Friday, 27 October 2017

Renaissance of Korean Food - Reasons and cooking for the FIRST TIME EVER

I set out quite a challenge for myself this week - to cook Korean without help, first time in my life.

According to my rather superficial search on Yelp, there are approximately 265 Korean Restaurants in London. Well, there is only one in Oxford, where I spend most of time at, plus the newly opened Seoul Plaza convenience store in Cowley... right, at least I have a sure place to get ingredients from.

'It's a thing now.'

Korean food is in fact trendy, and not just because of the unbeatable eating shows. 'Everything needs to be super fresh, when you cook Korean.' The various health benefits of Korean food definitely add to the popularity of the dishes, listing reasons such as:

'Every meal also includes plenty of vegetables, most indispensably in the form of kimchi—robustly flavored, fermented vegetables. Besides providing phytonutrients and fiber, kimchi also supplies lactobacillus and other “good” bacteria that some experts think can help boost immune defenses.'

To prepare for the journey I tried my best to gain some knowledge (and courage) to actually cook something eatable, and hopefully tasty. In search of insights I listened to various programmes with my favourite being Bon Appetit, a Chicago-based food podcast, where professional chefs weighted in on the growing popularity of Korean dishes in the US. Some takeaways are surely applicable to the situation in the UK as well, even if the Korean diaspora is significantly smaller in the latter.

According to our experts the preconceived notion about Korean food is in fact changed due to the second generation Asian immigration in the '60s, and the activity of their descendants which not only brought affinity for the flavours but exposure to the taste. Influences are spreading easier than ever before, but the palettes used are still different for generations.

From a cooking perspective the taste is very natural and it's easy to combine with ingredients that comforts the bridges gap between Western and Korean taste.

Without giving away too much things I need to try out:

Goji berries with gin and since I'm getting older and wiser.... the apparently best soup for a hangover: an old-school Korean version of chicken soup, with kimchi and radish.

A full on experience

Tears, way too much garlic and a great dinner party - all documented. If you would like to see me panic over the oven, ugly cry from onions and be shocked over minced ingredients... well click below.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Wear a hanbok - Learn about cultural identity

'We have so much in common.'

First of all, let's start with the similarities between the Hungarian and Korean culture that I can name off the top of my head. 

We both like hot, spicy food. Well, I don't personally but I think the claim still stands. Hungarians also put the family name first, just like people in Korea - a little unknown fact I love to brag about in class. (Apparently some parts of Northern India and many other nationalities, ethnic groups do the same. Not that special after all.) 

I kind of struggled to find more obvious ones other than the similar percentage of Protestants in both countries - a random data which doesn't correlate to the young pastors that miraculously chose to come to Hungary for their visiting studies and happen to preach in the church my parents go to. 

But with every class at KCCUK, every street interview/social experiment video or TV show I watch, I feel myself growing fonder of the culture. Their something intangible about it, but the Korean spirit is somehow similar, and somehow I can recognise my own soul in theirs. 

So let's embark on another journey to discover what traditional clothing, fashion, folk culture means in Hungary and South Korea, to see if I can add another few fun facts to my (hopefully growing) collection.

'When it meant something'

When listening to the presentation of Dr Jungtaek Lee at on the K-Pop Academy last week, the main question I had lingering in my mind was about cultural appropriation. 

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of certain elements from another culture without the consent of people who belong to that culture.

With constant debate going on about appropriation in music, or in the US' case with native cultures (and let's put aside the Gwen Stefani and Katy Perry examples) is better to be careful before we decide to capitalise on hanbok's popularity and use it for our own gain. Of course, we are not in the public eye (yet) but to understand what certain elements mean and where they come from.

But we don't have an easy job to do, especially when it comes to fashion. Recent fashion trends (at least in the Western part of the globe) seem to bring (back?) elements traditional cultures from all over the globe. 

