The Korean Experience


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The Korean Experience

  1. 1. The Korean Experience<br />Ramamurthy Prakash B6th September 2010<br />Table of contents TOC o " 1-3" h z u First Impressions PAGEREF _Toc271543371 h 3Brief history PAGEREF _Toc271543372 h 4Geo-political context PAGEREF _Toc271543373 h 5Economy & Industry PAGEREF _Toc271543374 h 6Education System PAGEREF _Toc271543375 h 7Demographics PAGEREF _Toc271543376 h 8Religion PAGEREF _Toc271543377 h 8Society & Customs PAGEREF _Toc271543378 h 9Sense of seniority PAGEREF _Toc271543379 h 9Traditional costumes PAGEREF _Toc271543380 h 9People PAGEREF _Toc271543381 h 9Traditional art PAGEREF _Toc271543382 h 10Modern art forms PAGEREF _Toc271543383 h 11Korean Cuisine PAGEREF _Toc271543384 h 11Kimchi PAGEREF _Toc271543385 h 12Bibimpap PAGEREF _Toc271543386 h 12Table setting and manners PAGEREF _Toc271543387 h 12References PAGEREF _Toc271543388 h 13<br />First Impressions<br />19050-2540 After four hours of flying from Hong Kong, we landed at the Incheon Airport at around 7 PM. The landing was smooth. The weather is slightly humid outside, with mild drizzles. The temperature is about 25 degrees yet the mood is quite upbeat – After all, we are visiting South Korea for the first time!<br />I quickly opened my English-Korea pocket guide and rehearsed a few Korean phrases –<br />EnglishKoreaGood EveningAnnyeong-heseyoHow do you do?Cheo-eum boepgetseoyoNice to meet you!Mannaseo bangawoyo!Thank you!Gamsa-hamnida!You are beautiful!Dangsin-eun aleumdabseubnida!<br />I just could not get my tongue around the last phrase but the cute airhostesses on Korean Air made me think that’s the phrase I’d perhaps use the most in Korea. In the guise of stretching out I also practised a little bit of bowing. Now I am all set to enter Korea!<br />190503175 The sprawling modern airport with its numerous LCD displays and shopping arcades gave us the first glimpse of prosperity and technological superiority of South Korea. Youjin, a nice lady from KAIST, came to receive us at the airport. She spoke fluent English, but with a slight drawl towards the end. (Later I would find that the drawl is a characteristic of Korean language, which makes it sound quite musical). We were quickly escorted to a bus that would take us to our hotel in Seoul. The bus drove past the famous Han River with its numerous bridges all lighted up to make for a beautiful experience. In about an hour, we were dropped off at our hotel, Dormy Inn, which is at the heart of one of Seoul’s busiest shopping districts. We quickly had dinner and hit the bed. We need a good night sleep to catch all the action in days to follow.<br />Brief history<br />We visited the National Museum of Korea to understand the Korea’s history. According to legend, the Korean nation was born when a tiger and a bear prayed to the gods to become human. They were granted their wish. They were each given mugwort and garlic to eat for twenty-one days straight; only then would each of them be transformed into a human being. The tiger soon gave up and requited himself to being a tiger for all ages. The bear, however, survived the diet and became a beautiful woman. She would later marry Hwanung, the embodiment of the gods, and then give birth to Tangun, the founder of the Korean race. <br />The habitation of early mankind in Korea appears to have started about half a million years ago. The first kingdom, named Gojoseon (Ancient Joseon) lasted till 108 B.C. after which the three ancient kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekjae and Silla ruled the Korean peninsula. The period of their rule is known as Three Kingdom’s period which extended till 668 A.D. Goguryeo and Baekjae were ultimately taken over by Silla, unifying the entire peninsula. The unified Silla period stretching till 935 A.D is considered a golden age of Korean culture. Subsequently Goryeo dynasty took over the peninsula and ruled it till 1392 A.D. During this time Korea apparently got its current name derived from the name of the dynasty. <br />190504445 Joseon dynasty took over the riens in 1392 A.D and ruled Korea till 1910 A.D. During this period Korea has been the traditional battlefield for the Chinese and the Japanese. Each would invade the other using Korea as the staging ground because of its strategic location. The Joseon dynasty was finally ended by Japanese invasion in 1910. Korea remained under Japanese colonial rule for 35 years until the end of World War II. Finally on August 15th 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies and withdrew from Korean peninsula, which was then divided into two: South Korea in the free world and North Korea in the communist bloc. The Republic of Korea in the south established as an independent three years later. The Koreans developed a tenacious grasp of their heritage and traditions as a direct consequence of outside interference over the centuries. It is no wonder that they hold onto those values as if their very lives depend upon it. In many cases, it did. These are the foundations of their present day attitudes toward all foreigners. Now that they are in control of their own country, they exhibit isolationism and nationalism to extreme.