The Hal­lyu Ef­fect - Korean pop cul­ture takes over UB

The UB Post - - Front Page - By LAURA BUB

Try­ing to find her pre­sumed dead love, Jung Yoo-Jin (played by Korean ac­tress Choi Ji-Woo) runs across the air­port, des­per­ately look­ing around, while Ryu Shi Won’s song “From the be­gin­ning un­til now” is dra­mat­i­cally un­der­lin­ing the scene. Af­ter a race against time un­til Lee Min-Hyung (por­trayed by Bae Yong-Jun) boards the plane, she fi­nally spots the man, who can do noth­ing but catch the ex­hausted women, as she stum­bles into his arms. With the words: “I am sorry I didn’t rec­og­nize you!” she hugs him tightly, tears rolling down both their cheeks. And that is the mo­ment when nearly all of the Mon­go­lian view­ers at home started to tear up in front of their TV.

This popular TV drama called “Win­ter Sonata”, is known, and loved by thou­sands of Mon­go­lians. The 20part KBS se­ries, pro­duced and filmed in South Korea, aired in 2002 and was met with im­mense ad­mi­ra­tion in sev­eral Asian coun­tries. The touch­ing story about first love and destiny, di­rected by Yoon Seok-ho, was a gi­ant hit and started to spread the pop­u­lar­ity of Korean TV shows around Asia. Ever since, Mon­go­lians have been go­ing crazy about “Win­ter Sonata” and fol­low­ing drama se­ries. Ma­jor Mon­go­lian TV chan­nels show Korean se­ries and movies daily, pin­ing peo­ple down in front of their TVs dur­ing the usual show times.

Since then, Korean cul­ture has been cap­tur­ing Asia by storm. The lik­a­bil­ity of Korean en­ter­tain­ment, prod­ucts and cul­ture has been spread­ing across borders since the mid 1990s, way be­fore Korean en­ter­tainer PSY drew the world’s at­ten­tion to South Korea with his popular song “Gang­nam Style” in 2012.

“Hal­lyu” is the term that jour­nal­ists firstly used to de­scribe the pow­er­ful ef­fect of the steadily in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the Korean en­ter­tain­ment world out­side of Korea. Hal­lyu ba­si­cally trans­lates to “Korean wave”, re­fer­ring to the Korean cul­ture sweep­ing over Asia and the rest of the world like a gi­ant

...Big Korean agen­cies pro­duce boy or girl groups, which are trained in sing­ing, rap­ping and syn­chro­nized danc­ing, pub­lish­ing catchy

songs and col­or­ful mu­sic videos, aim­ing to gain a huge fan­base, usu­ally suc­cess­fully...

wave. Hal­lyu does mainly de­scribe the Korean en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, such as TV shows, movies and drama se­ries. A dif­fer­ent en­ter­tain­ment sec­tor that be­came quite popular out­side

of its coun­try of origin is Korean pop mu­sic, or K-pop, a mu­sic genre that de­spite its name com­bines dif­fer­ent styles of mu­sic in­clud­ing not only pop but also rock, R&B and hiphop mu­sic. K-pop mainly catches at­ten­tion through its va­ri­ety of au­dio­vi­sual el­e­ments. Big Korean agen­cies pro­duce boy or girl groups, which are trained in sing­ing, rap­ping and syn­chro­nized danc­ing, pub­lish­ing catchy songs and col­or­ful mu­sic videos, aim­ing to gain a huge fan­base, usu­ally suc­cess­fully. Be­ing unique and a lit­tle ex­tra­or­di­nary, K-pop is reach­ing con­stantly grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity all around the world.

