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Film and digital - M4, T2, M Typ 240 and a7R II
2017 through today. All taken at home. Los Angeles. 

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Neon food


Up to his mid-twenties, my brother only wanted three things for dinner: fried chicken tossed in a sweet chilli sauce, family-sized pizzas with cheese baked into the crust, or the classic Korean-Chinese restaurant combo—jajangmyeon and tangsuyook. I still remember the four of us huddled around a fold-up table on a weeknight, waiting for dinner to be delivered. It usually took no more than 30 minutes before the man would show up. With a knock or a chime, he would announce, “Your order is here,” and that was a sign for my brother to start flailing his arms like a gas station blow-up doll. 

It was always a man, and he always came with the metal “tote bag.” Comprised of three levels, it had a door that opened vertically like a garage shutter, or a set of blinds. As he unveiled the plastic wrap covered bowls and dishes to lower them onto the floor, re-runs of X-Man, or the still popular and running Infinity Challenge would hum on the bulbous TV screen. Often times, Dad would thank the delivery man for the disposable chopsticks and the complimentary dish of gunmandu—fried dumplings. With family orders, it was almost an expected exchange. At sit-in restaurants, there was always a group of older business men who would haggle for a plateful with their order. “Ajumma, we ordered a lot, didn’t we? How about a plate of gunmandu on the house?” Including our family, no one paid for these dumplings. It just happened to be on the menu.

Growing up in Seoul, it was a natural progression for me to discover jajangmyeon before tasting its authentic mother dish. Korean-style Chinese cuisine is still one of South Korea’s beloved cheap eats, although prices have acclimated since my childhood. I don’t think I am old and wise enough to make such statement, but back when I was young—stills hurts to say it—a bowl of jajangmyeon was, at most, 3000 won, which about three dollars in USD. It came served with julienned cucumbers or a scatter of green peas for texture, but such price and toppings are hard to find now. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the side dish trio. With any dish you order at a Korean-Chinese restaurant, you get a bit of raw onions, chunjang (a black bean paste sauce to dip the onions in, but also the main ingredient of jajangmyeon) and danmuji, a sweet pickled radish. This bright, yellow pickle is a symbol of Korean-Chinese cuisine and Korean street food. 

Although I am not a great fan of the sweet and slightly acidic palate cleanser, I cannot imagine eating, or more precisely, seeing jajangmyeon without it. Depending on the restaurant of choice, it’s either the shape of a full or half moon, sliced thinly from the radish log as is, or cut in half again. In kimbap, a Korean take on sushi roll that is nothing like the Japanese kind, the danmuji log is cut lengthwise in strips to match the cut of the seaweed. In both cases, the danmuji brightens the complexion of the dishes served with its radiating color. Against the black of the seaweed or the jajangmyeon sauce, it gives out a yellow, almost neon-like glow. Just as I went straight for the yellow crayon to call a colored circle a moon, I never questioned its color or identity as a child. But now as I pick out a vacuum-packed package of danmuji in a supermarket, I can’t help but lose my appetite for a second. Why is it so goddamn yellow? The fresh radish I just saw in the veggies section had a subtle gradation, from white to light green. Did it take a dip in a neglected pool of radioactive waste?

Danmuji, or rather takuan in Japanese, is most widely believed to have been invented, or popularized by a Japanese Buddhist monk named Takuan Soho. Although some Koreans argue that the monk is of Korean descent, the first trace of takuan zuke was recorded in Japan. In fact, when it was first introduced to the masses in Korea, it used to be called by its Japanese name, rather than its current name, danmuji, which translates to “sweet radish pickle.” Recognizing that takuan is a Japanese pickle, the color of the takuan, and that of other tsukemono (Japanese pickles), seemed to make sense. Here is why. 

Historically, mastering a craft or a trade has been an important aspect in defining Japanese culture. An artisan will dedicate his life towards planing the thinnest wood shaving possible and similarly, a family will care for a robotic dog till death. This is because the Japanese believe that there is a sort of spirit engrained in all living and inanimate objects alike. The same kind of principle, or attitude, applies to their aesthetics as well as lifestyle. Tokyo is known for their immaculate city streets and their smooth, quiet roads. I mean, how else would the taxi driver of 1Q84 listen to an orchestral score in peace on a highway? And have you seen the ekiben, the lunch boxes sold specifically on trains and stations? From the rice to the pork cutlet or the marinated clams, every element is so neatly organized and cared for that I feel a bit of shame in my past, insensitive days. This must be why the Japanese dye their takuan yellow, traditionally with the seed of an Asian variety of Gardenia, but now more commonly with tartrazine, a yellow food coloring. When fresh radishes are sun-dried, buried in a mixture of rice bran and salt and left to sit until they are ready to eat—the resulting pickle is not a fluorescent yellow, but a dark, brown color. This traditional variety is hard to find now, but I think it’s safe to say that the Japanese started to dye their takuan for the sake of beauty. And the Koreans, similarly, care a lot about color when it comes to dinner time.

