People & Culture
ENJOY A SNOW-WHITE WINTER SONATA
HOPE OF A NATION
KOREAN SPORTING SUCCESS BREEDS A NEW GENERATION OF PRODIGIES
FINDING THE FUTURE FROM THE PAST
The Beauty of Korea Located on the east
of the Korean Peninsula, Seoraksan National Park
covers an area of 398sqkm and includes many high
peaks, rocky hills and ridges. The magnificent
natural beauty of Seoraksan Mountain is due to its
outstanding geographical features, as well as flora
and fauna, rare and protected. For its beautiful
landscape and invaluable natural properties,
Seoraksan Mountain was included on UNESCO’s
Tentative List of World Heritage sites in January 1994.
JANUARY 2011 VOL. 7 NO. 1
PUBLISHER Seo Kang-soo,
Korean Culture and Information Service
EDITING HEM KOREA Co., Ltd
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COVER STORY 04
Time flows, but the worth of a country’s
tradition goes forever. As you see Korea’s
crafts nowadays, you might recognize the
spirit of old beauty and modern challenges.
Even though wind blows and snow falls,
winter is a fascinating season to visit
Korea, especially for sports lovers.
You can enjoy skiing and watching sea
at the same place.
GLOBAL KOREA 40
Korea’s floricultural industry grows bigger
and bigger. You can smell flower scents
and enjoy various kinds of flowers, which
are from Korea, all over the world.
NOW IN KOREA 44
Young Korean athletes are rising in
various kinds of sports field. Many
students take a huge interest and
concern to playing sports to find out
their own talents in the field.
PEN & BRUSH 16
Kim Jong-ku’s language of art is black steel
powder, not so common material in the
fields. He sublimates his personal experi-
ence into art work, with outstanding ability.
As one of the leading architects in Korea,
Seung H-sang tries to find out his ultimate
goal in the philisophy of Korea’s old
MY KOREA 32
It is not so easy to find soulmate, ir-
respective of all ages and countries. An
American finds out some trends about
dating and marriage culture in Korea.
SUMMIT DIPLOMACY 36
Due to North Korean attack last year,
South Korea’s diplomatic cooperation
gets more important than ever. President
Lee Myung-bak is about to reinforce a
relationship with allied nations.
In the modern world, the element of
traditional culture that has remained closest
to our daily lives is crafts. As a form of
traditional culture, craft proves its value not
by merely being handed down through
generations, but by reinventing itself as
something relevant in the lives of people
today. Times have changed enormously
and people’s desires vary more than ever,
original but by adapting while maintaining
their spirit, traditional crafts remain a living,
breathing link to Korea’s history. by Lee Se-mi
well as architectural techniques learned
through building temples, also laid the
groundwork for traditional crafts.
Crafts became important instruments of
statehood, so governments established
institutions that created masters. Crafts
centered around the needs of nobility flour-
ished during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392),
when highly artistic ceramic crafts and
Najeonchilgi (lacquerwork inlaid with
mother-of-pearl) came to the fore. When the
Joseon Dynasty took power, pragmatism
became more important. Decorative items
took a back seat to white porcelain,
Buncheongsagi celadon and other straightfor-
ward and practical goods.
ART FOR LIFE Today, Korea has 50 designated
traditional crafts in seven broader categories,
with experts in those fields recognized as
jangin or “masters.” However, the term jangin
doesn’t simply imply a high degree of skill at
building things: it also suggests admiration
for someone who has made it to an artistic
level unreachable by others. A master is an
artist who breathes life into craftworks.
In Korea, artistic activities or skills that
have great historical, artistic or academic
value have since the 1960s been designated as
intangible cultural properties. Such are
divided into state-
they are also called
“human cultural assets.”
The seven state-designated
traditional crafts are ceramic craft (earthen-
ware and roof tiles); metal craft (using gold,
silver and other metals to produce tools and
decorate surfaces); woodcraft (the construc-
tion of buildings, furniture and instru-
ments); stone craft; textile craft (weaving
fabric or making clothes and accessories);
leather craft (using animal skins or feathers);
and paper craft, which either produces paper
or decorates objects with paper.
Each niche craft has its masters, including
sculptors who decorate the surface of
metallic objects, woodwork masters who
make large frames for construction, cobblers
who craft traditional shoes, and masters in
the art of making works of jade.
People we now call “masters” are the first
generation of intangible cultural properties
in craftwork. Even throughout Korea’s
tumultuous modern history, they were able
to keep their crafts alive.
During Japan’s colonial rule and in the
aftermath of the liberation in August 1945,
Korea’s traditional crafts and craftspeople
faced constant upheaval. Rapid industrializa-
tion brought Western technologies and
fashions, which often threatened to over-
whelm traditional crafts completely. Through
it all, the old masters dedicated their lives to
continuing their craft and passing it down to
younger generations. They faced enormous
hardship, and many simply gave up or
turned their hand to more commercial
pursuits. And even now, decades later, just
making a living remains a major challenge
for many traditional craftspeople.
Cho Chung-ik, a master of traditional fan
making, became an intangible cultural prop-
erty of Jeollabuk-do Province in 1998. He
began making his fans, adorned with taegeuk
(the yin-yang) patterns similar to those on
the Korean flag, in the 1970s. Today, the fans
are renowned for their beauty and unfailing
practicality, and are a constant presence at
major events promoting Korean culture.
Cho says his fans are “the roots of our
people and the faces of Korea.” The fans
Crafts mirror the times they are created in. If
you want to know more about any given
period, all you need to do is look at work
produced from that era. If crafts refer to the
skills from which objects are made, tradition
can be thought of as the cultural body of
work created from such skills.
Traditional crafts develop according to
each historical environment. In the
prehistoric age, crafts developed out of
necessity, with our ancestors using natural
materials to make most of the tools they
needed in their everyday lives. They used clay
to make plates, knitted grass to make clothes,
and cut wood to build homes.
During Korea’s Bronze and Iron ages,
with metal readily available, people started
making accessories and weapons, too.
Weapons were for hunting, but they also
served to symbolize the holder’s status. It
was during this era that crafts began to
assume true artistic value.
Crafts blossomed during Korea’s dynastic
times, as nations emerged and governments
assumed more power. Buddhist culture
started to take root in people’s lives as well,
exerting a great influence on the develop-
ment of crafts. Crowns, earrings and other
accessories that represented the authority of
the royal palace were developed. Buddhist
temple bells and other religious artifacts, as
Cho’s work Yunseon fan,
a wheel-like shape made of
bamboo on display.
Cho Chung-ik, a master fan
maker, demonstrates his craft
(above left). One of Cho’s work
Hwangchildanseon fan, also
known as Banggubuchae, is
made of bamboo and hanji
paper (left). Cho’s Taegeukseon
fan includes the traditional
Korean symbol, yin and yang
(top). Cho’s Mugunghwaseon
fan imitates Korea’s national
flower, Mugunghwa (above).
the ongoing health of craftworks. To achieve
that, it needs to look beyond the stereotypical
images of traditional craftworks and forge a
deeper appreciation of the values behind
them. In between the extreme opposites —
an artwork displayed in a glass case in an
exhibition and a mass-produced trinket in a
souvenir shop — traditional craft must
recover its identity as a form of living art.
Fortunately, traditional crafts have struck
some genuine chords with the public in
recent times. In universities across the
country, ever more students are applying for
programs related to traditional crafts. Craft
studios in the Bukchon region of Seoul are
offering various programs year-round for
Koreans and foreign tourists alike. By
crafting pieces there, visitors gain a genuine
affinity with traditional culture.
Elsewhere, masters have collaborated with
contemporary artists, and architecture or
industrial design majors have offered designs
to intangible cultural properties from the
regions. In their own ways, these
are all examples of
gained their first international exposure at
the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi, then
again at the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988
Olympic Games, both in Seoul. To some
extent a victim of his own success, Cho
today finds himself having to balance the
competing interests of commercial gain and
maintaining the true spirit of his artistry.
Bamboo and hanji (traditional paper) are
the main materials for fan making, though
silk can be used as well. About 80 to 90 bam-
boo ribs are used in creating a taegeuk pat-
tern, and the peacock fan, which uses an
astonishing 8,000 bamboo ribs, takes any-
where between one and six months to make.
Despite his own success, Cho is worried
that no one will follow him into the taegeuk
fan craft after he dies. Pay can be very low
and the future is always uncertain, so govern-
ment support is often needed to keep crafts
such as Cho’s alive. For Cho, making fans
requires dedication to a notion of eternal
beauty, even at the cost of tremendous
personal hardship. This is an outlook that, in
itself, is highly at odds with what we consider
a work ethic today.
“To become a master requires character.
It’s important how you make things and in
what sort of mindset,” Cho says. “After you’re
done learning physical techniques, you have
to instill your heart and soul into your work.
There’s hardly any young people who want to
learn traditional crafts. Those who do come
don’t last more than a couple of months.
They have to be determined to learn tradi-
tional culture but since this doesn’t pay well,
they can’t stay on for too long. Craft is art.
You can’t apply economic theories to that.”
In the past, fans were indispensable during
summer. But with air conditioners and
electric fans around, traditional fans are now
recognized primarily for their aesthetic value.
So in order to preserve the tradition of fan-
making, Cho says, creativity and change are
“What’s important is the creativity. On the
foundation of pride in our traditions, we
have to keep creating new pieces,” he says.
Jang Ju-won, a master of jade artwork is
well known his exquisite and elaborate
technique of carving the stone (above).
Korean knot full of layered patterns and
and beautiful color by Kim Hee-jin, a
master of Korean knot (below).
Hwahyejang, or a master maker of
Korean traditional shoes, Hwang Hae-
bong makes shoes (top). Bamboo is
split into many pieces and used as
material for Hanjibal, Korean traditional
curtains (above). Gayageum master Go
Su-hwan’s instrument (below).
“Cultural art is about creating beauty. A mas-
ter is an artist. The job is to delight people
and to create something new.”
When we say that crafts reflect their times,
it means that craftspeople have to respond to
what people need and want. Today, as in any
other age, crafts must be reborn to reflect the
modern world. Tradition isn’t static, nor is it
built over a short period of time.
REALITY REFLECTS THE FUTURE Preserving
tradition in a creative way means giving a
contemporary twist to that tradition. While
inheriting ideas and a certain spirit, tradition
should adopt a new style that fits the current
times. Celadon during the Goryeo Dynasty,
one of the most significant ceramics at the
time, gave way to Buncheongsagi celadon
and white porcelain in Joseon times.
