In search of Winter Sonata

A thousand apology for the MIA on this site. I was physically and ínternetally’ (is there such a word?) over @ Annyeong Seoul. For the past 7 days, I was parked at Bukit Panjang Plaza…which is like the other end of the island from where I live. >_< It was a tiring but exciting experience. Will be doing some post-fair reviews over that site, so do remember to check out the site.

Just this week, Joon’s Family, Bae Yong Joon’s fan club in Singapore celebrated it’s 8th anniversary. Now some of the readers may not be too familiar with him, since he seems to have semi-retired. But I think it would not be too wrong to say that BYJ and ‘Winter Sonata’ sparked the start of the Hallyu wave. I dug up Winter Sonata and did a quick watch of some of my favaourite scenes last night…mostly the first few episodes. I discovered- my heart still skips a beat when I watch him. ^^ And I still enjoy the drama tremendously. Perhaps because it is such a simple love story. Or was it because of the chemistry between the leads? Maybe the winter scenary? Or the music?

I’m not sure.

I think though…. it’s mostly because of this man….and his little shy smile…

From 2003 to 2010, I made a total of 6 trips to Korea in search of ‘Winter Sonata’ and particularly the man with his little shy smile. As this iconic drama celebrates it’s 10th anniversary next year, I’d like to take a little walk down memory lane.

In 2003, 40 women from his newly set-up fan club, Joon’s Family, who barely knew each other and bonded only by the love and passion of Bae Yong Joon took a leap of faith with each other and embarked on a 9D 7N tour with Diners Travel to BYJ’s homeland. We paid $1,368 for a customised tour as we were going to catch ‘Untold Scandal’ @ the Busan Film Festival. Just as the word ‘chom’ (*the first time) was a theme in ‘Winter Sonata’, the trip was also a first for us in many ways.

– Untold Scandal was BYJ’s first movie
– it was the first time any fan club collaborated with KTO and it has been a wonderful friendship over the years
– it was the first time Diners Travel had organised a trip for a fan club (believed me, they were totally shocked at err… how passionate and energetic we were)
– it was the first time any big organised fan club had travelled to Korea (we even had our 2 minutes of fame, appearing in many of the Korea media)
– it was the first trip to Korea for many of us
– it was the first time meeting for many of us

and finally, it was our first time seeing The Man himself.

Whilst seeing him was the icing on the cake, visiting all the places that ‘were ‘familiar’ to us was the main reason for the trip. In ‘Winter Sonata’, 3 places stood out- Chun Cheon (the capital of Gangwon Province), Nami Island (a popular island retreat near Chun Cheon) and Yong Pyong Ski Resort.

In 2003, all these places were only just starting to become popular and not as ‘over’ marketed.

In the drama, Yu Jin (Choi Ji Woo) and Kang Joon Sang (Bae Yong Joon) had arranged to meet at Chun Cheon on the 31st December. But Joon Sang met with an accident on his way there and everyone assumed him dead. It was the start of the ‘tragic’ love story. There weren’t many ‘signages’ then, so imagine 40 women tourists charging up and down the street and trying to figure out exactly which lamp post Yu Jin had leaned against whilst waiting for Joon Sang to appear. Afterall, one lamp post was the same as another lamp post…until someone remembered Burger King. Hehehe!


Of course, Chun Cheon was also where Joon Sang & Yu Jin lived when they were young. Joon Sang’s house (if I remembered correctly) was a private residential and she opened it up to visitors later when the drama gained popularity outside Korea. It was only opened during certain hours & I believed there is a token amount of entrance fees. But I’m unsure about the amount as we went there with the help of tour guide.

The very piano that Kang Joon Sang ‘played’. Of course, we all pretend to play and tinkled with the piano as well.

 It was also in Chun Cheon that I discovered the best dakgalbi in Korea (so far). My friends and I still have fond, yummy memories of it. I would love to eat it again.

Nami Island was the scene of the couple’s first date. We learnt that it was also popular with the Koreans, though over the years, I thought there was an overdose of the “Winter Sonata’ syndrome. Still, it cannot be denied that it is a very beautiful place.

The famous scene where Yu Jin and Joon Sang skipped school and discovered their feelings towards each other.

A picture perfect Nami Island (imagining a walk with Kang Joon Sang optional). We even found a log nearby and wondered if it was the very same log where Joon Sang first held Yu Jin’s hand. hehe!

 Another famous scene in the drama that was filmed on Nami Island- the snowman and the first kiss. It was really, really sweet.

