Eat Your Kimchi: Canadian couple rides the Korean wave to internet stardom
Eat Your Kimchi is a wildly popular blog and YouTube channel by Canadian couple Simon and Martina Stawski about their life in Korea and Korean pop (K-pop) music. The couple began blogging when they moved to Bucheon, South Korea to teach English in May 2008. They now have over 8 million visitors a month from 187 countries.
The Vancouver Observer got a chance to interview Simon and Martina on the eve of their move from Bucheon, South Korea to the capital city of Seoul, where they will begin the next big phase of Eat Your Kimchi.
Eat Your Kimchi's Simon and Martina Stawski describe themselves as "that dorky, married Canadian couple on YouTube living in Korea and making a lot of videos about it." They began filming and blogging about their lives in 2008, when they first arrived in Bucheon, South Korea to teach English at public schools.
What began as a way to keep in touch with anxious family members in Ontario gradually became an astoundingly successful website and YouTube channel. Eat Your Kimchi now gets eight million hits per month from 187 countries. That, and a literal mountain of fan mail that arrives every two weeks to their post office box from all over North America, Europe, and Asia.
Eat Your Kimchi's Music Monday on the viral K-pop video Gangnam Style. Source: YouTube.
The blog is best-known for its K-pop Music Mondays, a weekly review of one of the many Korean pop (K-pop) music videos fans vote for Simon and Martina to talk (sing, dance, dress up in drag) about.
The couple are also gaining popularity for their other series, K-Crunch Indie, about indie Korean music, Wonderful Adventure Now Korea (WANK), a candid foreigners guide to Korea's well-known or hidden hotspots, Too Long; Didn't Read (TL;DR), an FAQ program about anything related to life in Korea, and Food Adventure Program For Awesome People (FAP FAP), about Korean food.
Earlier this month, the couple announced their decision to become a full-fledged business in Korea, which meant moving to Seoul and raising $40,000 for a new studio to interview guests and edit videos. Their fundraising campaign for a studio space raised over $94,000 in two weeks, with still over a month to go. The couple will also host, judge, and meet fans at K-Kon 2012 in California, the first-ever large scale convention dedicated to Korean entertainment including K-pop, K-drama and Korean movies.
Simon and Martina sat down with The Vancouver Observer via Skype for their final interview at their Bucheon apartment last Sunday.
On their global fanbase: "Our biggest audience is outside Korea."
Simon: "Our biggest audience is outside Korea--90 per cent of our audience is from outside. Forty five per cent are from North America, 35 per cent of that is from the United States. We have a huge folllowing in Singapore, Australia, Sweden, Norway, and Germany."
Simon and Martina open fan mail from Berlin. Photo source: Eat Your Kimchi Facebook page.
Martina: "We got a lot of fan mail from England as well. Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Mexico..."
Simon: "We're going to Mexico next month for a fan meet. We've got some boxes that we haven't opened yet. We have fan mail from Texas, Las Vegas, California, England, and Germany."
On reverse culture shock from Korea to Canada: "Our attitudes have definitely become more Korean."
Simon and Martina are Canadians with Korean attitudes. Photo source: Instagram.
Martina: "Our attitudes have definitely become more Korean. There's reverse culture shock when we come back to Canada. We're shocked at people's clothing, we're shocked at the way they take care of their bodies."
Simon: "We're shocked at their driving and at the customer service. Whenever we go back it's like, 'This is how we're used to living, even though we grew up in Canada.'"
On leaving Bucheon for Seoul: "It's like we're leaving our Korean roots behind."
Martina: "When it comes to living in Bucheon, that makes us feel the most Korean because we've goten to know all the little shops in our neighbourhood. We know the ones that speak English and the ones that don't. When we go in they greet us like we're their Korean sons and daughters.
The ajummas (older married ladies) all take care of us. If I have a hair on my shoulder in the middle of grilling samgyupsal (fatty pork), they remove it for me, and they bring us hot potatoes in the winter.
I feel like they've really embraced us, and that was one of the the hardest parts of us leaving this city because we have to go to a new location where no one knows us again, and it's like we're leaving our Korean roots behind."
On the challenges of buying a new apartment in Seoul: "We plan on filming at home."
Simon and Martina's new apartment in Seoul. Source: YouTube.
Martina: "The big thing with the studio -- and we want to emphasize this because people are worried that we're not going to film at home anymore -- we plan on filming at home."
"We bought the apartment looking for places that would make sure we could still film in. We're looking at camera angles for everything and the real estate agent's like, 'What the hell are you doing?' and we said, 'Well, we can't get this place if we can't film in it.'"
Simon: "So we actually saw a really beautiful place that we had to turn down because the we couldn't get the angle of the kitchen right."
Martina: "...or the windows weren't facing the right direction for good sunlight."
On what to expect from the new Eat Your Kimchi studio: "We want the place to have a warm feeling."
Martina: "This studio or office space will allow us to do interviews with K-pop bands and K-indie bands because we have no space for that right now. We're hoping to have a space set up there, and hire a new video editor. So while our video editor is working on segments, we can have a K-pop group in the office being interviewed."
Simon and Martina interviewing the Wonder Girls at YouTube headquarters in California in May. Screenshot from interview.
Simon: "We want the place to have a warm feeling, with video game consoles and things to make the interviewees relaxed. It's not a stiff environment."
Martina: "I want them to know that we're a fun and outgoing place. So while you might go to a different company for a stiff, boring interview, the Eat Your Kimchi studio is always going to be something strange to expect, like something different they're going to have at our studio."
On the ultimate dream for Eat Your Kimchi: "A legitimate source of media"
Simon: "I'd really like Eat Your Kimchi to be viewed as a legitimate source of media. Not one that's necessarily like SBS or MBC in Korea but something that people can be like, this is a legitimate channel, let's bring our artists here to talk about music, lets talk about Korea, culture and whatnot."
Martina: "Something we'd eventually love to have is a glass wall where people can watch from outside the stars being interviewed. But that's a long long time away."