The Korea we deserve, or debunking myths about the country of morning freshness

4. The Land of Morning Freshness, or Why Korea Isn’t Korea

Did you know that the word “Korea” is exclusively foreign, but Koreans themselves call their country differently? In principle, such cases are not so rare. A random combination of various factors often results in names that have little relation to a particular place. Want an example? China. The Chinese call their country “Zhongguo,” which is not much like the name we’re used to. Japan is more fortunate. The inhabitants of the archipelago call their homeland “Nippon”, so the connection can be traced to the well-known Japan.

The same thing happened to Korea that happened to China. The division of the country also played a role. Speaking their native language, Koreans can no longer say that they are simply from Korea. A resident of the Morning Land will answer in such a way that it is immediately clear whether he is a southerner or a northerner, because each of the Koreas has its own name. South Korea, which has the officially adopted name Republic of Korea in Russia, is called “Hanguk” (literal translation – “country of Han”). By the way, the slang term invented by the Russians who have lived in South Korea for a long time, “Hanguk”, which means “South Koreans”, comes from here. The name of the North, or as it is officially called, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is “Joseon.

To begin with, let’s understand where these “Joseon” and “Hanguk” came from, and as we go along, it will become clear why foreigners refer to the Land of the Morning Light as “Korea,” “Coria,” “Korea,” etc.

According to A.N. Lankov in his book “Being Korean,” the name of the country on the Korean Peninsula first appeared in Chinese chronicles describing events around the 5th century B.C. Two characters were chosen for the name, which modern linguists have established sounds like “Tryausenkh. These two hieroglyphs had no meaning, but were more or less similar, from the Chinese point of view, to the name of the country used by the Protocoreans themselves. The pronunciation gradually changed over time, but the Chinese name stuck with the Korean state. Today the Chinese read these characters as “Chaoxian,” the Japanese as “Tyo-sen,” and the Koreans as “Joseon.

But let us return to ancient history. The state that the Chinese first gave any name to is now called “ancient Joseon. It successfully existed until the second century B.C. and was absorbed by China. But the memory of it, and especially of those two characters that now sound like “Joseon,” remains.

In time, a powerful warlike princedom emerged in Manchuria and modern North Korea, whose name in modern parlance sounds like “Goguryeo. In the southeast of modern South Korea was the principality of Silla, and along the southern tip of the Korean peninsula lived the Han tribes. Again, these are all modern names, and the relationship between the pronunciation of that time and the current one is about the same as between “Tryausengh” and “Joseon,” but for convenience we will say it that way. Naturally, these tribes and principalities regularly fought among themselves and still managed to have periodic showdowns with the Chinese. Silla first took control of all of present-day South Korea, including the Han tribal lands. Goguryeo, although it was the most powerful principality on the peninsula, eventually failed to withstand the allied onslaught of Silla and China and fell. Silla was forced to surrender almost the entire territory of Goguryeo to China for “friendly aid,” but it eventually became the only Korean state on the peninsula.

The inhabitants of the ancient world were notable for their active character, so the wars continued: the feuds in China began, and its government forgot about the former Goguryeo, while Silla slowly withered away. Thus a new pan-Korean state, Goryeo, emerged in the tenth century AD. Koryo’s founders considered themselves the heirs of the glorious Goguryeo and thus adopted the same name – except that the characters sounded somewhat different after a few centuries. In short, they became Goryeo.

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Do you see the connection between Goryeo and Korea? That’s right, there is. Around the same time the people of the peninsula began to make more contact with the outside world, Goryeo became well known in East Asia, and Europe became familiar with it. Eventually, foreigners began to call the state on the peninsula Korea.

However, Korea itself has not stood still as kings and dynasties have changed. At the end of the 14th century AD, the dynasty that created Goryeo fell and was replaced by new monarchs who decided to rename the country, reanimating the ancient name of Joseon. Under that name (Joseon) Korea existed for Koreans for five hundred years, until the end of the nineteenth century.

