Skip to Content

Recent Blog Posts

All Recent Posts

10 Unusual Korean Foods for the Daring

Printer-friendly version

10 Unusual Korean Foods for the Daring

I hope you brought your appetite with you, because today we are going to discuss some dishes truly unique to Korea! Some are loved and some are loathed, but one thing is for sure—they definitely do stand out. If you’re feeling brave, daring, and adventurous, then you might want to give some of these a shot.

For those who are looking for some new Korean vocabulary for their studies, we will also include the Korean names of each food so you can identify them if you go to a restaurant. If you want to learn Korean and being introduced to some new unique menu items, then you’ve come to the right place!

Note: If you’re dying to know how to pronounce the cool looking characters next to the words below, you can get a free guide to learn Hangeul (Korean alphabet) here. Most people learn to read in about one hour.


1. Beondegi (번데기) – Silkworm Larvae

This is a popular snack food in Korea that you can get from street vendors or that is served with drinks at some restaurants

The silkworm are first seasoned, and then boiled or steamed. Beondaegi have a somewhat soft and crunchy texture, and are served in a paper cup on the street or in a bowl at restaurants.

If you’re dying to get the home version, we have great news for you! Beondaegi can also be bought in sealed cans, so you can experience the delight anytime you get a craving.If you are brave and want to learn Korean, try translating the ingredients listed on the can!


2. Jokbal (족발) – Pig’s Feet

Jokbal is a beloved dish in South Korea which is made up of boiled pigs’ feet cooked with leeks, soy sauce, ginger, sugar, and rice wine. The feet are deboned, cut into slices  and served on a large platter.

To eat, first grab a piece of lettuce. Next, wrap a slice of jokbal in the lettuce. Finally, add your choice of sauces, veggies, and other goodies, and you’re all set! Jokbal is said to be good for your skin and for hangovers, which works out well since it’s usually eaten alongside alcoholic beverages.

For those of you looking for the real deal, be sure to check out Jokbal Alley in Seoul (장충동족발골목 if you learn Korean), which is chock full o’ jokbal spots.


3. Dakbal (닭발) – Chicken Feet

While we’re on the topic of feet, let’s not leave our fine-feathered friends out of this one! While some of the food on this menu may not resemble the corresponding animal you are eating, dakbal is the exception. Make no mistake; you will know they are chicken feet!

The feet are cooked and seasoned with sesame and red pepper paste. Keep a pitcher of water or other beverage of your choice nearby, because they are spicy! 닭 means chicken, and 발 means foot. These are very useful words when you learn Korean!


4. Hongeo (홍어)– Fermented Skate 

Due to overfishing and low reproductive rates in recent years, skate has become an expensive delicacy in South Korea. Skates are similar to stingrays. You probably wouldn’t be able to tell them apart if you saw two next to each other.

As far as adventurous dishes go, this one may be the winner. Famous for it’s ammonia-like odor and the ability to induce one’s gag reflex, hongeo is raw fermented skate served with various side dishes. It is most common in the southern part of the country.

To brush up on seafood vocab, learn these Korean words: 홍어 means skate, and 가오리 means stingray. Bon appetit!


5. Sundae (순대) – Boiled Intestine Sausage

First let’s address the pronunciation for our Korean learners. While the word may look like the delicious desert item the “ice cream sundae”, it’s actually pronounced like “soon” + “day.” Now that we can say it, let’s figure out what it is!

Also known as blood sausage, sundae is boiled or steamed cow or pig intestines seasoned with various ingredients and then packed together in sausage-like form. You can find this magical meat mix-up at many street vendors in South Korea.


6. Gopchang (곱창) – Grilled Pork or Cow Intestines 

If you’re in need of a new dish to compliment a soju-infused night on the town, then you may want to consider gopchang.

Prepared in true BBQ style, you’ll sit at round table with a grill in the middle and be served a dish of seasoned grilled intestines ready to be cooked up. If you forgot to work out that day, not to worry —gopchang’s chewiness will certainly give your jaw muscles a serious workout!

Gopchang’s companions are typically onions, garlic, green onions, mushrooms, and hot peppers.

For those who want to learn Korean in Seoul and Busan, check out the Munhyeon Gopchang Alley in Busan (문현곱창골목) and Wangsimni Gopchang Alley in Seoul (왕십리곱창골목) to put your language skills to use.


7. Dak Dong Jib (닭똥집) – Chicken Gizzard

Looking to keep your skin looking healthy? Then you might want to look into some dak dong jib, since it has a reputation for contributing to healthy skin.

Made from the thick, muscular walls of the chicken’s digestive tract, this chewy delight is also known to cure hangovers. Doubly good!

Fun fact if you learn Korean: 닭 means chicken, 똥 means excrement, and 집 means house. Makes it quite easy to remember, but maybe you’ll want to briefly forget while you’re eating it!


8. Bosintang (보신탕) – Dog Meat Stew

The Korean word for the sound of a dog barking is “mung-mung” (멍멍). Sadly, you aren’t likely to hear that sound anywhere near a bosintang restaurant.

The dog meat is prepared and boiled with various vegetables and spices, including green onions and perilla leaves. Although not as popular with the younger generation, bosintang can still be found quite easily in Korea.

Some Koreans believe that the dog meat stew gives virility and stamina to men after they eat it.


9. Gaebul (개불) – Live Spoon Worms

If you’re in the mood for some fresh seafood, then gaebul might be for you!

These worm-like marine animals are chopped up into bite-size pieces while still moving for your chewing enjoyment. They are served with salt and sesame oil, and have a mild flavor.

They are famous for resembling a certain part of the male anatomy and also are rumored to be an aphrodisiac.


10. Sannakji (산낙지) – Live Octopus 

If you’ve seen the movie Old Boy (올드보이 for the keen Korean learners), then you probably will never forget the legendary live octopus scene.

San (산) means “living” and nakji (작지) means “octopus”, and it is just exactly that.

Sannakji is served in different ways. Sometimes the tentacles are cut off and eaten immediately, while the body of the octopus is put into a soup. Alternatively, the tentacles may be served on a stick and eaten while still moving.

The body is cut up into small pieces and put into a bowl, to be enjoyed with sesame and sesame oil.

You may have noticed the frequent use of the word “live” in this paragraph. If you’ve never had your food moving around in your mouth before, then you may be in for quite a treat!


What are your favorite Korean foods? We’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment below!


Main Photo Credit: Zionorbi

- See more at:

Learn to read Korean and be having simple conversations, taking taxis and ordering in Korean within a week with our FREE Hangeul Hacks series:

Korean lessons   *  Korean Phrases    *    Korean Vocabulary *   Learn Korean   *    Learn Korean alphabet   *   Learn Korean fast   *  Motivation    *   Study Korean  
Please share, help Korean spread! 
Share on Facebook  Share on Google+  Share on LinkedIn



WINNER of the Korean Language Book

Printer-friendly version

With nearly 230 responses, it was tough trying to figure out who gave the best response to the question:

How would your life improve if you learned to speak Korean?

