Category Archives: History

East Asia’s Currency Unit – the Hidden Story behind Yuan, Won and the Yen

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East Asia’s Currency Unit – the Hidden Story behind Yuan, Won and the Yen

To those who aren’t familiar with Chinese characters, the Chinese Yuan, Korean Won, Japanese Yen and even the Hong Kong Dollar may all seem to be different currency units. This is true when the currency unit is written in English, or Romanized (Latinized).

However, if only (purely) Chinese characters are used, these seemingly different currency units are all represented by the same (single) character (letter/word) “圓” which is (and has been) a common “currency unit” for all of these East Asian countries.

ca-cur-unt-compositeWhat this means is that there is a greater commonality amongst the East Asian countries (which is not visible to an un-trained eye, or to a person who has never had any training in reading and/or writing Chinese-characters.

Now, if we take a look at this from another angle and with a trained-eye, Yen is way of how Japanese pronounce the Chinese character “圓” which the Japanese have transformed (modified, simplified) into today’s “円” character. Also, the way Koreans pronounce the Chinese character “圓” is Won which also uses the same Chinese character — i.e., same as the Chinese and Japanese — to represent its currency unit.

For your visual inspection (validation), the table below represents six currency units — from East Asia — which all use the “圓” as their non-English-way for currency representation.  Note that every country’s currency leads back to the same Chinese character “unit” of “圓” in its original (native) language.

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If you have worked in, or are currently working in, the Financial Industry, this piece of information may not be new to you – nothing new. However, if you haven’t traveled to all of these East Asian countries, you have just now picked-up an interesting piece of knowledge.  Is this piece of information (knowledge) interesting to you – yes / no?

For a further visual check (validation), below are currency notes — a mix of old and new — from the above listed countries with the same character  “圓” (Won, Yuan, Yen) unit emphasized.

MACAU (澳门)

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SOUTH KOREA (韓國)

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JAPAN (日本)

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MANCHUKUO (a.k.a. Empire of Manchuria, 滿洲)

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 TAIWAN (臺灣)

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CHINA  (中国)

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HONG KONG (香港)

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Can you think of — name — any other “country-currency” in the world that can trace its roots back to the one Chinese character “圓”  when it is written in native (local) language form?

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The Battle for Gahoe-dong

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The Battle for Gahoe-dong

In 1987, my wife and I bought a hanok in Seoul’s Gahoe-dong district which has been our home ever since. Living in a hanok brings an understanding of many of the values that were once the foundation of Korean life. Sadly, it also brings an insight into the corruption that characterizes modern Korea.

After six hundred years at the heart of Korean cultural and social life, the traditional beauty of Seoul’s Gahoe-dong district, “the place where beauty gathers,” is being relentlessly destroyed. Gahoe-dong was the last district in Seoul where there were whole streets of traditional Korean houses, hanoks, preserving the ambience of Seoul a century ago. Most of these old homes have now being bulldozed and replaced by modern versions, built mainly of concrete but decorated with traditional architectural elements.

Gahoe-Dong is part of Bukchon, “The Northern Village,” a small area that lies between two former royal palaces, the Kyongbok Palace or “Palace of Shining Happiness” and the Ch’angdok Palace or “Palace of Illustrious Virtue.”

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For most of its history, Bukchon was home to many of the nobles and scholars attached to the Royal Court. Old maps show the area had relatively few buildings in a natural, forested landscape that descended from the mountains.

Changing times

During the 1920’s the character of Bukchon began to change. With the Japanese occupation, the role of the aristocracy and yangban diminished. Eventually, the once-privileged residents of Bukchon began to sell their land and move out. This was also a time when the Japanese redeveloped much of Seoul by erecting Japanese-style homes, commercial, and public buildings as part of their assault on Korean culture and values.

While many Koreans were swept along with the wishes of their new, Japanese rulers many also sought ways to resist and preserve the ideas and values they considered important in Korea’s heritage. One of these was a wealthy builder from the Busan area, Chung Sea Kwon (정세권) who owned one of the largest construction companies of his day. Chung felt that if ordinary people could have the opportunity to live in traditional Korean hanoks, it would help preserve Korean values in the face of an increasing pressure to adopt a Japanese way of life.

Chung seized the opportunity to buy up land in Gahoe-dong and elsewhere and began to build small hanoks for ordinary people. Since most Koreans had little money, Chung also provided financial help to buy them. It was Chung who built our own hanok in 1929 and lived in it before selling to the family from whom we bought it in 1987.

