Walking into the Boccalino Wine Bar on the 2nd floor of the Four Seasons Hotel – SIWA’s new location for Coffee Mornings – I was met with smiling faces, laughter, and friendly chatter all around me. We were all there to see familiar faces, make friends, and of course to listen to a talk on “Korea’s Past Around Us: Invented Traditions, the Unnoticed, and Erased Memories.”

One new member of SIWA that I spoke to, Ciara Anderson, said that she had recently arrived in Korea and was looking forward to learning about Korean history and its connection to modern Korea. She came to the right place.

Our esteemed guest speaker was Dr. Javier Cha, assistant professor of East Asian Studies in the College of Liberal Studies at Seoul National University. Dr. Cha lectures on what Korea is now, how Korea has become Korea, and how it continues to change.

Throughout the morning, we learned some common myths and stereotypes (“Korea is small”, but actually it is the same size as the UK, and if Korea were in Europe it would be considered an average-sized country), buildings that embody in the past but may not be that old (being made of wood, many historical buildings have been damaged naturally or in war, so they have been reconstructed), remaining elements of colonialism that can still be seen today in Myeong-dong, and most popular of all origins and explanations of some Korean dishes and eating habits. For example, one particular nugget that stood out to me was that Korean food has become spicier than ever before over the past couple of decades after Shin Ramyun hit the shelves and became an instant hit. In fact, Korean food has seen a 20-fold increase in spiciness.

Dr. Cha’s passion for his subject was infectious and he had so much interesting information for us, but the time flew by and we couldn’t hear everything. Personally, I would have loved to hear more and am hoping that there will be more talks like this in the future. Dr. Cha’s insights really brought parts of Korea and Seoul into focus and have prompted me to open my eyes more as I move around the city.

Sadly, this Coffee Morning was the last such event to be organized by our outgoing Hospitality Chair, Rachel Ashby-Sexton; however, Jennifer Cho will be taking over and organizing future events.

I also look forward to enjoying more events at the Boccalino. I’m sure you agree with how comfortable the space was and how conducive it was to our event. The Four Seasons is a wonderful location in the center of the city to visit again and again.