The need to shareSouth Korean ambassador to Malaysia Yu Hyun-seok vividly remembers a ceremony in May when he visited the royal palace of Istana Negara. During the 20 minutes, Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Supreme King of Malaysia) Abdul Halim received credentials from new foreign envoys. He spared about 16 minutes on Yu. Queen Tuanku Haminah rattled off the names of Korean women golfers and showed great interest in Korean affairs. Other ambassadors had to settle for quick handshakes.
The rotating Malaysian monarch is elected to a five-year term from nine rulers or sultans of 13 Malay states. Last year, Korean female K-pop group T-ara was invited to the royal palace to perform at the sultan’s coronation ceremony. It is not just Malay royalty who are enthralled with Koreans. Akie Abe, wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, does not hide her avid love for Korean culture. She spoke to President Park Geun-hye in Korean and recited a Korean poem in a textbook while visiting a middle school during a visit to Korea.
Infatuation with the Korean Wave was evident at the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) Media Forum in Kuala Lumpur a few days ago. A female aide to the Malay ruling party ruler was extra attentive to the Korean delegates. She was, unsurprisingly, a fan of Korean pop culture. She addressed Chung Eui-yong, ICAPP secretary-general, as harabeoji, granddad in Korean, and other male delagates as oppa, brother. Staff at restaurants also spoke in Korean, saying they have picked up conversational phrases from watching Korean TV dramas. Korean songs like “Arirang” in the Malay language version are played at the capital’s biggest shopping mall, Pavilion KL. These are familiar scenes in other cities across Southeast Asia.
Korean dramas are not simply drama and K-pop is not just music. They aid corporate activities and bolster Korean brand awareness.
Korean names dominating the female golf tournaments also have caught the attention of global leaders.
Korean cosmetics brand AmorePacific plans to build a new factory in Malaysia to meet ever-growing demand in Southeast Asia. It will be the company’s third overseas manufacturing base after France and China. Cosmetics ingredients should be entirely different for Islamic customers who cannot accept certain types of meat and animal tissues. Behind the success of AmorePacific has been the exceptional management of its chairman Suh Kyung-bae. Yet no one can deny the backing of the Korean Wave. Korean celebrities and stars have become icons of Asian beauty, which helped fuel the popularity of Korean beauty care products in the region.
“Success comes partly thanks to one’s efforts, but cannot be achieved without the help of many people,” Suh said. He must have had the Korean Wave in mind. It is undeniable that his company has ridden the Korean fever. But what makes him stand out is his attitude. He has not taken his success for granted.
Jung Woon-ho, CEO of Nature Republic, was very different. He was an iconic self-made entrepreneur. Instead of going to high school, he became a street vendor in the Namdaemun marketplace. He then ran outlets and opened his own budget cosmetics brand. He sold “The Face Shop” brand to a large company and earned big money. His own cosmetics company, Nature Republic, also did well. But after he achieved success, he lost his way and fell into the temptation of gambling.
In 2012, he came under police questioning over illegal gambling of 30 billion won ($27.5 million) in Macau. He hired an expensive prosecutor-turned-lawyer and walked away totally free. He believed money could buy everything. He went on another gambling binge overseas. He squandered 10 billion won worth of bribes and lawyer fees and got himself into a string of graft charges and a scandal that led to one of the biggest cases of corruption in the judiciary.
Rival Suh recently announced he was donating his own wealth to create a 300 billion won science foundation. It will be the first science fund established entirely on an individual donation. He said his wealth could not have been possible without the help and love of many and wanted to return it to society in some way. His company invests millions of dollars in research and development projects. He said his foundation aims to fund 30-year research that can change the world. The best way to protect what one has is to create an ecosystem to share it with others.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 7, Page 35
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.