All of Chung’s houses were very well built. They were intended to be an expression of uniquely Korean ideas as well as family homes. The idea caught on and Bukchon became a hanok village for ordinary people. However, most of the hanoks Chung built were demolished as part of the Bukchon Plan, despite the fact that the architectural survey that preceded the plan had endorsed their quality and good state of repair.

Korea’s traditional architecture

Hanoks are single-storey buildings based on a framework of interlocking wooden beams that rest on blocks of stone. Other materials used to complete the buildings are also wholly natural such as straw, mulberry paper, and clay. The materials and methods are fundamentally the same as those used to build the royal palaces of the Choson dynasty as well as old Buddhist temples.

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Until recently, the hanoks in Gahoe-Dong had survived the successive waves of re-development and re-building that have transformed most of the Seoul. Yet even here pressures for redevelopment were gaining power. Accordingly, Seoul City came to designate them as Local Cultural Assets on March 17, 1977, in an effort to protect them and preserve the area. The area was also designated as a Korean-style House Preservation District and put under the special care of the City, according to an entry (now removed) on the metropolitan government’s web site

Despite these measures, by 2000 only two streets remained entirely filled with hanoks giving a feel for how the district ­ and much of Seoul ­ had looked years ago. Elsewhere, apartment blocks and modern offices had already encroached, transforming Bukchon into a district where Western-style buildings predominated. About this time, the Metropolitan government began to consider how best to retain the little that remained of the hanok village as part of plans for the continuing restoration of the historic sites of North Seoul.

Towards the end of 2001, the Metropolitan government published detailed plans for the restoration and conservation of Bukchon using public money. The plans were based on a detailed architectural survey of most of the surviving hanoks and aimed to restore the district to its former beauty. The government announced grants and low interest loans to assist hanok owners with this work and set about a variety of related projects including resurfacing roads, improving street lighting, removing utility poles, and providing signage to help tourists and other visitors explore the area.

The Restoration Plan goes badly wrong

From that point on, things went badly wrong. While the original plans can only be praised for their imagination and sensitivity towards the restoration of Korea’s architectural heritage, what happened was the exact opposite. In our own street, for example, ours is now the only surviving traditional hanok.

New buildings that have replaced hanoks have been financed partly via government grants and low interest loans. In one example, an owner was given a government grant of KRW30 million and an interest-free long term loan of KRW20 million for “Hanok Repair and Redecoration.” This money was used to completely demolish a fine hanok and erect a modern two-storey building which was given a general business license to allow it operate under a number of categories, including as a restaurant. Objections eventually prevented the business operating and today the building lies empty.

The new developments potentially bring great profit to speculative developers who purchase the land at prices based on single storey traditional dwellings in order to re-sell it at far higher prices, exploiting loopholes in various regulations and often erecting two-storey buildings.

dkibrn-hse-05f-roofAs a result, Seoul’s last district of original hanoks has been mostly destroyed; government grants to encourage preservation were used for demolition; and ordinary people were denied the chance to realize a fair value of their homes.

Sadly, there was more involved than the destruction of a hanok heritage. While some of the original hanok owners were happy to sell at what seemed a fair market price, others wished to remain in homes where they had lived for many years. These people were submitted to an unremitting campaign of harassment to “persuade” them to sell. This could even involve physical assaults. Worse could follow as the police, prosecutors, courts, and media all failed to fulfil the public duties that a citizen might expect in support of his very basic human rights.

Where once there had been a thriving community of ordinary Korean families, there is now a ghost town of empty buildings. An authentic living community has been eradicated. What really happened to the vast budget the Seoul Metropolitan Government allocated to the Bukchon Plan remains one of the unanswered questions of the Lee Myung Bak era.

Not the first time

Gahoe-dong and Bukchon have enjoyed special status as historic districts of cultural importance since 1976. Although this is supposed to ensure the protection the district’s hanoks, hanok numbers have declined each year. All the special plans and projects the metropolitan and local governments have launched have been accompanied by a decline in hanok numbers. Why so? The reason is quite simple, as the Bukchon plan makes evident, the laws and regulations to protect and preserve hanoks are simply not enforced; the protection plans are never implemented and the budgets associated with them are diverted to other activities.

Korea loses contact with its own culture

In every country, there are issues about what should be preserved from the past and what should be discarded. Every country tends to preserve its palaces, castles, and stately homes. In the UK and also in Europe, governments also preserves many more ordinary buildings such as farm buildings, ordinary houses, shops, and public houses. Some are preserved because of their beauty, some because of their construction techniques, some for the insights they provide into social history and the way people once lived. The preservation work involves public money, donations from business, and subscriptions from the general public. There is a broad consensus that this work is just as important as, say, preserving famous works of art because all these manifestations of human skill and creativity help define the culture and traditions of different peoples. It is so sad that these ideas are not well understood in Korea and that important decisions about what, in reality, is done to preserve Korean culture should be left to petty bureaucrats, small construction companies, and speculators.

