LIFE&STYLE

K-pop, tech, ‘ppalli-ppalli’ -- How foreigners view Korea in 2016

By Rumy Doo

Culture leaders discuss international image of Korea and how to preserve, communicate its uniqueness

  • Published : Sept 6, 2016 - 17:12
  • Updated : Sept 8, 2016 - 18:50
When Beth McKillop, research fellow of the Victoria and Albert Museum, was invited to Korea for the Culture Communication Forum 2016, she surveyed her extended family members on their impressions of the East Asian country.

She was met with a range of answers, said the founding curator of the Korean Gallery in the prestigious UK museum, from “why are Koreans so keen on plastic surgery,” “why are so many great women golfers Korean” and “I love ‘Gangnam Style’” to “Korea’s advertising is 20 years ahead of ours.”

McKillop, who studied Korean language and history at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, described the country as “ambitious” and “quirky,” pointing to its technological developments and distinct cultural industry that gave birth to global niche entertainment sectors -- namely K-pop and K-drama.

But what McKillop noticed was that the traditional “ppalli-ppalli” mentality -- a Korean term to describe its people’s impatience -- now seemed “to be mixed with reflection and planning,” she said at the CCF 2016, organized by the Corea Image Communication Institute and held at Grand Hyatt Seoul on Tuesday.

Twenty leading cultural figures from around the world came together at the forum to share their thoughts on the unique culture of Korea, how it has changed and how it can be shared with a global audience. 

Cultural figures from around the world discuss the uniqueness of Korean culture and how to communicate it at the Culture Communication Forum 2016 held at the Grand Hyatt Seoul on Tuesday. (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)

“There is both the passion, ‘ppalli-ppalli,’ and the planning nature of Korean society,” said Ana Serrano, chief digital officer of the Canadian Film Centre. “But the core thing we all need to embrace is the notion of emergence.

“There are things that you don’t plan for; it’s just going to happen.”

Kang Sue-jin, the CEO and artistic director of the Korean National Ballet, said Koreans should guard against the “ppalli-ppalli” attitude especially when it comes to art.

The world-class ballerina, who said she learned Korean folk dance before ballet, asserted that art is an effective way to communicate globally. “You don’t need to speak, you don’t need words to express yourself in dance,“ she said.

The Marquis Charles-Antoine de Vibraye, whose Chateau de Cheverny inspired the castle featured in the Adventures of Tintin cartoons, pointed out the similar challenges in tourism that both Korea and France face.

“The best thing to do is connect culture to tourism, to business,” said de Vibraye.

Spanish writer Javier Moro, known for the novel “Passion India,” noted Korea’s vibrancy.

“You feel it everywhere, in how people behave and on the streets. That’s a strength,” he said.

Moro also drew parallels between Spain and Korea, saying, “Spain has also raised its standard of living dramatically in the past 50 years.”

“When traditional societies join the industrial world, we feel they might lose their traditions that make them special,” said Moro. Korea’s rich culture should be preserved just as much as its modern image of technology and progress, represented by the Samsung conglomerate, according to Moro. But he added that “people shouldn’t worry that Korea has come to be known for ‘Gangnam Style’ above all.”

“Sometimes, Spanish people are upset that they’re known more for soccer than other high-culture things,” yet all this is indicative of the free flow of culture on an international scale, and should be encouraged, according to Moro.

Turkish dancer Beyhan Murphy cautioned against ”underestimating the soft power of culture,“ while Katrina Sedgwick, director of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, said she was most impressed by Korea’s “design, fashion, architecture and food.”

Other speakers participating in the forum included Irina Prokhorova, owner and editor-in-chief of the Russian publishing house “New Literary Observer”; Indian journalist Vir Sanghi; and American jazz and blues singer Tim Strong.

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)