Hallyu in Singapore

New pandemic restrictions may have kicked in, but there are still ways to experience South Korea here without a passport

South Korea retains a prime spot in the hearts of travel-loving Singaporeans, even though the pandemic has curtailed overseas vacations.

In a Straits Times poll conducted last October, 40.7 per cent of more that 6,000 respondents cited South Korea as their travel destination of choice.

Director of the local office of the Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) Lee Jee-eun says: "There is always a reason to go to South Korea. There are places to explore and countless experiences to try out - the food and fashion, K-beauty, K-pop and cultural sites, just to name a few."

Adapting to the new normal that is restricted travel, KTO's revised tagline now reads: "Imagine your Korea now, visit Korea later."

To that end, KTO has launched a new video series called SinKor Escape, highlighting Korean experiences in Singapore that will inspire viewers to craft future itineraries in South Korea.

Though new Covid-19 restrictions have been enforced since Sunday, here are five Korean activities to look forward to - no passports needed.

• For more stories on exploring Singapore, go to str.sg/sg-go-where.

1. Picturesque photo shoots

The four seasons may elude sunny Singapore, but the 25-plus backdrops available at luxury bridal studio Korea Artiz Studio will create the illusion of seasonal travel.

Backgrounds such as cherry blossom trees and a blooming rose wall portray springtime. Rows of muhly grass with plumes of feathery pink flowers allude to the autumn fields of Nari Park in the suburbs of Seoul.

The spacious studio in Bras Basah Road delivers the full works for South Korea-themed photo shoots - from hair and make-up services to outfit selections such as matching streetwear for couples.

Though the venue mainly caters to wedding shoots, I get to don the hanbok, the traditional Korean dress.

A few poses and clicks of the camera later, I have an album's worth of photographs that look as though they had been taken in Yeouido Park - a popular place in South Korea to view cherry blossoms.

A Korean-Singaporean couple doing their photo shoot at the studio tell me the experience reminds them of the outdoor scenes in the country.

Mr Park Ju Bong, 35, a purchaser from South Korea, and his Singaporean wife Tivona See, 30, did a photo shoot at the studio.

They say the experience reminds them of the outdoor scenes in Mr Park's homeland. They had their outdoor wedding photo shoot done in Jeju island in 2018.

Ms See, a purchasing manager, says: "In South Korea, if you want to have pink muhly grass or cherry blossoms in your photos, you would opt for an outdoor shoot. But as we don't have that in Singapore, it's good that we can have it all done in the studio."

Pre-wedding photography packages start at $4,000 and couples can expect personalised fitting sessions, make-up and hairstyling as well as photography done by the studio's senior Korean photographers.

Info: artizstudio.sg

2. Live your dream of being a K-pop star

Tucked away in Kampong Bahru is Studio De S - a performing arts school that focuses on teaching K-pop choreography.

It offers three types of classes - open, regular and private. Open classes are priced at $18 a lesson, while regular classes cost $120 for four lessons. Prices for private classes are available upon request.

The school's regular class is the most popular and students learn the dance moves of an entire song, exactly as it is performed by the K-pop group.

Many students choose to coordinate their outfits and lip-sync to the song during a showcase in the final lesson, which is filmed in the studio.

I take part in a regular class learning to dance to South Korean girl group Itzy's latest song, In The Morning.

The other students - who are long-time friends - tell me they have been dancing at the studio for about five years and have continued together because of their collective love of K-pop dance.

In the 90-minute lesson, instructor Ng Hui Yan, 31, not only teaches the choreography, but also arranges each student's formation on the go.

This taste of performing to a K-pop song gives me a good idea why students enjoy it so much - the allure of emulating a K-pop idol is addictive. More than just dancing, it is replicating showmanship.

But between recalling the dance moves and avoiding bumping into anyone during formation changes, I quietly acknowledge that my talent lies elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the experience later sends me down the rabbit hole of watching South Korean music videos and brings to mind the vibrant streets of Hongdae in Seoul, where youthful buskers also imitate K-pop idol dances on the roadside.

Info: facebook.com/studiodes

3. Have an authentic KBBQ experience

Fans of Korean barbecue can cook a sizzling feast at home with fresh cuts of meat from Korean butchers here, such as Seoul Butchery, Jun's Butchery or Chorok Mart.

Buy sweet and savoury marinades and side dishes like kimchi and cubed daikon from supermarkets, while alcoholic drinks like soju can be ordered on e-commerce sites like Shopee and Lazada to complete the menu.

When dining at restaurants is possible again, head to Singapore's very own Koreatown in Tanjong Pagar which houses eateries such as Gangnam BBQ.

In light of the new Covid-19 guidelines, the restaurant is looking into delivery options . Its menu of homely dishes includes kimchi stew ($13) and hot stone bibimbap ($16) alongside more popular meat items like the Iberico pork collar ($26 a serving).

Manager Lee Kwan Youb, 34, says the restaurant combines the authentic and new. For instance, a traditional charcoal fire is used for grilling, but trending food items are occasionally added to the menu.

On my visit before the current heightened alert, the staff grilled my orders to perfection and I blithely noshed away at juicy bite-sized cuts of beef cooked to medium-rare.

Taking from food fads inspired by Korean dramas, the restaurant also offers a savoury sushi-type entree called the 50cm charcoal grilled long rice (from $22). The elongated dish of rice, for sharing, is topped with meat options like pork and marinated raw beef - a delicacy resembling tartare.