At the end of the century before last, the Koreans, largely under pressure from the Japanese, named the king emperor and changed the country’s name from Joseon to Han. Thus, in memory of the ancient tribes, the Han Empire emerged. However, after occupying the Korean peninsula in 1910, the Japanese brought here the name they were accustomed to – the same two characters that sound “Teseong” in Japanese and “Joseon” in Korean. It is true that some Korean independence fighters forced to emigrate abroad called the country “Han Republic,” that is, “Hanguk,” without recognizing “Joseon,” which was associated with the Japanese occupation.

Beginning in 1945, communist Korea emerged in the northern part of the peninsula. Once again the question of the name came up. The North Koreans did not pay much attention to the association of “Joseon” with the Japanese, remembering that for more than five centuries the country had been so called by the Koreans, and a couple of thousand years ago it had the same (or almost the same) name. As a result, North Korea chose the name “Joseon. Capitalist South Korea preferred “Han Republic,” that is, “Hanguk.

That’s how the disagreement between Koreans over the self-name arose. Interestingly, the North Koreans call South Korea “Nam-Cheoseon,” that is, “Southern Joseon,” and the South Koreans call North Korea “Buk-han,” that is, “Northern Han. Foreigners, on the other hand, stuck to their name, “Korea,” and that’s it.

Okay, for citizens of the ROK and DPRK, the name of their own countries is, as they say, a private matter. But what about Koreans living in other countries, and there are several millions of them? How should they call their common homeland? Or how to call Korean language departments in foreign universities in Korean? Those who are oriented toward North Korea say “Joseon,” those who are oriented toward the South say “Hanguk. The Koreans of the former Soviet Union, who found themselves in a quandary when diplomatic relations were established by Moscow with both the South and the North, acted quite wisely. In order to distance themselves from political debates, they called themselves “Koryoin,” that is, people from “Goryeo,” recalling a name that is familiar abroad and carries no hint of a division between the North and the South. And more and more chairs are referred to as “Hanguk,” indicating South Korea’s growing influence in the world. Some, if they want to show their political correctness, use both names in this case.

It’s a bit confusing, isn’t it? If you do not want to go into details, you can just remember: North Koreans call their country Joseon, in memory of the ancient Joseon that existed before our era, as well as Joseon of the late XIV – late XIX centuries. For South Koreans, it is “Hanguk,” in honor of the ancient tribes that lived in the south of the peninsula, as well as the Han Empire, which, however, lasted less than thirty years. And “Korea” itself is a purely foreign name, which appeared at a time when the state bore the name Goryeo. By and large, both Joseon, Korea, and Hanguk simply reflect the names that the state had worn at different historical periods.

We can assume that the next name change (Korea will still be Korea to foreigners) will occur when (or if) the North and South finally unite. I’ve often heard from southerners that they should return to the name Goryeo, which would allow them to get rid of the ideological overtones of Joseon and Han-guk, and get as close to the internationally accepted name as possible. As we shall see… So far, South Koreans believe they have inherited more from the Silla princedom, which subjugated the Han tribes and unified the entire peninsula into a single state, not without the help of the Chinese. The northerners believe that they are the heirs of the glorious warriors of Goguryeo, before whom all their neighbors trembled.

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And now I would like to say a few words about the poetic name that has stuck to Korea: “Land of Morning Freshness. It is an unofficial name, like Japan’s Land of the Rising Sun, Australia’s Green Continent, Switzerland’s Land of Clocks, Banks, and Cheese, etc. Anyway, the name is very poetic and beautiful. The Koreans like to call their homeland the Land of Morning Frost. Those, who are curious, may be surprised to learn that this name has its meaning from the very same two characters that in Korean sound “Joseon” and that have been affirmed as the Korean name since ancient times.

