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Things to know and facts about South Korea
Fun, Interesting, Curious, Crazy, and also Scary
South Korea is a small but incredibly interesting country, we spent 3 months here, trying to learn as much as we could about Korean culture.
Here we present a collection of facts about South Korea, some are fun, some interesting, some a bit scary, others just weird – I hope you’ll enjoy this list of things to know about Korea, and maybe contribute some more interesting fact in the comment section.
10 Facts about Korean Culture
1. Fake Beards
Although Korean historical leaders of the past are often depicted with long beards, wearing any sort of facial hair is considered dirty in nowadays South Korea.
Many Korean women say they prefer clean-shaven men. To them, facial hair makes a man seem like he isn’t looking after himself, or his appearance. It says something negative about his character.
You won’t get a job if you have a beard, not even one that actually requires one. The guards of the imperial palace, for example, are dressed in traditional garments, including a nice, black, long, fake beard!
2. Camp Gurus
Koreans are crazy about camping, and even more about barbecues. During the weekends, beaches, lakes shores, and any suitable place is crammed with tents and smoking grills.
Free camping areas dot the country, full of happily drunk and well-fed Koreans snoring from their tents.
3. In the name of the Father
Despite being a hi-tech modern country, South Korea is, in fact, a pretty traditional society.
Patriarchy is still the system, girls have to ask their fathers for permission to hang out, even when they are adults.
At least until they get married, then they’ll most likely have to ask permission from their husbands.
4. Three Styles Fits All
Korean women have basically three different hairstyles, according to their age and marital status.
Young girls wear long hair, newly married women cut them short at about ear level, and older women get a perm, almost without exception.
5. Stay Fit Until You Die
Another fact about Korea that says something about its people. Everywhere in South Korea, you’ll find these “public gyms” with several different fitness machinery, those are mostly for stretching but sometimes there are also weights.
You might think these could be cool places to meet gorgeous guys and gals, but the reality is that Korean public fitness equipment is mostly used by old people… they are also gorgeous by the way.
Korean public gyms are totally free to access.
6. Drama Queens
Korean dramas are conquering the world. These often poorly made and stereotype romance TV series are really on the rise, not just in Asia.
Korean has recently become one of the most studied languages in the world, and that’s because drama fans want to understand their heroes without subtitles or dubbing.
7. Plastic Music
Korean pop culture dominance doesn’t stop with dramas. K-pop is an easy-listening musical style, usually performed by young all-boys or all-girls band.
As opposed to the pretty sexualized western girl/boy bands, males are often quite feminine and girls are well covered.
It goes without saying that plastic surgery rules this world, and often these pop stars, together with drama actors, are used as a prototype by ordinary people when they get to order their new faces.
8. Plastic People
A study from 2008 determined that 20 percent of young Korean girls have undergone cosmetic surgery. This is already significantly above the average, but real figures in 2019 are much higher.
A more recent survey from Gallup Korea in 2015 determined that approximately one-third of South Korean women between 19 and 29 have claimed to have had plastic surgery, while some say as much as 50%.
Boys are getting plastic faces too, more and more guys are trying to resamble the male beauty models imposed by K-Pop and Korean Dramas.
While in the west plastic surgery is mostly about boobs and butts, in Korea it’s all about the face – and it kinds of look like everyone wants to have the same one.
There are basically
- Double-eyelid surgery
creates an eyelid crease that makes the eye look bigger (the most common operation in South Korea).
- Facial bone contouring (V-Face)
V-line surgery (jaw and chin reduction) and cheekbone (zygoma) reduction surgeries are used to change the facial contour. Many celebrities are required to undergo these surgeries to trim their cheekbones, jaw, and chin to create an oval-shaped face. This is a very destructive operation that can leave permanent damage.
Choose your new nose among 7 different (but similar) types. Also here, the aim is to look more “western”.
One day we were sitting at a 7eleven in Busan and a girl came to sit with us, she told Elena she liked her small face and would love to have one like that… kind of creepy fact.
When you see people wearing masks in the street, it is rarely about the pollution, and mostly to hide the scars of recent surgery.
9. Enemies of the Sun
Another Korean obsession (actually shared by most of Eastern Asia, is the fear of the sun. Koreans don’t want to get tanned – a dark skin reminds a farmer life, and farmers are not trendy in Korea.
Sun Umbrellas are a very common sight, while you’ll rarely see shoulders or arm skin exposed.
10. Being Marble
The whiter you are, the prettier you look in South Korea.
5 Fun Facts about Korean Food
11. Golden Melon
Fruit is incredibly expensive in South Korea, a watermelon can cost around 20/40USD. If someone is giving you fruit, that is a very generous gift.
12. Hot as Hell
Korean food is incredibly spicy, among the hottest in the world. Kimchi can burn your throat and teokbokki will make you sweat. Not even our Indian friend could cope with this level of chili-power.