Tradition was inherited and developed while
adjustments were made to meet the demands
and objectives of a new era.
The balance between tradition and
modernity has exercised the minds of
masters for centuries. One example of this
trade-off can be found in the practice of
making string holes in the body of gayageum
(12-string Korean zithers). The traditional
technique to make gayageum’s holes isn’t
very precise and even alters the shape of the
body, with strings likely to be left out of
position. A computer drill is far more accu-
rate, keep the body intact and saving time. In
order to ensure precision and efficiency, the
modern craftsman have to find the right
blend of machine and traditional handiwork.
With the recent growth in interest in all
things traditional, Korea’s old-time crafts are
looking as vibrant as they have done for
some time. Traditional craftworks are on
show all over Korea, and if you’re so inclined,
you can sign up for lectures or experience
programs. Aside from exhibitions, craftworks
can be found in art shops, department stores
or duty free shops in the form of small sou-
venirs right the way up to pricey luxuries.
But even these products don’t guarantee
modifying to meet the needs of a different
time. Last October, the Seolhwa Cultural
Exhibition displayed a series of
items that combined traditional
elements with the work of industrial
designer Mah Young-beom. Cho
Dae-yong, a master who makes
bamboo blinds, displayed a piece
that connected optical fibers and bamboo.
Kim Hwan-gyeong, a master of lacquerwork,
drew modern patterns on Joseon-era wooden
furniture. Song Bang-woong, a master
specializing in mother of pearl, made a
cosmetics chest with mother-of-pearl pasted
on to metal instead of wooden plate. And
Yoon Byung-hoon, a bamboo master, built a
cabinet with tiny cut pieces of black bamboo.
When they went on display, these utterly
unique handiworks by the six masters caused
a minor sensation.
Crafts, which had long been considered
merely decorative, are increasingly reclaim-
ing their practical roots, too. While the
Seolhwa Cultural Exhibition mostly show-
cased hardware decorated with traditional
crafts, the 2010 Craft Trend Fair, which held
its fifth show in December last year, aimed to
display the very latest trends in traditional
and modern crafts. Under the theme “Next
Craftsmanship — Change from Succession
to Application,” the exhibition presented a
picture of the future of Korean craft as
reflected in its essence. Visitors could take a
look at craftworks and also purchase handi-
works at an affordable price, while listening
to masters’ first-hand account of their
production. It was a real chance for the
public to get closer to crafts.
THE CRAFT OF SOFTWARE In Korea,
biennales and festivals offer opportunities for
people to get in touch with traditional crafts.
The World Ceramic Biennale, held every
other year in Gyeonggi-do Province, is the
largest crafts event devoted to ceramics.
Potters from around the world flock to the
show to exchange skills and ideas. The big
increase of these regional festivals in recent
years means people can now experience
traditional crafts virtually anywhere.
In order to tap into modern consumer
markets — rather than just appeal to rich
collectors or tourists — it’s vital for crafts to
adopt innovative approaches to sales. Many
have tried to take traditional crafts overseas,
but they lacked design or marketing
strategies to compete in the modern global
market. One big success, however, is
212Design, which has set up shop in the
Soho of New York. To crack foreign markets,
this design company used traditional crafts
and techniques such as balwoo (bowls for
Buddhist monks) and Najeonchilgi to create
The Internet has played an important role
in modern craft, and designing and dyeing
have relied heavily on computer program-
ming. Other prime examples of the old using
the new are online exhibitions and online
shopping malls for traditional crafts.
Today, there are many signs that tradition-
al crafts are thriving — studios are doing
well, masters are working with brands and
designers, and university students are taking
a greater interest in them. Not confined to
museums or high-brow discussions, crafts
are adapting and staying relevant. This is
surely the best future for traditional crafts.
Designer Jeong Seok-yeon’s
pencil case and measuring tape
are made of wood, reminiscent
of tradional Korean craftwork.
(above). Jeong’s furniture art-
work Sabangtakja table (below
left). Sabangtakja tables,
designed by Kim baek-seon and
made by Jo Seok-jin, produced
using traditional skills in a
modern style (below right).
Gat, a Korean traditional hat
design, is used as a lampshade
in this modern interior.
Bukchon, in central Seoul, is the best place in
the capital to experience traditional Korean
culture. Some 20 studios here run programs
in folk painting, traditional paper, kites and
much else. Haneul Mulbit, which focuses on
traditional knotting, dyeing and patchwork,
is owned by 75-year-old Cho Soo-hyun, a 40-
year veteran of knotting. Bucking the staid,
highly secretive world of traditional crafts,
Cho has drawn in a new generation of fans
with her passion and openness. Today, her
son Lucas Hong, a researcher of traditional
dyeing, and her daughter Hong Gwang-hee,
who studies traditional patchwork, help their
mother run the studio.
Traditional knotting uses round-shaped
braids to create patterns, which are then used
to make accessories. Knotting was long used
in norigae (ornaments for women), belts,
pockets and seonchu (fan ornaments) and the
technique has continued to evolve to this day.
Involving spinning thread, dyeing it and
then tying it into knots, knotting is slow,
painstaking work. Becoming an expert takes
at least a couple of years, but just about any-
one can make something pretty in an hour
or two using ready-made thread.
The easiest knotting technique is known as
dongsimgyeol. Dongsimmeans “the same
heart,” and signifies that whichever direction
you tie the knots in, the four points of the
compass (north, south, east and west) will
still be pointing in the same directions. In the
one-day experience program, visitors make a
necklace or bracelet using this technique.
Kwak Soo-young, a jewelry designer, has
been going to Haneul Mulbit once a week for
six months. “I’ve always been interested in
traditional craftwork,” she says. “I signed up
for the class because I wanted to incorporate
some traditional knotting into jewelry
designing. It’s been difficult to master some
techniques but it is a lot of fun.”
Patchwork is similar to hand-made quilts
in many Western countries, so the patchwork
experience program is especially popular
among foreigners. Hong Gwang-hee, who
runs the program, says, “In patchwork,
depending on fabric and colors, you can
make a whole range of different products,
so it is never boring.”
It takes up to three months to make a
complete patchwork, so the one-day program
lets visitors make a hand mirror or a brooch.
The process begins with picking three or four
colors of cloth, through the design, then the
sewing. All the pieces are ready to go on the
same day, making the visit ideal for tourists
NATURAL DYEING One traditional craftwork
experience program is for natural dyeing.
Rather than using chemical dyes, traditional
Korean dyeing uses elements from nature to
create more natural-looking colors. Sources
for these dyes include persimmon, indigo,
walnut and bamboo. They can also be
extracted from red clay and squid ink — so
essentially anything with a color.
Cheongdo-gun in Gyeongsangbuk-do
Province is home to about 30 studios offer-
ing programs in natural dyeing. The county
produces about a quarter of all persimmons
consumed in Korea — but nowadays, much
of the crop has another purpose.
In July 2010, persimmons start falling from
the trees, and unripe ones are simply discard-
ed. When a typhoon passes through, a huge
number of persimmons accumulate on the
ground, with many going to waste. Then
many years ago, Cheongdo native Kim Jong-
baek started picking up these persimmons to
use as the source of dyes. When farmers
worried about wasted persimmons, Kim
would teach them how to dye using unripe
ones. It was such a success that Kim made a
living out of it, and in 1998, he opened his
own studio, Kkokduseoni.
Dyeing with persimmon is a simple
process. First, you need to wash a handker-
chief or a piece of cloth in water and dry it in
the sunlight. Then dip the fabric into the
persimmon extract, and work it in gently.
After 10 or 15 minutes, squeeze all the mois-
ture out and hang it on a line to dry. The
color comes to life as it dries under the sun.
The tannins in persimmon leave a brown
color when dried in sunlight. Different
shades are achieved by first spraying water
onto the dried cloth then drying for four or
five days. Repeating this process three to four
times is the only way to get the full range of
Kkokduseoni also has a gallery of products,
displaying clothes, carpets and more. A video
shows other dyestuff, such as tea leaves, and
chestnut blossoms. Enjoy traditional arts:
they will even color your heart and soul.
Creating traditional handicrafts, rather
than just looking at them, makes you
appreciate them all the more. And
throughout Korea, there’s the opportu-
nity to do just that in a series of craft
shops that show you how to make tradi-
tional pottery, knotting, embroidery and
dyeing. This firsthand experience with
traditional craftworks, no matter how
brief, will open the door to a far greater
understanding of the artistry, practical
value and history of these remarkable
pieces. by Lee Se-mi | photographs by KimNam-heon
1. TRADITIONAL KNOTTING
> Place Haneul Mulbit Studio
(Bukchon Cultural Center or
Jeongdok Public Library
depending on how many
people sign up)
> Address 23 Gahoe-dong,
> Information +82 10 9155
6352 (Reservations required)
> Fees 40,000 won (US$36)
for three hours
> Items Necklaces,
> Place Haneul Mulbit Studio
(Bukchon Cultural Center or
Jeongdok Public Library
depending on how many
people sign up)
> Information +82 10 3751
7801 (Reservations required)
> Fees 30,000 won (US$27)
for two hours
> Items Hand mirrors,
> Place Kkokduseoni Studio
> Address 593-1 Yudeung-ri,
> Information +82 54
371 6135 (Reservations
> Fees 10,000 won (US$9)
for two hours; includes
> Items Handkerchiefs
Traditional Korean patchwork art (top).
A bronze mirror is made with using a
traditional quilt technique (above).
Patchwork is used as props and decorations in life. Sewing
teacher Hong Gwang-hee, right, shows a student how to sew
(above left). Knot researcher Cho Soo-hyun, right, teaches a
student about traditional knots (above).
Seventy-one years since his birth, and 52
since he began learning his craft, Song Bang-
woong plies his trade in the Tongyeong Craft
Learning Center in the coastal city of
Tongyeong. Growing up in a city whose
breathtaking landscape had provided
inspiration for numerous Korean artists,
Song had dreamed of becoming a writer
while at school, but when he graduated, aged
19, his position as the eldest of five siblings in
a poor family meant he had little choice but
to follow his father into the family trade.
Song’s father, Song Joo-an (1901-1981),
was a towering figure in the najeon world,
and so the craft was ever-present as Song
grew up. “I started working on najeon even
before I was born,” he says.
Song spent 10 years learning the najeon
craftsman’s skills, battling physical and psy-
chological pain while having scarcely a friend
in the world. Once he reached a certain level,
he began setting new goals for himself. He
started to study art, so that he could imbue
his work with greater artistry. He pored over
stacks of books, and after picking out his
favorite pieces from them, he would find out
all he could about them and create almost
perfect replicas. As he did so, Song developed
an ever sharper eye for aesthetics.