While most of America and Europe to have their food served in course meals at restaurants, Koreans prefer to have all the food on the table at once, to share amongst family and guests. In fact, a Korean meal is not divided by course, but by three or four main elements: the rice, the soup, side dishes called “banchan,” comprised of marinated greens, pickles and various types of kimchi—and if it’s a special day—a meat course or two. The meat dish is often optional, as from time to time, a salty soup like jiggae will take on the star role. This is why you’ll hear your Korean friend say, “All I need is a bowl of white rice, and maybe some kimchi. That’ll make me happy.” You can almost say the everything on the Korean table, including the most frivolous banchan, is an entree. 

The reason why I am taking the time to paint a lively picture of a Korean meal is to get you to imagine the potential colors exhibited on a typical dinner table. The steaming rice will most likely be white, and the roasted seaweed, a pure, natural black. There will be always some sort of kimchi on the table, which is a bright, mouthwatering red. The slow cooked eggs in an earthen pot, gyeranjjim, would be a pale yellow, and the namul banchan, like spinach or local spring greens tossed in a garlic, soy and sesame oil dressing, a dark green. These five colors, in order, resemble the colors associated with the five elements of Wu Xing: Metal, Water, Fire, Earth and Wood. Although a Chinese theory expressed in both fengshui and yin and yang, its philosophies and practices remain instilled in Korean culture, as well as that of Japan. Not only is Chinese medicine still sought after as a wise remedy to strengthen the weak body, but in ancient Korea, the royal families used to enjoy a soup dish that is an adaptation of the Chinese hot pot. Taking the name of Sinseollo, the light broth is served in a bundt shaped pot, artfully topped with omasum, white fish, rock tripe, meatballs, mushrooms, walnuts, red chilli peppers, gingko, eggs and pine nuts—and you see what I am doing again—naming the swatches of the Five Elements in order. 

The Five Elements may have nothing to do with the fact that takuans are yellow now, but it’s kind of crazy that the Koreans eat their Chinese food with a Japanese pickle. Taking wisdom from the north, Koreans have whipped up their own kind of black bean noodle that is more sweet and saucy than the original. Similarily, they’ve taken takuan from Japan and rolled it into a hearty kimbap, one of Korea’s representative street food. The Japanese love their tsukemono, and so do the Koreans, as their table top stays heavy with seasonal banchans. But the Chinese? They don’t eat their zha jiang mian with takuan. Everyone goes by their own rules. 


짜장면을 시켜도, 같이 온 친구에게 짬뽕을 부탁해도, 늘 그것이 함께 나왔다. 검은 춘장 옆, 유독 빛나는 노란 단무지. 어릴 땐 김치처럼 집어 먹었는데, 김밥을 쌀 마음이 생길 나이가 되고 보니, 마트에 진열된 무짠지가 다시 보이더라. 고구마 더미 옆에서 무게 잡던 무는 분명 아기 얼굴처럼 뽀얗고, 은은한 광을 띄었는데. 어쩜 넌 지나치게 화사하고 섬뜩하다. 과한 물광 화장의 피해자인지, 방사성 물질에 푹 익도록 목욕을 하고 나온 것인지. 영문은 알 수 없지만 김밥의 아이섀도우 역할 정도를 맡은 넌, 인위적이고 군침을 돌게 한다. 색깔 본연의 감성 때문이 아니라, 형광 노란색이 주는 상징성, 그 향수 때문에.  

아마도 너의 역사 때문일 것이다. 단무지의 첫 번째 이름은 다쿠앙이다. 조선에서 온 승려가 일본으로 넘어가 단무지를 발명했거나, 대중화시켰다는 소문이 무성하지만, 다쿠앙은 한국이 아닌 일본 역사에 먼저 기록되어 있다. 출산지만 따지고 봐도 국적은 엄연히 일본이다. 달달하고 살짝 시큼한 것이, 맛도 딱 일본 음식 답다. 만드는 과정에도 일본의 감성이 묻어 있다. 햇볕에 잘 말린 무를 쌀겨와 소금, 그리고 지역에 따라 다시마, 마른 고추나 감 껍질 등을 함께 묻어 오랫동안 삭히는 게 정통적인 방식이다. 이렇게 자연과 기다림이 합을 맞추면 무는 보통 갈색으로 변하는데, 이 착색 현상을 막기 위해 치자 열매로 노란 물을 들이기도 했다. 그래서 재래식 단무지는 땟깔이 좋고 꾸덕꾸덕하다. 요즘은 다르다. 제조 과정이 공장화되면서 무를 말리는 과정은 생략되었고, 대신 시간을 줄이기 위해 생무를 염장해 숨을 죽인 후, 식초, 단맛과 황색 색소를 섞어 휘리릭 절인다. 이것이 오늘, 김밥에 넣고 중국집에서 내놓는 단무지의 모습이다. 샛노랑에 식감은 아삭아삭하다. 사실 '치킨무'와 다를 게 없다. 뭔가 억울하지만, 겪어보지 못한 과거에 오래 머무를 방법을 모른다. 그리고 옛날 단무지가 그리우면 무말랭이를 사 먹으면 된다. 이쯤에서 다쿠앙이 불러온 다음 추억으로 넘어가겠다. 잠시 도쿄로 떠난다. 

