'Korean Characteristics. The average Korean man is 5 ft. 4 in. tall, of good physique, well formed, with not unhandsome Mongoloid features, oblique dark-brown eyes, high cheekbones, and noncurling hair that shades from a russet to a sloe black. The olive bronze complexions in certain instances show a tint as light as that of a quadroon -- a phenomenon which some writers lay at the door of the Dutch sailors of the Sparrowhawk who were wrecked off the coast in the 17th cent., and held prisoners for 27 yrs. To the observing eye there is the same diversity of racial types among Koreans as one notes among the Japanese and Chinese. Straight and aquiline noses, as well as others that are broad and snubbed, with distended nostrils and Negroid characteristics are common, and, as is the case with the Japanese, all do not show the looped-up eyes. The physiognomic peculiarities are sufficiently distinctive easily to differentiate Koreans from Chinese or Jpanese. The hands and feet of both sexes and all classes are small and well formed; the finger nails are almond-shaped. The men are endowed with considerable physical strength and they will carry heavy weights on their shoulders with the ease of Turkish porters or Mexican cargadores. They are a sturdy, non-maritime race, with large, fairly healthy families. Whiskers are at a premium, and whenever a man can, he raises a pseudo full beard of spiky hairs that refuse to grow close together and which can be counted readily. Those who cannot force this bristly desideratum wear a lean black mustache turned upside down like that of the mandarin pictures on tea-boxes, and, when possible, cultivate a goatish, paint-brush-like imperial, similar to that usually shown in cartoons of 'Uncle Samuel' of the United States. This hirsute adornment, attached to the cheerful if vacant Korean physiognomy, is so startingly like that of the average Cora Indian, of Tepic Territory, in Mexico (who claim that their forebears came from the Far East, and who are so much like Mongolians that the Mexicans call them Chinos, or Chinese), as to make a singular impression upon one acquainted with the two peoples. (Comp. Terry's Mexico, p. 95p)
In many respects the Korean is sui generis. Frugal in the use of water (to which he has a determined hostility), fond of a frowsy smell, economical of the truth, as avid of 'fire-water' as the red man of the American plains, and with light prehensile fingers that readily assimilae the detachable impedimenta of the 'foreig devil,' he suspets thewide world and possesses to a sordid degree the Oriental vies of duplicity, cunning, and general untrustworthiness. He steals freely when the opportunity offers, and his capacious sleeves and balloon-like trousers make ideal places of concealment for one's cherished belongings. The spawn of a low order of civilization, he is untidy and swining in his habit, ad apathetic in the face of work -- for which he has a fervid distaste. He is a born dawdler, gambler, and brawler: and, like the Chinaman, he has, in his fathomless conceit and besotted ignorance, a sturdy and unshakable faith in his own impeccability and the flagrant worthlessness of everything foreign. He is lethargic, purposeless, devoid of thrift or ambition, and he dwells contentedly amidst incredible dirt and discomfort. His specialty -- the curse of his country -- is sorning on his relatives or friends. he is an inveterate smoker and he will sit for hours in a limp state of fatuous vacuity, sucking a bowlful of tobacco not larger than a marrowfat pea, while his puny little wife (or one of his several concubines) -- usually several hands shorter and of much smaller physique -- may be squatting beside some wayside pool washing the raiment which her lord and master always wears out first in the seat. The long-stemmed pipe with its tiny bowl (much like the Japanese pipe) of enameled base metal, and its miniature pellet of home-grown tobacco is to him what the cigarette is to the Spaniard, -- an almost inseparable companion. Over this travesty of a smoke, men and women will sit or hours gossiping and indulging in acrid scandal; for owing to the insatiable curiosity of the people nothing can be kept sacred or secret. They are said to be the most irrepressible scandal-mongers in the world, -- which in truth is saying a good deal!
One of the qualities which prove Koreans destitute of the commonest sense is cruelty; in this respect the sensitive person soon classes the country with southern Italy. Few travelers can pass through Seoul without seeing unfortunate and loudly-squawking poultry undergoing the painful operation of being plucked alive, and there is no dearth of mistreated animals to be commiserated. It would, indeed, be a greedy person who would wish to revisit a Korean abbatoir, as the method of dispatching the poor animals is almost too revolting to be described. The throat of the beef is first cut, then a peg is inserted in the opening, and the butcher takes a hatchet or a heavy mallet and beats the martyred animal on the rump until it dies. The process takes about an hour, and the wild-eyed creature suffers aganies of terror and pain before it loses consciousness. by this wicked method very little blood is lost during the operation; the meat is full of it, and its heavier weight is to the advantage of the vendor. The method is so repugnant to foreigners that they deal almost exclusively with the Japanese butchers, shunning the Korean product as one does pork at Shanghai. Goats (which are sold for mutton) are killed by pulling them to and fro in a rivulet; a method which is said to destroy the rank taste of the flesh. Dogs are dispatched by twirling them in a noose until they are unconscious, after which they are bled.
