|Currency||South Korean won (KRW)|
|Area||total: 98,480 sq km |
land: 98,190 sq km
water: 290 sq km
|Population||48,422,644 (July 2005 est.)|
|Language||Korean, English widely taught in junior high and high school|
|Religion||No Affiliation 46%, Christian 26%, Buddhist 26%, Confucianist 1%, Other 1%|
South Korea, formally the Republic of Korea (?? ?? Daehan Minguk) is a country in Eastern Asia. It occupies the southern half of the Korean Peninsula that lies between the Yellow Sea and the East Sea (Sea of Japan). It is bordered to the north by North Korea, and Japan lies across the Korea Strait to the south.
The Joseon Dynasty (also rendered Choson) ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910, although Korea became a Chinese vassal state after Ming invasions in 1627 and 1636. In the late 20th century, Japan started to exploit China's weakness to take over Korea, first as a protectorate in 1907 and annexed outright in 1910. Despite a fierce independence movement, 35 years of brutal occupation followed, with the Japanese doing their best to eradicate all traces of Korean culture and identity.
After World War II, a republic was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula while a Communist-style government was installed in the north. The Korean War (1950-53) had US and other UN forces intervene to defend South Korea from North Korean attacks supported by the Chinese. An armistice was signed in 1953 splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel. Thereafter, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth, with per capita income rising to roughly 20 times the level of North Korea. South Korea has maintained its commitment to democratize its political processes. In June 2000, a historic first north-south summit took place between the south's President Kim Dae-jung and the north's leader Kim Jong-il, but the peace process has moved at a glacial pace if at all and the status quo seems set to continue.
South Korea is a very homogeneous country, with nearly all inhabitants identifying themselves as ethnically Korean.
South Korea holds the record of having the world's lowest birthrate (1.16 children per woman nationwide and even less in Seoul), and dealing with this will be one of the major problems of the 21st century.
During the Joseon dynasty Korea's dominant philosophy was a strict form of Confucianism. People were separated into a rigid hierarchy, with the king at the apex, an elite of officials and warriors below him, a small middle class of merchants below them, then a vast teeming mass of peasants and a hereditary class of slaves. Men were superior to women, educated were superior to the uneducated and everybody stuck to his defined role or faced the severe consequences. Buddhism and its dangerous notions of equality and individual spiritual pursuit were suppressed.
While the Joseon Dynasty ceased to exist in 1910, its legacy lives on in Korean culture: education and hard work are valued above all else, and women still struggle for equal treatment.
Korea has a significant number of Christians (26%) and Buddhists (26%). Some 46% of the country profess to follow no particular religion.
Korea's traditional holidays follow the lunar calendar, meaning they fall on different days each year. The big ones are family holidays and entail everybody returning to their hometowns en masse, meaning that all forms of transport are absolutely packed.
Seollal (??), on the 1st day of the 1st month in the lunar calendar, is also known as "Korean New Year". Families gather together to eat traditional foods and perform an ancestral service.
Chuseok (??), often dubbed "Korean Thanksgiving", is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the year (usually August-September). Koreans celebrate by eating traditional foods, notably a rice cracker called songpyeon (??) and playing folk games.
- Spring is one of the best times of year to be in Korea. The temperatures are warm but not hot and there's not too much rain either.
- Summer starts with a dreary rainy season in June and turns into a steambath in July-August, with extreme humidity and the temperature heading as high as 40°C. Best avoided.
- Fall, starting in September, is perhaps the best time to be in Korea. Temperatures and humidity become more tolerable, fair days are common and the justly renowned fall colors make their appearance.
- Winter is a good time to go skiing or hot-spring hopping, and the Korean invention of ondol (floor heating) helps defrost any parts that froze outside.
- North Chungchong
- South Chungchong
- Gangwon — "No.1 Tourist destination in Korea" designated by the Korea Government.