2016년, 도쿄에서 고마쓰로 떠나는 기차역. 열차에 탑승하기 10분 전이라 상황은 긴박했다. 처음 보는 캔커피와 각종 간식거리에 현혹되는 바람에 에키벤(역이나 기차 안에서 파는 도시락)은 맨 마지막에, 조개덮밥과 돈까스 정식으로 급하게 골랐다. 당시에는 처음 맛본 조개덮밥에 감동했지만, 오늘 다쿠앙이 지목한 추억은 돈까스 도시락이다. 다시 찾아 본 사진 속에는 그때는 알아보지 못했던 신선로의 지혜가 엿보인다. 검은 깨를 올린 흰 밥, 붉은 우메보시, 노릇하게 튀겨진 돈까스와 그것을 감싸는 푸른 양상추. 이 작은 에키벤에는 음양오행설에 얽힌 다섯 가지의 색이 가지런히 담겨 있다. 모형 같으면서도 원래 그런 듯 자연스럽다. 달리는 기차 안, 점점 멀어져 가던 도쿄는 말할 것도 없다. 건설 업체와 택시 회사가 함께 약속이라도 한 듯, 오묘한 파스텔 톤으로 맞춘 도시의 색감, 겉으로 봤을 때 크기는 같아도 속에 담기는 용량은 작은, 상대적으로 적게 먹는 여성들을 위해 제작한 텐동 그릇, 자로 잰 듯 반듯하고 새파란 미술관 앞의 뜰. 모두 도쿄에 가보니 이해가 되더라. 고속도로 위, 택시에서 흘러나오는 야나체크의 ‘신포니아’를 조용하게 감상하던 <1Q84>의 아오마메가 된 기분이었다. 눈에 거슬리는 게 없다. 생애 본 도시 중 가장 깨끗하고, 정성스럽다. 

일본 사람들은 사사로운 물건에도 영혼이 깃들여 있다고 믿는다. 그래서인지 이들이 삶을 대하는 마음가짐은 참, 매끄러운 고속도로 만큼이나 유별나다. 세상에서 가장 얇은 대팻밥을 가공하기 위해 온 인생을 바치고, 가족처럼 키워 온 로봇 강아지를 잘 보내기 위해 장례식을 치른다. 이런 의식 때문에 일본은 늘 아름답고, 맛있고, 믿음직스럽다. 뒤늦게 대기표를 뽑았던 스시집에 끝내 들어가지 못해도 크게 연연하지 않고, 무작위로 근처 식당에 들어갈 수 있으며, 처음 발을 들인 생소한 속옷 전문 상점에서 실크 양말을 선뜻, 한 켤레에 만원을 주고 구입할 수 있다. 뭘 해도 마음이 놓이는 곳. 그곳이 내게 도쿄다. 그래서 이번 여름에도 작년 여름과 같이, 일본으로 떠나려 한다. 단무지가 왜 꼭 형광색이여야만 하는지는 모르겠지만, 그것의 역사에 담긴 일본 특유의 장인 정신에 홀려, 또, 간다. 

케이팝—노력해서 되는 것도 있다

<K팝스타6>의 양현석과 박진영이 그 어느 때보다 흥분하고 있다. 프로그램을 통해 걸그룹을 키울 수 있는 절호의 시기이기 때문이다. 애청자라면 이미 알겠지만 <K팝스타6: 더 라스트 찬스>는 시즌 최초로 참가 제한을 없앴다. 정말 마지막이라고, 기회의 문이란 문은 모두 열어놓은 것이다. 그렇게 현직 가수가 도전할 수 있었고, 소속사가 있는 아이돌 연습생들이 ‘탑10’의 자리를 꿰찼다. 물론 YG나 JYP 연습생들은 지원할 수 없었다. 그래도 이번 시즌의 화두는 단언컨대 걸그룹이다. YG걸스와 JYP원스의 대결이 한 회의 마지막 장면을 장식하지 않았던가. 걸그룹 연습생들을 향한 심사의원들의 애정 또한 무시할 수 없다. 해바라기 양 사장은 첫눈에 반한 크리샤 츄에게 끊임없이 구애를 던져왔고, JYP는 왜 지금에서야 나타났나며, 특유의 다 주겠다는 표정으로 감격의 몸서치를 치고 있다. 하지만 언제나 그랬듯, 나에게 <K팝스타6>는 예쁘장하고 패기 넘치는 청춘들의 수준 높은 장기자랑의 이상으로 다가오지 않는다. 오히려 안쓰럽다. 없는 여동생 같기도 하고. 엄마 친구의 딸이나 아들, 또는 친구처럼 친근하기만 하다. 몽글몽글한 팔다리에 아직 피고 있는 얼굴로 찡긋거리는 어린 참가자들을 보면 잘한다고 감탄하기 전에 장하다는 마음이 앞선다.  