There was an interestingly wide variety of answers to say the least. The winning responses were fantastic though. Check it out here:

The post WINNER of the Korean Language Book appeared first on The Red Dragon Diaries.

the Red Dragon Diaries

ESL, Travel, and Judo!

Relax, Korea is not ‘finlandizing’ for China

Printer-friendly version


This is the first of two part series (one, two) I wrote for the Lowy Institute last month. I have the feeling that the centenary of WWI this summer has gone to everyone’s head, because I’m reading lots of posts all over the place about WWI and the parallels to the Asia-Pacific. And while there are some, a lot of this is hype. Northeast Asia is actually pretty stable – until Japan decides it has finally had enough of Chinese salami-slicing in the region I suppose. But increasingly, I think there are a lot of hawks out there, especially in the DC think-tanks and the PLA, who really dislike the status quo and hence over-hype small changes like Xi’s trip to South Korea or yet another North Korean provocation. But there’s no need to add to a march to war with threat inflation, which is what I am trying to counter-act here.

The essay follows the jump.


“This summer has provoked a lot of clamoring about shifting security in Northeast Asia. The general vibe is that Japan’s Article 9 ‘re-interpretation’ reflects a looming Sino-Japanese conflict, and that Xi Jinping’s trip to South Korea is pulling South Korea away from traditional commitments and is part of China’s larger effort to woo Asians away from the Americans. No less than a former Japanese minister of defense has made this latter argument.

While it is indeed the case that Sino-Japanese tension is growing, much of this discussion misses basic sources of stability in northeast Asia, or glosses over national particularities that muddy an easy interpretation of northeast Asia as spiraling tension. My post today will turn on the notion that Korea is ‘drifting;’ my post tomorrow will focus on the idea that Japan is remilitarizing. Neither of these are really true. My own suspicion is that various moves in the region get quickly over-interpreted, because there are a lot of hawks on all sides of northeast Asian security debate who dislike the rather dull, stable status quo.

On Korea:

1. Deterrence in Korea is actually a lot more stable than most people seem to think.

Dave Kang has made this point repeatedly in his work, but this argument is often lost in the media and the punditry. In 2013 spring faux war crisis, I noted that the media took the North Korean war-talk much more serious than the analyst community, with lots of predictions of conflict and over-heated CNN ‘analyses’ of what such a war would look like. I made the same point in 2010, after the sinking of the destroyer Cheonan by the North and its shelling Yeonpyeong Island in South Korea. The media ran wild with stories of Korea ‘on the brink of all-out war,’ but no one I know in the analyst community actually believes that. North Korea does not want to fight. They will get crushed, and the Kim family will be lynched or got to jail.

At the risk of sounding cynical, there is a great of media hype that can be ginned up out of North Korea, and alarmism is always an easy approach. Describing the North Korean Kim monarchy as insane alcoholic sex fiends, providing frightening statistics about the number of cannon and rockets pointed at Seoul, listing the North Korean nuclear tests, and so on make for great copy. But the big story in the inter-Korean stand-off is that it has not turned into a shooting war after all these years. When is the last time you saw that story covered in the media?

2. South Korea-Japan tension is bad, but they are not going to fight either.

Another hardy chestnut of the ‘northeast Asia is sliding toward war’ narrative is that Japan and South Korea can’t stand each, so conflict in the region is unpredictable. It is indeed true that South Korea and Japan barely talk at the diplomatic level. They do not work together; they don’t really care to (unless the US simultaneously arm twists); and the arguments over history and territory are indeed deep. (See the nice new CSIS report on this whole tangle and how to overcome it; my own recent thoughts on this issue at the Interpreter are here.)

But the formal disagreements cover-up a fair amount nonpolitical interchange between the two. As a professor in Korea, I see this all the time. My university, in Busan, regularly runs major exchange programs with Japanese universities in a way that it does not with schools with other countries, and this is common in the Korean university system. There are constant seminars and academic conferences on the difficulties of the countries’ relationship. There are regular efforts to work on history textbooks jointly. I constantly meet students around Korea who study Japanese, went to school there and so on. Both counties enjoy the other’s cultural products too. Manga, film, video games, K-pop and J-pop flow back and forth. There is also a great deal of tourism between the two.

Little of this is covered in the stories about the high-level tension. But there is a pretty sharp cleavage between the formal bureaucratic posturing, and the reality of dense civil society interchange. The mutual US relationship also restrains. It is all but impossible to imagine their use of force against each other while both are allied to the US.

3. South Korea is not leaving the US alliance to cozy up to China.

This is most preposterous of all the recent talk. The claim, well outlined in the link from the first paragraph, goes that Korea is torn between the US and China. It is dependent on China economically, while dependent on the US for security. The Korean government is divided into sinophile and pro-US factions. Xi’s successful recent trip illustrates the Sinic temptation of Korea. Korea will in time finlandize and equivocate on liberalism and market economics.

Once again, there is a grain of truth here, but a lot of exaggeration and little evidence. It is indeed correct that Korea is torn between China and the US. But many states in Asia are. The big internal foreign policy debate for lots of medium powers in the Asia in the coming decades is precisely the same: how to benefit economically from China’s explosive growth without getting pulled into its orbit politically? Not just South Korea, but North Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Australia all face the same dilemma.

I am not sure what the answer is. It is a hard dilemma, and all these states are going to have to muddle through. Their defense establishments will fret about looming Chinese hegemony, while their business lobbies will salivate over a billion middle-class Chinese consumers. There will be sharp intra-bureaucratic debates in all these states as they balance these competing pressures.

Ideally they would work together to present a more united front to China, but the failure of anything like an Asian NATO, plus the failure of ASEAN to evolve up from a club of government elites, suggest that each Asian middle power is going to tackle this more or less alone. That Korea is already at this point – because China has rapidly become its largest export market – does not make it unique. Indeed the intense focus on Korea ‘findlandizing’ and abandoning the US alliance, penned by a conservative Japanese politician, suggests fairly typical Korean-Japanese sniping in order to win American favor against the other.

The other obvious reason Korea talks with China so much is that China has leverage over Pyongyang. President Park may indeed be the ‘sinophile’ the Japanese are trying to paint her as, but there is an obvious reason: the road to Pyongyang leads through Beijing. Park has to flatter Xi a little if she is going to get any kind of movement on the North Korea nuclear issue, human rights, or unification. For these reason, we should all be pleased for an improving South Korea-China relationship.


