one moonless midnight mark made tracks across the snow. he walked in a straight line, across the field, into the woods and out the other side. he kept going. he crossed the pond and found a bike. he jumped on the bike and got on the road, pedaling, the wind in his face, the black of the night thick with stars, with twirling snow, with static and silence except for the crunch of the snow under his wheels.
Novel 2 is starting to take shape. I have narrowed down the location, Korea again, and the era, the Joseon dynasty, most specifically the first half of the 17th century.
I have even written 5 pages of the first draft, the one where I’m supposed to discover the actual story. No idea where it’s going.
My main character will be a woman, this much I know, and she will of course wear the hanbok. So, I’m researching hanbok styles and this has led me to think about other traditional dresses of Asia that are still worn today on special occasions: lush saris, colourful kimonos and classy cheongsams (qipao).
Period dramas, whether on the big or small screen, bring these fabulous dresses into our lives. Think of Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love and the slow, simmering and sensual— moody—relationship that develops between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung’s characters in 1960s Hong Kong. Maggie wears no less than 21 cheongsams,beautifully chronicled by Foam of days blogger, Julia, in 2013. My favourite is the black (at times it looks like dark navy in the film) and white floral cheongsam Julia calls dress # 15.
Cheongsams, it must be acknowledged, dates back only to the 1920s whereas the other dress styles have a much longer history.
The various pieces of the hanbok for women are described in this card:
A short video shows how to don the wrap-around skirt, the chima, and tie the ribbon of the jeogori and can be found here.
I wasn’t able to uncover much concerning undergarments (!) but I have seen simple white bloomers worn under, and at times in lieu of, petticoat.
This painting also shows how the skirt can be kilted up mid-body so it doesn’t trail in the dust. More on the painter of Woman in a Red Hat below.
On first seeing a woman wearing a hanbok, many people’s’ first impression is that the dress makes the female figure look shapeless, bloated and unflattering. Some hanbok variations have chimas with wide bands tied around the breasts rather than on top. Supremely classy actress Lee Young-ae wears one such hanbok in this picture:
In addition to painting Woman in a Red Hat, eighteenth century painter Shin Yun-bok, also known as Hyewon, gave the world the iconic Portrait of a Beauty.
Here again the chima is tied around the breasts rather than above. How mysterious our Beauty looks as she ties her otgoreum! Arguably Korea’s equivalent to The Mona Lisa.
There is yet another, saucier way to tie a chima: below the breasts. Many a painter of bawdy books circulating in Joseon era Korea served up that particular version to the men who bought their one-of-a-kind offerings!
One of the fundamental differences between hanbok and sari on the one hand, and kimono and cheongsam on the other, is the extent to which they restrict the wearer’s movements. A woman wearing a kimono takes small steps and, in the context of traditional Japanese architecture, with low tables and no chair, sits with her knees folded under her.
Cheongsams are definitely not designed for sitting on the floor but they nevertheless impose restrictions to movement whether sitting on a chair or a sofa (or a bed!) – legs close together or crossed – and when walking – measured steps, never racing.
A woman wearing a hanbok is freer to walk at a brisk pace. When she sits on the floor or on the ground, it is in the more relaxed cross-legged position.
A variation on the cross-legged position is the cross squat as in this photo:
It is often a position of power, such as when the female head of a household discusses family matters with her husband.
I confess not knowing much about the sari but a quick search shows that women can ride astride a horse in a sari. The same goes for the hanbok. Here again, the painting is by Shin Yun-bok and the women are riding on mules rather than horses, I believe.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye wears her country’s traditional hanbok for all formal occasions.
Elements of the hanbok have inspired fashion in Korea and abroad recently, such as in this 2011 example from designer Carolina Herrera:
A particularly stunning hanbok-inspired dress was worn by Jeon Ji-hyun’s character, Cheon Song-yi, in a pivotal red-carpet scene in the final episode of television series My Love from Another Star.
Classic, yet so simple.
Ooops! No time left to work on the actual novel today.
Research … sigh.
 The Joseon dynasty kings ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910
As I look back over the books I have read over the past few years, five stand out as having particularly inspired me on my writer’s journey:
The History of Loveby Nicole Krauss showed me that writing a novel was something I could aspire to. Little did I know…
When I despaired that my too-nice characters would bore the reader, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett brought back some much-needed hope.
When I was searching for the right voice for my female protagonist, The Disappearedby Kim Echlin, with her first person narrator addressing a single You, turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.
The Gift of Stonesby Jim Crace illustrated how storytelling is always shaped by the audience. Embellishing is not really lying. It entertains and makes the story more relevant.
Lastly, The Reinvention of Loveby Helen Humphreys held me spellbound through pages and pages of soul-searching, a skill I can only admire from afar, having only limited facility in this area.
Honourable mentions, in no particular order, go to: