How many of us reading this right now have posed with the 사랑 ‘Sarang-love’ (the finger heart)? How many of us have at least seen it in selfies and pictures across Instagram? I’m betting you have. The Hallyu wave or the Korean wave has spread through the world like wildfire, not barring Sikkim. People all over the world are affected by this wave and are in fact ‘fangirling’ over these Korean idols. The chief catalysts to the spread of the Hallyu wave in Sikkim are Kpop music and Kdramas, which have skyrocketed in global popularity in the past few years.
Perhaps the epitome of realization of this popularity was the 2017 Billboards Music Awards, where BTS a.k.a Bangtan Boys , a young Kpop boy band formed in the year 2013 under Big Hit Entertainment took over the world by storm when they won the Top Social Artist Award against popular artists like Justin Bieber,Selena Gomez,etc. Twitter and the American media went haywire with curiosity about this group that bagged an award in such a huge platform with their heavy fandom popularly known as the Army .
People in Gangtok are not isolated from this wave either and are in fact quite receptive of it. Gangtok is a small town in the tiny state of Sikkim in India which is landlocked between three different countries. When one travels to Sikkim they can immediately note how distinct the state is from the rest of India that is known by the world. The capital city Gangtok is a hub of neon and yellow lights that illuminate the hills crowned by the clouds. The people here are known for their warm nature, hospitality and also their sense of style. Even when in a different state one can tell if you’re from Gangtok based on your dressing sense. That’s how one Gangtokian identified me. (#truestory)
The question is where does Gangtok adapt this style from? The approach is certainly different from that of the mainland. It is here that we start seeing the subtle signs of influence of the Korean culture and Kpop that thrives in the export of its culture and style to mainly other Asian countries. Gangtok is no exception; vivid examples of such can be seen among the teenagers and the young adults in this state especially the capital. Of course the American (Western) culture is still very influential in the cultural domination across the world and Gangtok; yet we see that the Korean wave is also catching up and is gaining momentum at a good pace.
Stores in Gangtok are flooded with Korean style/inspired merchandise, like Korean handbags etc, and they sell better.
Across social media we see people posting pictures of their idols. (They are called so, as most Korean stars are all rounders as they have dedicated almost all of their childhood into rigorous training, kept away from their families and neighbourhood under contractual basis, they purely dedicate themselves to art. As an appreciation to all their hard work their fans fondly regard them as idols ).
Many Kpop stars bloom to become aspiring actors too. A Kdrama watched by virtually all Gangtokians be it young or adults, will have to be Boys Over Flowers. Initially , there were only a few people who were interested in K-pop and this drama was perhaps the first step for most of the youngsters into the world of K-pop. Since then, there has been a massive increase in the number of people who follow Korean dramas, it only appeared as a tiny infatuation at first but now, we don’t even have to go across social media all around the world, even in our very own classrooms we have fan girls and boys who have been engrossed by this Hallyu wave. Across Instagram and IRL the street style is heavily Kpop influenced. Even the daily make-up of most youngsters these days are Korean based which is light and not too bold like the Indian or the American make-up. Even if they don’t understand the language, they can be seen watching subtitled Korean dramas and translating Korean songs to English and singing it in Korean language itself! We can even see biographies of some Gangtokians and Sikkimese people on Instagram written in Korean script.
FYI! South Korea is 5014 km away from Sikkim, India and many of us and our friends dream of visiting South Korea one day.
Even with this distance, the media has been so effective in reaching this part of the world, that we can hear the kpop fans use Korean words and slangs like “Chincha” (-Really) or “jashiki” (-jerk). One of the interviewees even said that these slangs don’t sound as bad as the English ones or even the local lingua franca Nepali ones. Much like the case with Jpop fans and Otakus (anime fans), which is higher in the Northeastern region of India compared to other parts of India.