Northeast Asia is reasonably stable. Most of its players would rather get rich than fight. Most of its elites know that a war could easily spin out of control. Even the North Koreans know this. And the Park-Xi relationship ameliorates the one part of the status quo everyone does want change – North Korean governance. Despite decades of predictions that war was likely in East Asia, it has happened. There’s more reason for confidence than the media’s routine alarmism would have you think.

Next week: Japan’s Article 9 changes do not signal incipient militarism.”

Filed under: Asia, China, Korea (South)

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University


An Overview of Classical Chinese Poetry of Korean Independence Activists

Printer-friendly version



Whenever I mention that one of my hobbies is to read Classical Chinese texts (漢文, 한문) to other Koreans, their first reaction is astonishment that a Gyopo would and could endeavor such a task. Their second reaction is their opinions on the role of Classical Chinese in Korean culture and history, and they can vary from positive to extremely negative. First, towards the positive end, the opinions are one of great appreciation in the language’s role in just about everything in Korean history from art to philosophy. Then, those who hold a somewhat positive view reluctantly acknowledging its position in Korean history and accepting that Sino-Korean words comprise a substantial portion of the Korean vocabulary. Lastly, toward the extremely negative end, the opinions are those of derision, disparaging Classical Chinese as foreign and elitist, and thus “less” Korean.

Unfortunately, it has been those who hold this last position that are the most vociferous and rancorous. For a people whose flag is laden with symbols that originate from China, namely the blue-red Yin and Yang (靑紅陰陽, 청홍음양) and the four tetragrams (乾坤坎離, 건곤감리), I have found such views utterly baffling. While the desire to appear independent from China is certainly understandable, this view jettisons a significant and important part of the Korean cultural patrimony. To overcome their hostility, I have found it very helpful to show them the Classical Chinese writing of Korean independence activists. This undermines the notion that Classical Chinese is a “threat” to Korean identity. In this blog post, I will first walk through where such views concerning Classical Chinese originate, then demonstrate that widespread knowledge of Classical Chinese was more recent than many believe, and finally exhibit the Classical Chinese writings of Korean independence activists.

The Hangul Narrative

Dongguk Jeongun

The Proper Sounds of the Eastern Country (東國正韻, 동국정운). Published in 1448, it was a Chinese Character dictionary, and one of the first works using Hangul.

The extremely negative view originates from the following narrative concerning Hangul (한글) that is held by most Koreans today. The story goes that Koreans originally used Chinese characters and Classical Chinese to write. Commoners found the script too difficult to learn. Finally, in the 15th century, King Sejong (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) created the Hangul, intending to entirely replace Chinese characters with his new alphabet. The haughty aristocracy, however, continued to use Chinese characters and purposefully kept commoners illiterate until the 19th century when reformers finally overthrew the script and declared Hangul the national script. (Other versions of the narrative have that Koreans suddenly stopped using Chinese characters after Hangul was promulgated.)

Though King Sejong’s creation of Hangul is undeniably a watershed moment in Korean history, there are several issues with this narrative. The most problematic is the claim that King Sejong created the script to entirely replace Chinese characters. While in The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People (訓民正音, 훈민정음) the King explicitly states that Hangul was created for commoners, he did not intend to supplant Chinese characters, but supplement them. It can be readily recognized that Hangul was designed to transcribe the pronunciation of Chinese characters. Each block of Hangul represents one syllable, and can correspond to the pronunciation of one Chinese character (e.g., 韓 for 한). Most strikingly, the original script provided for consonants and vowels that were never present in Korean, but in Chinese vernacular dialects. As for its application, one of the first uses of Hangul was to teach – or if one takes a cynical view, propagandize – the Korean populace with Confucian tenets. Many of the earliest works in Hangul are Confucian classics with parallel Classical Chinese and vernacular translations in Hangul, some of them in mixed script.

Widespread Knowledge of Classical Chinese in Early 20th Century Korea

Kyunghyangshinmun March 23 1959

Classical Chinese poetry submission section in the Mar. 23, 1959 edition of the Kyunghyang Shinmun (京鄕新聞, 경향신문).

Another issue with the narrative is that Classical Chinese did not all of the sudden die out in the late 19th – or 15th – century. This misconception has probably been fed by the fact that most Koreans especially of the younger generation today are primarily exposed to Classical Chinese through period dramas (史劇, 사극), where court scholars in traditional Hanbok garb are seen occasionally reciting Chinese classics. In reality, the widespread knowledge of the language is much more recent than is widely believed. Classical Chinese was very well alive in the former half of the 20th century in Korea. Many new Classical Chinese works were written during this period:

  • A number of Classical Chinese translations of the folk story Tale of Chunhyang (春香傳, 춘향전) were published during the Japanese colonial period (1905-1945). Translations of other folk tales as well as wholly new novels also came out during the same period.
  • The last Korean head of state with a Classical Chinese poetry collection is not Emperor Gojong (高宗, 고종, 1852-1919, r. 1863-1907) or Emperor Sunjong (純宗, 순종, 1874-1926, r. 1907-1910), but President Rhee Syngman (李承晩, 이승만, 1875-1965), the first President of South Korea. (North Korean leader Kim Ilsung (金日成, 김일성, 1912-1994) also wrote at least one poem.)
  • Korean newspapers regularly printed Classical Chinese poetry submission sections well into the latter half of the 20th century. The newspaper clip above is a poem composed by Korean National Assembly member Jeong Jaewan (鄭在浣, 정재완, 1900-1967?), expressing his scorn for other assembly members’ avarice.
  • Family clans continued to publish their genealogical records with new material in Classical Chinese.
  • (On a more familial note, we have a Classical Chinese poem at my parents’ house that was composed by one of my grandparents’ friends in the late 1980s.)

Classical Chinese of the Korean Independence Activists


In tandem with this widespread knowledge, Korean independence activists not only looked back to Classical Chinese writings from previous generations for inspiration, but also composed new, original texts to describe their desire for an independent Korea liberated from Japanese rule. Note that Japan made Korea a protectorate in 1905 and annexed it in 1910.

A Turn to the Past for Inspiration

Certain poems by Chosun dynasty figures who lived in calamitous periods in Korea’s past became popular. The poem below is by Hyujeong Seosandaesa (休靜 西山大師, 휴정 서산대사, 1520-1604), a Buddhist monk and a leader of an irregular army (義兵, 의병) who fought against the Japanese during the Japanese Invasions of 1592-1598 (壬辰倭亂, 임진왜란). Kim Gu (金九, 김구, 1876-1949), who is known by almost every Korean schoolchild as the leader of the Korean independence movement, loved reciting Classical Chinese poems and regarded Hyujeong’s poem as his favorite. One story states that he recited the poem as he crossed the 38th Parallel into North Korea to meet with a delegates of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang.

