Sunday, 23 February 2014

Asia's new kingdom of cool

K-POP has been a good vehicle to introduce South Korea to the world, says self-professed Korea-phile Daniel Tudor.

“So you like this boy band? There is a whole country connected to them, why don’t you learn something about it too? This is what I want say to the young people with my next book A Geek In Korea,” he enthuses, though quick to deny he is a fan of K-pop.

A Geek in Korea by former The Economist correspondent to South Korea Daniel Tudor. Pic courtesy of Tuttle Publishing


What he wants is for the fans to look beyond the saccharine tunes and hair products.

“If you visit Korea for a K-pop concert, after the show or after you get tired of waiting in front of the artist management companies, you should try and explore the other interesting things about Korea,” he adds.

With its subtitle Discovering Asia’s New Kingdom Of Cool, A Geek In Korea gives you bite-sized fun snippets, the A to Z about South Korea: from its identity to its Internet mania, from pop culture to subcultures, and the author’s own favourite places in the country.

This is not a travel guide, though, he insists: “It is more of a culture guide and is complementary to a guidebook. It’s for people who have some curiosity about Korea because they have heard some Korean pop song, or watched some Korean television show.”

Take the chapters on Beauty And Plastic Surgery and The Rise Of The Pretty Boy, for example. They are not only illuminating for those who find the growing craze for Korean celebrities mind-boggling; those who are already fans of the perfectly-sculpted personalities can also learn something new.

Then there are the food sections, which give handy tidbits of information about what to eat in South Korea for those who are not familiar with the cuisine.

What makes this Geek guide a good read is Tudor’s love for the subject, which shows through in his irreverent but totally insightful take on life there.

This is especially obvious when he talks about his favourite non-K-pop music stars, especially Kim Yoon-ah, the lead singer of one of the most successful Korean indie bands, Jaurim.

“What many K-pop fans are not aware of is that there is more than the manufactured pop genre in Korea. The music industry is so rich with diverse music scenes and one of the best places to check them out is Hongdae.”

The heartland of youth culture in Seoul, Hongdae is home to many small music clubs and cafes that hold live music events and gigs for the different music genres, from hip hop to rock, electronic to reggae. Free open-air shows are also a regular feature of this area.

Of course, a chapter on South Korean music would not be complete without 2012’s biggest global star, Psy, who Tudor also interviewed for his book. Was he surprised that Psy’s Gangnam Style became such a worldwide hit?

“Psy himself was surprised,” Tudor quips. “But it was great that someone like him became famous because he showed people that Korea’s not what they thought it was. Before Psy, the common image of Korea was industrial, concrete and boring. Psy showed that Korea is modern and fun.”

> A Geek In Korea will be out in major bookstores by June.

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Tags / Keywords: World , Lifestyle , Guide on South Korean culture


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