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In some ways, there are special problems in Korea. During the Japanese occupation, there was a determined attempt to eradicate Korean culture. This was followed by the Korean War which splintered families, destroyed the social order, and caused immense physical destruction. Next came the period of military rule when individual liberties were suppressed as the country started to build a modern economy at breakneck speed. Perhaps it is not surprising that some Koreans have lost touch with their own traditions and culture as a result. Be that as it may, the decisions made by today’s generation will determine whether anything will be left of Korea’s distinctive architectural culture for their grandchildren to enjoy.

The root cause of this is corruption, by no means a problem unique to South Korea. However, within the OECD, South Korea, sadly, is distinguished by ubiquitous, pervasive corruption that has become an integral part of government – from the offices of presidents to provincial and local government. At least, this is the conclusion of Professors Doh Chull Shin and Chong Min Park, based on a research project into the lives of ordinary Korean citizens which they reported in a paper in the Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies in 2005. The story of the Sewol Ferry disaster in 2014 is but one indication that corruption today is just as much a part of government as it was in 2005.

There is an enormous gulf between what city officials publicly proclaim and what they allow to happen. The Bukchon Plan talked of the need to protect, preserve, and restore using authentic techniques and materials. Yet city officials routinely approved wholesale demolition in order to erect new structures, and ignored the basic human rights of residents.

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Surely it is time to halt all the destruction of old buildings in Gahoe-dong, to demolish new buildings with illegal features, and for society as a whole to consider the fate of the district? Is it too much to expect that a country of Korea’s economic power should find the time and the resources to preserve a small window into ordinary life a century ago? Throughout Europe, there are many examples of towns, districts, and buildings of a similar or older age than Gahoe-dong that are rigorously protected and preserved. The lesson from other countries is that such preservation can attract tourism, enhance local culture, and make the modern urban environment a richer, more enjoyable place for all.

David Kilburn

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David Kilburn worked internationally in the advertising industry for many years before becoming a journalist covering business in East Asia. You may connect with him by clicking hereHis web site, www.kahoidong.com  and YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/kilburnda/ document what has happened to Gahoe-dong and document cultural events organised in the Kilburn’s hanok to raise awareness of the issues.

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor.

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Do you know your Country Name in Chinese?

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Do you know your Country Name in Chinese?

Some of us come from Fragrant Blue or Strong Fruit. Maybe you’ve traveled to Meaningful Big Advantage and can’t wait to visit Ink West Brother. Not sure where you’re from? Let’s go on a country name fly-by!

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Translating proper names involves selecting sound-alike Chinese characters to phonetically approximate the country’s official name, a process leading to some entertaining literal meanings. Moreover, Chinese country names have evolved over the years, so what they’re called now may be significantly different from centuries ago. For example, France’s full name is Fǎ lán xī gòng hé guó 法兰西共和国 (the French Republic) though it’s often shortened to Fǎ guó 法国 the Law Kingdom. In the past you could have said you’re from Fó lán xī 佛兰西 which sounds like Buddha Blue West.

Most people know the name China means Middle Kingdom (zhōng 中 =middle, guó 国 = kingdom) since the early Chinese perceived their civilization as the center of the universe. Across the Pacific sits its young friend Měi guó美国 the Beautiful Kingdom (USA), which used to be a part of Yīng guó 英国 the Hero Kingdom (England). It’s not that the Chinese think Americans are exceptionally good looking; the full transliterated name is Měi lì jiān hé zhòng guó 美利坚合众国 literally “beautiful advantage perseverant united people country” hence it becomes Měi guó 美国. About the same as shortening the “United States of America” into just the US.

While traveling around Asia, you might not want to miss Rì běn 日本 Sun Root (Japan), Mǎ lái xī yà 马来西亚Horse Come West Asia (Malaysia) and Xīn jiā pō 新加坡 Newly Added Slope (Singapore)… comma, he said with a straight face.

Europe is home to Meaningful Big Advantage Yì dà lì 意大利 (Italy), the Discipline Kingdom Dé guó 德国 (Germany) and Compare Advantage Time Bǐ lì shí 比利时 (Belgium). Let’s not forget their colorful neighbors, Fragrant Blue Fēn lán 芬兰 (Finland) and Love Blue Ài ěr lán 爱尔兰 (Ireland). Hold on, why not “love green” for Ireland? Well, honestly the lán 兰 just sounds like the character for blue, its real meaning is “orchid.”

