Collaboration with Midwest Kimchi: Korean Culture Facts to be Aware Of

Hey guys how’s it going? Today I wanted to create a post discussing some Korean facts that may not be on everyone’s radar. With this though, I needed some assistance so I asked Midwest Kimchi to help!

Bio for Midwest Kimchi

Over at Midwest Kimchi, we love to talk about Korean culture. We are 4 ladies who live in the midwest but have lived or traveled in South Korea. While we all love to read and occasionally add book reviews, I (Jenny) add the majority to the “books” tab. When Shine by Jessica Jung came out, I knew it was going to be a great fit for our theme. 


Shine by Jessica Jung

The inspiration for this post is this book Shine by Jessica Jung with Midwest Kimchi and upon reading this, I felt that I knew nothing about a lot of the South Korean nuances and cultural terms. There also is no glossary so there were moments where I was not sure what was going on. So because of these, I decided to ask Midwest Kimchi about these terms and if you have read this book and were just as lost as I was, I hope this blog post helps! I am going to be breaking this down by kind of term (family, food etc.) so you can just pick and choose what you want to find out about! Let’s get started!


One of the aspects of Shine that I noticed was that there was a lot of food that I was not able to visualize in my head because there was not a lot of description of them in the book. 

Here are a few that were mentioned throughout Shine:

kimbap, dak-galbi, tteokboki, pojangmacha

Midwest Kimchi what are these??

Midwest Kimchi: When friends ask what I miss most about living in South Korea, I earnestly say that I miss my friends the most. Secondly is the food! Korean food in Seoul is inexpensive, healthy and delicious. In the morning, I stopped at my neighborhood cafe for 2 chamchi kimbap rolls for a total of $5. Order these same rolls at a Korean restaurant in the United States, and it will cost $20-30. A kimbap roll is like sushi- only it doesn’t have raw fish. Chamchi is tuna, so I was ordering a roll with tuna, pickled radish, perilla (sesame) leaves, shredded carrots, rice, and seaweed. Dak-galbi is a spicy chicken stir-fry, and tteokboki is spicy rice cakes. When Rachel and Jason were talking about this food, it was like an American talking about cheeseburgers and milkshakes. They expected everyone else to know those foods because they’re so common. 
A pojangmacha isn’t a word I heard often, but you will see them all over South Korea. Just like Americans love their food trucks, Koreans love their tent restaurants. Imagine the kind of tent that you might rent for a wedding reception. These tents restaurants don’t usually move, but I guess they pay less for the land that they sit on. (If you’ve watched Mystic Pop-Up Bar, you know exactly what a tent restaurant is.) Koreans also love their street vendors. Below is a street vendor in a suburb of Seoul selling a variety of things, roasted chestnuts, boiled fishcakes, and dried squid. Yes, Americans like their jerky, and Koreans like their dried squid.

Whoa that sounds amazing!


Halmoni, Umma, Uni, etc.

Another aspect of this story that I was unsure of in Shine was who was being addressed at certain points of time. There were some people that were addressed that had similar family names like Halmoni(grandmother?) versus Eunji (character first name).

So Midwest Kimchi how does this work? 

Midwest Kimchi: In Korea (and many Asian countries) it’s disrespectful to call someone by their name, especially if they are older than you. For example, Korean students call their teacher seonsaengnim meaning teacher.  My students always wanted to call me “teacher” instead of “Ms. Considine” or “Ms. Jenny”. Before this was explained to me, I thought they were being rude (as they frequently called out “teacher” when I walked down the hall). And, there is a lot of confusion in watching translated Kdramas. Folks wonder why their favorite character is getting called Uni when they know her name is Ko Moon-Young (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay). When I read about Rachel’s Halmoni, Umma, Uni, etc. I knew those were going to be terms that most K-culture uninitiated would not understand. Halmoni means grandma, Umma is a more familiar term for mother, and Uni is older sister. Sushirainbow is younger than me, so in Korea she would call me Uni (never Jenny). So even though she is not my sister, that’s what she would call me out of respect.

Below is a picture of my mom and I eating dinner in Seoul. I can call my mom Umma (which is familiar), and Sushiraibow could call my mom Ummani(m) a more honorific pronoun; she would never call her Laurie or Mrs. Considine like we would do in the United States. If you want to know more about Korean honorific pronouns, you should read this Wikipedia Page:

Sounds complicated but I can definitely get behind it.