- Gyeonggi — surrounding Seoul and covered in its urban sprawl
- North Gyeongsang
- South Gyeongsang
- Jeju — Korea's honeymoon island
- North Jeolla
- Busan — Korea's number two city, a bustling port in the southeast
- Jinju — a pretty city with a famous fortress
- Seoul — the capital and one of the world's 5 largest cities, just a stone's throw from the DMZ
There are 6 international airports (Seoul/Incheon, Busan, Jeju, Daeju, Chongju, and Gwangju) in Korea. The largest international airport in South Korea is Incheon International, located approximately 45 minutes west of Seoul.
United Airlines and Northwest Airlines serve Seoul Incheon (ICN), principally through their connecting hub in Tokyo Narita (NRT).
Travel from North Korea (and hence anywhere else in Asia) to South Korea by train remains impossible, although work continues on reconnecting two lines between the countries. However, for travelers coming from or continuing on to Japan, special through tickets (http://www.korail.go.kr/2003/eng/html/sche/f_sche_007.html) are available, giving discounts of 30% on KTX services and 9-30% on Busan-Fukuoka ferries as well as Japanese trains.
Due both to its location at the end of the Korean peninsula and the political situation with North Korea, entering South Korea overland is practically not possible. The border between North and South Korea is considered the most heavily fortified border in the world, and while some crossings have occurred at the truce village of Panmunjeom, one of the cases (a Soviet defector in 1984) was shot at by both sides and, although he survived, you might not be so lucky. In the 80's and the early 90's most of those who crossed them either way would be arrested and prosecuted for reasons mostly referred by 'threatening national security'. These days it is possible to do limited trips into North Korea from the South (see details under North Korea), but not vica versa.
There are fairly frequent ferry connections to Japan. JR's Beetle hydrofoil service from Busan to Fukuoka manages the trip in just under three hours with up to five connections a day, but all other links are overnight slow ferries, such as Shimonoseki from cost from $US60 (one-way). A Seoul-Osaka combination ferry/train costs $US195.
Towards China, there are ferry links between Incheon and Qingdao and Tianjin in China. There are also weekly departures to Vladivostok from $US270.
South Korea is fairly compact and you can get anywhere very fast if you fly, and reasonably fast even if you don't.
South Korea is small enough that flying is more of a luxury than a necessity, with the notable exception of connections to the island of Jeju. The long-standing domestic flight duopoly of Korean Air (http://www.koreanair.com/) and Asiana (http://www.flyasiana.com/) was broken in 2005 by the arrival of low-cost competitor Hansung Airlines, which soon folded, but Jeju Air (http://www.jejuair.net/) plans to follow their footsteps in summer 2006. On other routes flight prices are expensive and the two big companies' route maps nearly identical.
National train operator Korail (http://www.korail.go.kr/ROOT/main-top.top?lang=eng) connects major cities in South Korea. Of particular note are the high-speed Korea Train eXpress (http://ktx.korail.go.kr/eng/index.html) (KTX) services between Seoul and Busan via Daegu and Daejeon. The full trip currently takes 160 minutes, a figure which is expected to improve to 116 minutes by 2010 when the second stretch of high-speed track is taken into use. The KTX trains have 18 cars with the first 3 being first class and the rest reserved economy seating except the very last car (number 18) which is open seating. There are drink vending machines on board and an attendant that comes by with a snack cart which includes reasonally priced beer, soda, cookies, candy, sausages, hardboiled eggs, and kimbap (Korean Sushi).
Non-KTX trains are poetically ranked as Saemaul (???, "New Village"), Mugunghwa (???, "Rose of Sharon") and Tongil (??, "Unification"), corresponding roughly to express, semi-express and local services. Prices are highest on weekends, while you can get discounts of up to 15% by travelling mid-week. If not pressed for time, catching a ride on the first class of Saemaul train is much more comfortable and can enjoy the scenery better then riding on the economic class of the KTX train. First class Saemaul ticket cost about the same as economic class KTX ticket.
Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, Daegu and Incheon also have local subway services.