내가 기획사 사장이 아니어서 이해하지 못할 수도 있다. 다 된 밥을 즐길 줄을 알아도, 가능성은 볼 줄 모르니까. 마치 전문가처럼 케이팝의 미래를 걱정하고, 평가하려는 게 아니다. 그럴 입장도 되지 못한다. 난 사실 ’케이팝’하면 딱 떠오르는 음악은 거의 듣지 않는다. 잘 짜인 군무, 폭발하는 고음과 냉면 면빨 뚝뚝 끊어지듯 쉴세 없이 바뀌는 멤버의 파트로 구성된 ‘아이돌 음악’에서 음악성을 찾는 건 내게 어려운 일이다. 스타는 태생부터 스타의 자질을 갖고 태어났다고 믿는 쪽이다. 100% 수작업으로 이뤄진 곡이 곧 음악이라고 고집하는 건 아니지만, 음악인이라면 최소 음악 작업의 큰 그림을 주도하고 지휘해야 된다고 생각한다. 지난주 19일 26회에서 양현석이 성유진 참가자에게 했던 말과 같은 의견이다. “본인의 매력은 본인이 찾아 나가야 한다고 생각해요. 그걸 누가 절대 찾아 줄 수 없을 거라 생각해요. 이건 성유진 양한테만 드리는 말씀이 절대 아닙니다. 이 방송을 보고 있는, 가수가 되고 싶은 모든 사람한테 얘기를 해주고 싶어요. 결국엔 개성 있는 가수만이 살아남더라고요. 박진영 씨 같은 가수가 한 명도 없잖아요. 지금 나와 있는 모든 성공한 가수들을 보면, 그 같은 사람이 없더라고요.” 그렇다. 음악에 격려와 협업은 있을 수 있어도 보모는 없어야 한다. 음악은 외길이어서 예술이다.  


여기서 반전 없는 고백 하나 하겠다. <K팝스타6>의 참가자 중 내 마음 속의 스타는 없다. 적어도 아직까지는. 텍사스에서 온 이성은을 보고 산골짜기의 정수되지 않는 폭포수같다고 느낀 적은 짧게나마 있지만, 지금 내가 언급하고 싶은 건 ‘걸그룹’이다. 타고난 춤선에 연습량까지 어마어마하다는 김소희. 무대에 오른 순간 스타 같은데 얼굴까지 예쁘다는 크리샤 츄. <K팝스타6> 연습생 도전자들이 무대에 오를 때마다 TV 속 심사의원들은 상상초월의 월척을 낚은 것처럼 놀라움을 금치 못했지만, 나는 반대로 그들의 반응이 더 신기했다. 그래서 진심으로 알고 싶었다. 대한민국에서 손꼽히는 기획사를 이끄는 아이돌 전문가, 양현석과 박진영이 걸그룹 연습생들에게 열광하는 이유가 대체 뭔지. 좋고 싫은데 무슨 이유가 있나 싶다가도 해질 무렵의 노을진 바다를 보며 생각을 바꿨다. 취향을 내려놓고 <K팝스타6>를 다시 보기 시작했다. 


케이팝에는 노을이 가진 대중성이 있다. TV와 길거리에서 가장 보편적으로 들려오는 음악이며 해외 특정 곳곳에서도 마니아층의 인구로부터 열렬히 사랑받고 있다. 외국인부터 재외동포까지 한국으로 날라와 케이팝 스타가 되고 싶어하는 걸 보면, 케이팝에는 특별한 무언가가 있는 게 틀림없다. 그것을 이해하기 위해 <K팝스타6>를 틀 때마다 더욱 정성스럽게 보고, 귀를 기울었다. 자신감이 생긴 이수민에게는 나이에 비해 성숙하면서도 도도한 공기가 짙어지고 있다. 김혜림과 고아라는 정말 원래 알았던 친구처럼 호흡이 좋은 데다, 무대를 통해 전해지는 열정과 연습량이 대단하다. 나이에 어울리지 않는 노련미에 한 번 놀라고, 그것보다 그들의 절실함에 여러 번 놀랐다. 인정한다. 하지만 무대 자체에는? <K팝스타>라는 프로그램의 틀을 떼어내면 내가 이런 무대와 음악에 순수하게 빠져들 수 있었을까? 아니다. 분명히 채널을 돌렸을 것이다. 안타깝게도 음악에서는 특별함을 찾지 못했다. 개인의 취향이 가진 감성은 굳건했다. 


