Author: Gemma Amy Lee

Hi I'm Gemma. I am an university student studying a Bachelor of Media and Communications/Arts, at the University of Wollongong in Southern New South Wales, Australia. I love many things; craft, history, sitting on the internet reading thoughtful (and rubbish) articles, baking and sugar art, reading books, all forms of music, learning languages, politics, eating large quantities of chocolate, and fashion.

반성 (reflection)

What has studying the Eat Your Kimchi community taught me throughout my study? How does Eat Your Kimchi fit into the South Korean context?  How does my experience of the EYK community and South Korea fit into the international fandom of EYK?

I have learnt to see Eat Your Kimchi as a window. A portal. A way to access something new and exciting (South Korean culture, being part of an international fan community) while still being comforted and accommodated by something familiar (English language, YouTube as a medium of expression and community). The key to stepping into the rabbit hole has been using the autoethnographic method to serve as a gentle helping hand in forging a connection with my subject, bridging the distinction between personal, immersive experience and scholarly study (Doty 2010). It is the human aspect that has been very fascinating for me, the fandom which supports EYK/Simon and Martina like a boat, often physically and metaphorically ferrying EYK to new shores (for example, they have now twice travelled to Scandinavia to meet with fans and attend festivals/conferences, and have travelled to Australia for SBS and to see their Aussie fans).

Each post has been an extra push into participation in the EYK community. 한류 (korean wave) gave me perspective on how I saw EYK when I first discovered them; as a white South Korean couple, a strange revelation, which has shown me that cultural identity is not necessarily something tied to nationality or ethnicity, but from my perspective, something that is generated by passion for, assimilation within, and recognition of a distinct cultural identity. 유명인사 (celebrity) brought me to terms with my identity as an actual ‘fan’ of EYK rather than a viewer/consumer of EYK content, and further expanded on how Simon and Martina are a conduit into South Korean culture. 외국의 (foreign) brought me face to face with my cultural assumptions surrounding South Korea and prompted a revelation: EYK have become part of the ‘soft power diplomacy’ used by South Korea to break into new media markets. 공동체 (community) allowed me to come to terms with how valuable the EYK fandom has been to EYK, yet also challenged me to tackle with the question: how DOES an autoethnographer effectively represent their research? I needed an way to represent this relationship that was immersive yet gave perspective to the author. 장애물 (barrier) demonstrated my engagement with the autoethnographic technique of reflexive ethnography; attempting to interact with South Korean culture and entertainment, while also reflecting on barriers which caused the process to stutter and start, such as language barriers and the media via which we consume a culture. 제공 (contribution) brought the EYK community back into focus, and my research revealed to me the medium for my Digital Artefact, while also allowing me to investigate what makes digital fandoms different: the amplification of participatory culture and the complimentary nature of a producer’s relationship with their supporters. 참가 (participation) revealed to me the importance of place, communication and culture in the exchange between fandom and the subject of fandom, and how perspective and the audience’s position in relation to the subject augments the exchange of meaning involved. My research also zoomed in upon the interaction of fans internationally, brought together by the flexible space that is the digital, and came to terms with how my Digital Artefact could fit into and accentuate this symbiosis.

This is what my autoethnographic experience of Eat Your Kimchi and South Korea has taught me. The digital has brought Asia, especially South Korea, closer into focus for those living in cultural isolation from their culture. Eat Your Kimchi not only provides the diffusion of South Korean culture into a simpler, more easily consumed dimension for people all over the world via language, medium, inclusivity and physical and digital spaces, but has also created a valuable exchange between people of differing cultural and social perspectives with a passion in common: South Korea.

External reference:

Doty, R. L. 2010, ‘Autoethnography- making human connections’, Review of International Studies, Vol. 36, No. 4, pp. 1047-1050

참가 (participation)

Upon reflecting on what I personally experience as a fan of EYK, I could see a multilayered, physical and intangible quality to the EYK fan experience, which has grown from EYK’s focus on giving fans an unique, customised insight into South Korea which recognises that “social interaction and knowledge work effectiveness depend heavily on user engagement” (Orsatti and Riemer 2012).