Folk patterns became very popular recently, and you either have to avoid shopping entirely or simply have a completely different style not to see it. Flowers and embroidery pop up on every shirt without a cleavage you can get your hands on in Topshop - you know the ones that look pretty cool on the hanger - and horrendous in the fitting room. (Previously I had that theory that it's the lighting that makes you look rather unfavourable a.k.a haggard in the mirror - but I'm starting to accept the fact that it's my age and the simple reason that the clothes might not fit me.) But going back to our original topic, without any further details on people analysing Coachella outfits we can say it with absolute confidence - traditional motives are in, including elements borrowed from traditional clothing.

Attitude towards tradition

Going to Calvinist high school in Hungary meant various things. We had an awful sailor blouse to wear on celebrations, prayers to miss out on the morning because you arrived late - and also going to school which took pride in nurturing youngsters who understand the values of the national culture.

That also led to the fact that on our senior ball we only had folk dances to choose from for our obligatory performance. This might seem a bit harsh but there was literally no other choice when it comes to the style. (Rumour has it that a surprise salsa performance a few years earlier caused such an outrage at the teacher's board, that they even gave responsibility to one of the head teachers to oversee the preparation for the following years to avoid such scandalous disobedience in the future.)

So you probably guessed, no chance for K-pop dance like this:

(Okay, I know that these guys are students at SOPA (prestigious performance art high school in Seoul), but still. This was so not happening at my high school. Looking back I still cringe how awkward we were. And let's face it, the video is brilliant.)

But as we started the preparation everybody slowly started to embrace the experience. Hungarian folk dance is kinda cool - very manly, that's for sure. With straight backs, occasional singing and rhapsodic choreography - supported by the playful shouting choir of the girl participants, who grab every chance to call out the guys with humorous chants filled with sexual innuendos.

(I was deliberately trying to match the age group. Totally different, but you get the message.)

The folk culture, literature, therefore, shows a romantic side to both cultures, but both express it differently. Of course depending on social class, more was allowed to the woman when it comes expressing their opinion - that seems to be universal thread throughout history.

The 'hippie chic' is connected to the concept of freedom, self-expression, boho, wanderlust and all the #instaworthy #buzzwords (that I use in every second post of mine) by major retailers evoking commercialised version of Byron and co.'s signature longing for the ancient, the exotic, the unknown in 18th century Western romantic literatureSeeing narratives returning on the visual identity of your Instagram feed just shows that there is really nothing new under the sun. The traces are always there if you have the eyes to see it.)

(Note: if you would like to read a few of the decade's notable pieces, I can only encourage you to do so. If I can give you any advice, then put The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe at the end of your reading list. It's easy to take this the title literally, as I did my personal Calvary suffering through the obligatory book in high school. The only thing I longed for, was it to end, completely missing the point of the main character's development.)

So if you were to try incorporating different styles into your own, how can you that without accidentally offending someone? In our globalised world, cultural appropriation became an increasingly hot topic with prestigious magazines like The Atlantic even creating a checklist, to help you get out of this maze, instead of simply stating it's wrong (ThoughtCo.) or trying to come to its defence (New Statesman).

Let's what these elements can mean in South Korea and in Hungary to get a step closer to a possible solution through its everyday implications - how young people feel about it.

#HanbokOnTheStreet - Living legacy

Obviously, big retailer campaigns are not completely off with their messaging, even if they are a bit tacky sometimes. Clothing is heavily used to express and form cultural, social and gender identity, and its relevance is stronger than ever.

The easiest way to write this chapter would be simply type in word by word what the brilliant In Oh shares with the listeners in The Korea in The World podcast - but even if it's an opinion coming from a scholar, our duty is to synthesise information and do our best in taking all aspect into our findings.

Damn you, Professor Polos and your brilliant lectures on critical thinking.

When do people wear traditional clothing or clothing that features traditional elements? And why do they wear it? Let's look at the obvious reasons collected from friends of mine: 

1. It's considered cool, edgy, hip (whichever you prefer)

2. Supporting local economy
3. Special meaning attached to etc (political stand, social status, personal memory)
4. National holidays, festive events, sports events

Well apparently in recent years, hanbok made an appearance quite often outside of the predictable, 'wedding-national holiday-trying to appear as an eligible bachelor in front of the parents' - cycle. While the ongoing debate about if modernising a hanbok is right or not, is very present - the business moves on with new wave designers weaving in elements of the clothing items in their lines. 

