Monday, May 1, 2017

Korean Peninsula

The Korean Peninsula is made up today of North Korea and South Korea.  But it used to just be Korea.

The Three Kingdoms of Korea fought amongst each other until they were finally unified.  The Joseon Dynasty was established in 1392 and it 1897 it proclaimed the Korean Empire.

Following the Russo-Japanese War, Korea was occupied by Japan in 1905.  Japan formally annexed the entire Korean Peninsula in 1910 which ended the Korean Empire.  Under Japanese control the Korean identity was suppressed.  The Korean language was not to be used and Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese surnames.

After WWII, Japan was forced to withdrawal from the entire peninsula.  The northern half was put under the influence of the Soviet Union and the southern half was allied to the USA.

In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea.  The USA and other allies fought with South Korea.  While the Soviets provided money and weapons they did not send soldiers.  Chinese soldiers fought with the north and the Korean War lasted three years.  Technically the two countries are still at war because only an armistice was signed.

Communist North Korea is officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK.  The capital and largest city is Pyongyang.

Democratic South Korea is the Republic of Korea, or ROK.  Its capital and largest city is Seoul.

Here are a couple of pretty short videos I found on YouTube that talks about the history of the Korean Peninsula and the division between North Korea and South Korea.

©Foreign Policy Association


Night time in North and South Korea
North Korea is one of the most isolated countries on earth and, one day, I would actually like to go visit it.  I almost did a couple of years ago but the timing didn't work out.  There is always tension between the USA and North Korea but it has been heating up quite a bit lately so I'm sure it will be years before I ever actually get the chance to go.
In October we're going to South Korea with visits to Busan, Jeju City, and Seoul.  While in Seoul we'll visit the DMZ and the JSA.  Inside the DMZ, is the the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom where the armistice was signed.  The JSA is under the control of the United Nations and inside the main conference room you are technically inside North Korea.  Not a real visit but this will be as close as I get for quite some time.

In anticipation of the trip I'm trying to refresh the few words of Korean I know.  I just hope that my Czech doesn't get me confused.  The last time I was in Crete and Cyprus, there were a few times that I wanted to say "no" and instinctively I said "ne", which is "no" in Czech.  But in Greek, "nai" means "yes".  
In Korean, "ne" is "yes" but it means "no" in Czech.  The Korean word for "no" is "ani-yo" which may mess with me because in Czech "ano" means "yes" while "jo" means "yeah".   Yeah, I know it's confusing.

One thing that I didn't know was just how easy the Korean alphabet is.  It was created by King Sejong in the 15th century so that everyday people could read and write.  It is a phonetic alphabet so it's not like Chinese where you need to learn thousands of characters.  Korean has 14 consonants and 10 vowels.  There are a couple of other bits but basically you just piece the sounds together to write out the words.  It's really pretty easy.    
I'm not actually learning Korean.  My goal is just to be able to read the subway and street signs.  Anything else I can read out but I won't know what I'm saying.  Here's a short video showing just how easy the Korean script is.


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