In the equine wake of K-pop’s worldwide success, 39 plucky Oxbridge students set off to exchange idiosyncrasies with 200 Korean college students. Their mission was to, in Ox-Bridge pairs, lay the foundations for a life changing test in English for their students by giving them a month of motivational lessons in English culture, conversation and grammar.
South Korea is spectacularly distinct from the UK, with an ancient and persistent culture that’s survived colonialisation, protectorate rule and the most protracted civil war in living memory. What hit us at first, though, was the unrelenting tide of cutesie craziness that seems to have permeated through every aspect of Korea. In most retail outlets, you could for a small amount of Won (Korean currency) purchase some socks. “What of it?” I hear you say. Not only were these racks of socks adorned with cripplingly twee depictions of animals but the vast majority of them sported ears. Yes, socks with ears. MIND BLOWN.
What also surprised me was how positively 90’s K-pop is. With a plethora of favourites each with their own dance (as provocative as the Pussycat Dolls’ entire discography); it’s brilliantly camp and oddly ‘adult’ given Korea’s apparent obsession with portraying celebrities as childishly as possible. A wonderful example being one of the shrewd directors of the programme (a Korean PPE-ist from LMH) cracking out some spectacularly filthy dance moves at the end of the “Friday Night Show”. These shows were usually completed by an outrageous impromptu dance party, where a terrifying amount of peer pressure incited a great many awkward-tutor-dance-battles.
One unfortunate Friday show concluded with a “relationship proposal” from one student to another with the outcome a solid and very public rejection despite unbelievable peer pressure from the audience (chants of KISS-KISS were abundant).
This fabulously mental experience was emulated on a weekly basis in the “noraebangs” (singing room/Karaoke) where, again for the price of a pair of cute-socks, you could sing to your hearts content to a mixture of K-pop hits and Hey Jude. Also, there were lasers. And no air conditioning. And sweat.
One afternoon, we ditched the noraebangs for a more unique experience. Characterising Jinju’s progression relative to the rest of the country, a 70’s era fairground ride called the Disco Pang-Pang (similarly onomatopoeic to the Welsh popty-ping the Korean pang-pang is a tambourine), waited for us in a basement establishment that upon entering filled you with an excitable dread.
A large Carousel type thing with seats on the inside edge spun it’s victims around while occasionally and violently ejecting them into the air. A creepy man in DJ box controlled the torturous contraption and occasionally threw a spotlight onto one of the female participants and made less than savoury remarks. He was a little sadistic, throwing around his prey like a fox with daddy issues. The strobe lights didn’t help and neither did the fact that anyone over 5 foot tall risked decapitation by the ceiling. At the end of the experience I wasn’t entirely sure I had a spine left – but was assured in time I would return for more!
For those who’ve been to Kurrah, this should give you a ‘pang’ of nostalgia…