(Fashion Statement? You got me on board.)

What's important to understand that while the clothing still mainly functions and is seen as a costume, its meaning changes in a way that more and more possibilities open up to incorporate elements of it smoothly into even streetwear. (Yes that's not me saying this, it's Vogue, so feel free to take it seriously.)

Traditional clothing wasn't used as support a specific ideology in the past that heavily as it was in Hungary.

After trying to dig in deeper this a key element that I found missing looking around my hometown Budapest. There are characteristics you give to people who wear something that even resembles elements of traditional clothing, probably
 a literature student, conservative background - you could even guess which uni or school she/he went. Or there's always the safe bet of being a part of dance ensemble - and definitely not hip-hop one.

In Oh offers an interesting way of preventing the aforementioned problem of cultural appropriation. She suggests attracting western designers 'instead being passive and just letting people take it and use it for own purposes'. It’s always tricky to turn inspiration into tangible form, but her ideas do make a lot of sense. 

There is another thing I identified after reading multiple articles - and that's the approach to traditional clothing, it's usage and meaning. The hanbok had its journey to become what it is today. Since everybody wore it, they didn’t call it Hanbok, untill the late 19th and 20th century as an effect of foreign influence. Even the word 'hanbok' was born in reaction to Western clothing.

Hungarian nobles used it as an element differentiate from the likes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire/Kingdom (depending on the century’s failed revolution). The noble wear was completely different and members of the class only turned to ethnic clothing once they needed a tool to identify what it means to be Hungarian (even in the early 18th century most of the elite used German or Latin during a political debate or even to write a love letter). In later periods it became an even stronger symbol of independence, political stand (usually far-right and nationalistic, especially between the World Wars - so essentially traditional clothing was always politically charged. And that's something we still couldn't get rid of till this day.

Takeaways for building

I try my best to be impartial, analytical and only use emotional elements to envoke curiosity or to entertain but in this case, I do would like to form an opinion.

Less political connotations, consciously used when promoting of Korean culture and which fact (and this really makes a difference in our case) is widely accepted by the general public. The recent awakening and in Korea's case a continuing incorporation is ultimately a good thing in my eyes. I see it as a part of a healthy national identity, an integral part of knowing who you are and where you came from. Based on the fashion everchanging nature one day it might become only a source for more creative output - but till then, we better figure out its place in our identity.

 Attitude will always be key. What's your take on traditional clothing?

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Hail Hallyu - Let the K-Wave crash over you

If you haven't heard it yet, let me break it down to you.

It's official folks, the almighty K-Wave is washing Western shores, collecting followers everywhere,
and actually successfully converting people with more success that I ever hope to achieve during the time of this course.

Why do people like K-Pop?

To be quite frank, any of the following videos would be enough for a short answer.

Get ready to go to heaven witTaeyang's laid back r'n'b track, while supposedly amateur singers compete for a chance to sing with him, casually singing in perfect harmony:

Or if you're more in a ballad mood, bring out the tissues before even attempting to press the play button for the heart-wrenching performance of Wildflower. Epic key change soars over the pieces of broken hearts - you've been warned.

Or if you're eager to hear some inspirational, 'motivate me to work harder towards my dreams' type of music to kick start your morning in fashion, listen to one of the excellent recent releases of the genre - Pentagon's 'Like This'.

Still not convinced? Don't worry, there is so much more to come.

The more interesting question in our case, what gets people into K-Pop?

All I hear is opinions lately, including mine which I'm sure most of you are already bored of.
Some of them are informed, some of them seems to be wired in, some of them don't even pretend to cover up the fact that as the fandom lingo would say 'only here for the views'. Of course some sources genuinely try.