“I was very impressed with our predeces-
sors’ sense of aesthetic balance, at a time
when they didn’t even have rulers,” he says.
Song began producing his own, original
pieces in the 1980s. In 1985, he won awards
at the Korea Annual Traditional Handicraft
Art Exhibition and the Tourism and Folk Art
Work Exhibition, the two largest craft shows
in the country. By winning at shows focusing
on traditional pieces and more contempo-
rary ideas, Song was recognized as a master
of the traditional and the modern in
Najeonchilgi. In 1990, aged 50, Song became
Korea’s youngest ever officially designated
intangible cultural property.
LIGHT FOR A THOUSAND YEARS Tongyeong
has long been famous for Najeonchilgi, the
craft of mother-of-pearl. In 1604, there were
a dozen studios around Sebyeonggwan (the
former administrative capital for three
provinces — Jeolla, Chungcheong and
Gyeongsang, where Tongyeong is located)
that produced a wide range of goods,
including military supplies and offerings for
the royal palace. Of those, Tongeyong’s
najeon studio and the painting house gave
rise to Najeonchilgi. Located in the south,
Tongyeong’s warm climate made it ideal for
craftsmen, while its abalone shells, the
material for Najeonchilgi, were renowned
for their brightness and smoothness.
Najeon, or jagae in the ancient tongue,
means processed abalone shell, while
Najeonchilgi refers to lacquered najeon. A
complete Najeonchilgi piece requires wood
(as the base), metal (for the handle that gives
it the practical purpose) and lacquer.
“Najeonchilgi is a work of art that
combines najeon craft, woodcraft, lacquer
craft and metal work,” Song says. “If a piece
of craftwork doesn’t perform its designated
function, that it’s merely a sculpture.”
Najeonchilgi has more than a thousand
years of history in Korea, dating back to the
Goryeo Dynasty. China and Japan also devel-
oped Najeonchilgi at the same time, but
whereas the Chinese version became more of
sculpture and the Japanese one turned into
painting, Korea’s Najeonchilgi has remained
true to its original form. In its long heyday,
Najeonchilgi was decorated with symbols of
longevity and prosperity and given as gifts to
envoys and rulers from overseas.
In the 1960s and ’70s Najeongchilgi was a
symbol of wealth in Korea, and a series of
new studios popped up to cater to buoyant
demand. Such was its success that the supply
of abalone shells dried up, and other materi-
als, such as pearl shells and turban shells, had
to be imported from Taiwan, Australia and
the Philippines. In the 1980s, increasingly
exorbitant prices precipitated a major decline
in the Najeonchilgi market, to the point that
today, the tradition barely survives.
More than 30 complicated steps are
necessary to produce a single piece of
Najeonchilgi. First, in a process known as
baekgol, the frame must be built from wood.
The frame is then sanded, with any gaps
filled in using special paint made of lacquer
tree resin and clay. Jagae is then pasted onto
the frame, before some polishing work and
more lacquering. Finally, the piece is bur-
nished to create its remarkable finish.
“When I produce something that I really
love, then I never sell it, no matter how
desperate I am for money. When I do sell
one, then I tell the buyer, ‘Please take care of
my daughter.’ It’s as if I am marrying off my
daughter. No matter how well you’ve built it,
it has no value unless it’s used properly.”
Song’s most common pieces include jewel
boxes, comb holders (for cosmetics), dalbi
chests (for wigs) and soban (small dining
tables). He also takes interest in works that
apply modern sensibilities to traditional
najeon. This year, when making a cosmetics
chest, Song used a metal base and cut the
steel frame with a laser, before pasting the
najeon in the time-honored way. By embrac-
ing the modern while being master of the
ancient, Song is creating something new and
vibrant, as well as providing hope for the
future of this most venerable of crafts.
From delicate hands comes a brilliant
spectrum of light. Najeonchilgi, or
mother-of-pearl craftwork, is really
the face of Korean traditional craft-
work. It has retained its beautiful light
for more than a thousand years, and
Master Song Bang-woong — whose
skills have been designated among the
important intangible cultural proper-
ties in Korea — has devoted his life to
carrying on that tradition. KOREA
traces the roots of his dedication.
by Lee Se-mi | photographs by KimNam-heon
MASTER OF AN
Making Najeonchilgi needs intense
concentration and patience (top).
Najeonchilgi coaster, resembling a
Christmas tree (above).
Master Song Bang-woong explains his
work (above). Song emulates old
objects which have faded away (below).
Modern man has been tamed by the trappings of civilization.
What’s worse, many of us are now hopelessly addicted. Living
among a forest of tall steel buildings, we sometimes feel
nostalgic for the forgotten. And it’s precisely this feeling that
Kim Jong-ku looks to stimulate through his work.
As the audience admires his landscapes, they often feel a
deep inner calm. On the flip-side of his works, however, is a
deep human sorrow. “My works are not landscapes filled with
joy,” Kim says. “Calligraphy written above my landscapes
expresses the sorrow flowing within man’s inner self.”
AN ARTIST’S SORROW LIVED THROUGH CALLIGRAPHY There
is an unfortunate tale behind Kim’s use of steel powder
instead of the ink normally used in traditional landscape
paintings. In 1996, when Kim was Korea’s best-known steel
sculptor, a large collection of his work was stolen from an
outdoor exhibition in Lewes, near London. Utterly dispirited,
he returned to his workshop to find the sole residue from his
sculptures: black steel powder.
“I worked by grinding the steel bar and found that the final
sculpture and residue steel powder had different forms,” he
says. “As I recognized the worth of the steel powder, I was able
PEN & BRUSH
The substance that best represents sculptor Kim Jong-ku is “black steel powder,” the
residue from cutting steel bar. In Kim’s works, steel powder gathers on a white canvas
to form mountains and oceans on a traditional Korean landscape painting. Video
cameras are installed above the painting, capturing changes in perception as the
audience walks by. A sculptor, photographer and painter, Kim says that “the mind of
an artist should try to express his own artistic philosophy using as many languages
possible, irrespective of genre.” by Bang Geum-suk | photographs by KimNam-heon
Steel powder paintings are produced using material collected during the transition
from steel to powder (top). He creates his own style by showing different views
(above). Artist Kim Jong-ku writes poetic inscriptions on his work (opposite).
anxiety and energy alive 24 hours a day is the best way to
establish your own artistic philosophy.
The Grinding Project, another of Kim’s best-known works,
turns the actual process of carving steel bar into a work of
art. Kim is now preparing similar displays for exhibitions in
Korea and the United Kingdom, where he will carve pictures
and messages into a tank as spectators look on.
A NEVERENDING STORY, A GRINDING PROJECT Steel is
one of the strongest substances in the world and is also
sometimes portrayed as an expression of war. Kim plans to
carve representations of fighting and destruction into the
tank, and while the noise and sparks fly, the audience will
be able to watch and imbue the performance with the
meaning they feel it conveys.
Artists continue their careers because they are not satisfied.
Philosophical anguish is like carving steel, where the artist
carves his own artistic beliefs. Kim’s own anguish means he
will never stop undertaking his own artistic experiments. “I
want to give hope to the barren sensitivity of modern man,”
he says. Without art, Kim seems to be saying, we are no
different from robots. And that is one trapping of civilization
that Kim will never tire of fighting.
to go beyond the characteristic values of sculptures.”
More recently, at the Spencer Museum of Art in Kansas in
the United States, Kim installed a 13-meter large media
installation called Mobile Landscape. He used snow that fell
while he was working to make the steel rust, and then wrote
calligraphy into the rust. Steel powder absorbs water and with
several layers being added to the calligraphy, the work now
weighs around 40 kilograms. Kim installed the Mobile
Landscape, and also captured images of the landscape on the
wall together with the audiences’ moving feet.
SPECULATION AND IMMERSION Kim was captivated by
sculpture from an early age, and started studying it while
living with art teachers and artists in his high school years.
Later, Kim received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from
Seoul National University, and another master’s degree from
the Chelsea College of Art and Design, London, in 1996.
While in college, Kim received the grand prize for sculpture
at the National University Arts Festival in Korea, and subse-
quently traveled to India, Thailand and Singapore as student
representative. Coming from a country where foreign travel
was still restricted by the military regime, Kim’s journeys
were truly extraordinary: Among many other experiences, he
met Mother Teresa and imbibed of the spirit of Gandhi,
thereby learning the amazing power of altruism and nonre-
sistance in response to even the harshest of circumstances.
Kim’s work the man, on display on the Gwangalli beach in
Busan, is one of the works of his “the boxer” series that aims
to express the deceptively powerful spirit of nonresistance.
Kim has also imbued the work with a sense of humor by
installing a microscope, so visitors can see one of his largest
works from the smallest possible perspective.
Rain Tree, a fountain housed in Mapletree Business City,
Singapore, also shows Kim’s poetic sensitivity and the
enormous effort he puts into his work. This work was
inspired by weeping willows on the riverside of the Hangang
River, with 70 main water spouts expanding into 600 smaller
water spouts. This seemingly impossible creation took 14
months to complete, and called on all Kim’s artistic and
Kim is currently working as a professor at the sculpture
department in Ewha Womans University in Seoul. To his
students just starting to learn sculpting, he emphasizes that
they must have “passionate speculation.” He also says that
artists are by nature filled with anxiety, but keeping this
Kim with steel powder painting at ONE AND J Gallery (top). Mobile Landscape
Installation at Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas (above).
Korean ink-and-brush paintings and calligraphy using steel powder (above).
The name Seung H-sang is synonymous with Korean architecture.
He journeyed through an elite course of architectural education,
studying at the Department of Construction Engineering at Seoul
National University and the Vienna University of Technology. In
1989 he established his own architectural firm, “Iroje Architect &
Planners,” and has since gained ever more admirers of his unique
colors and philosophies. by Oh Kyong-yon | photographs by Park Jeong-roh
Architect Seung H-sang says reading is one of the main sources of his inspiration.
Seung draws a rough sketch on a yellow tracing paper (top). He works at his
company’s office, Iroje, designed by himself (above).
Seung’s tools for drawing blueprints (top). A building minature (above).
“The Middle East is a charming and exciting locale for
architects,” says Seung. “The desert leaves no traces, just like a
clear canvas before a picture is drawn. It is like a dream
world, a world of fantasy.”