새롭게 본 건 따로 있다. 뜻밖에도 케이팝이 가진 힘은 음악이 아닌 케이팝의 본질에서 발견했다. “음역대로만 보자면 혜림 양은 약간 '신계'에요. 보컬리스트에서도 보기 드문 경우, 혜림 양 같은 친구가 팀에 있으면 고음은 해결되는 거예요. 작곡자나 프로듀서 입장에선 편리한거죠.” 적당한 재주에 적당한 끼를 갖춘 걸그룹 연습생 김혜림을 앞에 두고 유희열이 한 말이다. 듣고 보니 아이돌 그룹 제작자는 애초에 스타를 발굴할 마음이 없었을 수도 있다. 그들은 오히려 스타가 갖춰야 할 자질을 나누어 찾는다. 고음이 되는 멤버 한 명, 관객을 사로잡을 비주얼 멤버 한 명, 예능에서 빛을 보일 멤버 한 명, 춤을 기가막히게 추는 멤버 한 명, 뭐 하나 기똥차게 잘 하지는 않지만, 두루두루 끼를 갖춘 멤버 한 명. 이렇게 제작자는 스타의 일부분을 한 개인에게서 찾고, 이런 인물들을 잘 조합해 스타의 완전체, 아이돌 그룹을 탄생시킨다. 개인의 강점은 더 단단하게 키워주고, 부족한 점은 피나는 연습을 통해 메꿔주는 식이다. 


스타를 꿈꾸는 청춘들은 아마 이 노력형 시스템에서 큰 감동을 얻을 것이다. 알게 모르게 케이팝은 연습이 곧 스타를 만든다고 말하고 있다. 아무리 평범한 학생이라도 스스로를 믿고 열심히 노력하면 스타가 될 수 있다. 이것이 케이팝의 숨은 본질이다 (스타를 찾기 위한 실용적이긴 접근이기도 하다). 잘 제작된 음악, 화려한 무대, 맞춤형 의상과 메이크업, 그리고 수년간의 연습 기간을 덜어낸 아이돌 그룹의 멤버들을 개별적으로 보면 꽤 수수하다. 아티스트 형 가수처럼 개성이 뚜렷한 것도 아니고, 스스로 음악을 제작하는 멤버도 거의 없다. 그래도 이들은 전문가의 지도와 노력을 통해 스타가 되어 TV에 나온다. 각이 딱 떨어지는 군무를 추고, 자신에게 딱 어울리는 노래의 일부분을 잠깐, 준비한 만큼 부른다. 관객은 그 모습에 반한다. ‘부모 미소’를 짓는다. 어쩌면 케이팝이 가진 힘은 대중의 무의식에 있을 수도 있다. 프로의 손길을 거쳐 프로의 모습으로 성장한 아이돌 그룹의 멤버를 자세히 보면 아들, 딸이나 옆집 친구의 얼굴이 비춰진다. 거울 같기도 하다. 기특하고 대견하다. 누구나 스타가 될 수 있다는 건 결국 나도 스타가 될 수 있다는 것이니까. 노력해서 사랑받을 수 있다면, 노력해서 정말 되는 것도 있다면 케이팝은 엄청난 희망을 주고 있다.


We’re all K-Pop Stars

Those who love K-Pop swear there’s nothing like it, and those who don’t—call it talentless garbage. As someone who doesn’t listen to K-Pop, I think both sides have a valid point. Apart from Japan and China, I am not aware of a country that is wholly dedicated to recruiting young talents—and by young, I mean students in elementary or middle school—to train them until they’re TV-ready. At the same time, the kind of music that is often labelled as “K-Pop” is founded on a checklist-based formula: a voice designed to hit a track’s high notes, substantial dancing skills and a pretty face to support it all. If a candidate falls short of these expectations, he or she simply doesn’t make it. What about character, you say? As the judges are human, they’ll let those with a quirky or charming personality slide by, but they are, of course, exceptions. Ultimately, what these label companies seek for in a potential member of a girl or boy group (or in Korean, an “idol group”) is a well-rounded person. They welcome a team member equipped a balanced combination of talent, amiability and an eagerness to learn, rather than a sole artist. It’s a hard concept to swallow as I believe stars are born as stars. 


Before I go to reveal the subliminal message of K-Pop, I would like to clarify what K-Pop is often mistaken for. The term is misrepresented and misused. For the most part, it’s used to single out the heavily choreographed, and almost musical-like genre promoted by major label companies in South Korea. If not, it’s used as a label to stick on all Korean music available to the foreign market. If it’s singing in Korean, then it’s K-Pop. If it raps in Korean, that’s also K-Pop. If the artist is based in Korea—K-Pop it is. As K-Pop really means “all popular music within South Korea,” there is more to K-Pop than boy and girl group music. I mean, Koreans listen to other stuff, too. 


I think of Korean music (or “gayo” in Korean) as a layer cake with room to cross over. Popular music in South Korea can be divided into two large sectors. One is “daejoong gayo,” which just means popular Korean music, and the other—there is no agreed name for it it, but I’d like to call it “the other popular music”. While daejoong gayo is led by celebrity-status musicians and performers who frequently appear on TV, the rest of popular music is produced by artists who tend to focus on live shows, rather than TV appearences. What about the rest of gayo? Music that isn’t well-known or sparsely popular is often generalized as alternative music. A lot of Korean hip-hop music fell into this category up until about four years ago, Show Me the Money popularized the idea of hip-hop on national television in the format of a talent audition. With no restrictions on trying contestants, the show welcomed new and old Korean hip-hop legends, as well as underground rookies and idol group rappers onto the stage. Hip-hop is everywhere in Korea now. It’s always on TV. It is the popular music of choice for Korean cafés and retail shops. 


