Green All The Rage In South Korea For St. Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated around this time of the year across the United States with parades and merrymaking. And while this celebration of Irish culture is observed in other parts of the world, one might not expect to find one in South Korea. Some 15 thousand Koreans are expected to attend this weekend's 11th annual St. Patrick's Day Festival in Seoul. Host Michel Martin speaks with organizer, Byung Chun, about the festival and how Saint Patrick's Day came to be celebrated in that city.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

Coming up, singing legend Dionne Warwick joins us to talk about her new album, her current role on the "Celebrity Apprentice" and to reflect on her half-century in music.

But, first...

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Today is St. Patrick's Day, of course, and we're listening to some traditional Irish music - only it's not exactly traditional. What you just heard was performed by a Korean musical group called Bard. It's one of six bands scheduled to play in this weekend's St. Patrick Day's festival in Seoul, South Korea.

Now, you might be surprised to learn, as we were, that St. Patrick's Day is celebrated far beyond Ireland and the U.S. It turns out that Guinness and green is enjoyed in Buenos Aires, Dubai and in Seoul. In fact, Korea's capital city is gearing up to host its 11th annual St. Patrick's Day festival, in addition to live music - including a Korean U2 cover band - there will be Irish folk dancing and two Hooleys, Irish-style parties. And at one of the parties, 50,000 won will get you unlimited beer and food all night.

To know more about how Korea gets down on St. Patrick's Day, we've called Byung Chun. He's helped organize Seoul's festivities for the past decade. By day he works for Samsung, but in his free time, he volunteers with the Irish Association of Korea. And he's with us on the phone from Seoul.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Mr. BYUNG CHUN (Volunteer, Irish Association of Korea): Happy St. Patrick's Day Seoul - from Korea.

MARTIN: Now, I think a lot of people would want to know, are you Irish?

Mr. CHUN: No, I'm Korean.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHUN: But I'm half-Irish.

MARTIN: You're half-Irish now. And you're wearing the green today, so you tell me.

Mr. CHUN: Yeah, I'm wearing a green tie.

MARTIN: How did you become in love with St. Patrick's Day?

Mr. CHUN: Well, 10 years ago, one of friends, an Irish-American friend, Tom (unintelligible) invited me, joining to helping Irish festival in Korea, Seoul. Then we started in 2001. Then continuously, I help him until now, you know.

MARTIN: Well, I understand that last year's festival - this isn't just the two of you, you know, hanging out - that last year's festival drew over 15,000 people. So why do you think people love it so much?

Mr. CHUN: Oh, yeah. We have all of us - whole street, in (unintelligible) that's a main street, a lot of crowd is watching us. And get together, you know, dancing together, you know, singing together. We enjoy it, that day together. We exchanging Irish and the Korean culture together.

MARTIN: What do you think people liked about it? I understand that, obviously, some expatriates probably enjoy the festival, but most of the people who come are Korean, yes?

Mr. CHUN: Oh, it's the half of Korean, it's (unintelligible) on the street.

MARTIN: What do you think that Korean people like about it?

Mr. CHUN: Well, different culture, and they would like to know - learn, you know, exchange the Korean culture to (unintelligible) to the overseas. And they would like to accept this from other culture coming to Korea.

MARTIN: Now, you know, Korea is also famous for beer, for its beer, as is Ireland. But the question I have for you: Will you be serving green beer today?

Mr. CHUN: Oh, yes. And Irish bars, you know, are nice. They are serving green beer here today.

MARTIN: What about corned beef and cabbage?

Mr. CHUN: Oh, they do have. Yeah. Corned beef and cabbage. They're serving the Irish food, you know.

MARTIN: What else are you going to be serving?

Mr. CHUN: Well, basically, some Korean food are coming together and some Western food are coming together. Well, they're serving the Guinness, you know? Famous Guinness is all around the city now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, what's your favorite thing about St. Patrick's Day and how it's celebrated in Seoul? What's your favorite part of the holiday?

Mr. CHUN: Well, most of the Korean people loving together - they especially -the Irish people, we have 700 Irish people in Seoul. Also, a lot of Irish -American-Irish people here at the hooley. They have bar with several hundreds of people singing together, drinking together, enjoyed the night, enjoy whole days Irish. There's green all over the street.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for joining us. I'm also wearing my green. But I feel that a green tie seems rather conservative. Do you think you might be able to add a hat perhaps, or perhaps some green pants?

Mr. CHUN: Oh, sure. I do have a hat, too.

MARTIN: You do have a hat, too. Okay.

Mr. CHUN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Byung Chun is the organizer of Korea's 11th annual St. Patrick's Day Festival, which is put on by the Irish Association of Korea. He joined us on the phone from Seoul.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. CHUN: All right. Thank you very much. Enjoy your night.

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