The KR Pass (http://www.korail.go.kr/2003/eng/html/sche/f_sche_004.html) is a special rail pass introduced in 2005 for non-resident foreigners only, allowing unlimited travel for a set period on any Korail train (including KTX) and including free seat reservation. The pass is not valid for first class or sleeping cars, but you can upgrade for half price if you wish. The regular pass costs US$76/114/144/168 for 3/5/7/10 days, with additional discounts of 10-20% for youths (age 13-25), students and groups of 2-5 traveling together. Note that the pass must be purchased before arrival in South Korea, either via a travel agent or online.
Buses (?? beuseo) remain the main mode of national transport, connecting all cities and towns. They're frequent, punctual and fast, sometimes dangerously so, so fasten the belts you'll often find in the seats.
There is a somewhat pointless division of long-distance buses into express buses (???? gosok beoseu) and inter-city buses (???? si-oe beoseu), which often use separate terminals to boot. Express buses are marginally faster on long runs, but inter-city buses go to more places. For additional comfort, look for buses with just three seats across instead of the usual four; these cost about 50% extra.
- Korean Express Bus Lines Association (http://www.kobus.co.kr/eng/index.jsp)
- Timetables and fares of the Express bus routes in South Korea
Boats shuttle out to Korea's many islands, including Jeju.
Written Korean, called Hangeul, is a phonetic writing system, similar to the Latin and Cyrillic writing systems, as opposed to the Chinese ideographic writing system. Learning how to read Hangeul before you arrive in Korea will make travelling much easier as many signs and menus are only written in it.
All Koreans have taken English lessons as part of their education; however due to lack of practice (as well as a polite shyness towards mispronunciation), many Koreans have little more than a very basic grasp of English phrases. It is true that the English level of South Koreans is being improved by the government. Nonetheless, travellers can get by with English only; however it goes without saying that learning basic Korean phrases will enrich your travel experience.
A common experience for western travellers in South Korea is to be approached by children interested in practicing their English skills. They will often take a picture of you, as proof they really talked to you.
The currency of South Korea is the won (?), written ? in hangul. As of December 2005, the exchange rate was approximately US$1:KRW1035. Thus a single won is worth approximately 1/10th of one US cent. The simplest method of calculating exchange on the run is to divide by 1000 for US$. The largest bill currently in circulation is W10,000 (roughly US$10), which makes carrying around large sums of currency a bit of a chore.
ATM are ubiquitous, but most Korean ATMs don't accept foreign cards, only special Global ATMs do. These can be found at airports and major cities, so stock up before heading to the countryside. Credit card acceptance, on the other hand, is pretty good, although cheap restaurants and motels will usually insist on cash.
Korea is fairly expensive for an Asian country, if still notably cheaper than Japan. A frugal backpacker willing to eat, live and travel Korean-style can squeeze by on under W60,000 per day, but if you want top-class hotels and Western food even W100,000/day will not suffice.
What to buy
Korea is the ginseng capital of the world.
Few fall in love with Korean food at first taste, but like most acquired tastes, it's an addictive one once you get used to it. While there are obvious influences from both China and Japan, Korean food is definitely in a class of its own, mixing spicy chillies and copious amounts of garlic with delicate ingredients like raw fish. It's also very healthy, a fact attested to by the observation that very few South Koreans are overweight.
A Korean meal is centered around rice and soup, invariably served with a vast assortment of side dishes known as banchan (??). The humblest meal comes with three types while a royal banquet may well feature twelve. Typical banchan include bean sprouts (??? kongnamul), sauteed fishcake (???? eumuk jorim) and pickled cucumbers (???? oi-muchim).
The ubiquitous kimchi (??), made from fermented cabbage and chili, accompanies nearly every meal and may be a bit of an acquired taste for visitors as it can be quite spicy. In addition to the common cabbage type, kimchi can be made from white radish (??? ggakdugi), cucumbers (?? ??? oi-sobagi), chives (?? ?? buchu kimchi) or pretty much any vegetable that can be pickled. Many different dishes are made using kimchi for flavoring, and kimchi is served as a side dish as well.
Two more condiments found in almost every dish are doenjang (??), a fermented soybean paste akin to Japanese miso, and gochujang (???), a hot (or not so hot) chilli paste.
