By Oh Seok-min
SANTIAGO/LIMA, Dec. 16 (Yonhap) -- Dozens of teenage girls donning T-shirts with a caricature of K-pop boy bands Big Bang emulate their mesmerizing dance moves with military precision while singing the rapid-fire Korean lyrics in a park. It is not a scene anyone can hardly expect among teenagers except that they are Chilean girls in Santiago.
"Korean pops are just amazing; dances are so much energetic and songs are catchy. I also love their good looks and confidence," Camila Garcia, an 18-year-old Chilean student, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.
"We get together at least once a week to share information about the Korean culture and practice the dance. We often post our videos of dancing on YouTube to let the idols know how much we adore them. Watching our video, they might visit us," she added.
Camila is one of some 20,000 active members of 200 fan clubs in Chile for K-pop bands such as Super Junior, Dong Bang Shin Ki, SS501, U-KISS, and MBLAQ, which have popped up over the past three years.
Though the sheer number is small compared to that in Asian countries, where the Korean wave, or Hallyu, is relatively well-established, the recent K-Pop craze in Latin America deserves attention, given the lack of overall exchanges between the two sides and the distinctive differences in their national traits.
"It was not long before the K-Pop swept through Chilean society. We've mostly enjoyed music from the U.S. or Europe," said Sergio Espinosa V, editor-in-chief of major Chilean newspaper El Mercurio.
"Anyone would hardly expect such a passionate reaction, as Korea is not very close to Chile both in physical and emotional terms," he said. "The direct example is that there is not a single direct flight between South Korea and any Latin American country."
The very unfamiliarity, however, rather helped the Korean culture find its way into the Latin American market, according to observers.
"In Chile, we don't have anything like K-Pop. Songs here mostly have political and social relics, though we have Latin rhythm," said Nataly Chilet, a beauty pageant contestant from Santiago.
She co-hosted "the K-Pop Festival Music Bank in Chile," a South Korean music TV program which was recorded in the Chilean city of Vina del Mar in November, drawing more than 10,000 audiences from the continent.
"The Korean songs are whole new thing for us, but they carry such a universal factor of fun," she said, citing K-Pop sensation Psy's Gangnam Style as an example. "The Korean songs make me dance and smile. What else is needed more?"
Sharing her experience of introducing the method of making kimchi, Korea's national dish, during her program aired by a Chilean broadcaster, she said that the K-Pop craze has a spill-over effect into a wider spectrum of Latin American society including food and fashion.
"In history, the relations between Asia and Latin American is the only link missing in the world. But things are rapidly changing. For one, we failed to introduce Korean dramas here just a few years ago, and officials in the broadcasting industry gave us the cold shoulder. But now they are trying to reach us first for Korean programs," said Kim Sun-tae, councilor of the Korean Embassy in Chile.
"Maximizing this nascent interests as a momentum, we are trying to promote bilateral exchanges further by organizing diverse projects, including opening Korean language courses and attracting Chilean students to South Korea for study," he added.
The Korean wave also took people in Peru by storm, where its cultural and industrial presence in South America has been dwarfed by other Asian giants such as China and Japan.
"Peruvian society was once dominated by Japanese culture after more than a century of mutual ties. But people here got to meet Korean culture via online, and now more and more go mad for Korean culture. It's quite phenomenal," said Seoul's Ambassador to Peru Park Hee-kwon.
Some 60 fan clubs are currently active in Peru for diverse Korea-related cultural activities ranging from holding dance competitions and flash mobs to visiting Korean restaurants together.
"Noteworthy is that Korean dramas are sweeping through Peruvian society, which means the Korean culture is enjoyed not only by teenagers but also by a broader spectrum of people here," said Lee Seo-won, a Korean diplomat working in the embassy in Lima.
Since 2008, 13 soap operas have been aired in Peru, and one is currently being shown during prime time by a public broadcasting channel here, she added.
"Different from violent and raunchy Latin American soap operas, Korean dramas are ethical and sophisticated. So the whole family members can enjoy them together," said 28-year-old housewife Maida from Lima.
Calling herself "ajumma," meaning married middle-aged housewives in Korean, she said she often sings the K-pop songs and dances together with her three young children.
"My 8-year-old elder son always asks me to have him wear K-Pop star style, and two-year-old little kid likes to meet any Asian people on the street," she said.
The local people's interest in the Korean soap operas is also spreading to other areas, piquing their interest in the Korean language, food and even politics.
"I now can tell the difference between South and North Korea through the Korean drama titled The King to Hearts, and that made me eager to learn the political situation and history of the Korean peninsula," Ophelia Fernandes, a 21-year-old Peruvian student, told Yonhap.
The 2012 TV series "The king to heats" depicts a story of South Korean crown prince who falls in love with a North Korean special agent.
"I feel like I am now familiar with everything about Korea. Before watching the drama, I didn't even know exactly where the country is. But now I love Korean food -- kimchi, gimbap (rice and other ingredients rolled in seaweed) and samgyeopsal (fatty pork belly meat served on a grill)."
She also expressed her hope of living in South Korea "for better chances of success."
"The Korean stories of self-made persons give us hope. After all, Peru is notorious for the large gap between the rich and poor."
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