Let’s take things up a notch. Angola Ān gē lā 安哥拉 sounds like Safe Brother Pull and Congo Gāng guǒ 刚果 yields Strong Fruit. The country of Mexico Mò xī gē 墨西哥 is our Ink West Brother while Guatemala Wēi dì mǎ lā 危地马拉 is a Dangerous Land Horse Pull. Last but not least, Canada Jiā ná dà 加拿大 is the land of Add Grab Big.

So if you could start with a clean slate, what would you call your country in Chinese?

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Stewart Lee Beck (李渡) is an author and the creator of China Simplified. Connect with him at cn.linkedin.com/in/stewartbeck, or visit his website at www.chinasimplified.com.

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor. This featured post was first released via www.chinasimplified.com on March 21, 2014.

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South Gate (a.k.a. Namdaemun) of Seoul – Then and Now

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South Gate (a.k.a. Namdaemun) of Seoul – Then and Now

Designed and built with an uninterrupted high-wall stone fortress encircling the entire city, Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) had 8 city entrance gates which opened in the morning and closed at night. Shown below — in this elegant map created between 1846 and 1849 — are the wonderful Eight-Gates of Seoul.

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Because of their complex names, the best way to differentiate and remember all of these gates is to say that there are the North, East, South and West gates which makes four. And then, if you further divide-up these four gates by adding either a Big or Small to each one of them, this renders a total of eight gates – voila.

Although six of the eight gates still remain standing today, outside visitors to Seoul will probably come across only two of these gates which are the South Gate and East Gate – both of which fall under the “Big” Gate category vis-à-vis Small. A photo of the South (Big or Grand) Gate, a.k.a. Namdaemun, was taken circa 1902. Here’s a then-and-now photo of the South Gate in Seoul. Today’s contemporary photo was taken on March 2nd, 2014 from where it says “location” on the above map.

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To give our readers an idea of the uninterrupted stone wall fortress which had surrounded the city of Seoul by visual image, a photo was taken near the very top of Namsan — written as Mongmyeok Mountain in the above 1846 old Seoul map — during the autumn 2014, and is shown below.

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By looking at the photos of Seoul’s city fortresses at the South Gate and on top of Namsam, these high-stone-walls are one-in-design, and about 7 to 8 meters high — approximately 25 feet — encircling the entire capital city with solemn grandeur. If you consider that these gates started their construction in the year 1392 A.D., the city of Seoul from its beginning period (late 14th century) would have a been a spectacular, if not certainly an extraordinary, place (city) to visit compared with other great cities of the world from that era.

♦ Language Footnote – Names to the Eight Gates of Seoul ♦

  1. South Gate, 남대문 (南大門) = Namdaemun, South Big (or Grand) Gate
    • Sungnyemun, 숭례문 (崇禮門), Exalted Ceremonies Gate
  2. East Gate, 동대문 (東大門) = Dongdaemun, East Big (or Grand) Gate
    • Heunginjimun, 흥인지문 (興仁之門), Rising Benevolence Gate
  3. North Gate, 북대문 (北大門) = Bukdaemun, North Big (or Grand) Gate
    • Sukjeongmun, 숙정문 (肅靖門), Rule Solemnly Gate
  4. West Gate, 서대문 (西大門) = Seodaemun, West Big (or Grand) Gate
    • Donuimun, 돈의문 (敦義門), Loyalty Gate
  5. South Small Gate, 남소문 (南小門) = Namsomun
    • Gwanghuimun, 광희문 (光熙門), Bright Light Gate
  6. East Small Gate, 동소문 (東小門) = Dongsomun
    • Hyehwamun, 혜화문 (惠化門), Distribution of Wisdom Gate
  7. North Small Gate, 북소문 (北小門) = Buksomun
    • Changuimun, 창의문 (彰義門), Showing the Correct Thing Gate
  8. West Small Gate, 서소문 (西小門) = Seosomun
    • Souimun, 소의문 (昭義門), Promotion of Justice Gate

♦ Value-Added Insight ♦

Prior to being the Capital city of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Seoul was also the Capital city from where the Baekje Dynasty (18 B.C. – 660 A.D.) was born over 2,000 years ago. During this Baekje (also spelt as Paekche) period, the city’s name was called Wiryeseong.

People have been living in the Greater Seoul Metropolitan area since the Neolithic (7,000 B.C to 2,000 B.C.) Era. One famous archaeological site from this past period of Seoul’s History is the Amsa-Dong Prehistoric Settlement Site.

