Culture and tradition

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May 17, 2013 by rkpcs

The half way day of the exchange arrived on Thursday 16th May, and we have spent it exploring the southern reaches of the province of Jangheung. The day has seen us enjoy a number of different visits, from which the team have learned about a range of historic and current cultural traditions within Korea.

The day began with a visit to a pepper farm which houses 50,000 plants and produces 500 tonnes of peppers per year, the entirety of which is exported to Japan. The farm is also a major contributor to the global market more generally as the owner is a professor in the local university and hosts pepper manufacturers from around the world to teach them about his business.

During the visit, the team were invited into the owner’s home. He built his house over the course of seven years, creating it in a traditional style only from wood, soil and copper. He welcomed us with green tea, serving us in accordance with Korean tradition which involved pouring the tea between a series of particular pots before service. It was served in small cups, and the tradition involves each person drinking 20 cups in one sitting as it is believed that this amount will clear out toxins from the body and have long-term health benefits. Unfortunately none of the team members were able to get close to satisfying the 20 cup tradition!

Next, the team headed for the historic folk museum of Gangchon. The museum featured a range of historical artefacts from a village that had stood on the site 500 years previously, the community of which consisted entirely of one family. Artefacts included masks, pottery, scripts and maps. The team learned about two historic Korean traditions during their exploration of the museum, both of which were connected with Korea celebrating its ancestry.

The first was connected with a set of miniature tea cups used by Koreans in traditional celebrations to celebrate their ancestry. It is a long established tradition that on lunar New Year’s Day, an ancestral service is performed whereby a ceremonial table is set with libations of food and drink, with prayers said and rituals performed. The second arose from a picture of a traditional Korean ancestor which was kept within a wooden structure similar to a wardrobe. Traditionally this would be kept in its own designated room within the house, with rituals performed by family members to celebrate their ancestry.

The team have come to understand the pride that the Korean culture attributes to its ancestry, which has been apparent during a number of historical and religious visits undertaken during the exchange. These historical artefacts instilled this yet further.

After brief stops at the local sky tower to appreciate the local area from a bird’s eye view, and at a local restaurant for a grilled beef lunch, the team headed for the harbour side. We were treated to a tour around the local area by boat in some somewhat choppy waters! Whilst enjoying the local area, we also built upon our knowledge of Korean eating and drinking habits. The theme of ancestry arose again during an explanation of how soju is traditionally served. When opening a bottle of soju, a person should first swirl it around in the bottle vigorously before turning it upside down and hitting the bottom of the bottle with their elbow. They should then turn the bottle upright, open it, pour out a measure and discard it before serving everyone from the remainder. It is believed that this ritual connects a person with their ancestors and effectively invites them to join in with a drink.

We were also treated to a picnic whilst on board, Korean style. Whilst in England a boat trip may see us reach for a flask of coffee and perhaps a biscuit, in Korean this is replaced with soju, rice wine, a whole octopus and raw squid. We were somewhat less enthusiastic than our hosts in diving into this spread, particularly shortly after a generous lunch, however the majority was soon polished off, with our hosts telling us how much better the taste was when eaten on board.

Returning to land we were then taken to a local park which sits atop of a high hill overlooking the southern end of the district. The team enjoyed the last of the day’s sunshine exploring the charming and relaxing environment of the park and enjoying the outdoor gym facilities with one another. We learned that the area had been developed with the local Rotary club, and that it is very much a social area, with a large gathering of locals being held every New Year’s day.

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Time until the team returns

The adventure ends...May 31st, 2013
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