Monday, March 7, 2011

Korea: an overview

In thinking over my posts about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Costa Rica,  I realized I didn't really spend much time conveying some of the general information about those countries, and that there might be some merit to sharing some of that info with you guys to provide contextual background. So, here we go!

Korea is pretty unique in that its people are predominantly of the same ethnic background and almost all speak the same language.  The country is roughly the size of Indiana, however, there are a whopping 48.6 million people living there, which is more than seven times the population of Indiana!

China is South Korea's western neighbor, with Japan its neighbor to the east.  Korea was occupied by Japan for almost the entire first half of the 20th century, ending with Japan's defeat in WWII.  Shortly after, Korea was divided along the 38th parallel according to a United Nations agreement, to be administrated by the Soviet Union in the north, and the United States in the South.  A 160-mile buffer zone, often referred to as the DMZ, divides the two nations, and is the most heavily militarized border in the world.

Guard station at the DMZ

I was watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's travel and food show No Reservations today and saw an episode where Korea was featured. He spoke to an old man who had fled from the north to the south  as a young man in the hopes of providing a better life for his family. He seemed to still believe in his decision, however he spoke emphatically about how his thoughts never drifted far from his roots in North Korea, how he thought every day of the village and loved ones he left behind, and how his greatest hope was to see his homeland once more before his death.

Traditional Korean village

Korean life traditionally centers around large, tight knit families, as do all agricultural societies.  Traditional villages were also very community minded - often joining together in times of need or celebration. However, today most people live in condominiums in cities. A 1995 census found that 88% of Koreans lived in urban areas!

Bukchon - a neighborhood in Northern Seoul, traditionally housed many palace officials and is known for its high concentration of traditional homes called "hanok," which feature curved tile roofs. 

Oh man, there is so much more to write about, but I hafta go to bed! I recommend checking out the Lonely Planet write up on South Korea - they paint an especially vivid picture of what it is like to visit - which I am still absolutely determined to do one day:)

Keep an eye on upcoming posts about Korean pop music, Jeju Island, urban life, and, of course, lots about food!!!!

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