踏雪野中去 답설야중거
不須胡亂行 불수호란행
今日我行蹟 금일아행적
遂作後人程 수작후인정

Stepping upon the snow in the middle of a field, I depart.
I ought to not haphazardly and recklessly travel:
The footprints of my travel today
In the end will become mileposts for those after.

Another poem that became well-liked is the poem below by Kwon Pil (權韠, 권필, 1569-1612), who also had lived during the 16th century Japanese Invasions of Korea. Although well-educated, he chose not enter into government office, but became a poet lampooning the state of affairs during his time. This poem is of a form known as “bird-crow” poetry (禽言體, 금언체). The word 布穀(포곡), repeated throughout the poem, is an onomatopoeia for the sound “cuckoo,” or Bbeogugi (뻐구기) in Korean. To the Korean independence activists, the word became newly interpreted as “Restore the nation,” or Buguk (復國, 부국).

布穀布穀 포곡포곡
布穀聲中春意足 포곡성중춘의족
健兒南征村巷空 건아남정총항공
落日唯聞寡妻哭 락일유문과처곡
布穀啼誰布穀 포곡제수포곡
田園茫茫煙草綠 전원망망연초연

Sow the seeds! Sow the seeds!
Amidst the sounds of sowing the seeds, the spring’s resolve is at its completest.
A vigorous child campaigns southward; the village’s streets are empty.
The setting sun only hears the widow’s wails.
Singing “Sow the seeds!” who will sow the seeds?
The paddies and gardens are wide and vast; the field of grass is green.

Poets of the Korean Independence Movement

Many Korean independence activists were also literate in Classical Chinese and composed their own works in the script. A lot of them had been educated in Confucian village schools (書堂 서당). These schools had played such an important role in fomenting patriotic sentiment that the Japanese colonial administration started heavily restricting their activities in 1918, and had effectively closed all of them by 1930. The remainder of this post will cover the poems of Ahn Junggeun, Yun Bonggil, Hwang Hyeon, and Kim Taekyeong. The first two are so well known that they are household names in Korea.

Ahn Junggeun (安重根, 안중근, 1879-1910)

Ahn Junggeun is renowned for his feat of assassinating Ito Hirobumi (伊藤博文, 1864-1909), the first resident general of the Japanese colonial administration in Korea. He is perhaps the most famous Korean independence activist in Korea today. What many Koreans today do not know, however, is his aptitude in Classical Chinese. Ahn Junggeun had studied Chinese classics in a Confucian village school run by his father, and by the age of 10 had not only read the Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism (四書五經, 사서오경), but also a few of the volumes in the 294 volume tome Comprehensive Mirror to Aid Government (資治通鑑, 자치통감). While he awaited execution in jail, he composed much of his last thoughts in the language. Ahn Junggeun wrote many pieces of calligraphy, an essay titled Peace in East Asia (東洋平和論, 동양평화론), and his entire autobiography (安重根義士自敍傳, 안중근의사자서전) all in Classical Chinese. The poem below is from one of his pieces of calligraphy:

東洋大勢思杳玄 동양대세사묘현
有志男兒豈安眠 유지남아기안면
和局未成猶慷慨 화국미성유강개
政略不改眞可憐 정략불개진가련

Concerning the grand scheme in East Asia, I have pondered extensively and profusely.
Having the will, how can a man tranquilly sleep?
Since a peaceful state of affairs has not yet been achieved, I am still indignant and incensed.
Political tactics have not changed; it is truly pitiful.

Yun Bonggil (尹奉吉, 윤봉길, 1908-1932)

Yun Bonggil is best known for lobbing a lunchbox bomb at a group of Japanese officials gathered at Hongkou Park (虹口公園, 홍구공원) in Shanghai (上海, 상해) for the celebration of the Japanese Emperor’s birthday. The attack killed Yoshinori Shirakawa (白川義則, 1869-1932), a Japanese general who had lead the Imperial Army in capturing the city earlier that year, and injured several others. He is perhaps the second most famous Korean independence activist after Ahn Junggeun. Again, what most Koreans do not know about him is his high proficiency of Classical Chinese. After the March 1st Movement in 1919, he left a Japanese-run public school for a Confucian village school, where he studied Chinese classics. By the time he was executed by firing squad in 1932 at the young age of 24, Yun Bonggil had written over 300 Classical Chinese poems, including the one below:

路上有感唫 노상유감음

Recitation on Thoughts While on the Road

野禾半熟碧黃連 야화반숙벽황련
爭啄群禽盡向前 쟁탁군금진향전
西風忽捲千峯雨 서풍홀권천봉우
午熱猶蒸萬巷烟 오열유증만항연
最恨索租添白地 최한삭조첨백지
那能絶粒上靑天 나능절립상청천
眼看山川多奇麗 안간산천다기려
邦基回泰理將然 방기회태리장연

The rice on the field are half-ripe, interspersed with green and yellow.
Fighting and pecking, a group of birds all face forward.
The west wind suddenly breaks the rain from the thousand peaks;
The noon heat still swelters the smoke of ten-thousand hamlets.
Most resentful are the straws and unhusked grains added upon the white grounds;
How can a severed grain rise up to the blue skies?
My eyes see mountains and streams, with much awe and beauty.
This country’s foundations shall return to grandeur surely in the future!

  • 白地(백지) – Literally “white grounds.” Refers to land unsuitable for farming.

Hwang Hyeon (黃玹, 황현, 1855-1910)

Though Hwang Hyeon is not as well-known as Ahn Junggeun or Yun Bonggil, his contributions to the Korean independence movement are just as significant. In particular, he chronicled various events and about the roles of various figures leading to the loss of Korean independence. (On a related note, he was adamantly against the abolition of Classical Chinese as the official script.) Hwang Hyeon was a great scholar of Chinese classics, and is considered one of the Four Great Masters (四大家, 사대가) of the late Chosun dynasty period (舊韓末, 구한말). Many of his poems make allusions to not only Korean history, but also Chinese history. It should be noted that Korea had never been entirely stripped of its independence prior to the Japanese annexation. In contrast, China had been wholly subjugated by foreign powers multiple times in its history, such as the Turks, Jurchens, Mongols, and the Manchus. Because of this, Hwang Hyeon and other poets of this era looked to Chinese history to draw parallels to what was transpiring in Korea. This is evident in the poem below:

絶命詩 절명시

Suicide Poem (third and fourth verses)

鳥獸哀鳴海岳嚬 조금애명해악빈
槿花世界己沉淪 근화세계기침륜
秋鐙揜卷懷千古 추등엄권회천고
難作人間識字人 난작인간식자인

The birds and beasts tristfully cry; the seas and mountains cringe.
The hibiscus flowers on this earth have already become flooded and sunken.
The autumn lamp hides the volumes encompassing thousands of ancients.
Difficult it is to make mankind into literate men.