A common perception amongst Koreans is that foreigners simply don't like spicy food, so you might have to spend some time convincing people otherwise if you really want to eat something hot. Also, while Korean food undoubtedly has the neighboring bland-dieted Japanese and northern Chinese breathing fire, if you're accustomed to (say) Thai or Mexican food you may wonder what the fuss is about.
Koreans use chopsticks with a twist: alone among the peoples of Asia, they prefer chopsticks of stainless steel. Unfortunately for the chopstick learner, these thin and slippery sticks are not the best implements to practice with, but if you can eat with wooden or plastic chopsticks you'll manage with some fumbling. When eating as a group, communal dishes will be placed in the center and everybody can chopstick what they want, but you'll still get individual portions of rice and soup.
Some etiquette pointers:
- Eating rice with your spoon is polite. Actually Korea is one of the few countries where eating rice with your chopsticks is considered rather rude, mostly by the elder Koreans. This is not the case in Japan or China, where they usually eat rice with their chopsticks. However, eating rice with chopsticks is more accepted among the younger generation.
- Eating rice while holding your rice bowl is not a noble way to eat. This with using a chopstick surely will make you look cheap.
- Don't lift dishes up from the table. But don't feel obligated and end up having stomach problems.
- Don't leave your chopsticks sticking into a dish. A spoon sticking downright into the rice bowl is also not a good sign, since that's how Koreans set up the dishes for their passed ancestors.
- But most of all, Koreans are generally very interested in foreigners. Most of them will look at you out of interest, not because you're eating the wrong way. So don't be self-conscious of whether you're doing something right or wrong. Just use your common sense of politeness and good manners, and everything will be fine.
Hound by the pound
Yes, it's true — Koreans eat dog. While theoretically illegal, in practice the law is not enforced and dog meat soup (??? bosintang) remains a popular dish among those looking to improve male virility or just beat the summer heat. Another option is suyuk (??), which is just meat boiled with spices to eliminate smell and make the meat tender. But rest assured, it's an expensive delicacy (very expensive!) and you're not going to end up chowing on Snoopy by accident.
Aside from the mental block, there are some issues regarding how the dogs are raised, butchered, and processed. No, dogs are not beaten to death to improve the taste — but calling the conditions in which dogs are raised and butchered humane would also be an exaggeration. Even in Korea people get quite opinionated on this matter, so take anything you hear with a grain of salt.
Also known as Korean barbeque, bulgogi (???) is the Korean term for barbequed beef and probably the single best-known Korean dish. A charcoal brazier is placed in the middle of the table and patrons cook their choice of regular or marinated meats, adding kimchi to the brazier for spice. The cooked meat is placed on a lettuce or sesame leaf (ssamjang ??), topped with a dab of rice, , shredded green onion salad (??? pa-muchim), piece of raw (or cooked) garlic, or some shredded pickled radish (?? muchae), and then devoured. All are optional, so be creative.
The cost of a barbeque meal depends largely on the meat chosen. You'll rarely see filet mignon, instead common cuts of meat include ribs (?? galbi) and unsalted pork bacon (??? samgyupsal) . Unmarinated meats tend to be higher quality, but in cheaper joints it's best to stick with the marinated stuff.
Bibimbap (???) literally means "mixed rice", which is a pretty good description. It consists of bowl of rice with all sorts of condiments on top (vegetables, shreds of meat, and an egg), which you mash up with your spoon, stirring in your preferred quantity of gochujang (??? chili sauce), and then devour. Particularly tasty is dolsot bibimbap (?????), served in a piping hot stone bowl (watch your fingers!) that cooks the rice to a crisp on the bottom and edges.
Another healthy and tasty option is gimbap (??), sometimes (rather inaccurately) dubbed "Korean sushi". Kimbap contains rice, sesame seed, a Korean variety of spinach, a picked vegetable similar to the Japanese dakkang, and an optional meat, such as minced beef or tuna, all neatly wrapped in dried seaweed, topped with sesame oil and sliced. A single roll makes a good snack or meal depending on one's appetite, and they travel well. Basically what differentiates Korean and Japanese gimbap is how they prepare rice. Korean style kimbap usually use salt and sesame oil to flavor the rice, while Japanese style uses sugar and vinegar. However, this differentiation has become somewhat vague these days.