Is this true? That the mornings in Korea are an order of magnitude fresher than those in Russia? Not really. Recall that “Joseon,” and in those days – twenty-five centuries ago – rather “Tryausengh,” was simply the Chinese transcription of the name by which the proto-Koreans called their country. What that name really meant is now unknown. The Chinese simply took two characters that were as close in sound, but, I emphasize, not in meaning. The same Moscow sounds like “Mosykke” in Chinese.

Among the many meanings of the character “Cho” there is the meaning “morning”, among more than a dozen meanings of “sleep” there is also “freshness”. Among at least a few dozen possible combinations, the most beautiful one was probably chosen, resulting in “morning freshness,” that is, the Land of Morning Freshness, Korea. If we follow the same logic, the already mentioned Moscow, as noted by Professor A.N. Lankov, can be called the City of Calm Cutting Cereals – there are such meanings among the three characters used by the Chinese to name the Russian capital. What, everyone sits in Moscow and quietly cuts cereals? No, the characters here denote only sounds, but not the true meaning of the name.

In reality, Korea is as much the Land of Morning Freshness as Moscow is the City of Calm Cutting Cereals. There are a lot of similar examples. But one way or another, Korea has earned the beautiful unofficial name of “Land of Morning Freshness,” primarily due to the Koreans themselves. It may not make much sense, but is it really only in Japan that the sun rises? Although there is a certain connection to reality, if you really dig down to the source.

This text is an excerpt.

Continued on LitRes

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Of course, not all Korean men are romantic and they don’t give flowers very often. But they are very caring. They always ask if you have eaten well, and after work they run to help their beloved with household chores. Weekends and all their free time husbands try to spend with family. Dads with strollers and children on the playground are not uncommon. Saunas with friends remain in the single life. And if they didn’t get to spend more time with the family, it’s not considered shameful to ask for forgiveness from the child and wives. Let me tell you about miltan. The word is formed from 2 verbs: “to push away” and “to bring closer”. First, the guy writes to the girl, writes a lot. The girl, of course, gets used to it, and the fun part begins. The man begins to write less and less, the girl, sensing this, does not understand what is the point. And in fact, the guy used a miltane. That is, he first gets closer to you, then distances himself, then gets closer again, distances himself again. The best tactic is not to torture why, but to mirror the behavior, to do a miltane too. And it usually works 80% of the time. If the girl distances herself, miltan(it), the man at that moment, on the contrary, becomes more insistent.

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In Korea, no one calls anyone by their first name. It is rude and impolite. The exceptions are children and people younger than you. Address by status. At school – the teacher, at work – the boss. In general, Korea is the country of those whose name cannot be called. Everything is strictly by status and age. It’s hard to raise a child here alone. I mean the moral pressure, phrases like, “How is a daughter going to be without a father?” People around can openly judge, mock, insult, and you can’t say anything back – direct conflicts are not welcomed here. That is why women often give their children to their fathers. First, it is difficult to win a court case. Secondly, after going through hell circles and getting custody, you can not breathe – all sides of one reproach. Few people want to live in constant stress. Third, it’s easier to hide a previous marriage. They don’t say anything about the divorce. In Korea there are no passports with stamps, it’s hard to check. And if there are no children or they are with the father, it’s easy to keep the secret. There are problems at work, too. For example, you may be fired for not conforming to “company morality. You can often not rely on family help.

Beauty in Korea is about being hired more willingly and being friends with you. The skin of the face should shine with health, moisture and freshness. In order to do this, the Korean women have various injections and treatments. Also, the skin should be snow-white, not swarthy. Many Korean women make themselves a double eyelid, at the same time taking bags of fat under the eyes in addition to the surgery. The nose is neat, small, and straight. Rhinoplasty is a common operation here, as well as sawing down the jaws to make the face narrower. The lips are filled with fillers, but do not make “blimps”, the beautiful are considered moderately plump lips. To be beautiful, many people from as early as 12 years begin to take care of themselves: masks, toners, emulsions and creams. In Korea it is not customary to wear plunging necklines and semitransparent blouses, and if you do, you must wear a T-shirt of the same color under it. Korean women wear a closed suit as a swimsuit, like the one worn by divers. The seas in Korea are open, which means it’s cold to be in the water for a long time. Plus, Korean women protect their skin from ultraviolet light. The outfit of many on the beach is peculiar. The fabric is thick, so it’s warm and so it protects you. They have two costume options: a turtleneck + pants, or a top with short sleeves + shorts. I’ve seen Korean women in bikinis, but to be honest, they’re unlikely to think well of them.

