8th July 2017 in London Olympia saw the return of the London Korean festival. The last time such an event was held, was back in 2015 on the 9th August, in Trafalgar Square. It attracted some 40,000 people with the girl band F(x) headlining. This year, it was being held indoors at the Olympia National and was being split into two distinct parts; the day and evening.
During the Day
The day was a free event, but you were asked to register via Event Brite. From 11am to 5:30pm, along with the family, you could experience traditional dynamic drum performance by Tago, be energised by the Taekwondo demonstration performance performance by the Kukkiwon Takewondo Team and dance along and be inspired by B-boy Dance performed by the Drifterz Crew. This was all due to take place on the main stage. Activity wise you could take part in and watch food demonstrations, explore Korea in a virtual reality sense, experience the sensation of a ski jumper at the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics, try on Hanbok, discover webtoon characters, listen to up and coming Korean pop music, play traditional Korean games like Tuho (similar to lawn darts).
During the evening
The evening was a ticketed event priced at £30 that began at 7:00pm. Four bands were due to play; Highlight boyband formerly known as Beast. One of the most award-winning Korean groups of all time. The only girl group in the mix EXID, (Exceed in Dreaming) the multi-award-winning group whose catchy ‘Up & Down’ song I can continuously play without getting bored.Snuper, a six member boy band whose name means ‘ Higher than Super’ and finally KNK a five member boy band, whose name is an initialism which stands for K-pop kNocK.
So Saturday 8th July, I awoke early to prepare myself for the day ahead. Although doors opened from 11am, I got to Olympia around 1:00pm and was amazed by the queues that were already forming, one for the day and another for the evening.
Olympia’s National Hall has a maximum capacity to hold 5,000 people. One friend who was there as the doors opened was very impressed by the way staff at Olympia handled the queuing process. Although the morning session was free, people were being encouraged to register their attendance via Event Brite, but of course attendance exceeded demand. The Korean Cultural Centre tweeted that people without registrations would be allowed to enter and it may be necessary if the venue was full to proceed on a one in and out basis. It was taking a little longer for people queuing to get in, but it was a very orderly process. Anyone who already had a ticket went in first and those who did not were queuing up.
As soon as I was in, I was handed a programme for the day and a bunch of other leaflets advertising the up coming 2017 K-Music festival and the performing Arts Programme between Korea/UK.
I entered the main hall located on the ground level where Drifterz Crew was taking centre stage. B-boy dance or break dancing is an athletic style of street dance which has become very famous in Korea, but originated amongst Puerto Rican and African American youths during the 1970s.
People were relaxing and soaking in the atmosphere on the carpeted fake grass. At the sides were a couple of bars which you could purchase drinks. I met some friends sitting comfortably on deck chairs and briefly exchanged hellos before ascending to the second floor to explore further. Level one just had the main stage and the drinks bar.
Being the lunch time rush, the queues surrounding the food stalls was very difficult to navigate through. I was determined to get to the other side to explore the animation area first. The map in the programme broke itself down into 5 areas; Tourism; Headquarters; Experience; Contents and Food, but I created a more detailed one. (see above)
Webtoon Experience, K-pop stall, Characters and Animation
The exhibition on webtoon was showcasing four platforms to discover the exiting world of webtoons Line Webtoon; Spotoon; Lehzin Comics and Tapas. The word has come to describe comics from South Korea that you can view on the web – or ‘manwha’ as they call it in Korea. You can find comics on any theme, ranging from comedy to social political issues, and action through to romance.
I had no idea that the webtoon artist Donggun Lee, creator of Yumi’s Cells had flown over specifically for the event. I only found out by talking to one of the stall helpers, Sooyon Kim, and felt a little like the screaming fans queuing up for the evening K-pop concert when she told me. She was surprised that I already knew of Line webtoon and of the webtoon, Yumi’s cells. I tried not to keel over in shock and attempted to keep my cool when I finally met Donggun and explained why I loved Yumi’s cells. Those of you from the Beano era – think Numskulls comic strip meets a touch of the Korean drama. If not familiar with Beano – think Inside Out meets Korean drama. It is about a Korean girl navigating her way through life and love and the cells inside that drive her. It is brilliant! I told Donggun that hunger cell is my favourite and it why I related to Yumi primarily because of hunger cell and her love of food.
Sooyon said I could have my prime cell drawn by Donggun so I sat down feeling giddy, trying to think of what my prime cell is. In Yumi’s Cells, her prime cell has been described as love. The Prime cell is the one cell that has superior abilities over the rest and dominates. For me it was going to be either hunger or creative cell. I went with the latter. What was amazing was seeing Donggun at work and how quickly he drew on his tablet, completely immersed and not distracted by his surroundings. I could not help but beam from ear to ear and feel it was all a dream as I sat there watching him at work. The conversation I had with Donggun was expertly translated by Sooyon. I asked if we could keep in touch so I could bombard him with questions later on. We exchanged contact information and he kindly gave me my very own 3D character of hunger cell. We snapped a few pictures of the finished result and I continued walking around the venue in a glorious daze.
