Pandemic Diary September: Half A Year

The pandemic has changed me. It took away a lot of things I loved—travel, live performance, a writing career, and an overstuffed life. My life got small really quickly. It also got slower, quieter, and more self-centered.

I was having a hard time before the pandemic came along juggling all my jobs and interests with the limited free time in my life. Now, six months later it’s not time I feel the most (time is both fleet and slow now), but space. Physical and mental. Yes, I live in a New York apartment so space is fundamentally different compared to many places. We are a crowded, dense city where personal space often is sacrificed to make it possible to get around. 

But now my space is my apartment, perhaps the building’s small back terrace, and the streets of my immediate neighborhood. I’ve started walking in directions I had no reason to ever go before. I’m exploring things away from the subway, where there are single family houses, cars parked in back alleyways, and lovely old building details.

But beyond the layout of my neighborhood, I’ve also been thinking about my mental space. I’m enjoying learning a new language—something I would never have had time for before. I’m spending more time with my own thoughts—focused on self-care, home projects, and just the maintenance of a life (tidying, organizing, throwing things away, making all the phone calls to demand refunds and get warranties honored, slowly making my way through a to-do list of board activities for Exeunt, and paying attention to my own wants and needs).

The pandemic has taken a lot of joy out of my life. I’ve been fighting to put joy back in. While writing about Korean dramas started out from a place of panic, sadness, and distraction, it’s grown into something I treasure. A new space for me to visit—who am I in relation to this work, to this language, and to this culture.

One of the things I love about travel is that it changes you. For better or worse, the new memories and experiences of a place visited shape your understanding of the world and your own sense of self. You can visit Hiroshima and be mentally overwhelmed by the scope of the horrors. You can spend the dazed and sad turning over what you’ve seen in your mind. Then also discover the best lemon cakes in the world are made from Setoda lemons local to the area.

You can find out that you can spend a week driving a car around Croatia, white knuckling your way down undivided highways and panicking on the steep hills of Istria. But you learn that maybe driving vacations are not for you when you abiding memory of that trip is talking to the GPS who you called Senor Prestigio.

With my travel and theater wings clipped, I can only go so far as my living room. But maybe I can find value in this new journey.



I Will Come to You When the Weather is Nice 

(aka I’ll Go to You When the Weather Is Nice aka When the Weather is Fine)

While it appears the title can be translated a couple of different ways, this all adds up to a beautiful, sweet, sad series that goes good with a cup of hot cocoa and a box of tissues.

The show floats in this nether space between indie film dreaminess with a strong sense of texture, taste, and sensualness, Hallmark going-home-to-small-town and rediscovering yourself, and Portuguese saudade. It’s gentle, melancholic, nostalgic, and full of longing and depth.  Things are complicated, lives are messy, and nothing is easy. But these characters have found each other and finding a shred of happiness is a beacon of light in a dark world.

Mok Hae-won (Park Min-young) leaves her miserable life in Seoul to move back to where her Aunt (Moon Jeong-hee) lives and where she spent some time growing up. In this small down, she runs into a boy she went to high school with Im Eun-seob (Seo Kang-joon) who runs a bookstore down the street from her house. While they were not close in high school, he was in love with her from afar. She gets drawn into his orbit now and he provides the warmth and care she has been searching for. She in turn helps him open up and helps him stay connected.

There is a sense of community in the show, though neither small-town life nor family is idealized. What it means to be a family, show love, communicate, and care for one another also gets an airing.

The show benefits from a larger circle of local characters whose struggles with guilt, poverty, domestic violence (CW: for some very graphic domestic violence), and romance also get screen time.  There is also a past friendship that haunts Mok Hae-won. Her best friend in high school Kim Bo-yeong reappears and their relationship breakdown gets revisited.

This is a show where nothing and everything happens. The drama is personal, localized, and almost entirely in their hearts. I appreciate stories that acknowledge how hard it is to just be. That life itself is a struggle and it takes work, time, and others caring about each other to ease that difficulty.

The cast is impeccable. This one won my heart.

 It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

This high budget, stylized gothic-fairy tale production from Netflix felt like a squandered opportunity. It delved into mental health, neurodiversity, and trauma, but how it handled those topics often felt unhealthy and unbalanced. It also showed the least secure and worst run psychiatric facility on the planet and I do hope all the patients there sue someone over this.

As with many K-drama romances, the intention is for two people to complete each other in ways they didn’t know they needed. Here, they’ve unfortunately paired the Queen of Self Interest with the King of Self-Sacrifice. Children’s book author Ko Moon-young (Seo Ye-ji) is a vicious, reckless, sexually open, emotionally-unleashed woman who encounters care worker Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun) a deeply internalized, buttoned-up, sexually repressed, but calm man who has been taking care of his autistic older brother since his mother was murdered when he was twelve.

Frankly, these two halves do not add up to a healed whole. Rather than a balancing each other out, their dynamic often functions like mutually-assured destruction. Extremes on either end that do serious damage to each other—but in this fanciful universe this gets converted into “healing.”  I struggled to see the “care” here.  

