korea so I honestly want to understand why they still do such prude kissing in the year 2010. Cause to a westerner, it just makes the story lacking and the actors seem like they're not doing their job well, which isn't the case.

Sorry for the long post, but this is something that has been troubling me for a while :D

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just wish gong yoo can piggyback me, haha

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lol if only i were light enough to be piggy backed like that.

and i totally forgot the gender role was reversed in coffee prince! all these screen caps make me smile... ahh the memories!

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Ooh, I love this new series!

May this appropriately be followed up with an in-depth explanation into kdrama back hugs? Always wondered why the back, why not the front? Isn't the front more romantic or something?

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Samshik looks ready to beat Samsoon in the first picture. LOL.

Oh my god. . . how nice would it be if I had Siwon-oppa or Minho-oppa give me piggy back rides? Without the whole drinking fest. Ick.

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My question is, how do you get the person physically on your back when they are passed out? It seems like it would be a tough maneuver. They can't hold on to you, and they cant wrap their legs around you.

They never really show that part in the dramas. You see the drunk scene. Then she passes out. Then it cuts to the guy walking down the street with the girl on his back. I want to see the guy actually put the limp rag doll on.

It would be even funnier if we had an inept guy who couldn't do it. He attempts it several times and fails. Then our HERO steps in and says this is how it is done. Of course he is in excellent physical condition. He has just returned from Military service. He is able to walk 10 miles and up !,000 steps with the girl on his back. :D That is why the actors returning from Military service are even hotter.:D

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Would love to know more about finger pricking for indigestion. I may use this one someday.

Have used the hold ears after handling something very hot. I know that works!

I'd like to know the home remedies for illness or maintain health.

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call me crazy but when i first saw piggyback in kdramas i thot woahhh that sweet of guys to do that & to me kdramas won't be complete w/o piggybacks! hehehe one other thing i really like seeing in kdramas is when either a guy or gal pulls out a blanket & covers their loved ones while they pass out to sleep or just being drunk sometimes! where else can u see these things in western movies? NADA! Those are unique scenes i really love most in watching Kdramas! luv it luv it! I also luv the fact that kdramas always keep us in suspense when it comes to skinship...the guy almost kissing the girl but then not & the gal pulls back; also the way the guy grabs the girl sporadically....ahhhhh sigh sigh....this is why i everyday every single day...i need dosage/s of kdramas without which i'll go bonkers perhaps! :))))

thnx DB

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i'd like some of those actors piggyback me hahahaha one would be kim ji hoon! i think he's got one of the most beautiful faces in Kor. entertainment & he's an eye candy without a doubt!!! he seems very kind & charming! he'll be my top choice for piggyback! hahahaha :)))))

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