Firstly, it is inherently important  to define what constitutes a ‘fan’, in order to understand how important interaction with EYK is in the context of this discussion. According to Brough & Shresthova (2012), “fans are typically understood to be individuals who engage deeply with, and often assert their identity through, popular culture content.” Thus it is important to reflect on how deeply fans are permitted to engage with the content and the hosts of the channel, physically and intangibly, and how much the content creators are facilitating the integration of their culture into the identity of fans.

Simon and Martina’s approach to YouTube has changed significantly since they started vlogging (video blogging) in 2008. To once again experience this change, I took a step back in time to their archives channel. The format and filming/commentary style was the immediate change I noticed; I felt like I was intruding on personal holiday videos, a pure auto-ethnographic approach which focused on their reactions to new cultural experiences. In comparison, their current filming style is much more professional and performative, almost educational in tone, and they place a very high importance on the opinions, interests and engagement of their fans. This is demonstrated most obviously in their TL;DR videos (Too Long; Didn’t Read, crowd-sourced questions about South Korea and comparisons with other cultures/countries are answered by Simon and Martina) and F.A.P F.A.P.s (Food Adventure Program For Awesome People, videos which help viewers understand Korean traditions and culture).

The Eat Your Kimchi Studio! Credit: @leechangsun

The Eat Your Kimchi Studio!
Credit: @leechangsun

Secondly, Simon and Martina’s establishment of a permanent physical presence in the heart of South Korea provides fans a space to amplify their fandom experience and extend their learning experience. The Eat Your Kimchi studio, where Simon, Martina, Leigh and Soo Zee film videos, edit, hang out and conduct interviews with KPop bands, is a tangible space where they can meet up with fans and where they also film one of their highly interactive video formats: LiveChats. During LiveChats the EYK crew interact with fans through Twitter and YouTube comments and open fan mail. They also do this at their recently opened cafe in Seoul, the You Are Here cafe, an additional physical space for fans to engage with EYK and become part of the content themselves!

The You Are Here cafe Credit: DailyBap

The You Are Here cafe
Credit: DailyBap


Finally, Tumblr, a slightly underrated part of their digital presence, is a great demonstration of how deeply EYK values their fans and exemplifies how much EYK has become part of fans’ social interaction, hobbies, and happiness,  e.g.



1. mightaswellbeonjupiter:

So this girl walks into the lounge while I’m listening to some music and studying when I notice she has a “Soy un Dorito” shirt on. I was so excited and then suddenly, Sherlock started playing. It was drama-like fate.

EYK: Did you become bestest best friends? I hope so!




The promised fanart for EYK! 😀





Looking at examples like these clearly demonstrates the value of participation and engagement to both fans and the object of the fandom. I hope to demonstrate this relationship on the EYK Compendium, and maybe add to or amplify the role of this relationship within the culture of Eat Your Kimchi.

제공 (contribution)

Struggling with a direction to take my digital artefact in (which I had previously decided would be a visual representation of the international Eat Your Kimchi fan community, possibly a word-art gallery, and which subsequently changed to a simple prezi), I decided to reflect on what made the EYK fan experience so unique compared with other YouTubers that I have come to love.

Louis Cole, host of the channel FunForLouis is a comparable example from the United Kingdom, as his approach to YouTube is much like Simon and Martina’s (EYK’s two hosts) in a few ways:

  1. They both have multiple forms of media attached to their main channel in order to interact with fans (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc)
  2. They both have fan meet-ups in countries all around the world, including Australia (FunForLouis) (EatYourKimchi) ,so that they can connect with and appreciate the support that has steadily grown for them in many communities
  3. They both have merchandise shops (Louis) (EYK) which help support their channel, providing a way for fans to both show their support for the YouTubers and identify themselves as fans to the wider community (as I have by buying an EYK shirt, see previous post 유명인사 (celebrity))
  4. They both have huge international fan followings; Louis has just achieved 1 000 000 subscribers in the last few days and fans actively try to independently meet up with him in every country he travels to. Similarly, EYK often encounters fans on the street and in other countries when filming their videos, and post pictures with fans/’nasties’ on Instagram and Twitter.

These channels are both great at integrating fans into their content and they both have a creative approach to editing and presenting their videos. Additionally, they both started their channels by documenting their daily lives highlighting changes or new learning experiences. So what makes Eat Your Kimchi different? Is it the content creators who make the difference, or the fans themselves?

