Throughout its long history, Korea has been the victim of constant invasions and occupations by its oppressive neighbouring countries. Despite this, the Koreans have managed to keep their own language, culture and traditions for thousands of years. The Korean people are descended from various Mongol tribes which settled in the Korean Peninsula.
Because of its position geographically, Korea has been greatly influenced by Japan and China in its literature, philosophy, religion and even its martial arts. Chinese influence was generally blended into Korea's own culture and independant traditions, while Japan was influenced by Korea's cultural and social development.
Of extreme importance to the Korean people is the family unit. Large families would often live in the same house or area. Respect for parents, teachers and elders is expected from children and the hierarchy of seniority is practised at home and at work.
Parents consider it their responsibility to ensure their children receive a good education because this is vital for obtaining a good career and social distinction. The standard of literacy in Korea is one of the highest in the world.
Arranged marriages were common in ancient Korea but are nowadays seen mostly in the aristocracy.
An important factor in Korean families is that parents are absolute. Parents instructions and demands are considered final and must not be questioned.
As in many societies, the women in Korea once held a very low status within the family. The wife would obey unquestionably the demands of the husband. The wife would serve the whole family, caring for the children, cooking and making clothes. Although these are things of the past, the influences can still be seen in the modern male-oriented society.
Nowadays people live mainly in apartments or modern houses, particularly in the cities. The traditional Korean house is usually found in rural areas and are single story dwellings built mainly of clay and wood.
They usually have many small rooms which serve multiple purposes - there is nothing to define which is a bedroom or dining room as mats or tables are brought in when necessary. the rooms have the traditional sliding doors covered with rice paper and these can have elaborate and ornate designs.
Shoes are not worn in the house and are left outside the door.
There are no domestic ovens in Korea and cooking is done by grilling, frying barbequeing and boiling. Rice is the main dish at Korean mealtimes with the second most important component being Kim-Chi. Kim-Chi is a fermented dish usually made of cabbage, root vegetables or cucumbers, depending on the season. Kim-Chi is usually very hot and spicy with chillis being used for seasoning. Dishes of meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables are also served. The national dish is Bulgogi, a barbequed beef dish.
At the table each person has his own bowl of rice with all other dishes in the centre of the table for the diners to help themselves. Utensils are chopsticks and a spoon.
The Capital City
Seoul is over 500 years old but these days it has all the modern conveniences a visitor could need, with English being spoken in many places. The ancient and modern exist side-by-side in Seoul. Its cultural heritage can be seen in its many palaces, temples and monuments throughout the city.
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