The Kingston Korean Festival (14 August this year), timed to take place as close as possible to Korea’s Independence Day on 15 August, is always at the mercy of the British summer weather. We all knew that rain was likely at some point during the day, and when there were a few spots during the War Veterans’ march-past we hoped that that was it. The sun came out during the ambassador’s opening speech, and it looked like we were set for a fine day.
As usual, the Fairfield recreation ground was lined with stalls selling clothes, bric-a-brac and second hand books. And of course there was the generous selection of food stalls to choose from. Hyundai and Kia were there displaying their latest vehicles, and the Residents Association were conducting a raffle with free return flights to Seoul as the prize. The local fire brigade and police were also there – and the local police chief announced that the force now had hits first Korean special constable.
Among the more unusual exhibitors were an Indian Yoga group and a guitar-toting representative of the Kingston Environmental Centre. The Earth’s getting hotter / The seas are getting high / We gotta do something or we’re all gonna die, he sang, to a jolly tune. He was soon drowned out by the feisty sound of Bomi Lee singing some great songs from the musicals. She introduced her numbers in a strange fusion of Korean and North London English – she’s married to a Londoner but sadly (for London audiences) she will be returning to Korea soon to pursue her stage career there.
The Gershwin Gang from Cheshire followed with an varied collection of songs from earlier in the century – an entertaining set, but not one with any perceivable Korean connection. We moved on to traditional performances: dance, court music, folk music and more.
MC duties were split between Shin Bona of New Malden’s Theatre For All, who organise the artistic elements of the New Malden festival, and Korean comedian Hansimi. “Beautiful music, beautiful costume. Shame about your ugly face,” he quipped to Professor Yang Seong-pil after his daegeum sanjo performance. I’m sure it sounded more appropriate in the original Korean.
The audience were warming up nicely. During a lively Arirang, some of the ajummas started dancing. Our comic dragged the liveliest one on stage where she wiggled her hips suggestively. She was rewarded by a chivalrous kiss on the hand from one of the war veterans.
Soon it was the moment that all the youngsters (and some not so young) had been waiting for: the dance performance from the Korean HipHop Team. Suddenly the area in front of stage was packed with Korean teenagers.
And then the heavens opened.
The dancers did their best to overcome the weather, and the audience cheered them on, but you can’t help thinking that their performance would have been more lively if the stage hadn’t been so wet. The hapkido team which followed suffered more than a few bumps and bruises as they lost their footing. Later, some Korean yodellers would have to compete against the sound of the downpour.
But as ever the event was a good opportunity to meet new friends, enjoy lots of free entertainment and sample the range of food available.