Thursday, December 9, 2010
One of the biggest changes in Korea with the growth of its tourism is the integration of English into the daily lives of Koreans. Schooling children are required to learn English, signboards now come with English directions and Koreans are generally encouraged to pick up conversational English. This is an evidence of a governmental effort to promote tourism. Since English is a widely-accepted and universal language, chances of meeting English-speaking tourists seeking for help is high. By slowly introducing English into the community, it helps to subtly integrate it into the Korean society without being a turn-off or being mistaken as an attempt to ‘westernize’ the country, which may be met with fierce revolts from citizens.
Some people may see that tourism is the main culprit of commodifying cultures and traditions, but in my opinion, it is a two-sided coin and that there are two ways to look at this issue. The way I see it, cultures and traditions are being commodified by tourism is mainly due to the fact of merchandising. However, it is not entirely the fault of tourism that fuels this cause. The human nature of greed for more money is also an explainable factor that contributes to the commodifying of cultures and traditions.
Merchandising, like the type in Disneyization, is one way to see why tourism is the cause of commodifying cultures and traditions. Sale of mass-produced traditional handicraft to meet demand is one such example. The mass production of such items leads to the loss of value, meaning and significance of these items. Let’s take the Ojibwa Dreamcatcher for example. The primary use of a dreamcatcher before it got over-commercialized was as a protective charm for infants and children. It was believed that the spider web-shaped ornament would catch any harmthat might be in the air, just like how a spider's web catches and holds whatever comes in contact with it. However, it has lost its meaning ever since it became overly popular and got commercialized. It is now more known for its beautifying purposes and as a general protective ornament to be hung in homes. From this, we can see how merchandising can harm a culture or a tradition of a society by making it overly popular and thus, leading to over-commercialization.
However, we cannot fully blame tourism for the cause. I believe that human greed is a contributing factor as well. It is in our human nature to be greedy for more of things that benefit us, such as money. Even right down to the most rural areas of the world, we know that money is an essential commodity that buys you everything that you need in order to survive. In tribes, the concept of money may not be present prior to the external influence from urbanised areas. However, once they have found out what sort of wonders that money can do, they fall into the blackhole. With cultural tourism on the rise, tours to indigenous tribal areas increase and the demand for local souvenirs rise as well. The indigenous people might have developed at greater greed for money than for the purpose of promoting its culture to visitors, and hence seek various opportunities to sell their tangible culture for money. From this, we can picture why the greed for money is the cause of commodifying cultures and traditions instead of tourism.
Although there are two sides to a coin, when you flip it, you will always have one side facing up. I think that tourism as a reason for this cause outweighs the other arguments against it. This is because tourism is the reason why many cultures and traditions around the world are made known. Without tourism, some cultures and traditions, such as that of the Kayan Lahwi (also known as the Long Neck Tribe), would not be known. For this reason, tourism seems to be the major contributing factor to the commodifying of cultures and traditions. However, we must not neglect the other factors that may be present or overlook them.
To read more on dreamcatchers, you can go to: http://www.native-languages.org/dreamcatchers.htm
For Kayan Lahwi, you can refer to: http://www.peoplesoftheworld.org/text?people=Karen
When we talk about theming in Korea, we not only refer to theme parks, but also characteristic restaurants and places of interests that follow a certain theme. Thisaspect of Disneyization can even be seen right from the very start of a tour trip as tourists are able to select specially-themed tours for their vacation trip. Examples of such themed tours include Filming Location tours and Taekwondo tours. When it comes to theme parks, the one that must not be left out is the Everland Carribean Bay, which is an indoor and outdoor water theme park meant to reproduce the Carribean Bayin Latin America. As for theming seen on smaller scales, it is especially evident in the F&B industry where themed cafes such as live music cafes, internet cafes and book cafes are thriving in the community.
(Everland Carribean Bay)
(An advertisement on Everland Carribean Bay)
Theming is important as it attracts niche markets. It is the special and unique feeling it gives off that sells. For example, in Disneyland, the rides are categorized into clusters, forming a theme. In Tokyo Disneyland, the attractions and rides are sorted into different groups, such as Toontown, Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Each group attracts visitors of different sorts; Toontown attracts visitors who are interested in seeing original Disney’s characters such as Mickey Mouse, where as Tomorrowland attracts visitors who are more into futuristic settings. In Korea, many different kinds of theming can be found, from small scale to large scale, catering to different groups of people. Theming is a lucrative idea that can be adopted as long as the concept is viable and there is a demand in the market for it.