However, Seung’s most famous works are in Korea. One of
his best-known is Subaekdang (1998) in the city of
Namyangju, whose blueprints now reside in a permanent
collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York
(MoMA). Other works that depict Seung’s architectural phi-
losophy — “the art of emptiness,” as he calls it — include
Sujoldang (1992), and Welcomm City (2000), both in Seoul.
BUILDING BOOKCITY At present, Seung’s main focus is the
Pajubookcity project in Paju, Gyeonggi-do Province. Seung’s
involvement gained international attention in the
architectural community because this project wasn’t just a
structure, but a loosely defined “book city” that had to be
conceived and constructed from the ground up.
Seung has invested more than 10 years in the project,
which has been a key factor in his being named an Honorary
Fellow at the American Institute of Architects and the first
architect to be named Artist of the Year by the National
Museum of Contemporary Art in Korea. Seung also received
considerable acclaim from international architects when he
introduced the Pajubookcity project at the Venice Biennale
“The Pajubookcity project is where the publishing
industry teamed up with architects to create a large-scale,
professional space that catered to their needs,” says Seung. “I
believe that we had almost complete freedom to design the
city, as no personal interests or formal concepts were involved
at the outset.”
In such a vast, freeflowing project, it was inevitable that
some ideas simply wouldn’t get off the ground. Seung had
envisaged Pajubookcity being a “Slow City,” with speed limits
for cars of 20 kilometers per hour. But due to technical issues,
this was never realized.
At the end of 2010, construction began on a second
Pajubookcity project near the original site, but Seung
himself isn’t involved. When asked who is handling that one,
Seung is reserved, saying only that a younger architect far
more talented than he was in charge.
AIMING FOR AN INCONVENIENT LIFESTYLE Seung has
articulated his “art of emptiness” concept in works such as
Beauty of Poverty (1996) and Structuring Emptiness (2005).
But why does Seung turn “emptiness” into a virtue in a
Seung H-sang’s architectural boundaries are not confined to
the national borders of Korea. He was invited to take part at
the 2002 and 2008 Venice Biennale of Architecture, and held
exhibitions at the University of Pennsylvania in 2003, Gallery
Ma, Tokyo, in 2004, and Aedes East Berlin in 2005. Seung is
also taking part in architectural projects around the world,
notably in Japan, Germany, the United Arab Emirates(UAE),
Malaysia and China.
Of all the international projects Seung has participated in,
the “Commune by the Great Wall” project in Beijing was
among his most memorable. In a lot near the Great Wall, 12
Asian architects worked together on a hotel complex, for
which Seung designed the main club house and 11 villas.
“With the historical architectural marvel of the Great Wall
in the distance, it was a truly unforgettable and worthy
experience,” he says. “But it was also very difficult because we
were building a hotel on top of a mountain. Nonetheless, it
was tremendously exciting to experience the Chinese archi-
tectural scene which is quite different from that of Korea.”
Another memorable undertaking was the Guggenheim
Abu Dhabi project located on Saadiyat Island, just off the
coast of Abu Dhabi. The project enlisted the talents of a
veritable who’s who of the architectural world, including
Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry.
discipline that is basically about filling up empty spaces with
new buildings? In explaining his ideas, Seung cites the
example of the madang (yards) of traditional Korean style
housing known as hanok.
“The Korean madang is a space of undecided emptiness.
On its own it is just an incomplete and unstable space, but as
the inhabitants use the madang for various pursuits the space
is finally complete.”
Seung says that another definition of architecture should
be “anti-ecological.” He says, “The characteristics of
architecture make it work against nature. If I were to insist
on environmental protection in regards to architecture, it
would be in terms of architectural structure applications or
sustainable maintenance. Ultimately, however, the industry
of architecture cannot be harmonized with nature.” It is for
precisely this reason that Seung is so skeptical of current
trends toward “environment-friendly architecture.”
Because he believes that architecture is by nature anti-
environmental, Seung has turned his attention to the
humanistic aspect of sociocultural ecology.
“Architecuture is finite and limited. We must be aware that
the structure will eventually collapse even before we embark
on a project. However, the land on which the architecture is
raised is infinite and unlimited. The records and tales of the
land is what we must focus on.”
In Seung’s opinion, architectural design is “an addition
upon the records written on the land.” Because of this, his
greatest inspiration is the land and base on which the
structure will be erected. In coming up with plans, he is less
concnered with blueprints than with the records of the land
in its earliest architectural stages.
Another architectural philosophy that Seung adheres to is
the “aim for inconvenience.” In this instance, Seung cites
Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village as an “ideal space” where
memories, records and traces of people have slowly passed
into the land. He believes that such places must be preserved
from redevelopment, even at the cost of discomfort or
inconvenience to the owners.
“The convenience of space was what the generation before
ours thrived on,” he says. “If the 20
speed and convenience, the 21
century will be a time for
remorse in this obsession with convenience, and perhaps a
push back toward a degree of ‘incovenience’ in our lives.”
Seung’s architectural philosophies are in evidence in his
creations, most of which don’t even have elevators. Indeed,
the building housing the offices of Seung’s own firm and his
rooftop apartment relies entirely on stairs, too.
“I have to climb many flights of stairs. Whenever my wife
buys groceries, she summons me to the first floor to move the
groceries to the rooftop. That is when I regret not installing
an elevator in this building,” he says with a laugh.
GWANGJU DESIGN BIENNALE 2011 Seung laid out his plans
and tasks for this year at the beginning of 2010. Last March,
he accepted the general manager’s position for Gwangju
Design Biennale 2011, which will be held from September 2
through October 23. Almost every week, Seung has to find
time in his hectic schedule to commute to the city in Jeollado
Province. In what is the fourth year for the Gwangju event,
Seung is the first architect to be its general manager, a posi-
tion he is sharing with its first foreign general manager,
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
“I am trying to distinguish this Gwangju Design Biennale
from all the ones that have been held before,” says Seung.
Giving an example, designs will not be divided into sections
within the exhibition, but will instead harmonize within a
single large pavilion designated as a “city area.”
The theme for Gwangju Design Biennale 2011 is “Design is
design is not design.” This Zen-like slogan is actually inspired
by the first sentence of Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, a classic work
from the Taoist religions. “The Way that can be told of is not
an unvarying way; the names that can be named are not
The theme was chosen to simultaneously convey
traditional Asian values and new visions of design at the
heart of major civilizational changes. Seung cites the
weakening of designer brand concepts and power as a
characteristic of modern society, saying, “As today’s society
is symbolized with the ‘smart environment,’ designers no
longer design. Instead, consumers become the principal
agent of design by creating the designs they want.”
To draw attention to what he sees as such a fundamental
shift, Seung will be asking the question “What is Design?”
and giving his answer in his capacity as the general manager
of Gwangju Design Biennale 2011.
DREAMING OF KOREA Seung’s ultimate aim is “returning to
the past,” and starting with truly Korean architectural styles.
Seung believes that while modern architecture does not have
a natural ecological point of contact, traditional Korean
architecture is built on the foundations of nature making it as
environmental friendly as any architectural form. He thinks
his other great idea, the art of emptiness, is equally true for
the foundations of traditional Korean architecture.
“When I visit ruins of old chogajip (traditional Korean
house where the roof is made from reeds and straw) and
hanok, they are utterly empty,” he says. “This is because the
structures were built from 100% natural materials like clay
and trees. Because these structures are built with natural
materials, traditional Korean architecture harmonizes with
the surrounding nature without any feeling that the
structures are intruding. My ultimate goal is to integrate this
characteristic of naturally ecologic architecture into modern
architecture designs, but this is not a simple task.”
The roots of Seung’s emphasis on humanism can also be
found in traditional Korean architecture. “Korea’s traditional
house are not just residences, but emphasized the importance
of ethical relationships between households and people. An
example is the madang, where many people gathered to
I ask Seung, now almost 60, what he considers his greatest
work. He mentions Oscar Niemeyer, a Brazilian architect who
still works despite being over 100. “Most architectural master-
pieces came about when the architect was between the ages of
60 and 70. My major work? It will come soon enough.”
One of Seung’s representative architectural works Subaekdang, locates at
Namyangju, is seen (above).
Seung H-sang works on his computer (top). One of Seung’s distinctive designs,
Welcomm City, located in Jangchungdong, Seoul (above).
Snowboarders enjoy High 1 Resort’s ski courses blanketed with snow.
Winter in Korea is a time for sports. After having itchy feet for much of the
year, skiers and snowboarders can finally return to the slopes, with many
opting for Gangwon-do Province, home to the country’s finest resorts.
Surrounded by the towering mountains, Gangwon-do Province boasts a
string of world-class leisure complexes. Even if you’re a veteran of ski resorts
worldwide, you’ll find a unique charm in Gangwon-do Province and its
picturesque resorts. by Chung Dong-muk | photographs by KimHong-jin
Winter Sports and
Visitors skiing and snowboarding at Alpensia Resort (top). One half of a couple falls
over in a snowfield (middle). People can enjoy winter sports in High 1 Resort (left
above). Woljeongsa Temple in Pyeongchang is famous for the gentle fir trees either
side of the road to it (opposite).
The wind is howling. As if about to devour every living
creature in the vicinity, ferocious gusts rise like a giant wave
toward the top of Mount Jijangsan, right next to Mount
Baekunsan. It churns up snow on the mountain tops before
swooping and whistling down the mountainside.
But the people there are anything but afraid. They laugh
once the winds have passed and carry on what they’ve been
doing all day: skiing and snowboarding. With only one
shortish season available to them, Korea’s skiers and boarders
know they can’t be put off by occasional weather tantrums.
If anything, the occasional bursts of wind just add to the
pleasure of these most devoted of sports fans.
SLEEK SLOPES The ski hills at the High 1 Resort in Jeongseon
in Gangwon-do Province bustle with avid skiers and board-
ers. Colorful outfits and dazzling boards and skis dot the
slope’s big white canvas. So named because it sits higher
above sea level than any other Korean ski resort, High 1 has
some of the best slope and lifts in the country as well.
High 1 Resort has three peaks: the “Mountain Top” on
Mount Jijangsan and the two “Valley Tops” (1,376 meters
above sea level) on either side. There are 18 slopes coming
down from these three peaks, including one for beginners
and a giant slalom slope that has been certified by the
International Ski Federation. The 4.2-kilometer valley course,
stretching from the Mountain Top to Mountain Hub (1,250
meters high) through the ski house and Valley Condo, is the
highlight of High 1. Take the 20-minute gondola ride, and
you can ski down a slope with a 645-meter drop in altitude.