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Homer Hulbert – Man of Vision & Friend of Korea

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Homer Hulbert – Man of Vision & Friend of Korea

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Well known amongst Koreans for the words written on his tombstone, Homer B. Hulbert (1863-1949) was the famous American who said, “I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey.”

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Homer Hulbert first came to the Kingdom of Joseon (1392-1910) — today’s Korea — on the 4th day of July, 1886 (age 23) to spend 5 years an educator for the “Royal College” at Seoul. This Royal College at Seoul was the first modern day school created directly by King Gojong for the purpose of introducing an English and western-world-oriented education system. An initiative which was based upon the recommendations that came from the Korean (a.k.a. Corean) “Bobingsa” delegation — the First Korean Embassy delegation — after their trip to the United States in 1883.

Upon his arrival, he (Homer B. Hulbert) became quickly fluent in Korean, and began his life’s journey toward becoming one of the greatest Americans to have set foot on Korean soil.

150108-hul-03-his-krAfter having served, in full, his five-year term (1886-1891) in Korea as a teacher (educator), Homer Hulbert returned back to the United States, and then came back once again to Korea (Kingdom of Joseon) in 1893 (age 30) as a Methodist Church missionary. During this period, Homer B. Hulbert would publish many of his landmark books written in English such as the History of Korea (1905) and the Passing of Korea (1906).

In addition to this, and on 28 October 1903, Homer Hulbert along with James S. Gale (1863-1937) and Philip L. Gillett (1874-1939) started the YMCA in Seoul located at Jongno-2-ga. Near, or shortly after the year 1905, the YMCA (Young Men’s Christen Association) in Seoul had begun to introduce the sports of baseball, basketball and ice-skating to Koreans for the first time.

After having become a witness to the injustice brought upon to the people of Korea (Joseon), Homer Hulbert later in his life became an active international figure who had helped, so vigorously, to protect, save and keep Korea’s Independence from the Japanese. In his own words, “Calumny has does its worst, and justice has suffered an eclipse” in reference to what had seen unfold in front of his very own eyes.

A few more words from his famous book, The Passing of Korea (1906), resonate as the truth today. These words are (were) . . . “when the spirit of the nation, quickened by the touch of fire, shall have proved that though sleep is the image of death, it is not death itself”.

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During the early 1900s, not all Americans had supported the idea of America, in international affairs, as a nation which should ultimately seek to pursue an European-like Imperialism with respect to their overseas territories.

By the same token, Homer Hulbert was openly critical of Theodore Roosevelt’s view of approving Japan’s takeover in Korea (Source: New York Times, December 5, 2009), in order to create a crisp swap scenario for solidifying and securing the United States acquisition of the Philippines without hostile military threat from Japan.

Today, the content of the Taft-Katsura (Secret) Agreement – whether it was a simple memorandum, signed agreement, or an exchange of talk by ghosts, in nature – seem all to be approaching a level of truth.

Now, and all this time, without having first-hand knowledge of, and insights into, such clandestine war operatives (talks) happening in the background, Homer Hulbert agreed, without reservation, to serve as a special envoy for Korea’s King Gojong to represent Joseon (Korea) overseas during his trip to the United States in 1905 and months prior to the Second Hague Convention (1907) with the end-goal of communicating the truth and injustice, to the world, and the invalidity (forcefully fabricated nature) of the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905 (a.k.a. Eulsa Treaty) which never obtained the consent nor the signature (stamp/seal) of King Gojong.

However, the Korean emissiary delegation was blocked from entry into the Convention Hall. Joseon (Korea) – whether right or wrong – had somehow already been stripped of the power to exercise diplomacy, as an independent nation, in the eyes of attending nations.

Shortly thereafter, word spread to Tokyo. Homer Hulbert was expelled — not permitted to return back to Korea and forced to go back to the United States — during May 1907 by the Japanese-resident General, and King Gojong (Emperor Gojong) was eventually forced to abdicate his throne. The Kingdom of Joseon (1392-1910) — i.e., the Yi Family Dynasty — forever ceased its existence on 29 August 1910 with the “Passing of Korea.”

Miraculously, it would take another 35 years — and the Liberation of Korea (on 15 August 1945) — before Hulbert’s prophecy in which he said, “sleep was an image of death, and not death itself” and in which he also dreamt that Korea would one day rise from its sleep soon became a “vision” that would eventually come true.

150108-hul-05-medalHomer Hulbert was 86 years-old when he returned back to see an independent Korea in 1949, as a honorary high-level State guest, at the invitation of South Korea’s first President Syngman Rhee. A total period of 42 years had gone by for Homer Hulbert. During this trip in 1949 to Seoul, he become ill and soon passed away.

