Friday, 30 March 2012

Chinese, Japanese and Korean writing systems are not the same!

Riding back on the tube today from my Korean exam, I found myself face to face with the third person in the space of two tube journeys (there and back) asking me what I was reading in Chinese.

This would be fine. Except I wasn't reading anything Chinese. 

I was reading my Korean textbook. 

I politely explained this to them only to be rewarded with the same answer on all three occasions..."but don't they write with the Chinese pictures?" ( not even characters, pictures!)  

My response had I not controlled myself..... 

I'm suffering from Sherlock withdrawal and had to find some way to include him...apologies ^^

It's not the first time I've had this kind of question. A lot of people, after finding out I study Chinese and Korean, have asked "Don't they use the same writing system?" or "But they're practically the same, no?" but today, for some reason that I'm not sure of, it kind of struck a nerve... (maybe I'm just tired...?!)

As I got back home and poured out my frustration on a friend, I was given some tough love and was harshly reminded that, while I had chosen to surround myself with all things Asian and dedicate my university years to learning to draw these 'pictures', most people hadn't.  

I guess, in all honesty, it was a point of realisation for me. 

As someone who can read and write in Chinese and Korean and used to be able to do so in Japanese as well, it had almost become an expectation for me that other people could at least tell the three apart. I had become so wrapped up in "Asian-ness" that I'd seemingly forgotten that most people just haven't had that kind of exposure to Asia and wouldn't have had any reason to learn to recognise these Asian scripts, let alone become familiar with them. I say this with no intention of sounding arrogant or anything, it's simply the truth - most people just don't know! 

So, I'm going to start changing this. One step at a time! 

Below are the three scripts for Japanese, Korean and Chinese - see if you can tell which is which. (Sorry, there are no prizes at this stage!)


Did you know? 

From left to right ; Korean, Japanese, Chinese. 

If you didn't know, check out this funny picture which someone posted on my facebook a while ago, I think it's quite funny (and pretty awesome if it means people remember!) 

I hope you can now tell the different between Chinese, Korean and Japanese - you better not be one of the people asking me "But don't they all use the same writing system?". I have shown mercy - next time, I am taking no prisoners!!! For anyone interested in the Korean script itself, my next blog will talk about the origins of the Korean script ~ so you can become an expert ^^ 

Meet Mr Daddy: An evening with Park Kwang-Su

Aside from studying Korean as part of my degree at university, I've also been taking regular Korean classes at the Korean Cultural Centre in London. Having completed our term one exams, our final class of the term involved an outing to the cinema....  

In addition to running Korean classes, the Korean Cultural Centre, aka the KCC, also runs various other events including weekly screenings of Korean films including a monthly Q&A session with directors of the films and this month, they've been screening a selection of films by director Park Kwangsu. 

KCC Director Won Yonggi with Director Park Kwangsu 

To introduce the director, Park Kwang-su is not particularly well known but is a person whose influence of the development of Korean cinema is indisputable. He founded the Seoul Film Group in the 1980s which was linked to many of the student pro-democracy protests at the time and he  then went on the contribute to the establishment of the Busan Film Festival and also the Busan Film Commission. In between all of this, he created his own body of work, mostly defined by the politics of the 70s-80s, which made him a role model for the many young Korean film directors who have followed in his path.

His works, which have frequently been described as 'socially controversial', all have a common theme of struggles for democracy, freedom of expression and anti-corruption - central topics in the politics of the 1970-80s, a time in Korea that was defined by the censorship and control experienced by the people at the hands of dictatorial rule. 

Now, sorry to disappoint those who saw the title (which, yes, I know, could be slightly misinterpreted!). To clarify, 'Meet Mr Daddy', or '눈부신 날에' in Korean, is in fact the title of Director Park Kwang-Su's wonderful film which I had the honour of going to see last night at the Apollo Theatre in London. Meet Mr Daddy, released in 2007, was Director Park's first step outside the genre of socially / politically controversial film and in my view, it was thoroughly brilliant. 