The term jjigae (??) covers a wide variety of stews. Common versions include doenjang jjigae (????), made with doenjang, vegetables and shellfish, and kimchi jjigae (????), made with — you guessed it — kimchi.
Sundubu jjigae (?????) is made with soft tofu as the main ingredient, and have a variety of versions by what else is in the soup. Meat version is made as ground pork is pan-fried with oil and dried chili powder, then broth is poured in, and tofu is put in with some other vegetables. There's also seafood version haemul sundubu jjigae(?? ????? - haemul is seafood) where meat is replaced by shrimp, squid and the like.
Budae jjigae (????) has some contemporary history involved. It's known to have originated from the city of Uijeongbu where a US military bases was located, and naturally there would be a lot of American canned food available, such as SPAM, sausages, and pork beans. Some got creative, and found out that these ingredients can be assimilated into the traditional Korean food of jjigae. Therefore, budae jjigae can be thought of as some sort of a fusion food in the past, which is now accepted and enjoyed by Koreans all over the nation. All restaurants have somewhat different recipes, but generally it's pretty spicy, and will usually have kimchi and spam-like American ingredients. Most places will bring you a big pan of stew and put it on a gas stove in the middle of the table. Many like to put ramyeon noodle (?? ??) in the stew, which is optional.
Koreans are great noodle lovers too. Naengmyeon (??) are a Korean speciality, being thin, chewy buckwheat noodles served in ice cold beef broth, and hence a popular summer dish — although it's traditionally winter food! The key to the dish is the broth (?? yuksu) and the recipes of well known restaurants are usually closely guarded secrets.
Ramyeon (??) is Korea's variant of ramen, often served with kimchi (what else?). Korean ramyeon is well known for its overall spicyness, at least when compared to Japanese ones. Try shin ramyeon (???) for example. U-dong (??) are thick wheat noodles. Ja Jang Myun (???) is a noodle with a black sauce that usually includes pork, onions, cucumber, and garlic. Ja Jang Myun is very popular among the Koreans as a quick way to have a good meal since it costs about 3000Won to 5000Won, approximately equivalent to $3 to $5.
Hoe (?), pronounced roughly "hweh", is raw fish Korean-style (basically sushi), meaning it's served with spicy gochujang (chili sauce) sauce. Chobap (??) is raw fish with rice (basically a type of sushi)..
Jeon (?), jeonya (??), jijimi (???), jijim (??), bin dae ddukk (???) and buchimge (???) are all general terms for Korean-style pan-fried pancakes, which can be made of virtually anything. Pajeon (??) is a Korean-style pan-fried pancake laden with spring onions (pa ? is green onion). Haemul pajeon (????), which has seafood added, is particularly popular. Seng sun jeon (???) is made of small fillets of fish covered with egg and flour and then pan fried, and nok dooo bin de ddukk (?? ???) is made from ground mung bean and various vegetables and meat combined.
If barbequed meat is not to your taste, then try Korean-style beef tartar, known as yukhoe (??). Raw beef is finely shredded and then some sesame oil, seseme, pine nuts and egg yolk are added, plus soy and sometimes gochujang to taste. It's also occasionally prepared with raw tuna or even chicken instead.
Fear Factor fans will find a few familiar items in Korea. A snack often sold on the street and occasionally appearing in your banchan selection is roasted silkworm larvae (??? beondegi), which smell notoriously bad when being sauteed but don't actually taste like much. Sometimes these creatures are ground and made into soup. Another popular insert is grasshoppers, fried and sold on the street sometimes. Crunchy and not bad but bring a toothpick to clean the legs out from between your teeth.
A squirmy delicacy is live octopus (??? sannakchi) — it's sliced to order, but keeps wiggling for another half hour as you try to remove its suction cups from your plate with your chopsticks. Sea squirts (meongge) are at least usually killed before eating, but you might be hard-pressed to tell the difference as the taste been memorably described as "rubber dipped in ammonia".