Housing is one of the most pressing issues for Koreans. To take out a mortgage, you need a bankbook with an account that holds money, preferably for at least 10 years. You can save there at least $100. But the term depends on whether the developer wants to sell to you or not. But you can not choose the floor or the side on which the windows will face. This is a lottery. That is, even if you want to take out a mortgage, you can’t choose your own apartment. So what are they like, the Korean houses? Well, first of all, life without a bathtub. Bathroom, mirror, cabinets, sink and shower. But there’s another hitch: it’s not an ordinary shower – there’s no shower stall. The room itself – it’s a shower chamber. And it’s really convenient. You walk into the bathroom, put on your slippers and wash under the shower. There’s a hole in the tile floor for the drain. Upon entering a Korean dwelling, the first thing you’ll see is an unusual threshold, slightly lowered from the floor level. This is done in order to be able to remove shoes and put on slippers. It is believed that in this way the dust from the street will not get on the floor in the house. Next, you are likely to find yourself in the kitchen or living room, which are combined – this visually expands the space.

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Life in Korea is, in a sense, real, you might say, on camera. Because cameras are almost everywhere. Except for the toilets, there aren’t any. The Koreans themselves, knowing that there are cameras everywhere, rarely do anything illegal. Nevertheless, despite the seeming safety, my husband doesn’t let me go alone at night. And nighttime in Korea starts after it gets dark, even if it is 6 p.m. It is customary for the family to get together only for my parents’ birthdays. But there’s no celebration there either – you eat and go away. You can even do without presents. That’s the norm in Korea. Or we went out for kebabs. I don’t want to go again. I was in the mood for a warm night of soulful conversation around a charcoal grill. It ended in my tears. Turns out, for Koreans, shish kebab is just eating outdoors. Quickly cooked, eaten, time to go to bed. I didn’t understand why we had to travel so far.

Have you heard how short Korean vacations are? Five days in the summer. Often you can’t even choose, the company gives you a couple of options with dates. Also, some companies may give 1 vacation day per month. If you have now imagined that you can accumulate 12 days, add to them 5 summers, add weekends, and get a dream vacation – in vain. You can’t spend it all in one go. How is that – others work and you rest? Sick days go towards vacation pay, separate ones don’t. So a Korean working with a fever is commonplace. People here sometimes work 14/7. Work, home, work, home, sometimes friends. There are a lot of single people in Korea. Many haven’t even managed to find a soulmate, even though they’re about 40 years old. Sometimes, out of despair, in order not to feel lonely, people get dogs. And they carry them around like children. There are prams for dogs, kennels, diapers, and recently there have been slings. It’s sometimes infuriating and maddening.

Koreans forbid themselves to be happy. Most Koreans never argue with their elders, even if they are wrong. It’s simple: they “don’t do it that way” in Korea. Believe me, they’re not afraid of offending someone by refusing, they just don’t know how to live otherwise. If everyone else does it, then so will I… That’s why Koreans often agree to everything, and then get stressed, irritated, and worried. “Living like everyone else” is quite normal for Koreans. To break the ban, to go against the system, even if it won’t hurt those around you, is scary. What if there is a conflict? What if the people around you don’t understand? So it’s easier to break up with the girl you love, because otherwise you’ll have to fight with your parents. While we value original thinking in Korea, you don’t have to stand out in any way. The mindset instilled by society and family focuses on how one should think, while one keeps one’s opinion to oneself. It is important to be better and more successful than everyone else, and this causes a lot of stress for young people. What people think of you comes first, and it doesn’t matter how a person feels.

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