Jong-Du (Park Shin-yang) is a selfish, lowlife conman and gangster, living in an old trailer on a junkyard. When in jail for yet another conviction, a social worker (Ye Ji-won) appears informing him that he has a daughter. Not exactly parenting material, he initially refuses to have anything to do with the child... only accepting her when money enters the equation. As he slowly opens his heart to her, he finds out she has  serious illness....   

Signed by the director himself!! ^^

While, in true Korean film style, it does get quite graphic (in a violent sense) in some of the gang scenes, it's nothing that could put you off the film and really is only a small amount (none of which is present in the trailer~)
Watch the trailer here: 

 I have to admit, I was totally won over by the acting of little Joon, played by actress Seo Shin-Ae, who stole the show in this film. The quality of her acting, especially considering her age, was phenomenal and there were quite a few teary-eyed faces when the lights came up after the showing! 

I really would recommend watching this film. It's not intellectually challenging nor is it fast paced or exciting but it is smart and funny and at times, heart-breakingly emotive as well.

After the film had ended, we had an opportunity to meet the director and ask him questions regarding his work. I had gone with a few questions, prepared in Korean of course, stored on my phone - only for my phone to run out of battery half way through the showing. (Yes - I've learnt my lesson!) 

Thankfully, I still remembered the most of them!

 I asked him "how did the media censorship in the 70s/80s affect the production of some of your earlier films and your work in general?" To which he replied that it had had a great impact, vastly limiting where and when and what he could film. He mentioned that in one of his earlier films, they'd wanted to shoot a scene featuring a billboard showing a foreign model on it but this was banned until the 1990s. Apparently, while they were filming (with the 'illegal' billboard), the police had arrived and told them to stop and take it down. The rest of the scenes for that set were shot pretty much without a script as they quickly tried to finish the shots they needed before the billboard was forcibly taken down. He said "I told the actors to just do what felt natural and go with it, we didn't have time otherwise". 
When I asked whether working in film at that time had caused him any difficulty personally, he replied "Well of course, I received lots of threats but I was a director. I dealt with it. At that time, you didn't enter film unless you were prepared to make a stand". 
I also asked him what inspired him to suddenly move away from the social / political theme that had been running through all of his pieces up to now. In response, he joked "I'd run out of politically/ socially controversial things to cover" before going on to say that there were many more directors trying to move into the genre and he wanted to try something new, saying "there are lots of things you can make a film about, I want to find some new things". 
When asked what his inspiration was for 'Meet Mr. Daddy', he replied "I didn't have any. It was my investor's idea and he came to me. I wanted to try something new so we went from there". 

Having had the opportunity to meet with him and talk with him, I can't help but feel that he's a fantastic person and he must be a great director to work with. He's extremely humble regarding his very talented work and I hope he receives more appreciation for the films he has made. He is a film maker worthy of rediscovery and I urge you to go and watch some of his work. 

For anyone interested, there are still 9 months left of film magic at the KCC with a different director's films being shown each month. There are screenings weekly at the KCC with a final showing at the end of every month at the Apollo Cinema in Picadilly featuring a Q&A session with the Director.

Coming next month : Director Song Il-gon  

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The success of the Hallyu Wave: A curse in disguise?

There is no doubt at all that the Hallyu Wave is spreading, extending its grasp across the world, surpassing regional and linguistic barriers to introduce new generations of people to Korea and Korean culture. In particular, introducing tens if not hundreds of thousands of people to Korean pop music, classically termed "K-pop'. 

Now while this wide reaching success may seem hard to believe, if you consider recent events it suddenly becomes much more believable with many Korean pop groups breaking into music markets in Europe, Latin America and more specifically, America alongside with having a pre-established support base in the Japanese market. 

빅방 (Big Bang) with their EMA award
Last year, Big Bang, probably the most popular boy band at present, won the EMA for Best Worldwide Act beating Britney Spears and numerous other globally recognised artists.

Girl group: 소녀시대 (Girls Generation)
Girls Generation, one of the most popular girl bands in Korea who only debuted in 2009, recently performed on CBS' Late Show with David Letterman as well as ABC's LIVE! with Kelly. B2ST (pronounced 'Beast') performed in London with labelmates 4Minute in London last December and are currently in the middle of their 2012 world tour with stops including Berlin, Madrid, LA, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, 5 cities across Japan, Shanghai, Taipei, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Manilla, Singapore and Jakarta with potential dates also being lined up in Argentina and Brazil!  