Next to the webtoon experience was a K-pop stall that had listening stations to listen to the latest music, stationary to be bought and signed t-shirts of the bands playing waiting to be won.
You had the chance to take pictures against a green screen with your favourite character and have pictures posted up along the wall in the characters section. For example with Porro the Penguin. They were also selling characters of Yoohoo and friends which is a Korean animated series, similar to Porro the Penguin. In the Animation stall next along was the chance to watch some of these series in a nice cushiony setting.
Hanbok experience , traditional games and handicrafts
I walked to the far end where I saw only girls with their friends, trying on the Korean traditional dresses Hanbok, and posing in front of the backdrop of the palaces for a photo. Staff were taking polaroid pictures as well and hanging them up in front of the exhibit.
As I have dressed in Hanbok a few times, more recently in Seoul. I decided to give this a miss and try my hand at Tuho. This is a traditional Korean game and is very similar to lawn darts. It involves tossing an arrow into a narrow jug from a distance. The jug is made up of five holes. A centre hole and the four smaller holes around it. I was given six arrows to throw and I got all but one in! In the centre to boot. Prizes were being awarded if you scored a certain amount. 2 arrows got you a London Korean Festival bag or a book mark. 4 arrows were equal to a notebook or a pen. 5 or more saw you win the top prize, a very beautiful set of paper pencils and a case.
I had wanted the notebook, the pens and pencil set, but was very happy to make do with my LKF bag! At least I had a place to put all the handouts and little presents I was accumulating.
Next I queued up for the traditional handicrafts. You had the choice to make a mirror, a coaster or a fan. Seeing that the coaster would be the least popular I opted for this. It was a busy station, with two long tables side by side with people creating beautiful craft works at them. I was soon allocated a seat and given a little bag in where I found all the contents but no instructions. There was a pot of glue in front of me with a brush and I called one of the girls to show me what I needed to do. A few seconds later, I was glueing and sticking away. It was not as easy as it looked, but I managed to a somewhat shabby looking coaster that is now used for my morning coffee.
Food Demonstrations and Authentic Taste of Korea and Food stalls
With my bag of stuff getting fuller, and feeling hungry, I proceed to look at the Authentic Taste of Korea exhibit, which showcased Korean foods and explained further about Dasik (Korean Tea Cookies), Korean Organic Snacks, Han-Gwa (traditional Korean snack), Guksu (traditional Korean noodles) and traditional Korean sauces (pictured above). There was also leaflets being given out on the places around London to consume Korean food. I quickly snapped one up.
Within this exhibition there was a round table – a tasting – where you could drink Korean Green Tea and experience how to make Dasik tea cookies as well as eat them. These cookies are made of powdered rice, chestnuts or beans and are combined with honey and pressed into a patterned wooden mould. I had a go at making one which seemed fairly easy. (See the slide show below). They were also giving out rice cakes which I took with the intention of eating later, but it soon disappeared into my stomach.
The Korean Food cooking class, which I have written down as food demonstrations or workshops in the map, were making Bibim Guksu (Spicy Cold noodles) Kimchi Mandu (Kimchi dumplings), Kimchi Jeon (Kimchi Pancake) and Japchae (Korean stir fried glass noodles) You had to sign up on the spot and by the time I had arrived, all classes were full. But there was nothing to stop me staring and drooling for a bit. I said a quick hello to Da-Hae West of Busan BBQ fame (she was one of the chefs of the workshop providing the classes and demonstrations) and peeked in to H-Mart – which was busy and scanned over the 6 food stalls providing delicious sustenance to the hungry customers: Little Korea,Lime Orange, The Cups, Goko, Yami and The Massita. Once I was able to battle my way through the queues, I made my way over to the tourism section.
Tourism Events, Pyeongchang experience and 10 must see attractions
This was the last section for level 2. For people who are unfamiliar with Korea as a tourist attraction, it was a lovely eye opener. I also enjoyed the a photo exhibit showing the top ten must see attractions. These were largely prompted by them being UNESCO world heritage sites or places of historic interest. (Listed below)
- Jongmyo Shrine – According to UNESCO, the shrine is the oldest royal Confucian shrine preserved and the ritual ceremonies continue a tradition established in the 14th century
- Seokguram Grotto – Is part of a religous retreat and is part of the Bulguksa temple complex.
- Bulguksa Temple: The temple is considered as a masterpiece of the golden age of Buddhist art in the Silla kingdom
- Seongsan ilchulbong park – also called ‘Sunrise Peak’, is an archetypal tuff cone formed by hydrovolcanic eruptions upon a shallow seabed about 5 thousand years ago.
