LKL at 10 years: what has changed?

London Korean Links went online 10 years ago, on 1 March 2006. What has changed over that time, and how might things change over the next 10 years?

Choi Jeong-hwa's design for the KCCUK reception area
Choi Jeong-hwa’s design for the KCCUK reception area. The KCCUK is one of the new fixtures in the cultural landscape over the last 10 years.

For a start, there’s more of everything. More people following Korean culture in London, more events to follow. When London Korean Links started, it was a reasonable goal to aim to cover every Korea-related event in London. Now it would be impossible – there’s just too much of it all. But what else has changed? And what hasn’t? Here’s a random list of things which stand out, though each bullet deserves a detailed essay in its own right.

Technology

One thing that strikes me is how technology has advanced over the 10 years. Back in May 2006 I didn’t even have a digital camera and had to make do with the camera on my smartphone. Even sitting a few yards away from Lee Soo-young the best I could manage was this:

Lee Soo-young in May 2006 at the Fairfield Hall in Croydon
Lee Soo-young in May 2006 at the Fairfield Hall in Croydon

Ten years on I have a pocket digital camera and a DLSR. But on the many occasions I find myself without either, a mobile phone can now take passable pics, for example this of Han Kang at Foyles in January 2016:

Han Kang with Philippe Sands at Foyles on 13 January
Han Kang with Philippe Sands at Foyles on 13 January (photo: LKL)

Industrialisation

Defector memoirs published in 2015
Defector memoirs published in 2015. Maybe there were more…

There’s been increase in scale in so many areas, for example:

  • Coverage of North Korea – yes there have always been and still are plenty of excellent sites out there covering the field, but the arrival of NKNews.org, and the associated coverage in The Guardian, has consolidated and expanded the reporting. Similarly the arrival of eahrnk.org has focused our attention on the human rights issues
  • Defector memoirs – at a rough count there were five published last year alone. How many can the market absorb?
  • Hallyu and K-pop / celebrity websites – if you go anywhere near such sites you could probably spend all day keeping up with their content
  • K-pop generally – how many idol bands are now launched every year? And so far, there seems to be room for them all.

The rise and fall of the blog

  • Those who maintain the list of K-blogs are better qualified than me to comment, but I think ten years ago there was still an upwards trend in the number of bloggers. Now, I’m sure the numbers must be in decline.
  • The end of the Marmot – not just the discontinuation of new content but the removal of all past content – was big news. Roboseyo has a good article on the topic.
  • Nowadays a lot of the content and discussion has dispersed onto other platforms such as Facebook, tumblr and Instagram.
  • More encouragingly, a lot of the discussion is in real life – meet-ups, book groups, dance workshops mean that people are sharing their enthusiasm with other people face to face. The downside, though, is that those who can’t get to the events can’t share in what was discussed as the discussions aren’t always reported on. That’s a particular shame when it comes to the book groups. Videos of the event are a reasonable second best (it’s great to have a lot of the RASKB discussions online) but for the time-poor it’s even better to have an article that summarises the interesting points.

The move to mainstream?

Yogiyo sauces
Coming soon to Sainsburys: Yogiyo’s Korea-inspired sauces

Not quite. Korean culture in the UK is still niche but here’s a few things to point out:

  • The growth in Korean food, particularly street food, in London and elsewhere (a shout-out to Kimchi Cult in Glasgow here)
  • Increased size and knowledge of the Korean film audience (I still cringe with embarrassment at the shallowness of the questions asked by audience and moderators at screenings in the early noughties).
  • High-profile coverage of (some) Korean literature in translation in mainstream media: Han Kang and Shin Kyung-sook certainly have done their bit to raise the profile of Korean literature.
  • Easier access to TV Dramas. Alice was always going to have a struggle persuading the BBC to buy the rights to Dae Jang Geum, but with the arrival of Netflix and Dramafever you don’t need terrestrial TV any more. There’s no longer a battle to fight.
  • The ease of global access to K-pop and K-indie through iTunes and SoundCloud. While it’s nice to have CDs or even vinyl, access to digital is easy.
  • The increased frequency of K-pop and hip-hop acts performing in London, and the speed with which the tickets sell.

Organisation?

I’d like to say that there’s more organisation, co-operation and publicity than 10 years ago. On the plus side, there’s definitely more publicity – Facebook helps. And of course the opening of the KCC in 2008 has provided a focus.

Im Heung-soon at Tate Modern
We went to see Im Heung-soon on 19 September 2015, so didn’t get to see Bae Doo-na

But possibly because of the growth in Korean culture there are ever more events and thus an increasing likelihood of clashes. Tomorrow, for example, Joo Yeon Sir’s St John’s Smith Square debut clashes with the opening PV of an exhibition by two Korean artists at the RCA. And last year we had an appearance of Bae Doo-na for a screening and Q+A clashing with an appearance by Venice Silver Lion winner Im Heung-soon at Tate Modern. No fault with the organisers, because the likelihood of someone (apart from LKL) wanting to go to both is pretty slim, but still it’s an indication of the increased quantity of events.

Without doubt, there’s more of everything for everyone – meetups, lectures, campaigning events, workshops, performances, exhibitions. And if you can’t get to it all, that’s probably a good thing.

Koreans in London

The Babbling Comedy team do their Abbey Road impersonation in Kingston
The Babbling Comedy team do their Abbey Road impersonation in Kingston in 2015 – along with New Malden the main centre for Koreans new London
  • Thanks to the short-sighted changes to the UK visa rules, the student art scene seems less vigorous than it was a few years ago. Instead of being able to stay in the UK after their degree for two years, students now have to go back to Korea immediately. Fewer exhibitions, fewer opportunities for galleries. The last big group show (that used to be annual) was in 2014.
  • The Korean “community” in Kingston / New Malden now seems to be Korean “communities” and consequently less cohesive. For example,
  • One segment of the Korean community has however become more distinct – the community of North Korean escapees, now with its own help centre.

What could happen over the next 10 years?

More a wishlist than a set of predictions:

  • I hope there will be a continued investment in Korean Literature in Translation. And while on that topic…
  • I hope publishers of translated Korean literature in general improve their publicity arrangements (Dalkey’s most recent releases had none that we noticed) and Asia Publishers do what they need to do to ensure their publications are easily available in Europe.
  • I hope that, while China will employ its financial muscle to promote its soft power at the expense of Korea’s (much as its ships and mobile phones have been edging out Korean market share), content from the plucky underdog will continue to thrive.
  • I hope that Korean artists will continue to come to London to study, despite the the high costs here. It’s a great city to be.
  • I hope I will be able to free up space in my house by throwing out most of my DVDs, because there will be a much bigger range (especially including back catalogue) of subtitled movies available for legal streaming.
  • I hope Jeju-do will backtrack on its current course which is headed towards the island becoming a concreted-over theme park for foreign tourists (with a naval base attached)
  • I hope London Korean Links will still be here to update you on all the above.

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