Korean hip-hop, at the moment, is the hottest trending keyword in South Korea. Many Korean hip-hop artists have trickled down from “alternative” to “popular" with the help of TV, but the boundaries aren’t always clear. There are idol groups who produce their own music, and quite ironically, there are times when an artist from the “alternative sector” starts to dilute his or her signature sound to appeal to the general audience. Whether it’s to become more likeable or stack more cash—or both—it doesn’t matter.  It’s not only difficult but also futile to classify the levels of popular music in South Korea, as I’ve tried to do so far. Because at the end, if a tune is widely adored by fans across the country, it will most likely be accepted as K-Pop by people across the globe. See what Apple recommends for you based on your favorite Korean tracks, and you’ll see what I mean. 


Why I stand to say that K-Pop isn’t what it looks like on the surface is to dissolve some negative views on the South Korean music industry. I know there are many foreign fans, but I also know there are a lot of people who aren't. Those who hate it perceive Korean idol groups as collections of slender girls and boys who look the same, dance the same and make faces that are too cute or innocent to digest. And most importantly, they cannot stand the fact that these boys and girls are not in charge of their own music. I am on a similar page. As I’ve said before, I am not really a fan of “K-Pop”—and by “K-Pop,” I mean music of idol groups. But as a Korean-Canadian living in America, I've always wanted to understand its points of charm. And maybe even like it, too. Touching the hearts of millions of fans worldwide, I wholeheartedly agree that “K-Pop” is tapping into a sort of universal sentiment that is friendly, admirable and likeable. But what is it exactly? Watching the last and running season of K-Pop Star, I’ll confess that the music still doesn’t resonate with me, but I’ve felt its underbelly. And that is what I want to share with you today. The underlying message of “K-Pop.”


Take an idol group you know, choose a member and take him or her off stage. Remove the stage makeup, the clothes handpicked by the stylist, the countless diets and the years of vocal and dance practice in an underground studio—and you get an average Korean adolescence. This person may not have what people call “it” to shine as a lone artist, but with plenty of potential, passion and perseverance—he or she can become an integral part of a star collective. 1/4, 1/7, or 1/12 of a star, depending on how many members are in the group. Although it may not be obvious, “K-Pop” is founded on a system that proves that anyone can be a star. It defies the search for pure talent and originality. It is not only an interesting concept, but also an aspirational one. The system gives hope to all the young people in Korea who dream to sing and dance on national television. The music might not be so great, but it’s an admirable system in theory. Teamwork over genius, practice over talent.



I’ve loved Porsche for as long as I’ve loved cars. One of my earliest childhood memories is playing with a black die-cast Porsche 930 toy. I still remember liking the round headlights and the wide wheel arches. Since then, I’ve always dreamed of owning a Porsche.


I was never a huge fan of the Boxster but when Porsche announced the 981, I completely fell in love. I had wanted one since the day it was announced. When Porsche announced its successor, the 718, I rushed over to my local Porsche dealership. I disliked the busy looking facelift and I also felt it could be the last chance I’ll be able to enjoy a naturally-aspirated roadster.


The Boxster I ended up getting last year is the Black Edition model. It features the standard 261bhp 2.7L flat-6 engine and comes exclusively in black with 20” wheels. All Black Edition cars come with standard black paint, but mine came painted in Jet Black Metallic. The color is best described as a very dark metallic navy. I usually don’t drive black cars because they’re hard to maintain, but liked this paint so much that I made an exception.


As you may know, Porsche is famous for their extensive options list. My car is equipped quite sparsely, but has the options I consider must-haves. Some of the highlights include the SportDesign steering wheel that has solid aluminum paddle shifters, an excellent BOSE sound system and Sport Suspension which lowers the car by 20mm. Oddly, my car also came optioned with a fire extinguisher under the passenger seat, which I think completes the interior.


The entire purpose of the Boxster is, of course, the driving pleasure. It is the quintessential roadster; a perfect blend of adequate power and natural handling. My favorite part of the driving experience is how you can feel exactly what the car is doing. It’s a cliché, but the Boxster is really a car that feels like an extension of your body. Small cues are sent through the steering wheel and the seat, helping you understand what the car is doing. This builds great confidence in the vehicle. It’s when I drive any other car that I realize how special the Boxster is to drive.


These days, however, I’m having a harder time enjoying the car. I recently joined Tesla, and after I joined, I spent a bunch of time driving the Model S. The effortless sense of power that an electric car provides is something I had never felt before. The push of an electric powertrain feels unlimited. It’s God-like. And after driving the S, I get back into the Boxster feeling like it’s from a different century. The power delivery feels super unrefined, and the sharp handling isn’t enough to compensate. The Boxster is still a ton of fun, but my eyes have been opened to realizing how archaic the internal combustion engine really is. It’s slow, inefficient, loud—and it smells terrible. It was a bittersweet realization for me. I feel like I met my childhood hero too late in life, but it has also made me extremely optimistic for the future of automobiles.


