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10 Things You Didn’t Know About South Korea

10 Things You Didn't Know About South Korea - abouticles.com

South Korea is a modern marvel. Now one of the economic superpowers of the world, and arguably the tech capital of the world, too. The South Korean experience has been one of the great success stories of all time. There are many things to be discovered about this country. This is why we are bringing you the top 10 things you didn’t know about South Korea.

10: Cuisine

The national dish of South Korea, kimchi, isn’t just a food for South Koreans, it’s a way of life. This traditional food is at least 3,000 years old, though most spicy. Variants receive some help from the introduction of Western spices a few centuries ago, particularly through the Portuguese. Most people only know the fermented cabbage variety of kimchi. But there are literally hundreds of varieties, ranging from the popular cabbage variety to kkakdugi, or cubed radishes; Oi-sobagi, or stuffed cucumber kimchi. Most Koreans eat kimchi every day. Some people even have specialized kimchi refrigerators to store their kimchi. Kimchi is packed with vitamin C, and loaded with minerals. It is a healthy addition to anyone’s diet, which is why we think the entire world needs to start eating it.

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9: Language

Hangul, or the Korean alphabet, is a marvel of human learning and language engineering. For untold centuries, Korean people were forced to labor under the primitive and poorly adapted Chinese character system or hanja. Only the elite classes even learned it, spending thousands of hours memorizing them. The problem with hanja was that the Korean grammar language was very different from Chinese. The elaborate nature of the characters made it a nearly impossible task for most people to learn. So, the king, Sejong the Great, commissioned the creation of a new alphabet that would actually match the Korean language.

Completed in 1444, and described in the famed document, hunminjeongeum, or the proper sounds for the educational people. Hangul is one of the great feats of human invention and can be learned in only a few hours. It is better to compare to the decades of study required for the learning of the poorly suited hanja. Although hanja are part of the tradition in the history of South Korea. Koreans these days use hangul almost exclusively with little to no use of hanja.

8: Culture

Yudo, or Confucianism, has long been a tremendous influence on South Korean culture. If you’ve ever spent any time there, you would see its influence immediately. Korean Confucianism stresses the importance of respect for elders, authority, such as teachers and instructors, and the rules of politeness. Bowing is an important part of Korean Confucian culture, and is often used as a way of greeting people. Depending on a person’s station, a person will vary the depth of the bow as he or she greets others. The deepest and most respectful bow, the keunjeol, or big bow, is reserved only for sacred holidays and the most revered persons in society. Confucianism can confuse Western people, but it is the Korean way of things.

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7: American Military

Depending on your perspective, South Korea may or may not be regarded as a satellite of the United States. There are 28,500 American military personnel in South Korea, which is more than a small army, and a legacy of the Korean War and Cold War. Koreans have mixed feelings about the presence of American soldiers in South Korea as there have been a number of incidents over the years involving the American soldiers committing crimes against the local population, ranging from assault to rape, but the imminent threat of North Korea, as well as the United States distrust of China, will likely mean that the American military installations will remain in South Korea for the foreseeable future.

6: E-Sports

Many of you might be familiar with the term eSports, which stands for electronic sports. Well, South Korea is possibly the most competitive country in the world when it comes to eSports. The term pro-gamer is one which most Koreans recognize instantly, with many young Koreans striving to reach the esteemed title, playing games such as Sudden Attack, and the old, but classic, StarCraft 2. The grueling training involved, which sometimes goes up to 18 hours a day, means that most Koreans don’t make it, and those who do are under constant pressure to perform and maintain high standards. Perhaps even more so than physical sports, in Korean eSports, failure just isn’t an option.

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5: Highest Suicide Rate

South Korea has the highest suicide rate of any developed country in the world, outstripping even Japan. The reasons for this are manifold, but much of it has to do with the immense pressure to succeed and land at a top Korean university. Unlike many other places in the world, where you still have opportunities no matter what university you attend, in South Korea, there are only a few universities considered worth attending by many, such as Seoul National University or Yonsei University. Young people study and do their best to get into the best universities possible, but unfortunately, not all of them make it.

The feeling of failure, coupled with feelings of shame, which is a product of Confucian culture, leads many people to take their lives rather than face the prospect of not succeeding, and bringing shame to themselves and their families. The South Korean government is trying to tackle the problem, but it is likely here to stay until some fundamental cultural changes take place.

4: Plastic Surgery Capital

South Korea is the plastic surgery capital of the world. If you’ve ever considered plastic surgery, you might want to head on over to South Korea, since it’s both affordable and popular. In fact, people from all over the world go there just for that purpose. It’s no coincidence that South Korea is the world leader in plastic surgery, though, because just as there is pressure to succeed academically, there’s also pressure to succeed professionally, and status and presentation are incredibly important in South Korea, far more so than Western societies, such as Europe or the United States.

To fuel this need to look perfect, plastic surgery clinics have popped up everywhere in South Korea, and these days, it is parred for the course. One of the most popular forms of surgery is eyelid surgery, done to give the eyes a fold, or crease, that is normally not present in most Korean eyelids. It’s so popular that parents often give their teen-aged daughters eyelid surgery as a gift after graduation.

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3: Hagwon, or Cram School

If you’re from the West, you might be familiar with after-school programs. These are sometimes there for sports, and sometimes there for study. But South Korea takes it to a whole new level. The hagwon, or cram school, is a private for-profit school where students go after normal school to improve their knowledge of the subjects they study. There is a hagwon for mathematics, music, science, English, and many other subjects. This is all with the goal of making students the best they can possibly be. But it all comes at a terrible price. South Korean students have some of the worst sleep deprivation of any country in the world.

Under tremendous pressure to succeed, going to normal school in the early morning, to cram schools lasting as late as midnight sometimes, all their lives are filled with is study, study, and more study, which is taking a toll on their health and sleep. The only way to fix this problem would be to likely change the fundamental building blocks of South Korean education, which is a tall task indeed.

2: Pollution Problem (Things You Didn’t Know About South Korea)

It might not be as bad as China, but South Korea has a pollution problem. Largely due to its rapid industrial growth, coupled with the infamous dust storms that sweep down from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia through China, and onto the Korean Peninsula, as well as Chinese smog emissions, major cities such as Seoul, Daegu, and Busan, all have heavy levels of pollution, causing legitimate respiratory problems for South Koreans. This often causes people to wear so-called yellow dust masks to protect their lungs from air particles. That is probably a less-than-ideal solution in the long run.

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1: Alcoholism (Things You Didn’t Know About South Korea)

When you think of booze and alcoholism, you may think of Russia or some Scandinavian country. But the truth is South Korea is the record holder in the entire world for drinking and rates of alcoholism. Soju is an alcoholic beverage in traditional drinks. It is usually made from rice and is South Korea’s most popular alcoholic beverage. Drinking culture is, and will always likely be, part of South Korean culture. Because of Confucian cultural conformity, people feel forced to drink even when they don’t want to. Such as at company dinners, where it is considered rude to refuse to drink. It might be part of the tradition, but being the world’s leader in alcoholism is a dubious honor.

So, that’s a wrap on our list of 10 things you didn’t know about South Korea.

Written by Jack Sparrow

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