Jin Hee Cheon – A gayageum player

The second interviewee of Women at Work is Jin Hee Cheon. She is a freelancer as a gayageum player and a gayageum tutor. Gayageum is a Korean traditional string instrument that is played with fingers. Other than these two professions, she talked about her diverse experiences.

Gayageum is pronounced like [ga-ya-geum] and written 가야금 in Korean.

Hello, Jin Hee. Thank you for being my interviewee. Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Hello, I’m Jin Hee Cheon, and I play and teach gayageum, a Korean traditional instrument.

Even for Koreans, gayageum is not a popular instrument to start as a hobby. How did you begin to play it?

I played piano when I was young and applied to art schools, but it did not work out. Then, in middle school, I decided to learn gayageum in an afterschool program. I did not mean to be a professional gayageum player back then, but my teacher saw the potential in me and suggested that I major in gayageum. That is when I started to prepare for an art school again. I majored in gayageum at high school, college, and masters.

Profile Picture from HONA (호나)

How did you start to perform professionally?

I have had a lot of experience on stage since I was in college. That is one of the notable differences that I have from my peers. I joined my first professional team when I was 20. My first team was a quartet with gayageum, ajaeng, geomungo, and haegeum. At that time, I played with seniors who did not even go to college with me because they were 4~5 years older than me. I did not know them, but they asked around and called me. It was an excellent opportunity. I joined Hona, the team I’m currently playing, in the same way.

Gayageum, ajaeng, geomungo, and haegeum are all Korean traditional string instruments, but ajaeng, geomungo, and haegeum are played with sticks. They all produce unique sounds.

Did you also start teams?

When I was in college, I started the team with my friend, who plays daegeum(a Korean traditional bamboo flute) to compete in instrumental competitions. And I am one of the first members of the fusion music band Knot Moon with guitar, piano, bass, haegeum, and gayageum. We compose the music and focus more on albums rather than being on stage. Since we write our music ourselves, we make what we want to play. We do not make albums very often, but we do slowly and steadily. Last year, the guitarist and I created an album. The members of Knot Moon are calm and sensitive, so we create the music that is easy to listen to.

Jin Hee appeared at the radio program as IF team

You might think that you were lucky to play steadily, but also you created your career yourself!
So you also have a teaching job. How did you start your career as a gayageum tutor?

As I started my performance career early, I also started my teaching career early. My friend’s sister was my first student when I was 20. She was a junior from high school, and I prepared her for college. At that time, I did not have a practice room, so she stayed at my house almost all day practicing even when I was not at home.

So, you must have taught diverse groups of students.

Yes, the most memorable one is a college student I taught when I was in college. She was one year older than me. One of my instructors at college introduced me to her, and I tutored her a 25-string gayageum. I also helped my tutor teaching students and taught skills for school applications such as reading music and music dictation. Recently, I taught at my old art high school and after school programs in middle schools. Teaching at school sometimes leads to private lessons.

A 25-string gayageum is a modernized gayageum, which has all scales. Whereas, a traditional (sanjo) gayageum has 12 strings and five notes.

Yes, you taught me for three years and made me the most wonderful hobby!
You have done things other than performance and teaching gayageum. How did you start DJing?

I just started to learn DJing because it looked cool, and I was curious. I played for 4 to 5 years. At that time, there were not many female DJs, so my tutor gave me a lot of chances to be on stage. However, I became too nervous whenever I played because if I made one small mistake, it would ruin the whole atmosphere. One time, I DJed in the orientation event, and students were so excited that everyone came up to the stage and jumped. The electric cord was accidentally pulled out, and the whole sound stopped suddenly. Fortunately, it went smoothly at that time, thanks to the host, but after that, I was so exhausted. Then, I thought I couldn’t do it anymore.

Jin Hee’s first solo concert

So, you don’t get nervous when you play gayageum?

You know, even talking in front of people is very nervous, but playing gayageum is the most comfortable thing for me to do in front of people. Since I have a lot of experience on stage, the nervous feeling is pretty familiar. At my first solo concert, I was nervous, but it was manageable.

You also started YouTube a few months ago. How did you start?

My friend has suggested that I do YouTube for a long time. He works at an office and to people who work in an office, my life seems pretty interesting. When he sees me, it seems that I just enjoy my life, but I always do some projects and things. He thought it would be fun to do YouTube and said that he was going to help me for a year. Of course, it is harder than I thought. It was a little awkward to talk in front of the camera at first, but I became used to it after two months.

Jin Hee’s YouTube Channel – CheonSaimdang

I am enjoying your YouTube! How did you come up with the name of your YouTube channel?

