Ppally-ppally in Busy Brissie – Finding Korea in Brisbane, Australia

Written by on May 21, 2014 in Korea Abroad, Special Report, Travel
The iconic Story Bridge and Brisbane River

The iconic Story Bridge and Brisbane River

 After living in South Korea for four years, I decided it was time to embark on a new adventure. Following a three-month visit to Christchurch (which I wrote about earlier, link available below), I moved to the sunny land down under – yup, Australia! My partner Patrick and I landed in Brisbane, Queensland in mid-March, getting our bearings and catching up with Patrick’s family there. While we were out and about enjoying all that Brisbane has to offer, I thought I’d share a few tidbits of Korean culture that stood out during my journeys. ^^

*Earlier blog about visiting Christchurch here.

Australia has seven sister cities paired with South Korea one of which is Brisbane, twinned with Daejeon since 2002. I discovered this on Brissie’s South Bank when I happened across a “friendship stone” donated by Daejeon announcing that very fact! Like I mentioned in my post about finding Korean connections in New Zealand, sometimes it feels like you don’t have to look that hard to see something familiar in a new place. I practically tripped over it in this instance!

Daejeon-Brisbane Friendship Stone on South Bank, Brisbane, Australia

Darn you, Daejeon-Brisbane Friendship Stone! Why are you so shiny?!

Funnily enough, I was on the South Bank to take a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane, an enormous Ferris wheel and tourist trap perfectly designed for admiring the city and the river that divides it. I was actually gifted the ticket by my Korean friend Sunny (Sun-jung) who had been living in Brisbane. Sunny and I were introduced in New Zealand when we were both visiting our mutual friend Sarah, who I met when I was teaching in Gyeonggi-do, an hour outside of Seoul. Follow that? Anyway, this is what I mean! No matter how far I travel, I just can’t seem to shake that Korean connection! I had a great time on the Wheel of Brisbane thanks to Sun-jung’s gift (and indirectly thanks to Korea and my weird connections to it everywhere I go). Thanks, Sunny!

Writer Jessica Steele and her partner sightseeing on the Wheel of Brisbane

Taking a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane, thanks to my Korean friend Sunny!

As if I didn’t attract enough Korean energy to myself, Patrick chose to wear his Korean baseball jersey on one of the days we were touring around Brisbane (go Giants!). Most people didn’t notice, but the ones who did got a real kick out of it! Walking down a busy street, I heard a shocked whisper, “Hwang Jae Gyun? Lotte Giants?!”. Since Patrick’s jersey has only a little bit of English writing on it, I knew that whoever was whispering had to be Korean or at least know how to read Hangeul. We turned to see a smiling young Korean couple and gave a little wave. I wish I’d thought to ask for their photo, but these things always occur to me just a bit too late. We heard hushed mumblings from several other Koreans throughout the day, and I think that Patrick’s souvenir definitely brought smiles to more than a few faces.

Sporting a Korean jersey and passing a PC bang in Brisbane

Patrick sporting a Korean jersey and passing a PC bang in Brisbane

While those few encounters are all well and good, no proper “Korean culture spotting” report would be complete without at least a mention of a local store or business selling Korean goods and services and Brisbane doesn’t disappoint. Patrick and I were looking for jobs during our trip to Brisbane, so in between sightseeing pit-stops we were taking calls from recruiters. At one point Patrick stopped by a quiet stairwell to take a call. I wandered into the attached convenience store to pass the time and noticed that something was just a little bit off – why were there packs of dried seaweed and cup ramyeon everywhere? Darting back up to street level, I found my answer – of all the stairwells and all the convenience stores to stop in front of, Patrick and I had managed to rest by a Korean mart!

Korean food for sale at a mart in Brisbane

Wait a minute… What’s going on here? Stumbling on a Korean mart

Looking around we also saw a Korean miyongsil (hairdresser) and PC bang (internet café). In fact, the whole street was dotted with Korean restaurants, though they weren’t labeled as such. We had stumbled into an unofficial kind of Korea Town en route to our next destination! We had been through China Town earlier in the day and had seen a few Korean restaurants (and a Gangnam Style hair shop!), but this was something different all together, though perhaps not marked on any map. We laughed at ourselves and our accidental discovery and from then we started to notice more and more cultural tidbits – Korean banknotes in the museum, Korean posters on the streets, and gifts from Korean fans on display at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could easily write a blog on Korean culture in Brisbane.

Korean hairshop in Brisbane

Fancy a new hairdo?

A quick web search revealed that over 150,000 Australians identify themselves as being of Korean descent and 29,614 Koreans traveled Australia on working holiday visas in 2012. Figures also show that South Korean tourists to Australia are spending more and travelling further afield than before, moving away from Sydney to cities like Brisbane, Melbourne, and Perth. South Korean-born business people and celebrities are also gaining attention. Stars like singer Dami Im (임다미), winner of the fifth installment of X-Factor Australia, and fashion designer Hwa Sook Lee Bora and her couture line BORA are bringing attention to Brisbane and beyond.

South Korean-born designer BORA's shop in the high-end Brisbane Arcade, Australia

South Korean-born designer BORA’s shop in the high-end Brisbane Arcade

Dami Im hails from Daisy Hill, a suburb of Logan city located near Brisbane, and has become the best known winner of the X-Factor Australia series since securing her win in 2013. The BORA fashion line is also Brisbane-based and is best known for the elaborate beaded gown worn by Jennifer Hawkins when she won the Miss Universe crown for Australia in 2004. These days, it’s easier and easier to find Korean designers and shops, many of them found along Brisbane’s bustling Elizabeth Street alongside other trendy boutiques. With statistics and stars like these, is it any wonder then that I’d stumble across a Korean mart or bump into giggling Lotte Giants baseball fans in Brisbane?

Fans from around the world signed these shirts as tribute to Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin following his passing in 2006. Australia Zoo, Brisbane.

Korean fans and fans from around the world signed these shirts as tribute to
Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin following his passing in 2006

So while I set out to see the sights of Brisbane, I came home with fond reminders of Korea and all of my travels before and since. With such a global community it’s becoming harder and harder to travel in a bubble and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I moved to Australia from Korea, so it’s only natural that all my memories and experiences are mixed in together like some kind of big multicultural bibimbap. Terrible food jokes aside, I went out to see new things and came home with stories to tell and memories to cherish even if they were a little jumbled up. In the end, isn’t that what travel is all about?

Written by Jessica Steele for The Korea Blog. Content may not be reproduced without permission.


About the Author

Jessica Steele

Jessica Steele is a Canadian expat teaching, writing, and adventuring in Busan, South Korea. She has lived in Korea for nearly four years, but her travels aren’t finished yet. Her favourite things in Korea are the festivals, neon lights, and of course, kimchi.