The Soul of Asia in the Heart of London

Ariz Baig Asia, Culture and Arts, Korean Peninsula

IMG_2374It is often said that London, as a city, embraces cultures like fishes embrace water. On a bright and sunny Sunday, August 9th 2015, no other metaphor can better describe the London Korean Festival. Taking place in the iconic surroundings of Trafalgar Square, London welcomed Korea’s biggest ever culture day festival. Presented by the Korean Culture Centre UK, Korea Tourism Organization, Korea Creative Content Agency and supported by the Mayor of London, the festival brought the best of Korean culture to the heart of Central London.

The aim of the festival was simple; bring the lesser known aspects of Korean culture to the door of the British public. The prominent success of K-Pop such as PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ and the use of music by 2NE1 in a UK Microsoft advert has already introduced popular Korean-pop to members of the British public; but other parts, such as fashion, cinema, food, and in particular the cultural heritage of the country’s past, were to a greater extent unknown components from a country so rich in history. The festival, therefore, offered a myriad of activities and experiences which provided a colourful cultural palette of Korea.Sizzling barbeque

The experience:

The moment the gates opened, Londoners from all over the city flooded in and the area was soon engulfed by the sheer numbers.

Upon walking in my senses were immediately filled with the alluring smells, sights and sizzling of Korean barbeque or Bulgogi. Walking slowly through the crowd, often squeezing between people, it was not surprising to see why this place was so crowded. The festival had something for everybody. On the perimeters you had the food kiosks, creating a delicious and attractive surrounding. Having the food cooked in front of you is typical of how street food is prepared in Korea, and biting into the succulent strips of meat was incredibly satisfying.

If you were not a foodie, there were other kiosks which offered other activities. ‘K-Experience’ offered insight into Tradional Korean Costumes, where one could change into traditional Korean garments such as the hanbok and have their pictures taken by professional photographers. Not to mention, there were also traditonal Korean games and handicrafts on offer for the young children who came along.

IMG_2328Moving along you were greeted with ‘K-Contents’, where the audience were presented with Korean animations, characters, webtoons, music and fashion. Each section had its own characteristics and attractions,and was as busy as the one prior to it. Often with a long queue to get in, the games were fun and simple; the music, catchy; the fashion, eye opening. The Webtoons, Characters, and Animation, colourful and entertaining. If you were not already sold on Korean Culture by the time you had visited all these kiosks, the final set presented you with an opportunity of actually visiting Korea as a tourist. Needless to say, by the time one finished, you were already planning your savings for the following year to go and visit this facinating country.

The Main Stage:

Going from kiosk to kiosk and eating food until your stomach can take no more is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. But the best draw of the festival was the main stage which is where the real magic happened. Starting promptly at 12:30pm the crowd were given majestic and grand performances, with a traditional opening performance known as Gilnori Parade, performed by the Yeon Hee Company ‘U-Hee’ and the Yun Myung Hwa Dance Company dressed in the traditional Korean Hanbok. This was followed by an emotional performance by Pan of the Royal Wedding Dance of the King and Queen. Bringing us into modern popular culture in Korea were Jinjo Crew and Soul Mavericks  who took to the stage to perform an electric and adrenaline-pumping dance-off which really got the crowd going. The beauty of the performances were that they demonstrated that although Korea has embraced modernity, it has done so without compromising its colourful traditions and culture.IMG_2405

Then came the long-awaited K-pop and K-Rock bands as f(x) and Gucckkasten stormed the stage as they performed in London for the first time. K-pop is a growing phenomenon in Europe and the bands easily found an adoring audience.

If after all this one was feeling a little fatigued, then the closing performance of Arirang was just the medicine one needed to recoup and finally head home. Arirang is the name of a Korean folk song that has been sung since olden times. The song was classically sung for an array of reasons, including getting rid of feelings of boredom during work, confessing one’s true feelings to one’s beloved, praying to the divine for a happy and peaceful life, and entertaining people gathered together for a celebration. The music certainly almost hypnotised us into such relaxation that we left feeling soothed and calm as we boarded the train home…