Taekwondo Tweety in South Korea

South Korea


South Korea is a well economically developed country mainly through its "chaebols", major corporations, like Lotte, LG, Hyundai, Daewoo, Kia, or Samsung which name means "three stars". Most of them have a strong presence in Europe.

The Korean alphabet, hangeul, is one of the most logical (if not he best) in the world. It was created during the 15th century. Phew ! no need to deal with the ideograms but beaware, beyond basic formulas, the korean language is often considered as one of the most complex Asian languages, particularly because of its politeness forms. While there is only one in english (if we except speaking to God), only two in french or spanish... there are at least 7 which are fairly commons in korean. However the latin alphabet is often used on the road signposts, partly because of the strong U.S. military presence.
South Korea is indeed still officially at war with neighboring North Korea. The same people was divided by the end of world war II. After the capitulation of the Japanese invaders who occupied the whole Korea since 1910. The northern part is under the influence of Communist China whereas South Korea is under the capitalist influence of the United States. In 1950 North Korea invaded the country to achieve unification in its favor. Taken by surprise, South Korea was almost fully occupied when the United States and its allies got a UN mandate (Russia had practiced empty chair policy) to intervene. The Chinese intervention stopped the counter offensive in 1953 at the 38th parallel, which became the border and a UN demilitarized zone (although this may be one of the most militarized in the world in practice).

Let's note the hospitality of the Koreans who will spontaneously give you a help if you seem to have lost your bearings, the very good network of buses, and the KTX which is actually the (french) TGV. And let's add that Korean society is arguably the most Confucian in the world (get informations about Confucianism on travelogue China page Shanghai - Confucius temple). What could seem to be paradoxical as Koreans are also regarded as the "Latins" of Asia. And to release the pressure, they will have a glass of soju or a beer in the evening (always with a meal or snack) and then they will go and sing in a nolaebang (which is the Korean name for karaoke). It is worth trying if you go to Korea as it is quite effective to unwind. Another thing that is worth giving a try is  : sauna (jiljibang) where you can stay all day and spend the night in an "alcove".

General information about "the land of the morning calm"

Motto : none official
Anthem : Aegukga (the song of love for the country)

(source : http://www.flaggen-server.de/​main/main.php)

Symbol : Taegeuk

Symbol : taegeuk

Note : the hibiscus is the national flower. As it is resistant to insects, it symbolizes the stamina of korean people.

National flower : hibiscus

Flag :

Flag of south Korea

The taegeukki is the name of the korean flag. On a white background (land, nation), it combines the circle (symbol of infinity that represents the people here) to the taegeuk and to 4 of the 8 -Taoist- palgwe (top left then clockwise : Heaven, Water, Earth and Fire). White is also a symbol of peace.
The taegeuk, korean symbol, represents harmony with a blue part for the yin (dark force, earth ...) and a red part for the yang (enlighted strength, Heaven).
Note : the yin and the yang come from taoism.

