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Korea is more than just K-drama and K-pop: It’s K-culture

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published May 30, 2022 5:00 am

Many of us, myself included, got our introduction to Korean culture through K-dramas. My first K-drama was Goblin in 2017. I was mesmerized by the story, the enduring theme of eternal love, and the mystery of the afterlife. There were many cultural references I did not understand at the time. I have since watched many dramas, and I particularly like the historical ones such as Mr. Sunshine. I also recently finished watching Pachinko, featuring another chapter of the country’s past.

My musical tastes include K-pop in the mix, too. But like I said, K-drama and K-pop are just a gateway. Korean culture is so much more, and worth exploring.

The Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines (KCC) provides an immersion into their fascinating culture. The center has relocated to its brand-new premises in Taguig, offering visitors a “modern meets traditional” experience. Technology is used to show the country’s traditional culture. It’s so high-tech. Public relations officer Jang Seonji told us that “this meeting of modern and the traditional was conceptualized in 2020 (during the pandemic), though plans for the new building were already in the works five years ago.

“The KCC is quite popular among Filipinos,” Jang says. “An average of 115 people go to the center on Saturdays (it is closed on Sundays), and around 50 people daily on weekends. Entrance is free.”

Welcoming you to the KCC is a large screen of animated paintings of the Joseon era.

What greets you upon entering the KCC is an impressive, wall-sized screen of 17 paintings depicting the king’s procession during the Joseon era, from the Museum of Korea. Modern technology animated the paintings so you can actually see the elements moving, with soldiers and the king marching on.

At the exterior of the KCC building is a mural by artist Jappy Agoncillo of two women in Filipino and Korean traditional attire.

There is also an amazing mural on the exterior of the building of two ladies, one in baro’t saya, and the other in a hanbok. It was created by Filipino visual artist Jappy Agoncillo and made in partnership with the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. The Kor-Phil mural serves as a reminder of KCC's goal of cultural collaboration between the two countries for years to come.

A section of the permanent exhibit at the KCC features the hanbok, the country’s traditional wear.

The permanent exhibit on the ground floor shows the basic elements of the life of Koreans, from food and language to shelter and clothes.

At the end of the Digital Hangeul Experience, you get a photo of yourself with your Korean name written by you. (As author Monique Toda did.)

What I enjoyed was the Keep Your Own Digital Hangeul Experience, where I typed my name on a screen, which was then translated into Korean. Hangeul is the Korean alphabet. You can trace your name and write it yourself, then pose for a snapshot after with your name in Hangeul.

The creation of Hangeul, Korea’s alphabet, is depicted in the permanent exhibit at the KCC.

Another fun activity I had was Wearing the Hanbok as a Digital Experience using Augmented Reality (AR). You stand in front of a screen and choose with your hand movements the hanbok, hairstyle, and shoes you prefer. Then you are digitally dressed in the traditional Korean attire right before your eyes. A QR code is provided where you can download a photo of yourself.

The Digital Hangeul Experience teaches you how to write your name in Korean.

As the tour continued, I got to see their extensive library (set to open in the second half of the year), classrooms for language classes, kitchen studios for future cooking classes, and even a “creator’s zone” where YouTubers and social media influencers can film Korean-related content in a studio using the latest technology.

A nice touch was a baybayin (old Philippine script) mural done by a Korean artist at the entrance of the educational space. Translated, the baybayin says, “We want to be friends with you.”

The Korean government has been supporting creators/artists by creating the environment where they can grow naturally under the motto of “support, but do not interfere.”

The Nara dance group is composed of Filipinas under the tutelage of Jo Jang Eun: They perform in events here and even in Korea.

I also checked out the KCC dance studio and there were rehearsals ongoing by a dance group made up of young Filipina ladies called Nara. Nara has a double meaning. In Korean, it refers to “country” or “nation,” while it also sounds like the Philippine national tree. They have already been in existence for 10 years under the tutelage of their teacher Jo Jang Eun. The group is invited to perform at events in the Philippines and even Korea.