The in­flu­ence of Korean en­ter­tain­ment on the Mon­go­lian pop­u­la­tion can be seen in the in­creased con­sump­tion of Korean goods. Makeup and cos­metic prod­ucts used by the main ac­tress of a popular Korean drama; clothes worn by Korean singers; any prod­uct -- may it be smart­phones, food or per­fumes -- as long as it is ad­ver­tised by a Korean celebrity, it is safe to be­come a big hit. Korean cui­sine has cap­tured peo­ples’ taste with its spici­ness and va­ri­ety. The ad­vanced Korean cos­metic in­dus­try en­joys pop­u­lar­ity all around the globe, and of course, elec­tron­i­cal prod­ucts made by Korean brands like Sam­sung are lead­ing the world mar­ket.

Mon­go­lia fell for Hal­lyu, just as many other coun­tries did. While I was walk­ing down the streets of Ulaan­baatar for the first time as a for­eigner, I ex­pected to see mainly Mon­go­lian places. I was sur­prised by what I ac­tu­ally found. Korean restau­rants, Korean cof­fee shops, Korean gro­cery stores, Korean cos­metic shops, beauty and hair sa­lons and karaoke bars ev­ery­where, Korean mu­sic blar­ing at me from in­side stores or cars, and Korean prod­ucts oc­cu­py­ing main parts of the aisles in Mon­go­lian su­per­mar­kets. It is con­spic­u­ous that Korean places are out­num­ber­ing those of other coun­tries by a large mar­gin.

Es­pe­cially the younger gen­er­a­tion has been com­pletely cap­tured by the Korean wave. When talk­ing to Mon­go­lian ado­les­cences, they get ex­cited at the men­tion of Korean pop cul­ture. Al­most ev­ery­one has at least seen a Korean drama or has some friends that are into Korean en­ter­tain­ment. Th­ese days the fan­tasy drama “Goblin” from 2016 is fa­mous among young peo­ple. Male lead Gong Yoo tries to stop his im­mor­tal life as a goblin by find­ing a hu­man bride. A ro­man­tic story with a tip of magic that lured view­ers in front of their screens ev­ery night. It is the in­ven­tive and ad­dict­ing story plots that fas­ci­nates Mon­go­lian view­ers.

“Korean dra­mas show things, that don’t hap­pen in real life,” men­tions a 21-old stu­dent when asked about her fa­vorite drama “Goblin”.

Not only the dra­mas but also K-pop gets a lot of at­ten­tion among young Mon­go­lians. For ex­am­ple, while sit­ting in a cafe I no­ticed the walls were cov­ered in lit­tle mes­sages, which vis­i­tors left there, and I spot­ted more than once names of Korean singers and bands, such as EXO, Big Bang or Got7. The Korean boy­band BTS, who gained in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion af­ter re­ceiv­ing a bill­board mu­sic award in the USA, is prob­a­bly the most popular. Young Mon­go­lians like the fresh, col­or­ful and ex­tra­or­di­nary style of the bands.

“The girl groups are so cute and the mem­bers of the boy groups are very hand­some,” states a group of girls in their early twen­ties, when I ask them what they like about K-Pop. They ad­mit that they try to em­u­late the Korean celebri­ties’ fash­ion and when you look around the streets, you can ac­tu­ally see a lot of young peo­ple dress­ing sim­i­lar to the Korean style.

But how did the Korean in­flu­ence start to en­ter the Mon­go­lian life­style?

Start­ing with dra­mas like “Win­ter Sonata”, the Mon­go­lian in­ter­est in Korea has in­creased enor­mously over the last decades. Many young Mon­go­lians want to learn more about the Korean cul­ture and lan­guage so that they can un­der­stand what their fa­vorite stars are say­ing, with­out be­ing de­pended on Mon­go­lian sub­ti­tles or dub­bing. There­fore, dozens of Mon­go­lian uni­ver­si­ties have cre­ated a Korean stud­ies de­part­ment with more and more young Mon­go­lians start­ing to ma­jor in Korean stud­ies. Even ele­men­tary and sec­ondary school stu­dents can start learn­ing the Korean lan­guage as Korea is one of the most de­vel­oped coun­tries in the world to­day.