13. Smooth (and Tasty) as Silk
Beondegi (번데기), literally “pupa”, is a Korean street food made with silkworm pupae. It is usually sold from street vendors.
The boiled or steamed snack food is served in paper cups with toothpick skewers. Canned beondegi can also be found in grocery stores and convenience stores.
14. Mud Explorers
Tides are enormous in the Korean Peninsula, especially on the West Coast. When the sea retires it can uncover expanses of thick mud as long as a few kilometers. This is the kingdom of the mud explorers.
15. Eating Forever
When ordering a main dish in a Korean traditional eatery, you’ll be presented with 5/6 additional small bowls with different foods.
Those side dishes can be various things, seaweed, baby squids, seasoned beet… the amazing thing is that you’re allowed to ask basically unlimited refills! Of course, don’t abuse this tradition, it won’t be polite.
4 Crazy Facts About Drinking in Korea
16. Kings of the Night
According to a recent survey, South Korea ranks first in the whole world for per-capita alcohol consumption.
What made Koreans win this exciting primate is the women. While, in traditionally alcoholic countries like Russia, alcohol is consumed mostly by men, Korean women get wasted exactly like their male counterparts.
Korean capitalism found a clever way to monetize hangovers. (Check this video by Psy and Snoop Dog if you haven’t)
To cope with the post-party effects and do not lose a day of work, a whole line of semi-magical anti-hangover drinks is sold in convenience stores and supermarkets.
A very good business, since a tiny bottle of these potions can cost up to 15$.
18. Drink Like a Boss
Drinking with the boss and a whole lot of colleagues is a mandatory tradition in South Korea.
That can happen any day at the boss’s will or caprice, the employees are basically not allowed to say no, and are mostly forced to drink at the boss’s command.
The new anti-bully law is expected to root out so-called gapjil in the workplace in South Korea,
“Gapjil” a recently coined word refers to abusive acts by people in positions of power or those under their influence.
19. What’s Your Poison
Korea’s most common drinks are beer, makkoli, and soju. Makkoli is a light (6%) rice wine, while soju is about 18%, a white liquor with different flavors.
Super-alcohol is heavily taxed and not commonly drank. Despite that Koreans easily manage to get drunk by drinking humongous quantities of the aforementioned drinks.
2 Interesting Facts About The Korean War
20. Neverending Struggle
The two Koreas are still at war since 1950, the longest war of the last two centuries.
Despite having signed a truce in 1953, which split the Korean peninsula in two along the 38th parallel, the war never officially ended.
21. No Mans Land
The De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) is a 2km wide strip of land between the two Koreas running for about 150 miles (240 km) across the peninsula, from the mouth of the Han River on the west coast to the North Korean town of Kosŏng on the east coast.
Located within the DMZ is the “truce village” of P’anmunjŏm, about 5 miles east of Kaesŏng. It was the site of peace discussions during the Korean War and has since been the location of various conferences over issues involving North and South Korea, their allies, and the United Nations.
The DMZ no-mans-land has seen several battles going on in its premises since its institution in 1953.
3 Curious Facts about Korean Islands
22. Island Hopping
South Korea has more than 4000 islands, to spend a day on each one you’ll need 9 years.
Life on some of the islands is very different from the mainland, traditional fishing culture and seaweed farming are still the main sources of income.
On one of the smallest islands, we visited we had the clear feelings of being the first foreigners in decades.
23. Artificial Paradise
South Korea is a free-WiFi paradise. You’ll get free connectivity almost everywhere, even on the remotest islands.
24. Drama Famous Islands
Among those thousands of islands, there are a few that had the luck (or maybe the bad luck) to be featured in some ultra-famous Korean Drama.
Nami Island, for example, didn’t see much visitors before being the location of Winter Sonata… after that, it became a tourist mess.
2 Facts about Religion in Korea
25. For Christ Sake
South Korea has been heavily Christianised by the USA, Christians make up 35% of the population, most of the remaining people follow Buddhism.
While very few believe in the old shamanic cult, shamans are still called in for family rituals.
There are unnumbered different Christian confessions in Korea, dividing the believers almost evenly among them. Most are American Protestant churches.
Still, about 56% of the population claims to have no religion.
A very special “bombing” took place in 2017, thousands of bibles were parachuted into North Korea in a weird attempt to raise up the fellow Koreans from the north against the dictatorship.
It was called Operation Dandelion, “We started this project back in 1991, and just as a dandelion needs the wind to spread its seeds, we need the wind to spread the message,” explained the 78 years-old-priest in charge of the operation.
27. 1 More fact about Videogames in South Korea
Videogames are considered proper sports in South Korea, the top players earn even more than some sports champions and videogame tournaments are followed by dozens of thousands in stadiums and millions in online streaming.