Somewhere in Africa?

5th December 1997 at 00:00
If someone had asked me last Christmas what I knew about Korea, I would have + had to say that I knew nothing. If I had been asked where Korea was, I probably+ would have guessed that it was somewhere in Africa. Now I know otherwise.In + March, my English teacher asked if anyone would like a pen-pal in Korea. I put + my name down thinking that it sounded interesting. One month later, I received+ my first letter. The letter was from a 13-year-old girl called Lee Hyon-Ji. + The first thing that struck me about the letter was how good her English was. + She must have to work a lot harder than me at school, because her English is a + lot better than my French or German. She has to go to school at 7am every + morning, and she finishes at 4.30pm every afternoon. She also has to go to + school on Saturdays. In her class there are 50 students compared with 30 in my + class. This sounds very crowded. She goes to an all-girls' school, unlike me. + She, like me, plays the flute, and she also plays the cello and piano, even + though she has so much schoolwork to do. She studies the same subjects as me. + She is an only child. Lee Hyon-Ji's first name is Hyon-Ji and Lee is her family+ name. It is the custom in Korea to put your family name first. We have written+ several letters to each other now, and I have been quite surprised at how much+ we have in common, particularly when it comes to popular culture. However, + when I asked her if she'd heard of the Spice Girls she said that she hadn't - + yet. This surprised me, as I thought everyone had heard of the Spice Girls. + Hyon-Ji likes someone called Kenny G and she sent me some pictures of Korean + boy bands. They look quite like English boy bands. Her favourite films are, + like mine, Romeo and Juliet and Independence Day. Hyon-Ji wears the same kind + of clothes as me, which are usually some jeans and a top. Hyon-Ji says that + the main fashion labels over there are Nike, Boylondon, Puma, Head, Ferre + Jeans, Guess, Benetton and Kookai. Some of these are in England. Hyon-Ji says + that her country is quite rich. It sounds like Hyon-Ji is quite rich because + she says she has a TV and video in her room, and she has a bleeper which I + think is really cool.In her letters she has told me a little about her + country's customs and culture. She has written about her alphabet called + Han-gul. It was devised by King Sejong in 1446. It can be written both + horizontally and vertically. The currency is called the Won, and Hyon-Ji sent + me some coins to keep.After I had received about three letters, I decided to go+ to the library and get some books out on Korea. I was surprised about how + interested I was and how much I wanted to find out, as I'm never that + enthusiastic about other things like homework. I had a look at the map and + found out that Korea is situated south of China. I found out that less than 50 + years ago there was a very bloody war in Korea which ended leaving Korea in + ruins. America and Russia took over and America had the South and Russia had + the North. The Russians built a strong army and the North attacked the South. + As a result of a lot of fighting, Korea was divided with a five-kilometre-wide + demilitarised zone between the two countries. The in-between is like a no man's+ land. On the border line, there is a little hut where leaders from both sides+ meet up regularly. Tourists pay money to visit the hut and they have to sign a+ document stating that they are entering at their own risk. Inside the hut + there is a table representing the border line and tourists walk around the + table and claim that they have been into North Korea. Hyon-Ji lives in the + South and she has no friends or relatives in the North.I found out that Korea + is about the size of Great Britain and South Korea covers 99,000 square + kilometres. The population of South Korea is approximately 40 million. Seoul, + the capital of South Korea, has a population of l0 million. South Korea has + over the centuries managed to keep its own language, culture, cuisine and + ancient tradition. What I find really interesting about South Korea is that + it's got a mixture of both the modern and traditional, which works well. South+ Korea is supposed to be an emerging industrialised nation, and it's a + successful trading partner with some of the world's most economically advanced + nations. I think that South Korea is becoming more recognised especially since + it hosted the Olympics in 1988.From what I have read and seen in books, South + Korea looks like a very beautiful and interesting country. It's got a hilly + terrain and it has many beautiful rivers and mountains. Hyon-Ji told me that + the weather varies. The summers range from 18#161;-30#161;C but I was + surprised to hear the winters can dip between -12#161;C and 2#161;C.South + Korea is a very religious country. The main religions are Buddhism and + Confucianism. Hyon-Ji told me about a particular day called Chuseok. It is + apparently the most significant religious holiday in South Korea. On this day + Hyon-Ji and her family got up at 7am. After offering food such as new rice + cakes and fresh fruit to her ancient ancestors, they set off for Mang-wu-ri + Cemetery to visit her grandfather's grave. The roads leading to the cemetery + were evidently jammed with visitors' vehicles. The nearest equivalent to a + religious day like this for me is Christmas. I think that me and Hyon-Ji are + very similar despite our different background s. I hope that we will still be + writing for years to come, and I would love one day to go and visit her and her+ interesting country.Jenny Holden is a pupil at Haywood Comprehensive School in+ Nottingham. She won the grand prize in the essay contest organised by The Tes,+ the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, and the School of Oriental and African + Studies in London. It was sponsored by Daewoo. First prize went to Rosie + Alexander of Budehaven Community school in Bude, Cornwall. Second prize was won+ by Christopher Button, a pupil at The Haberdashers' Aske's School in + Hertfordshire. The three runners up were: Ian Campbell (Worcester Sixth Form + College), Louise Murray (King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Girls in + Birmingham) and Rebecca Bartle (York Sixth Form College).

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