With such credits to the industry and the rapid expansion in interest that it has gained in the last few years, it would be somewhat difficult to argue that K-pop isn't spreading with virus-like speed, however the question I would like to approach is whether this is actually entirely beneficial for Korea? 

The 한류 or Hallyu Wave was coined by Beijing journalists back in 1999 who were surprised by the dramatic expansion of the Korean entertainment industry and the popularity of Korean entertainment in China. The term itself refers to the sweeping phenomenon of the spread of Korean culture around the world and the positive response it has received from neighbouring East and South East Asian countries, although this is now being extended to include Australia, America and Europe.

There is no questioning the power of the Hallyu Wave. After the collapse of the Korean economy in the 98' East Asian financial crisis, officials turned to the Hallyu wave as a tool of soft power to reignite interest in the country and encourage tourism and demand for cultural exports. More than a decade on, this "tool" is serving its purpose of putting South Korea on the map incredibly well with news coverage on Bloomberg stating that "Hallyu makes the biggest contribution to the Korean economy after home-grown chaebols (family run multi national business conglomerates) such as LG, Samsung and Hyundai. Korea's pop music industry in the country's most potent weapon." Previous President Roh Moo-Hyun even once remarked that the Hallyu wave would be the key to reuniting the Korean peninsula. 

On another note, tourism has rocketed with thousands flocking to the sites of popular Korean dramas either on their own or in groups on "drama tours" run by various tour agencies who have identified the niche in the market. Additionally, many come to watch their favourite idols perform in person. These drama tours and idol fans all pour money into the hundreds of ancillary businesses which have sprung up to support this rapid growth in demand. 

But is it really as good as it seems to be? 

While out to dinner the other evening, I was discussing the Hallyu wave when the person I was talking to asked about the negative effects of the wave. Initially, I didn't really know how to respond. As previously mentioned, the Hallyu wave is one of the main marketing tools used to attract attention  to Korea and as a (self-admitted) somewhat Korea-obsessed person, I couldn't really think of much on the spot to say against it. It was only on the way home that I really started to think about it and bring it up with other (equally obsessed) friends which led to me deciding to write about it here. 

The first point to clarify is that from here onwards when talking about the Hallyu wave, I am regarding it as focusing on the spread of K-pop in particular, excluding food, drama and other potential exports. 

It's a slightly difficult topic to pick apart actually, I almost don't know where to begin. For those who haven't had any contact with Korean pop music, it is rather VERY sugar coated - in general anyway. Groups have anywhere between 4-12 young, good looking members, there are co-ordinated wardrobes, dramatic themed comebacks and there's nearly always an incredibly catchy, very well rehearsed dance routine. (You should be thinking Spice Girls / Backstreet Boys-esque 'sugar'....then far beyond that!). This goes some way to explaining its audience and the global audience that Hallyu wave has seemed to gain - that of a generation of teenage girls. An army of screaming, half-crazed, (definitely) hormonal, love-struck teenage girls. And for anyone who isn't part of the army, it can be a somewhat terrifying experience when faced with it. 

The mayhem that ensues.....
I won't lie. I am a big K-pop fan but I have my limits. Would I pay  £60 to watch a band perform? No. Would I  start queuing outside a concert venue the night before? No. I could continue. Yet these girls seem to have the financial resources and the time and more importantly, the determination and devotion to do exactly that. 

Shinee visiting Abbey Road Studios  
Here you can see a shot of all the fangirls for very popular boy band, Shinee, who waited to see their idols. The boys were given the honour of performing a mini-concert at Abbey Road studios in London in celebration of their Japanese debut. Go figure. The honour being because they were the first Asian artists ever to do perform at Abbey Road and they did exactly that, for a small group of Japanese, yes only Japanese, fans who had won a competition back at home. All the English fans (and European fans who had travelled to London for the event!) were simply there to cheer them on...for a concert they weren't going to see. 

This is how I know I am a bad fan girl. 

