By Matthew Jackson
The Korean section of the Thames Festival 2008 was bigger, more spectacular and altogether more chaotic than the ‘Sarangbang’ of last year. When I showed up on the Saturday afternoon, I was introduced to a traditional Korean game which involved throwing sticks at a target, as one of the sticks narrowly avoided my head. I was in Korea alright.
A sizeable stage had been set up, on which the three main acts were scheduled to perform. Stationed as I was in the Korean Cultural Centre stall handing out leaflets and books, I was ideally positioned to see 5% of the stage. In the case of the champion breakdancing crew, Last for One, this meant watching the upper half of one of the members juddering slightly in time with the beat, and periodically being replaced by a pair of waving legs. I consequently spent the majority of the time watching the audience’s reaction. The reaction was highly positive, and ‘Jump’ seemed to be the biggest hit. It was good to see an overwhelming majority of non-Koreans.
In addition to the performances, and the lethal but entertaining stick throwing game, there were two Korean food stalls. I gathered that the second, non-paying stall was run by the Korean Institute of Cultural Properties, offering free samples of grape punch, pan fried rice cakes, and kimchi pancakes, which were very popular and, now I come to think of it, probably the best way to try kimchi for the first time.
A potential low point was avoided when two official persons with flourescent overalls and round-the-neck security tags approached the KCC stall and enquired who was responsible for the stick throwing game. Braced for a volley of Health and Safety clauses and sub-clauses, and the threat of having the whole Korean section shut down, it turned out that one of the officials was trying to find out where he could buy a set of sticks for himself. “Just one!” he pleaded as Stephanie Kim explained that they were only available in Korea and she was not at liberty to sell him the specially-imported set.
Ramy Salameh, a KTO member who was standing next to me, explained how the challenge for Korean marketers is to find an iconic item that people will instantly associate with Korea, as they associate the Twin Towers with Dubai. With events like these, it seems hard to believe that Korea will remain ‘unassociated’ for long.
- Chuseok special in the September 2008 edition of Korea Magazine