High 1 has two authorized slopes for World Cup ski events,
an indication of its future ambitions. It has all the necessary
facilities to host the Disabled Alpine Skiing World Cup and
the Freestyle Ski World Cup. In addition, some 900 guest
rooms, a Korean restaurant and a fusion restaurant, plus an
outdoor spa with a gorgeous view of the province ensure
everyone has a comfortable stay.
If you wanted to know why most of Korea’s ski resorts are
located in Gangwon-do Province, you’d first have to
understand the country’s geographical quirks. Many Koreans
believe their peninsula resembles a rabbit — but more like to
see in it the shape of a gallant Korean tiger.
The highest mountain on the peninsula is Mount
Baekdusan, stretching 2,744 meters into the sky. This magnif-
icent mountain, up in the northern province of Hamgyeong-
do, is the tiger’s face. Stretching down south along the east
Fishermen rolling up their net just after returning to port (top). There are several wind
power plants on Maebongsan Mountain in Taebaek (above).
Jeongdongjin Station is the railway station closest to the sea in Korea (above).
coast, there are Mount Duryusan (2,309 meters), Mount
Keumgangsan (1,638m), Mount Seoraksan (1,708m), Mount
Odaesan (1,563m), Mount Dootasan (1,353m), Mount
Taebaeksan (1,567m), Mount Sobaeksan (1,440m), Mount
Deokyusan (1,614m) and Mount Jirisan (1,915m). These
mountains comprise the Baekdudaegan mountain range,
which forms the backbone of Korea and the spine of the tiger.
Right in the middle of the peninsula is Gangwon-do
Province, which has more high mountains and steep hills
than any other. It snows often and winters are very cold,
making it the perfect venue for winter sports.
The province is surrounded by big mountains, and it has a
beautiful, wide river with plentiful trout and salmon. With
four clear-cut seasons, Korean climates produce wondrous
natural scenery, and Gangwon-do sees the best of it all. The
province is also home to Pyeongchang, which is bidding to
host Korea’s first Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang is blessed
with a wide range of excellent ski resorts, including Hyundai
Sungwoo Resort, Yongpyong Resort, Phoenix Park,
Daemyung Vivaldi Park and O2 Resort, to name just a few.
Alpensia Resort is perhaps the most exclusive of them all.
Built to emulate an Alps-style resort, Alpensia is not very big,
but aims squarely at top-end business. Its seven slopes cover
the range from beginners to expert, as well as slopes for the
bell (designated National Treasure No 36) in Korea.
Gangwon-do Province is also well known for its proximity
to the East Sea. Mother Nature has endowed Gangwon-do
with some extraordinary coastal backdrops, which are best
enjoyed on trains that run through stations at Jeongdongjin,
Donghae, Chuam, Samcheok Beach, Samcheok and, at the
end of the line, Gangneung.
Jeongdongjin Station, which is closer to the sea than any
other train station in the country, gained fame after appear-
ing in Sandglass, the most popular Korean TV series of all
time. The name Jeongdongjin is derived from its geographic
location, directly east (jeongdong) from Seoul. In the town,
docked on a mountainside like Noah’s Ark, is what appears to
be a ship, but is actually a hotel called Sun Cruise. Every New
Year’s Day, the hotel is packed with visitors come to get the
perfect view of the first sunrise of the New Year.
In Donghae, Mukho Port is well worth a visit. Markets and
seafood restaurants overflow with fresh fish caught the night
before. Pick the fish you want, and the restaurant owner will
catch them and slice them into hoe (sushi) right before your
eyes. Though it may seem a bit rough and ready for genteel
city types, it is a snapshot of real Korean coastal life.
Time stands still in Chuam and Samcheok Beach stations.
Take your time walking along the seafront there, and then
take a taxi to visit Samcheok’s famous Daei-ri cave region.
Hwanseongul and Gwaneumgul caves are among the most
beautiful limestone caves in the country, their interiors a
beguiling mix of eeriness and beauty.
It’s winter in Korea, so the mountains in Gangwon-do are
submerged in snow. If you like skiing or snowboarding, Korea
may be one of the best places you’ve never tried. Though not
of the same scale, its resorts have a charm that distinguish
them from those in the Alps or North America. And wherever
you are, you’re never too far from the embrace of the sea.
GETTING TO HIGH 1 RESORT
> Bus The resort runs a seasonal shuttle from Sinchon,
Jonggak and Jamsil in Seoul. For more info, visit
www.inettour.co.kr or www.buspia.co.kr
> Train Take the train from Cheongnyangni Station to
Gohan or Sabuk stations, then take the shuttle bus. For
more info, visit http://info.korail.com/2007/eng/
eng_index.jsp. For shuttle info, visit www.high1.com/eng/
Hhome/main.high1 or call +82 1588 7789
GETTING TO THE EAST COAST
Take a train bound for Gangneung from Sabuk or Gohan to
arrive at one of East Coast (Donghae) stations. For more,
GANGWON-DO PROVINCE TOURISM INFORMATION
SKI RESORTS IN GANGWON-DO PROVINCE
Tel +82 33 339 0000
Hyundai Sungwoo www.hdsungwoo.co.kr
Tel +82 33 340 3000
Tel +82 33 1588 0009
Phoenix Park www.phoenixpark.co.kr/ global/english/
default.aspx Tel +82 1577 0069(#1)
Daemyung Vivaldi Park www.daemyungresort.com/
asp/language/english/ Tel +82 1588 4888
O2 Resort www.o2resort.com/english/
Tel +82 33 580 7000
exclusive use of tobogganists and snowboarders.
Alpensia, too, has no shortage of places to stay, with about
900 guest rooms and a smattering of five-star standard hotels.
There is also an indoor water park open year round, a 45-hole
golf club, a convention center for 2,500 people, a concert hall,
a spa and a luxurious sauna.
SNOWY RAILWAYS BY THE SEA Gangwon-do Province isn’t
only about the skiing, however. Snow blankets the entire
province, so if you get tired of roaring downhill, go and see
some of Gangwon-do’s more serene wintery beauty.
One way to do so is to visit temples up in the mountains.
Most Korean temples are located on mountainsides, and
when they’re deluged in snow, they assume an even greater
air of peaceful beauty.
Woljeongsa is one of Pyeongchang’s most famous temples.
Located on Mount Odaesan, Woljeongsa Temple was built in
643 during Korea’s ancient Silla Kingdom. Its famous path
from the main entrance to the main temple stretches for
about one kilometer along a valley, and is lined on either side
by fir trees. This spectacular trail is named “Passage of a
Thousand Years.” And if your visit to Woljeongsa whets your
appetite to see more Korean temples, then try going a little
farther up Odaesan to Sangwonsa, home to the oldest bronze
The first time I stepped foot in Korea was
in 2001. Skirts were longer, and public
displays of affection were more unusual. In fact,
at that time, my biggest clue for figuring out a couple’s
relationship status was whether or not they were wearing
Ten years later, I walk down the streets and find it common
for couples to be snuggled up while waiting for a bus, sitting
in a coffee shop or whispering into each other’s ear. If you ask
me how I feel about this, I would say I find it refreshing; it’s
not, on the whole, openly sexual, but mostly sweet. When I
see a man carrying his girlfriend’s purse, I can’t help but
smile. However, catch me on a day when I’m painfully aware
I’m still single and “refreshing” may not be the word that
comes to mind.
So what’s a single girl to do? In Korea, one of the most
common ways to meet the opposite sex is online. Dating
websites such as Duo claim almost 23,000 members. As in
most countries, it’s common to meet at work or in school,
while a great many dates are also set up by friends or even
family members. I giggle when I hear female friends talk
about constantly being asked by concerned
ajumma (older women) if they are married or
have a boyfriend. I’ve listened to more than one
Korean friend lament about her mother’s excessive
concern for her being single.
The idea of becoming an old maid is definitely something
to worry about in this country. When a female crosses the age
of 30, she is getting close! The average marrying age is 28 for
women and 31 for men. But marriage in Korea isn’t merely
between a man and woman. It’s a marriage between families.
Due to the high value placed on marriage, it is still
common for a family to hire a matchmaker to find their son
or daughter a spouse — especially in upper class society. A
couple could also be introduced through their parents, an
arrangement referred to as a seon, which allows pre-screening
to be done by the family. However, in both cases the adult
children are not bound if they are uninterested.
In the last 10 to 20 years, dating and marriage in Korea
have begun to feel the influence of outside thinking. Mindsets
are beginning to broaden with the influx of foreigners
moving to Korea, as well as changing attitudes in the media.
Things that were considered taboo are becoming openly
acceptable. Tradition that had been firm and unyielding is
beginning to loosen its grip on the younger generation. Is it
The course of true love, as they say, never runs smooth. And when
the partners come from countries that are practically cultural
opposites, that course becomes even more treacherous. Several
friends of Ann-Cherise Simmons discovered that lesson for
themselves when they dated Korean men. But while
the obstacles they faced were so difficult that
many gave up, the prize for staying the
course were relationships of true
high up my list of priorities. Watching how my Korean
friends help each other out and honor their families leaves
me thinking: maybe this culture that shares one another’s
burdens really does have something on the “my four and no
more” environment that I was been raised in.
For a person who prioritizes choice, equality and
individuality, it’s easy to perceive a culture that values
tradition and honor as narrow-minded. However, taking
time to step back and look at the dating and marriage world
of Korea has caused me to do a lot of my own re-thinking.
I believe one of the keys to Karen’s success in being able to
marry a Korean man comes from her desire to adapt to the
Korean culture as well as appreciating the cultural value of
honor. I found myself admiring her as I realized that what
could have embittered her (as it had my other friends), actu-
ally gave her greater respect for the man she was to marry.
When I asked Karen what she loved about dating a
Korean man, she replied: “I love the way intercultural
relationships open up our minds to new possibilities and
perspectives. I experienced Korea in a deeper way because
I’ve seen the way Korean families do things, and I’ve fallen
in love with Korean culture.”
So are Korea’s methods for dating, weddings and marriage
really so unique? To be honest, I don’t know. But in my quest
to learn more about these topics, I found myself growing in
appreciation for this culture, and discovering that there really
are many different ways to find true love. by Ann-Cherise
Simmons | illustrations by Jo Seung-yeon | photograph by Park Jeong-roh
law? How would Karen cope with all the responsibility that is
placed on the daughter-in-law of their eldest son? Would this
foreign woman take her son away to another land? They
weren’t just worried for themselves, and their son — they
were genuinely concerned for her, too. Several months later,
however, Karen is treated as part of the family.