<br />Geo-political context <br />The Korean conflict happened during 1950-1953 between North Korea and South Korea. All that’s necessary to remind ourselves that Korea is still in a state of war is to head north from Seoul for about forty-five minutes to visit the Line of Control at 38th parallel. We visited the site on our second day of our trip. The travel guide explained us the story of the conflict –<br />Once Korea was liberated from the Japan in 1945, the communists in northern Korea wanted to unify Korea under communism. In 1950 they started a surprise attack against Seoul. Within a few days, the South Korean defences had collapsed and the communists were riding at full speed toward the tip of the Korean peninsula. But then the United Nations decided to intervene. The first contingent was a group of U.S. Army soldiers headed by General Douglas MacArthur. The contingent landed at the tip of the Korean peninsula and proceeded to suffer nearly a 100 percent casualty rate in the next few days. More troops arrived and began to enlarge the defences, slowly pushing the Northerners back, a few yards at a time. Then, just three weeks after the first shots in the war were fired, U.S. Army launched a daring amphibious landing at Incheon and attacked the occupied Seoul from the communists’ blind side. The tables were now turned. The North Koreans were the ones fleeing at full speed. The U.N. armies went far beyond the 38th parallel—the original dividing line between the North and the South that was decided upon by the United States and Russia at the end of World War II—and soon set their sights on a complete victory. As U.S. and U.N. troops streamed northward in great haste to reach the Yalu River and the border with China, the Chinese authorities viewed the U.N. assault past the 38th parallel as a direct attack on their own territory. Just before U.N. troops reached the Yalu, a massive counterattack of the Chinese People’s Army units allied with North Korea began. The attacking role switched once again as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army took on the role of the attacker and U.N. and South Korean forces waged a fighting retreat, pulling back to the original starting lines. The war finally reached a stalemate phase, with both sides trading artillery fire and commando raids for the next year and a half. A final armistice resulted in the border being drawn at the same 38th parallel from which the fighting had started.<br />There was never a peace treaty. Technically, the United States and South Korea are still at war with North Korea. The only difference is that—for the most part—the warfare is all psychological, with few bullets trading sides. The war, and the ghosts of war that hang over the peninsula sixty years later, is very much still a part of life in Korea.<br />A future war between the Koreas would not look like the first Korean War. Casualties would be in the tens of thousands in the first few days. Chemical and possibly nuclear weapons would be used. <br />Now each of the major geopolitical players in the region wants Korea to remain divided that way. Chinese administrations think that North Korea is a critical buffer state on the northern frontier and so should be controlled within China's interests. China also fears that a unified Korea would have designs on China’s Korean-speaking provinces, and maybe even all of Manchuria. That’s why it is averse to Korean reunification. Japan fears that a unified Korea will challenge its regional hegemony. Russia, too, would prefer a divided Korean peninsula: Unification would only dampen Russia’s power reach in the area. Even the United States has some conflicts with a unified Korea because it would probably mean the end to the presence of its troops on the peninsula.<br />If we had to place a bet on the future of North Korea, our money would be safest if it were placed on the scenario of things staying the same. A powerless but stable North Korea makes the most sense for everyone concerned—except the Koreans.<br />Economy & Industry<br />South Korea has a market economy which ranks 15th in the world by nominal GDP and 12th by purchasing power parity (PPP). It is a high-income developed country, with an emerging economy and is a member of OECD. It is considered to be one of the " Asian Tigers" . South Korea had one of the world's fastest growing economies from 1960s to 1990s. Korea’s work ethic and collective spirit have been the backbone of the country’s economic growth since the 1960s. That growth came from centralized planning, an emphasis on exports, ambitious industrialization goals, and a dedicated, well-educated labour force.<br />The South Korean economy is heavily dependent on international trade, and in 2009, South Korea was the eighth largest exporter and tenth largest importer in the world.19050-4445Export-oriented Industrial Growth1960s: Raw materials, plywood, textilesEarly 1970s: Clothing and footwearLate 1970s: Steel and chemicals1980s: Automobiles, electrical goods, electronics In the 60’s Korea specialized in building cars and ships—big brawny industries that took advantage of the country’s low cost labour. The economy is now dominated by new industries, such as entertainment, software, and telecommunications equipment manufacturing.