To me, it’s the actual fandom of EYK which stands out. Their passion, dedication, creativity, general sense of community and acceptance, and willingness to contribute their own opinions and knowledge of cultural experience is evident across YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and in real life e.g. during filmed fan-meet ups and encounters with Simon and Martina in public spaces.

Trying to think of a way to describe, display, analyse and interact with this fandom in a meaningful way, I realised that Prezi was not going to work in this context, especially considering that I have identified an innate personal need to somehow show my interaction with and interest in the world of EYK. What makes digital fandoms so unique and simultaneously personal and inclusive of difference is the participatory culture which the Internet and blurring cultural distinctions have emphasised and cultivated (Brough & Shresthova 2012). So how do I play into this culture? How do I both participate in and study the fandom of EYK?

I have decided to create a space where I (and possibly other fans) can shine a spotlight on different aspects of the EYK fandom, somewhat in the vein of Pottermore or the Pokemon Wiki. Introducing the EYK Compendium: The Fantastical Fandom of Eat Your Kimchi, brought to you by WordPress (the central fandom hub), Instagram and Twitter (two methods of additional engagement where I hope to connect with fans and use hashtags to find content and EYK fans).

장애물 (barrier)

Autoethnographers strive to use language and methods of interaction to find themselves in the crosshairs of ‘autobiographic impulse’ and the ‘ethnographic moment’ (Spry 2001), but what if there is no convergence of language and access points, such as may be the case when using social networks in other languages (Sina Weibo). I have experienced this struggle when attempting to derive further external cultural experience from the learning and curiosity which the EYK community and content has fostered within me. It became important to me to reflect on the ‘interactional textures occuring between self, other, and contexts in autoethnographic research’ (Spry 2001). Thus, I ventured out from the protective wings of the EYK community to explore the wider context of their content through consumption of pop music throughout Asia without the lens of EYK and ‘KPop Music Mondays‘ (their weekly KPop review) filtering what I see and like.

The creation of a personal narrative and the ability to recognise the occurrence of reflexive ethnography allows an autoethnographer to identify the cultural baggage which we bring to a personal experience and subsequently reflect on the reflective changes which result from our participatory cultural experiences (Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2011). In order to examine my cultural baggage in an environment where a detailed personal narrative could develop, I decided to start at home (Australia) with SBS PopAsia. SBS PopAsia is a comprehensive source of Asian pop content from many different countries (particularly South Korea), in the format of a television show screened on SBS 2 and a 24/7 live music stream.

Reflecting on my first impression of the SBS PopAsia television show screened on Sundays, I can see an unfortunate and unexpected mirroring of MTV and the Top 40 countdowns of my childhood, with the hosts standing in front of a cheesy green screen background while introducing slightly 1990s-feeling segments such as ‘what do all these videos have in common’ (this time it was ‘rain’ and ‘mobile phones’). In the first few minutes I notice a complete lack of interaction with artists and fans. Immediately I feel the deprivation of the freedom which digital platforms such as YouTube have given me when exploring new forms of entertainment, as I can’t skip any of the content that I’m not interested in. Similarly, the 24/7 digital radio stream forces the listener to experience the whole song being played, and there was no cultural context offered e.g. country of origin of the music, or information about the band. Ironically, the part of the SBS PopAsia experience which I struggled the most with ended up being related to language barriers (considering it is an Australian program); I expected the music videos to have a subtitle option, particularly in English, to explain why they are so popular amongst their regular viewers, as I have found a barrier to my enjoyment of KPop is that I don’t understand the lyricism or cultural context of the songs. However, there were no subtitles, and very little explanation of each video, so I ended up turning off the television 20 minutes before the show ended. This drove me back to digital platforms.

This time I attempted to involve myself in the weekly Korean show Music Bank. Immediately I was drawn into the show, as there were English subtitles for each KPop act’s song, and I found myself really enjoying the experience of actually seeing major KPop idols dance and sing to a passionate (and very loud) local audience. I hadn’t realised until now what a big fan of KPop I had become until I realised I was ‘fan-girling’ over Taemin and his performance of ‘Danger’. I really loved looking through the comment section and seeing others feel exactly the same; after all, ‘fandom is not just about expressing to the object of your fandom that you love it — it’s also about connecting with other fans (Miller 2014).