More­over, Mon­go­lians started go­ing to South Korea to find work since 1997. Such la­bor im­mi­gra­tion has been at­trac­tive to many Mon­go­lians due to the high un­em­ploy­ment rate in Mon­go­lia at the time. When the Korean govern­ment started ex­e­cut­ing an em­ploy­ment per­mit sys­tem in 2003 as a re­ac­tion to high la­bor short­age, al­low­ing em­ploy­ers to legally hire for­eign work­ers, the num­bers of Mon­go­lians mov­ing to Korea to work in­creased even more. Work­ing in South Korea, sav­ing money and send­ing it back home to their fam­i­lies has be­come an im­por­tant source of in­come to this na­tion.

To work in Korea, the Korea Lan­guage Pro­fi­ciency Test (KLPT) has to be suc­cess­fully taken. Within the last years, many Mon­go­lians have taken the KLPT or the TOPIK, the Test of Pro­fi­ciency in Korean. The num­ber of peo­ple tak­ing the TOPIK has even ex­ceeded those of tak­ing the of­fi­cial English test, the TOEFL.

Be­sides la­bor im­mi­gra­tion, study­ing abroad has be­come a popular op­tion among Mon­go­lian stu­dents. With over 5,000 Mon­go­lian stu­dents in Korea in 2016, Korea has be­come the num­ber one des­ti­na­tion for study­ing abroad. The low study ex­penses and the ris­ing love of the Korean pop cul­ture, spread by Hal­lyu, makes Korea an at­trac­tive coun­try to many young Mon­go­lians. No mat­ter who you ask, al­most ev­ery­one knows a friend or fam­ily mem­ber who has been to Korea for one of the rea­sons men­tioned above, or they have even been there them­selves.

Since nu­mer­ous Mon­go­lians have been to Korea, they, of course, brought parts of Korean cul­ture back with them when re­turn­ing home, pop­u­lar­iz­ing Korean prod­ucts around Mon­go­lia and open­ing restau­rants and stores to share what they liked in Korea in their home coun­try.

And this is how step by step, a smaller ver­sion of Korea has es­tab­lished it­self in Ulaan­baatar, and young Mon­go­lians, com­pletely taken by the ef­fect of Hal­lyu, are en­thu­si­as­ti­cally wel­com­ing it with arms wide open.

How­ever, is this lim­it­less en­thu­si­asm go­ing too far? The gi­ant im­pact of Hal­lyu on Mon­go­lians’ ev­ery­day life has started to be­come a con­cern, es­pe­cially to the older gen­er­a­tion.

The suc­cess of Korean dra­mas is based on the high qual­ity, skill­ful plot con­struc­tions and of course the ac­tor’s flaw­less ap­pear­ances. The im­age of Korean celebri­ties shows a strict stan­dard of beauty, in­clud­ing per­fect fa­cial and body fea­tures, on-point make up and a great fash­ion style, cre­at­ing an at­trac­tive­ness that forms a lit­eral wor­ship of Korean celebri­ties by ded­i­cated fans. Not only the con­sume of ad­ver­tised Korean prod­ucts but also the ea­ger try of em­u­lat­ing their fa­vorite Korean stars shows the ob­ses­sion of many young peo­ple with Korean pop cul­ture. As men­tioned be­fore, main parts of ev­ery­day life have been af­fected by the in­flu­ence of Korean dra­mas. What peo­ple eat, what they wear, even their val­ues and be­hav­ior have ex­tremely adapted to what is shown on TV.

This is where cit­i­zens’ con­cerns come in. Korean cul­ture seems to have com­pletely tak­ing over younger peo­ples’ minds. Not only are they mov­ing away from Mon­go­lia’s own tra­di­tional cul­ture by im­i­tat­ing what they see on TV but also the val­ues that most of the dra­mas im­part, are far from what should be an ap­pro­pri­ate way of think­ing. While some dra­mas do sup­port fem­i­nism through a strong fe­male lead, there are also se­ries which por­tray women as in­fe­rior, fo­cused on beauty and de­pended on strong man to safe them. Find­ing a hus­band seems to be the main rea­son in life and school is def­i­nitely not more im­por­tant than chas­ing af­ter your crush.

