Go Away With ... San E

Celebrity Travel by Jae-Ha Kim

For hip-hop artist San E (born San Jung), the decade he spent living in the United States made a huge impact on his music. “I didn’t really know what hip-hop and rap was when I was in (South) Korea,” he says. “And then I moved to Atlanta when I was in middle school and just naturally started paying attention to it, because it was everywhere. I was lucky, even though I didn’t think so as a kid. Atlanta has a lot of great musicians. The music scene is pretty diverse and I was just going with it.” Phoning from Seoul, the bilingual rapper said he was excited about his first nationwide tour of the U.S. Fans may follow his updates on Instagram ( and Facebook (

Q. Besides playing your shows, what are you looking forward to experiencing on this tour?

A. Visiting the places I have never been to before. I am looking forward to seeing the local artists and producers and hearing live music. I like meeting people and having fun. I feel blessed and honored that I get this opportunity, because you never know if this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m looking forward to trying different kinds of food. I have never visited Chicago before. I have had deep-dish pizza in Korea that supposedly was Chicago style, but I know it has got to taste different than what actually is made in Chicago. So things like that will be fun to find out firsthand. (Laughs) I get excited when we talk about pizza.


Q. Will you spend any time in the U.S. after your tour ends?

A. Actually, I’m going to stay in Atlanta for a month or two and make some music over there. I’d like to work on an album there.

Q. What have you found to be some of the differences and similarities between the way rap songs are written in the U.S. and in Korea?

A. Beat and flow-wise, there’s a lot of similarity. But lyric-wise, it’s very different. Subject matters can differ, depending on what’s going on in your country to an extent. In Korea, you don’t say, “I’ve been popping!” You don’t rap about guns, because it’s not an issue for us.

Q. If you faced racism during your time in the U.S., what kind of impact did that have on your songwriting?

A. It was not a huge deal, but in middle school and high school, I faced very typical anti-Asian racism. In hip-hop, there’s an element of resistance and what happened when I was younger did impact my songs, because I was resisting that kind of racism. It made me angry and I wanted to express what I was really feeling inside of me. But at the time, I didn’t speak English well, so even when people were making fun of me, I couldn’t say anything back. Around that time, I would listen to rap music and I started to write down my own lyrics in Korean to express myself.

Q. How did living in different parts of the world impact you as a musician?

A. When I was really young and my parents told me we were moving to America, I really hated the idea. I didn’t want to leave all my friends and everything that I knew. But now that I think about it, it was a really good move, because in the States, we had all different kinds of cultures and races. That gave me a wider viewpoint. Later when I toured, I was able to explore even more different cultures and it was just amazing. The experience of living in America made a huge impact on me socially and politically. But it also influenced me to want to see more. I like to travel a lot, because I like the melting pot and seeing new people in different places. It’s really fun and a big inspiration.

Q. If the Atlanta Braves were playing against a Korean baseball team, who would you root for?

A. Maybe we should skip this question. (Laughs) There are certain sports where I have to root for Korea, like soccer or baseball. But if it was basketball, I would definitely root for the U.S.

Q. If someone was waffling about whether they should visit South Korea, what would you say to encourage them to get on the plane?

A. Oh, wow. I want to be their tour guide -- free of charge! Korea is a safe country and a lot of places are open 24 hours. There are lots of taxis and buses and subways that are easy to take. The food here is great. If you have jet lag at 3 a.m. and are hungry, you can grab some delicious food from a street (cart). There are lots of good-looking guys and beautiful ladies, so it’s fun to people-watch. And liquor’s cheap! (Laughs) For foreigners, visit Itaewon, which has lots of (expats). Young people go there to check out the clubs, which have everything from jazz, to hip-hop, to R&B, to EDM.

Q. Do you consider the music you make to fall under the K-Pop umbrella?

A. I just call what I do music. But if you want to put it in the K-Pop category, I’ll take it, because K-Pop is just the shortened term for Korean popular music. Korean hip-hop is part of Korean music overall, so I guess I’m part of it. I’m honored to be part of it.

Q. What is left on your travel bucket list?

A. The list is too long, because there are more countries I want to see than countries I have been to. I’m thinking of going to Europe for a month or so, maybe with my brother. It is my dream. I would want to start in Italy and just move around from there. The specific countries don’t really matter as much a being there and exploring, because I have never been to that part of the world.

(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at You may also follow “Go Away With...” on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)