A wave of Korean cultural influence from fashion and beauty to the music industry is taking an ever-increasing hold of Cambodia’s young pop consumers.
Korean novels, translated from the original Korean language to Khmer language, have soared immensely in popularity amid this trendy culture wave.
Usually about 150 to 200 pages in length, these novels have catchy titles – almost always dabbling in the topic of love and romance. Some recent titles have included “Your handsomeness grabs my spirits” and “Fall in love with me, girl”.
These pop novels tend to depict young, budding love and play on the exciting and fast-paced romantic imagination of young adults.
Hom Rattana, a student at the University of Law and Economics, said that she’s been reading these romantic novels since her first year of high school.
“The novel has impacts on young people’s mindsets, because it encourages them to have a longing for a certain sweetness and affection from their partner. It makes me want the romantic partner I’m reading about,” she said.
“Khmer novels usually have a lesson at the centre of them, but we aren’t learning much from these Korean novels besides one depiction of love,” Hom Rattana added.
She said that because of this central theme of love and romance, and especially because of the fun and interesting writing style this creates, she prefers these K-pop romance novels to Khmer novels. She finds herself wanting to follow-up on the characters’ stories because they are the same age as Hom Rattana, and like herself, university students.
Heng Solida, another K-pop novel enthusiast, said that most readers are girls, as the novels put a strong focus on playing up to female sentiments.
“The novels use great language and funny phrases to keep me emotionally entertained,” she said.
It’s pretty clear that as young Cambodians, we probably don’t always have the disciplined habits of taking time out of our day to read. This brings us straight to the television. But, the rise of K-pop novels has been challenging the stereotype of youngsters in front of the TV screen as of late, as youth are choosing novels over their favourite programming.
Sok Chanphal, a writer and lyric composer, said that these novels keep readers interested with their fun language, and are missing any messages of importance.
“Some writers just write for the sake of writing. As the writer, we should include a message for the readers because it can help society,” he said.
Ly Chanda chooses not to read K-pop novels because he believes, too, that they lack a message.
“As young Cambodians, we should know what messages are good and what messages are bad. We have to understand that these novels are only for entertainment, and have little to do with real life.”
Vrek Danita, a university student, used to read K-pop novels but now finds them a waste of time.
“It brings teenagers into an imagined world. High school girls who like to read these kinds of books will want to try to have the same kind of lover, and then they’re set up for failure. On top of that, females are portrayed as inferior to their male counterparts.”