THE GARLIC EATERS, PART 2
Koreans use the bow for greetings which is the same as in Japan. The lower you bow the more respect you pay to the other person. A common introduction to a new person it is usual to bow first and then shake hands. It is better to let the other person offer their hand first. Family members bow to each other and children of any age are expected to bow to their parents touching their heads to the floor at special family events held during the year.
A kisaeng house is the ancient form of entertainment going back hundreds of years in Korea. Kisaeng girls are very similar to the geisha girls in Japan. They are entertainers, who sing, dance, and play music too very old fashion Korean tunes, which is very different from anything you have heard. The singing is more like wailing and the music has no steady beat. It is very unusual music and it can only be found in Korea.
One night Mr. Hong, a close friend, took me to a small farm town on the outskirts of Seoul to a Kisaeng House. The women wear traditional type large flowing colorful gowns. Their hair is always put up in a bun and is not let down unless they are going to do a special dance. This was my first time to see the Korea traditional dress up close. The kisaeng hostess and room salon hostess perform much the same functions such as severing you food and drink, singing and dancing. Unlike in the room salon men do not sing or dance in the kisaeng house.
Men just sit and watch the kisaeng girls perform. It was very interesting but somewhat boring for me since at that time I did not speak or understand Korean and the kisaeng girls did not speak English. The main difference is the kisaeng girl does very old fashion dances and songs made just for women to sing and perform. At the kisaeng house we also had a dinner of Tong Shin Gui which is a thin cut beef with vegetables all cooked in front of you on a small grill. The food was wonderful. They served makju (beer) and bopju (rice wine) but no whiskey for drinks. Since this party was way outside of the main city of Seoul we had a long drive back. Lucky for us we had a driver since we were quite drunk. To tell the truth the room salon parties were better and I never again went to a kisaeng house. Kisaeng house parties were also very expensive. Older Korean men prefer the kisaeng house entertainment style since it is old fashion and younger men prefer the room salon parties. A kisaeng house is very similar to a geisha house in the method of operation in that it is old fashion type entertainment for men.
The city of Seoul was originally set up like a fort with walls around it with four gates, north, south, east, and west. Seoul was the ancient capital of Korea. Downtown is located within these old gates which are still there, but the walls are gone. The old Place grounds and buildings are still there for your enjoyment to tour free. The city spreads out to cover a lot of area. Seoul covers, both the north and south sides of the Han River. The city on the south side of the Han River is the most modern part of the city. This is where the Olympic stadium was built for the 1988 Olympics. In the middle of Seoul is Nam san tower. This is a radio and TV tower on top of a mountain. It is the highest point in Seoul and you can see the whole city from here. Seoul is surrounded by mountains or large rocky hills.
Running out of Seoul is the Seoul to Pusan Expressway or Highway One. This road goes from Seoul to Pusan and is very similar to the Pennsylvania turnpike in the states. Lots of hills, valleys, and tunnels are on this road. This main highway is two lanes north and two lanes south and this is the life line between Pusan and Seoul. This is a very curved highway with a lot of truck and bus traffic. One time I read in the Seoul paper that about 40 people were killed on this road in one week. I recall when people starting buying cars the big thing was to go for a drive out into the country on Sundays since this was the only day off. Needless to say the traffic on Sunday became terrible and on a late Sunday afternoon it could take up to four hours to return to Seoul with cars backed up bumper to bumper up for 20 miles.
Upon leaving Seoul and heading south the first major city is Suwon which is for some unknown reason is famous for beef ribs called Kalbi in Korean. I can honestly say I never had any really good ribs there in my many visits. Going further south about two to three hours on Highway one is Gumi city. It is very interesting and it had a population of about 130,000 people. Gumi is not even on some of the maps. Gumi or sometimes spelled Kumi was the home town of President Park who made this town an industrial complex for mostly electronic companies like Orion Electric, Lucky Goldstar, and Daewoo. In 1980 Gumi was a real third world backward city. The main road was the only paved one and the side roads were dirt. In downtown Gumi there was one hotel and it had the only good restaurant which served excellent tong shin gui which is thin slices of beef cooked on a grill at your table. The Gumi hotel was the local hot spot with a disco and the main sana or public bath which was used daily by many people. It seems all over Korea people use the local sana’s and there are many of them. All hotels have a public or private sana. The system is similar to my experiences in Japan. Women and men are in completely different rooms and there is no visual contact with women as I had experienced once in Japan.