How to eat In-N-Out


Always go for the DOUBLE-DOUBLE, animal style with no pickles. Add fries and a vanilla shake to the order. While you wait, pull out two paper containers, grab onto their rims and pull the seams loose. Two is all you need to harness your favorite condiments. Ketchup? Of course. Banana peppers? A must. Your burger still has a long way to go, so pour out some water, float a lemon in it and try to chill—complementary lemon-infused water is something no one should ever pass up. Now wait patiently. Sit through ten or more orders you don't care about to slowly pass by. Soon enough, your magic number will be called out. The time has finally come. Bring your tray and take a good look at that beautiful burger. Make sure it’s not a salad—feel free to remove some lettuce if there are more than three sheets. Usually not necessary, but it happens. Salt and pepper your fries, set up your milkshake and from here on, everything is up to you.

Another intro

Sometimes, it’s hard to make sense of yourself. What is it that I want to stick my head into, and obsess about for a week? We look around and see a sad roma tomato that’s been slouching on the countertop for days. Across the living room, we spot a pot of cactus, a Tolomeo Lamp and an old Apple monitor propped up on the desk. Nothing much there either, so we move on, awaken the monitor and turn to our favorite news sites. The New York Times, Jalopnik, The Outline—whatever catches the eye. On the site, we spend our mid-afternoon reading about the the dreaded 20th, reasons not to buy a car that doesn’t listen to you on stage and the truth about diet coke—until we realize that as heartbreaking, intriguing or informative as these reads are, they aren’t the subjects we want to address on ichelle im. Whatever the world wants or needs to know will be covered and dissected by the appropriate professionals. While we value reading about the well-curated facts and opinions of our times, Andrew and I would like to follow our hearts and share our personal thoughts, stories and ideas instead. As iterated before, if you’re looking for an intelligent source for a very specific kind of information, it won’t be here. To be honest, we are both tired of writing and producing with the readers’ best interests in mind. At the end of the day, ichelle im is really for us. We both have jobs that we’re committed to, and we don’t what this to feel like work. So when our days are over, we celebrate with a dinner we’ve planned two nights before, eat like Fantastic Mr. Fox and sit next to each other in front of the old Apple monitor—adjacent to the cactus, with the lamp lightening our desk.



덜어낸 노른자에 
주르륵 금이 가고 
노란 진물이 흘러나올 때,
손가락 사이 사이를 앙다물고
나온 것을 꺼진 천막 속으로 
다시 탱탱하게 밀어넣을 수 있다면,

찢어진 막을 빼빼마른 실과 바늘로 꿰매어
계란 전부를 감쪽 같이 속일 수 있다면,

그 노란 봉우리는 
날노른자를 닮은 
독창적인 물체일 수도 있겠다.

돌을 수집하고 깨부수고 파편을 붙여 
돌을 고친 존 페루의 말처럼 
복원의 길은 
진짜 내가 소멸되는
성형의 내리막길과 같이 
미끄러울 수도 있겠다.

그래서 공장에서 태어난 원피스도 
짱짱하게 고쳐 입으면 맞춤복이구나,
반품이 안 되는 내것이구나, 싶어
달걀 여러 개를 덜어내
참치캔에 둥그렇게 쪄냈더니
한 여인은 달걀조림을 보고
히키코모리에게 유용할 한끼 식사라고 하시더라.


<펠트(felt)> 발췌

The map


M So you think teleporting will happen?

A Yeah. Soon, actually. We will be alive to see it. 

M Why do you think so?

A Remember when people couldn’t travel across continents? How flying was an impossible feat? Well, people travel all over the world quite easily now. 

M I guess.

A But we probably won’t be able to experience it. Because once it becomes possible, it’s going to be really expensive.

M To buy the teleporting device?

A No. It’s more likely that corporations will price each direct journey, similar to airplane flights. It’ll probably cost $100,000 per use or so. It won’t be accessible to regular consumers in the beginning.

M Money never occurred to me. So the idea of teleporting seems feasible to you?

A Yea. I mean, people can fly now.

M You mean airplanes. 


Flying by air is sort of like putting your beloved pet in a buoyant box and setting it afloat in hopes that it’ll make it across the lake. But teleporting—that’s almost like reviving the dead. We are not inflatable donut tubes that can deflate to fit in a tote bag and then be brought back to life on the beach. How can an intelligent machine extract the insomnia from my breath, the memories of a micro-crease and the flesh from my bones ever so perfectly to glue everything back together in a different place and time? I don’t really know anything about science, but I don’t think that would be possible, even on an atomic level. And it hurts to think that way. 


But if teleporting could really replace airplanes, I’d like to travel through pictures instead. This is also an impossible notion, but one that isn’t painful to imagine.  


For instance, it would be nice if I could quickly bring up a picture of Kaneko Hannosuke’s tendon from my hard drive every time I craved it. Or come across Maureen Gallace’s frothy waves in a gallery and be in them in the next wishing second. 


Or travel to a place where the horizon is evenly divided in half.  