For more information on themed tours, you can read up here: http://asiaenglish.visitkorea.or.kr/ena/SI/SI_EN_3_4_13_1.jsp
Tokyo Disneyland: http://www.tokyodisneyresort.co.jp/tdl/index_e.html
It may be difficult to spot merchandising in other countries, but in Korea, the very prominent form of merchandising is the sale of goods of K-Pop idols. The demand for this is not only local, but internationally as well.
Everysing is a Karaoke place opened by the famous S.M.Entertainment (SME), which is a management agency of well-known Korean artistes such as TVXQ, Super Junior, SHINee and SNSD. Apart from being a karaoke brand, everysing sells specially manufactured merchandises and goods of SME’s artistes. These merchandises are usually known as character items or character goods. The shop is located in Myeong-dong, which is known as the best tourist-friendly fashion area in the whole of Seoul.
(The everysing shop front)
Although merchandising is only a very small partof Disneyization, it is the component that brings in the cash for the company. In the case of everysing, this is very similar as well. Apart from operational revenue coming from the karaoke and café sections, a considerable big portion comes from the merchandises that are sold. Customers not only come from all around Korea, but also overseas. Everysing is fast becoming a tourist spot for those who are avid fans of the artistes of SME, with character goods in place acting as souvenirs for such visitors.
(SHINee character goods)
(TVXQ character goods)
For those who are interested, you can visit everysing’s official website at: http://www.everysing.com/
The Korean Pop music scene started to pick up in the early 21st century, when groups like TVXQ and Big Bang debuted in the scene and started to take over the hearts of millions of fans in Korea and around the world. Following in their footsteps were bands like Super Junior, SNSD, Wonder Girls, and the more recent SHINee, B2ST and Miss A. With the Hallyu wave taking over many parts of the world, K-Pop is fast becoming a popular culture amongst teenagers around the world. It acts as a common platform for youths from different backgrounds to come together and exchange views and establish relationships. The K-Pop culture is not necessarily a bad thing, many experts say. Some of the pros that have been pointed out include idols being perfect role models for youths to follow, as well as fuelling the South Korean economy. In a recent showcase held by popular boy group JYJ, some 3,000 international fans flew to Korea just to show their support. According to allkpop.com, “flight agencies were able to see a visible bump up in sales for November 2010”. Through this, we can see how impactful the K-Pop industry is on Korea itself and the world. You can read more about the mammoth economic impact of JYJ Seoul’s concert here: http://www.allkpop.com/2010/12/jyjs-seoul-concert-had-a-mammoth-economic-impact
(SHINee, S.M. Entertainment)
(B2ST, CUBE Entertainment)
(Miss A, JYP Entertainment)
In addition, popular boy band 2PM had also done a promotional video “Fly to Seoul” to encourage tourism. Take a look at the video below!
One personal experience that I wanted to share was how K-Pop had brought me and a friend of mine together. He is French and we got to know each other through Facebook because of the common interests we shared. We exchange our views on K-Pop through emails and messages in Facebook and I cannot deny that it is interesting to hear from a K-Pop fan from that part of the world. It is true that they areconsidered ‘underprivileged’ because not many Korean artistes get the chance to travel to the European countries for album promotions and such. It is definitely an interesting encounter for me as we were able to get over our language barriers with one another and stay in touch via constant updates of K-Pop-related issues.
Besides K-Pop, K-dramas are also part of the Hallyu wave. They have been popular throughout Asia in recent years. Popular titles include Winter Sonata, Princess Hours and Jewel in the Palace. K-dramas are unique in its own way; they are not popular because of who acts or stars in them, but because of the unique story plots that each drama series carry. It is very different from the typical idol dramas in Taiwan and Japan, which gain popularity because of the actors in them. For example, Jewel in the Palace was a big hit in Singapore when it was first aired on Channel U. In my opinion, the lead actress was not exceptionally pretty, and neither was she a famous Korean idol. However, what captivated the hearts of many was the historical setting, the story and the realistic and professional acting skills demonstrated by the cast. K-dramas would be carving a path out for themselves soon as they continue to grow in popularity around the world.
i. Spectator Sports
Koreans love to watch sports and games as part of their part time. Thisis because they believe that it helps create a senseof togetherness and help in bonding within the community. Some of the most popular spectator sports include football, baseball and basketball. Although these sports are a result of foreign influence, it has helped to boost national pride and develop a cultural identity for Korea.
Here is a blogpost about how Korean idols showed their support for the Korean football team during FIFA World Cup 2010: http://popreviewsnow.blogspot.com/2010/05/kpop-conquers-world-cup.html
ii. Martial Arts
Taekwondo is a modern martial-art thatoriginated from Korea, and is known for its special characteristics which include fast, high and spinning kicks. The term literally means the technique ofkicking and punching, but this martial art emphasizes more on kicks than punches. It has been in practice for centuries, dated back as early as 50 B.C. Taekwondo is a self-defense martial art, and is widely practiced in many countries around the world.
