Culture leaders sound off on Korea

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Culture leaders sound off on Korea

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From left, Doosan Corp. Vice Chairman James Bemowski, French author Guy Sorman, Corea Image Communication Institute President Choi Jung-wha, Missoni Group President Vittorio Missoni, International Culinary Center CEO Dorothy Cann Hamilton and Turkish fashion designer Cemil Ipekci exchange their opinions on culture the C-20 at the COEX InterContinental Hotel in southern Seoul last Friday. Provided by Corea Image Communication Institute


Cultural leaders from the Group of 20 countries gathered at the Allegro Room of the COEX InterContinental Hotel in southern Seoul last Friday to exchange their views on Korean culture ahead of the G-20 Summit in November in Seoul.

The roundtable discussion was the culmination of a three-day program called the C-20 held from Sept. 8 to 10 and hosted by the Corea Image Communication Institute. During the first two days of the program participants visited major tourist attractions. They also visited the Blue House at the invitation of First Lady Kim Yoon-ok.

“The C-20 is a significant part of what Korea hopes to achieve through the G-20,” said Sohn Jiae, spokesperson for the Presidential Committee of the G-20. “Devising macroeconomic and political policies is a crucial part of the G-20 Seoul Summit, but at the end of the day, nothing has a bigger impact on people than culture.”

In the past year, Korea has launched several global marketing campaigns to boost tourism and generate interest in Korean culture. Comments from the panelists, however, reflected that there is still work to be done.

“I have come to realize that Korea is a beautiful country in a beautiful location, but nobody knows about it. You have to make it known to the world,” said Vittorio Missoni, president of Missoni Group in Italy.

“I didn't know that Korea was so advanced and so beautiful. You should share your rich culture with other nations ... Tell your story to the world,” said Hope Zinde, a communications expert from South Africa.

Panelists also commented about the lack of recognition for Korean culture and products as Korean.

“The Korean soap-opera ‘Queen Seondeok’ is airing in Turkey these days, and I constantly marvel at the beauty of the clothes and accessories in the series, but I never realized that they were Korean,” said Turkish designer Cemil Ipekci, who is famous for designing the wedding dress of the late Princess Diana.

“I have many Samsung and LG products at home, but I didn’t know that they were Korean brands at all. You should actively promote them as Korean brands,” Zinde said.

“In Italy, we inscribe ‘made in Italy’ on every product we make and we are very proud of it,” said Missoni. “It’s a matter of attitude ... I know that Korea is compressed between Japan and China, both of which are better-known to the world. Still, you have to actively promote your own culture!”

“Korea is not yet well-known to the world. Nonetheless, Korea does exist on the cultural map,” French author Guy Sorman said. “Although there is still much more to be done, Korea should not worry so much about being the underdog.”

But not everyone was of the same opinion.

“Let’s not be so obsessed with the idea of promoting Korea to the world. We don’t have to because we have a great culture,” said Jin Won-suk, a Korean filmmaker.

The panelists also shared their impressions of successful efforts to export Korean culture abroad, particularly in the areas of film and food.

“I saw such strong woman-power in the Korean film ‘Mother,’” said Brazilian filmmaker Tizuka Yamasaki. “Films containing universally appealing themes such as this do well in the international market.”

“When I think about the thousands of years of Korean traditional cuisine, I get so jealous and I am in awe,” said Dorothy Cann Hamilton, CEO of the International Culinary Center. “I don't even know what authentic American food is. However, Korea has an abundant supply of traditional recipes and ingredients to choose from. That’s why David Chang, a famous Korean-American chef, was able to succeed in New York.”

To promote Korean food abroad, the panelists emphasized the importance of mixing Korean cuisine with Western food.

“Let chefs in North America cook Korean food using local ingredients there,” said Lucy Waverman, food columnist from Canada. “It is difficult to put kimchi in every food, but if you find a clever way of incorporating kimchi with Western food, you will succeed in foreign markets.”

Panelists agreed that another major hurdle for Korean culture abroad is the inconsistent Romanization of Korean words.

“Foreigners don’t often know what they are eating at Korean restaurants abroad because spellings vary from one place to another,” Joo said. “It hurts the branding of Korean food and Koreans should come up with standardized Romanization.”

Koichiro Hata, an adviser on Japanese cuisine at the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Japan, shared his experience with Japanese cuisine.

“Koreans tend to focus on the quantity of the food rather the quality. Japan used to have similar approach, but not anymore,” Hata said. “Another important task is standardizing recipes. If you want to internationalize Korean food, you need a textbook with objective formulas.”

Choi Jung-wha, president of CICI, the event host, seemed pleased with the outcome of the program.

“I hope all of the participants will act as cultural ambassadors when they return to their home countries and spread the word about Korean culture,” Choi said.

The event was held under the auspices of the Korean Culture and Information Service, the Korea Tourism Organization, the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the Korean Food Foundation, the Presidential Council on Nation Branding, the Presidential Committee of the G-20 and the G-20 Ambassadors to Korea.


By Kim Hye-mi [hyemi82@joongang.co.kr]
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