Their behaviour all good and well until you consider the effect it has on the now slightly terrified people who, like me, don't fall into the fan girl army category. 

The face made by those not initiated at the sight of the K-pop fan girl army
As I went along for my weekly Korean language class at the Korean Cultural Centre in London, I walked past another class going on in the centre - that of the newly established 'K-pop Academy'. All of the participants that I observed were young and female - which says a lot if you compare it to my Korean class which is mostly older and a good mix of male/female. 

When chatting to some friends in my class and also to some fellow bloggers, I asked what they thought of the new K-pop academy. Many had no doubt it was a great idea but had actually been put off by its "K-pop association". One of my friends said "I guess I was a little scared to apply at the risk of being accepted then turning up to the first class to find I'm the only one older than 20 with a full time job", a fear that was echoed around the group. As I walked past this class this morning as they went on their way to a lecture on the Korean war... I felt a little sad. How many others had wanted to apply but had been put off because of K-pop? 

Don't get me wrong - I have plenty of friends who would describe themselves as engaged or married, working full time and also a manic K-pop fan...but the number is decreasing as they start to wonder what is the age when such "fan-girl" behaviour is no longer...well..socially acceptable? (Especially considering most group members are in their mid-late teens) This tends to be followed by the big question of "What then?". Without the draw of K-pop, where does my interest in Korea now lie? 

In fact, I guess it's two problems. Firstly, we must consider those who either have or are in the process of growing out of K-pop and how to retain their interest in Korea? Secondly, what about the people who are actually put off Korean culture due to the proliferation of K-pop? I believe both issues can actually be tackled in a similar method. 

It seems to me that from what I've heard from Korean friends, it is assumed Korean culture and language will piggy-back the spread of K-pop and that through interest in the pop music, people will want to know more about the country itself. The problem occurs when this theory doesn't necessarily translate to reality and thus, we must ask ourselves how to introduce other aspects of Korean culture and tradition to the wider audience? 

This in itself is becoming a big issue with many people starting to ask "What can Korea do to diversify itself?" as otherwise, it stands to lose a large audience of people. 

I think both the problem and solution lie in a two key things : provision of resources and communication. At present, Korea seems so focused on the Hallyu wave that there seems to have been little attempt to aggressively promote others aspects of Korean culture such as the cooking, the language or the literature, even the national sport, Taekwondo. Now, I can only speak from my experience, not for every country in which there is a Korean cultural centre or organisation but perhaps, just perhaps if these alternate aspects of Korean culture were really made to piggy back the wave, if they were put into the spotlight and if people were given the opportunity to get involved with them more easily then Korea wouldn't become just for the fan girls but rather would be available and accessible for everyone. 

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The day I went a little crazy and hyper for Japan!

So last weekend, courtesy of my work with United KPop Entertainment, I was lucky enough to be able to get a press pass to attend the HYPER Japan! convention at Earls Court. 

Now, I'll be completely honest. I have never seen an anime in my life (I didn't really even know how to describe them ... "are they a series? can you have plural 'animes'?" I pondered on my way there!).  The closest I have ever been to J-pop is K-pop artists who have reworked their songs to enter the Japanese market. Studying for a degree in Chinese and Korean, I rarely have the time or energy to step outside this little Asian sphere I've created for myself and yet here I was, at 9am on a Saturday a convention for something I admittedly knew remarkably little about. 

I arrived and met Michael, a fellow UKP Ent'er, who was there with me as the photographer for the day. Despite what some would call terrible planning and organisation  (for example the press not being allowed through the press door!) we eventually were all let in and the "show" began. 

The agenda for the day was pretty packed. After we were eventually let in, it was time for the sake awards show. I don't know about you but personally, I did feel 9.30 am was a little early to start on the sake but I wasn't about to complain ;) Just kidding~ we weren't actually allowed too- it seems press benefits don't quite extend that far! Girls dressed in lolita fashion ( = a Japanese fashion sub-culture mostly based on Victorian-era clothing) strode down the runway carrying and posing with various bottles of sake which were then formally introduced by their producers. We stuck around for a while until we lost count of the bottles before wandering off to see what else the convention had in store....  

