10 Cool and Intriguing Facts About South Korea

I have lived in South Korea for 24 years. It has completely rubbed off on me in good ways. For that reason, I wanted to share with you 10 cool and intriguing facts about South Korea. This is part of the Fun Facts Series, specifically the Asia and Pacific Fun Facts. It is more Fun Facts of Korea. So, put on your virtual walking shoes and get ready to explore the wonders of Korea!

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From South Korea with Love

South Korea is a vibrant and culturally rich peninsula located in East Asia. It is a land of captivating customs and traditions. From its unique, spicy, and communal cuisine to its fascinating beliefs and practices, Korea is a country that never fails to surprise its visitors. So, let’s get started

Korean Flag
Image by Big_Heart from Pixabay

Cultural Customs and Traditions in South Korea

1 – Taking off Shoes Before Entering a Home

…and many restaurants as well. 

One of the first things you will notice when visiting a Korean home is the importance placed on cleanliness and hygiene. In this vibrant country, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home. This practice stems from the belief that shoes carry dirt and impurities from the outside world, and by removing them, you are showing respect for the household and your host. 

So, don’t be surprised if you find a row of neatly arranged shoes at the entrance of every Korean home you visit. Many ‘sit down’ restaurants also have this custom, as well. It’s easy to see whether you need to take your shoes off or not at the entrance, as you’ll see dozens of shoes scattered in front of you once you open the main door. 

+Fun Fact: Restaurants will always have colorful slippers for all patrons to use for the bathroom. So, when it’s time for a bathroom break, you’ll need to wear these fun slippers and not your own shoes. 

living room with heated floors
Image by Anna Lisa from Pixabay

2-Heated Floors in Korean Homes

Imagine stepping into a Korean home on a chilly winter day and feeling an instant wave of warmth beneath your feet. A unique Korean heating system called “OnDol” makes this possible. Most Korean houses and apartments have underfloor heating that keeps the living space cozy and warm. 

The OnDol system uses hydroponic or electricity to heat the floors, creating a pleasant and comfortable environment even during the coldest months. So, if you ever have the chance to experience a Korean winter, be prepared to ‘leave your shoes at the door’ and enjoy the awesome warmth of the OnDol floors. 

+Fun Fact: Those colorful slippers I mentioned before at restaurants are also in Korean homes. They are located in the bathroom. You slip them on when you enter and take them off once you leave the bathroom. 

3-Live Squid Dish – Sannakji

Korea offers a culinary experience like no other for the adventurous foodies out there. Prepare yourself for the thrill of trying Sannakji, a dish that features live baby octopus or squid. That’s right, this seafood is served fresh. It is still squirming on your plate! You gotta love those tiny tentacles…

Sannakji is typically seasoned with sesame oil and sesame seeds. This makes it a deliciously unique dish. Eating it requires some skill, as the suction cups on the tentacles can stick to your throat. But don’t worry; the experience is completely safe if you chew it thoroughly. So, if you’re feeling brave and want to tickle your taste buds with a fun meal, Sannakji is a must-try dish in Korea.

++Homework: Not sure what to eat with your family this weekend? Make it a Korean night out! Find a local Korean restaurant, and you’ll be surprised at their offerings. No, they might not have live squid, but I guarantee they will have amazing Bulgogi, Corn Dogs, Pork Belly BBQ, Seaweed Soups, or many others that will fit right in with most tastes and wants.. Enjoy!

4-Female Monks – Bhikkhuni

While the image of a Buddhist monk may conjure up images of robed men in serene temples, Korea has a long-standing tradition of female monks known as Bhikkhuni. Daejeon, a city located in central Korea, is home to one of the largest Bhikkhuni communities in the country. These female monks dedicate their lives to spiritual practice, meditation, and enlightenment, just like their male counterparts. 

A Bhikkhuni community of 150 is staying at the DongHakSa Temple on the outskirts of Daejeon city. It offers a unique opportunity to witness the harmonious coexistence of men and women in pursuing spiritual growth. So, are you interested in exploring the realm of Korean Buddhism from a different perspective? A visit to Daejeon’s Bhikkhuni community is a must.

Daddy Simply at a Temple Stay in Korea
Me at a Temple Stay in Korea

+Tip!: Have you ever experienced a ‘Temple Stay?’ It is an incredible thing to do, and it should be on anyone’s bucket list, regardless of religion. It’s a fun way to get away from your busy life and simply enjoy the beautiful scenery and follow some Buddhist traditions. Just be ready to wake up at 3:30 am! Korean temples offer these ‘stays’ for tourists, and I highly recommend them.

offereing for 100 day celebration for baby
Image by Sigali from Pixabay

5-100-Day Janchi Celebration for Babies

Koreans have a special way of celebrating the first 100 days(100일잔치) of a baby’s life. “100-Day Janchi” is a significant event in Korean culture. This milestone shows that the baby will live to see their first birthday. The celebration is marked by family gatherings, feasts, and prayers for the baby’s well-being and future. 

