Traditions come in every size, shape, and color. We all have them, and that is what makes this world such an interesting place. Everywhere is different, and each new place you go, allows you to learn and experience things that you can't read about in some book that you pick up at your local book store.
Having lived in Korea for the past year and a half of my life, this topic was a perfect time for me to talk about Korean traditions. In a way, traditions seem to intertwine. I can usually relate a Korean tradition back to a tradition that we have in the US.
South Korea is almost like this magical place where you find both perfect peace and harmony, but unfortunately wars and tragedies as well. Because of this, it's unlike any place I've ever visited before. There is so much that I could write about just from the top of my head, but when a country has 5,000 years of history it's hard to pick just one thing.... All of these different aspects have shaped Korean traditions and culture in general.
So without further ado....
Did you know........
1. That Korea is the only country today that is divided into two separate nations- those being North Korea and South Korea. South Koreans cannot even cross over the demilitarized line to the north of them. North Korea has developed so differently from South Korea. On a recent trip to North Korea, a friend of mine described Kaesung City as "a ghost town". While there were people on the streets walking or riding bicycles, there were NO cars and poverty on all four sides of you.
2. That in Korea, you turn one years of age on the day that you're born!? Koreans follow the lunar calendar, so everyone is actually a year older than they really are and they get to celebrate their birthday twice in one year. I guess that wouldn't be too fun for the 60+ crowd. But then again, you could have 2 "Over the hill" parties, instead of one!
3. That Karaoke is most commonly called "Noraebang". A Noraebang is a private singing room that you can rent for you and your friends. Instead of singing on a stage at a bar where everyone can see you, get your five closest friends together and have a dance party in a room! There's no reason to be shy, bring your kids too!
4. That most parents send their children to private academies, called Hagwons? Most children start as early as kindergarten. At a hagwon you can study almost any subject you want to learn" Chinese, music, art, Science, Math, and of course ENGLISH (or English-e if you want to speak in "konglish"). Hagwons charge high tuition fees, but this doesn't stop parents from enrolling their kid in 4-8 different hagwons a day. The Korean education system is super competitive, and that is what is instilled in these children from birth. They have raffles to get students into the best elementary schools, and they take competitive exams to get into certain High Schools and Universities as well. If you can't get into a top University, you might as well commit suicide... which leads to my next "did you know?"
5. That Korea has the highest teen suicide rate in the entire WORLD.
6. That you can cook your own food at your table at a Korean Restaurant.... Grilled Korean Pork BBQ called pork Galbi is a common dinner that you wouldn't want to miss! Waitresses bring the raw meat to the table, and you cook it to perfection. You would use lettuce leaves to put your meat into. You would then add rice, onions, and red bean sauce to make a perfect bite size portion. And you definitely wouldn't go hungry, they usually bring about 10 side dishes to your table for you to enjoy as well. One being KIMCHI!
There are many kinds of kimchi, but it is generally fermented cabbage that is then mixed with certain spices and sauces. Kimchi is served with every meal, including breakfast. Bonn Appetite!
7. That you can get married at 12 pm, and be on the way to your honeymoon by 12:30?! Really! In Korea, most weddings are at a hall, not a church. The service is fast. Usually there is a quick lunch, but no reception. no dancing, etc. It's almost like a pizza order, "30 minutes or less, or you get a full refund!"
8. That you MUST take your SHOES off before entering a temple, or ANYONE'S home for that matter... and you SHOULD definitely bring your toothbrush to work to brush your teeth after meals. There have been times I've gone to the bank at lunch time, and you can see the tellers brushing their teeth at their desk. The crazy thing is, Koreans don't even have GOOD teeth and there is ZERO fluoride in their toothpaste. Hmmm.
9. That the best way to heat your apartment is from the ground up?! Lets make a system that heats the floors first, and then the hot air will rise. That's exactly what we have here in Korea. It'll definitely keep your toes roasted in the winter.
10. That there are a number of designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Korea. 8 to be exact, and I plan to visit all eight before I leave Korea. I'm half done!
OK, so maybe I ignored the word "tradition" and focused more on "culture" --- but to me they are both very similar. If you ever plan to visit Korea, think back to my "did you know" --- you might need it! And don't forget to carry some tissue in your purse or jacket, especially if you want to use the bathroom. And you might want to practice "squatting" before you come too! Use your imagination!