Korea is situated on the Korean Peninsula, which spans 1,100 kilometers north to south. The Korean Peninsula lies in the northeastern part of the Asian continent where Korean waters are joined by the most west parts of the Pacific. The peninsula shares its northern border with China and Russia. To its east is the East Sea, beyond which Japan lies. To its west is the Yellow Sea. In addition to the mainland, Korea includes some 3,200 islands including Jejudo, Ulleungdo and Dokdo.
The Korean flag is called "Taegeukgi" in Korean.
Its design symbolizes the principle of the yin and yang in Oriental philosophy.
The circle in the center of the Korean flag is divided into two equal parts.
The upper red section represents the proactive cosmic forces of the yang.
Conversely, the lower blue section represents the responsive cosmic forces of the yin.
The two forces together embody the concepts of continual movement, balance and harmony that characterize the sphere of infinity.
The circle is surrounded by four trigrams, one in each corner.
Every year from July to October, a profusion of mugunghwa blossoms graces the entire country.
Unlike most flowers, the mugunghwa is remarkably tenacious and able to withstand both blight and insects.
The flower’s symbolic significance stems from the Korean word mugung, meaning immortality.
This word accurately reflects the enduring nature of Korean culture, and the determination and perseverance of the Korean people.
Hangeul was invented in 1443 by King Sejong the Great (1397-1450), the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), and began to be promulgated in 1446.
The first handbook created at this time was called “Hunminjeongeum,” meaning "Correct Sounds to Instruct the People."
Before the creation of Hangeul, only a relatively small percentage of the population was literate few could master the difficult Chinese characters used by the upper classes.
All Koreans speak Korean and write their language in Hangeul, the official orthographic system.
This simple fact contributes to this country’s national unity and gathers all Koreans under their shared roots.
Hangeul is a unique form of writing designed to record the Korean language.
UNESCO added the first Hangeul handbook "Hunminjeongeum" to its registry of UNESCO Memory of the World Register as a global documentary heritage in October 1997.
Living in a Hanok house means spending time on the floor, rather than on chairs and beds.
People can lie down or sit on the heated floor without shoes or other extra covers.
Though space is limited, the usage of each space can easily be changed by moving the furniture in each room.
The major materials for building a Hanok were historically clay and wood.
They were built without using any nails but rather beams were joined together with wooden pegs.
It would be covered with "giwa" or tiled roofs.
Upper-class houses consisted of a number of separate structures, largely divided into "an-chae," meaning the inner main building for woman and children; the "sarang-chae" for the men of the family and their guests; and the "haengrang-chae" meaning the servants' quarter, all of which enclosed within a single wall.
A family ancestral shrine was built behind the house. A lotus pond was sometimes built in front of the house outside the enclosing wall.
Houses of commoners, meanwhile, were divided into straw-roofed houses, shingle-roofed houses, reed-roofed houses and mud-walled huts.
The yellow earth commonly found in fields was used as a material to make walls and pillars were made of wood.
The mud walls of a straw-roofed house serve as an effective regulator of temperature and humidity in the room.
That is, walls absorb moisture when it is humid and emitting moisture when it is dry.
The wooden door, which also serve as a semi-window to Hanok house is partially covered with "Hanji", the Korean traditional paper.
Once the bright sunlight passes through Hanji, it turns into a much softer, warmer light adding the snug, cozy atmosphere to the room.
"Ondol," also called "gudeul," is Korea's unique under-floor heating system.
It was first used in the north of the peninsula. Smoke and heat generated from the low-lying kitchen stoves were channeled through flues built under floors.
In the warmer south, ondol was used together with wooden floors, which served as an excellent ventilator for air circulation within the house.
Elsewhere, the floors were stone, which stayed warm for longer periods of time.
Under the philosophy of harmony with nature, an ideal Hanok would have a mountain behind it, a river in front of it, a wide front porch and rooms well equipped with ondol.
From the late 1960s, Korea's housing pattern began to change rapidly with the construction of Western-style apartment buildings. High-rise apartments have mushroomed all over the country since the 1970s, but the ondol system has remained popular with heated water or oil pipes taking the place of smoke flues under the floor.
Also, with the newly emerging trend of "well-being and healthiness", the environment-friendly construction of Hanok is gaining more popularity as an alternative to bricks and cement.
The typical Korean daily meal, "Hansik" is composed of steamed rice with side dishes of seasoned vegetables, soup, stew and meat and/or fish. This was historically called "bansang" in Korean, meaning the main meal table.
In Korean cuisine, garnishes and condiments are crucial in making the dish.
Seasoning is very important, for even a pinch of salt makes a big difference in the taste and is considered a basic flavor in all cooking. After taste come shape and color as well as the dishware that carry the food.
Unlike neighboring countries, Koreans mostly use spoons and chopsticks made of metal to eat. Spoons are not only used for eating soup but also rice. It should also be noted however, that while metal chopsticks are predominant in Korean society, one may also find chopsticks that are made of wood, plastic or ivory in the marketplace or restaurants serving dishes from overseas.
There are additional wooden chopsticks for family use, too.