This pair of fake snowman is now a permanent feature on Nami Island….and the opportunity for a must-take photo spot. Now, if only we can have Joon Sang & Yu Jin there as well.

Yong Pyong Ski Resort literally shot to fame overseas because of ‘Winter Sonata’. A large part of the drama, with many key moments were filmed here. 

The fireplace inside the cafe (Dragon’s Peak) at the top of the ski resort. It was a turning point in the drama as Min Hyeong (Joon Sang) declared his interest in Yu Jin.

Of course, the fireplace is now filled with photos and posters of the cast and the drama, though during my last trip there in 2007, they had cleared away some of the memorabilia. Btw, this is a real fireplace and not one of those fake ones…

And this was the cable car that the couple took. It’s now a tourist ‘attraction’. ^^

This was where Yu Jin got Min Hyeong intrigued….by commenting that couple’s heart is the best home possible.

In my 2007 trip, the all-knowing guide brought us to the stretch of the road in Yong Pyong where it was filmed. We had a bit of fun trying to remember if they were coming from the left side or the right side of the road. So I took photos of both sides of the road….just to be safe. The silly thing fans do. Wahaha!

 Both Min Hyeong and Yu Jin had a very, very romantic private dinner here in this small cafe.

The cafe has since been turned into a sort of exhibition room, with the uniforms of the 2 characters up on display, mumerous photos, small souvenirs for sale and a ‘tree’ for tourists and fans to leave messages. Of course, the setting has also been immortalized. And yes, we all sat in the chairs, alternating between Yu Jin’s seat (pretending BYJ was sitting opposite us) as well as Min Hyeong’s seat (just to say we’ve sat where he sat). ^^

Yu Jin and Min Hyeong, in their new found love both made a wish to be together forever. Apparently, the act of making a wish by piling stones on top of each other is a Korean custom in Korea.

This place is at the top of the Yong Pyong Ski Resorts. There was a pile of stones placed there during my earlier trips but not sure if they are still there. Remember to make a wish after you have piled the stones into a heap. ^^

Not a terribly significant part of the drama but it does show Min Hyeong ‘going’ over to Yu Jin. This was after she decided to break up with Sang Hyuk.

Took this photo during the 2007 Korea trip when we were on an intensive BYJ tour. Didn’t have time to go down and ‘check’ out the place but it was very nice and serene. Too bad it wasn’t ‘wintery’ enough then even though it was in December.

Yu Jin needed a quiet place to ‘cry’ her heart out in the middle of the night and Min Hyeong told her this was the best place possible…in the middle of the skiing area, where nobody could hear her.

Now the only way the above scene could be filmed was in the middle of the night as Yong Pyong is a hive of activities during the day time. In a strange twist of fate (or rather it was the determination of a group of fans who refused to be denied their pleasure of touring Yong Pyong Ski Resort), the following photo was also taken in the middle of the night by us, who, by the way, were not staying there at the resort. I must say it was surreal but at the same time, tremendous fun. Imagine a group of hyper-active women on a pent-up rampage in the middle of the night. When I say in the middle of the night, it was really in the middle of the night. I’m surprised no guards came out to stop us. Wahaha!

(credit: Jessica)

 Besides the above threee destinations, one of the more significant spot would be the chuam beach, the first and only short holiday that the couple took just before Joon Sang/ Min Hyeong had to break off with Yu Jin. I’m sure the beach, if it did have a name, was not called chom (the first time) beach. Without ‘Winter Sonata’, it would have been just any other beach.

The chom beach (located in Bukpyeong-dong Donghae) was positively a heart-breaking scene for me. I cried my heart out when Min Hyeong/ Joon Sang threw everything into the sea so that Yu Jin wouldn’t have any memories of them together. The beach is actually part of a tranquil little fishing village. The little guest house they stayed in was again private residential area. Since then, a cafe has been added to it as it became another ‘Winter Sonata’ shrine. The dried squids were nice if a bit chewy. ^^

 I think I have probably visited most of the significant spots related to the drama, Winter Sonata…except for one- Oedo– the island where the final epsiode was filmed. I would love to visit the private island (yup, it’s private and only opened to visitors certain months of the year).

‘Winter Sonata’ remains my favourite drama, though not the only favourite one. In terms of inflence however, this drama made a huge impact and caused significant changes to my life. Annyeong Seoul @ Bukit Panjang Plaza came about because of this drama.

This post is also dedicated to Park Yong Ha who committed suicide last year. Without Sang Hyuk, Joon Sang would not have been as outstanding.

Now, Korea anyone?

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