One thing is for certain, the phenomenon itself became big enough to reach the levels of news coverage, with most of the prominent media outlets making their predictions for its future. Now that the genre is receiving more attention than ever, it's rather interesting to watch how is K-Pop portrayed in the media, while there is still a chance that the narrative can be influenced by the original audience, hopefully giving a broader picture. The main challenge when it comes to covering the topic is balancing interesting content whith educating the audience.

So in the posts to follow we are diving in deep to look at what we call 'the Western Media' says about K-Pop in general, and more specifically what reasoning they found for its success.

To be fair, it's a huge challenge to write about a genre which is not only in a foreign language, but is filled with essentially cultural references, which are hard to understand without spending a considerable amount of time on research, or you are not involved in the culture one way or another - and the latter still won't guarantee you get everything right.

K-Pop is designed for export but has a large domestic following. To give a simplified example: it almost works in similar ways as the classic example of eating Chinese food outside of China, it's tailored to match the recipient's taste.

That's leads us to a much bigger question: How does K-Pop work as a business?

There is no way, these can be answered in one article, so let's go on a journey together for the next 8 weeks with the new Hail Hallyu series, which hopefully will help to get everyone to solid level of understanding, and insert a structural, critical thinking when it comes to discussing the many aspects of the entertainment business.

The first articles to follow are:
Hail Hallyu - Hail Hallyu - Analysing The Western Media Coverage
Hail Hallyu - 10 Marketing and Branding Methods You Should Learn From K-Pop
Hail Hallyu - K-Pop As a Business

+1 Hail Hallyu/Converting people to K-Pop: Reaction from a Branding/Media Manager

Friday, 6 October 2017

Converting to K-Pop - The Flatmate Challenge

First of all, I have confession to make.

There is no such thing as a flatmate challenge.... yet!

Anyway, on a usual gloomy British evening, me and my flatmates decided to go out. All young professionals, still enjoying the world of work, but secretly clinging to the thought what if we actually have been brave enough to pursue what we really wanted to do in the first place. To put all these thoughts aside we were planning to wander on the streets of Oxford, bumping into students who are in their own little bubble enjoying the lack of life's weights, and get a really nice dinner to celebrate our astonishment that we survived another busy round in the Game of Life.

As we were to have a tea (fruit, not with milk) trying to get rid of Nina's sticky cold we started chatting. Just like at the office, always starts with a simple question. This time it was 'What are you planning to do at this weekend?'

Well, you already know what I'm doing on the weekends.

But wait... what if I show you what actually happened, instead of telling you about it?
1 flatmate, 1 song, 10 minutes before William scolds us on Whatsapp about being late again.

Point, aim, shoot!
겨눠 ! 조준! 발사!
gyeonwo chong! jojun! balsa!

Converting to K-Pop - The first attempt

The village I work at, is a really lovely place. 

Picturesque English countryside, proper pub food and people smiling at each other on the street.

You wouldn't think K-Pop would fit into this image, but one thing's for sure - I'm determined to broaden people perspectives on cultures, whichever they might be. As we already know
the love for this flamboyant, over-the-top genre can bloom anywhere, even in the most abandoned corners of the world - so here is me trying to educate my colleagues.

The almost obligatory 'How was your weekend?' and 'Did you get any sleep?' - to worn out the fathers with newborns, were quickly turned into the 'Ildi did something quite unusual again, but we're sort of interested' looks. After trying to highlight the elements that could make the genre appeal to each member of our team, I felt like they got the memo. Especially after this happened:

You can tell how happy (and secretly pleased) I was with succeeding at my mission so quickly... well, it was a short-lived celebration. During lunch break the colleague who usually puts on some music, closed his computer with Apple Radio still on. And as sneaky K-Pop is, it came back with full force, bringing out the sickest, loudest beats with the most over-the top bubblegum pop hits K-Pop produced in recent months. While our designers decided to come back to the office rather slowly, the beat only got faster, and they lost their patience just as fast, since nobody could turn it off.

After this unfortunate incident there is only one person who is not discouraged - the bravest of them all, the pride of the office: Chris.

Everyone, meet Chris.