Today, Homer Hulbert rests in external peace at the Yanghwajin Foreigner Missionary Cemetery located in Northwestern Seoul – north of, and along, the Han River.

After his death, Homer Hulbert was awarded the Republic of Korea’s (South Korea’s) Order of National Foundation (Independence Medal of Honor) on the 1st day of March 1950.  His Korean name is “Hul-Bub” (흘법, 訖法), which sound very similar to his last name Hulbert, and is so inscribed in South Korea’s national registry by using his Korean Name.

150108-hul-06-cmedalMore recently (last year), he was recognized once again on the 9th day of October 2014, (Hangul Day), by the Republic of Korea’s (South Korea’s) government by being awarded with the Order of Cultural Merit (Gold Crown Medal of Honor) – 64 years after receiving his Independence Medal.

As a great American in Korea (East Asia) — he, with grace and tremendous dignity, greatly represented his Republic, the nation under God, and a country which stood (stands) for liberty and justice for all.

In 1999, the Hulbert Memorial Society was formed by Professor Dong-Jin (DJ) Kim. He is still actively serving as the Society’s Chairman to help honor and remember Homer B. Hulbert. The Korea Society invited Mr. Kim to speak on April 6 (Wednesday), 2011. This 2011 presentation can be viewed by looking it up on YouTube, or by clicking HERE.

♦ Language Footnote ♦

  • Homer B. Hulbert, Korean Name = 흘법 (訖法)
  • Royal College at Seoul // 육영공원 // 育英公院
  • Bobingsa // 보빙사 // 報聘使
  • Jongro-2-ga // 종로2가 // 鍾路2街
  • Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery, 양화진외국인선교사묘원 (楊花津外國人宣敎師墓園)

♦ Related Outside Stories and External Links via the World Wide Web ♦

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Understanding Foreign Brands – What’s the meaning of “Tsingtao” Beer?

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Understanding Foreign Brands – What’s the meaning of “Tsingtao” Beer?

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Are you thinking about eating out tonight at a fancy Chinese restaurant? Well, what brand of beer are you considering to order? Do you feel a Chinese brand beer will go well with Chinese food – like the most of us? Well, the most famous and widely available Chinese beer — outside China — is probably Tsingtao. Now, you know that. You’ve probably heard about Tsingtao before in your lifetime, right? So far, so good – everything’s cool.

Now, and all of a sudden, you hit upon a minor problem which is, how in the hey do you pronounce “Tsingtao” properly as to avoid embarrassment when placing an order? And what does Tsingtao mean anyway?

Tsingtao (青岛) is a name to a port location (city) in Eastern China, and it became an area which was heavily influenced by German investments between 1898 to 1914, or prior to the so called “Seize of Tsingtau”.

It was during this period — 1903 to be exact, as printed on each Tsingtao Beer bottle (can) today — that the Germans started producing (bottling) beer in China – Get it? Can you see that there’s a connection (link) here between Germany and beer?

In summary, 1903 was a year between 1898 and 1914, and a period of Germany’s influence in China’s Shandong Peninsula, and a location where the Germans started to produce beer for consumption after having formed Tsingtao Brewery. If you wish to learn more about this period regarding Germany in China, please look up the Kiautschou Bay concession in history books.

Today, this city’s location is officially spelt Qingdao (not Tsingtao) on maps, but the beer brand retains its “Tsingtao” spelling. Tsingtao, the brand has thus, over the years, undergone transformation to become a proper noun as one beer brand and is no longer used (spelt this way) to represent location (the city).

Finally, let’s get to the part where you can learn to order “Tsingtao” with confidence, and without sounding overly awkward. Say it out loud – practice – repeat for about five (5) to ten (10) times before leaving home tonight, and when you get to the restaurant – say Tsingtao (or Qingdao which is the same thing). Kindly remember, not to drink too much – and not to drink and drive.

Note: The Seoul Tribune would like to express our thanks to "www.emmasaying.com" for granting us approval to use their YouTube material(s).

♦ Foreign Language Tips ♦

  • 青 (Qing) means color blue in Chinese
  • 岛 (Dao or Tao) means island in Chinese
  • 啤酒  . . .  means the “beer” type of alcoholic drink in Chinese

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10 Ways to a Healthier Life

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10 Ways to a Healthier Life

A few phrases – 10 of them – on how to maintain a good and healthy life-style, were created by a famous 16th century Korean Scholar. Without having had any first-hand knowledge related to modern medicine (roughly 500 years ago), his past statements (teachings and recommendations), looking back now, seem to be remarkably spot-on.

