Moving abroad changes people in interesting ways. The way you greet people in shops, the way you act around your friends, the way you eat, what you eat, when you eat; your lifestyle changes. Your interests and tastes also change. You start to like things that you wouldn’t ordinarily take an interest in. And oh boy, has this ever happened to me!
Before I moved to Korea I wasn’t really into the whole emoji scene. I hated the clothing with emojis on, I hated the decorative emoji cushions, and don’t get me started on the obsession with the poop emoji. However, since living in Seoul I have become a rather avid fan of Ryan – one of the Kakao Friends characters.
For those who don’t know, KakaoTalk is the Korean version of Whatsapp. It’s run by Kakao, a large internet company who also have apps such as KakaoStory (like Facebook), KakaoMusic, and even KakaoTaxi (what is an “Uber” anyway?), among a plethora of other services to serve your everyday life. When you first download KakaoTalk, there are a set of emojis/character emoticons that are pre-installed, showcasing the basic range of, what are now known as, the Kakao Friends. They have names, personalities, and even relationships between themselves! They have become increasingly popular over the years, to the point where there are entire shops dedicated to KakaoFriends merchandise, and recently a new face was introduced to the gang: Ryan.
According to the character information page on the KakaoFriends website, Ryan “is a male lion born without a mane” who is “broad and burly” and has been adopted as the leader of the KakaoFriends gang. He has taken the country by storm, being accepted and loved not only by his electronic companions, but the millions of Kakao users also. He has just as much merch as the other characters, if not more. You want Ryan pyjamas? You can buy them. A Ryan oven glove? It’s yours! A four-foot tall Ryan cuddly toy? You’ve got it!
I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a firm Ryan convert. I never thought I would get caught up in the Kakao Friends madness, but there’s something about the little brown
bear lion that has grabbed my heart (and my wallet) and had me running to the shops to buy everything and anything Ryan-related. I have Ryan tissue boxes (at home and in my classroom at work), Ryan sticky notes, Ryan plasters, a Ryan USB-powered fan (I mean look at him, he’s in a plane!), Ryan stickers, and even a Ryan earring for my helix piercing. My latest addition is a Ryan phone case which I’m in love with. Isn’t he just the coolest guy? (Don’t answer that.)
I think it’s his eyebrows that have me loving him so much. No-nonsense, straight-up, stand-up Ryan (who rejected his status as royalty on the fictional Doong Doong Island, I’ll have you know) is a firm favourite for me and the rest of Korea. Who is your favourite Kakao Friend?