<br />3371850252730<br />There are powerful global multinationals owning numerous enterprises in Korea. They are usually referred to as “Chaebols” meaning " business family" or " monopoly" or " conglomerate" in Korean. There are several dozen large Korean family-controlled corporate groups which fall under this definition. Through aggressive governmental support and finance, some have become well-known international brand names, such as Samsung, Hyundai and LG.<br />Education System<br />In Korea, education has long been the key to a person’s future. What college you attend most often determines your social network and what job you get after school. It also plays a major role in who you will marry and your overall status in society. Education can also be the best way to display filial piety—the virtue of showing respect to your parents. That’s because a person’s education and job reflects on the entire family. Consequently competition is consequently very heated and fierce. <br />A centralised administration in South Korea oversees the process for the education of children from kindergarten to the final year of high school. The Korean state education system is both mentally and physically demanding on students. Korean kids nearly live and breathe school by the time they get to high school. School supposedly starts at 6 or by 7am, and can sometimes last until 9 or 10pm. Korean education also focuses heavily on reading, writing, and comprehension, but very less on speaking.<br />Most students enrolled in high school apply to colleges at the end of the year. Their college entrance depends upon ranking high in objectively graded examinations. High school students face an " examination hell" , a harsh regiment of endless cramming and rote memorization of facts that is incomparably severe. The costs of the " examination hell" have been evident not only in a grim and joyless adolescence for many, if not most, young South Koreans, but also in the number of suicides caused by the constant pressure of tests. Once the examination is through, Korean students have option to join some of the world-class, internationally accredited institutions such as KAIST, Seoul National University, Korea University, Pohang University of Science and Technology and Yonsei University.<br />Demographics<br />South Korea is noted for its population density, which at 487 per square kilometre is more than 10 times the global average. Most South Koreans live in urban areas, due to rapid migration from the countryside during the country's quick economic expansion in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. South Korea is ethnically one of the most homogeneous societies in the world with more than 99 per cent of inhabitants having Korean ethnicity.<br />Religion<br />Religions in South Korea are dominated by both traditional Buddhist faith and a large growing Christian population. Buddhism was introduced to Korea in the year 372. Buddhism has been the national religion of Korea during the medieval times. Most of the Korean Buddhists belong to the Jogye order. Today Christianity is South Korea's largest religion, accounting for more than half of all South Korean religious adherents. Buddhism is the 1905085725second with over 10.7 million Buddhists. However the practice of both of these faiths has been strongly influenced by the enduring legacies of Korean Confucianism, which was the official ideology of the 500-year-long Joseon Dynasty, and Korean shamanism, the native religion of the Korean Peninsula.<br />Society & Customs<br />Sense of seniority<br />The traditional Confucian social structure is still prevalent in Korea. Age and seniority are are all-important and juniors are expected to follow the wishers of the elders without question. Therefore people often ask us age, sometimes marital status and even salary to find out their position relative to us. <br />Traditional costumes<br />190500The hanbok has been Korean people’s traditional costume for thousands of years. Before the arrival of western-style clothing 100 years ago, hanbok was everyday attire in Korea. Men wore jeogari (jackets) with baji (trousers) while women wore jeogari (jackets) with chima (skirts). Today the hanbok is worn on special occasions such as weddings.<br />People<br />The Korean people are perhaps the nicest people on the face of the earth. That's how the people we met in the street and socialized with were. We are treated with the utmost respect, as if you were a God descended from the Heavens. People are willing to go out of their way to help you and show you around. <br />Other significant traits of Korean people are as follows:<br /><ul><li>476250207010Koreans are very hard workers. They are known to work around 16 hours a day. After such strenuous work, they spend a few more hours on socializing. Given the Confucian society of Korea, maintaining relationships and staying in touch becomes very important for the growth of an individual. Effectively Koreans are left with little time to sleep. That makes the Korean way of living very stressful and tiring.
