Colors of Korea: Green

Before coming to South Korea, I had this idea of a country filled with skyscrapers and streets jammed with cars. With over 50 million people sharing approximately 100,000 square kilometers, land is at a premium and green was far from the color I would use to describe the country. But having lived here and traveled extensively for over 3 years, I learned that green is everywhere and it is the color that best represents Korea for me.

For many centuries, South Korea’s forests have been cleared for firewood and building materials until intensive reforestation was undertaken in the 1970′s. Now, the countryside and even in Seoul, greenery is everywhere.

Canopy of leaves in a protected forest outside Bongamsa Temple.

Canopy of leaves in a protected forest outside Bongamsa Temple.

View of Seoul from Gwanaksan.

View of Seoul from Gwanaksan (관악산).

Olympic Park, Seoul.

Olympic Park, Seoul (올림픽공원)

Trees in big pots placed in the middle of Gangnam sidewalks.

Trees in big pots placed in the middle of Gangnam (강남) sidewalks.

Green is everywhere in the city I live in. Trees providing precious shade for walkways and benches, giving people a quick dose of relaxation.

Colors of Korea Green by Johanne Miller-30

Colors of Korea Green by Johanne Miller-38

Colors of Korea Green by Johanne Miller-39

It is the color of the footpath I walk on, which I wrestle share with delivery guys on speeding scooters.

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It is the color of the bags I use for grocery shopping at supermarkets and warehouse clubs. And in the event that I forget to bring a bag, it’s the color of the 20L garbage bag for flammable things that I have to pay for to carry my purchases.

Colors of Korea Green by Johanne Miller-51

South Korea takes garbage disposal seriously. It has to for it to avoid having numerous gigantic landfills and to avoid adding to the Great Pacific garbage patch. In our building alone, we have to segregate our recyclables and non-biodegradables to 12 bins!

Our green bag for recyclables after it's been emptied.

Our bag for recyclables after it’s been emptied.

Recycling soju bottles artistically at Namiseom.

Recycling green bottles artistically at Namiseom (남이섬).

Green plays a prominent role with my favorite Korean dishes. It is the gim (김) or seaweed that I sprinkle on my kimchi bokkeumbap (김치볶음밥). It is the zucchini and lettuce in my dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥). It is the spinach and julienned cucumber in my Jeonju bibimbap (전주 비빔밥).

Colors of Korea Green by Johanne Miller-52

It is the gim that wraps my chamchi kimbap (참치김밥).

The very nice lady I go to for kimbap. She still remembers that I don't like ggaennip (깻잎) or sesame leaf in mine.

The very nice lady I go to for kimbap. She still remembers that I don’t like ggaennip (깻잎) or sesame leaf in mine.

And, it is the ssam (쌈) that I use to wrap deliciously marinated meat and the banchan (반찬) or side dishes that goes with all Korean meals.

Ssam Bap in Gyeongju. A typical Korean table filled with banchan and ssam for the meat and rice.

Ssam Bap (쌈밥) in Gyeongju (경주). A typical Korean table filled with soups, banchan, and ssam to go along with the meat and rice.

The most well-known green in Korea is perhaps the bottles of soju (소주). It reminds me of great nights at bars and nice afternoons outside convenience stores with Steve and our friends.

Colors of Korea Green by Johanne Miller Diptych 4

Another Korean beverage that’s packaged in green bottles is makgeolli (막걸리). Be it at restaurants or on mountain tops, it is a great beverage I enjoy with friends, especially when it’s paired with pajeon (파전).

Colors of Korea Green by Johanne Miller-26

대박 makgeolli. 대박 means super cool or that's amazing!

대박 makgeolli. 대박 (daebak) means “super cool!” or “that’s amazing!”.

Green reminds me of good times with great friends playing screen golf (스크린 골프). Forget about baking under the sun, playing golf and having endless supply of beverages and good food in an air-conditioned room is just brilliant!

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Green also reminds me of the first hanbok (한복) I wore. Hanbok is the traditional Korean dress which is often characterized by vibrant colors. Back in 2010, Steve and I were given hanboks to wear at the Institute of Traditional Korean Food. We did our best to keep our sleeves clean as we learned how to make kimchi (김치) and bulgogi (불고기) for the first time.

I learned how to make kimchi and bulgogi for the first time at the Institute of Traditional Korean Food back in 2010.

From the lattice window panels to the intricately designed eaves, it is a prominent color in most historical and traditional Korean buildings.

Eaves of the main halls at Gyeongbokgung (Geunjeongjeon Hall) and Changdeokgung (Injeongjeon Hall). This Korean traditional decorative coloring for wooden buildings and artifacts is called Dancheong (단청).

Eaves of the main halls at Gyeongbokgung (Geunjeongjeon Hall) and Changdeokgung (Injeongjeon Hall). This Korean traditional decorative coloring for wooden buildings and artifacts is called Dancheong (단청).

Eaves of the main hall at Bulguksa Temple (Daewungjeon Hall).

Eaves of the main hall at Bulguksa Temple (Daewungjeon Hall).

It is the color of tents at festivals all over Korea.

And of makeshift tents to make the most of Korea’s long winters.