I’ve noticed that many Korean women seem higher
maintenance than the average American girl. I only say
American, because I can’t judge for other countries. My
friend interviewed a male friend of
hers for me, and he mentioned that
as a Korean man, he felt pressure
when he dated a girl to buy her
presents and do things for her.
On a first date, it is not
uncommon for a man to drop a lot
of money for one night. When it
comes to paying in a relationship, it is
normal for a man to pay about 70 percent
and the woman 30 percent. Could it be that
when a guy has to work harder for a girl and save
money for marriage, he appreciates her more? Is it possible
that in cultures where marriage is no longer regarded as
valuable and women insist on meeting men halfway that
women have unknowingly stolen something of their worth
in a man’s eyes? I have no idea what the answers are, but as I
dig into understanding another culture, I increasingly find
myself questioning my own.
So what happens when a Korean couple decides to get
married? Most men and women start saving from the time
they get a job for their future marriage. It is common for a
man to save 100 million won and the woman 40 million won.
The 100 million won goes toward the house where they will
live, and the 40 million toward furniture and appliances.
Scrimp-ing and saving for so long may not sound like much
fun, but when I think of it in the long-term — how much
more my husband and I might appreciate the house, and each
other, if we’d saved for so long —it really starts to make sense.
Marriage is a huge deal in Korean culture. Family and
friends chip in large amounts of money to bless the new
couple. I listened as one of my friends, who I knew wasn’t
exactly rolling in cash, told me she had to provide 100,000
won (US$88) for a friend’s wedding. Shocked, I asked why.
“It’s to honor and help the new couple.”
If you come from a country with an ingrained culture of
gift giving, this may seem normal. However, I know when I’m
stretched financially, giving wads of cash to newlyweds isn’t
good? Is it bad? That depends on who you are talking to.
Before I began writing this assignment, I held a somewhat
blinkered view of Korea’s conservative culture. While I had
many Korean friends that I loved, I didn’t understand why
Korean parents were so controlling with their adult children.
I didn’t understand why friends were pressured to pay such
large amounts for wedding gifts. Why did my friend need to
save money for years just to get married? Why were some
parents so harsh with foreign daughters
or sons-in law? From my impeccably
liberal Western point of view, these
things seemed so unnecessary.
The main complaint I heard
from foreigners who dated
Koreans was regarding the family.
“What difference should a family’s
opinion make?” they would demand. I
know the passionate side of me would say,
“If he loves you, he should fight for you
— no matter what.” However, I feel
there’s an element to this equation that
many of us, myself certainly included, struggle to ever really
Honor is laced into every aspect of Korean culture. Because
Korea is more collectivist in nature than most Western
societies, honoring the family is often regarded as more
important even than one’s own feelings — and this certainly
extends to marriage.
In researching this piece, I had the pleasure of interviewing
an Australian woman engaged to a Korean man. Several of
my friends had dated Korean men, and it had often ended
suddenly or rather badly. But as I sat down with Karen, I
gained a deeper insight into these international relationships.
Rather than being rejections or expressions of bad will, I
discovered that many of the problems I’d heard about could
have been mere misunderstandings.
For my new friend Karen, it took almost two years for her
fiance’s family to give their approval. She told me of her frus-
tration in the beginning when her boyfriend would leave her
to be with his family, or go to family events where she wasn’t
The night the mother finally gave her approval for
marriage, she sat them down and warned them about how
hard it would be for them as a couple. Karen began to realize
that what had felt like rejection in the past was actually
concern. With family being such a high priority, how would a
mother be able to communicate with a foreign daughter-in-
Ann-Cherise Simmons is an
American who first came to
Korea in 2001, and later
received a Bachelor’s degree
in Psychology from the
University of Maryland,
Yongsan Army Post. In 2007,
she moved to the US, and is
currently back visiting Korea
for a few months. She enjoys
traveling, meeting people and
going to coffee shops. She
likes seeing people have a
deeper understanding of them-
selves and their importance to
the world around them.
condemning North Korea’s hostile
actions and urging Pyeongyang to
refrain from any further provocations.
In a statement on Nov 23,
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high
representative for foreign affairs and
security policy, laid the blame for the
incident with North Korea, saying, “I
call on the North Korean authorities to
refrain from any action that risks
further escalation and to fully respect
the Korean Armistice Agreement.”
Julia Gillard, the prime minister of
Australia, said the North Korean
attack was a dangerous provocation,
adding that it “threatens strategic
stability in northeast Asia.”
Stephen Harper, the Canadian
prime minister, also said that the
Yeonpyeongdo shelling was one of a
series of hostile and provocative North
Korean acts that “represent a grave
threat to international security and
stability in northeast Asia.”He reaf-
firmed Canada’s support of South
It has already been more than a
month since North Korea fired artillery
at South Korea’s Yeonpyeongdo Island.
Almost as soon as the shelling took
place last November, countries around
the world issued statements con-
demning the attack. Soon afterward,
South Korea started devising and then
strengthening a coordinated response
with the United States and Japan.
The eyes of the world are on the
South Korean government. Though
opinions vary, the overwhelming global
consensus is that South Korea must
engage in multilateral diplomacy as it
seeks to pressurize China, and
ultimately the North itself, into bring-
ing an end to its provocative behavior.
Against this backdrop, all the major
overseas players — Japan, the United
States, Russia and China — are tak-
ing stock of the situation, and figuring
out just how to respond.
With the notable exception of China,
the vast majority of the world has
criticized the North and come out in
support of Seoul. Within hours of the
attacks, the White House was joined
by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
the European Union (EU), the Russian
foreign ministry and Brazilian
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in
Sunset over the DMZ, demilitarized zone between
South Korea and North Korea (opposite). Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton, middle, gestures during a
news conference with South Korea’s Foreign minis-
ter Kim Sung-hwan, right, and Japanese Foreign
Minister Seiji Maehara at the State Department in
Washington, December 2010 (below).
Korea and urged North Korea to halt
its reckless and hostile behavior.
Brazil’s President Lula said that his
country was “against any attack on
RUSSIA ONSIDE IN DIPLOMATIC
WAR While South Korea was grateful
for all the statements of support, it
was especially pleased by the change
in tone from one of its closest neigh-
bors, Russia. Besides the statement
from its foreign ministry, Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin also said: “We
should do everything we can to nor-
malize the situation. China has lever-
age, especially in economic terms.”
Russia has taken an increasingly
critical line in referring to the attacks
on Yeonpyeongdo. After concluding
meetings with visiting North Korean
Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun in mid-
December, the Russian foreign min-
istry said in a statement that “the
artillery shelling of South Korean
territory, which resulted in loss of life,
deserves condemnation.” It tempered
these remarks, however, by adding
that tension on the peninsula was
“fueled, in particular, by a series of
large-scale military exercises,” an
allusion to South Korean military
drills, sometimes in conjunction with
the United States and Japan, in the
region. Nonetheless, the overall
response — expressing criticism
publicly and also in person to North
Korea’s top diplomat — was unprece-
dented for Russia.
As recently as last March, Russia
issued no official condemnation when
the North sank the Cheonan, a South
Korean warship. For Russia to express
such open criticism should place Sino-
North Korean ties under greater pres-
sure, ultimately benefiting Seoul in its
dealings with Pyeongyang. Amid this
shift, South Korea and North Korea
are engaged in a diplomatic tussle to
fully win over Russia. And Moscow’s
position could be a huge factor in
post-Yeonpyeongdo diplomacy, along
with high-level meetings between the
SOUTH KOREAN DIPLOMACY AND
ALLIANCES: BACKING FROM THE
US, JAPAN; SUPPORT FROM RUSSIA
The North Korean shelling of Yeonpyeongdo Island, off South Korea’s west coast,
sent shockwaves around the world last November. In an address to the people of
South Korea, President Lee Myung-bak vowed a resolute response against the
provocations, and pledged to do all he could to prevent it from happening again.
Here, KOREA takes a look at the diplomatic cooperation between South Korea and
its neighbors, and what President Lee is doing to prevent attacks like this from
happening again. by Kwon Kyeong-hui
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and
Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji
Maehara issued a joint warning to
North Korea and implored China to try
and rein in its ally.
The three officials, according to the
document “looked forward to China’s
efforts to urge North Korea to adhere
to its commitments as articulated in
the September 2005 Joint Statement
of the Six-Party Talks.” This position
basically assumed that North Korea
has become increasingly hostile
because of China’s inaction. By
stressing their trilateral cooperation
and a joint response, the foreign
ministers were making a diplomatic
protest to China in all but name.
Additionally, their emphasis of the
importance of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in
Asia and their pledge to “enhance
preparatory efforts” for the ASEAN
Regional Forum (ARF) and the East
Asia Summit (EAS) also appear to
have been aimed at China. The
US and China.
In December, at the summit of the
Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in
Astana, Kazakhstan, Kim Sung-hwan,
Seoul’s foreign minister, sat down for
talks with his Russian counterpart,
Sergey Lavrov. Kim expressed his grat-
itude for Russia’s prompt criticism of
the North Korean attack, and the two
men agreed to keep in close contact
over the matter. In Seoul, Wi Sung-lac,
the top nuclear envoy for South Korea,
met with Grigory Logvinov, the deputy
nuclear envoy for Russia, and held in-
depth talks on North Korea’s uranium
enrichment program as well as the
In December, Wi traveled to
Moscow for a meeting with Alexei
Borodavkin, the chief Russian nuclear
representative and the deputy foreign
minister, and sought Russia’s support
for South Korea’s position on the
Yeonpyeongdo attack and North
Korea’s uranium enrichment pro-
grams. Wi also stressed that in order
for the six-party talks to resume, North
Korea must first demonstrate its will-
ingness to forgo its nuclear activities.
PRESSURIZING CHINA TO PRESS
NORTH KOREA Seoul, Washington
and Tokyo held three-way talks in early
December, seeking to strengthen tri-
lateral cooperation. South Korean
unspoken message was that if China
continues to side with North Korea,
then South Korea, Japan and other
Asian states would strengthen their
ties at the expense of China.
At the same time, Kim, Clinton and
Maehara tried not to provoke China
too much. “What Japan intends to do
is bring the five parties together to
deal with North Korea, instead of
creating a situation of three (South
Korea, the US and Japan) versus three
(China, North Korea and Russia),”
Maehara said. While pressurizing
China, the ministers stressed they
want to leave the door open for China
to come on board at any time.
Other North Korean provocations
were discussed at the meeting, includ-
ing its recent admission of having ura-
nium enrichment programs. The three
countries agreed to remain in close
coordination vis-a-vis the North, and
their ties are expected to grow
stronger in the months ahead.
