I was in Jss1 when I watched my first K-drama, Jumong. I didn’t watch it as a complete series, I only caught some scenes while my cousin watched it but it’s the first K-drama I saw on screen. Then I later recognized Jumong as Choi Kang Ta (Micheal King) in A Man Called God. I think I saw Jewel In The Palace before A Man Called God, but I’m not so sure. I watched the popular Boys Before Flowers after (we were all caught up in the Gu Jun Pyo frenzy) and from there, I never looked back.
K-dramas are majorly loved for the unrealistic yet magnetic portrayal of romance. These dramas helped in raising the standards of many of its viewers when it comes to romance and what they desire in people even though romance in most K-dramas glorifies toxicity. Boys Before Flowers, for example, is toxic and shouldn’t be the yardstick to measure healthy romance. A lot of K-dramas shouldn’t be the determiner of what genuine love should be like.
I enjoyed watching though and I would carefully dissect the kiss scenes with my friends back when we were young and naive and life hasn’t started sprinkling the occasional pepper in our eyes. We would argue amongst ourselves for hours which actor was the best kisser and let me assure you, it was an argument that aired itself because we rarely agreed on one person. Lee Min Ho was the popular choice but I leaned towards Kim Soo Hyun because I saw him in My Love From Another Star and I was (passionately) convinced that Kim Soo Hyun was undefeated in the kissing game (while watching the recent It’s Okay To Not Be Okay kiss scene — the one in Mu Young’s room, I desperately wished I was back in SS1 in my hostel, arguing with my friends and this time letting them see why Kim Soo Hyun is superior to Lee Min Ho in every kissing way but wishes are not horses). If you will believe it though, my first full-on experience with K-drama wasn’t with a romantic one. Jewel In The Palace is about the struggles of a palace maid and it is the first K-drama I watched properly, in episodes (seasons actually because I bought the Igwe version) and what I felt in the K-drama wasn’t romance, it was dejection, happiness, hatred, love, and triumph. I cried like a hungry baby as I watched Jan Guem try to survive in the palace and the cruel trials she went through before she became the first female physician in Joseon Dynasty. I wept! It was after Jewel In The Palace I saw Boys Before Flowers (or is it Playful Kiss?), and from there, the kissing frenzy began.
As I grew, my preference took on a different flavor and I craved K-dramas with deeper and realistic stories, with female leads that are capable of taking care of themselves without getting stuck in a toxic cycle with the pompous male lead. That’s when I came across Because This Is My First Life. I decided to watch it because it starred the hilarious Oh Ha Ni from Playful Kiss as the female main lead and I loved her. So, I downloaded the drama (I also moved on from Igwe versions) and gave it a watch. It became my favorite K-drama for a long period.
I won’t bore you with why it became my favorite K-drama but I must say that I was awed by Jung So Min’s (who is currently the lead in the popular Netflix drama, Alchemy of Souls) performance. She flawlessly transformed from the clueless hopeless romantic that is Oh Ha Ni to the empathetic sweet adult that is Yoon Ji Ho for Because This Is My First Life. After seeing her on Because This Is My First Life, I needed to see more of her, so I went to check the dramas she’s starred in and I saw The Smile Has Left Your Eyes and the co-lead happened to be one of my sweet Oppas, Seo In Guk. I jumped into it. While watching, I noticed that Jung So Min’s character, Jin Kang, played the role of an empathetic listener and she did it well.
I didn’t understand at first though and I was a bit pissed because I wondered why she kept repeating what her partner, the lead guy, said back to him. The conversation went along the line of something like this:
Moo Young: I went back to my house today.
Jin Kang: you went back to your house?
Moo Young: Yes, I did. It brought back a lot of memories.
Jin Kang: What memories did they bring back?
Moo Young: How I played with my father and there’s also a child I played with.
Jin Kang: You were playing with your father? What was it like?
I continued watching though because I was interested in their story and as I saw more scenes of Jin Kang repeating what Moo Young said, a realization dawned on me. The reason she repeated his words back to him was that she wanted to let him know she was listening to him. She wanted to make him feel understood and validated. The realization made tears well up in my eyes (they didn’t drop) because it felt like I happened upon something beautiful and it was a nice coincidence. At that time in my life, I was in the process of accepting that as good as I can be as a person, I’m full of flaws and one of them is my inability to listen actively. I was learning how to listen when I watched the drama and the scene felt like manna to me. I continued with the drama and I took mental notes on how Jin Kang related to Moo Young, and how she communicated with him. Her body language while listening to him and everything else. A lot of the scenarios will never apply to me in real life but at least, I learned.
I tried applying the knowledge I gained from the drama and I noticed changes in my relationships. One of my friends confided in me more and I guessed they saw that instead of projecting my experiences and advice, which is what I used to do, I understood and validated them by listening and making the conversation about them. I paused my thinking for the duration they would be speaking to me and listened to them instead, just like Jin Kang. At first, it wasn’t easy because of how hard it is for habits to die but still, baby steps.
At that time, I was also a 400l Conflict Resolution student and I offered a course called Interpersonal Skills and active listening was part of the skills to be discussed. I was greatly interested in the course and I made sure to pay extra attention in class during its period. While discussing active listening, the lecturer mentioned reflective listening and as he explained it, I realized it’s what Jin Kang did in The Smile Has Left Your Eyes. According to the lecturer, reflective listening is part of what makes someone an active listener, and what an active listener does is help the speaker get their thoughts across by asking clarifying questions or by reflecting on the speaker what they are hearing. So, reflecting is restating what the speaker said. It’s summarizing both facts and feelings. It’s listening to the main emotions and linking them with what happened that made them feel that way. When you reflect on what you heard back to the speaker, they feel validated and understood.
After the class, I went back to watch the scenes of the drama that showed Jin Kang reflecting on Moo Young’s feelings and it was still beautiful to watch, and this time enlightening. I made the decision right there to make sure I become an active listener because, according to what I have seen and learned, it serves as an adhesive to relationships.
Recently, I saw Our Blues and it became my favorite drama because of how beautiful the story is and how delightful it is to watch. I picked a lot of lessons but the peak for me is how the drama showed how romantic listening, active listening, can be. It validated my prior knowledge of listening by showing that, at times, when our partner, friend, or family is angry and is venting, at that moment, the projection of our experiences, advice, and criticisms is not what they need. Just listen like Jeong Jun did when Yeong Ok was angry and needed to let her feelings out.
Just listen, actively. Intentionally.