Once upon a time, there was a king in the Heavens named Hwan-in. He had a son named Hwan-oong, who wished more than anything to go down to the earth and rule over all the people. With Hwan-in's blessing, he and 3,000 fellow Heavenly beings descended onto Mt. Tae-bek-san, and proceeded to benevolently rule over the people there.
Now there were a bear and a tiger nearby who prayed constantly that they may become human. Hearing their prayers, a god came to them. He warned them not to eat anything but mugwort and garlic, and to stay out of the sunlight for a hundred days. If they were successful, they would become human. Unfortunately, the tiger's patience proved insufficient, but the bear waited it out, and consequently became a woman. After praying for a husband and a child, the newly formed woman was allowed to marry Hwan-oong, the Heavenly ruler of the earth. They had a son, and decided to name him Tan-gun.
It was Tan-gun, half divine and half human, who founded the nation of Korea in 2333 B.C. It was to be a nation with lofty ideals from which all Koreans have drawn spiritual strength through the centuries. Some lyrics from Korea's national anthem will perhaps sum up the almost mystical affinity that bonds the Korean people with their land:
Until the East Sea's waves are dry, and Mt. Paektusan worn away,
God watch o'er our land forever—Long live our Korea!
It is thus not surprising that the Korean national flag, the T'aegukki, symbolizes the Korean ideal of developing forever in harmony with the universe.
The Korean land is one that has known the grief of warring tribes and warring neighbors, the grief of brutal colonial rule, fratricidal war, division and separation. However, it is also a land that has known the gladness of family and clan, the gladness of nature and the seasons that give life to the earth, the mountains, rivers, coasts and seas. There is the gladness that springs from the traditions that have come to blend an ancient time with the modern world.
Poised strategically in the northeastern part of the Asian continent, the Korean Peninsula thrusts in a southerly direction for about 625 miles. To the north are regions of China and Russia, while the Chinese mainland lies directly to the west. To the east, the peninsula faces the islands of Japan. The shortest distance from the west coast of Korea to China's Shantung Peninsula is about 120 miles. The shortest distance from the southern port of Pusan to the Japanese island of Honshu is about 110 miles.
The area of Korea is about 138,500 square miles. At present, the land is divided into two parts: the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). The administrative area of the Republic of Korea is 62,000 square miles or about 45% of the whole of Korea. South Korea is slightly larger than Hungary or Portugal, and a little smaller than Iceland.
The total length of the coastline is estimated at 10,800 miles. In contrast with the east coast, the south and the west coasts are very irregular with innumerable islands, small peninsulas, and bays. There are about 3,000 islands off the coast of Korea. The largest is Chejudo, which is located about 88 miles south of Mokp'o. Chejudo is home of Mt. Hallasan (6,435 ft), the highest mountain in South Korea, which has a small crater lake called Paegnoktam. On South Korea's northern border, Mt. Paektusan is famous for a large crater lake called Ch'onji, meaning "Heavenly Lake," which is located at its summit.
Korea was divided into eight administrative provinces: Hamgyong-do, P'yongan-do, Hwanghae-do, Kyonggi-do, Kangwon-do, Ch'ungch'ong-do, Cholla-do, and Kyongsang-do.
Today there are six metropolitan areas, namely Seoul, Pusan, Taegu, Inch'on, Kwangju, and Taejon, and 68 local cities. Metropolitan growth and urbanization have been most pronounced in Seoul and Pusan. The population of the capital city of Seoul has increased to 10.6 million in 1990. Despite a general trend toward urbanization, Korea also has a substantial rural population which has maintained the agricultural roots of the country.
In 1997, South Korea had a population of 45,900,000, and a density of 740 people per square mile. The population of North Korea was estimated at 22,000,000 in 1996. Today, there are more than two million Koreans in Manchuria and 600,000 Koreans in Japan. It is estimated that more than 1.5 million Koreans now live in the United States.
Korea's climate is influenced more by the Asian continent than the ocean. It has a humid, East Asian monsoonal climate. Summer in Korea is hot and rainy: the summer monsoon brings abundant moisture from the ocean, and produces heavy rainfall. About 70% of the annual rainfall comes between June and September. Heavy showers with thunder and lightning are common during this season.
Spring comes with the arrival of the swallow, a migrator bird from the south. The blooming of cherry blossoms in the last part of March and early April along the southern coast and nearby islands also marks the new season.
The clear autumn days are the most pleasant of the year. Dry and sunny weather is indispensable for rice to ripen and for farmers to reap it.
Winter is characterized as cold and dry, with the cold spell generally caused by the influence of the Siberian high pressure cell, a cold and dry air mass. The temperature is generally below freezing in the winter.
On the shorelines of Chejudo Island, more than 70 species of broad-leaved evergreens grow. Among the many beautiful flowers in Korea is the Rose of Sharon, the national flower.
There are 78 species of indigenous mammals in Korea. The larger mammals include the tiger, leopard, lynx, leopard cat, wolf, badger, brown bear, marten, weasel, wild boar, roe deer, and Amur goral. The two animals that are considered most characteristic of the country are the Chindogae (a type of dog only found in Korea) and the now extinct Siberian tiger.
Written by 정인숙
Published on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 12:00