Walking down the street, I hear the Korean song Oh sung by Girls’ Generation. Turning on the television at the weekend, at the primetime evening slot of 7pm, I find Sundukyeonwang, a Korean drama that has just completed a successful run in Korea. From motorbike commercials on TV to cellphone network ads in Ratchaprasong, Korean actors and singers are everywhere.
Am I still in Korea? Thanks to Thailand’s enthusiasm for Korean dramas and music – the so-called ‘Korean Wave’ – I am never in danger of feeling homesick.
Thailand’s ‘Korean Wave’ got underway back in 2005 with Daejanggeum, a soap opera about the first female royal physician of Korea’s Joseon dynasty. The series gave Thailand a taste for traditional Korean culture, including Korean court cuisine and traditional medicine. Inevitably, Korean cuisine became popular and Korean culture started getting attention.
The next big hit was Dongbangshingi, a Korean boy band with a huge teenage following. From then on, Thailand has not just had an appetite for Korean dramas and songs, but also for Korean fashion, Korean games and Korean brands. The entirety of ‘Korean Culture’ has become Thailand’s new trend and national obsession.
The other day, a co-worker asked me about some Korean words she had picked up from watching TV dramas. I was delighted to answer her
questions and, moreover, I felt that my background and I were appreciated.
It’s clear lots of Thais want to learn about Korean culture and language – even if research* suggests Korean Studies will have to overcome a lack of courses in Thailand and the limited job opportunities for Korean Studies graduates in Korea.
The success of Korea’s dramas and youth-dominated culture is partly down to attractive actors and actresses. But the trend also reflects the Confucian and East Asian values that Thais and Koreans share, along with similar concerns about family, love and filial piety. Given their related cultures, I think both Thailand and Korea stand to gain a lot from this cultural exchange.
*‘Continuity of Korean Studies in Thailand’, Professor Damrong Thandee, Center for Korean-Studies: Ramkhamhaeng University Thailand, 2006, pp. 11-20