- Hahoe and Yangdong: Founded in the 14th-15th centuries, they are seen as the two most representative historic clan villages.
- Triptikata: The Temple of Haeinsa, on Mount Gaya, is home to the Tripitaka Koreana , the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, engraved on 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248.
- Joseon Dynasty Royal Tombs: The Tomb refers to the 40 tombs of members of the Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910).
- Namhansanseong Fortress: One of four forts built to protect Hanyang (former name of Seoul)
- Suwon Hwaseong Fortress: The fortress was built from 1794 to 1796 by King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty to house and honour the remains of his father Prince Sado.
- Gyeongju historic areas: were designated as a world heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000.
There was one section devoted to the upcoming winter Olympics to be taking place in Pyeongchang 2018 and a chance to take your pictures with the mascots; Soohorang and Bandabi, a white tiger and a asiatic black bear. As I had the pleasure of already making their acquaintance in Seoul last year, I watched on as people took selfies and giggled in delight. An information desk was available to find out more about the games. There was also a chance to win a Korean styled fan, by having a go at electronic the slots. By pressing a button, the screens would randomly change and hopefully align to show three colours representing winter Olympic games in a row. If it did you walked away the proud owner of a Korean fan. The queue for this was quite long so I decided to give this a miss. You could also play hockey and experience the sensation of doing a ski jump using virtual reality.
In the section after the Olympics there were miniature stalls comprised of Asiana Airlines, Korea Health & Development, Peoples Travel, Hana Tour, Korean Air, Lotte, Holiday Planners, Governors Association of Korea and the Korean Tourism Organisation. It was here I stocked up on maps, and books of Korea (as if I did not have enough) and chatted to the lovely people of Korean Air (who gave me a fluffy toy plane – two in fact). There was further chances to experience virtual reality by putting on goggles and selecting your choice of tours from Jeju Island, Busan in Nampodong, Daegu, Myeondong, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Tongyeong.. and so forth. During my recent visit to Korea in October/November 2016, I had the opportunity to visit Tongyeong, a coastal city in South Gyeongsang Province. I was there with a lovely group of Korea.Net Honorary reporters and unfortunately on the first day we went, the city was sweeping down with rain so enjoying the surrounding area was challenging. Especially when it came to experiencing the cable ride. However, using these virtual reality goggles and somehow listening to the experience in Korean, ( I had it on the wrong setting) I was able to marvel in the splendour of the cable cars in Tongyong with the sun. If you did not want to don any visual apparatus, there was a giant screen where you could select particular tourist destinations and experience a 360 degree by swiping by up, down or to the left and right.
Time really flew by and I was able to immerse myself in the majority of the activities. What I had failed to mention and report on during the day were the shows that were taking place centre stage. I had mentioned them the beginning. However you can read all about this over at the United K Pop website. Events and stalls started wrapping up from 5:30pm. I had managed to converse with a mum or two during the day who had been dragged to the festival by their daughters who were enamoured by Korean Pop music. However they really seemed to enjoyed themselves as they were taking part in the traditional games and they were able to find out so much more about Korea.
Having been given a press pass, I was able to attend a sort of press conference by the only band I was excited to see during the transition from the day events to the evening. Not all five members of the band were able to fly over as one was not so well. During the day, the events were hosted and Mced by Josh and Daniel of Yonguk Namja Youtube fame. There were also going to host the evening part but this time be joined on stage by Hani (an EXID member, fluent in English and Chinese).
I took a break in between events and was able to pop outside to see the dedicated queue for the evening in enthusiastic spirits as the concert was drawing near. A lot had made signs for the bands they loved. As for for me, I was only ever looking forward to seeing EXID and who appeared third on stage out of the four bands. Although, inbetween, band member Hyelin, sang a wonderful rendition of You raise me up as a tribute to what London had been experiencing in regards to the terror attacks. It was moving and I was able to live video stream that song from my facebook account. DiyaOnKorea
For their line up, EXID sung the following four songs in the following order:
- Hot Pink
- Night Rather Than Day
- Oh Yeah
- Up & Down
Of course they performed the most popular song at the end and got the audience singing along with them, my favourite song – Up & Down. I was able to video them using a selfie stick, but realised later that I blocked the sound! *face palm* I managed to fix it by borrowing sound from another video/ fellow youtuber. You can see the video below (The screams heard in the video unfortunately are not mine.)
All in all, it was an enjoyable day attended by over 12,000 people throughout the day and evening. They were sold out of tickets during the evening performance largely due to it being Korean Pop and although it is early days, I would say the craze or fervour is only just beginning to take hold in the UK.
All photos and videos used here have been taken by DiMi and cannot be used without permission