In an interview conducted by me and my friend, we got responses that in fact confirmed our pre-bias on why the Hallyu wave is so influential in Gangtok. People in Sikkim like in other Northeastern states, have little representation in the mainstream media and films. The last time we had such a big representation was probably Danny Denzongpa in Bollywood and Bhaichung Bhutia, former captain of the National Football team. When the hilly people go out into different parts of India to study etc., they are discriminated based on how they look. However, it’s not only because of looks but also style and the difference in our culture. The discrimination isn’t always violent or obvious, most of the times it is only a prejudice that turns into a stereotype. This subtle alienation paves way for the need to find something or someone to represent us.
According to people we interviewed, they like Korean dramas and idols as they are hard working and are all rounders and also because they seem familiar due to their facial (i.e. mongoloid) features. Some people also feel that the K-dramas are more relatable than the Indian TV Soaps even if it has the cliché of the rich guy-poor girl plot.
When asked if Bollywood was more relatable to a Kpop fan, this was her response.
“It is a big NO. I don’t think Bollywood is any relatable than k-dramas , the only k-drama cliché is that either the boy or the girl will be extremely rich and the other gender will be pathetically poor, and this thing too has been improved lately . The new dramas that are coming up are more realistic and fun too (excluding the fairy tale dramas). I don’t understand the need to put an item song in the movies. It does not make any sense to me.”
In 2016, a Korean boy band came to Sikkim to judge a show and it was an event that remained in the memories of many Kpop fans. Even if the boys were not BTS and relatively unfamiliar, they were still showered with love and support from the people who not only idolize the Kpop stars but also have come to admire and want to become more like the Korean people in general. While this is a strategic move by the Korean government in order to promote its tourism and cosmetic surgery business, it is well received by people.
Should we be worried about the rise of the Hallyu wave in Sikkim? In plain sight, there’s really no problem at all, it gives the people a sense of belonging and an Asian representation that is different from the stereotypical Indian-Asian representation. Maybe the reason why the Hallyu wave of South Korea is so popular in Gangtok and other Northeastern states in because of the lack of the representation of their people in these parts. Of course, this is not to say that the mainland Indians aren’t fans of Kpop. There are in fact many, but the case with Northeast and Gangtok is also deeply rooted in the need for representation. If the Indian entertainment media saw more people from this part of the country participating we are always supportive. Perhaps Prashant Tamang is a quintessential example of this argument, when he went to Indian Idol, the whole of Darjeeling and Sikkim voted for him and he became the Indian Idol. Maybe that’s it, we need more Indian Idols (pun intended) from this part of the country too. There’s a whole treasure of untapped talent in this part of the country which needs to be witnessed by the nation.
However there are smaller unnoticed problems that may arise from the craze in this wave. The need to look more and more stylish; while looking stylish is indeed a good thing, for the overall street style in Gangtok, this also creates a certain vanity of always wanting to look good and sometimes ignoring other important things like the beauty of simplicity. The other problem that seems to be hindering around the corner is the glorification of a ‘certain type’ i.e., the mongoloid features, fair skin, an oval face (for girls), slim body and so on.
We must remember that in Sikkim,we have different ethnicities living in harmony with each other, this also means that we have different facial features and not all of us are similar in our bodily and facial features and we must be willing to not let that part of the Hallyu wave get to us.
We all love this wave of exciting idols who can do pretty much everything and anything in the entertainment industry, make us dance to their never-ending digital beats and again make us cry with their emotional dramas. So maybe we can keep this wave healthy and still stay rooted in our own culture without diverging away too much.
As a thank you for wanting to know more and reading about the influence of the Korean wave on the NorthEast Indian youth, we have a surprise for you: a collection of short stories and illustrations by artists from Sikkim, Kalimpong and Darjeeling for FREE.
Click here to get your free ebook – A Hidden Valley of Rice: Short stories and illustrations from the hills of Sikkim, Kalimpong and Darjeeling.
Hope you enjoyed this article, now daum-eh bwa. 😀