Translated into English, by the Kievalo Research Institute, here’s this famous scholar’s — and we will get to his name in just a minute — Top 10 List (secrets, lessons, ways, and/or teachings) for how to maintain a healthier life. Check them out. They are first shown in English; and then presented in Korean with dual use of Chinese characters for our bi-lingual readers.

Ten-Ways to A Healthier Life  (Words of Wisdom from the 16th Century)

  1. Eat less red meat; and enjoy more vegetables.
  2. Reduce the frequency of feeling anger; and enjoy laughter more often.
  3. Ride cars (horse-drawn carriages) less often; and frequently walk.
  4. Make a habit of eating smaller portions of food; and chew more before swallowing.
  5. Try to minimize deep worrying (anxiety); and increase the joy of better sleep.
  6. Decrease salt in-take; and eat more vinegar(s).
  7. Wear thinner (less) clothes (for movement); and bathe more often (for hygiene).
  8. Don’t be excessively greedy (less greedy); and perform good deeds more often.
  9. Eat less sugar; and consume more natural fruits.
  10. Be less talkative (use less words); and act (take action) more often.

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Now, the name of this scholar, who wrote these words (i.e., 10 four-lettered phrases shown above in the white box), is Yi I  (1536-1584). The way to pronounce his name is by saying the English letter “E” twice (as in saying A,B, C, D, E). Hence, his name when read (said/sounded) out loud is E-E (이이/李珥/Yi-I).

At this point, you might want to ask, how really famous was/is he? Well, this gentleman was/is so famous that his face (portrait) appears on today’s 5,000 Korean Won banknote after having passed away approximately 500 years ago – that’s how famous.

150101 health-EE-portraitWhat do you think? Not exactly Dr. (Mehmet) Oz, right? Do you see anything worthy of practice today? If you were to walk away and remember just one of them, what would that one be?

Does Number 2 —not to get angry (upset) too often, and to laugh more frequently — stick out the most? After all, there’s a saying which says that, “laughter is the best medicine,” right?  According to an article which appeared in the New York Times (September 11, 2011), Laughter produces Endorphines – which is a good thing. Next time, when you see (or pick-up) a 5,000 Korean Won banknote, would you try to think of Yi I  (E-E) and some of his sayings?

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Chinese Dinner Etiquette – 4 Key Insights for Foreign Guests

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Chinese Dinner Etiquette – 4 Key Insights for Foreign Guests

Chinese Dinner Etiquette – 4 Key Insights for Foreign Guests

Where should I sit? Who starts eating first?
Which part of the fish is considered the best?
How can I show respect when toasting with others?
Let us help you make sense of it all.

Dinners in China can be huge fun, but they’re also fraught with danger. One false move and you’ve offended people without even knowing it. Handled well, however, your local hosts will note your appreciation for Chinese customs, which gives them big face and shows you aren’t just another ignorant foreigner traipsing through China.

How important is the dining ritual to a Chinese? Even a newborn is fully booked with dinner gatherings, i.e. one-month anniversary dinner, double-month anniversary dinner, 100-day anniversary dinner, one-year birthday dinner, etc. Everything happens at the dinner table: strangers become friends, friends become enemies and enemies become friends; boyfriends are scrutinized and receive final approval to become a son-in-law; contracts for massive investments are confirmed; and agreements nearly there fall apart. All this happens against the backdrop of delicious foods, savory wines and elegant china-wares with plenty of subtlety and face guessing games.

Here are some great ways to show respect for others, plus guidelines to get you going in the right direction:

Chinese Dinners - Seating

The dance starts upon arrival, people nudging each other towards certain seats, trying to be modest and showing respect for one another. The highest seat faces the door, second best on its right, third best on its left. Don’t go there unless you are guided to do so. Play along, resist a little.

A plate of sizzling hot ribs arrives, landing directly in front of you. You’re famished. Go ahead and grab one? Not yet!

Turn the rotating table clockwise and let others (especially the top seated person) have a bite. Don’t panic, it’ll come back to you. Nobody wants to be the person taking the last piece on any plate.

Chinese Dinner Etiquette

By now, your hosts may recognize your modesty and force you to start the whole fish when it arrives on the table. Where on the fish do you dig in? General consensus holds the best is the upper belly, second best is upper back, and so on. Avoid those prime locations at first.

Chinese Dinner Etiquette - Toasting

What’s this secret game going on? The modesty dance continues! When two glasses clink, how high people hold their glasses shows hierarchy. Sometimes they go lower and lower until they crash into the table (albeit a worst case scenario). When the host toasts you, keep his glass higher.