Traditionally, a table is set with various symbolic items, such as rice cakes, fruits, and traditional Korean sweets. These offerings are meant to bring the child good luck, health, and prosperity. The 100-Day Janchi is a heartwarming tradition highlighting the importance of family and the joy that comes with the arrival of a new member.

6-Unique Valentine’s Day and White Day Traditions

In South Korea, Valentine’s Day is not a day for couples to exchange gifts and express love. It’s a day where girls take the lead and show affection to the boys they admire. On Valentine’s Day, it is customary for girls to give chocolates or sweets to the boys they have feelings for. 

However, the tradition continues. Exactly one month later, on March 14th, comes White Day. On this day, it’s the boys’ turn to reciprocate the gesture by giving chocolates and flowers to the girls they like. This unique two-part celebration adds an extra layer of excitement and anticipation to the season of love in Korea, making it a truly special time for couples and hopeful romantics alike.

++Homework: I highly suggest you try looking for some Korean sweets and snacks at your local Asian market. Korea has some of the yummiest, yet not well-known, snacks you’ll ever indulge in. Go now with your kids and try some of these out!

Superstitions and Beliefs in Korea

The number 4
Image by Wolfgang Borchers from Pixabay

7-Colours: A Reflection of Culture

One thing I noticed about South Korea is that everyone seems to be on the same wavelength. They all wear black puffy jackets, sometimes the same t-shirt, and drive cars in shades of white, gray, or black. You rarely see a red car or someone wearing a bright colored yellow coat that stands out from the rest. If you stroll down the street, it is like a uniform parade. But, you know what?

It’s not just about fashion or cars; it’s cultural. In a place where fitting in is a big deal, this whole “sameness” is comforting. It’s like a silent agreement saying, “Hey, we’re in this together.” So, the next time you look at photos from big cities in South Korea like Seoul or Busan, take a moment to appreciate the beauty in everyone vibing on the same wavelength. It’s kind of cool, you know?

8-Men and Women Wear Makeup

Both sexes love looking good! The beauty industry holds a prominent place in society, and it’s not limited to just women. Both men and women embrace the use of makeup and awesome skin routines to enhance their appearance and express their individuality. 

From lotions and creams to mask packs and everything else in between, you’ll see both sexes here with flawless skin and perfectly groomed eyebrows. Koreans take great pride in their skincare routines and the art of makeup application. 

This cultural norm challenges traditional gender roles and encourages self-expression through beauty. So, don’t be surprised if you see men rocking a flawless complexion or women experimenting with bold and vibrant makeup looks while exploring the bustling streets of Seoul or any other big city. You simply need to observe the likes and looks of the K-pop boy bands to understand…

hazard lights on cars
Image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay

9-Using Hazard Lights to Apologize or Thank

In many countries, hazard lights are solely used as a warning signal in emergencies. In Korea, however, they also have a unique purpose. Korean drivers often use their hazard lights to apologize or express gratitude on the road. 

If someone feels the need to apologize for a driving mistake, such as cutting someone off or making a sudden lane change, they will turn on their hazard lights as a sign of contrition. 

On the other hand, if someone allows another driver to merge or shows them kindness on the road, they will flash their hazard lights as a way of saying thank you. This small gesture of consideration and acknowledgment adds a touch of politeness to the bustling Korean traffic.

+Fun Fact: The hazard blinkers are also used as emergency lights same as in other countries. They are equally used by buses when they are ‘in a hurry’ or stopping at a bus stop to pick riders up. Scooters zooming illegally on sidewalks also use these multi-functional hazard lights to deliver food and other things. So, look both ways when you’re walking around town!

10-Korean Age System

This is the most confusing ‘fact’ on my list. Though I’ve lived in Korea for half my life, this still stumps me. There are two ways to calculate someone’s age. The first is the standard age based on the Gregorian calendar. This is what most countries use. The Korean age is the second way.

This age system adds one year to a person’s age at birth and advances everyone’s age by one year on New Year’s Day. This means that even if a child is born in December, they will be considered two years old when January 1st rolls around. This unique age system reflects the importance of seniority and respect in Korean culture, where age plays a significant role in social interactions and relationships.

+Fun Fact: The Korean government scrapped the Korean age. People started using the Gregorian calendar to count age as of 2023. So, I’m 2 years younger than last year! What?…

Fun Stuff…

Korea is filled with great and unique offerings for the young and old. I’ve been raising my son here since his birth and will be staying for years to come. It’s a majestic mountainous country with beautiful and kind people. The food is out of this world as well as the shopping and its overall safety. So, if you should find yourself traveling here, embrace the opportunity and the countless surprises that await you.

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Patrick Cloutier is a French-Canadian Father, Author, and Dad Blogger who has thrived as an entrepreneur in South Korea and Canada since 2000. With a diverse background in owning businesses, freelancing as an English teacher, writer, and actor, he now dedicates himself to helping fathers find balance and joy through his popular dad blog, Daddysimply.com. When he's not attempting to eat scrambled eggs with chopsticks, he enjoys quality time with his wife and son, engaging in exercise, Korean language studies, and immersing himself in a good book.

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