He is a patient studio manager, a designer who 'casually' runs marathons for charity. (In comparison I often get tired from going to the grocery shop for bargain hunting.) Chris is in desperate need of some uplifting, pump your fist, raise the bar - type of music, and in true champion fashion and kindly agreed to be a lab-rat for my challenge.

It's time for us to give back to Chris and help him to be the best version of himself at the next Iron Man.

Challenge everyone, get Chris to like K-Pop purely based on the musical experience! We don't have visuals, videos, tv-shows on our side this time - only music.

Go K-Pop Academy, what should we put on Chris' list?

Check out the list here, and add your suggestions in the comments!

Saturday, 30 September 2017


...or the short story of how I got into K-Pop.

(Looking at it, it actually sounds like a name of new band who is just getting ready for their debut. Sorry reader, I got carried away already.)

Welcome visitor, 

to a world of opportunities and to the magical world of K-Pop. 

Before we start, let me tell you a story about stress, a pair of sandals and curiosity. 

When I was only 3 weeks old, my father got invited for a study trip to South Korea. As an aspiring architect, he took on the opportunity even with 4 small children (and a very though mother) waiting for him at home back in Budapest. In '95 returned to spend almost six months in Seoul to help rebuilding a few of Samsung's commercial buildings which got destroyed in a devastating earthquake, costing many lives. 

He couldn't bring home many things other than the love and respect in his heart for Korea and its people and... a silk robe for his young wife and 4 pair of sandals for his 3 boys and a little girl, me. 

They were the most amazing sandals I've ever seen in my life - at least that's how they seemed to me, a little girl with big dreams growing up in post-communist country trying to get back on its feet. They were so special actually, that eventually I got to wear all the pairs as I grew older.

Years passed by and we grew up as well, all of my brothers now hold respectable professions - one of them happens to be a corporate lawyer, who swears there are only a handful of things that can calm him down on a stressful day, and... well, you already guessed one of them: the charming tunes of K-Pop, especially the ones from girl bands. I guess the fact that they are super talented and also easy on the eye, didn't hurt either. I can't even count how many times I heard the hook 'I'm Genie for you boy'. At one point, if I remember correctly, he even had a Girl's Generation song as a ringtone - risky choice in the boardroom if you ask me.

Me? I wanted to study sociology, social anthropology, music... and ended up being a business student. That didn't stop me from writing my original thesis about fan culture, music business and music marketing - and I tried my best to feed my curiosity with as much travel as possible.

Being on the road popular culture, especially music was always a way to get to know the country, city I moved into and eventually help me understand its people a tiny bit better. 
What it is that they listened to gain courage before a first date or to get pumped up before an exam?

What TV shows kept them awake at night, head filled with theories, waiting to be shared with like-minded enthusiasts?

And which sweet would they buy as a present to their parents before getting lost int the realm of delicious comfort food?*

Popular culture interwined my work, my studies and my everyday life - sometimes even to the extreme extent of buying way too many copies of Rolling Stone, Wallpaper and co. whenever I'm at an airport, and then desperately trying to squeeze it into my luggage on the way back.

It also includes staying up all night to stream award shows, which reflect the state of the music industry and it's charts... just how this year's Billboard Music Awards did, where the unprecedented success of the seven member boy band sensation BTS shocked the music world. To give you the clue: they snatched the Top Social Artist Award from worldwide household names such as the critically acclaimed vocal gymnast Ariana Grande, Canadian troubadour Shawn Mendes, brand-builder powerhouse Selena Gomez, and the ultimate music career phoenix in recent memory Justin Bieber himself.

So what do we do, when we realise we actually know a lot less about what's going on in the Twitter-sphere, why changes are happening, and what's or who's driving them -  than we actually thought?

Well, we branch out, look for opportunities, open our minds and hearts... and learn, learn, learn.

Stay tuned for my journey at the K-Pop Academy and beyond with The Korean Cultural Centre UK, for essays driven by curiosity, vlog post on discoveries, reactions from all my (un)fortunate friends whom I slowly trying to convert to K-Pop and a whole lot more. 

Let's keep hwaiting

*What are you listening to, dear reader?