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Up Shalom House Camp Casey Korea Promise Keepers


Welcome To The Land of Morning Calm

Korean History
Korean Culture
Korean Names
Climate in Korea
Etiquette and Dining
The Language



Korean History

Archeological findings indicated that settlement on the Korean peninsula dates back 600,000 years. According to legend, Korea was founded in 2333 B.C. by a mythical figure named Tan'gun. The earliest Korean people are believed to have been migrants and invaders from present-day Manchuria, northern China, and  Mongolia. They are believed to have been divided into large, extended kin groups and most likely practiced shamanism, a belief system that centers on worshipof nature and ancestral spirits that has persisted through the centuries.

From the fourth century A.D. to the mid-seventh century A.D * , three kingdoms fought for control of Korea: Koguryo in the northern part of the peninsula and Manchuria, Paekche (18 B.C.) in the southwest and Shilla (57 B.C.) in the southeast. As they progressed into statehood, each developed institutions of centralized power and authority.

In 668 A.D., Korea emerged as a unified political entity under the Shilla Kingdom.   The century that followed is usually described as a golden age of artistic and cultural development, as the diminished threat of invasion from the north permitted Korean scholars to travel to China and bring back advanced Chinese culture.

In the mid-eighth century, however, central authority began to decline. The Shilla Kingdom was overturned in 935 A.D. by the dynasty of Koryo, from which the name "Korea" was derived.

In 1390-91 a group of dynasty officials, allied with the newly established Ming Dynasty of China, broke the economic backbone of leading Koryo families by instituting a new land-holding system. This led to the overthrow of Koryo by the Chosun Dynasty in 1392.

The Chosun Dynasty adopted the ancient name of Chosun to claim antiquity for the Korean people, and moved the capital from Kaesong to Seoul.  The most notable intellectual achievement of the dynasty was the development in 1443 of a phonetic writing system known as Hangul. The Chosun Dynasty is regarded as the golden age of Confucianism in Korea, and Confucian political and social ideals became firmly embedded in the country. Rampant factional strife, however, also became deeply rooted in Korean society especially after the 15th century.

This factionalism persisted in the Korean culture well into the mid-20th century. It divided the Chosun Dynasty's leadership and demoralized its military forces, leaving Korea defenseless against Japanese invasions in the late-16th century.

In November 1905, Korea became a Japanese colony until 1945. Korea was ruled directly from Tokyo through a governor general appointed by the Japanese emperor. Under Japanese rule all civil liberties were revoked. The Japanese closed many private schools and established their own public school system, obliterating the Korean language, to assimilate Korean youth into Japanese. culture. Nationalist sentiments were strong among Koreans, and resistance movements were formed among students, factory workers, and urban intellectuals. In 1919 the Japanese police crushed nation-wide demonstrations, in which about 370,000 Koreans participated and about 6,670 were killed.

Korea re-entered the limelight during World War 11 when its struggle for independence was recognized in the Cairo Declaration issued in December 1943, by the leaders of the U.S., Great Britain and China. August 24, 1945, President Truman authorized a line of demarcation in Korea to ease the surrender of Japanese forces on the peninsula. Soviet forces accepted the surrender of Japanese troops north of the 38th parallel; and U.S. forces received those located in the south. This area soon became a hardened barrier.

In November 1947, the U.N. adopted a resolution stipulating that elected representatives of the Korea people should establish conditions for unification and determine their own form of government. The Soviets refused to admit a U.N. commission to observe free elections in the northern half, so elections were held in May 1948, only in the southern half.

After a new constitution was ratified, Syngman Rhee was elected president July 20 and the Republic of Korea was established August 15, 1948. By June 1949, the U.S. withdrew all American troops except for a 500-man military advisory group. The north's leader, Kim 11-sung, seized the opportunity to unite the peninsula under his rule. Kim undertook a direct attack, sending his army south across the 38th parallel June 25, 1950.

On June 27, 1950, the U.N. Security Council requested members of the U.N. to assist South Korea. The United States, initially responding with air and naval support, had ground forces committed by the end of the month. Eventually, 15 other nations fought under the flag ofthe U.N. In July 1953, an armistice agreement brought the existing uneasy truce. The biggest problem now facing the Republic was reconstruction. The south had survived the war with freedom but little else.

President Rhee was re-elected in 1956 and again in 1960 -an election that was later proven to have been fraudulent. Tension and violence followed. The "April 19 Student Revolution," led to Rhee's resignation.

Climate in Korea

The winters are cold and dry with occasional snow. The coldest temperatures seldom reach zero. The average daily maximum reaches into the mid-30s with occasional daytime temperatures into the 40 or 50-degree range.

Korean Culture

Korean culture has blossomed during her long history. Though affected by other Asian cultures, its roots lie deep within the creative Korean psyche, and it has tended to spread rather than be encroached upon. Japan especially has adopted many Korean ideas and customs. The delicate styling and fine craftsmanship of celadon pottery well illustrates the refinement of the culture, even from as far back as the Three Kingdoms Period. Korea has also spawned some great inventors; its first printing systems predate Gutenberg's, the famous "Turtle Ship" was the first ever ironclad battleship, and the Korean alphabet, devised by a group of scholars in the 15th century, was so effective that it remains largely unchanged today. The reasons behind Korea's rapid economic development can be found in this innate creativity.

Three Korean cultural assets to the World Heritage List designated by the LNESCO are Chongmyo Shrine, where memorial services to the Kings of 500years history of Chosun Dynasty is held; the Great Changgyong-Pan in Haeinsa Temple, which engraved Buddhist scripture on 80,000 pieces, of wooden panels; and Pulguksa Temple and Sokkuram Grotto in Kyongju which was built 1,000-years ago.

