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Korea in Brief

Korea has undergone rapid changes since its once closed society was exposed to western culture about a century ago. Western culture has since influenced the traditions developed by the Korean people since the nation was established on the Korean peninsula some 4,300 years ago. Today long beards, white costumes and horsehair hats are rare sights, even among elderly people. In Seoul and other major cities around the country, vast majority wear western suits, shoes and haircuts, and live in western styled houses. Traditional manners and styles are also on the rapid decline. However, many Koreans have made continuous efforts to prevent those priceless, intangible assets from becoming extinct.

Korea has undergone rapid changes since its once closed society was exposed to western culture about a century ago. Western culture has since influenced the traditions developed by the Korean people since the nation was established on the Korean peninsula some 4,300 years ago.

Today long beards, white costumes and horsehair hats are rare sights, even among elderly people. In Seoul and other major cities around the country, vast majority wear western suits, shoes and haircuts, and live in western styled houses. Traditional manners and styles are also on the rapid decline.

However, many Koreans have made continuous efforts to prevent those priceless, intangible assets from becoming extinct.

Due to its rapid growth, Korea has become an international country in a very short time. Seoul is truly a cosmopolitan city, and one can find restaurants of all palate and national origin. However, Koreans are rather picky about their food, most finding the traditional cuisine preferable to the others which is quite distinctive in several aspects from that of the neighboring China and Japan.

In Korea, as in other Asian nations, rice is the staple of all meals. It is sometimes mixed with other grains, such as barley. Rice is accompanied by a number of side dishes and usually a soup. Among Koreans favorite side dishes are a variety of vegetables, steamed and seasoned; braised meat or fish; and Kimchi, a fermented vegetable dish that is highly seasoned with red pepper and garlic. Kimchi, which is served at virtually all meals, is probably the best known Korean dish among foreigners.

Vegetables are important ingredients in side dishes, and the most commonly used vegetables are radishes, Chinese cabbage, garlic, hot pepper and leeks. The ingredients are similar to those used in making salads.

The important seasonings include red peppers, red pepper curds, bean curds, sesame oils and soy sauce. Bean curds are most often used in soups, and soy sauce is used in almost all side dishes. Until recently, all of the side dishes have been prepared at home.

The important seasonings include red peppers, red pepper curds, bean curds, sesame oils and soy sauce. Bean curds are most often used in soups, and soy sauce is used in almost all side dishes. Until recently, all of the side dishes have been prepared at home.

However, in these days of instant foods, virtually all of the side dishes can be purchased ready made at the market. Kimchi, however, remains one dish that is almost always prepared at home. Koreans eat three well-balanced meals a day. Breakfast used to be considered the principal meal of the day. Lunch is rather simple, but dinner is considered almost as important as breakfast. While eating, Koreans use a spoon and a pair of chopsticks.

Although food is one area of Korean lifestyle that is least influenced by the Western culture, it has been simplified to fit the more convenient lifestyles. On holidays, birthdays and other festive occasions, special foods are prepared.

The most common traditional foods are Tok (rice cake) and rice wine.

The traditional Korean house, with its attractive charm and graceful lines once adorned the cities and villages throughout the country. A typical Korean house is a rectangular, L- or U-shaped single-storied structure made primarily with wood and clay. The most distinctive aspect of a Korean house is its age-old radiant heating system, Ondol, which carries heat from the kitchen fireplace through stone flues under the floor. Therefore, the fireplace has a dual purpose≪Acooking food and heating the floor.

In the olden days, Koreans burned wood in these fireplaces which later gave way to charcoal briquettes. Nowadays most houses and apartments throughout the country use oil and natural gas for central heating. Even in these centrally heated homes, however, the predominant style of heating is done through pipes which carry the heated water beneath the floors, radiating the heat throughout the rooms. Since beds or chairs were not used in these traditional homes, people sat on mats and cushions and slept on so called "Yo," a padded floor mattress. Recently, however, more and more people live in apartment complexes complete with western furnitures. Apartments have been the preferred way of living due to the modern conveniences as well as lack of available building sites. Throughout the country, large apartment complexes sprout up everyday, accounting for about 14% of 11,354,540 homes, according to 1990 Ceusus.

Koreans usually have two names; the family name or surname placed first and a name identifying each individual. This name is mostly comprised of two characters, one common to the generation, therefore common to brothers and sisters, and the other indicating the individual. When writing their names in the Western or Roman alphabet, Koreans sometimes will invert the order of the names and place the family name last, as Westerners do. This can lead to confusion, however, since many Occidentals know about the traditional order of the Oriental names, and will thus still misidentify the family names by reinverting the inverted order.

If you see the names Kim, Lee, Park, Ahn, Chae, Cho, Chong, Han, Ku, Ko, Ihm, Oh, No, Shin, Yu, or Yun, etc., you can be fairly sure that it is the family name, whether it appears first or last in the sequence of names. There are, however, a total of more than 200 family names in Korea.

A woman retains her family name even after marriage. In English conversation, the wife of Mr. Park may be referred to as Mrs. Park, but this is only for the sake of convenience. In reality, her name will still be Mrs. Lee, or whatever she was prior to the marriage, in both customs and law. In Korean conversation, she will most likely be called Park's wife or her full legal name to reduce the confusion. Unlike the West, Koreans rarely use their signatures to sign important papers. Virtually all of the legal documents must be sealed with hand-carved seals bearing his or her name, which must be registered with the local civic administrative office for its authenticity.