Proposed by Secretary Clinton, this
was the first trilateral foreign ministeri-
al meeting to be held in Washington,
reflecting the US determination to be
actively engaged in developments on
the Korean Peninsula. Admiral Mike
Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint
Chiefs of Staff, also traveled to Seoul
in another show of solidarity between
Washington and Seoul.
In a telephone conversation with
Chinese President Hu Jintao on Dec 5,
US President Barack Obama heavily
criticized North Korea, calling its
provocations “unacceptable.” Obama
is also reported to have told Hu that if
China continues to protect North
Korea, it may be putting its own secu-
rity in peril, as well as its standing in
the international community.
China doesn’t seem to have shifted
its North Korea policy yet, but it may
be feeling the heat more than usual.
In joint South Korea-US military drills
in early December, the USS George
Washington, whose previous presence
in joint exercises has been a major
sore point for China, was deployed to
the Yellow Sea. On this occasion, how-
ever, Beijing didn’t issue a statement
criticizing the action. China is also
said to have refused a recent North
Korean request for rice aid.
“At this point, China’s role should
be to quietly deter North Korea from
carrying out any additional provoca-
tions,” said Han Sung-joo, professor
emeritus of international politics at
Korea University in Seoul, and the
head of a diplomatic consultancy
group for the Lee administration. “If
China does anything publicly, then it
might be seen as giving in to South
Korean pressure and North Korea
would be opposed to that. China will
want to move as quietly as possible.”
“The reason North Korea went ahead
with the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo
after sinking the Cheonan is that the
North had concluded China wouldn’t
be able to criticize it for the attack,”
he added. “By defending North Korea
for building uranium enrichment opera-
tions and other provocations toward
South Korea, China ultimately lost
face and also some clout in the
President Lee Myung-bak’s
“telephone diplomacy” is reported
as prompting the international
condemnation of North Korea for
its shelling of Yeonpyeongdo.
A BOUT OF FRIENDLY DIPLOMACY
On the day of the bombardment,
President Lee spoke to the the lead-
ers of Britain, the US and Japan. He
expressed gratitude for their condem-
nation of North Korea’s provocations.
President Lee’s friendly diplomacy
also helped Russia’s decision to back
South Korea. Since Dmitry Medvedev
took office in May 2008, Lee and the
Russian president have met every six
months. Most recently, Medvedev met
Lee before the opening of the Group
of 20 (G20) Summit in Seoul in
November. In September, Lee visited
Yaroslavl, Russia for a keynote
speech at the Global Policy Forum
hosted by Medvedev.
“When President Lee flew to Russia
in September, some political oppo-
nents wondered whether he was trying
to divert attention from the Cheonan
sinking,” an official at the Blue House
said. “But it was that trip and other
actions that helped Russia take our
side this time.”
Current Chairman of the ROK JCS (Joint Chiefs of
Staff) Han Min-gu, right, held a joint press confer-
ence with Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US JCS, on
the topic of Korean Peninsula’s security (above).
President Lee Myung-bak received Vladimir Zorkin,
Russian Chairman of the Constitutional Court in
November last year (below).
President Lee holds an urgent inspection confer-
ence regarding security and the economy in
November 2010, just after North Korea’s attack on
Yeonpyeongdo Island (above). US Deputy Assistant
Secretary of Defense for East Asia Michael Schiffer,
left, makes a remark at the 27
Policy Initiative in Seoul, December 2010 (below).
Two decades of research have yielded
around 150 domestic species, includ-
ing Pearl Red, Pinky and Magic
Scarlet, whose vivid colors and
longevity after being cut have made
them a big hit with foreign buyers.
At the International Flower Expo
2009, the scarlet-colored Pearl Red
fetched 100 yen (US$1.20) per stem,
confirming Korea’s place among the
elite of flower-producing countries.
From US$15.56 million in 2009,
exports reached US$30 million last
year — a growth rate of more than
Another big hit on global flower
markets has been the Magic Flower,
whose petals change color in different
lights or temperatures. Despite selling
for four to five times the price of
normal roses, the Magic Flower has
also seen stellar rises in its export
numbers, more than tripling from
US$2.3 million in 2009, to over
US$7.35 million last year.
By developing new species in Korea,
producers are not only able to cater to
specific market niches, they can also
make big savings on royalty payments
by cultivating fewer varieties from
Researchers from the Rural Development
Administration check flowers at a laboratory in
Suwon (opposite). Korean cactuses hold more than
70%of the world market (above). Roses grown in
Korea are famous for various colors (below).
Korea began exporting flowers less
than 20 years ago. As it so often is,
the Korean government was soon at
the center of efforts to boost this
fledgling industry, opening a wholesale
flower market in Yangjae, Seoul, in
1991, and designating flowers and
plants as “promising export items.”
As a result, total flower exports surged
from just US$2.4 million in 1992, to
US$5.5 million in 1994, and then to
US$28.88 million in 2000. Exports
continued to soar in the last decade,
reaching US$52.15 million in 2005,
US$76.2 million in 2008, and almost
US$100 million last year.
Perhaps the greatest single factor in
this success has been Korea’s vigor-
ous development of new species.
Among the most popular Korean floral
exports today is the Baekma chrysan-
themum, which Korea’s Rural
Development Administration (RDA)
developed in 2004. A snow-white,
heavily petaled flower, the Baekma is
hardier and easier to breed than many
conventional species, making it ideal
to export. Today, it accounts for more
than 40 percent of Korea’s chrysan-
when cut typically last no longer than
15 days, but our Baekma lasts twice
as long,” says Kim Won-hee, a
researcher in the RDA’s flowering
plants department. “Since we started
distributing it in 2007, exports exceed-
ed a million dollars in 2008 and 3.5
million last year, making it a real
treasure of a flower.”
“The Baekma grows well and flow-
ers almost immediately, meaning
shorter growing times. This makes it
very beneficial to farmers,” explains
Go Gwan-dal, manager of the horticul-
ture product department at the
National Institute of Horticultural &
Herbal Science (NIHHS).
“Baekma has already become a
major export item to Japan. Japanese
buyers import more than 10 million
bunches of Baekma every year, mak-
ing it almost impossible for supply to
fully meet demand.”
EXPORT KINGS: CHRYSANTHEMUMS
AND ROSES Korean roses are enjoy-
ing similar levels of success overseas.
KOREAN FLOWERS TAKING ROOT
AT HOME AND ABROAD
Korea’s floral exports are blooming. Less than two decades ago,
exports of Korea’s indigenous flowers — the full-petaled, snow-white
Baekma, the enticing scarlet buds of Pearl Red and many more —
totaled just US$2.4 million. Today, that figure has soared to more than
US$100 million. Korea’s flower industry can thank excellent research
and development, aggressive overseas marketing and a dose of good,
old-fashioned hard work. by Seo Dong-cheol | photographs by KimNam-heon
overseas. With roses alone, the
Korean flower industry reduced such
payments by more than 50% between
2005 and 2010, from 7.7 billion won
to 3.8 billion won. Domestically devel-
oped species accounted for just 1 per-
cent of all roses grown in Korea in
2005; last year, that figure was 18
percent, and by 2012, it’s expected to
be more than one quarter.
The same trend is true for domestic
chrysanthemums, whose overall share
grew from 1 percent in 2006 to 15
percent last year, with forecasts of 26
percent by 2012. Thanks to this, over-
all royalty payments are expected to
fall from 12.4 billion won in 2006 to
less than 8 billion in 2013, meaning
yearly savings of 4 billion won.
“Superior species that can help
boost exports will be nurtured and dis-
The Whimori brand is only applied to
goods that have passed stringent
quality and safety tests, and to com-
panies with extensive export experi-
ence that are equipped with the latest
technology and commodity manage-
ment skills. Even after gaining the
right to use the name, companies will
be subject to frequent government
inspections to ensure they are main-
taining the highest standards in safety
and product quality. At present, some
paprika, pears, king oyster mush-
rooms, kimchi and winter mushrooms
bear the Whimori brand, as do flower
species including the Magic Flower
Under the Whimori banner, Korean
roses and chrysanthemums have been
making major inroads into the world
market. Along with Korea’s Ministry
for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and
Fisheries and the Agricultural and
Fishery Marketing Corporation, 14
Korean flower producers participated
in the 2010 International Flower Expo
(IFEX), held in Tokyo from November
28 to 30 last year. IFEX is Asia’s
biggest flower exhibition, attracting
more than 1,100 related organizations
and enterprises from over 30 coun-
tries. By setting up both the official
Korea Pavilion and a separate promo-
tional booth, Korea’s representatives
did much to heighten awareness of
the Whimori brand.
“Besides those activities, we are
actively promoting in Japan, the
biggest market for Korean flowering
plants,” says Shin Jae-hun, an assis-
tant manager at the Agricultural and
Fishery Marketing Corporation (AFMC).
According to Shin, the AFMC last year
held several promotional seminars in
Korea and Japan aimed at Japanese
flower sellers and producers, while in
September the Corporation participat-
ed in the Moscow International Flower
Exhibition, where it succeeded in sign-
ing long-term export contracts with
several, large-scale import and distri-
bution companies. In Shanghai, the
AFMC helped organize Whimori Flower
Day, paving the way for the Magic
Flower to enter the Chinese market.
Korea’s flower industry has
undoubtedly come a long way in 20
years — but there are still many
mountains to climb. For one thing, its
exports are much too focused on
Japan. From January to November last
year, exports to Japan brought in
US$64.49 million dollars, more than
80 percent of the US$80.64 million-
dollar total. China was second in that
list, with exports of US$12.35 million
dollar, leaving major markets such as
the United States, Russia and
Australia largely untapped.
“Currently Korea’s floral industry is
highly focused on exporting to Japan
and China, which are both geographi-
cally close and have similar interests
and preferences in terms of flowers,”
says Shin. “Also, the strength of tradi-
tional flower exporters such as the
Netherlands makes difficult to export
to Europe too.”
On the flip side, however, this
means there is still enormous poten-
tial for Korea’s flowers to take root
further around the world. To take a
story from the cactus industry,
between the late 1980s and 2009,
Korea succeeded in shifting its entire
cactus crop to domestically produced
species. Today, Korean cactuses are
exported to more than 30 countries,
including the Netherlands, the United
States and Australia, and account for
more than 70% of the world cactus
market. By dancing to the Whimori
rhythm, Korea’s roses and chrysanthe-
mums will hopefully be catching up
with its cactuses soon.