Upon reflection, I could see how incredibly important my research of KPop bands and idols and observation of online fan communities had been in fostering a genuine connection within this cultural context. This experience has shown me just how valuable the EYK community is to me and the breaking down of barriers to participation in the wider Korean entertainment context, and how digital platforms allow much more inclusive access to the enjoyment of new experiences, particularly in comparison with traditional media forms.

공동체 (community)

Thinking of a way to turn my research of South Korean culture and Eat Your Kimchi into a Digital Artefact was proving to be quite difficult for me. I wanted to convey my identity as a fan and investigator of EYK, my fascination with South Korean culture, and my autoethnographic experience in a way that I myself could be interested in. My experience with the production and editing of videos, creation of code, and the production and compiling of music is quite limited, so those weren’t viable options for me. I also found it a little difficult to push my mind past the examples that we have seen so far, such as tumblr blogs, Sabato Visconti’s Glitch Artworks, playlists and collations of videos or pictures, or subreddits, as I didn’t feel that any of these fit what I wanted to convey.

It is clear to me that the Eat Your Kimchi fan community has been incredibly important in the success of the blog, as without their fans, Simon and Martina (the couple who make the content for EYK, along with business manager Soo Zee and intern Leigh) may have found it much more difficult to remain in South Korea beyond teaching. The fan community supported their transition to full-time YouTubers in 2 ways

  1. YouTube offered EYK a monetary partnership when their channel surged in popularity as their subscribers/fans grew substantially around 2010
  2. Simon and Martina had their IndieGogo campaign successfully funded by their fan community (a total of approx. $113 000), which allowed them to apply for a South Korean business licence and rent an apartment closer to the centre of Seoul (the capital of South Korea)

Looking at this wave of success that the EYK crew have been riding since they started blogging in 2008, it’s really obvious to me that there’s a lot of love, passion and curiosity coursing through the veins of the EYK fan community. When looking at the EYK community and how it is represented digitally over many different platforms (Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit and on their blog), I find it equally as worthwhile to mine through the comments sections as consuming original EYK. There so much to learn from these spaces. Not only do they provide added ethnographic context to EYK’s observations on South Korean culture and entertainment, but they also build upon the opinions and ideas offered in the videos. These forums are, to me, a comprehensive representation of the majesty and power of a fan community (already well-represented by their ability to keep EYK going through funding), reflecting the quality and insight of the EYK content.

In order to capture this ecology I have decided to design a blog in which I will reflect on my personal understanding and learning, following my observation of these spaces. I hope to design a Digital Artefact that provides a visual representation of my observations and interpretations, whether it be through a graphic, word visualisation or other performance medium, showcasing various comments, the original EYK content, and my derived autoethnographic experience.


외국의 (foreign)

When I was a kid, I saw the study or experience of other cultures from almost exclusively one perspective: for the sake of self-knowledge (Clark 2000). The effort of studying other cultures, of avoiding being consumed by ethnocentrism, was not necessarily something that I enjoyed or found easy. To be honest, I always found cultures like those found in the Middle East and Asia particularly difficult to wrap my mind around and truly enjoy, compared with that of Italy, France, Scandinavian countries, and even Russia.

There is way to understand the reason behind my resistance to learning about cultures from this area according to Clark; by trying his ‘Forced Migration Game’ (2000)

1. If you were forced to migrate to another nation, what would be your top 3 favourite choices (you would be quite happy living there instead of your current home country)?

2. What would be your 3 least favourite options (under no circumstances would you like to live there)?

3. Examine why you chose these 6 countries. Was it lifestyle, climate, religion, health values, social constructs, politics?

By examining how I ranked countries from my juvenile perspective, I could understand some of my motivations for being less likely to understand or want to travel to Middle Eastern and Asian countries. My childhood was dominated by images of war, unrest, lack of political and social freedom, and unfriendly climates when it came to these countries. I only saw stories from these countries via a biased, ethnocentric traditional media (television, newspapers, some online media) or no stories at all, exemplified by this comment by 1970s CBS news journalist Eric Sevareid:

“The truth is that there is very little in most of the African and Asian nations worth anything in 20th century terms that was not put there by Westerners. The truth is that in spite of their talk about returning to their own cultural roots-remember Africanization-what they want to be is what the West already is.” (Clark 2000)

My priorities have changed since I have grown, and this is predominantly due to new media’s communicational possibilities, as technological change sweeps the globe and cultural boundaries are blurred (World Health Organisation 2014). In the Australasia region of which we are a part, I had seen South Korea chiefly in relation to its conflict with North Korea; it was predominantly on the peripheral of my ‘cultural radar’.

