Posted June. 29, 2011 08:43,
Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, has swept not only Korea`s major trading partners such as China, Japan, the U.S. and France, but also far-off countries in Central Asia.
The influence of Korean pop culture in Central Asia is the most pronounced in Kazakhstan. Called the economic and cultural hub of Central Asia, Kazakhstan is also emerging as the Korean Wave hub of the region as well.
The Central Asian country has per capita income of 8,883 U.S. dollars, is ethnically diverse with more than 130 ethnicities, and is situated in the center of Central Asia. Popular cultural items in Kazakhstan instantly spread to neighboring countries including Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
Kazakhs now seem enthralled with Korean pop culture.
○ Korean dramas popular among all age groups
Among Kazakhstan`s residents are ethnic Koreans who were forced to go there from Russian Far East by the Soviet Union in 1937. Though this might lead to the belief that Korean pop culture could easily take root in the Kazakhstan, the number of ethnic Koreans is just 100,000, or a meager 0.1 percent of the Kazakh population of 1.6 million.
Seoul established diplomatic ties with Astana as late as 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Because of this, Kazakhstan had been considered a wasteland for the Korean Wave.
Korean dramas and movies began entering the country several years ago, however, and Kazakhs, who follow either Islam or the Russian Orthodox Church and speak Russian and Kazakh, have grown into avid fans of Korean dramas.
Han Seong-rae, director of the lone Korean Culture Center in Central Asia that opened in March last year, said, "As recently as several years ago, Kazakh broadcasters received Korean dramas free but now they pay tens of thousands of dollars for a Korean drama."
Kim Sang-uk has run the Hanin Ilbo, the largest newspaper for ethnic Koreans in the country, for 13 years in Almaty. "Central Asians came to know about Korea after it achieved economic development," he said. "So they see Korean culture as cutting-edge, luxurious and high-class."
○ Korean food takes root in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan shares a border with China, but the number of Korean restaurants is larger than that of Chinese ones. Though a portion of "ddoenjangjigae," or Korean soybean paste stew, sells for more than 7.40 U.S. dollars, Kazakhs seem to enjoy it.
The Hyatt Regency, a five-star luxury hotel in Almaty, has hosted a Korean food festival every two years and the high-end Ramstore Department Store sells Korean salads.
A 36-year-old Kazakh housewife said, "People in my neighborhood can enumerate Korean cuisine," adding, "There are lots of delicious Korean food such as seaweed rolls, bulgogi (grilled beef), japchae (mixed vegetables with noodles), kimchi stew and tofu stew."
A professor at Kazakh Abylai Khan University of International Relations and World Languages in Almaty said, "People here don`t see a banquet without Korean food as a bountiful feast."
○ Korean transportation system introduced
Korean influence is also felt in Kazakhstan`s public transportation systems. In a three-story building in Almaty, several high-powered computer servers that can cover all of Central Asia are installed.
Korean transportation card systems installed in more than 1,500 city buses operating in Almaty also run on these severs.
More than 200,000 residents of Almaty use transportation cards daily, and such severs gather data on running intervals and locations of buses and the number of passengers for each bus stop.
Lee Jong-woo, president of Best Card, a small Korean company that has operated a transportation card system in Kazakhstan since 2008, said, "We are discussing with five cities in four neighboring countries to install our system," adding, "Once the system is installed, we can export not only our technology but also create additional profit models such as voice advertising in buses."
"Negotiations are also underway with the Almaty city government on installing traffic and streetlight control systems."
Korean products will be used for Almaty Metro, the city`s first subway system that will open at year`s end. Almaty Metro will adopt not only Korean-made trains but also Korean-made elevators and escalators for its seven stations.
In a pilot operation of the subway in March, Almaty Mayor Akhmetzhan Yesimov said, "Korean trains are much quieter and safer than Russia`s."
The Kazakh government wants to develop IT to better serve the country`s small population living in a vast land. The country is 27 times larger in area than Korea. An example of Kazakhstan`s keen interest in IT is a six-story ICT center that opened in Almaty in December 2009.
To make the center the best and largest IT research and education institute, the Korea International Cooperation Agency has provided technology and equipment and Kazakh National University of Science and Technology donated land.
The Kazakh financial telecommunications and clearings institute has sealed a memorandum of understanding with its Korean counterpart to adopt a Korean system.
Along with the IT industry, Kazakhstan is paying attention to agriculture. As the country imports most of its farm products from its neighbors, it wants to cooperate with Korea to be self-sufficient in food products.
Korea is also exerting influence in the Kazakh real estate sector. Traditionally, builders in Kazakhstan built structures only and residents did interior work. Korean builders, however, not only do interior work but also provide all necessary services for a residential complex, including security, water purification and other amenities.
Kim Jin-shil, president of Woorim Construction in Kazakhstan, said, "Korean builders are very popular here as we install the Korean floor heating system "ondol" and provide various amenities and enhanced security services."