曾無支厦半椽功 증무지하반연공
只是成仁不是忠 지시성인불시충
止意僅能追尹穀 지의근능추윤곡
當時愧不攝陣東 당시괴불섭진동

Earlier, I did not support the house with even half a rafter’s merit.
I have only achieved benevolence, but not loyalty.
Ending my will, I was just only able to follow Yun Gok (尹穀, 윤곡).
At this time, I am ashamed to not have caught up with Jin Dong (陣東, 진동).

  • Yun Gok and Jin Dong both refer to figures from the Song dynasty (宋, 송, 960-1279) during the Mongol invasions of China. Their names in Mandarin are Yin Gu and Zhen Dong respectively. After Tancheng (潭城, 담성, Damseong) fell during a siege, in despair, Yin Gu decided to kill his family and commit suicide by self-immolation. Zhen Dong was a Song Dynasty literati bureaucrat who strongly pleaded with the Emperor that General Li Gang (李綱, 이강, 1083-1140) should be saved and that his disloyal ministers should be all sentenced to death. In the end, however, he was sentenced to death by beheading.

Kim Taekyeong (金澤榮, 김택영, 1850-1927)

Kim Taekyeong was also a scholar of Classical Chinese, another of the Four Great Masters of the late Chosun dynasty period and a friend of Hwang Hyeon (the other two had passed away before the 20th century). In response to the Eulsa Treaty (乙巳條約, 을사조약) in 1905, which made Korea a protectorate of Japan, he took his family and fled to Nantong (南通, 남통) in China. There, Kim Taekyeong became acquainted with many Chinese reformers and started working at a publication company, where he published works by other Korean independence activists – including Hwang Hyeon’s – and compiled books on Korean history and Korean Classical Chinese literature. He was also a skilled poet, and particularly enjoyed composing a form of poetry called Songs of Chu (楚辭, 초사). This form is marked by the character 兮(혜) in the middle of every line, and is attributed to Qu Yuan (屈原, 굴원, 343-278BC), a Chinese poet and official who committed suicide by drowning in the Miluo River (汨羅江, 멱라강) after having learned that the State of Chu (楚, 초) had capitulated. Kim Taekyong was so renowned for his Songs of Chu poetry that Chinese intellectuals called him the “Korean Qu Yuan” (韓國屈原, 한국굴원). The most famous of his poems is the Song of Lamentation (嗚呼賦, 오호부), in which he expresses his grief over loss of Korean independence:

嗚呼賦 오호부

Song of Lamentation (last two verses)

光化之鐘兮, 何人于夕
광화지종혜, 하인우석
箕子之神兮, 何族于食
기자지신혜, 하족우식
嗚呼! 哀哉! 已矣兮
오호! 애재! 이의혜

O, the bells of Gwanghwamun (光化門, 광화문), what person will toll it at night?
O, the ancestral tablet of Gija (箕子, 기자), what people will offer oblations of food?
Alas, how sad the situation is! It is all over!
How have we not spirits and have we not Heaven

  • Gwanghwamun (光化門, 광화문) – Literally, “Gate of Enlightenment.” Refers to the main gate of Gyeongbokgung (景福宮, 경복궁) Palace in Seoul.

獨祖宗之崇儒兮, 其終也得一義士安重根
독조종지숭유혜, 기종야득일의사안중근
彼生氣之凜然兮, 孰云國之盡圮
피생기지름연혜, 숙운국지진비
庶英靈顧我兮, 搴秋蘭以竢乎江之涘
서영령고아혜, 건추란이사호간지애

O, only our ancestors’ revered Confucianism.
In the end, we received a righteous man, Ahn Junggeun.
O, his vivacity was dashing and gallant.
Who will say that our country is totally lost?
Several heroic souls gaze back at us.
Pluck an autumn orchid and wait at the banks of the river.


In one of the most calamitous periods in Korean history, many Korean independence activists not only looked back to Classical Chinese writings from previous generations, but also expressed their desire for a liberated Korea in the same script. In this blog post, I only have listed four poets; there are many, many more. Although they certainly were free to write in Hangul (and many did), these independence activists intentionally composed in Classical Chinese to preserve and continue this part of the Korean cultural heritage. With this in mind, I do not think Koreans should continue to shy away from this aspect of Korean culture and history.


Copyright Notice


Car crashes and insurance payments

Printer-friendly version

This post comes a bit late after a short vacation.  Thanks again to the Korea Herald and don't forget to read the disclaimer.

Vehicle accidents and compensation

The prevalence of motor vehicles in Korea brings the possibility of tremendous injury, and as in other places, this leads to disputes about compensation ― whether there is a duty to pay and how much. 

It may seem a bit cynical, but the law can’t bring back the dead or magically heal a broken leg. It can only attempt to value those things and compensate for them. 

There are two parties from whom an injured party can claim compensation. The driver may have liability under the criminal law, in which case he must compensate the victim or go to jail, and the police and prosecutors will help the victim. 

Assuming he has insurance (which is legally obligated), the insurance company may also have a civil obligation, but in that case the victim must hire an attorney if he wants assistance in dealing with the insurance company. The driver may also have civil liability, but as he is generally less flush with cash than the insurance company, we will later focus on the insurance company here.

Regarding possible criminal liability, the driver must have violated certain traffic law provisions, so evidence is key. Witnesses, CCTV, black box recordings or forensic analysis can help establish what happened. In the following 10 types of cases the driver will be prosecuted, even if the victim does not request it, and the prosecutor and court will look to the driver to make a settlement with the victim, or the driver will face stern punishment:

(1) Ignoring a traffic signal, (2) illegally crossing the median line (making a U-turn or driving on the wrong side of the road), (3) exceeding the speed limit by 20 kph or more, (4) illegally passing, (5) illegally entering an intersection, (6) failing to protect a pedestrian at a crosswalk, (7) failing to have a license or having a suspended license, (8) DUI, (9) illegally driving on a sidewalk and (10) failure to properly open and close doors for passengers. 

The amount of the settlement is based on the seriousness of the victim’s injury and the economic ability of the driver. The typical range is 400,000 won to 1 million won per week of hospitalization, but egregious cases with obvious fault and serious injury can warrant much more, up to tens of millions of won. 

Everyday people, however, are often limited in their means, and so the main source of funds is often from the insurance company. The difference in compensation between individual settlements (where the victim, unaided by counsel, settles directly with the insurance company) and lawsuit-based settlement (where an attorney files a suit) is huge. 

Insurance companies worldwide have significant incentives to underpay, and Korea is no exception. Attempting to settle directly is often fruitless; without the threat of a court ordering greater compensation, offers from the insurance company will often remain unreasonably low.