Gumi had another hotel named the Gumo san Hotel. At one time this was a very nice hotel and it was located going up Gumo Mountain, known as Gumo San. In Korean and Japanese, san means mountain. Rumor was this hotel was owned by the wife of the dead President Park. I visited here many times, as the scenery was really beautiful. You could hear the many birds in the surrounding woods. To my surprise, I once woke up to a koo ku bird in the wild singing away. I though these birds were only in Europe but I came to find out they also live in Korea.
Up the mountain side from the Hotel was the Gumo San cable car ride. This cable car would take you almost to the top of the 4,000ft mountain. If you wanted to go to the top you had to walk the final leg. When I first arrived at the cable car I noticed the equipment seemed rusted and not very well maintained. I advised my friend, Mr. K. Y. Lee that the cable car does not look safe, but he said it has to be safe or the government would not permit it to operate. About half way up I noticed a cable car had fallen and was lying on the ground far below. I ask Lee to ask the operator how long ago did that car fall? The operator replied about 2 or 3 years ago. I told Lee the cable car is not safe and we both laughed our heads off. The cable car takes you about 75% of the way to the top. The rest of the way you have to hike. Upon reaching the top you can see a beautiful view of Gumi.
It is a very interesting and somewhat dangerous climb to the top. At the top is a large cave with a Buddha shine inside. We came to find out that people would hike up the mountain to visit the shine. There were candles that where lighted in the cave, but no one was there. If you visit here do not take the cable car and wear hiking boots. Rumor was during the Korean War some people would hide in this cave as it is not easy to find and offers a great view of the city.
Korea is a wonderful country and so different from Japan. Most Japanese people are Shinto Buddhist. Korea is about 70 % Buddhist and 35% Christian, but everyone follows Confucianism. Confucianism came from China to Korea in 500BC. Confucius or Kong Fu Zi lived in China 351 to 479 BC. So this is a very old religion or more correctly a life style. Important principles are humanity, loyalty, morality, and consideration for others. Moral and political teachings are love others, honor ones parents, do what is right instead of what is of advantage, do not do to others what you would not want yourself, and be of moral character. It is very strange to hear do not do unto others what you would not want yourself which is also Christian teaching. Perhaps this is why Korea is 30 percent Christian. The Confucius teachings are very similar to the Ten Commandments.
Confucianism is a way of life, a pattern to live by for the whole family. It is centered around the key point that the Father is the head of the family. Women have their place below the man. Everyone in the family has a pecking order. It evens determines the seating arrangements at a dinner party. Confucianism teaches first and for most to respect your elders, especially your Father and Mother. Korea is the only modern country in the world that people follow Confucius teachings in everyday life as far as I know.
Communist China wiped out Confucius family values and replaced it with the state teachings of Mao for the most part. Because of Confucianism Korean people are very polite and it is true that this is a patriarch society that will never change due to this life style of Confucianism. Confucianism methods are taught to the kids when they are little. Korean parents are very strict, believe in education, and push their kids to do better all the time. It is interesting to note that upon marriage women do not take the man’s family name but keeps her name. Only the children take the Fathers name. Until recently divorce could only happen if the man demanded it and the man would retain everything including the children. The woman received nothing and had great shame which would lead to many suicides. Now days however the wife has more control and power in the family unit.