These insights hold true at most dinners with hierarchy, such as corporate dinners with bosses, meals with clients and multi-generation family gatherings. Learn to recognize the regional variations as you progress. And among friends, all protocol often gets thrown out the window. Yeah!

Have any interesting dinner experiences to share?
We invite you to add them below for others to enjoy.
Happy eating!

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Stewart Lee Beck (李渡) is an author and the creator of China Simplified. Connect with him at cn.linkedin.com/in/stewartbeck, or visit his website at www.chinasimplified.com.

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor. This featured post was first released via www.chinasimplified.com on May 10, 2014.

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Seonunsa – A Beautiful Asiatic Temple

by

EVP & Partner, Stanton Chase Korea

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Seonunsa – A Beautiful Asiatic Temple

The beauty of East Asia comes alive when visiting Seonunsa — a Buddhist temple located in the Jeollabuk (North Jeolla) Province of South Korea. This temple – its name is Seonunsa – was first built during the Baekje (also spelt Paekche) dynasty, more than 1,400 years ago – circa 577 A.D. – at its present location.

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Today, hundreds of people register and visit this temple each year by experiencing the “Temple Stay” program. You too can take home, and keep with you, this uniquely Asian experience by clicking HERE.

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The Foreigner Who Most Influenced China

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The Foreigner Who Most Influenced China

Karl Marx? Marco Polo? Kublai Khan? Bill Gates? The list is endless. But if you think about it, one man’s legacy has by far had the biggest and longest lasting impact on the Middle Kingdom.

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The most influential foreigner in China’s history and culture came to prominence during the Tang Dynasty. He traveled in spirit along the Silk Road from the Han Dynasty onwards, his revolutionary beliefs transported by the oral storytelling tradition of the day. It’s ironic that the Chinese, who never met this Indian prince, were so captivated by his coherent guidance on how to escape earthly suffering. We’re talking of course about Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha.

Buddhism and Daoism were instant brothers – no creator gods, release of desire, selfless inner peace – both providing spiritual comfort in a chaotic world. Monks translated Pali scriptures using recognized Daoist (Chinese) terms to cross-pollinate them with familiar doctrine, passing along these new texts beyond Tang borders to Korea, Japan, Vietnam and beyond. Buddhism also introduced the concept of reincarnation, matching the dominant cyclical worldview and infusing the Dao with renewed energy.

The wildest speculation holds that Laozi journeyed to India to meet Buddha and talk philosophy, or that perhaps Buddha was a reincarnation of Laozi himself! While most historians dismiss this idea, there remain some striking parallels between their thinking as passed down through the ages:

Laozi wrote: Buddha wrote:
The Way that can be expressed is not the everlasting Way;
Names that can be named are not changeless Names.

The Way is beyond language;
The highest principle cannot be explained in words.

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During the Tang most religions thrived, driving an unprecedented exchange of ideas. Banned by the Romans, the Nestorians followed the Silk Road to settle in China where they practiced Christianity through the 14th Century. Islam found a home in China as well, introduced by the maternal uncle of Mohammed in the decades following the death of the Prophet, leading to Tang Emperor Gaozong building the first mosque in Guangzhou.

Let’s attempt to put things in perspective using a basketball analogy: if Buddha became the all-star center in the Tang spiritual starting five, dare we say that Jesus and Mohammed were the starting guards in his back court?

To the Chinese, Buddhism proved adaptable and controllable, gaining it state appeal. The ubiquitous Buddha stone carvings in Luoyang and Leshan also testify that, during this era, Buddhism outshined Confucianism by embracing all levels of society. And while Jesus and Mohammed were highly respected sages within the Tang religious pantheon, Christianity and Islam were unable to capture the mass imagination of the time inside China, possibly because their jealous monotheistic gods lacked popular appeal alongside the localized assortment of go-to deities.

Though in retrospect, our basketball all-star analogy was poorly chosen – feed the ball inside to Buddha and he might contemplate its roundness rather than dunk it.

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“I have no hesitation in declaring that I owe a great deal to the inspiration I have derived from the life of the Enlightened One. Asia has a message for the whole world, if only it would live up to it. There is the imprint of Buddhist influence on the whole of Asia, which includes India, China, Japan, Burma, Ceylon, and the Malay States. For Asia to be not for Asia but for the whole world, it has to re-learn the message of the Buddha and deliver it to the whole world.” – Gandhi

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Stewart Lee Beck (李渡) is an author and the creator of China Simplified. Connect with him at cn.linkedin.com/in/stewartbeck, or visit his website at www.chinasimplified.com.

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor. This featured post was first released via www.chinasimplified.com on August 17, 2014.

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