- Middle East/North Africa
Egyptian aficionados of Korean pop culture are a dedicated group, eager to have their Korean pop dreams fulfilled and embraced by the community at large. Whether it’s through films, music, books or food, the “Korean wave” has definitely hit Cairo, and is doing so with much fervor.
The Korean wave, also known as “Hallyu,” refers to the spreading of South Korean culture around the globe. Though at first sight such idiosyncrasies in taste may appear to have trivial connotations, Korean culture enthusiasts argue otherwise.
“I can’t express how much Korean culture has done for me; it’s made me a better person,” says Mai Magdy, a student at Alexandria University. “When I first heard Korean music and watched their dramas, I related to them so strongly, far more than to any Egyptian or American [types of culture].”
“There’s a sincerity and honesty in what they do that instantly attracted me.”
Others argue that Korean pop culture also expresses themes of striking resemblance to Egyptian culture, such as the respect that children have toward their elders, as well as the nature of day-to-day interaction between boys and girls. However, being more liberal in nature, Korean culture sometimes takes these issues and portrays them in ways that may be deemed inappropriate within Egyptian culture.
“They don’t just sing about love from a cliché perspective,” says Nora Abul Ezz, a student from Aim Shams University. “They sing about detailed things from life that are, word for word, exactly what I am going through; I was instantly hooked.”
Most fans of Korean music groups, Super Junior being a common favorite, are also dedicated to Korean TV dramas such as “Secret Garden” and “You’re Beautiful.”
Others have unearthed several of the Korean supermarkets located around the city to gain access to food that they would hear about through the shows, claiming that it’s “healthier and superior to Egyptian food.”
“Over the past three years or so, many more Egyptians have been coming here, asking me about different items they would hear about on TV,” says OK Lee, the owner of Tomato, a Korean supermarket in Maadi. “Many of the things they ask for are very traditional and difficult to find, but I’m very happy to support it.”
At the Korean Embassy in Cairo, a culture center has also been set up that allows Egyptians the opportunity to learn the Korean language so as to be better equipped at absorbing the content of the, albeit relatively new, large influx of Korean culture.
Only a few years ago, it was very difficult for enthusiasts to gain access to Korean culture beyond a few random appearances on TV. Now with the development of the Internet, as well as the installation of a few Korean TV stations, it has become much easier.
“I remember when I first saw Korean music on television,” continues Magdy. “I was amazed and I wanted more and more and more. Obviously I couldn’t turn to my friends for help, and so I used to dream a lot in my bedroom and watch music channels consistently just waiting.”
“Now, I can find everything I need on the internet and on TV as well as the new books that have been brought to Dar al-Kotob.”
Last May, 4000 Korean books and DVDs were added to the collection at Dar al-Kotob, Cairo’s biggest public library, in an attempt to bridge divides between Egypt and South Korea. The effort has proved very favorable among fans, as access to books was the final piece of the scattered Korean culture puzzle.
Now, after a fortunate turn of events, as well as increased pressure from Egypt’s Korean pop culture fan base, a pop idol competition will take place at the Maadi Library in the end of July. The event will allow the Egyptian community to compete with each other by singing various Korean pop songs - much to the anticipation of fans.
“I have been learning Korean through online classes, films and music for two years now,” says Karim Mahmoud, another student from Ain Shams University. “I can sing over fifty songs, some pop and some traditional, so I am confident that I can win the competition.”
Others express more doubt about their talents as singers of Korean music.
“I know a couple of songs completely, but I think I will just attend as an audience member because I am afraid of the competition,” says Nadia al-Mansy.
A Facebook page has even been created in hopes that favorite Korean idols may tune into the competition and possibly visit Egypt for a show in the near future. It garnered more than 120 fans within the first 48 hours and aims to reach 5000 over the summer.
“I think when they see our skills and how many we are, they will definitely want to come visit,” continues Mahmoud. “That is why I am focused on giving it my best, but I’m also very nervous at real Korean idols seeing me.”
When asked about their views on such an Egyptian fan base and community, Korean national Julia Chung, 26, tells Al-Masry Al-Youm, “I definitely find it very surprising, but at the same time I think it’s beautiful. To me, it means that the social media tools and the Internet are really breaking down cultural barriers in ways that we would have never thought possible only a few years ago.”