In Korea arranged marriages are still popular and I would guess that about 50 percent of marriages are arranged by the parents. You can go to any major hotel lobby in Korea on Sunday and see the young people ages 23 to 28 with their parents meeting future wives and husbands. Of course the woman or man does not have to accept who was selected by the parents. Sometimes it takes many meetings to obtain a match that will turn into marriage. Confucianism is what makes Korea unique and different than any other country in the world.
Business in Korea is a little different than doing business in the United States. Koreans love to negotiate down to the penny and meetings can last for hours or days over price negotiations. They try to wear you down and discuss every little item. So you have to be a skilled negotiator, knowing how to give and take. Koreans will try to bluff you until the very end, when you finally say we cannot reach an agreement and threaten to walk out of the meeting. That threat will make them more reasonable. If they think you still have room to go in reducing the price then they will continue to push the issue.
These meetings can become quite stressful, but after an agreement is reached then everyone will celebrate after work by going to dinner and then to a room salon. This is the time that good relationships are made and friendships are developed. The Korean men are very macho and during drinking at the room salon the cup is passed many times trying to make each other drunk. In the end everyone gets drunk. Korean men work very hard, usually 12 hours per day and half a day on Saturday.
They also party very hard when they get the chance. I recall one time in Gumi City after an all day negotiation on a yearly contract with Orion Electric people we finally reached an agreement. I invited four people who were in the talks to dinner and after dinner a room salon party. Everyone was happy and after the room salon as everyone was drunk as a skunk. It was 1am and no one wanted to go home so they came to my hotel room and we played some type of Korean card game which involved gambling with money. Of course I did not know the game so well so I lost all my money to the Koreans. I was dead tired after that I fell on the bed sound asleep. They kept playing cards and ordering drinks until 6am. I woke up to find two of the guys still playing cards and the others were lying on the floor asleep. I spent a lot of money that night but made great relationships that would last for years. We bonded and this was a big help for future business dealings. One of the men that night was my good friend Yang, Gun Young who was Director of Engineering for Orion Electric. He was also famous photographer in Korea and won first place in the Korean Annual Art Show with one picture. I told him what a great picture it was and he gave it to me as a gift. I knew him about 10 years until his death from a car accident while going home late one night after work. I attended his funeral which was a sad event because he left three kids and a wife at a young age. I will never forget Yang, Gun Young and what a great person he was.
There are many interesting places to visit in Korea. It has a very old history and unique customs. Some of the best places to visit are:
1. Take a tour of Seoul and go to Itawon. Itawon has great discount shopping, but be sure to go to Itawon at night also and see the action by going to some night clubs.
2. Seoul has many interesting museums and places to see including the Kings Place. Stay at the Chosun Hotel in Downtown to be close to the action. If you like to stay at a five star hotel then the Inter-Continental located in Samsung Dong is one of the best.
3. Take a tour to the DMZ which takes all day. The DMZ tour is a must and it can be arranged with your hotel threw a tour company.
4. Visit the Korean Folk Village in Suwon. This is very interesting as they have shows, with dancing and singing as well as many exotic foods to taste.
5. Go to the beach in Pusan and stay at the Hyatt Pusan Beach Hotel.
6. Take a boat or plane from Pusan to Cheju do, Island. Many tourists do not go there because it is out of the way but many Korean people go there on vacation or on honeymoon. Stay at the Cheju do Hyatt as gambling is permitted at the hotel casino.
7. Visit the ancient ruins in Kyung Ju and tour the area. There are tombs there over 5000 years old and a museum which contains many fine artifacts made of gold.
8. Go to Gumi by train and stay at the Gumi Hotel, then hike up Gumo san and see the cave. This is a once in a life time experience.
If you wish to see everything I have listed allow 7 full days for your trip. The climate in South Korea is mild but the winters can be very cold and sometimes have a lot of snow. The best time to visit is April thru July. Summer time can become somewhat hot reaching up to 90 degrees. Visit Korea if you want to go somewhere different. Korea is very safe and they are also friendly. Many people speak English as it is their second language.