They do satisfy each other’s urges—he’s enticed by her liberation and the chaos she sows in his overly-structured life. She needs to calm the fuck down and he’s good at petting her. I mean. Jesus. There are moments that uncomfortably flit with Taming of the Shrew territory even if that’s not quite the story. 

There are some important topics that do get covered including how a neurotypical sibling cares for and takes responsibility for a neurodivergent sibling.  Moon Gang-tae confronting the choices he’s made to dedicate his whole life to protecting his brother and his brother’s growth to become more independent was nice to see. But it got buried under this destructive “romance” which I had trouble stomaching.  

The show offers a much broader visual palette than I’ve seen in Korean dramas, with bits of ghost stories, fairy tales, the macabre, silent movies, and storybook illustrations that come to life it. More Jean-Pierre Jeunet than Tim Burton to my eyes.  Although the narrative seems to lose track of the fairy tale aspects over time and then once it tries to reclaim them it becomes over-the-top in a way that’s hard to reconcile.

Hospital Playlist

This medical procedural benefits from a great ensemble of actors, but pacing issues and the musical interludes made me fixate far too much on where it was failing, rather than where it was succeeding.

Based around an interesting mix of five friends who met in medical school, each have issues from their past they are dealing with—fractured families, challenging relationships, parental expectations.

I was really invested in the characters and their relationships, but they kept interrupting their lives with medical emergencies that were drawn-out and did not necessarily add much to the characters or their relationships. They kept using some medical students in scenes as an excuse to explain the medical procedures in depth and this is not the level of detail we needed. I deeply did not care about how the surgery would be performed. 

They spend an INORDINATE amount of time doing liver transplants. There are so many liver transplants in these 12 episodes that I now can perform one myself. Bring me your tired, your poor, your cirrhosis liver. Every time they went into surgery, I just lost interest. 

Also, so many crying parents over dying children and then rubber babies in hospital beds near death (we can tell that’s not a baby).  I swear the casting must be 90% “Can you cry over your medically at-risk child? Please show us. Ok that’s good ugly crying you’re hired.”

It took forever for the hinted at romances to even get going. I think it was 9 episodes of hint dropping before there was something meaningful.  NINE EPISODES.

The “playlist” of the title comes from the fact that these doctors also have a “band” that never performs anywhere. They play songs together in one of their basements. Certainly, these musical interludes would have worked better if these were nostalgic trigger songs for me. Since I don’t know Korean pop hits from the 90s and aughts that they are playing, it was just a lot of time spent in the basement with these 5 folks jamming to tunes for no reason. They sing them very well. Congrats to them. 

It would appear this is built for a second season. I can only hope to learn gallbladder surgery then. But there better be non-stop romance for all 12 episodes if I waited so long for any of these characters to even kiss.  I just want to spend more time with the characters and less time in livers. 

Oh My Ghost

While I grumbled about Hospital Playlist, I absolutely adored Jo Jung-suk. So, I went looking for another show of his to watch.

Oh My Ghost involves a angry, virgin ghost Shin Soon-ae (Kim Seul-gi) who refuses to crossover because she is holding onto her regrets. She thinks if she can have sex then she will be able to move on. But the clock is ticking, and she must move on before the 3rd anniversary of her death which is rapidly approaching.

She ends up possessing a pathologically shy girl Na Bong-sun (Park Bo-young) who works at a restaurant in an attempt to get close to the chef Kang Sun-woo (Jo Jung-suk), who the ghost thinks she’s very compatible with. Bong-sun also has a crush on him but with her lack of confidence and nervous nature has never even thought of getting close to him. Chef is secretly a “good guy,” but outwardly a bossy jerk to everyone including Bong-sun.

Once possessed, Bong-sun becomes effervescent and aggressively randy with Chef. Frankly, it gets disturbing and uncomfortable because she’s practically trying to rape him. She is constantly grabbing at his crotch and physically molesting him. While the ghost does not have a lot of time, this excuse just plays badly in these circumstances. I think there was a way to make this ghost impulsive without rapey and they failed.

She’s also a terrible guest in Bong-sun’s body. Every time she possesses her Bong-sun has no memory of what transpired, and the ghost doesn’t even leave her helpful notes. Poor Bong-sun has no idea what’s been going on and her co-workers are struggling to chart these dramatic mood swings.

Bong-sun has always been able to see ghosts and its actually part of what has caused her to become so introverted and miserable. Eventually, Bong-sun has a conversation with the ghost and consents to the possession both to get closer to chef and to help this ghost in her plight. But “consent” is kind of ignored with respect to Chef. I mean HE doesn’t know he’s in a relationship with a ghost-possessed kitchen assistant. Then again, the Chef-Bong-sun dynamic is uncomfortably paternalistic and weird anyway.

Add in a whole dramatic twist that pushes the tone of the show far too much and I barely clung on until the end.