The people are practically without a national religion; ancestor-worship influences their life and character (chiefly through fear of what demons may do to them if they neglect the spirits of those that have gone), and Confucianism, which is ostensibly the official cult, is supposed to provide the guiding rules of life. A wave of Buddhistic fervor swept over the land in the 15th cent., but it left but little impress on the Korean morality. Sorcerers and sorceresses abound and fatten on the credulity of the unlettered classes, and while exorcising alleged evil spirits, they annex the victims' cash. Demonism with its host of allied superstitions gives rise to many idolatrous practices, and not a few ridiculous customs; an uncharitable and characteristic one of these is to stuff rude straw dolls with a few cash, and on certain days cast them into the street, so that the unwary who pick them up may acquire all the present and future ills of the persons who threw them out! Christianity is making its presence felt, and it is indubitably the religion of the future.
Koreans usually settle individual or village disputes or feuds with stones; they are said to be the most expert stone-throwers in the world, both in their accuracy of aim and in the force and distance of the throw. They can hurl a granite message through the air with a dexterity peculiarly embarrassing to an opponent, and about every so often the necessity seems to arise for them to let off steam in this Biblical fashion. When there is a dispute between villagers, instead of soiling their knives on their enemies, each side lines up its most pugnacious men, who in turn scour the neighborhood for the hardest missiles they can find. When these are piled in convenient places, each sides draws off and the battle begins. Until the projectiles have all been thrown out of reach, the sight is a peculiar one. The men stand their ground gamely enough until downed by some hurtling boulder. For a time the air is thick with flying stones, which oftentimes clasd in mid-air with on-coming ones and strike brilliant sparks from them. Battered faces and bruised heads are always the outcome of these little tribal wars.
Swinging is a favorite pastime; at certain seasons stout swings are erected at almost every village, for the enjoyment of old and young. Kite-flying is the sport most relished by men and boys (Jan. is the great month, on account of the light winds), since considerable discomfiture can be given an opponent by cutting his kite-string (and thus winning his kite) by a more skillfully manipulated string coated with glue and powdered glass. -- The native music is as painful to the foreign eas as ours is to the Koreans; the musical instruments are many and of crude workmanship and design. Drums, cymbols, gongs (of which the people are passionately fond), unkeyed bugles, trumpets, flutes, several sizes of rude guitars, and a five-stringed violin assist in the execution of their wild and melancholy minstrelsy -- from the dissonancy of which foreigners usually hasten as fast as possible.
Of Korean grotesqueries the national costume is among the most pronounced. The grass-cloth worn by both sexes is made from the fiber of a white nettle (Urtica niveus) grown in many parts of the country and women on rude looms. When the upper classes can afford it, they wear thin silks of the brightest colors obtainable, usually blue, green, and purple, or white. The voluminous winter costume consists of huge trousers and socks and a sleeved coat. The costume peculiar to the women of the capital is a swathed skirt (resembling exaggerated Turkish trousers) and a (masculine) green, blue, or lavender silk coat put over the head and clutched below the eyes, the long wide sleeves falling from the ears. The effect is that of a person who has hastily thrown a coat over the head without putting the arms through the sleeves. Tradition has it that the custom arose at a time when most of the fighting men were slain, and women had to mount the walls arrayed in men's coats to deceive the enemy. It is declared that no Korean woman ever puts her arms through the sleeves of her coat.
The Korean TOP-KNOT, an inherited custom established upward of 20 centuries ago, is as much a Korean characteristic as the queue has long been in China. The average Korean is very much attached to it, as it is his badge of legal manhood (rather than one of subjugation, like the pig-tail), and until he possesses it he has the title of 'a half man' bestowed upon him. Boys wear twin plaits or tails down their backs until they are old enough to be invested with this manly attribute, and the investure is one of the most important ceremonies in their lives. To the American, this hirsute adornment bears a striking resemblance to a twist of Navy tobacco; it is protected by a fine crinoline hat (made of horsehair) which distinguishes Koreans from all other nationalities. It weighs about 1 1/2 ounces, and through its fine meshes one can see the cherished knot coiled tightly on the top of the wearer's head. The truncated conical crown (which is about 5 in. in diameter at the base, tapering to 4 in. at the top), with its circular brim (about 18 in. across) gives it the appearance of a new-fangled fly-trap. When tied beneath the chin with broad black crinoline ribbons, it imparts to a chubby, bewhiskered face a ludicrously lackadaisical and infantile air! It is not unlike the old-style Welshwoman's hat, or that of a Tipperary brawler. Of a uniform glossy black, it is a source of ceaseless anxiety to the wearer; if it gets wet it is ruined, and to prevent this it is often covered with an oiled paper, an arrangement both conical and comical. They are the special predilection of the Yang bans (officials and men of leisure), who saunter along the street with a serenity born of possessing absolutely nothing and consequently having nothing to lose. This decayed gentry, who try so hard to impress the beholder with their worth, who strut along with a swinging gate befitting their supposed standing, and whose pockets are usually as empty as their top-knotted pates, form a striking class in Korea. Their long bamboo pipes and their wooden shoes recall those of the first Dutchmen who came to Japan, and their haughty demeanor (much copied by the aspiring jeunesse dorée) oftentimes accords illy with their general appearance af ambulating rag-bags. Many of the Koreans possess an alert mentality, but this is usually so befogged by superstition, prejudice, and conceit, that it is of little use to them.