Tipping is not necessary in Korean restaurants. Especially in small restaurants, they might feel disrespected by you giving them money. At hotels and very high-class restaurants, you should feel free to tip. Otherwise, tipping can lead to misunderstanding even at family restaurants such as Bennigan's, Outback Steakhouse, and TGI Friday's.
Alcoholics rejoice — booze is cheap and Koreans are among the heaviest drinkers in the world. Korean alcohols are recommended over beer since beer is more expensive compared to Soju (explained below) and other Korean drinks.
The national South Korean drink is soju (??), a vodka-like alcoholic beverage (usually around 20%). It's cheaper than any other drinks and also strong. Usually this is made by fermenting starch from sweet potato and tapioca etc, to produce pure alcohol which is then diluted with water and other flavors.
Traditionally, soju was made by distilling rice wine and ageing it, which created a smooth spirit of about 40%. This type of traditional soju can still be found, for example Andong Soju (?? ??) — named after the town of Andong — and munbaeju (???). These can be expensive, but prices (and quality) vary considerably.
History tells that there were numerous brewers throughout the country in the past until late Chosun dynasty and before Japanese colonization. However, by the Japanese colonization and the oppressive and economy-obsessed government in the 60-70s, using rice for making wine or spirits was strictly prohibited. This eliminated most of the traditional brewers in the country and Korea was left with few large brewery corps (Jinro ??, Kyoungwol ??, Bohae ??, Bobae ??, Sunyang ??, etc), that basically made 'chemical soju'. Brewery distribution and markets were regionalized, and until the 1990s it was difficult to find a Jinro soju anywhere else than Seoul (you would have to pay premium even if you found one), and Kyoungwol soju could only be found in Kangwon province, Sunyang in the Chungcheong province.
Korean young girls like cocktail soju (like cherry soju, yogurt soju, peach soju, grape soju), although some older guys secretly like it, too. For the daring, there are also soju cocktails such as 'socol' (soju + coke), 'Ppyong gari' (soju + pocari sweat - sports drink) and such, which are creative results for 'getting drunk quicker and cheaper'.
''Cheongju' vs. 'Sake''
Korean rice wine is different from the Japanese rice wine for a variety of reasons besides the recipes. First, different agents are used to break down the starch of rice. Korean wine uses 'noo rook', while Japanese wine uses 'koji'. Simply, it is generally told that 'noo rook' contains various kinds of fungi and other microorganisms, while in 'koji' a more selected and pure breed of fungi does its job. The second factor is the yeast. 'Noo rook' contains yeast that were naturally attached which is composed of a variety of strains, however in making 'sake' a specific strain of yeast is selected. Last but not least, another factor would be the rice. Traditionally rice for making 'cheongju' is washed 'a hundred times' (paek se ??), but for 'sake', the rice is ground until the grain size is more or less 50-60% of its original size. Therefore, some people comment that in general Korean traditional rice wine 'cheongju' tastes more complicated and earthly while sake tastes 'cleaner' and 'sweeter'. Of course this is an oversimplification, but you get the idea. This is a simplified explanation for the high quality 'traditional wine'. It's a totally different story when it comes to mass-production.
Traditional unfiltered rice wines in Korea are known as takju (??), literally "cloudy alcoholic beverage". In the most basic and traditional form, these are made by fermenting rice with nuruk (??), a mix of fungi and yeast that breaks down starch in rice into sugar, for a short while (3-5 days usually). Then this is strained, usually diluted to 4-6% and imbibed. However, as with the case of traditional soju, unless explicitly stated on the bottle most takju are made from wheat flour and other cheaper grains. Makkolli (???) is the simplest takju, fermented once and then strained, while in dongdongju (???) more rice is added once or more during the fermentation to boost the alcohol content and the flavor. Typically you can find a couple of rice grains floating in dongdongju as a result.
Yakju (??) or cheongju (??) is filtered rice wine, similar to the Japanese rice wine sake. The fermentation of rice is sustained for about 2 weeks or longer, strained, and then is kept still to have the suspended particles precipitate. The end result is the clear wine on top, with about 12-15% alcohol. Various recipes exist, which involves a variety of ingredients and when and how to add them accordingly. Popular brands include Baekseju (???) and 'Dugyunju (???).
