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.
Green is everywhere in the city I live in. Trees providing precious shade for walkways and benches, giving people a quick dose of relaxation.
It is the color of the footpath I walk on, which I
wrestle share with delivery guys on speeding scooters.
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.
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!
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).
It is the gim that wraps my chamchi kimbap (참치김밥).
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
From the lattice window panels to the intricately designed eaves, it is a prominent color in most historical and traditional Korean buildings.
It is the color of tents at festivals all over Korea.
And of makeshift tents to make the most of Korea’s long winters.
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.
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.
It is the color that enhances historical sites and rocky terrains.
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.
[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?