There are four bases for calculating injury, all of which should be adequately taken into account:

First, there should be compensation for economic losses caused by the car accident. Medical bills, private care (at home or outside), and other direct economic losses should be included.

Second, compensation for mental damages. There is no given standard for mental damages, although awards commonly lie within the 400,000 won to 1 million won per week range. Warranting circumstances, such as the inability to partake in an important life event, like a wedding or funeral, should increase the amount of compensation due.

Third, compensation for lost income during hospitalization: This is another kind of economic damage ― obviously the victim cannot work when they are in bed or surgery, and is therefore losing money. Even those who can telecommute are unlikely to be functioning at 100 percent, addressed further in a moment. Lost wages are easy to calculate. If the injured party was running a business, the cost of hiring someone to cover during the absence should be included.

Fourth, compensation for loss of future earning potential should be included, and this is usually the largest portion of a compensation claim. This reflects the difference between a person’s pre-injury and post-injury income capacity. If your earning capacity is reduced by 20 percent (i.e., you can now earn 80 percent of what you could before the accident) then you should receive compensation equaling 20 percent of your income until retirement. As for evidence, after six months of treatment, a doctor can issue a letter attesting to the “inability rate” you will suffer.

You should be ready to get a second opinion regarding any hospitalization, treatment or disability proportion. Sad to say, some doctors have been known to reverse their diagnosis when the insurance company gets involved. There is no need or reason to tolerate a corrupt diagnosis when an objective one is preferred.

Again, I would stress the need to hire counsel here. Besides the emotionally and physically draining aspects of a traumatic injury, there are economic dynamics to consider in insurance negotiations, and without legal action pending, there is simply no leverage to warrant an increase in the offer beyond the lowball that the insurance company feels like throwing. Lay or professional, no person can handle all of that at once. 

By Darren Bean and Yuna Lee

Yuna Lee is a Korean attorney at Seowoo & Minyul Law Firm in Seoul. You can read her blog at or if there is a legal issue you would like to be addressed, email ― Ed.

Disclaimer: This column is not intended as legal advice. No action should be taken or avoided based on this column, no attorney-client relationship is formed by reading this column or contacting the authors, and the authors expressly disclaim any liability for the content of this column. Those with legal problems in Korea should seek advice from an attorney.



Follow a Korean Lawyer


Have a question? Read the disclaimer, and contact me.


Email *

Message *



Ichadon – 이차돈 (503-527)

Printer-friendly version


The Martyr monk, Ichadon, of the Silla Kingdom.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the eleventh installment about prominent monks; and this week, I thought I would focus on the martyr, Ichadon, from the Silla Kingdom. Ichadon was a Buddhist monk that supported the introduction of Buddhism to the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.E. – 668 C.E.).

While Buddhism had spread throughout the rest of the Korean peninsula in the Baekje and Goguryeo Kingdoms, Buddhism was still illegal in Silla up until 527 C.E. The reason for its slow acceptance is that the Silla Kingdom had weak state administrative powers. However, the common people were more willing to accept Buddhism than the Silla aristocracy who resisted all forms of Chinese culture; instead, preferring to adhere to the local religions. These two reasons, above all others, is why it took a full 150 years to be accepted in the Silla Kingdom after its neighbours had already accepted it as a state religion.

Picture 272

A Silla Sacrifice from a Mural at Heungnyunsa Temple in Gyeongju.

King Beopheung (514-540), the king of Ichadon, had considered giving permission to the practice of Buddhist teachings in the Silla Kingdom. And in 527, Ichadon, while presenting himself to the royal court, announced that he had become a Buddhist monk. Not only that, but he had established a Buddhist temple on his land. Finally giving into palace aristocrats demands, King Beopheung had Ichadon beheaded. However, and rather miraculously during Ichadon’s execution, instead of blood, milk poured forth from his wound. Also, his head flew upwards and onwards to Mt. Sogeumgansan in Gyeongju. Due to these miracles, as well as Ichadon’s sacrifice, the royal court relented and Buddhism was finally accepted. Also, it led to the first state temple, Heungnyunsa Temple, being established in Silla territory.


The Martyrdom of Ichadon from the Bell at Baeknyulsa Temple in Gyeongju.

The post Ichadon – 이차돈 (503-527) appeared first on Dale's Korean Temple Adventures.

The Weekend Warrior’s Guide to… Tokyo

Printer-friendly version

Tokyo: a neon wonderland of might skyscrapers, solemn Shinto shrines, and serene parks. The samurai, sumo, robots, videogames, capsule hotels, anime, sushi and everything a Japanophile could ever want are right here in the capital. For the weekend warrior with only 48 precious hours to ramble through the world’s most populated city, time is of the essence. This guide will see you through.

A Weekend Warrior: A person who holds a regular job during the week which restricts their ability to party / go on trips / partake in awesome activities, and thus plans epic weekend adventures to compensate.” – Urban Dictionary

Tokyo By Day


Welcome to the Meiji Shrine

The old, the new, and the beauty of Tokyo can be experienced in the youthful district of Harajuku. From Harajuku JR Station, follow the hoards of Gyaru girls to the main shopping drag and zigzag through the shops plying to the followers of Japan’s eccentric street fashionistas. Venture further into the quagmire and luxuriate in the street food, the street art, and a plethora of Tokyo oddities.


Free hugs in Shibuya. Just what a weekend warrior needs!

Sadly, much of Tokyo’s past did not survive the horrors of WWII, though the city did rebuild its former treasures. One such place to experience this bygone age is the Meiji Shrine, which sits quietly behind the madness of Harajuku Station. The shrine is dedicated to the memory of Emperor Meiji, who was instrumental in reforming Japan’s feudalistic agrarian society to one of industry in the late 1800s. A stroll through the massive forest to the temple offers up some liberating space and a tranquil place to ponder the infinite.


The Sensō-ji temple, central Tokyo

Across town in Asakusa is where you’ll find the illustrious Sensō-ji, one of Japan’s oldest sites of Buddhist worship. The temples are outrageously beautiful and as such are very popular with visitors. Between the stalls selling souvenirs, chow down on ramen, tempura, and takoyaki. The Sanja festival, held in the spring, fills the streets with traditional garbed revellers replete with flutes, bells, drums, chants, floats and, of course, camera-happy tourists.

Having your green tea served by a maid, a mom, a Cosplay antagonist, or in the company of cats and dogs is about the most oddball-Japanese experience there is. Akihaburaas well as being the centre for all things electronic, is where these bizarre cafes convene.


As the sun sets down in the west, the megalithic city of Tokyo, makes its own light

Tokyo By Night


The Shibuya Crosswalk

Tokyo has a multitude of bars and clubs to while away the night, but are usually fairly spread out… and absolutely savage to your wallet!

