Korea is a nation that boasts a fast growing economy and a lifestyle that perfectly combines the old and the new. Once known as “the Land of the Morning Calm”, the peninsula now hardly rests, pulsating with life and commerce. In particular, Korea has a very advanced and modern infrastructure and is a world leader in information technology such as electronics, telecommunications, semiconductors, LCD displays, computers, cell phones and high-tech gadgets, led by global companies such as Samsung and LG. It is also home to such world famous car companies as Hyundai and Kia, which help to make the country one of the world’s top five automobile manufacturers. Indeed, Korea is a major global economic power and it has been one of the most successful and fastest growing economies in the world since the 1960s, now 13th largest in the world. Korea also plays a key role in international trade as years of rapid economic development propelled the country into becoming the world’s seventh largest trading nation. It is also the world’s largest shipbuilding nation and the world’s third largest steel producing country.
In addition, many global events have been taken place here including the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, the G20 Seoul Summit 2010, the APEC Summit 2005, the 2020 FIFA Football World Cup, and the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, while the city of Pyeongchang will host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Despite all such enthusiasm for modernization and globalization, Koreans still greatly value their 5,000 years of history and beautiful nature, making their country an attractive destination for business travelers and vacationers alike. Meanwhile, the “Korean Wave”, also known as “Hallyu” is taking the world by storm as Korean pop culture has been greatly gaining its popularity overseas. Amidst the Korean Wave, famous spots that appeared in Korean dramas and movies attract foreign visitors all year around. Korea’s long heritage and inspiring scenery impress all visitors with uniqueness and charm. Please visit Korea and discover the many wonders Korea has to offer.
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Hangeul, one of the most unique creations of the nation, was introduced in 1443 by King Sejong (r. 1418-1450), the 4th king of the Joseon dynasty. In order to help all commoners to easily read and write this new alphabet, Hunminjeongeum (meaning “Proper sounds to instruct the people” in Korean) was created. The name of the language was changed to the current Hangeul in the 20th century.
Hangeul is a series of scientifically designed characters. The alphabet is composed of basic consonants and vowels, each with a set sound, and a dot or a line added to form more sounds. The 5 main consonants (ㄱ, ㄴ, ㅅ, ㅁ, ㅇ) imitate the shape the lips and tongue make when producing that particular sound, while the 3 main vowel components (ㆍ, ㅡ, ㅣ) symbolize the sky, the earth and mankind respectively. Originally composed of 17 consonants and 11 vowels, only 14 consonants and 10 vowels are used in modern Hangeul.
Hangeul, as a written language, did not have any influence from pre-existing writing systems. The language is very easy for all to learn, evidenced by Korea’s illiteracy rates being one of the lowest in the world. Of all Korea’s cultural assets, the citizens are most proud of Hangeul and thus designated October 9 as Hangeul Day, to memorialize and celebrate the invention of the alphabet. In addition, the UNESCO inscribed Hunminjeongeum Haerye; The Hangeul Manuscript, on the Memory of the World Register in 1997.
Hanbok is the traditional attire of the Korean people. Worn daily up until just 100 years ago, hanbok comes in various shapes and colors, reflecting the culture and lifestyle of the its time. Nowadays, it is only worn on special occasions or anniversaries. It is a formal wear and many Koreans keep a hanbok for such occasions.
While the traditional hanbok was beautiful in its own right, the design has changed slowly but surely over the generations. The core of hanbok is its graceful shape and vibrant colors, which have had a major impact on the modern fashion industry. It is hard to think of hanbok as everyday wear but it is slowly being revolutionized through the changing of fabrics, colors and features, reflecting the latest trend. Many aspiring hanbok designers have altered hanbok for everyday wear with traditional elements at the base of the garment but having a distinct modern feel.
Hansik refers to traditional Korean food, centered on rice, served alongside a bowl of soup and a variety of side dishes. Most dishes use meat and vegetables as the main ingredients, and are boiled or steamed in brine or water rather than fried in oil, making hansik very healthy. More than anything else, hansik’s most outstanding feature is the amount of fermented foods. The most well-known are kimchi (fermented cabbage), ganjang (soy sauce), doenjang (soybean paste), and gochujang (Korean chili paste).
Popular dishes among international visitors include bulgogi, bibimbap, and hanjeongsik (Korean table d’hote). In particular, the soy sauce seasoning is not spicy, thus making it a great introductory dish to hansik. Bibimbap, on the other hand, is a complete meal in and of itself. It is made by mixing rice with all kinds of vegetables and then topped with gochujang for that extra kick. Hanjeongsik is served as a full table’s worth of side dishes featuring meat and vegetables along with soup, steamed foods, and hot pots. This is a popular choice for visitors looking to try a little bit of everything.
Hanok refers to houses built in the traditional Korean style. While tile-roofed and thatch-roofed hanoks were equally common, the former were typically noblemen residences while the latter were mostly houses of the commoners in the past. These days, most traditional hanok that are still used for housing have modern facilities installed within.
There are two main charms to hanoks. The first is the unique heating system of ondol. A layer of stone is laid down below the flooring and when heated, the heat spreads up into every room of the house, keeping both the floor and the air surprisingly warm in winter. The use of ondol has influenced the Korean culture to a lifestyle of sitting on the floor, even in modern times. Because the floor is used for eating, sleeping, and general leisure time, people take off their shoes when entering a Korean home. This custom started with hanok and the ondol system.
The second attractive point to hanok houses is that they are environmentally friendly. The materials needed to build a hanok house are free from chemicals, making it a healthy environment. The pillars, rafters, doors, window frames, and floor are wooden, while the walls are a mixture of straw and dirt. The paper to cover the frames of doors and windows was made from tree pulp. As the building materials used are all natural, hanok houses have excellent breathability, perfect for escaping the summer heat.
Experience the traditional culture for yourself through the many hanok villages in Korea.