We talk about the popularity of mukbangs in Korea and how that plays out in real life. Often western journalists want to reduce the idea of mukbangs to a simple sentence when they write articles about them but in reality there are many cultural reasons why Koreans love them.
Western journalists also have this idea that all mukbangs are about eating SO much food. While some people do that, it’s not what mukbangs have to be. It’s literally just someone eating while being broadcast, usually through livestreaming. Someone can even just be drinking as the Korean word it derives from means both to eat or drink. Often articles will say that mukbangs are popular because more and more Koreans live alone and are eating alone so if they are watching someone eat they feel less alone. It can be part of it for some people, but that type of explanation ignores the fact that Koreans just love to watch others eat. It’s not surprising when you look at South Korea’s history of rapidly becoming a developed country. Even within Hugh’s lifetime he remembers not that much food when he was young and there not being much meat. His parents only had meat a few times a year when they were young because it was so expensive back then. Food is something still very special and in living memory there were times where there was not that much food. If a mother is able to cook well for her children she wants to see them enjoy it and gets enjoyment herself from watching them eat.
Hugh has a story from his grandparents that when people had a dried fish, they wouldn’t eat it right away, but would hang it from the ceiling and look at it while just eating rice and imagine they were tasting fish instead of rice. These days there are copious amounts of food in Korea, and it’s very cheap. There are many TV shows that show close ups of people eating food and food sounds are accentuated for the camera. Often in western cooking shows the eating part is just a small section at the end of the show, but Korean shows will show a much longer time of people eating and enjoying the food. For me as a nonKorean I really don’t like the sounds of someone eating or seeing a closeup of their mouth as they eat, but it’s very common on TV here. Korea’s relationship with food now has been shaped by their hard times in the past.
So now with food so easily accessible people tend to be more worried about gaining weight. People on diets like to watch mukbangs because they get satisfaction watching someone else eat. This plays out in real life too. Many times I’ve been with a Korean friend and at a restaurant and cafe and they will buy me food and when I ask them what they are eating they will say, “Oh nothing, I’m on a diet. I just want to watch you eat.” That would be very strange in Australia! When Hugh is sick he wants me to do a personal mukbang for him. So because he can’t eat he will watch me eating closely and even tell me what food to eat so he can feel satisfaction from what I’m eating.
People who do mukbangs, and are very popular, don’t necessarily speak a lot while doing them. They will answer some questions but often people are just telling them “eat this thing now” or “eat these together”. It’s not necessarily about the social aspect as much but the enjoyment of watching someone else eat.
What about in your country? Do you like to watch people eat?
I filmed a snapshot of my day video on Chuseok. We traveled back to the countryside for it. There was the ancestral rites memorial for deceased family members in the morning, then lots of food, relaxing and visits from family. I put on my hanbok to do a big bow to Hugh’s parents and we took the opportunity to take some photos in a field of flowers near the village.
We get a lot of messages where people need advice and we do out best to answer them. We decided it was time to make a video talking about how we make our marriage work and what things we do to make a happy life together. The video was actually over 30 mins long but of course cut down, so there was many more things we had to say!
We wrote down what we wanted to say, but I ended up doing more of the talking because Hugh isn’t as comfortable in English for a more scripted video BUT if you get him in person he will talk your ear off!
Our new video series! We’ll be making a Seoul Life video every week and we’ll talk about how we are adjusting to Seoul, show some footage we have filmed and answer some questions. In this video we talk about dirty apartments and ghosts, show you the Han river, answer some questions and show you the chaos of moving into an apartment and not having essential appliances yet.
About 2 weeks ago we traveled to the area where Hugh’s mother is from and where Hugh spend a large amount of his childhood. It has been many years since they had been back. We visited his grandparents’ burial mounds and paid respects, we also saw many elderly relatives and found the house that Hugh lived in as a small boy.
When Hugh was only about 1 year old, his father became very ill and he had to go live with his grandparents as his mother spent all her time looking after his father. It’s not unusual for children to live with grandparents in Korea, either back then or today. You still see grandparents doing a lot of the child minding in Korea and sometimes children live with their grandparents for years like Hugh did. It was very strange for him to see that area again. He was close to his grandparents and grew up thinking they were his real parents, so the transition of moving back with his parents was difficult for him. His grandfather passed away when he was quite young and his grandmother passed away while he was doing his military service.
Korea has had such rapid development in the past few decades, so it’s interesting to think about what Hugh’s childhood was like in the 1980’s and how it differed from mine in Australia.
If you are unsure of what a Jjimjilbang is, click here.
When you are in an intercultural marriage, you can’t always pick and choose what aspects from our own culture your partner adopts. I don’t particularly like that Hugh has picked up this Australian aversion to communal male nudity but that’s how he feels after living in Australia. I don’t like the narrow idea of masculinity in Australia and find a lot of things in Korea to be refreshing. But I guess when something is an aversion, it’s easy for others to absorb that thinking too, and Hugh changed a lot in his time in Australia. He very easily slips into a more Australian/western way of thinking sometimes.
Although he grew up going to jjimjilbangs in Korea and being naked with his friends was completely normal, he now feels odd because of reverse culture shock. I wonder if a few more years back in Korea will change that. If not, perhaps he should spend some time in European countries with naked saunas so he can get over it haha.
“Dingle Dingle Dingle” was the best way he could explain what he was seeing in English.
We ask questions to Australian/Korean married couples! How did you meet? What aspects of your partner’s culture have you adopted? Best and worst things about international/intercultural relationships? Advice or other couples?
Big thank you to everyone who helped us make this video!
Check out Rachel and Nick’s YouTube channel, The Drunken Bear here.
Check out Sophie’s blog on raising a bilingual child here.
There is a reason why we don’t do these videos regularly: they sure are a pain to edit! But we had been wanting to do something like this for a long time. This video is just Australian/Korean couples, but we may in the future do another video with a bigger mix of people. We wanted to focus on the culture rather than race aspects, as too often people focus on race and what people look like. But culture is what we should be talking about. How do you navigate and international and intercultural marriage? It’s an ongoing exploration and discussion.
(A video with Korean subs will be coming).