The slightly insalubrious Roppongi has the greatest congregation of bars and nightclubs in the city. The district is a popular hangout for expats, despite its infamous reputation for touts offering wild times in strip clubs. Politely refuse them and you’ll be fine. Check out popular bars MotownHeartlandAbbott’s Choice, and Propaganda.

Shibuya, famous for the world’s busiest crosswalk, is another hip hangout for the city’s youth. There are plenty of places to eat, but drinking establishments are fairly spread out here. Best spots are Hobgoblin, The Dubliners, and super club Womb.


Shinjuku by day

Then there’s Shinjuku, which has almost everything mentioned in the guide so far. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building offers up an unbelievably beautiful view of the city for free! The North Tower is open till 11pm and should definitely be viewed at sunset. Nightlife in Shinjuku centres around Kabukichō, which also happens to be the world’s largest, and safest, red light district.

A quick note on public transport


Which line are we taking? Image skanked from here

With there being both an underground system of subway lines (the Tokyo Metro) and a totally separate railway system (JR East), getting around the city is can be confusing. Adding to the confusion is a general lack of English, separate ticketing, incredibly tangled up lines, and steep prices. Stare at a map long enough though, and a helpful commuter is bound to go above and beyond to help you out.


A note from The-Editor-in-Chimp: This article was originally posted here on Travel Wire Asia. Go check it out here will ya!

The post The Weekend Warrior’s Guide to… Tokyo appeared first on Monkeyboy Goes.




The Lie

Printer-friendly version

This is one of the most sincere things I have ever written about myself. I am at a point in my life where I feel comfortable about sharing it, and for my closest friends this will be the first time you hear it. It’s a  story I was afraid to tell, but I hope it can serve a purpose now. This is the last post I will be writing.


In life, there are times when the floor drops from beneath you.

Four years ago I asked if I could leave drawing class early to go to a doctor’s appointment. My instructor at the time asked me if everything was OK, to which I reassured, “Of course, I’m fine, it’s probably not a big deal.”

One hour later I was diagnosed with Takayasu’s Arteritis.

My mother and father were in the room, and I was shivering on the table, wearing a hideous hypoallergenic bag over my body. The specialist we had been sent to see, a cardiac surgeon, told us that there was no mistaking the diagnosis – it was a “textbook” case. And in such a tremendous moment in the lives of my parents and I, he was darkly fascinated.

“I’ve actually never seen a live case before, it’s so rare,” he said. Meanwhile, my father looked into his hands. My mother gripped the armrests of the chair as if she was about to shake it. I was furious. How could this young, hotshot surgeon do this to my parents? “Tell them it’s not a big deal,” I begged in my mind. “Please, just tell them that I can handle it. They don’t understand. Honestly…neither do I.”

I was nineteen years old and a freshman in college. Nothing felt wrong. I was just starting to find my footing, make new friends, and understand what living independently was like. It would all be wiped away.

I had to immediately start treatment and make time to take more tests. We were recommended a cardiologist, a rheumatologist, and secondary hematologist on the spot; rationed a handful of business cards and a dab of pity on top. I remember sitting in the car with my parents after the appointment, all three of us just stuck there in the parking lot, the snow falling steadily around us.

My mom got home and researched online feverishly. My father stood silently behind and watched her search. She looked into the disease, the online support groups, the best specialists. While she was reassured by the internet, I refused to look. To me it seemed a Pandora’s Box that I didn’t want to open. All I knew was that I was going to have to face whatever was about to come my way.

I can’t begin to describe the physical and psychological battle that ensued.  In order to slow the progression of this rare type of heart disease, I was prescribed a very high dose of steroids for about a year. The medication caused Cushing’s Syndrome, which had a toxic effect on my body. My face became completely rounded and I got acne. My back developed a painful hump. I gained 15 pounds. Into my legs, thighs and abdomen were carved huge, ugly stretch marks that would never heal. My hair thinned and fell out. I was tired and in pain. My body was falling apart day by day.

Because of how different I looked, I hid myself away at school. Every time someone stared at me on the bus, I was ashamed. Every time I ran into one of the new friends I made, I disappeared within myself. I ate quickly and alone in the corner of the cafeteria, afraid to look past my tray. I remember passing through entire days just looking at the cement of the sidewalk, avoiding questioning glances. One of the worst things was waking up every morning and facing the mirror with the hollow hope that it was all a bad dream.

Nightmares wove in and out of my conscious mind. I woke up from the anesthesia during a surgical test and watched the doctors finish their procedure on me. I passed by my reflection and could not recognize my own face in the mirror. Soon I forgot what I used to look like altogether. My identity slipped further away the more I looked into the face that wasn’t mine, the more I walked around in a body that I had never known. When I could be alone, I sobbed until my chest hurt and I couldn’t breathe. I cried enough for a lifetime.

What hurt me the most, though, was what this was doing to the people I loved most in life. I couldn’t prevent my mother from waking up in the middle of the night in terror, and I couldn’t stop my father from feeling guilty. When I asked my younger sister, “Does my face look that bad today?” I couldn’t stop her heart from sinking.

With all of this happening I made the choice to stay in school, and though it was one of the worst semesters I had completed grade-wise, it set the standard for how I was going to continue living. Just like that, the year I was 19 vanished, but I wasn’t going to let anything else be taken from me.

So I did the strongest thing I could do: I smiled.

I tore my gaze away from the sidewalk. I took deep breaths, looked straight ahead and walked without shame. With my swollen, ugly face I went to concerts. I made fun of myself in front of my friends. I devoted myself to studying. I showed my parents that I had enough strength for all of us. I eventually came off the harsh medication and for many months I focused on recovering. Slowly, my mom worried a little less, my father started telling jokes again, and in my sister’s expressive eyes I saw the reflection of happiness return.

Years later, I am here in Korea.

And I am here because of a lie.


My pen hovered over that part of the application for a while.

“Known Illnesses/Diseases?”


With pages and pages of paperwork spread out on the surface of the desk, my pen cast a thin shadow over those two little questions. Finally, the shadow twitched, and I wrote something that I am not proud of.

I made up my mind to teach in Korea shortly after my teacher and good friend recommended it during my junior year of college. I was immediately interested in the idea, researching the various programs, offers, and companies all offering a way for me to live and work abroad. It took a while for my parents to accept how determined I was to live abroad for a year, but with my health at a stable point and the doctor’s approval, they didn’t want to hold me back.

It was a long and arduous process getting all the paperwork together. Notarizations, those damned apostilles, my FBI Background Check getting rejected and returned; precious documents all stapled together with the anxiety that I would get found out and sent back before I even started. My fears stemmed from accounts of people getting rejected from the program for health issues as trivial as migraines. While researching I was also made aware of Korea’s social prejudice against those who are not in perfect health. With a complicated-sounding condition lumped into the category of heart disease, it would have been impossibly difficult to convince a recruiter that I was as healthy and functional as everyone else.

