Dubai: Get ready for K-drama on Sharjah televisions. For the first time, a South Korean media group is about to partner with a media group in the UAE. But, behind this partnership is a story of deep friendship and bond.
This month, South Korea’s leading television and radio broadcaster Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a prestigious and elite Sharjah media entity.
Behind this partnership are the efforts of two friends – one from South Korea and the other from the UAE – who want to bridge all cultural gaps between the two countries by bringing businesses together.
The arrangements for the partnership have been made by a company called Alpha Narmo, co-founded by Mohammed Kim, from South Korea and his Emirati partner Ahmed Alfandi.
Mohammed Kim was 32 when he first landed in Dubai from Korea.
“I came to UAE 15 years ago, in 2008, to study an MBA course. I was a young army captain at that time and in South Korea, as part of your training, you are sent to different parts of the world to study.
“They chose for me to go to Abu Dhabi,” recalled the 48-year-old entrepreneur.
“I landed in Dubai…. I remember taking a taxi to Al Ain.
“Today, many Koreans are working in Abu Dhabi. But, when I came here, I was the only Korean student in our class.”
...when I came here, I was the only Korean student in our class.
Kim remembers how he fell in love with the UAE’s culture, traditions, and people. He made many Emirati friends.
“I wanted to learn everything about the UAE. I told my friends to teach me as they would teach a baby. They invited me to the house, to their families… I would even call all my Emirati brothers’ mums ‘mama’.”
“From taking Emirati cooking classes to riding a camel, I wanted to learn everything,” said Kim.
Soon, he had fully adapted to the UAE, and the UAE had accepted him with warmth too.
He went back to South Korea after completing his studies. He returned to the UAE in 2018 as the army attaché (a military expert, who is attached to a diplomatic mission, often an embassy) at the Korean embassy.
“This is when I met Ahmed Alfandi, as part of work. However, our relationship extended beyond work.”
In each other, Kim and Alfandi had found a trusted friend.
“I love him like my own brother… when I met him, things changed for me,” the 48-year-old Alfandi told Gulf News.
During his days as a university student in the US, Alfandi had seen many students from different cultures trying to adapt to a new environment. But, he was impressed by Kim’s efforts to adapt to the UAE. “He was trying to learn and adopt a culture that Koreans barely know about.
“Here was a Korean man who had studied at Emirates University Al Ain and loved camels and camping like us. When we started working together I found out that he was so keen on delivering Emirati culture and thoughts to his people in Korea. I started understanding that we can do so much together,” said Alfandi.
I found out that he was so keen on delivering Emirati culture and thoughts...
Alfandi also developed an interest in South Korean culture. He even tried to learn Korean.
The two of them started developing a vision – to connect people and businesses across the two countries. “We used to meet regularly,” said Kim.
One day, over a cup of qahwa (Arabic coffee), Kim tried to explain to Alfandi that he wanted to bridge the gap in culture and knowledge between South Korea and the UAE.
“We discussed the different ways to bring people of the two countries closer. There are many cultural differences – from eating to thinking. There are many ways to improve the gap. I told Ahmed I want to resign.”
By 2020, Kim had made up his mind. “I became a civilian, and started exploring ways to help the two countries.
“During my stay in the UAE, I realised that young people from the UAE are very connected to Korean culture, they listen to K-pop, they want to have cultural exchanges, and they want to know how Koreans enjoy their daily life, right down to what ice cream they eat or what coffee they drink.
“I had also understood that Koreans were very interested in the Middle East. The distance between the two countries is just 10 hours,” said Kim.
Kim started looking out for opportunities where he could get involved in cultural exchanges between the two countries.
“Our government was already initiating many cultural exchanges, so I tried to get involved. I would participate in them, sometimes as a speaker. I would give a small talk about the UAE culture and sometimes even show them how to eat the Emirati dish machboos with your hand.”
Right about this time, Covid-19 hit and everyone had to stay at home. But the two friends made it a point to keep in touch.
“I would tell him that we will together tackle the bridge of culture.”
After much deliberation and planning, they finally founded a company called Alpha Narmo, it was registered in November 2022.
Seasoned JRR Tolkien fans would probably identify the world ‘narmo’, which refers to a wolf in the elvish Quenya language constructed by the author.
This makes ‘Alpha narmo’, the ‘alpha’ or the leader of a pack.
“We wanted to focus on the synergy of the two countries. We aimed to go out and find people who needed our help. We wouldn’t wait for them to come to us, we would find them fast, like wolves. Our logo is also a wolf.”
The company is licensed under the same name in both the UAE and Korea.
From industry to meditech (medical technology) Alpha Narmo started helping young Korean entrepreneurs to explore the UAE.
Slowly, they expanded to the oil and gas and other industries.
Today, the business has successfully helped 15 businesses. But, their current focus is the media industry.
“Currently, Alpha Narmo is focusing on the next generation. For instance, bringing Korean startups and this MBC academy into the UAE will be a great opportunity for young people from both countries to learn and improve.”
Both Kim and Alfandi see a huge potential for Korean entertainment in the UAE.
“When MBC contacted me to do business in the Middle East, I immediately discussed it with Alfandi. MBC had previously signed an MoU with WAM or Emirates News Agency, the official news agency of the UAE. But, this was limited to news.
Kim added that the MoU with the UAE-based media entity will look at more than just K-dramas and TV shows.”
The MoU will state the main cooperation points between the two companies, including “a media art museum using media technology like AI and Metaverse. Sharjah-Korea media content production, and other items including startups”.
It will also look at “K-pop contests, Korean TV drama, TV shows like survival games, and more,” revealed Kim.
“It is not just to sell television shows, we are looking at co-production as well, with UAE producers and staff. They will help get introduced to each other’s culture. Both people will learn and develop their knowledge based on media content.” he added.