Kingston Harvest Festival 2020 – A review

The Kingston Korean Festival was keen not to disappoint their audiences this year and moved their celebrations for the Harvest Festival online by live streaming on YouTube in the UK.

Justina Jang, (pictured) ,festival director, cited the main reasons for moving the festival online. “As you can imagine, it is a really difficult situation we are facing due to COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed on us.”

Justina is also the Director of the Korean Cultural British Exchange (KCBE), a charity responsible for Korean cultural activities and responsible for putting on the festival.

“KCBE is a small charity’ continued Mrs Jang, “run by volunteers. We really wanted to inspire hope in people that we could overcome any challenge and achieve a sense of togetherness in the community”

Thee event began live streaming  on Saturday 26th September and had a two and half hour programme line up. Starting with welcoming messages from the KCBE  sponsors. Among them, South Korean ambassador Enna Park. The welcome messages spoke of supporting one another during this challenging time and the importance of friendship and overcoming differences.

The line up of events consisted of making songpyeon, traditional dance – Ganggangsullae,  live Kpop workshop, a fashion show of Hanbok, and the launch of the Kimjang Project’s Kimchi recipe book.

It promised to be an entertainment delight. Messages of the Korean social media Stay Strong campaign were interspersed throughout the day, reminding all to socially distance, wear masks and wash their hands.

“We wanted to make it as interactive as possible and have had keyword challenges throughout the live stream where audiences would need to write down all mentioned and submit to win a prize” Said Mrs Jang “We also got people to enter the competition for making Songpyeon and awarded prizes for the most colourful, the most consistent and the best decorated.”

What was really enjoyable, was our presenter for the day, Sophia Tang ,taking us through the importance of the holiday for Koreans the world over. What it meant to celebrate Chuseok and how many travel back home just to be with their families during this time.

One of the significant moments in this holiday is paying respect to the dead spirits of your ancestors or Charye as it is called in Korean. The table setting is very important and is conducted as an offering to ancestors. I enjoyed learning about how the table was set and what food goes where.

The festival also showed us how to make Songpyeon.  This is one of the main foods made during Chuseok. They are moon shaped rice cakes there are many types, sizes and colours and can be made in different ways. We were shown how to make the North Korean version which is more savoury and then the South Korean version which is smaller and sweeter.

Given all of us who were live streaming from the comfort of our own home, were salivating at these foods, it was only right to watch a tapped video from members of the public sampling these delicacies. They described in great detail the taste and texture. Sophia, our host, then talked about the various games and activities played and carried out during Chuseok. We were then treated to a special recording of the Gangangsullae dance.

This is a traditional dance performed by women in front of the full harvest moon. This dance is a way of saying thanks for the bountiful harvest.

Next up was the live performances of the UK K-Pop camp workshop. I thought it was ambitious to do live performances of the workshop, but I think it worked really well for people at home to follow the live dance routines from experts in the industry. One of them had previously worked as a back up dancer for the band BTS

A taped Hanbok fashion show followed. This  was a nice showcase to see a variety of styles and colours of the Korean national dress. This included a short beautifully shot tutorial  of how one wears Hanbok.

Last but not least was the bit I was most looking forward to, the combined launch of the Kimjang project’s recipe book and the exclusive online premier of showing 4 kimchi recipes from the book itself.

 It was interesting to hear how the 21 recipes came to be selected through careful researching, recording and archiving the experiences of South and  North Koreans and Korean-Chinese residents in the UK. The reviews of the book that followed were positive and spoke of the importance of bringing  an understanding of Korea’s national dish to the UK and how to make it. There are so many varieties of Kimchi that it can be challenging to explain it  in  a rich and authentic way, but the book succeeds in doing just that.   

The festival concluded with the showing of the four recipes and urging audiences to stay tuned to the social media channels of the Kimjang Project and the Kingston Korea Festival, especially reminding them of the forthcoming Kimjang festival to be held on the 22nd November.

Reflecting on the experience, Mrs Jang said ‘It was quite an ambitious project to live stream on the day. Within 13 hours of live streaming, we had just under 1000 people having watched the link. However if we had to hold it again, I will make the programme shorter, and hold it over 3-4 days at different times to enable us to engage and reach a wider audience”

I am already looking forward to the Kimchang Festival on the 22nd November that promises to be quite interesting and will take place over a number of days and that to online.

Due to all her hardworking contributions and efforts in bringing an understanding of Korean culture to the British public, Mrs Jang has been recently awarded a Foreign Minister’s Award from the Korean Government and deservedly so.

If you want to watch the edited version of the 2020 London Kingston Korean Harvest Festival, click here

All images provided by courtesy of Korean British Cultural Exchange and Justina Jang. Illustrations by Diya Mitra

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