If K-pop, K-dramas, K-food, and Korean mannerisms attract you, you too are bitten by the Hallyu (dissemination of Korean pop culture) bug, a.k.a the Korean Wave. From cafes where famous K-dramas were filmed, to the K-star Road in Cheongdam-dong, here are some places to experience the culture.
The Korean Wave, also known as Hallyu, has been affecting people for a while now. The words ‘South Korea’ suddenly reminds us of tunes from various K-pop bands (EXO, BTS and Big Bang), K-dramas, and words like annyeong haseyo (hello) and sarang hae (I love you) – all of which have framed the definition of South Korea for many around the world. Not only songs and soap operas but also a number of books that have been set in the backdrop of this country, including Kyung-sook Shin’s Please Look After Mom and Yeonmi Park’s In Order to Survive, are garnering international readership.
South Korea might be known as the ‘land of the morning calm’, but dive into its capital Seoul, and serenity is the last thing you will feel.
The city is undoubtedly an escape for people who have a soft spot for Korean music, television shows, cosmetics and skin care. From TV actor Cha Eun-sang’s dreamcatcher shop in the television series The Heirs, to cafes frequented by Hallyu stars, dramas are filmed all over Seoul.
The present culture owes its origin to the 1990s, when South Korea started to promote the Korean Wave and promoted K-pop and helped Korean entertainment companies produce television series. The culture boomed in no time and today, tickets for one K-pop concert are sold out in less than 10 minutes.
The culture has sprung all over the world, so much so, more people visit South Korea because of this culture than they do to see the many famous historic sites.
To further promote Hallyu, South Korea also hosts special ‘Hallyu cooking classes’ for foreign tourists or expats in Seoul, wherein the students are taught to cook K-food with traditional ingredients and experience the country’s food culture. The event features a professional chef who makes recipes that are easy to understand and execute. The classes this year, which are also for vegetarians, started in April and will be running till December at CJ The Kitchen in Dongho-ro, Jung-gu.
Korean fashion, cosmetics, and skincare products, which are now selling all over Asia, are also closely related to Hallyu stars. This is because famous Korean stars are used as marketing points by the Korean cosmetic industry to build their reputation.
To better introduce people to Korean makeup products and brands, Seoul also hosts ‘Hallyu star makeup classes’ for tourists to learn the makeup secrets of Korea’s leading stars. Professional makeup artists explain latest beauty trends and makeup techniques for K-pop idols and the daily beauty regimens of famous Korean actresses. The classes are held on the first and third Wednesdays of each month from May to December at Espoir Flagship Store, Ewha Womans University Branch in Seodaemun-gu.
The Korean wave has evolved from a regional development, into a global phenomenon. The country is a major exporter of popular culture and tourism, impacting contemporary cultures, music, and even behavioural aspects of people throughout the world.
Shruti Bansal is transfixed every time she is catching up on her favourite Korean soap operas like Descendants of the Sun (2016) and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo (2016-2017), scribbling alongside a few Korean words from time to time.
The 26-year-old from New Delhi is a fan of everything Korean that makes her want to learn more Korean words. “It is a craze, South Korean films, fashion, hair styles, language – they are addictive,” she says. Many others share her excitement as India is beginning to be swept by an unprecedented Korean Wave. So much so that Korean channels Arirang and KBS World are aired in north-east India and the Tamil network Puthuyugam translates K-dramas into Tamil and telecasts them.
Take a Hallyu Tour
To truly discover the Hallyu world, set forth into Korea’s first Hallyu theme park – the MBC World Broadcast Theme Park in Mapo-gu, Seoul.
This park is located within the terrestrial television network Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) – one of the leading South Korean television and radio network companies, where visitors can become protagonists of television shows through the latest holographic technology.
Visitors can take a gander at television dramas and other variety programmes produced by MBC every second and fourth Tuesday of each month, from May-December, revolving around the theme of Hallyu content.
They can also look at all the historical dramas produced by MBC or try on costumes that were worn by their favourite stars. Although a separate fee is charged to try the costumes, visitors can take pictures within the sets of historical K-drama scenes for free. Not to forget the virtual reality experience inside concept booths where the celebrities are right in front of your eyes! Take a picture with them as they greet and approach you, or go on a ride inside their vans at the Star Van booth.
A K-style hub located inside the building of Korea Tourism Organisation at Jung-gu, also presents a cornucopia of visual and participatory programmes and Korean flavours.
Tourists can meet their favourite Hallyu stars and dance with them through virtual and augmented reality at the K-star zone, or take pictures with their life-size sculptures.
The hub also provides a 360-degree view of around 50 attractions that were used as backdrops in Korean television series using drones and virtual reality experiences including Jeju Island and Seoul’s famous shopping area Myeong-dong. One can touch and smell seasonal local grains and spices, taste Korean cuisine, or relax with a cup of traditional tea.
Another place that boasts of the largest collection of Hallyu star figures is The Grevin in Seoul. The world-class wax museum opened in 2015 with a collection that is organised into themes such as the past, the present, history, culture, Hallyu, and K-pop.
For people who want to enjoy a showcase of traditional Korean culture while taking a stroll on famous K-drama shooting locations, head to the Lotte World Mall and Insa-dong in Seoul, or Gwanbangje Forest and Damyang trails in Jeollanam-do, where popular K-dramas like The Mask, The Heirs, and Beautiful Gong Shim, were filmed. Other hotspots frequented by celebrities include the Grand Ciel in Dosan-daero; Melting Shop, Miel, and Cheongdamgol in Gangnam-gu.
The K-star Road is yet another Hallyu space. The 3,500 feet long stretch near the Apgujeongrodeo Station and Cheongdam Sageori intersection is lined with 18 colourful dolls called gangnamdol (derived from Gangnam, the hometown of Hallyu), with the most iconic being a 10-feet tall figure representing the singer Park Jae-sang (popularly known as PSY).
However, not only Seoul, but also its bright neighbourhood Chang-dong, is being transformed into a Mecca of pop culture with its increasing sale of Korean music, television shows, films, animations and games.
Towards the northern outskirts of Seoul, this district is getting a makeover so that K-pop can do for Changdong what the Beatles did for Liverpool in the United Kingdom, and what PSY has done for Gangnam in Seoul – attracting both locals and tourists into the area, who could bring jobs and spending power with them.
Around 400 kilometres from Changdong is the world’s largest K-pop Museum in Jejudo Island called Play K-Pop. Visitors can meet K-pop stars, walk the streets, dance and sing with the stars, and also take a walk through memory lane with older hits and let nostalgia run free.