| BNE January/February 2017
survived under Confucianism and the principles are now deeply ingrained
in the threadwork of Korean society, responsible for some of the most
orderly, respectful behaviour I’ve seen anywhere.
To find out more I visit a Confucian school to take part in an ancestral
ritual that is a memorial ceremony to honour and remember dead relatives
(up to four generations of them who apparently hang around to help the
living). It is a ritual that regularly takes place in every Korean home as well.
Respect for elders, the family and the traditions of the past is paramount.
It surprised me to learn that, despite the worldwide success of Korean
businesses, scholars, farmers and craftsmen are ranked more highly than
business people in Korean society according to Confucian principles.
For the ceremony we don hanboks and sit cross-legged before a
Confucian master who teaches us how to lead a virtuous life, to have respect
for elders and to make offerings to the ancestors’ spirits – and we get to eat
the offerings afterwards.
Part of this respect and willingness to maintain old traditions is also a
revival of traditional Korean tea culture and tea ceremonies as a way to find
relaxation and harmony in the fast-paced new world.
At a ceremony, the master pours us tea that has infused during his talk,
carefully pouring it back and forth as he goes. The art of tea is a slow
meditative process that is a joy to watch and it’s always prepared kneeling at
a low table or on the floor. Tea houses are everywhere and tea is the classic
Korean drink of choice.
Tea shops sell all kinds of blends and varieties from different regions of
Korea and it can be confusing to try to pick one. Green tea, for example,
is to Korea as wine is to the West with hundreds of varieties, harvests
and vintages to choose from. Fruit teas such as oumija, plum, ginger and
ginseng tea became my favourites and it’s a delight to duck into tea shops
everywhere to have it served in large bowls with side dishes of rice cakes,
persimmon strips and traditional Korean sweets (dagwa). Another favourite
of mine is pine needle tea.
Insadong is the arts, crafts and antiques shopping street in Seoul where
there are many tea shops and even a tea museum. Its narrow alleys are
filled with restaurants, teahouses, art galleries and antique shops selling old
manuscripts, fabulous ceramics and curios and they are lined with street
hawkers selling everything from pastries to pork crackle.
One night I went to see a Korean musical
in Seoul’s theatre
Insadong’s narrow alleys are
lined with street hawkers
selling everything from
pastries to pork crackle
Street food in Insdaong
The Jongmyo Ritual at the Royal Shrine happens once a year