I thought a lot about the channel name and asked my friends about me. One of my friends told me that I have an image of Shin Saimdang, who is a Korean artist, writer, calligraphist, and poet from the Joseon Dynasty(1392 ~ 1897). So I put my last name and her pen name together: Cheon Saimdang. I also like it because it creates another meaning. (Cheonsaimdang can be interpreted as “I’m an angel.” in Korean) Please subscribe to my YouTube channel! I upload cover songs and my daily life video logs. Jin Hee’s YouTube CheonSaimdang

Under the Sea Cover with Gayageum

People who majored in music have many career paths but mainly two tracks. Do you consider yourself a performer or a tutor?

I consider myself a gayageum player rather than a tutor. I teach, but I don’t look for students actively.

How did you decide on your career path?

It is hard to say that I “decided” my career path. It was more like going with the flow. I joined and started the ensemble teams since I was in college and always have been in two teams. So it was reasonable for me to be a performer. I am also playing in two teams now: Hona and Knot Moon.

The stage at Berlin as a member of HONA (호나)

What are some qualities that a gayageum player and a gayageum tutor should have?

A gayageum player should play well on stage, and a tutor should teach a student to perform well on stage. So it is hard to be a player if one is too afraid of spotlights or gets too nervous on stage. Of course, it is scary to be on stage at first, but one can continuously improve when one learns from experiences on stage. In addition, one has to handle unexpected situations well because a lot of unforeseen situations happen in many events and performances. I once played at the year-end party of the alpine club, and it was a Korean barbecue restaurant without a stage or a microphone. It was awkward because the audience suggested having dinner with them and my hanbok smelled like barbecue, but it was an interesting experience. If one chooses to be a performer, one needs to be able to deal with this kind of situation. On the other hand, a tutor has to be able to understand students well and be good at dealing with their parents.

Hanbok is a Korean traditional clothes. Musicians, who play Korean traditional music, usually wear hanbok on stage.

What do you think is your strength as a gayageum player?

First of all, excellent performance is an essential strength. Besides, I think having a lot of stage experience is my most outstanding strength: not only the number of stages but the different types of stages. I have been on different stages such as solo concerts, middle and high school events, military units, and outdoor stages. Also, I played gayageum with a DJ at a large nightclub and played in other countries. So, having a lot of different stage experiences is my biggest strength.

Project 77: Jin Hee was a music director for the performance.

Then, what are your strengths as an educator?

My strength as a tutor is that I am a sister-like and friend-like teacher rather than an authoritarian teacher. Students feel close to me and often tell me stuff that they cannot even talk to their parents. The teachers I learned were always scary and strict, so I want to be a teacher who can make her students feel comfortable.

Yes, I remember I liked friendly teachers. Could you tell us about your proudest performance or experience?

I performed in Paris, France, 5~6 years ago. The project team consisted of gayageum, janggu(drum in Korean traditional music), daegeum(a Korean traditional bamboo flute), and two musicians who make electronic music. We worked for the music for two weeks and performed five times in another two weeks. At that time, as a side project, I performed at a small gallery. As soon as the performance was over, the audience asked a lot of questions. It was my first time being asked so many questions such as how gayageum is created, how the instrument sounds like, how I play, and so on. I was very proud to be a musician, and it was a refreshing experience that the audience sees Korean traditional music without any bias. They were so curious the whole time and didn’t get bored. In Korea, there is a tendency that Korean traditional music is boring, so I truly appreciated their interests and enthusiasm.

Different instruments made perfect sounds in Paris.

Then, when was the most challenging time?

I sometimes feel difficulties when I face reality. Gayageum itself is an expensive instrument, but when I sign up for competitions, I have to take lessons and change all the strings and anjoks, the bridges that support the strings. Playing gayageum or teaching is something that I can change and improve with my effort, but there are not many things that I can do when it involves money. I think making money may seem easier than working at the office because if you don’t know, it looks like I just perform on stage for a few minutes and make money. However, the time to practice and my effort are not visible from the outside.

That is so true! I think a lot of musicians can relate to you.
What would be a word that describes you?

This question was one of the most difficult, but I would answer “adventure.” Even though I didn’t know much or didn’t have any information, I just tried if I wanted to do something. I was the first female student council president in my college; I started to learn DJing just because I wanted to. Also, I was the first student who entered the Korean Music department at Seoul National University (the top university in Korea) as a student who went to a different college.