Capital : Seoul
"the capital of the land of the morning calm" -actually no surname for the capital but only for the country-
Landmark : Namdaemun gate
Population : 48.5 Millions inhabitants (2009)
(11 Millions in Seoul and more than 22 millions with the outskirts)
Area : 99 720 km2 (38,500 square miles)
Currency : Won
Religion :
  • Buddhism : ~30% (certains chiffres indiquent 45%)
  • Protestantism : ~20%
  • Catholicism : 10%
  • Shaman
  • Others : Confucianism (seen as a religion), Unification church (Moon sect), Chondogyo, Daejonggyo
Political system : Republic
Official language : Korean
Time zone : UTC +9h
(from United Kingdom : + 8h in summer and + 9h in winter)
Architectural styles :
  • The "giwajib" or tiled roofs with a curved shape.
  • The palaces and temples, built without nails... The doors and windows are covered with hanji, a paper made of mulberry-bark, very resistant (it should last a thousand years), letting in light, and with good weather resistance. Its polychrome decorations, dancheong, are developed through spiritual quest.
  • Previously, houses were made with thatched roofs (unfortunately they have almost completly disappeared).
Folklore and traditions :
  • Solal (Chinese new year) and Chuseok (harvest festival, during which one worships the dead)
  • Several dances in different regions... For instance : the masked dance (old parody) and "salmunori" -the name varies by region- which is a freestyle dance with a hat decorated with a long ribbon.
  • The traditional dress is the hanbok.
  • The folk song Arirang, which describes the efforts of travellers to cross a mountain pass, became a sort of unofficial anthem of Korea.
Culinary specialities :
  • Samgyeopsal : Grilled pork slices. Eaten with a lettuce leaf or a mulberry leaf.
  • Panchan : accompaniment served with rice.
    Ex : namuls (vegetables : leaves of sesame, soybean, turnip, white radish, spinach, lotus root...), squid, eomuk (ou odeng) : fish paste, acorn flavored paste (dotorimok), turnip, kimchi...
  • Kimchi : it is the panchan served almost at every meal.
    It is a very spicy and fermented cabbage. It is prepared in november/december ("kimjang") and after soaking in water and salt, it is left to ferment in the chili for 3 to 4 months or more. There is also white kimchi : same but without chilli. Turnips and cucumbers can sometimes replace the cabbage.
  • Bibimpap : rice mixed with vegetables and egg
  • Bulgogi et Galbi : the first one is beef in a caramelized soy sauce and the second one are marinated beef ribs.
  • Jjigae : stew
  • Kimpap : korean "sandwich". Rice is mixed with strips of carrot, turnip, omelet, ham, sausage (sometimes tuna) and wrapped with kim (seaweed leaf).
  • Mandu : sort of korean dumplings made from rice paste.
  • Nouilles : lamyeon (often spicy), naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles served in a cold broth)
  • Pajeon : korean "pizza". sort of pancake with onion, leek, seafood or kimchi (kimchijeon).
  • Sundae (pronounced "soundae") : korean sausage made from pig's blood mixed with "noodles" of potatoes and vegetables.
  • Tteokbeokgi : cylinder shaped paste rice, very spicy.
  • Twigim : fried fish sold on the street.
  • Insam : korean ginseng. There are several sort of ginseng as the red ginseng.
  • Fruits : persimmon (which can be astringent because of tanin); chamwae (yellow melon with white streaks); jujube or "red date" or "Chinese date" (it is not directly eaten but used in cooking or in tea); Korean peach; Korean grapes; watermelons; pomegranate...
  • Candies : kkul tarrea (traditional delicacy formerly served to kings, queens and important people). In the center, there are sesame seeds and almonds, and around them threads of honey and malt -over 16,000 !- to symbolize longevity, health and luck...; hanggwa (rice cake); tteok : another rice cake; yakwa : biscuit with honey sometimes served with tea; patpingsu : dessert made of crushed ice with sweet red beans, fruit, cereal and sorbet.
Drink :
  • Tea, that can be taken in a traditional teahouse (dawon)
    Dawon Inside a dawon
  • Korean beer
  • Liquor made from rice : soju, makeoli, dongdongju
  • Raspberry wine (bokbunjajoo) or plum wine
  • Soft drinks : aloe drink, sikhye -sweetened rice drink-
Miscellaneous :
  • As in other Asian countries, the importance is given to who you are rather than to how you look like and harmony (the hwa) is the basis of good relations.
  • The writing, called hangeul, is composed of an alphabet invented by the Koreans themselves in the fifteenth century under king Sejong.
  • One takes and gives with two hands, a mark of respect. (i.e. either one hand under the forearm, or one hand under the arm, or one hand on the belly : it depends on the region or on the most convenient).
  • As in Asia more generally, do not let another person lose face.
  • It is usual to ask directly for one's age, religion and family status during the first meeting. As Korean society is very confucian, this is the easiest way to position oneself to another person.
  • One eat with chopsticks and spoon.
  • One do not blow their nose in public and certainly not put the tissue in their pocket (as it is supposed to be similar to toilet paper after use)...
  • People can clear the throat and spit in the street. Do not be offended.
  • In a taxi, never go out through the back left door as it brings misfortune.
  • In buildings, floor #4 is often not indicated by the number 4 as it is an unlucky number (in Asia, it is often associated with death) and is replaced by the letter F (four).
  • We take off our shoes inside and we sit cross-legged, although more and more apartments are with tables and chairs. We usually sleep on the (heated) floor.
  • Official documents are still signed with a seal. The buffer is called dojang or ingame.
  • There are many nolaebang (karaoke room), billiards, ping pong room where the Koreans go after a drink with friends.
  • There are also many PCbangs (cyber cafes). The addiction of many young Korean with network games is a problem in Korea... However, there are very few drugs deal and the penalties are severe.
  • Saunas or "jiljibang" are very common in Korea. There are baths (hot and cold), heated or refrigerated room, but also internet, gym room, sale of snacks and possibility to sleep in a small alcove for a person.
  • The saunas are open 24/24 and once entered, you can stay as long as you want. Koreans usually go there early in the evening until late in the morning of the day after.
  • In the "suljib" ("Alcohol houses"), even though we only want to have a drink, we must order one dish as for instance : chicken, "korean pancake"...
  • There is a "ritual" in how to drink alcohol.
  • We pour drink one after another and we do not pour drink for oneself. It is primarily the youngest who serves the oldest.
  • Ditto, when drinking the first glass, the youngest turns slightly on one side.
  • Then, while clinking glasses, we put our mug at the right height depending on the social importance of the person with whom we are drinking (either higher or lower than them)...
  • An undue emphasis is given to the blood group...
  • One think (or thought) that the interpretation of the dreams of a pregnant mother could help to deduce the sex of the child.
  • Importance of the visiting card : it must be received with respect by taking care to watch it. Not to be slipped into the pocket immediately.
  • As a gift, it is a good idea to bring fruit (which are relatively expensive in Korea).
  • There tablets of the ancestors to represent their souls (ditto China).
  • Fitness devices are present everywhere along the roads or near the parks.
  • Public toilets are widespread whereas dustbins are scarce...
  • The ginkgo biloba, also called maidenhair tree.
    Ginkgo leaf

    Beside, the particular leaf of ginkgo can help to recognize it.

    The ginkgo is a tree dating back to the dinosaurs era of the cretaceous. It has the characteristic of being resistant to radiation. It is also a gendered tree, which means that there is a male tree and female tree.

  • Celadon Art (green ceramic) which originally comes from China but has been improved by Koreans.
  • Note the recurring tensions with the North Korea of Kim Jong Il (who succeeded his father Kim Il-sung), whose ideology, inspired from marxist-communism, is called Juche. There is no official armistice of the 1950-53 war and the 38th parallel is an area (theoretically) demilitarized and closely watched by both parties.
  • And a lot more... there are so much to say...