Official Name: Republic of Korea
Major cities (population)
Seoul : 11 million people
99,020 square kilometers
The Korean Peninsula extends southward from the eastern end of the Asian continent. Korean Peninsula is roughly 1,020 km (612 miles) long and 175 km (105 miles) wide at its narrowest point. Mountains cover 70% of the Korea´s land area, making it one of the most mountainous regions in the world. The lifting and folding of Korea´s granite and limestone base has created breathtaking landscapes of scenic hills and valleys. The mountain range that traverses the length of the east coast plunges steeply into the East Sea, while along the southern and western coasts, the mountains descend gradually to the coastal plains that produce the bulk of Korea´s agricultural crops, especially rice. The Korean Peninsula is divided just slightly north of the 38th parallel. The democratic Republic of Korea in the south and communist North Korea are separated by a demilitarized zone. South Korea´s 99,408 sq. km is populated by 44.6 milion people (1995) Administratively, the Republic of Korea consists of nine provinces (do), the capital Seoul, and the six metropolitan cities of Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, Daejeon, and Ulsan. In total, there are 72 cities (si) and 91 counties (gun).
South Korea has a rugged, mountainous terrain. Plains are concentrated in the west along the coast and constitute less then than one-fifth of the total area. The coastal plains in the east and south are very narrow.
MAJOR RIVERS AND LAKES
The country's two longest rivers - the Naktong and Han-gang - rise in the T'aebaek-sanmaek. Naktong flows south to the Korea Strait, the Han-gang flows northwest to the Yellow Sea.
Korea lies in the temperate zone and has four distinct seasons. In late March or early April, the trees burst into leafy splendor to mark the beginning of spring. Mostly sunny days can be expected from March to May. During the relatively hot and rainy summer season, the vegetation is lush. By June average temperature is over 20 C (68 F). Monsoon rains usually begin around the end of June and last until mid-to-late July. August is hot. The coming of autumn in late September brings continental winds and clear, dry weather, making the fall months perhaps the most pleasant time of year. October´s vivid golds and vibrant reds create a colorful panorama. December to February are cold and dry with occasional snow or rain. During the winter months, three or four days of cold weather are often followed by a few warmer days.
Freedom of religion is fully guaranteed in the Republic of Korea. Korea´s traditional religions - Shamanism, Buddhism, and Confucianism - have all played an integral role in the country´s socio - cultural development. There are also various minor religions based on various combinations of elements from these traditional religions. Christianity has developed a large following since its introduction in the late 18 th century.
The Korean language, like Hungarian, Turkish, Mongolian, and Finnish, is classified into the Ural-Altaic Language group. Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, is composed of 10 simple vowels and 14 consonants. A group of scholars under the patronage of King Sejong developed this systematic rendition of spoken sound in 1443. It is widely acclaimed by linguists as an ingenious invention. The chart on the next page presents the Romanization of the 24 hangeul letters. This Romanization is based on the new Romanization system proclaimed in 2000 by the Korean government. However, because all road signs and information boards that are based on McCune-Reischauer system, the old oficial Romanization cannot be changed immediately. There might be some coexistence of two systems through 2005.
DANGUN AND THE FOUNDING MYTHE OF KOREA
Millennia ago when Hwanung, a son of Heaven, ruled the people, there were a bear and a tiger that seriously wanted to become human. So they prayed fervently to Hwanung to grant their wishes. Hwanung was moved by their entreaties and promised to transform them if only they could endure a dark cave eating only garlic and mugwort for a full 100 days. The tiger´s patience was soon worn thin, cooped up in the dark and without being able to hunt, and it gave up the ordeal. The bear became a woman after 21 days of endurance. She then asked Hwanung to find her a husband, he found her very beautiful and married her. The couple gave a birth a son, Dangun, who established a kingdom named Go Joseon in 2333 B.C., the first kingdom on the Korean Peninsula.
The artistic talents of the Korean people are expressed through the original music, dance and painting that have evolved over their 5 000 - year history. While in modern times many Western art forms have been introduced and embraced by Korea, her unique arts still flourish, both in their pure forms and in various harmonious combinations with modern genre.
Traditional Korean music, called gugak, has shared a similar cultural background with China and Japan. However, despite some superficial similarities, anyone who has experienced gugak can easily tell that it is clearly different from other East Asian music. Korean music, for example, traditionally has a triple rhythm (three beats per measure), while Chinese and Japanese music have two beats per measure. Gugak can be divided into two types: Jeongak or the music of the upper classes, and minsogak or folk music. Jeongak, has a slow, solemn and complicated melody, while minsogak such a s farmers music, pansori (epic solo song) and shamanistic music is fast and vigorous.
Korea´s traditional dance, like its music, can also be classified into either court dances or folk dances. The slow, gracious movements of the court dances reflect the beauty of moderation and the subdued emotions formed as a result of the strong influence of Confucian philosophy. In contrast, the folk dances, mirroring the life, work and religion of the common people, are exciting and romantic, aptly portraying the free and spontaneous emotions of the Korean people. Some typical folk dances are the farmers dances, mask dances and shamanistic dances. The appreciation of Korean traditional music and dance helps the visitor to better understand Korea itself.