Gangnam BBQ offers an authentic Korean experience not just because of its varied menu, which includes a pancake platter, but also the inviting atmosphere, with chatty servers ready to teach you Korean drinking games if you ask.

Info: str.sg/Jvdc

4. Sample craft beers and paint Korean landscapes

Sool Sool Jeju Art Cafe, a double-storey bistro that opened in March in Tanjong Pagar, is a quaint space and relaxing hangout.

The pink and grey interior is filled with plush seats for lounging, but the star of the first level is the line of craft beers on tap.

The cafe's name is a play on the Korean word "sool", meaning alcohol. The extensive alcohol menu features seven types of craft beers named after South Korean cities and districts.

For example, the India Pale Ale is called Gangnam as its gold-toned brew brings to mind the district's upscale vibe, while the light, crisp taste of the lager dubbed Busan evokes the city's pristine beaches.

I take a swig of all seven and find myself liking the cherry-flavoured beer called Itaewon and an aromatic pandan-infused version called Nami Island.

For variety, diners can try the beer-pairing set ($38), which comes with five 150ml beer samplers and one food item.

On weekends, the cafe also conducts an art-jamming activity in which participants can paint South Korean landscapes with the guidance of an art instructor. It requires prior booking, which can be made over the telephone.

Attempting a painting of the well-known stone statues of Jeju island, I sit on the second floor with part-time art instructor Irene Lee, 27, who helps with the sketching and shows me different brush techniques.

The languor of the afternoon lends a peaceful air to the already serene experience of painting scenery, so I bask in the moment before heading out.

With art-jamming and craft beer, the bistro is reminiscent of the contemporary cafe and bar scene in South Korea.

Info: str.sg/Jvdh

5. Hang around Korean celebs

Sentosa is calm on a Monday afternoon, so I am pleasantly surprised to see a number of people wandering about Madame Tussauds Singapore.

On my 30-minute tour of the wax-figure attraction with marketing executive Neoh Pei Shan, I find out that each wax figure takes about three months to complete and costs about $300,000 to make.

The attraction houses more than 90 of these wax figures - from home-grown singer Stefanie Sun to former United States president Barack Obama.

I take far too many photographs at the various zones, but it is the attraction's newest K-wave zone I am really here for.

The section, decorated as a traditional Korean village, houses the wax figures of four South Korean celebrities - actress Bae Suzy, model Song Seung-heon and actors Kim Woo-bin and Lee Min-ho.

Ms Neoh tells me Lee's wax figure is not staying for long - it will be leaving early next month. So, I take the chance to pose with the 1.87m-tall figure.

Guests will find plenty of other photo opportunities, like forming a heart shape with Bae's hand or chilling under the cherry blossom tree.

Madame Tussauds will be hosting a year-long campaign this year, during which the K-wave zone's sets and Korean stars featured on its stage could change each quarter.

Tickets are priced from $18 on Klook and SingapoRediscovers Vouchers are accepted.

Info: madametussauds.com/singapore


New video series on Korean activities in Singapore

The Korea Tourism Organisation's (KTO) new video series, SinKor Escape, comprises three episodes. The videos are available on its YouTube channel @KTOSingapore.

Each episode stars a different group - a family, a couple and a band of four friends - who take part in activities related to South Korea on Singapore shores.

The first episode was released on April 30 and the two remaining episodes are slated for the middle and end of next month.

KTO hopes the series will inspire Singaporeans to enjoy experiences that remind them of South Korea while awaiting their next trip there.


PHOTO: KOREA TOURISM ORGANISATION

EPISODE 1: LIM SISTERS AND DAD

Mr Lim Tat Peng, 64, and his three daughters - Magdalene, 24, and twins Maybelline and Marilyn, 27 - learn Korean words and phrases at Daehan Education Centre, which they use at the restaurant Hanjip Korean Grill House.

Then, the family heads to Madame Tussauds Singapore's K-wave zone, where the wax figures of actors Kim Woo-bin and Lee Min-ho are housed.

Watch: str.sg/Jvdz


PHOTO: KOREA TOURISM ORGANISATION

EPISODE 2: BONGNA COUPLE

A Korean-Singaporean couple spend their morning trying out Korea-themed photo shoots at luxury bridal studio Korea Artiz Studio. Ms Tivona See, a purchasing manager and her husband Park Ju Bong, a purchaser, have been married since May 2019 and have not been back to South Korea since December that same year.

Mr Park, 35, says the studio "looks just like the one in South Korea", where they had their indoor wedding photo shoot.

They head to Ildo Taekwondo Academy in Upper Bukit Timah Road to learn basic techniques before ending the day with an affordable Korean fried chicken meal at eatery Wakers Chicken in Toa Payoh.

Video to be released: tentatively on June 18


PHOTO: KOREA TOURISM ORGANISATION

EPISODE 3: K-FRIENDS

A group of four friends - Felise Tan, 24, Lecia Tan, 26, Stephen Tang, 26, and Melvin Ong, 27 - begin the day by learning K-pop choreography at performing arts school Studio De S and complete a dance challenge before going to Korean restaurant Gangnam BBQ.

There, they are introduced to the speciality items on the menu and taught how to eat certain foods the Korean way.

The video ends at Sool Sool Jeju Art Cafe, where they enjoy glasses of craft beer.

Video to be released: tentatively on June 25

Correction note: An earlier version of this article said an open class lesson at Studio De S costs $25. It should be $18.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2021, with the headline 'Hallyu in Singapore'. Subscribe