So I passed over the hurdles cautiously, one by one – the application, the paperwork, the TEFL courses, the interviews. On top of the normal anxiety of living abroad for a year, I was constantly afraid I would get pulled out of the program during orientation. Before leaving, I prepared with my doctor a note that described the nature of my condition and that it wouldn’t affect my job performance, just in case I needed a bargaining chip to stay. I was also aware that I would need to undergo a health check, but there was no certainty over what kinds of tests they would run or what they would look for.

Another problem I ran into was getting the medication I needed overseas. I was using a medication that needed to be refrigerated, and I had no idea how I was going to keep it cool. I managed to take a few months worth of it onto the plane with a prescription note and clearance, but when I got to the airport in Korea I was scared that someone would misunderstand, pull me aside and charge me for something. I bought some ice at a convenience store in the airport with my new Korean money and replaced it in the pack. I crammed onto the bus with other confused EPIK-ers, not knowing where I was headed or how long it would take before I could buy more ice.

All during orientation I bought cups of ice, frozen popsicles, and cans of energy drinks from the CU to keep the medication cool. Then, close to the end of orientation, the day of the health check arrived.

I was stricken when one of my friends came back and told me what the health check entailed: I had to take a chest x-ray. This was the same test that had been used to diagnose me back when it all started, so I was mentally preparing to pack up my bags and go back home then and there.

But, by some miracle, I passed the health exam.

After that, I got placed at a great school with amazing teachers, in a nicely-sized apartment just a few steps away. I made it.

One incredible (and healthy!) year later, this faulty little heart of mine is still pouring out gratitude.


I haven’t written this to tell you it’s OK to lie on a job application.

I have written this to tell you that there is nothing holding you back in this world.

Go to a country you’ve only seen in pictures and breathe in its air. Squint against the sunrise of an unfamiliar horizon. Chase after something. Teach. Learn.


I will never find the identity I lost four years ago, but in its stead is a new one; one that I have made with my two hands, that others have strengthened with their kindness and support and love. It is the identity of a woman who is confident, bright, recklessly optimistic, and so, so happy.

In a way, through spending this year abroad I wanted to test myself; to prove that I could do it. In a way, I wanted to escape all semblance of the life that told me “You can’t.” Even if it was only for a year, I wanted to put far behind me the memories of struggle and self-defeat.

I wanted to be unstoppable…and I was.

To everyone who has read my blog this year, thank you. It’s been a dream that’s ended much too soon. Thank you for your comments and encouragement. Thank you for listening. As I start my new life in Chicago (law school, after all!), I will no longer write here, but this blog will always be here to those who want to relive this crazy amazing year with me, all over again.

My sketchbook didn’t exactly get filled this year, but my heart did.

I guess I’m addicted to fresh starts after all.


Ideas and Tips on Gift-Giving in Korea

Printer-friendly version
If you’re new to South Korea, you’ll notice the hundreds of specialty shops that dot the city streets that offer more goods and gifts you could ever hope to buy for yourself. A great way to take advantage of these amazing shops and indulge in their wares is to immerse yourself in the rich tradition of gift-giving.

Many Asian cultures value modesty and graciousness as staples of their culture, and South Korea is no different. This translates into the gift-giving culture as a wonderful way to express gratitude towards others who have shown their kindness. If you are new to the culture, here are a few tips to help your gift-giving in South Korea go smoothly.

The first thing you should understand about the gift-giving culture is that Koreans pride themselves on modesty and humbleness. Gift-giving is a way for Koreans to show respect, keep good kibun (being in a good state of mind), and show modest graciousness. The emphasis on modesty and appreciation lends itself to the way gifts are given and accepted. For example, gifts are given with both hands, and are never opened in front of the giver.

Colorful and elegant bojagi, or Korean gift wrapping cloth, illustrates the importance of the gift's appearance. Photo

Presentation and Selection of your Gifts

Make an effort to wrap your gifts nicely. Presentation and packaging matter almost as much as the gift itself. Yellow or green-striped wrapping paper is a traditional wrapping design in Korea, and you may want to avoid wrapping gifts in dark or red paper. Red is associated with unpleasantness and isn’t used in gift wrapping.

If you are sending gifts to South Korea as a thank-you or follow-up to a business meeting or visit, try using an international gifting service like so you can send big baskets of flowers or blossoming shrubs. You can’t send these types of preferred gifts overseas yourself, and these services ensure the package arrives undamaged and perfectly wrapped with bows and ribbons.

Even though Koreans take great pride in their own culture, regional gifts from your home country or town also make great gifts for any occasion. If you aren’t sure what to get, a great resource is to search “regional gifts” on They have thousands of selections of items you may not have even known exist from your home region!

If you’re already in the country and are at a loss at what to bring the hostess of next week’s dinner party, food can always be your go-to. There has been a bit of a cupcake renaissance in Seoul, and cookies, flowers and candies can be a sweet way to offer your thanks.
Gift baskets are always a safe choice for any occasion. Photo

Understand the Cultural Taboos and Traditions

In most Asian cultures, giving sharp objects is symbolic of severing the relationship, and the same idea applies in South Korea. While giving a newlywed couple a new set of expensive kitchen knives may be commonplace in other areas of the world, you may want to avoid it in Korea. In fact, you may want to stick to the Korean wedding tradition of giving cold hard cash to the bride and groom.

Many Korean holidays, like Chuseok, are celebrated by exchanging gifts. Wine, fruit and other culinary delicacies are great ideas for these holidays, but don’t discount the value of giving money for celebrations like New Year’s and weddings. Money is actually the preferred gift for many family celebrations.

As a house-warming gift, candles with a big box of matches and laundry detergent may seem odd in your home country, but they are the traditional gifts in Korea.

You may feel like there are rules for every situation and celebration, but gift-giving in Korea is really only centered around one aspect- showing thanks. Understanding the culture and traditions may make your experiences easier, and choosing what to give someone in any circumstance may quickly become second nature. So use the helpful tips, and enjoy your next gift-giving experience!

Pretty envelopes like the one pictured above can be purchased in just about any of Korea's stationary stores and are used for giving money on New Year's and at weddings. Photo

How is your country's gift giving culture different from Korea's? Leave your comments in the box below.


Seoul Searching

RSS FeedSubscribe      Follow Us on Twitter!Follow     Follow Us on Twitter!Like





Seoul on Pinterest


Syndicate content

Facebook Group

Features @koreabridge
Blogs   @koreablogs
Job Ads  @koreabridgejobs
Classifieds @kb_classifieds

Koreabridge Google+ Community