One of the great things about London Korean Links is that it offers a gateway to Korea for non-Koreans like myself who take comfort in the fact the editor, Philip Gowman, comes at the country from a familiar perspective.
There was a glorious sense of understatement about the book launch of the new book, ‘Royal Ancestors and Ancient Remedies – A brief journey through Korea’s heritage’, written by Philip and featuring the LKL brand. The evening was hosted in the reassuringly pleasant surroundings of the Korean Cultural Centre, followed by an ample buffet of Korean food, and the presence of the Director of the Centre himself.
In the talk, which lasted a little under an hour, the audience were guided through the story of Philip’s interest in Korea, and his nine day trip to Korea funded by the Korean Culture and Information Service, which formed the basis of the book itself.
Refreshing for concentrating on many sights and aspects of Korea which would have been unfamiliar to his audience, the talk covered some of the places visited in the trip’s packed schedule, including the experience of the Jongmyo Rituals, a meeting with the legendary kayageum artist Byung Hwang-ki, an interview with the manager of the pop band Sorea, and a stint at a Buddhist temple.
The book itself, (currently only available from the KCC, but which will hopefully be on Amazon.co.uk soon), is roughly 200 pages long, and packed with observations, anecdotes and photographs. It would be difficult to do it justice in a formal review, let alone this post, particularly after only a cursory glance, but those familiar with Philip’s writing style will probably not require much in the way of persuading. It is brief enough to be ideal for a first-time visitor to Korea, and informed enough to educate the seasoned Korean traveller.
With five years of LKL behind him, it is difficult to imagine a more seasoned or more qualified author for such a book. It is also hard to imagine a more apt subject for a book on Korea in the UK, given that the media focus on Korea remains myopically trained on the gloom of the North. In response to a question asked at the end, he summed up his interest in Korea in terms of the way that as a culture it has been able to re-invent itself with true respect for its past, one of the many paradoxes of Korea familiar to its devotees.
I particularly appreciated the round-up of contemporary, UK-focussed Korean news that came at the end. Despite being very into Korea, I was unaware that the Saatchi Gallery holds an exhibition of Korean artists every year, that the V&A is about to hold a 3-month exhibition of Korean ceramics, that Priest 3D is based on a Korean Manhwa, that Kyung Sook Shin’s recently translated book ‘Please Look After Mother’ is to be featured on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, or that the ‘divine’ Nigella Lawson uses Gochujang in two of the recipes of her new cookbook.
LKL represents a rare intersection between the UK and Korea, both a repository of data and a means for those interested in Korea to connect. At the launch I met Kay (aka Saharial) and had my first proper discussion with an expert on K-pop and Korean dramas, which was a treat for me and made possible by the medium of London Korean Links, to which we both contribute.
It occurred to me afterwards that this launch event represented more than just what the title of the event might imply. The book itself is not just a travelogue covering a nine-day journey, but a cumulation of the work done by Philip through LKL since 2006. His tirelessness and dedication is beyond what one might expect, and reminds me very much of the dedication of Koreans, which has struck me as both bewildering and inspiring.
Philip ensured that the spotlight was kept firmly on Korea for the evening, but on behalf of a Koreophile Brit who has been greatly helped by the presence of LKL, and the many others who have benefited from the site, I would like to say a big thank you to Philip for all he has done.