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).
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.