Etiquette and Dining

While many of the Koreans with whom you come into contact will be familiar with American habits and mannerisms, the traditional values are still strong.

Koreans shake hands and bow at the same time. The depth of the bow depends on the relative seniority of the two people.

When passing a gift, or any other object to someone, use both hands with bow. The right hand is used to pass the object, while the left is used in support. If the person receiving the gift is younger or lower in stature, passing with one hand is acceptable.

Koreans believe that direct eye contact during conversation shows boldness, and out of politeness they concentrate on the conversation, usually avoiding eye-to-eye contact.

You will see young men walking in the street with their arms around each other's shoulders and women walking hand-in-hand. This means nothing more than intimacy. Touching close friends while talking to them is perfectly acceptable in Korea. Koreans will touch any children to show their warm affection. This is a compliment to let the child know how cute he is. Touching other people while passing is mostly understood unless you shove him offensively.

If you attend a wedding or funeral, it's customary to take a white envelope containing a sum of money.

Handing cash to someone is considered rude except when paying a shopkeeper for merchandise.

Dinner in a traditional Korean home or restaurant is quite different from American-style dining. Guests sit on cushions around a low table. Many different foods are served, each cut into bite-sized pieces. Each person has his own bowl of rice, but helps himself to other foods directly from the serving dishes. Koreans traditionally use chopsticks and a large-bowled spoon, although today forks are also used.

During the meal, rest your chopsticks and spoon on top of a dish. When you have finished eating, lay the chopsticks or spoon on the table to indicate that you have completed the meal. Never stick chopsticks or spoons in a bowl of rice; this indicates a worship of the dead. Don't worry about reaching in front of others or asking for a dish to be passed.

The hostess may put your gift aside without opening it in consideration of not embarrassing you at the smallness of the gift. She'll open it if you politely ask her to.

At a restaurant, "Dutch Treat" is not customary-Koreans just take turns in paying the bills. In most hotels, tips are included in the bill .

Be conscious of Korean customs and etiquette, but don't become obsessed with adopting Korean ways.

Korean Names

Koreans place the family name first, and the given personal name second. Family names are traditional clan names and each has a village from which it comes. Thus, there is a difference between Kim who comes from Kyong-ju and Kim from Kirnhae.

The five most frequent names are Kim, Pa(r)k, Yi, Choi (Choe) and Oh. Because of the inconsistencies of translating names from Hangul to Roman characters, spellings of these names vary. For instance, Yi is also spelled in English as Lee and Rhee.

If at all possible, Koreans avoid calling a person directly by his name. Instead they use his title, position, trade, profession, scholastic rank or some honorific form such as "teacher." Parents often are addressed as the equivalent of "Jimmy's mornmy" or "Susie's daddy," rather than "Mrs. Kim."

The Language

Koreans consider their own written language, Hangul, as their most distinctive trait.

Korean language, Hangung-mahl, is closer to Hungarian, Finnish or Turkish than it is to other Oriental languages.

Although they have their own efficient phonetic alphabet invented in the 15th Century, they use Chinese ideographs for some proper names and technical terms.

During your tour in Korea, you'll have ample opportunity to study the Korean language. Many bases have free on-duty or off-duty language classes.

English is taught in Korean schools as a first foreign language. When you talk to Koreans in English, speak slowly to increase your chances of being understood.

If you still have difficulties getting your message across, write it down using short words. If this fails, simply show the phrases written in one of the many available phrase books.

The following Korean phrases may assist you during your visit to Korea:

Good morning/atternoon/evening.

Ahn-nyong ha-seh-yo?

I'm glad to meet you.

Mahn-nah-so bahn-gah-wo-yo.

Good-bye. (by host)

Ahn-nyong-hee kah-seh-yo. Good-bye. (by guest) Ahn-nyong-hee kay6seh-yo.

May I have your name?

Ee-ru-mee moo-ot-shim-nee-ka?

How much does it cost? (How much is the fare?)

01-mah eem-nee-ka?

I'll take this.

Ego ju-seh-yo.

Thank you.

Kahm-sa Ham-nee-dah.

You're welcome.


What is this place called?

Yo-gee-gah o-deem-nee-ka?

I want to get off in ltaewon.

itaewon-eh-so neh-ryo ju-seh-yo.

Stop here.

Yo-gee se-wo ju-seh-yo.

Please wait for a moment.

Jahm-kahn-mahn Kee-dah-ree-seh-yo.

Go straight ahead.

Dok-bah-ro kah-seh-yo.

Which way do I need to go?

Onu-jo-ku-ro kahm-nee-ka?

It is very delicious.

Ah-ju mah-sheet-so-yo.



What time is it?

Myot she eem-nee-ka?

Please give me a glass of cold water

Naeng-soo hahn-john ju-seh-yo.

Please give me an English menu.

Young-oh menu chom ju-seh-yo.

Western-style room Korean-style room

Cheem-dae bahng On-doll bahng

Hot water Cold water Rice

On-soo       Naeng-soo Bahb

Do you speak English?

Young-oh hahm-nee-ka?

Meal                 Bill                       Reservation

Shik-sah Keh-sahn-so      Ye-yahk

Please take me to the nearest U.S. military installation.

Kah-kah-woon mee-koon boo-dae-ro kahp-she-dah.

Dining room Room charge

Shik-dahng Sook-bahng-ryo

What is this?

Ee-gut-sun moo-ot-shim-nee-ka?

It is hot (spicy). It is hot (temperature).

Mae-wo-yo.    Ttugoh-wo-yo.

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The Seoul Subway

Web Author
Copyright 1995 [Smith Enterprises]. All rights reserved.
Revised: January 13, 1999.