Saturday, 14 September 2013

Korea - Ten random facts

It's almost time for my research on Korea to come to an end.  It's been a fantastic learning experience and I find myself browsing flights from London to Seoul - I am indeed very tempted to see Korea for myself, at least South Korea, as a more accessible (and cheaper) option!

A change to the process

In a departure from my blogging tradition, I've decided to split my final post about Korea into three installments.  This time, in particular, I have gathered a lot of information and I'm afraid that putting it all in one blog post would be overwhelming for you, dear Reader!

The areas I usually cover in my final blog post are:

1. Dinner party trivia: some random facts about the country, which you can use to impress people at dinner parties!)

2. Tools for research: a list of all of the movies I've watched, books I've read and music I've listened to, as part of my research on whichever place I'm blogging about.

3. The Final Word: Usually a smaller bite-sized topic - generally on a topic that I didn't have time to research fully, but one that interested me nonetheless.

Traditional Korea by Smulan77
In this blog post, I'll give you the dinner party trivia - although I've learned so many interesting things about Korea that I've decided to limit this to the ten most interesting things. 

Ten random facts about Korea

1. I was fascinated to learn about the Rangoon bombing of October 1983 - this was an assassination attempt on the life of Chun Doo-hwan, the fifth President of South Korea.  I'd never heard about this before and find it bizarre that the North Koreans could carry out an attack like this, in the territory of a third country, Burma/Myanmar!  21 people were killed in the attack, including 4 Burmese citizens - however, the President survived unscathed, as his motorcade got stuck in traffic and he arrived late for his official appointment at the Martyr's Mausoleum.

2. Two of Korea's most famous brand names are not family names (as I'd previously thought), but are based on concepts.  Hyundai 현대 means 'modern', Samsung, 삼성 (or more obviously in Korean hanja 三星) means 'three stars'.

3. By all accounts, dealing in foreign currency in North Korea is a crime which is punishable by death.  North Korea is one of only five countries in the world that still carry out public executions.  As I was researching for this blog post, it was reported that Hyon Song Wol, a North Korean singer and Kim Jong Un's ex-girlfriend was executed by firing squad, along with 11 other entertainers accused of making pornographic films.

Seoul by Smulan77
4. The US government considered South Korea under President Park in the 1970's to be somewhat of a 'rogue state' which was covertly trying to develop nuclear weapons, against the wishes of the international community!

5. Like most people, I was vaguely aware of the North Korean dynasty and its Presidents, however, I had no idea that South Korea has just elected its first female President, Park Geun-Hye (in February of this year).  She is the daughter of the Park Chung-Hee, who was President of South Korea from 1963 until 1979.  Park Geun-Hye lost both of her parents to the bullets of assassins (her mother was killed in an assassination attempt on her father in 1974.  Her father was assassinated in 1979)

6. The British attempted to establish a colony in Korea in the 1880's via the short-lived settlement, a small group of islands with the main base at Port Hamilton - the islands are now known by their Korean name, 거문도 Geomun-do

Traditional costumes by Smulan77
7. Koreans are sometimes called the Irish of the Orient because of their love of drinking and singing - especially melancholy songs!

8. Perhaps more so than any modern country, Korean culture is defined by Confucian values - these permeate traditional ceremonies, such as ancestor worship, but also business practices and how people relate to each other socially.

9. Many Koreans are superstitious when it comes to the number 4 - this is because it sounds a lot like the word for 'dead'.  Tetraphobia - fear of the number 4 - is quite common in East Asian societies. 

10. Our spelling of Seoul - with its unusual combination of vowels, comes from the French spelling of the name of the South Korean capital.  In the 19th century, Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom, because of its refusal to engage with, namely, European traders.  The only Europeans who penetrated this cultural blockade were the French missionaries based in China.  A handful of French missionary priests were executed by the Joseon dynasty in 1865, prompting the French to invade Korea a year later!

Image credits:

For the purposes of this blog post, I want to highlight the photography of Flickr member Smulan77 - Smulan77 has a whole series of photos of South Korea, which you can see on his photostream.
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