1. BIRTHDAYS

The two most important birthdays in the life of a Korean are the first and the sixtieth. Each is an occasion for hosting a greatest feast for family and friends. These birthdays are important since infant mortality was high and life expectancy was low in the past, making them highly festive occasions for the average Korean. Marriage In arranging marriages, Koreans traditionally emphasize the succession of lineage and prosperity of the family. In the traditional Korean family, the choice of one's future husband or wife and the wedding date were entirely up to the parents.

After the ceremony, the groom would spend three days at the bride's home and would then take her to his home where another ceremony would be held.

Weddings today have changed over the past decades and now it is almost identical with the marriages of the West. Today, the weddings are held in churches or wedding halls wearing tuxedos and dresses. The important difference, however, is that in Korea, wedding ceremony is considered only as a ceremony, and legally one does not get bound to the each other until a wedding license is filed later at the civic administrative office. Therefore, no minister or a judge need to preside to do the ceremony. Normally, the bride and the groom together will request one of their respected elders to preside over the ceremony.

1. JAN.1 (NEW YEAR'S DAY)

The first two days of the year are officially designated as holidays. Most Koreans take this time to visit their elders and other relatives. It is also a time where children get to receive considerable amount of pocket money. Juniors will start the new year by bowing to his or her senior. This bowing involves crouching to one's knees and placing the head on the ground to wish the seniors a healthy and prosperous new year. In return, the juniors almost always receive token sum of money. Lunar Jan. 1 The Lunar New Year's is possibly the greatest holidays of the year.

Before Korea adopted the Julian Calendar like the West, Koreans have traditionally considered the Lunar New Year's as the start of the new year. Therefore, all of the bowings, gatherings of the families that goes on the New Year's day used to have been reserved for this day. In fact, most Koreans have returned to their traditional past observing this day as the true New Year's day, observing the traditional "harae" (giving thanks to the ancestors that have passed away) the first thing in the morning.

Together with Korean Thanksgiving Day (Aug. 15, in the lunar calendar), this is the day that the most traffic jams occur in the highways and other freeways, due to the Koreans returning to their homes.

2. MARCH.1 (INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT DAY)

On this day back in 1919, 33 Korean patriots signed and circulated a declaration of independence, and launched a nationwide freedom campaign of non-violence against the Japanese colonial government. Koreans throughout the country solemnly observe the anniversary of this Independence Movement. Memorial services are held for the deceased patriots at Tapgol Park in Seoul, where the declaration was first proclaimed.

3. APRIL. 5 (ARBOR DAY)

The government offices are closed this day so that people would observe the day and plant sapling throughout the country. Cold food (Early in the 3rd month, or sometimes late in the 2nd by the lunar calendar) The Koreans celebrate the "Cold Food" day. The following day is the Chinese Ching Ming festival, also celebrated in Korea.

4. APRIL.19 (ANNIVERSARY OF THE STUDENT UPRISING)

On this day in 1960, Korean students rose up bare-handed against tyranny, in protest against the rigged elections in March. Many students were shot and beaten to death and many more were wounded. Their sacrifice, however, resulted in the downfall on April 26 of the tyrannical regime.

5. MAY. 5 (CHILDREN'S DAY)

On Jan, 15, 1975, the government designated May 5 as the Children's Day which is observed as a national holiday. The Children's Day was made a national holiday so that adults would be able to spend the day with their children, making it a good occasion for the whole family to get together.

6. LUNAR APRIL. 8 (BIRTH OF BUDDHA)

Solemn rituals are held at temples with throngs of devout Buddhists attending. At night, tens of thousands of people, each holding a glowing amber lanterns hanging from a tall pole, lines the streets leading to the temples across the nation.

7. LUNAR MAY. 5 (TANO FESTIVAL)

It is one of the most popular festive occasions in Korea. The day is observed with athletic events in which women, girls and boys play the swing. Boys also play Ssirum (Korean wrestling) while girls and housewives sing and play traditional musical instruments.

8. JUNE. 6 (MEMORIAL DAY)

Most activities in the nation come to a standstill for a full minute at ten O'clock in the morning. Ranking government officials, civic leaders and foreign dignitaries join white-clad bereaved families of the war dead in laying wreaths and burning incense at the National Cemetery.

9. JULY. 17 (CONSTITUTION DAY)

Ceremonies are held to commemorate the founding of the Republic of Korea and the promulgation of the constitution in 1948.

10. JLUNAR JULY. 7 (CHILSOK)

As in China, Koreans have observed the skies for centuries to glance a peek at the bridge formed by the magpies to consummate the annual meeting of the Oxherd of Aquila and his love, the Weaving Girl of Lyra. This starry couple are believed to meet on this day through the bridge formed by magpies.

11. AUG. 15 (LIBERATION DAY)

This day marks the anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948. On this day, the Republic of Korea was established after liberating from the 36 years of Japanese colonial rule on this day. Lunar Aug. 15 ("Chusok" or Korean Thanksgiving Day) Moon festival or Chusok literally means "Autumn's Eve" and is a time reserved to give thanks to the ancestors for the year's good crop and harvest. Normally a grand feast and celebrations follow the thanksgiving. Autumn is the most pleasant and beautiful of the seasons in Korea.

12. OCT. 1 (ARMED FORCES DAY) 13. OCT. 3 (NATIONAL FOUNDATION DAY)

Literal translation being "The day the Heavens Opened," according to mythology, this is the day that the national founder, Tangun, descended upon the earth on this day more than 4,300 years ago.

14. OCT. 9 ("HANGUL" OR KOREAN ALPHABET DAY)

The nation observes this holiday in commemoration of the adoption of the Hangul, the Korean alphabet invented by King Sejong of Yi Dynasty in 1446. Calligraphy contests and other events are held during this day.

15. DEC. 25 (CHRISTMAS)

Koreans observe the occasion as in the Western countries.

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