Korea “Land of the Morning Calm” is made up of mountains, hills, and deep valleys with four distinct seasons, and a history that dates back nearly 5000 years. Korea was divided into North and South Korea, and both countries have been under an uneasy cease-fire since 1953. The capital of S. Korea is Seoul and most of its 47 million people live in large cities and metropolitan areas.
The Koreans descended from the Mongolian race although their distinct culture has borrowed from China, Japan, and some modern similarities with the United States. Their Language is thought to have derived from Altaic Language (the basis for some of Asia, Siberia, Turkey, Mongolia, and other languages). Korea is a family-oriented society, based heavily on Confucianism, with a strong work ethic and a heavy commitment to education.
My favorite Place
I have traveled to 32 countries and experienced many wonderful things, and Korea has not let me down. So far my favorite place to visit is the area around the Gyeongbok Palace. Built at the beginning of the Chosun Dynasty by King Taejo in 1395, the palace remained the main seat of power for Korea kings throughout much of the time to the present.
Gyeongbok means Shining Happiness, and the main gate (Kwanghwa-mun) separates Gyeongbok Palace from one of the busiest areas of Seoul. Much of this area was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592 and left in ruins for over 250 years. Then starting in 1865, it was rebuilt to its original grandeur and today the sprawling grounds houses many buildings, gardens, walling paths, informational kiosks and other works displaying the viability of the Korean Culture.
A Few Musings
Here are a few of my other observations while living in Korea (although some may seem somewhat shallow, they are meaningful to me non-the-less).
It seems many countries have grown accustom to the ever-increasing width of its population. It’s human nature to become accustomed to things as normal until we are shown another perspective. I’ve been in Korea for two months and have only seen six people who I would call significantly over weight. It’s been refreshing to see normally proportioned people (or non-obese for the politically correct).
The Korean diet does not distinguish different food groups for each meal, and eating kimchee, and vegetables is common for every meal. However fast food, bakeries, starbucks, fried chicken, beer, etc. can be found everywhere in Korea, but obesity is rare even though these traditionally “fattening foods” are consumed on a regular basis. While observing all this I have come to the conclusion that obesity is not so much caused by the quality, but by the quantity of what you eat. If you doubt me just look into the history behind the question “do you want a small, medium or large with that”
Being six feet tall in many countries does not set one apart, but in Asia I often feel like a giant in a land of midget’s (or little people for the politically correct). Riding the subway in New York or Paris allows me to look into faces of those around me, but in Korea it allows me to look over the tops of people’s heads. It’s nice to be tall when you are looking for an empty seat, but extremely dangerous if you walk straight-up in many buildings. I think this is why it is customary to bow in many Asian countries, since many buildings have very low entry-ways, staircases and ceilings.
As a University Professor I have been very impressed by the proclivity for the people of Korea to be extremely committed to work and education. From an early age the children have school (even on Saturdays) and most children attend private schools or see tutors after school.
In nearly every building there are ESL schools, computer training, tutoring clinics etc. It is no wonder that Korea, in a short time, has become one of the top economic countries in Asia and is even recognized world-wide for its industrial growth and technological breakthroughs. Can anyone say Samsung?
The last thing I want to share is the natural beauty of the Korean Landscape. Before I moved to Korea I visited here several times. On all these occasions I have spent my time visiting Seoul and the nearby cities. Even though I have discovered many beautiful walking paths and parks, I began to feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable with the congestion of city life.
Then one day my wife and I began to explore beyond the city. We soon discovered many fantastic and well-kept hiking trails throughout the surrounding hills (which cover all Korea). The paths through the oaks, pines, chestnut trees and local vegetation are some of the best I have been to.
It’s amazing to be hiking along in a beautiful forest and come across a large exercise park, or beautiful painted gazebos that are scattered throughout the hills. Now I realize one can have the best of both worlds in Korea. Whether it is shopping, dining and seeing a show in Seoul, or hiking through the hills around my house.