Seeing Shine’s training school on top of an regular academic school were very confusing to me. Midwest Kimchi can you “shine” some light on the academics that were occurring in Shine? (Yes I made a funny :P)

Midwest Kimchi: It’s hard to know where to start with academics, and I was a teacher there! Ha! In South Korea, most students attend public school 8 A.M. to 4 P.M., but then many parents send their children to private schools (hagwons) for hours at the end of the day. For 2 years, I worked in a public school, and then I spent 2 years working in a hagwon. (In my picture below, you can see my class in a hagwon is very small and individualized as compared to a public classroom where there are nearly 50 students in a classroom.) Students compete to get into a good middle school, which can lead to a good high school, and then a good college. Most high school students spend their entire freetime in these hagwons (sometimes until 1 or 2 A.M.) so that they can pass their high school graduation test. For Rachel to spend her free time as a K-pop trainee (instead of studying in a hagwon), she was essentially giving up on the fact that she would go to college. Since Rachel was Korean American, she probably could go to an American university, but I wondered about the other trainees. If you don’t debut, it would be hard to getting into college after spending all of your time singing and dancing.

Good point!

Privacy/or lack thereof: (Private movie theaters etc.)

So in Shine, there are a ton of times that the characters tend to meet up in private like in a karaoke room, a private movie theater, etc. that are not necessarily something that occurs in the USA very often (unless you are very famous or rich). So Midwest Kimchi, how is this possible in Korea or other Asian countries?

Midwest Kimchi: In the picture below there are signs for a Noraebong (the karaoke room that Rachel meets her mentor) and a PC Bong, a place where you can go and play on high-speed computers (like a really nice computer lab). Korea also has something called a Multibong. In the Multibong, it’s set up like a really nice living room where you can watch new released movies and play video games. Rachel and Jason go to a Multibong to watch Say Anything. Bong means room. Most of these places are inexpensive and open 24 hours. I lived near a PC Bong, and I often went there to print out homework. The use of a computer (for hours), a printer, and snacks never cost me more than $15. Unlike the computer lab atmosphere of a PC bong, a noraebong and a mulitbong have individual rooms that you rent out; they’re private (public won’t come in). I have seen pictures of exclusive and expensive rooms, but usually I went to the normal/average rooms that cost $10/hour or less. 

Wow! If only that worked here in the USA!


 The last part of Shine I want to talk about is that some of our characters go to visit Tokyo like its nothing to go there (perhaps like Disney World I am not sure).  As my username Sushirainbow applies, I have some knowledge of Japanese culture and what the anime and manga shows me, but Harajuku was a tad difficult for me to visualize especially when it comes to fashion.

Midwest Kimchi do you mind talking about your knowledge about Harajuku?

Midwest Kimchi: Sure! Harajuku is a station (and area) in Tokyo, Japan. Rachel, Leah, and Jason visit there to eat a bunch of rainbow and unicorn inspired food. I spent one day (a Saturday) at Harajuku. People go there in their most elaborate outfits. And, the fashion is always changing. When I went there in 2008, the big hats were popular. People usually want their picture taken because it means they have a cool outfit. Even so, I still asked for permission when I saw this group. Do you notice that they have LIVE goldfish swimming in their earrings? Like any popular restaurant, you’re going to want reservations for the elaborate, Instagram-worthy locations. 

It sounds so amazing to see!


Overall, when I found out there was a book coming out that involved K-pop by a legit Korean pop star, I was excited and thrilled that it was coming out because I wanted to see what training for being a K-pop star was like in Korea firsthand. However, when reading Shine with Midwest Kimchi recently, I had a ton of questions about what the author was trying to convey to the reader about Korean as well as Japanese culture that were presented in this book. I have to say though, I learned a lot from Midwest Kimchi what I was missing and am looking forward to reading more books like this in the future. What about you guys? Was this blog post helpful to you if you have read Shine? Do you like blog posts like this one? Let’s talk about it in the comments. Check out Midwest Kimchi’s post on Shine also which is an in-depth review discussion post on both of our thoughts on the book. 

Published by Sushirainbow

Obsessed with books, anime, manga, and helping others. This Blog will consist of Reviews, Recommendations and Overall Thoughts. I also have an Instagram with the same name.

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