Korea’s unique chrysanthemum variety, Baekma,
was shown at Intermational Flower Expo Tokyo,
IFEX, in 2010 (above). People look at bunches of
flowers at aT (below right). Korea’s booth exhibited
several kinds of flowers at IFEX 2010 (bottom).
Korean chrysanthemums are well known for having
been developed into new varieties like Baekma
(above, left). Consumers try to make a flower basket
for roses (below).
tributed in order to replace more than
50% of roses grown in Korea with
native breeds,” says Go. “We’re mak-
ing huge efforts to sell fine Korean
breeds to foreign markets and bump up
our own income from royalties, too.”
THE WHIMORI WAVE In 2004, the
Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade
Corporation, or aT, unveiled Whimori,
a catch-all brand name for Korean agri-
cultural and horticultural exports.
Meaning “the fastest, most energetic
Korean rhythm,” Whimori was intend-
ed to help standardize and enhance
the quality of Korean agricultural pro-
duce, improve its image through effec-
tive marketing strategies, and ulti-
mately to increase exports.
With a logo conveying the idea of
“the apex of quality,” the brand
embodies the will of Korean
agricultural producers to capture a
larger share of the world market, as
household names such as Zespri or
Sunkist did in the past.
NOW IN KOREA
From the Vancouver Winter
Olympics to the Guangzhou
Asian Games, Korean athletes
produced some unforgettable
performances last year. And
while many of these took place in
Korea’s traditional areas of
strength — short track and
archery — the country bumped
up its medal hauls with a string
of victories in other fields too.
This success is inspiring a gener-
ation of kids and their parents to
emulate Korea’s recent sporting
glory, and sports academies are
filling up with young athletes.
KOREA sought out some of these
stars in waiting, and found teams
of youngsters with all the dedica-
tion and passion of their heroes.
by Seo Dong-cheol | photographs by Park Jeong-roh
Asian Games’ bronze medalist Son Yeon-jae, one of Korea’s Rhythmic
gymnastics athletes put on an outstanding performance.
Young skaters put on their skating boots before practicing at Mokdong Ice Rink
(top). A skating teacher changes his student’s pose (above).
Young students dream of becoming a big football start like Park Ji-sung at the Park
Ji-sung Center (above).
from Bundang to Suwon, but Lee Kyoung-hee, Park’s mom, is
a willing driver for her son and his dreams.
“I love playing team sports, and football is the most fun of
all,” says Park. “I practice dribbling with a little sponge ball at
home. Park Ji-sung is my favorite player and I even bought
his Manchester United jersey. I also like Fernando Torres
from Liverpool. My dream is to one day play on a famous
team overseas, like Park Ji-sung, but it’d also be great to be a
coach or a manager, some sort of an expert in football.”
While Park and his chums run around a football pitch,
Kim Dae-hwan, a fifth-grader from Seongsin Elementary
School in Goyang, Gyeonggi-do Province, skates on the
Mokdong Ice Rink in west of Seoul. It’s only a few days before
the regional qualifications for the National Winter Sports
Festival, and Kim has all the focus of a national team speed
skater getting ready for the Olympic Games.
Kim’s typical day isn’t so far removed from that of a
competitive adult skater. He starts practicing at 6am and ends
just before his school-day begins. After school, Kim returns to
the rink and trains on and off the ice until 8pm. He practices
eight hours a day, six days a week. You might think he’d be all
burned out, but Kim, in his rare moments of rest, looks as
happy as a kid playing in the school yard.
“I started skating at six years old. My dad dragged me out
there at first but from the second grade, I began to really
enjoy it for some reason,” says Kim. “It was fun making
friends from all over the country at competitions, and I love
the speed of the skating the most. Last year, I made the
Gyeonggi-do provincial team and I want to be on the team
again this year. My dream is to be the senior national team
skater like Lee Ho-suk (the Olympic gold medalist in 2006).”
Kim Dae-hwan is only 13 years old, but he’s already a
famous short track skater in Korea. He regularly hits speeds
of 70 kilometers per hour, almost as fast as an adult skater,
and the Korea Skating Union has already tabbed him as the
next big thing. Kim has been picked for the two-week
training programs that run during summer and winter
school breaks, and will travel to Chuncheon in Gangwon-do
Province for a session this winter. There are fewer than 10
short trackers who were selected from around the country
for this program, so Kim has as good a shot as anyone of
representing Korea at the next Winter Olympics.
TO BE THE BEST The 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou,
China, which concluded on November 27, provided a glimpse
into the great potential of Korean sports. The country won 76
gold medals, 65 silvers and 91 bronzes to finish second in the
medal standings for the fourth time in a row. That alone is
enough to make Koreans proud, but what’s even more
significant is that Korea earned medals from a wider array of
sports than ever before. While Korea struggled in taekwondo
and wrestling, where it has traditionally done well, it exceed-
ed expectations in shooting and swimming.
Shooters collected 13 gold, eight silver and seven bronze
medals for Korea. In the swimming pool, “marine boy” Park
Tae-hwan won the 400m, 200m and then 100m freestyle
races, sending a strong message through Asia and the rest of
the world that he’s back to his best.
Jeong Da-rae won the women’s 200m breaststroke gold
medal, becoming the first Korean female swimmer to win an
Asian gold in 12 years. In archery, where Korea has been
dominant for years, Korean athletes swept all of the four gold
medals, winning the men’s and women’s individual and team
events. The bowlers won eight gold medals; the golfers won
four; the inline speed skaters took three and the gymnasts
combined for two gold medals. There was also a gold medal
apiece for men’s handball and baseball teams.
At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, Korea
also expanded its medal repertoire. In what was the first
Winter Games where Korea won a medal from a sport other
than short track, the country’s athletes won titles in speed
skating and figure skating. Lee Seung-hoon, a converted
short tracker, won gold in the 10,000m and silver in the
5,000m, proving that Asian skaters could mix it with the
larger European and North American racers. Mo Tae-bum
and Lee Sang-hwa also took the world by surprise by winning
the men’s and women’s 500m races, respectively. Figure skater
Kim Yu-na cruised to the gold medal with the world record
score of 228.56 points, earning breathless accolades from the
world’s media as the “Queen of the Ice” and “a living,
breathing work of art.”
After reaching the semifinals at the 2002 FIFA World Cup,
Korean players have also made steady progress. With more
players finding success overseas, Korean football stars are now
a more confident bunch. Aside from Park Ji-sung of
On a freezing winter’s day, dozens of children practice in
the middle of an outdoor field at the Park Ji-sung Football
Center in the city of Suwon. Their breath may be hanging like
steam clouds, but these young apprentices are charging
around the pitch with untrammeled enthusiasm, barking
orders and encouragement at one another.
Clad in proper uniforms and studs, just like pros, they
display skills beyond their years as they zigzag past defenders
and send shots screaming toward the goal. For these kids,
football is much more than just a game: Like the Manchester
United player whose name adorns their school, they dream of
becoming soccer stars and plying their trade in the best
leagues in the world.
Park Do-hyun, a sixth-grader at Seodang Elementary
School in Bundang, Gyeonggi-do Province, is one of them.
He started playing in the first grade with a local soccer club
that was made up of players from different schools. When the
Park Ji-sung Center opened last fall, Park signed up for its
once-a-week program to hone his skills. It’s an hour’s drive
Manchester United, Korea has Park Chu-young at AS
Monaco in the top French league; Lee Chung-yong at Bolton
Wanderers in England; and Ki Sung-yueng and Cha Du-ri
playing for Celtic in the Scottish Premier League.
And these aren’t the only Korean athletes making their
nation proud overseas. Choo Shin-soo (Cleveland Indians)
and Park Chan-ho, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in
2010, were the two biggest Korean stars in Major League
baseball. Yang Yong-eun, who in 2009 became the first Asian
to win a PGA Tour major, is one of a slew of Korean golfers
excelling on the links. Female golfers, following in the foot-
steps of pioneering women’s star Pak Se-ri, have done well
too. Today, there are five Koreans among the top-10 female
golfers in the world, and 20 among the top 50.
Such outstanding performances by Korean athletes on the
global stage have given hope and inspirations to young
Koreans. Parents are taking a greater interest too, and going
to great lengths to find the best sporting opportunities for
their kids. And whereas kids once had to be forced to play
sports by their parents, children today often beg to join sports
academies or sign up for school teams.
“I get calls from parents who ask how they can get their
children into archery,” says Lee Dong-min of the Korea
Archery Association. “Today, young students voluntarily pick
up sports that they want to play.”
Thanks to stellar performances by the likes of Park Ji-sung
and Kim Yu-na, soccer and figure skating are perhaps more
popular among Korean kids than they’ve ever been. Since the
2002 FIFA World Cup, soccer academies have sprouted up
across the nation, but demand still exceeds supply. Park’s
football center, which opened last year, is also a popular
destination, with hundreds of children on the waiting list.
“We are running a systematic, European style training
program for six to 13 year olds, and we have students that
come from quite far away,” says Lee Young-hoon, who teaches
at the center. “We have three or four different classes per age
group. There are more than 20 on the waiting list per each
class. After the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the Korea Football
Association has worked hard at nurturing coaches. That has
raised quality of teaching at the youth level and made train-
ing programs more systematic. Parents never stop calling.”
The “Kim Yu-na” effect has seen ice rinks around Korea
caught up in a figure skating craze. And Mokdong Ice Rink,
where about 100 short track speed skaters and figure skaters
train, is no exception. “After the Vancouver Winter Olympics,
we received a lot of calls about figure skating,” says Jang Ho-
sung, a coach at Mokdong. “In short track, we have enough
coaches for everyone. But in figure skating, we have more
than 50 children waiting to be picked up.”
Sports academies, where children can experience many
different sports, are becoming popular, too. They offer
swimming, soccer, golf, baseball and inline skating, and they
have separate programs for children showing special talent.
“We don’t grind children to the ground, trying to make
them become professional athletes. Instead, we work to
develop them socially, physically and mentally,” says Bae
Sung-min, head of the Little Kids Children’s Sports Club in
Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi-do Province. “With golf, we do also run
a special program for those that show particular promise.”
Korean athletes newfound success in a wider range of
sports is serving as a big source of inspirations and hope for
children. Somewhere, at this very moment. the next Park Ji-
sung, Kim Yu-na, Park Tae-hwan or Choo Shin-soo is giving
their all to realize their dreams. Certainly, not every one of
them will end up as a sports hero — but between them,
they’re lighting up the future of Korean sports.
A middle school student practicing shooting (top). Archers from an elementary
school shoot arrows during their lesson (above).
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