Moreover, I didn’t like to travel that much when I was younger. But when I heard my friend had been on a trip, I thought, ‘it’s now or never to go on a trip.’ So, I bought the non-refundable plane ticket, which departs after nine months from then. I went to Europe for over a month – ten days with my friend and three weeks by myself. It was my first trip to Europe. At that time, I had almost every bad experience that could happen on a trip. Yet, thanks to those experiences, I became brave when whatever happened on my next trips.

So, I can sum up my 20s as an “adventure.”

She went to England to watch Son’s game!

That’s so nice.
If you meet yourself from five years ago, do you have anything to tell yourself?

It was five years ago when I went to Europe. I had been doing everything I wanted to do, so I have nothing to say to myself at that time. If I have to choose one thing, I wish I have studied foreign languages.

It is so amazing that you have already lived without regret. Then, is there any short-term goal for your future?

I want to release an album with my gayageum performance. I want to write songs, play them, and publish them.

Also, since I started YouTube, my goal is to shoot and upload videos steadily. I make two kinds of videos: Vlog with my daily life and cover songs in gayageum. I like gayageum so much that I often listen to cover songs that I recorded, so I want to shoot a lot of videos. I hope many people will like the sound of gayageum that I love.

What about your ultimate goal in life?

Well, I think I want to experience everything at least once. I want to try other things than music, travel to all countries, work at an office, play different instruments, or learn another language! As I have been adventurous so far, I will be adventurous in the future.

The performance of Knot Moon

Hyojin, a previous interviewee, asked this question. As a freelancer, what do you think about marriage and parenting?

I am not too positive about marriage and parenting. Especially having children seems like that a mother’s life, and her name is erased while giving birth and raising children. I hated that my mom was called Jin Hee’s mom rather than her name. So, when I first meet the students and their parents, I ask the parents’ names; I call the parents of my students with their names, and that is not common in Korea.

Moreover, when I look around my friends, it is hard even to sit crossed leg to play gayageum during pregnancy. It is tough to practice, and that leads to a hard time maintaining the job. That is why many peers, who have a child, cannot stay in their careers. I think it is harder for freelancers to start again after quitting their jobs.

Are there a lot of peers who quit their performing jobs?

Yes, there are so many. Some people quit after graduating from college, and some leave in their late 20s looking for different ways to make money. And many peers quit after getting married and having babies. It seems that over 50% of people quit their performing job before their mid 30s.

Those who work as freelancers and artists must have a lot of similar concerns.
Now, this is the last question. Do you have any questions you would like to ask for the next interviewee? I will interview someone who works in the U.S.

If the next interviewee is Korean, I wonder why she is working in the U.S.

And if she’s American, I am curious about her perception of marriage and parenting. As I haven’t been there, I wonder why she decided to marry and have children if she is married and has children.

My circumstances delayed the editing of this interview, so the latest news of Jin Hee was supplemented with an additional interview via video chat.

I interviewed Jin Hee, who works as a freelancer because I want to hear the stories of women working in diverse fields. I will continue to deal with the stories of women from diverse backgrounds continuously. If you have any questions about Jin Hee, please add a comment or send me an email to eunyoung91@gmail.com if you want to talk to her directly about her or your career.

Hyojin Kim – A mark-up engineer

The first interviewee of Women at Work is Hyojin Kim, a mark-up engineer. She started her career as a designer and is working as a mark-up engineer at a startup in Korea.

Hello, Hyojin. Thank you for being my first interviewee. Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Hello, I’m Hyojin Kim. I have been working as a mark-up engineer for the past 15 years. Thank you for choosing me as the first interviewee.

For the people who don’t know, can you tell me about a job of mark-up engineer?

When someone asks me about a mark-up engineer, I explain with the analogy of the process of building a house. Let’s say a website is a house; designers design the blueprint. Then, mark-up engineers build the structures for the house based on the blueprint. Mark-up engineers develop a plan into a structure. Then, other engineers put facilities like electricity and water supply and make the house function as a residence.
To sum up, mark-up engineers predict the structure of a website, document the designer’s outcome, and build the basic structure of a website. Both designing and developing takes a lot of time, but when mark-up gets on the way, it saves time. In my current company, it often happens that frontend and backend engineers take only a few hours to work on the function that I spend a few days to build the structure.

It seems it is essential to balance between designing and developing. How did you become a mark-up engineer?

I started my career as a designer. In the early days of the web, many designers did both design and mark-up, and I was one of them. Design and mark-up came apart as the web standard became popular, and that was the time when I shifted into a mark-up engineer completely.

Hyojin works, cares for her child, exercises, and creates videos on YouTube!

So, did you major in design at school?

