A visit to New Malden’s 2019 Korean Independence Day celebrations

Korean Festival
Photos: Ashok Patel. For more photos visit the event’s Facebook page

Having arrived back in town from the Edinburgh Fringe around midnight the previous evening, I was never going to make it to the 11am speeches and other formalities that kick off the traditional Korean Independence Day celebrations in New Malden. But it was clear that there had been a good turnout: by the time I arrived at 2pm the food stalls were pretty much out of food, the local tea-room / bingsu place was overflowing with customers, and there was a scrum to get into the Methodist Church where the K-pop cover performances were about to take place. There was no chance of getting in. It was survival of the fittest, and I was feeling in need of food, so I took refuge at one of the last tables available in a local restaurant, joining the Sewol silent protestors.

Maro
Maro with dancers from the local Korean community

The expanded celebrations this year – which included cookery demonstrations and hanbok stalls in the square just outside the railway station – had certainly brought business to the local refreshment industry. But I was more interested in getting into the church to see what was going on. Health-and-safety conscious volunteers were wisely regulating entry into the church, where it was standing room only, and you could only enter when other people left to make space. Fortunately, after the first set of K-pop performances a handful of younger audience members left and I managed to sneak in during a lively but all too brief set by the Jeju Island traditional performing group Maro – who used to be a fairly regular attraction at the Edinburgh Fringe. For a while they were joined by a group of elegantly dressed senior citizens from the New Malden area Korean community performing a traditional dance. I wish I had been able to see more. This was followed by the senior citizens’ choir performing lyric songs, and a dance performance by two North Korean exiles in the character of Chunhyang and Mongryong, to the sound of Sarang, Sarang nae Sarang. Yes, this was not a programme you could witness in many parts of the world.

A North Korean dance duo
A North Korean dance duo as Chunhyang and Mongryong

There’s plenty of photos and brief videos of some of the action I missed, over on the Facebook event page. Here’s the most substantial video, of Maro performing a rustic arirang.

The event was ably compered by Wook Kim and Mihaela, to an enthusiastic audience. Such events are difficult to predict, with acts tending to overrun. It was not entirely clear for how long things were going to continue or what was coming next, so after a lively dance performance (I think I recognised numbers by Brown Eyed Girls and 2NE1 among others) by the winners of last year’s Changwon world K-pop finals, I retired back to base to catch up with the backlog of writing. Here’s another group performing:

The celebrations were in New Malden High Street and Methodist Church on Saturday 17 August, the nearest weekend to 15 August, Korea’s Independence Day. Expect more festivities among the Korean community on Saturday 14 September in Kingston market square to celebrate Chuseok / Korean Harvest Festival, and more K-pop on 26 October with the UK K-pop finals. Kimchi-making will return to New Malden on 23 September for the 2019 grand finale of the Kimjang: Making and Sharing Kimchi Project.

On a slightly sour note, perhaps given the current state of Japan-Korea relations at the moment it should have been no surprise that anti-Japan flyers were being handed out to attendees (sample attached). Here’s hoping that by next year neighbourly relationship will be more cordial.

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