On my wanderings I bumped into the lovely, very..brightly dressed young ladies in the picture below who were modelling (L-R) Sweet Lolita fashion, Fairy Kei fashion and Pop Kei fashion. I have to admit, in a somewhat peculiar way, they looked really awesome. They were exceptionally nice and we got chatting where Kairi (far right) revealed that she must have spent well over £500 on hair clips alone despite the fact that she began wearing Japanese fashion only a year or so ago. (I will now be using this as my reply whenever my mum reprimands me for spending too much ; "But Mum!" I will say "There are girls who spend much more than 'X' amount on hair clips alone - at least I diversify my spending!"~ )  I did nearly burst out laughing when Rachel (in the middle) described her outfit further as "rather informal" with a perfectly serious expression ... when I asked her if she wore it out regularly, she replied "Hmm..sometimes". While I have no doubt that Japanese fashion has a growing following in the UK, I'm not sure I'd be ready quite yet to tread the streets of London in Lolita fashion.....
Wai Yi Lee, Rachel Claire and Kairi Mori 
At 11am it was time for well known, Japanese pop-anime artist Natsuko Aso to perform - for more information, photos and videos from her performance and our interview see my next post! 
Here's the photo she insisted on taking with the crowd after her performance for her facebook page~ 

After her performance, we had some time to kill until the Japanese streetwear fashion show (note- streetwear >.<) so I went on a hunt for people in cool costumes. You know when you see someone dressed really strangely and you can't help but look...well for me, it was almost the reverse. As one of the (very) few people not in costume, I stuck out like a sore thumb and started to feel a little left out in my jeans and leather jacket. I should have donned a costume like some of our fellow convention goers as shown below! Well, I've learnt for next time I guess~  

Well, I donned a mario mushroom hat as my contribution... at least I tried! (kind of!~) Then getting up and close with ...well I'm  not entirely sure what it is...but everyone else was taking pictures with it so I felt I should join in.

Then it was time at last for the Japanese fashion show exhibiting all the different Japanese fashion sub cultures including all the different types of Lolita fashion (country, shiro, punk, classic) as well as various Kei fashion styles. It was amazing the amount of commitment the participants have to their various chosen styles. Many have made their own outfits having been unable to find fitting clothes on the high street while others have spent hundreds of pounds importing dresses and accessories from Japan.  Now that, even if unconventional, is a commitment to fashion.

They even held a competition inviting all the girls dressed in Lolita fashion to join the models on stage with the chance of winning accessories from some of the leading Lolita brands in Japan. However, I don't think they'd anticipated anywhere near this many participants - the photo is somewhat deceptive as you can only see the girls at the front- there were at least another 15 girls out of shot on the right! 

After the fashion show, it was time for us to dash off for our private interview with Natsuko Aso.....

KCC UK A New Space Around The Body Review

As is becoming a habit of mine, after my Korean class a few weeks ago I decided to go have a look around the recently finished exhibition at the Korean Cultural Centre London where I have my classes. I personally really enjoyed the exhibition - very much more on my wavelength than the previous exhibition!! (see:  

Titled "A new space around the body", the exhibition is Korea's entry to the International Fashion Showcase Emerging Talent Awards 2012. It provides an opportunity to explore the more experimental and artistic dimensions of the South Korean fashion circuit. The event was established by the British Council and British Fashion Council and according to their website "[the event]...marks the London 2012 Olympics and honours the Olympic values of international respect, excellence, equality and friendship". 

The exhibition featured the works of 8 up-and-coming, innovative Korean designers including Ara Jo, JuHee Han, Katleen Kye, Minky Jaemin Ha, Minju Kim, Unbounded A WE by Laykuni, Yoolhee Ko and Yeashin Kim - all of whom are graduates from prestigious schools in both the UK and mainland Europe and were selected for their willingness to challenge convention.  

Co-curated by Ji Hye Hong (KCCUK) and Sofia Hedman (independent fashion curator), the works manage to combine highly sculptural, avant-garde creations with eye catching explosions of colour and use a diverse range of fabrics. 