  2. 2. Koreans have fierce collective spirit. Their philosophy is based on the importance of the well- being of the group and harmony among the members.
  3. 3. Koreans are obsessed with appearances. They like fancy clothes and shiny shoes, and they drive immaculately clean cars.
  4. 4. 3343275282575Last but not the least Koreans are generally very quiet people. We don’t know if that is a traditional trait. But whenever we travelled in subways we experienced a pin-drop silence around. Either the people around will be sleeping or will always be busy punching away SMS, playing games or watching digital content on their mobile phones. (so much for the digital revolution spearheaded by Samsung & LG). But they rarely speak in public.</li></ul>Traditional art<br />190500The artistic talents of the Korean people are expressed through music, dance and painting which has evolved over Korea’s 5000 year history. Korean art has been highly influenced by Buddhism and Confucianism, which can be seen in the many traditional paintings, sculptures, ceramics and the performing arts. <br />Korea is rich in musical culture, and its music is distinctive despite tremendous influences from China and Japan. Korean drums play an important part in traditional Korean music, ranging from folk music to19050281940 royal court music. There are a wide variety of shapes and sizes, for use both in accompanying other instruments and in special drumming performances. <br />Modern art forms<br />133350317500<br />Nanta is a popular South Korean musical. It is the longest-running show in Korean history. The musical has a simple back story of three cooks attempting to finish preparing a wedding banquet within a strict time limit while the manager installs his incompetent nephew among the kitchen staff. The show involves acrobatics, magic tricks, comedy, pantomime and audience participation. <br />3486150-19050The unifying element throughout the musical is the use of traditional Korean samul nori music, which in this case in performed with improvised instruments, such as cutting boards, water canisters and kitchen knives. The performance is almost completely non-verbal. Nanta demonstrates the sense of humour and music of the Korean people.<br />Korean Cuisine<br />Korean cuisine is made up of unique aromas and tastes. In addition to being highly nutritious, it is also low in calories. We visited an authentic Korean restaurant near Changdoek palace in Seoul. There, sitting cross-legged on the floor, we tasted some of our favourite Korean dishes.<br />Kimchi <br />190500Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish that can be stored for a long time. In the past, Koreans used to prepare it as a substitute for fresh vegetables during the winter months. Now it is a basic side dish at every Korean meal. There are now close to 200 kimchi varieties differentiated by regions and ingredients. These days kimchi is also gaining popularity worldwide for its nutritional value and healthful properties.<br />Bibimpap<br />3657600777240Bibimbap is a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul (sautés and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (chili pepper paste). The ingredients are stirred together thoroughly just before eating. Vegetables commonly used in bibimbap include julienned cucumber, zucchini, mushrooms, doraji (bellflower root), and gim, as well as spinach, soybean sprouts, and gosari (bracken fern stems). Dubu (tofu), either plain or sautéed, or a leaf of lettuce may be added. For visual appeal, the vegetables are often placed so that adjacent colours complement each other.<br />-28575261620Table setting and manners<br />A typical Korean table setting consists of rice, soup and few side dishes including Kimchi. Rice soup, a spoon and chop sticks are arranged from left to right, in that order, for each person. Stews and side dishes are placed in the centre to be shared by everyone. Koreans use a spoon to eat rice, soup and stews and chopsticks for dry side dishes. Koreans also don’t hold their bowls or plates while eating. When the meal is over, the spoon and chopsticks are placed back down on the table. In the past, talking was not allowed at the dinner table but this eating etiquette has been more liberal and talking or socializing is acceptable now.<br />References<br /><ul><li>Korea Travel Guide
  5. 5.
  6. 6. Korea 2020
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  8. 8. The New Korea: An Inside Look at South Korea's Economic Rise</li></ul><br />