Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Taiwan Loves Korea

Cool piece in today's NYT about how Korean TV dramas are becoming more popular than Japanese shows in places like Taiwan and China.

It's a bit of a shock to the old Hermit Kingdom, but it makes perfect sense to me...

I lived in South Korea back in 1997, and I can tell you that their aesthetic travels well: flashy clothing, sentimental drama, humor that can be offbeat but not very dry.
Add a young generation that's healthy (and so pretty good-looking) and highly packaged pop stars and actors (referred to as "talents"), and you've got instant export culture.

Another advantage is that Korean pop culture isn't, well, weird like in Japan. Japanese pop culture all seems to involve some grab bag of infantilization of women, nonconsensual intercourse, genetic mutation and nuclear explosions. And ninjas.
Not exactly telenovela material.

Korea's circumstances are also much more like Taiwan's than Japan-- Korea was the much crapped-upon colony of Japan, Taiwan the "little brother" colony. But both are full of smart, hard-working people and each has a big chip on its shoulder about its status in the region.

On a more personal note [cue oxytocin], this quote reminded me of an interaction I had back in my expat days:

To South Koreans like Kim Hyun Kyung, a director at Cheil Communications, an advertising agency in Seoul, feeling the reach of their culture for the first time was surprising. In 2001, during a trip to Los Angeles, she met a Chinese woman who brightened up when she learned that she was Korean.

"She was a big fan of Kim Hee Sun," Ms. Kim said, referring to a South Korean actress who is now more popular in China than at home. "She was happy that I had the same last name as she did. We were meeting for the first time, but she had a favorable image of Korea."

When I lived in Inchon, everyone asked me personal questions.
Are you married? How much money do you make? Why aren't you married? Etc.
This was long before Daniel Pearl, but I was still cagey when a Korean there first asked my religion.
I had read that anti-semitism was prevalent in Japan, where no one had ever met a Jew, but still picked up some bad impressions of us from their WWII partners in crime.

So when I told the woman, a teacher at the middle school where I was working, that I was Jewish, it warmed my expat heart that she told me Koreans had a good opinion of Jews.

"Why?" I asked. "Do you know any Jews?"
Well, that was too much to hope for.

But, it turns out that Koreans, who are big into Confucianism and ethical texts, and some people use the Talmud (or some selection from it) as a guide for child rearing. If a Korean thinks it's weird to meet LA Chinese who like Koreans because of their favorite celebrities, imagine how weird it is for a Jew to find out that Koreans read rabbinic discussions of Jewish law, ethics, and legends.

Hey, if they get to borrow the Talmud, and we get kimchi, it's an excellent deal. Utils all around.
But, uh, they can keep the bundaegi (roasted silkworm larvae):


Doodles said...

Isn't cool how when you boil silkworm larvae you (i.e., young bangladeshi children) can make silk -- but when you roast silkworm larvae you get a delicious snack?! Very few other animals can be eaten OR worn. Um...I guess, unless you count cows and stuff. Whatever...

The Litvak said...

That's very true if, by "delicious snack," you mean, "pot of what appear to be enormous maggots and smells so bad you have to cross the street." I believe they urge the larvae out of their chrysalis(es?) with heat, then turn the former into snacks and the latter into fabric. Right on!