Pyeongchang Trout Festival by Johanne Miller 1

Ice fishing at the Pyeongchang Trout Festival.

It is the color of the bills that make my wallet bulge (I wish!). The ₩10,000 bill features the great King Sejong on the front and the great Korean invention Honcheonui (혼천의) or celestial globe on the back.

Colors of Korea Green by Johanne Miller-5

Honcheonui at Yeongneung (영릉) in Yeoju (여주), burial place of King Sejong.

It is the color of buses I ride to get around my city. Though I imagine, it is the only traffic light color that bus drivers see on the road.

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It is the color that enhances historical sites and rocky terrains.

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress (수원 화성)

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress (수원 화성), one of my favorite Korean destinations.

Bonghwangdae (봉황대) in Gyeongju (경주), the largest single ancient tomb from the Silla period.

Trees growing on Bonghwangdae (봉황대) in Gyeongju, the largest single ancient tomb from the Silla period.

One of the granite peaks of Mt. Inwangsan (인왕산).

One of the granite peaks of Inwangsan (인왕산).

Above all, green represents the vibrancy and resiliency of the Korean people. Korea may be two-thirds rocky terrain, but plants and trees have found a way to grow and thrive. Amidst hardship from wars past, the country and its people have flourished like the trees growing on granite peaks and concrete jungles.

A street vendor in Namdaemun (남대문) / Sungnyemun (숭례문).

A street vendor at Namdaemun (남대문) market.

A farmer in Busan (부산).

A farmer in Busan (부산).

This post is part of the Colors of Korea project by my friend Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching.

[Other Colors of Korea] Red by Jace Im of Lost in the ROK; Pink by Madeline Lamb of Head High Heart Strong; Yellow by Ken Lee of Seoul State of Mind; Blue by Brent Sheffield of Kimchibytes; Purple by Sarah Shaw of Mapping Words; White by Bora “June” Lee of 에반겔린 이야기; and Orange by Mimsie Ladner.

What color best represents the country you currently live in?

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30 Comments

  1. Great post Jo! Love your pics – you really have a great way of capturing Korea!

    1. Thanks so much, Jayne! :)

  2. [...] GREEN – Johanne Miller, JohanneMiller.com [...]

  3. Beautiful photos!! Makes me want to visit even more.

    1. Thanks Carmen! Please come visit Korea and let’s get together! :)

  4. This is a really lovely post, with a great sentiment attached. And your photos are really great too (of course)!

    1. Thanks so much Conor! :)

  5. I should add that it is by far the one colour I miss more than anything during the long, brown winters! Nothing makes me happier than seeing the bushes and trees explode with life (GREEN!) in late March and early April.

    1. I completely agree! I really wish Spring could be longer, as well as Fall.

  6. A very creative and lovely post.

    1. Thanks so much, Mark! :)

  7. Beautiful post, Johanne! You nailed it. I am sooooo glad you are back to blogging… the blogging world missed you!

    1. Thanks so much, Mimsie! :)

  8. Interesting pictures. You may be interested to learn that in Korean colour theory, green is rarely featured in the theory of Ohbangsaek (오방색) http://terms.naver.com/entry.nhn?cid=1389&docId=270369&mobile&categoryId=1389
    It does seem to be a very green year this year, so let’s hope it continues!

    1. Very interesting. Of the five Obangsaek, four colors (red, white, blue, and yellow) will be featured by other writers for the Colors of Korea project. Please check them out as well. Thanks for dropping by! :)

      1. Thanks for the information. I did an art project last year based around Obangsaek. Funnily enough I ended up using green as my colour due to the season I visited most of the mountains!

        1. Great minds think alike? ;)

  9. Just stumbled upon your blog and love your work! I have only been to Seoul twice and both times in the winter months where it is eerily different to the greenery capture in these shots. Now definitely want to come back and visit again soon.

    1. Thanks! :) Come in the Fall, the colors are just stunning! I checked out your website too–simple yet great layout and beautiful pictures! I’ve got to visit Japan one of these days.

  10. I never imagine Korea as a green country myself, and all I could think of at first was soju! Amazing pictures!

    1. Yes, soju!!! :) Thanks, Maddie!

  11. Great photos, Johanne! I’m loving those tents.

    1. Thanks Sarah! :)

  12. I really need to play screen golf before I die! I’m so happy that you included many of the things that you did makgeoli and screen golf!

    1. Yes, you’ve got to play screen golf!!! Thanks for dropping by! :)

  13. [...] Sate of Mind Pink at Head High Heart Strong Orange at Seoul Searching Purple at Mapping Words Green at Johanne Miller White at Evangeline [...]

  14. I love your Photography.
    :D I really Really want to go there in South Korea to Capture a lot of scenery but I’m still young.
    I’m a Filipino also.
    #Filipino’s Pride.
    #Photography

    1. Maraming salamat po!
      Being young is great! I’m sure you’ll have lots of opportunities to explore Korea. :)

  15. […] Sate of Mind Pink at Head High Heart Strong Orange at Seoul Searching Purple at Mapping Words Green at Johanne Miller White at Evangeline […]

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