Korean traditions a driver for Champion

His love of the Korean language, culture and history and a desire to see younger generations keep traditions alive drives the latest SuperSeniors Champion to contribute to the community.

Fan dance on Korean Fork day by children of NZSOK

Seung-jae Yu, QSM, is the chairman of board of trustees for the School of Korea which operates in Northcote on a Saturday.

There are more than 250 students who come from all over Auckland for the lessons.

“We rent out a Catholic primary school with good facilities and we have about 250 – 280 Korean students, aged 4-16 years,” says Mr Yu.

There are about 30 teachers and volunteers committed to passing on their knowledge.

“They are teaching Korean language, Korean culture, history,” he says.

Korean students performing a fan dance (right).

“The class is for two hours and they’re teaching writing and speaking, and also expressing some respect to elders.

“Actually the word is different for children between their friends and between themselves and to parents so we are teaching them [about that]”.

Sung-Jae Yu

The students are also given an opportunity to learn about traditional Korean music and Tae-kwon do, a martial arts.

Mr Yu (left) is also a tutor of calligraphy and has two classes specifically for adults as well as teaching students at the school.

“There’s a lot of interest in the art of calligraphy because that’s the traditional Chinese and Korean way of writing since ancient times.”

He believes it binds the Korean community together.

“Otherwise they would forget gradually our own art so by practising regularly and by way of exhibitions, we remind them of our old art.

“I started [calligraphy] when I was a young college boy at the recommendation of my father.

“It was great experience and great fun so I’m still enjoying it- a lifelong enjoyment. And by practising, I come to know more of the old records, records of books.”

The art of calligraphy

The two adult calligraphy classes run by Mr Yu are held in Glenfield and about 30 people, in total, attend.

“They are held in the local community church, Hanouri Church, a Korean word meaning one world,” says Mr Yu.

“We have an annual exhibition round the Lunar calendar new year. Normally it falls at the end of January or early February but our exhibition next year will be the 20th of January at Mairangi Arts Centre.

“When we have [calligraphy] exhibitions – normally we write some poems, poetic expressions and all the records so I put them all into English so that Kiwi friends can understand what that means.”

calligraphy exhibition at a gallery

An exhibition is held each year

For many years, Mr Yu lived and worked in South Korea as a businessman involved in the import and export of textiles and food.

He moved with his family to New Zealand at the end of 1993 and finds being part of the expatriate Korean community rewarding.

“I’m one of the Kiwis and one of the Koreans. The Koreans of my age group, say over 60 or 70, they’re responsible for showing our young generations what our tradition is so calligraphy is one way to show them what’s our identity.”

Raising value

Being involved in the community is all about positive ageing, says the SuperSeniors Champion.

“I think the aged people become more and more unwanted people to the community or society.

calligraphy on a fan

"So in order not to be unwanted people, we develop our own ability or raise up our value.

“We have to show the youngsters and the community we are not simply old people.

“We have a lot of knowledge, we have a lot of experience so we have to show them, and provide them with our own experience and knowledge in order not to be unwanted.”

Mr Yu says older members of the Korean community also look out for each other.

“It’s the people who understand the other aged people so we can come closer than any other age group - we can be friendly and we can be very helpful to each other.

“We can do a lot of things for aged people.”