Ssireum is a form of wrestling that originates and can only be found in Korea. Traditionally, it is practiced as combat forself-defense and a part of rituals in the ancient tribal states. It is very similar to the Japanese’s Sumo wrestling. In modern day context, it is usually enjoyed as a folk sport and spectator sport.
Let me share a video I have found online about Ssireum with you.
You can also read more about Ssireum here: http://ynucc.yeungnam.ac.kr/~ssi/eindex.html
iii. Recreational Activities
One of the most common recreational activities undertaken by the Koreans is the playing of the computer game, StarCraft. Known as one of Korea’s national sport, StarCraft has many devoted fans and players in the high-tech South Korea. According to professional gamer Greg Fields, StarCraft’s popularity in Korea is because “It was in the middle of an economic recession and (StarCraft) was easy, cheap entertainment.” Another speculation, quoted from kotaku.com, was that “when Blizzard launched StarCraft in the late 1990s South Korea was building up its online infrastructure and creating the fastest internet in the world”. Because of its booming popularity, many gaming leagues for StarCraft held in Korea every year, such as the MBCgame Starleague. It is even enjoyed by top Korean entertainers, such as Super Junior’s KyuHyun, who is an avid fan of StarCraft.
You can read more about the StarCraft craze from these articles: http://kotaku.com/5595262/why-is-starcraft-so-popular-in-korea and http://articles.cnn.com/2010-07-27/tech/south.korea.starcraft_1_starcraft-ii-gaming-market-internet-cafes?_s=PM:TECH
In Korea, education is a vital part of life. It is one of the most important and valuable to asset to oneself. Everyone wants to be educated as much as they can be, and anyone who isn’t is not worth much. This is because everyone in Korea holds education in high regard. The education system in Korea consists of 6 years in primary school, 3 years in middle school, 3 years in high school and finally 4 years in college. Compared to Singapore’s education system, their middle school would be our secondary school, high school similar to the junior colleges we have here, and college would be the equivalent of the universities here. This system is very similar to that of Japan’s.
(Structure of the Korean Education System, 1991)
However, the interesting thing about the Korean education system is that it does not follow the education hierarchy completely. On a normal basis, the standard and difficulty should increase as one graduates and advances into a higher level on the education hierarchy. Yet, it is proven that many students in Korea find high school life the most taxing as compared to college life. This is probably because most parents pin their hopes on their children to get into a good college, causing competition to be stiff and fierce when taking college entrance exams. It is also not easy to get into a college due to limited spaces available in each college and the limited number of colleges that are present in Korea itself. The college entrance exams, also known as College Scholastic Ability Test (Su-neung) has five sections: Korean Language/Reading, Mathematics, English, various ‘elective’ subjects in the social and physical sciences, and Foreign Languages or Chinese Characters and Classics.
For those interested, you can read this article that writes about Korean college students’ lives. http://www.suite101.com/content/recipe-for-success-or-not-a16232
Korean college students may be blindly working hard to trudge forward through their college lives just for that piece of certification, and this kind of scenario does not only happen in Korea. We can see it in Singapore as well. However, the cruelty of reality leaves students with no choice but to continue forth until they get recognized with their certification in the ever competitive working world.
The main language spoken and written in Korea is the Korean Language, which belongs to the Altaic language family. There are various dialects in the Korean Language as well, but the language is generally understood everywhere in Korea. However, the Jeju dialect is one that may be challenging to understand for some Koreans as well, because of how different it sounds and how it is used. The Korean Language has been considered to be the best and most well-planned languages in history as well. The alphabet system, Hangeul, was created by King Sejong in 1446 during the Joseon Dynasty. It is also because of Hangeul that the literacy level in Korea increased.
What makes Hangeul so interesting and special is that both artistic and scientific considerations were put into place to design every single alphabet. However, the most influential aspect in the process would probably refer to the oriental philosophies, including concepts such as the Yin and Yang, Ohaeng (The Five Elements) and Cheonjin (Heaven, Earth and Man). Yin and Yang talks about the constant interaction of natural opposites, such as light and dark, hot and cold. This leads to the result of the rule in writing Hangeul that every vowel must be accompanied by a consonant to make a syllable in Korean. For the other philosophies, you can read more at: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/CU/CU_EN_9_9_1_5.jsp
Many Koreans also study English as a second language. It is taught in schools as well. In Korea itself, signboards are usually in both Hangeul and English. This is to assist foreigners in navigation, as well as encouraging the locals to pick up English in their daily lives.