South Korea’s aspirations have been expanding to include domination of tourist and technology markets, and have in this process drawn me into its open embrace, through the communication of digital stories from native citizens like artist Lee Lee Nam (who tells digital stories through re-imagining traditional artworks through video), foreigners such as EatYourKimchi (who are excellent advertisements for South Korea, might I add), and Koreans like Jen from Head to Toe living outside of the country, who were previously all unknown to me before I could access them via the internet. These stories have opened my mind to new experiences (I really want to travel Asia now, whereas I only wanted to see Europe before), expanded my creative tastes (introduced me to KPop and Korean cinema), and enticed me to study other Middle Eastern and Asian cultures with a new fascination and determination.

External reference:

Clark, L. E. 2000, ‘Other-wise: The case for understanding foreign cultures in a uni-polar world’, Social Education, Vol. 64, No. 7, p. 448, National Council for the Social Studies


유명인사 (celebrity)

Eat Your Kimchi’s channels have collectively gained them almost 207 million views, generating advertising revenue which has became sufficient to support their transition from teachers on temporary visas, to full-time YouTubers/educators/entertainers on business visas (especially after their Indiegogo funding campaign). Since their transition, they have set up an EYK studio and have just (in the last WEEK!) opened a cafe with a fellow YouTuber (Hyunwoo from Talk To Me In Korean), both in South Korea’s capital city, Seoul.

My EYK tshirt which I bought from their online shop! Came with a hand-written note from Simon and Martina :)

My EYK tshirt which I bought from their online shop! Came with a hand-written note from Simon and Martina 🙂

Despite the fact that EYK ranks among the most popular YouTube channels in South Korea (particularly notable considering the commercial giants that dominate South Korean YouTube popularity), their ‘celebrity status’ does not denote the same ‘arm’s length’ relationship which KPop idols have with their fans. Simon and Martina let their fans into their lives, sharing personal tid-bits through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, actively engaging in discourse with fans on Reddit, playing video games with fans on PSN, and organising fan meetups and dinners whenever they travel. Indeed, Simon and Martina still can’t believe that they have reached the level of notoriety that they have…

“We’re still totally shocked, we act like how we do in real life, so we thought people won’t be interested (in our videos).”

I can believe it though. Simon and Martina provide a valuable bridge between their mostly international (foreign) audience and the quirky, complex culture of South Korea. Their fame seems to work in both directions, despite what you may expect considering that they are an outsider’s conduit into South Korea; they get recognised on the street by both foreigners and native South Koreans. Here there is a key difference between their fame and the celebrity of KPop idols; while Simon and Martina’s fans are “cool and polite”, KPop idols “get mobbed, and hounded for photos and signatures”. They provide valuable experience in the distinction between commercial popularity and what we perceive as ‘internet popularity’:

“People don’t treat idols kindly in public. People are always awesome with us, and we’re really thankful for that.”

Rifling through the depths of Reddit I came across an entire thread seemingly dedicated to both hating on EatYourKimchi/claiming Reddit hates Simon and Martina, and directing attention to a Tumblr called Unpopular EYK Opinions. This website exists purely to criticise EYK for not speaking satisfactory Korean, and to complain about how they run their blog and channel. To me it seems petty and unnecessary, and I think it completely misunderstands the point of EYK, which to me is to express passion for the KPop genre and to help those who don’t live in South Korea understand the culture. This hate doesn’t seem to translate to Simon and Martina’s public/celebrity experience or live chats; they are always embraced with nothing but love and joy when they travel the world to meet with their ‘fans’. This recording is an auditory representation of their fame, recorded on their recent trip to Melbourne, Australia:


한류 (korean wave)

The first time I experienced the culture of Korean wave/KPop (or Hallyu as it’s known in South Korea) I was on the couch in my Australian lounge room with my Australian family watching an Australian television channel. The Truth Is…? was a short series shown on Channel Ten, focused on challenging popular misconceptions about culture, history and human experience all around the world. I was bewildered by the ‘foreignness’ of the culture I was experiencing on the screen; don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed it, but it was challenging my (stereotypical) understanding of Asia and making it (confusingly) apparent that what I understood as ‘Asian’ culture was fragmented and differed enormously based on region (South and East Asia) and more subtly between cultures (KPop and JPop).