I studied design in high school and studied computer science in college. I didn’t feel like focusing on an engineering career, and design felt too hard for me. Building a structure suited better for me than starting from scratch. The web standard started to be universal at that time, so it was natural for me to choose to focus on the mark-up. First, I extended the hours working on mark-up at the company that I was a designer, and I solely became a mark-up engineer as I moved to another company.

What are the qualities that are needed to be a mark-up engineer?

I think a meticulous person who can look at a big-picture is the right person for a mark-up engineer. When I worked as a manager, the fastidious colleagues were good at the job. If they can consider ahead about the problems that they will encounter and do the job precisely, they can deal with unexpected changes or any additional revisions very well.
Also, this applies to all engineers: the people who feel bothered doing repetitive tasks become competent engineers. They continuously think about ways to reduce repetitive tasks and make them automatic and uncomplicated.

How was your managerial job?

At my last company, I was a manager of the mark-up team. I was the first mark-up engineer in the company, and the team got larger, at most eight mark-up engineers. So I naturally became the manager, but it was difficult. I became a manager because I was the most experienced and oldest, but managing teammates didn’t feel like the kind of job that I like. At that time, I realized I wanted to stay as an individual contributor rather than a manager.
It is common to become a manager as you have more experiences, but I think it’s not right. The team needs an expert in managing, or at least, there should be training programs for managers. The promotion as managers due to their age and work experience, without any managerial experience, is harmful to themselves, teammates, and the company.

I agree with that. Managing experience is different from the work experience, so I also think managers need training.
Then, what should one do to become a better mark-up engineer?

One should study fundamental theories in HTML and CSS. Also, since mobile devices are essential nowadays, one should have relevant skills. The new versions come out continuously, and the latest techniques are continually emerging, so it would be good to have an adaptive nature. However, I think since everything changes so fast these days, it applies to everyone, even if you are not an engineer.

When was the time when you were proud of your work?

When I worked at the subsidiary company of the biggest search engine company in Korea, I was proud that I was building the service that almost every Korean uses. Frankly, when I saw my co-workers use it, I was blase. I saw them every day, so it did not feel special because they are part of the company. However, when I saw someone that I don’t know uses the service I built, I felt proud that people use my product conveniently.

Oh, I heard that’s why b2b companies send their employees to the client companies to let them see how people use their service. I think when you see the people using the product well, you become more attached to the product.
Is there any difficulty as a mark-up engineer?

People think that mark-up has a low barrier as a career. Some people say that it is an easy job that every engineer can do. Also, we sometimes feel excluded as some engineers say that we are not engineers. But mark-up alone is sophisticated, and there are many things to learn.
I was lucky enough to meet a lot of good colleagues. Both designers and engineers that I have worked with told me that what I do is necessary and I can be proud of my job. Furthermore, since I am in the tech industry, which is more open-minded and diverse than others, I also haven’t felt much discomfort as a woman before I became a mother.
But there are some difficulties as a mom. I feel a lot of pressure.

What has changed since you became a mother?

I think both my previous company and the current one are one of the good companies for mothers. Unlike many companies in Korea, my companies allow people to work from home and work shorter hours. When I was in my previous company, I live too far away from work, and I couldn’t leave my son at daycare for a long time because he was too young. So I asked my manager for allowing me to work from home and go to the office once a week. It was efficient because I didn’t spend time to commute. But I had a massive pressure in my mind to show people when I was working. So after a month of exhaustiveness, I started to manage my work time. It got better as my colleagues helped each other to work efficiently. I’m also lucky now because I have flexible hours and vacations.

Happy mother, happy child.

How about the friends around you?

So many of my friends don’t have good chances like me. You know, when a child is sick, one of the parents has to take the child to the hospital, and it’s usually the mother. On these kind of occasions, they need to take a day off urgently. Taking a vacation is inevitable, but some co-workers and bosses mind it. Also, as most daycares start at 9 am, and many companies start at 9 am, it is so difficult for parents to drop off the child and go to work on time, which makes parents uneasy to work.

Right. I heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” and I think that includes not only getting direct help but also creating an environment around them so that caregivers can happily raise their children.
What is your goal as an engineer?

I want to be a persistent engineer who can work even if I get older. I am in my late thirties now, but when I was thirty, I was not sure that I could work until I become forties. But as the years passed, I could see the women who are older than me still work. Now, I can see many female engineers who are in their forties. So I want to be like them. Also, I wish the women who are younger than me see me and think that they can do the same as they get older, and even if they have babies. The people who are coding with gray hair look fabulous. But I have rarely seen middle-aged female engineers yet, so I want to be one of them.

That is the purpose of this interview!

