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| 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

Korean sweets

Street food in Insdaong

The Jongmyo Ritual at the Royal Shrine happens once a year