Before watching the segment on the Korean Wave, KPop and EatYourKimchi, I had an extremely limited knowledge of Japanese game shows and anime, kawaii culture, and art, and a little about Southern Asian countries. I had certainly been exposed to the meteoric rise of Psy and his single Gangnam Style, but I don’t think I knew anything about KPop itself. I also didn’t know what ‘kimchi’ was (if you still don’t, it’s a spicy pickled cabbage/vegetable dish that is served frequently as a side dish in South Korea).


Groove Korea

This episode really opened my mind to the blooming, viral Korean Wave, a culture I want ed to know more about as soon as I finished the episode. The stars of the episode (at least in my eyes) were Simon and Martina of EatYourKimchi, described as expats living, teaching and blogging in South Korea to an international audience. They have now become very well known (and liked) to Koreans as well, even though their blog isn’t necessarily aimed at this market.

Now, reflecting on my first proper, memorable experience of South Korean culture and re-examining the media which informed me of this culture, one particular point stands out. Simon and Martina understand the Korean Wave to be a branding strategy of the Korean government to make their country as recognisable to the world ‘as Coca Cola’. This was a bit of a revelation; I had never thought of culture in this way before. This strategy is seen by the South Korean government as a way to wield ‘soft power diplomacy’, weaselling their way into the cultural consciousness of travellers around the world and infiltrating our own personal and societal conceptions of culture. This particular approach expresses the uniqueness of South Korean culture and explains why I am so fascinated by it. South Korea seduced Simon and Martina to stay much longer than they had planned, and subsequently, altered their individual cultural identities. Maybe South Korea is seducing me too.

안녕 (hello)

My name is Gemma and I’m a Bachelor of Communications and Media/Diploma of Languages student, majoring in Digital Media/Marketing/French. I work as a barista, and I’m also a Communications Manager at a not-for-profit organisation. My online pseudoynm is gemmcraft; you’ll find me on wordpress and twitter writing/tweeting about digital media and politics, on Steam, and on Instagram and Pinterest regularly posting images that express my love of baking, craft, paper art and drawing.

Growing up I had almost no direct experience of Asian media and culture, particularly apparent when it comes to television; I never watched or played Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z or Avatar. However, over time my fascination with Asian media and culture has grown with me. I really enjoy following Asian artists on deviantART and Instagram, watching Asian movies, and most of all, investigating Asian culture through watching and sharing YouTube videos.

This is how I’ve become utterly obsessed with the blog and YouTube channel Eat Your Kimchi, an increasingly popular group of channels (EatYourKimchi, simonandmartinabonus, and Open The Happy) which discuss Korean music, food, fashion and cultural life. EYK is run by two young Canadians called Simon and Martina who travelled to South Korea to teach in Korean schools 6 years ago, and they now run their media channels as their full time jobs. One of the most interesting aspects of Eat Your Kimchi is their booming fan following, named Nasties, a group of very enthusiastic international subscribers.

Simon and Martina are two great examples of what I understand an autoethnographer to be; one of their main ‘segments’ involves conveying their experiences of Korean culture to their online audience in order to analyse how Korean culture relates to their own concept of culture, particularly gender and sexuality stereotypes, body shape and beauty, standards of fashion and dress, health trends, and the list goes on…

What is interesting about EYK is that they themselves have become an unique cultural phenomenon, a fusion of Korean and Western culture. Mainstream media views them as a product or cultural phenomenon to be investigated and talked about, whereas they are seen by the online community as the leaders of an inclusive, encouraging and creative online micro-culture in itself that they have created throughout the last 6 years. It will be very interesting to research EYK’s online and offline presence, reflect on my own participation in the EYK community, and analyse how Simon and Martina’s perspective on Korean culture relates to the wider Korean context.