One of the main prob­lems are the un­re­al­is­tic story plots of K-dra­mas, which make them so ad­dict­ing and fun to watch, but also rise peo­ples’ ex­pec­ta­tions into un­re­al­is­tic di­men­sions. Rich, hand­some men fall­ing in love with poor, spite­ful women (who seem to have money for noth­ing but the lat­est smart­phone) and evil step­moth­ers who cause ter­ri­ble ac­ci­dents, send­ing at least two to three peo­ple to the hos­pi­tal each episode but luck­ily ev­ery dis­ease can be healed with a sim­ple surgery. It is sto­ries like this that make K-dra­mas so popular among the younger gen­er­a­tion, who are hop­ing for a dream­like fu­ture, but it also leads them to an un­re­al­is­tic ideas of life, mak­ing them loose fo­cus and con­trol of their real, not-so­drama-like life.

Another big con­cern is the in­creased pop­u­lar­ity of plas­tic surgery, which has been a big trend in South Korea for sev­eral years, and this trend is spread­ing over the borders. More and more young peo­ple are go­ing to Seoul or hos­pi­tals in their own coun­try to get a sur­gi­cal treat­ment, hop­ing to look even more like their fa­vorite Korean celebri­ties or fit into the Korean beauty stan­dard. This step is not only a dan­ger­ous in­ter­ven­tion but also threat­en­ing a key el­e­ment of the Mon­go­lian cul­ture: their looks.

Avoid­ing Hal­lyu is prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble, es­pe­cially in Ulan­baatar. Start­ing from the count­less Korean restau­rants and cof­fee shops on the street and the stores sell­ing tons of Korean prod­ucts, to the TV chan­nels that are mer­ci­lessly show­ing Korean TV shows con­tin­u­ously. Al­though con­cerns and com­plaints are get­ting louder, Korean en­ter­tain­ment is still too popular and an im­por­tant in­come source for TV chan­nels to shut the broad­cast­ing of K-drama com­pletely down.

Mon­go­lians are wor­ried that the in­creas­ing ob­ses­sion with any­thing re­lated to Korea is en­dan­ger­ing their own cul­ture. Younger peo­ple are spend­ing way too much time in front of TV and com­puter screens, ad­mir­ing for­eign celebri­ties and a for­eign cul­ture, for­get­ting about or even push­ing aside their own. Young Mon­go­lians in­vest a huge amount of time and money into their ob­ses­sion with Hal­lyu, ne­glect­ing school, stud­ies or work.

“When I look around, I feel like it’s get­ting a lit­tle too much,” ad­mits a Mon­go­lian stu­dent. “Many of my friends are go­ing crazy over K-pop groups or drama se­ries. They try very hard to look like them. It’s kind of ob­ses­sive.”

Even be­ing able to see the im­pact, Mon­go­lians do not stop im­i­tat­ing the Korean cul­ture, not sens­ing how it slowly starts to re­place the Mon­go­lian.

While Hal­lyu at first seems like a harm­less and fun in­sight into the Korean cul­ture, pro­mot­ing in­ter­cul­tural re­la­tion­ships, it also comes with a dark side that can be seen as a threat to one’s per­sonal cul­ture, cap­ti­vat­ing the younger gen­er­a­tion. What if by try­ing too hard to be Korean you start to lose your real na­tional iden­tity? Can the love for another cul­ture make you forget to be proud of be­ing Mon­go­lian?

If Hal­lyu is just an en­ter­tain­ing trend or an ac­tual cul­tural thread is still de­bat­able, and even though the grow­ing in­flu­ence should be watched closely, there is noth­ing wrong with en­joy­ing an episode of “Goblin” while having some Korean kim­chi stew.

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