Yonggi Won, Director of the KCCUK explained, ‘We are so very honoured to see the exhibition and the Korean designers take this prestigious award as Korean Fashion is an important part of the Korean Wave that is spreading across the globe. We are fortunate to have such a strong pool of talent to draw on as we have many talented young designers coming out of Korea now’.  
 The contemporary art installations pop out against a themed background that is reminiscent of traditional Korean doors, white cotton, hanji paper and totem poles with each capturing the eye and provoking the mind in a different manner. 

My personal favourite in the exhibition was the breath-taking work of Central Saint Martins graduate Minky Jaemin Ha who chooses to "explore the stages of capitalism in a person's life: birth, addiction, death and finally rebirth" through the bold use of colour and silhouette and has created masterpieces in the form of the pieces shown below. I really like the piece on the right which features an opened black cape exposing underneath a cut-out bodysuit made of coins....I don't even want to think how long it took to make but it's clear to all the immense effort that has gone into making it. 
Minky Jaemin Ha 

 Then there is the work of Juhee Han, another graduate of CSM, whose work is significantly more wearable than most of her peers. Han presents a preference for knitwear using techniques like crotchet and macramé in many of her pieces. Her use of gold elements, which echo the gold handles and knockers found on doors across London, is also present in many, if not most, of her pieces.  

Ara Jo is yet another CSM graduate who has already started to make a name for herself after working with the likes of Lady Gaga and Leona Lewis. She exhibited a slightly more mature collection than some of her other works though retaining her penchant for sparkles and sexy silhouettes. I really liked the pieces below...which, given an adjustment or too, wouldn't look too out of place on a night out...! 

Next is the work of Minju Kim who is currently studying in the fashion design department of the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp. Her second year project titled "Love Power" explores the idea of the many Korean girls who turn into "cute love machine girls" for boys in search of the 'one' which is echoed in her display. Famed for her designs which are "characterised by humour and imaginary worlds with an element of je ne sais quoi", Minju Kim doesn't disappoint. 

Along the main wall of the exhibition is a jewellery presentation of the works of rising star Yoolhee Ko. Her sharp-angled, wild geometric designs have been making waves in fashion circles and have earned her a strong reputation as a face to watch. Focusing on male jewellery, Ko describes the collection as an attempt to "explore the notion of cognition through a society fuelled by technological strides, we manage to exist through our links to the past..". By embedding her own experiences and perceptions into her designs, she hopes that the wearers of her pieces "equally reflective form of catharsis". While you can't try them on, the designs are definitely thought-provoking. 

Since graduating from CSM in February 2011 with an MA in Menswear, Kathleen Kye has gone from strength to strength. Characterised by using humour to challenge convention, Kye mixes smart streetwear with nouveau riche excess in her latest endeavours. With the design ethos of representing fun-loving shapes while maintaining powerful lines, Kye produces an interesting, visually captivating collection. If there's one thing that definitely ticks the box it's that 'ever-so-lightly touching on ridiculous' style that fits right into the fashion world of today!!

Unbounded AWE by Laykuni is the work of Won Jung Ku, who graduated from the London College of Fashion in 2011 with a MA in Menswear, firmly building on the strong foundations provided by her BA in Menswear from CMS. Ku presented a more 'Olympics' inspired sportswear collection. The 'A' in 'AWE' represents the designer while the 'WE' represents the public as Ku attempts to explore the imaginative communication between the two. Her vivacious, exciting collection has marked her as one of Korea's designers to keep an eye on!

Last but by no means least is designer Yeashin Kim, a graduate from the London College of Fashion with a BA in Womenswear, who names corals, wool, the aesthetic views of the Rococo period and the artistic works of Antoine Watteau as her key sources of inspiration. Having made a name of herself as one of Vogue UK's 'Best Fashion Graduates of 2011', Kim continues to design vivid pieces that combine asymmetrical bursts of texture and colour with mixes of beaded details, gloss and matt materials, creating unexpected harmony and proportion.  

Despite facing fierce competition from countries as diverse as Japan, Italy, USA and Estonia, Korea's entry 'A new space around the body' was presented with the 'Best Project Award' by leading fashion journalist Sarah Mower MBE, British Fashion Council Ambassador for emerging talent, at the ceremony held on the 19th of February.  Congratulations to all the artists!