That’s where my friend Greg wants to be —a world of grassy fields under white skies or cloudy fields over green skies—whichever way you see it.


An excerpt from felt


“그녀의 이름과 그의 성이 만나 새로운 사람이 탄생했습니다. 무성별. 우주와 아름다움의 가능성에 대해 꿈꾸고, 영원할 가치를 믿는 자. 말을 아껴도, 세상의 언어에 서툴러도 소통할 의지는 변함없습니다. Welcome to ichelle im.” 

010117. 새해를 맞아 새로운 온라인 인격을 소개합니다. ichelle im. 소문자로 ‘ichelle im’이라 쓰고, 이쉘임으로 발음합니다. 잡지도 블로그도 아니니 이름처럼 불러도 좋습니다. 이쉘임아, 이쉘임이. 지금 화제를 모으고 있는 이야깃거리나 살아가면서 필요할 법한 지혜로운 정보는 여기에 없습니다. 이쉘임은 지식이 아닌 취향에 따라 움직이고, 개인이 상상하고 바라는 것을 만듭니다. 

이쉘임의 첫 프로젝트는 <펠트(felt)>, 양장본입니다. 

늘 하찮은 주제를 갖고 책을 만들고 싶었던 디자이너. 2014년 눈 내리던 겨울, 그는 압구정의 작은 바에서 오래된 친구를 새롭게 바라보게 됩니다. 둘은 동년에 연인이 되고, 서로를 다시 알아가면서 ‘책’이란 공통점을 찾습니다. 돌 줍는 그녀가 ‘돌책’을 만들자고 제안하면서 시작된 <펠트>. 주운 돌 반납하고, 사람 찾고, 결혼을 거쳐 작업을 마무리 짓다 보니 정유년에 <펠트>를 소개하게 되었습니다. 돌로 시작하고, 돌로 끝나는 책. 돌이 불러온 수수께끼와 아리송한 감정들을 에세이, 사진과 가상의 이야기로 녹여 담았습니다. 펠트는 세 권 중 첫 번째 단행본입니다. 돌이라는 질문으로 운을 떼지만, 나머지 두 책은 각각의 사사로운 주제를 다루려고 합니다. 오늘도 아주 천천히, 구체적인 기약 없이 꿈꾸고 있습니다. 

큰 그림을 그리는 동안 이쉘임은 이곳에 조금 더 가벼운 마음으로 소식을 전하기로 했습니다. 자주 먹는 음식이 주는 느낌, 이상적인 드론의 모습, 완벽한 인 앤 아웃 버거의 비율. 이와 같이 오래 기억하고 싶은 순간들을 묘사하고 기록할 예정입니다. 사이트의 흐름은 일단 시간으로 구분했습니다. ‘지금’ 표현하고 싶은 것들은 ‘now’에, 그리고 ‘만약’ 이런 게 있으면 어떨까, 상상해 본 흔적은 ‘if’ 섹션에 수록됩니다. 추후 나침반 역할을 맡을 자리 한 칸도 구상하고 있지만, 그 모습은 실현되는 그날까지 비밀에 부치겠습니다. 

오늘 태어난 이쉘임에 오신 것을 환영합니다.


“Her first name and his last name came together to form a new identity. A believer in space and beauty, dedicated to timeless values. Genderless. Lost for words but keeping our sincerest intent to communicate. Welcome to ichelle im.”

010117. Today marks the birth of a new idea. Not that of a team or a collaboration, but the celebration of a new person. With one simple concept in mind, a designer and an artist joined hands to become a singular being. They observed each other in a new light, acknowledged the newfound differences and established a more refined palate. Through the experiment, the two evolved into a hybrid internet persona—we call the the result, ichelle im. 

If you are looking for an intellectual source for everyday news, you’re at the wrong place—this is not a blog that discusses trending events or provides utilitarian information. It is not our goal to inform, but to create what we want in the world.

Ideas for the future.
Beautiful objects to hold.  


The first project ichelle im presents is a hardcover book. 

Andrew often talked of designing a book on “a totally unimportant subject” and I happened to have a special soft spot for rocks, so the idea for felt came naturally. “Let’s make a book about rocks and sentiments evoked by rocks, and move on from there,” I said, and together, we decided to put together a series. Felt is the first book and there will be two more to follow. Each book will explore another “unimportant subject.” 

As mentioned above, we strive to create what we want in the world, but not all in the form of extensive projects. This is where the site comes into play, as our second objective is to leave a reflective mark—to grab hold of a passing thought or an idea that we don’t want to forget. Whether it’s the visual experience of our favorite meal or the ideal shape of a drone, it’ll be noted here in the two categories: now, or if. Whatever’s on our mind and sight today will be published in the “now” section, and “if” there is a persisting thought on what could (or should) exist in our lives, you know where that will go. 

Think of the whole thing as a curated stream of conscience, categorized by time. 

There will be one more section coming up in a month or so, but we’ll talk about it once it is real enough to click, as we may decide against it on a spontaneous whim. 

Thank you for being the first to discover ichelle im. 
We’ll see you again.