I ended my tour of the KCC on a high note with the Punghwa Light of ASEAN exhibit. The kinetic media arts exhibition had beautiful moving lanterns, lights, and music, representing hope after the pandemic. SILO Lab, the creator of the Punghwa exhibit, is made up of artists who majored in engineering, design, and video. They create experiences at the intersection of technology and art. At the end of this exciting immersion, you can write your wishes and drop them in a wish box.

The Digital Hanbok Kiosk uses Augmented Reality (AR) technology for an interactive experience where you digitally dress yourself in the traditional attire complete with shoes. You can even choose your hairstyle.

I got a chance to talk with Im Young-A, the KCC director, about the center and its future plans.

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: What activities does the KCC have that will interest K-drama fans?

IM YOUNG-A: The Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines held the K-drama webinar in 2020 and 2021 with Korean speakers representing the process of creating a drama. I remember lots of K-drama fans were asking questions. For two years, we have invited Mr. Lee young-hoon, Korea Creative Content Agency's chief of Broadcasting Industry Team, Pan Entertainment's vice president and head of Drama Production Kim Hee-yeol; Korean screenwriters Kim Yoon-young and Park Ji-hyun. They shared about the production and scriptwriting environment of K-dramas.

KCC’s Punghwa Light of ASEAN kinetic media arts exhibition is a mesmerizing spectacle: It was created by the SILO Lab group of artists.

Especially in the second year of the K-drama webinar, we focused more on the Korean TV & Radio Writer Association Academy’s system. Many aspiring writers wanted to enroll in the academy due to its systematic curriculums and lecturers. The lecturers were senior writers offering curriculums for drama and TV show scriptwriters.

Through two years of webinars, we wanted to be a go-between for our two countries, and seek mutual growth in the film industry. Especially, I believe that Korea’s scriptwriter training system can also be adopted here in the Philippines and provide know-how. In the future, I’d like to hold a workshop for would-be scriptwriters in the Philippines conducted by Korean scriptwriters who teach at the Korean TV & Radio Writer Association Academy.

You can write your wishes on a card and drop it in a wish box: The end experience of the Punghwa exhibit was inspired by hope at the end of the pandemic.

What are the Korean government’s efforts to boost “soft power,” which pertains to the arts?

The Korean government has been supporting creators/artists by creating the environment where they can grow naturally under the motto of “support, but do not interfere.” For example, it developed the several systems to protect copyright, which is important to maintain the creator’s/artist’s livelihood, and to record how much of their artworks have been sold, so that the profit can accurately be distributed to them.

Also, there are governmental agencies like the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) which supports production, overseas promotion, export counseling of the content industry, such as film, music, web toons, e-sports. At the same time, they also put an effort to foster the talented creator/artist by establishing the Korea National University of Arts (K-Arts). Additionally, through the Ministry of Culture, Sports, Tourism’s Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS), 33 Korean Cultural Centers all over the world play their role as promoters and “spreaders” of the Korean culture.

Korean Cultural Center director Im Young-A

What activities does the KCCP have for K-drama and K-pop fans in the Philippines?

The KCC holds events, like Pinoy K-pop Star, a KCC event that gives Filipinos their time to shine onstage with their talents. Last year, it was done online and only featured dance applications due to the pandemic. There is also the K-Street Festival where the public can visit various sections and get a glimpse and experience of K-pop, K-drama, art, tourism, food, etc.

The Korean Film Festival, on the other hand, allows the public to watch prestigious and great Korean films from diverse genres depending on the particular theme of the event.

The author with KCC public relations officer Jang Seonji

Aside from K-dramas and K-pop, what should the average Filipino know about Korean culture and its people?

There are other facets of Korean culture that an average Filipino can appreciate: Korean traditional dance, wearing the hanbok, the traditional Korean clothes with its diverse colors; there is also Korean food or hansik, where every flavor tells the story of the rich history of Korea.

They may also enjoy Korean literature, which is an embodiment of Korea’s rich history and traditional culture, and nowadays, becomes adapted to K-dramas and films. There is also Korean calligraphy, which was practiced back then.

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The Korean Cultural Center is located at 59 Bayani Road, Taguig City, Metro Manila. Their phone number is 8555-1711 and email is [email protected]. Follow them @kccphil on Instagram.