South Korea As Seen from Singapore: The “Korea Boom,” “Korea” Mobilized~

     I can’t resist adding this, my admittedly very superficial observations based on slightly more than two months of residence in Singapore: South Korea, and “Korea” writ large, are indeed a different place when viewed from the perspective of SE Asia.
     The label “Korea” carries with it / connotes at least three meanings here: (1) a small but growing expatriate community of South Koreans on the island (apparently they still retain ROK citizenship if they attain Singapore PR status), currently numbering in the range of 6,000 to 8,000 residents, with a corresponding cultural and material presence (food, DVD’s, business investment, and a shopping mall which has garnered for itself the designation “Little Seoul”); (2) the ongoing popularity of Korean dramas (esp. Choson and Samguk period pieces); and (3) an exotic travel destination, especially in terms of winter sports.   

Of these three, the latter two interest me the most in terms of prior encounters with “Korea Boom” related goods in Japan.  When I was auditing History classes (at Columbia) in 2004, there was a loose thesis circulating among member of one class concerning the popularity of Korean culture in countries with a large ethnic Chinese population, the appeal of watching a once Sino-centric / Confucian (using these very broadly here, I know, and not very carefully) culture undergo rapid change.  That is, the dramas and popular culture might serve as a model to places desirous of undergoing similar changes of their own (China, HK, Singapore). 

  I didn’t devote much thought to this until moving here, discovering that many Singaporeans hold the ROK in high esteem, seeing it as a successful EA nation comparable to their own.  That is, (1) both Singaporeans who desire change might seek to appropriate the ROK model (whatever that is) for their agenda; and likewise, (2) the Singaporean gov.–as well as others in the region–might mobilize a model of change that implies containment, relatively incremental change.  I leave it to the reader to consider here the permutations possible in terms of mobilizing another nation’s recent history for one’s own purposes.

  And this brings me to the third point, those “Dynamic Korea” (sveral years ago) and ‘Korea Sparkiling” ads that run as travel promotions.  They’re conspicuously present on television here–although I haven’t yet paid close attention to which channels, and when they air most frequently–and have succeeded in giving the ROK appeal as a travel destination, particularly in terms of Winter and Skiing.  Of course, these activities do exist as viable options for Koreans, but I never quite conceived of South Korea in terms of a “snow country” while living in Seoul.  I guess that’s partly a product of living just above the Equator . . .

  I’m off to BAKS (British Association Korean Studies) in early September, and looking forward to it as my only previous encounter with KS  in the UK was a 2007 conference at SOAS.

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