Traditional Korean painting is very different from Western. Its roots lie in the unique lines and colors of the Orient. Evidence of early Korean paintings can be found in the royal tombs of the Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C. - A.D. 668), which have helped us piece together details about the lifestyles of the time. During the later Goryeo Dynasty (A.D. 918 - 1392) Buddhism reached its peak, leaving many precious Buddhist paintings and images in temples around the country. Confucianism became the political ideology of the Joseon Dynasty (A.D. 1392 - 1910) and the upper-class intellectuals who produced much of the art were profoundly influenced by the Chinese style. Folk painting, which became popular among the lower classes, was not influenced by any particular school but used free, expressive techniques and bright colors to depict strengh, humor and leisure. Both Western and Korean schools of painting coexist today in Korea and some new works are combining both.
Pottery-making techniques were transmitted from China to Korea over 1 000 years ago, where they flourished and produced an artistic tradtition of which Koreans are justifiably proud. The subtle beuty and unique bluish-green color of the celadon pottery of the Goryeo Dynasty (A.D. 918-1392) have made it world-famous and much sought after by antique dealers. The white porcelain of the Joseon Dynasty (A.D. 1392-1910) is also renowned. This pottery-making skill was transmitted to Japan at different periods in history, particularly during the Japanese invasions of the 1590s, greatly contribured to the development of the art form in Japan.
Sense of Seniority
Although this is changing, the traditional Confucian social structure is still prevalent in Korea. Age or seniority is all important and juniors are expected to follow the wishes of their elders without question. Therefore, people often ask you your age and sometimes your marital status (Interesting is that no matter how old you are at least among family members, you cannot be regarded as an adult if you are not married.) to find out their position relative to you. These questions are not meant to intrude on your privacy and you need not answer, if you don´t want to.
The majority of Koreans have one of a small set of family names, Kim (about 21% of all Koreans,), Yi (or Lee or Rhee, 14%), Park (or Pak, 8%), Choi (or Choe), Jeong (or Chung), Jang (or Chang), Han, Lim, etc. A Korean name consists of a family name, in almost every case one syllable, plus a given name usually of two syllables. The family name comes first. A Korean woman does not take her husband´s family name, but their children take the father´s faily name.
Koreans think marriage is the most important passage in one´s life and a divorce is regarded a disgrace not only for the couple but also for their families - even though the divorce rate is growing rapidly these days. Today´s typical wedding ceremony is somewhat different from what it was in old times: first a Western-style ceremony is usually held at a wedding hall or a church with white dress and tuxedo, then later in the day comes the traditional ceremony in a different in colorful traditional costume.
Jerye (Ancestral Memorial Rite)
According to a traditional Korean belief, when people die their spirits do not immediately depart, instead it takes four generations. For this period the deceased are still regarded as family members and Koreans reaffirm the relationship betwen ancestors and descendants through jerye on the special days like Seollal and Chuseok, as well as on the day the ancestors passed away. Koreans also believe that people can live well and happily thanks to benefits their ancestors bestow.
When you beckon to a person, do with your palm down and fluttering fingers. It is not polite to beckon with palm up - especially using only one finger, because we do that way only for dogs.
The hanbok has been the Korean people´s unique traditional costume for thousands of years. The beauty and grace of Korean culture can be seen in photographs of women dressed in the hanbok. Before the arrival of Western-style clothing one hundred years ago, the hanbok was everyday attire. Men wore jeogori (Korean jackets) with baji (trousers) while women wore jeogori with chima (skirts). Today, the hanbok is worn on days of celebration such as weddings, Seollal (lunar New Year´s Day) or Chuseok (Thanksgiving Day).
Traditonal Korean rooms have multiple functions. Rooms are not labeled or reserved for a specific purpose, there is no definite bedroom or dining room for example. Rather, taples and mats are brought in as needed. Most people sit and sleep on the floor on thick mats. Underneath the floors are stone or concrete flues. Traditionally hot air was vented through the flues to provide heat. Clay or cement would be placed over the stones to protect the residents from noxious gasses. This type of underfloor heating is called "ondol". Nowadays hot water is piped through cement floors covered with linoleum.
Gimjang is the age-old Korean practice of preparing winter kimchi, that has been passed down from generation to generation. Because very few vegetables are grown in the three or four winter months, Gimjang takes place in early winter and provides what has become a staple Korean food. For Koreans, a dinner table without kimchi is unthinkable.
Oriental medicine considers decreased vital energy and a weakened immune
system as the cause of disease - not a problem of a particular body part,
but rather an imbalance of the life forces in the whole body. Therefore
Oriental medicine seeks to treat disease by strengthening the immune system
and restoring the harmony within the body, not by removing pathogenic
factor. Major fields of Oriental medicine include herbal medicine, acupuncture,
moxa treatment, and cupping therapies.
Korean people are big sports fans. During the past 20 years, Korea has hosted many international sports events including the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, and has achieved excellent results in various sports competitions. In addition to modern sports events such as international championschips and winter sports competitions, Koreans have many unique and interesting traditional folk games and sporting events inherited from their ancestors. They are held on folk festivals such as Lunar New Year´s Day, Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day) or Dano.
Ssireum is one of the traditional Korean sports passed down from ancient times. A ssireum match begins with two men grasping each other´s satba or waist cord. The one who throws the other to the ground by using his power and skill wins the match. Today, ssireum is a very popular spectator sport amongmen and women, young and old, and many competitions are held every year.
Taekwondo originated in Korea and is now officially recognized around the world. I tis a whole-body sport which uses the arms and legs in particular. I tis not only a martial art for self-defense, but i tis also a means of cultivating one´s own character through the training of body and mind. Taekwondo was an official Olympic sport in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.