Of course, it depends on what people want to see. Young people may want to see a single female engineer, or they may want to listen to the story of a female engineer who is steadily working and raising her children at the same time.

I recently watched an episode about the process of lowering women’s salaries in the Netflix documentary called Explained. It said that women who are single and have no children get 96% of the salary that men make. I still wondered where that 4% difference came from, but I was sad that women who had children received 60% of men.

First of all, I think it is essential to get rid of social prejudice. I don’t feel there are many things that an individual can do. I have seen people who chose to raise their kids over persevering their careers, but most of the cases it’s not their will.
I hope they endure somehow even if their career stops in the middle. I wish mothers could choose for their own happiness. To take care of her children and family, a mother needs to be happy. It’s necessary to be happy together.

Then, what is your dream as an individual Hyojin Kim?

I wish I could continue to work as an engineer and work out as I do now. I love my child and my family, but I think I can love others more as I do what I love. Ultimately, my goal is to be a happy old lady.
Furthermore, I want to keep helping other people. I have been donating to the issues that I think are important even if I can’t do it myself. I have been sponsoring children in overseas, domestic support for the children who were left alone after birth, and animal support groups as I have cats. Of course, it’s beneficial to volunteer myself, but I want to help people who can do better than me as I have limited time.

I think donation is one of the great ways to express my value!
What can you say if you sum up your story altogether?

I am a “working mom who works out.” My hobby is to work out, and it can’t be excluded from my life. So I believe “working mom who works out” is the best phrases for me. There is one time that I feel sorry that I’m not a man: that is when I think I can lift more weight and do more exercises. I like working out so much that I choose to work out rather than eat lunch. I have a simple lunch and go to the gym.

Oh yes, you are famous for loving work out! It’s so cool to see you exercising consistently.
If you meet yourself from five years ago, do you have anything to tell yourself?

Five years ago, I was right before my pregnancy. It was the time that I quit the big company and about to go in the small startup. I visited New York alone for a month, but I was anxious about joining a small company. So I want to tell myself not to be scared and say it’s going to be much better than I thought. I never thought it would work out well at that time.

She went to New York to work out 😆

How was your trip alone?

It was terrific. After marriage, it’s not easy to think that you can travel alone for a long time or far away. But it became my energy to endure my hard times. I think even if a married couple likes different things, they will have a happier marriage when then accept it and support each other. I liked a trip with my son, just the two of us, and I want my husband to have the same chance to do it. Or I will travel alone again. It’s a lot easier when you already have done it.

I will try it too!
Now the last question. Do you have any questions for the next interviewee?

I wonder what she thinks about marriage and birth. I got married early, but my younger sister is not interested in getting married. So I wonder what other women think.

After my first interview with Hyojin, it became clearer why I started this interview. I hope more women will be able to believe in their choices and move forward steadily. If you have any questions for Hyojin, please leave a comment or send me an email (eunyoung91@gmail.com).

Why I am starting “Women at Work” interview

For the past three years of my work, I have had three different jobs as a performance marketer, a contents editor, and a people operations manager. While I was pursuing my career, I always pondered about myself: what I am good at and what I enjoy doing. I sought advice from others and searched for interviews, but I had limited resources. Especially when I was looking for a new job, I wondered where I could find the story of the people who are working in the field. It was easy to find interviews of founders and leaders but not stories of teammates. I wanted to know how people end up with what they are doing, the whole story of one person. Notably, the story of women at work was scarce. Among the limited number of stories of women, interviews tend to focus on women leaders, not on team members, but I wanted to listen to everyone.

After I finished my career in Korea and was getting ready to relocate in the U.S., I thought this was the perfect time for me to start this interview. It would be easier to talk about an individual without any pressure to promote a company as I will not be affiliated to any company for a while.

The interviews that I will do in Women at Work are the career path of a person, not as an employee of a company. I want to show diverse lifestyles by talking about past, present, and future: what they have done, the proudest moment of their career, difficulties they had, the ultimate goal of their work-life, and so on. I will interview women in different occupations, levels, and duties in the U.S. and Korea. I am going to post the English versions of the interview here in my blog and the Korean version at Brunch.

Young women are inspired and affected by female role models at work. If people like themselves are in leadership roles or persevere at work in spite of their age, they will think they can pursue their career goals continuously. However, sometimes, it is hard to find a role model inside of one’s own company. I hope these interviews help when people don’t have any female coworkers who remained in the workplace for long, when they are curious about the life of people who are 3~4 years ahead in the career paths, and when they know nobody in the prospective field.

Thank you in advance, my prospective interviewees.