Those with an interest in the wine production process and its history will want to visit the Traditional Korean Wine Museum in Japan's "love hotels". Motels in South Korea are generally very cheap hotels targeted at young couples aiming to spend 'time' together away from their elders, complete with gaudy (occasionally vibrating)plastic beds with strategically placed mirrors on the ceiling, as well as a VCR and a variety of appropriate videos. However for the budget traveller, they can simply be inexpensive lodging, with rates as low as W25,000/night. Actually they are often incredably good value! Just look for the symbol "?" and gaudy architecture, particularly near stations or highway exits. These are also popular with single female travellers.
Full-service hotels can be found in all larger towns in Korea. Cheaper hotels blend into motels with rooms from W40,000, while three-four star hotels are closer to W100,000 and five-star luxury hotels can easily top W200,000. Outside peak season you can often get steep discounts from the rack rates, so be sure to ask when reserving.
In rural areas in and near national parks, you can find a minbak (??). Most of these are just a room or two in someone's home - others are quite fancy and may be similar to yeogwans (motels) or hotels. Generally, they have [Seoul) provides Korean language program. You can meet friends from all over the places to learn Korean.
- Korean Traditional Dance — You can go to dance studio and learn Korean traditional dance. You will wear "Han Bok" - Korean traditional cloths.
- Baduk — Korean name for the ancient board game called Go in English. Many Koreans play. Some of the world's finest players are Korean. There are even schools that specialize in Baduk. See this [pickpockets and common scams.
The emergency number for police is 112 from a phone and 02-112 from a cellular phone, fire and ambulance services are 119 or 02-119 from a cellular, and emergency-service, English interpreters are avaiable 24 hours a day.
Although health care in South Korea is not free, it is heavily subsidized by the government and is very cheap compared to the United States. For expat workers who have a medical insurance card (this is required), it is even less expensive (although still not free.)
Most doctors speak at least some English, typically peppered with medical terms that might be unfamiliar to most people. In general, the larger hospitals in big cities will be more able to accommodate people with little or no command of the Korean language.
In addition to Western medicine, Oriental medicine is quite popular in Korea. Herbal supplements can be bought in most pharmacies as well as from shops which produce their own. The most popular herbal supplements (such as Ginseng) can even be bought in convenience stores in the form of energy drinks, tea, gum, and alcohol.
Pharmacies are usually located near hospitals, as hospitals in Korea are not allowed to dispense take-home perscriptions; prescriptions are dispensed in small paper packages. No special vaccinations are required to enter Korea from most countries -- check your local consulate for details.
When Koreans are saying "hello" (?????, "An-yung-haseyo"), they bow each other to show their respect.
Korean language has different levels to show respect.
When picking something up or taking something from somebody older always use two hands. If you have to reach to get it and this is not possible, you can simply support your right arm with your left hand.
Likewise, when shaking hands with somebody older support your right arm with your left hand.
When drinking with an older person, turn your head away from the person when you are actually taking a drink. It is also proper to pour the other person's drink, but only do so when it is empty. It's also polite to use both hands when pouring to an older person. Topping off is not considered to be the norm.
Younger people often times have a difficult time refusing a drink from an older person, so be aware when asking someone younger than you if they want to drink more as they will often feel unable to say no to you. Of course, this works both ways. Often times, if an older person feels you are not keeping up with the party, he may offer you his glass, which he will then fill and expect you to drink. It is considered polite to promptly return the 'empty' glass and refill it.
Internet cafes, known as PC bang (PC ?), are ubiquitous through the country. Most customers are gaming addicts but you're free to sit and type e-mails as well, typical charges are about W1000 to W2000/hour. Like anything, it may be more expensive in more "luxurious" places. Also, snacks and drinks are available for purchase in most PC bangs.
- Consular Information Sheet, U.S. Dept. of State (http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1018.html)
- Galbijim Wiki for expats in Korea (http://wiki.galbijim.com)