Korea has been much in focus the past few weeks, for reasons that best concern world leaders and myriad television news networks that subsist on international intrigue and drama. But the ancient land of Korea comprising modern North and South Korea has much more to it than what most people know and are aware of.
Away from the image of a prosperous capitalistic South Korea perpetually at war with its belligerent communist and impoverished sibling nation in the North, the Korean landmass has much else to recommend it. You may not know this of Korea and may need the help of a Korean interpreter or Korean translator to delve into their glorious heritage, but the fact of the matter is that this is a land like no other. It has a glorious though often tumultuous history that goes back thousands of years.
Korea was a nation that existed as far back as the third millennium before Christ. It was founded by the legendary King Tan’gun who gave his country the name Choson, which translates into the wonderfully evocative morning calm in English. The Koreans of the ancient past were a great people who taught the Japanese many things-complex objects made using iron, gold and silver jewellery, pottery, armaments, and so on. In fact, many scholars believe that it was the Koreans who shaped much of the later Japanese culture which defines the latter to the world.
Like with any other nation, Korea and its people too have been shaped to a great extent by the geography of the land. The Amnok River forms the border with China in the Northwest while in the Northeast it is the Duman River which separates the two nations. The Duman river also forms its border with Russia. To its east lies the sea of Japan across which lies the other important neighbour Japan.
What is unique about the Korean landscape is the fact that though it is a peninsula with a more than a 5000 mile coastline and more than 3500 islands, 70% of the landmass is mountainous. The climate of the Korean peninsula varies from the temperate warm in the Southern part to more cold temperate in the Northern part with there being a twenty degree Celsius difference in the temperature of the two regions.
The history of the Korean nation over the past centuries was intertwined with that of its neighbors Japan and China. What always stood out was the firm desire of the Korean people to be treated as a sovereign independent nation. However such were the power games and intrigue that played out in the Northeastern region of Asia by countries like Japan, China, and Russia, that in 1910 Korea had to suffer a very cruel fate indeed- annexation by Japan.
A part of the Korean Army had fought a protracted guerrilla war against the Japanese for about five years in the lead up to the annexation. Many of them later fled and settled in Hawaii! As an aside, with all those foreign powers having something or the other to do with Korea over many centuries, the Korean interpreters and Korean translators of the time must have been very busy indeed. The Japanese occupation of Korea though was a particularly brutal one, especially during the Second World War, when the former tried their best to crush and root out the sentiment of Korean nationhood amongst the people.
The end of the Second World War brought curtains on Japanese rules but tragically resulted in the division of the Korean peninsula into two nations –South Korea and North Korea. The former came under the influence of the U.S. and the latter the erstwhile Soviet Union. The rest, as they say, is history.
Moving on to a less serious but very important aspect of Korean culture, its food and cuisine, the fact that Korea is a peninsula meant that seafood was always an important part of the people’s diet. Then again, their fertile land, particularly in the south, yielded them much grain, which too forms an important part of their cuisine. The Chinese and Japanese influence too is quite prominent, what with the Koreans eating a lot of rice and using chopsticks to eat their food.
Where they differ is in preferring beverages like ginseng, wines, and spirits over tea. Unlike people in the west, the Koreans don’t consume much read meat and are more likely to eat chicken and seafood. Of course, for the rest of the world, any exposure to authentic Korean cuisine has to be from South Korea as its northern neighbour has largely been a reclusive country having little contact with the outside world.
South Korea, of course, has become a very wealthy industrialized nation with many of its brands like Samsung, LG and Hyundai among many others becoming global household names. It has even had the honor and privilege of having hosted both a summer and winter Olympic Games. No wonder the world does business with the South Koreans, business which necessitates Korean conference interpreting, Korean document translation, and other like services.
It is funny that one doesn’t usually appreciate the stellar role translation professionals play in making trade, commerce, and international negotiations occur. Surely they must have played a crucial role in the Trump-Kim summit which got over so spectacularly well recently, as well. No wonder that stock markets reacted so euphorically to the news of the U.S and North Korea smoking the peace pipe.
The Korean peninsula is an ancient land with a long and glorious history that stretches back to the Stone Age. It has seen much strife and suffering over the years and deserves to finally put all the divisions, acrimony, and tension of the past to rest and move ahead to write its most glorious chapter of history yet. The two divided nations of North and South Korea participated as a single team in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games which were held in South Korea. This perhaps was the first sign of the road to peace that the two nations had decided to walk together on.