You’ve heard of kimchi, but did you know Koreans have special refrigerators in their kitchens with individualized temperature control for making different types of kimchi? I can’t even begin to describe the essential nature of kimchi in Korean cuisine. It has transcended from simply being a part of the cuisine to becoming an important cultural component. Kimchi is essential to Koreanness.
Koreans are pretty in to staying fit. People stay active. They walk a lot. And hike (see below). Sports are popular. There is public exercise equipment in nearly every park and people actually use it! It is especially good to see retired folks being so active.
The first thing I notice about Korean food it that, well, it’s actually real food. So much processed food and newfangled food-like products have entered the western diet in the past half-century, most things hardly even resemble edible items. The Korean diet is a diverse array of meat, vegetables, fish, shellfish, and grains. Even snack food is real—for munchies and beer snacks Koreans turn to fruit, chestnuts, and dried squid.
The first English summer camp I went to, children brought their toothbrushes each day. Every one of them brushed after lunch. Flying into Incheon airport this time, travelers returning home were lined up at restroom sinks even before passport control. Toothbrushes were out, brushing away.
The Korean Peninsula is studded with mountains. Few are huge, but the land is rough, especially down the east coast. Flying over the northern part of South Korea, all I could see were snow-covered mountains. In the little valleys in between, there were settlements. A trip across the country always yields a view of mountains in some direction. You just can’t get away from them. North Korea, I believe, is even more mountainous.
This is one of my favorite aspects of life in Korea. At any given moment, you will see hikers decked out in the gear riding the metro or bus to a trailhead. The hiking goes hand-in-hand with the mountainous terrain. Hikers are mostly retired folks who dress the part and hit the trails, many of which are right in Seoul. A couple years ago I hiked Halla San on Jeju Island.
Korea has been developing at a fierce pace the last 30 years. The transportation infrastructure is up-to-date. South Korea is referred to as the most-wired country on earth. Everyone seems to have a smart phone. Technology appears to be built into everything. Nearly all cars have GPS, some have black boxes. But traditions run deep. Korea is still very much a male-dominated society where birth order sets a code of behavior and gender roles are very much alive and well.
Are you Korean? Or have you lived in Korea for a long time? Have you noticed these things or am I making generalizations?