Korean Currency

So, this post is the long promised post in which I post pictures of Korean currency and talk about it a little.

First of all, the Korean currency is called won. It’s on par with the Japanese yen. This is mainly because of the Japanese occupation of Korea, but more on that later. The conversion rate for won to dollars is roughly 1100 won to one dollar.

This is a sip won — ten won — coin. It’s about nine-tenths of a cent. Essentially useless. I thought it was the lowest coin available in Korea, because in almost two months here I hadn’t seen anything lower, but Wikipedia informs me one and five won coins are available. If someone gave me one of those I’d probably slap them. That shit can’t even be worth the metal it’s minted on. The smaller coin is the more recent version, but bigger ones are in circulation still. On the front of this coin is the Dabotap pagoda. Apparently only four were ever erected, beginning in the year of 751 A.D., but only one remains. It’s located in Gyeongju, and is designated South Korea’s 20th national treasure.

Here’s the osip  won — fifty won — coin. Nothing particularly interesting about this coin. It’s worth roughly 4.4 cents. On the front is just a stalk of rice. Boring coin.

Here’s the baek won — 100 won — coin. Worth just about 8.9 cents. On the front of the coin is Yi Sun-sin. Yi Sun-sin was a famous naval commander that won a great reputation for his battles against the Japanese navy in the 16th century. When he was shot and killed on December 16th, 1598, he was quoted as saying “Do not let my death be known”, because he didn’t want his men to lose their morale. Certified badass.

This is the obaek won — 500 won — coin. Worth just about 44.4 cents. On the front of the coin is a bird called a Manchurian Crane. I don’t know what specific importance of this bird is, and I don’t particularly care to do that much research.

Here is the cheon won — 1,000 won — bill, which is 89.4 cents. On the front is the Confucian scholar, Yi Hwang, who lived from 1501-1570. In the background is Seonggyungwan, which was Korea’s highest educational institute in the 16th century. Yi Hwang was one of it’s most notable scholars. Also pictured are some plum flowers. On the back you see a painting of Dosan Seowon, which was an institute founded four years after the death of Yi Hwang for education and the memorialization of sages. The painting was painted by Jeong Seon (1676-1759), who was a painter that was notable for having departed from traditional Chinese-style, as well as the fact that he wasn’t born to a noble family, but achieved his court presence through recommendation after his work was discovered.

On the obverse of this bill, the ocheon won — 5,000 won — bill, which is about $4.47,  is Yi I (1536-1584). Yi I was a contemporary of Yi Hwang and a certified child prodigy. He was writing Chinese calligraphy at three, composing poems at seven, had completed his studies on the Confucian classics at seven, and by thirteen had completed the Civil Service literary examination. He served the government by writing on his wide knowledge of Confucian and Taoist philosophy and politics. Behind Yi I you can see Ojukheon Museum in Gangneung, South Korea. It’s named for a special kind of black bamboo that grows in that part of Korea. Unfortunately, Wikipedia has no information on what Ojukheon Museum has.

On the reverse of the bill, there’s a painting of watermelons by Shin Saimdang (1504-1551), painter and mother of Yi I. Shin Saimdang is a nearly legendary figure in Korea. She was one of the first women that was taught to write, because at the time it was a woman’s place to tend the home, not to obtain an education. She also symbolizes many desirable traits for Koreans: respect for her parents, selflessness, and being a good wife and mother.

This is Korea’s man won — 10,000 won — bill, which is $8.94. On the obverse of the bill, one can see Sejong the Great. Sejong (1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) was the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). Sejong the Great is only one of two kings posthumously honored with the ‘the Great’ title. Sejong the Great was the inventor of Hangul, the Korean writing system. Until the creation of hangul, only the most educated could write, and it was in Chinese. Sejong the Great created a phonetic system, entirely based on the shape your mouth makes when you make each sound, which anyone can learn in a matter of hours. He was also credited with strengthening Korea’s military and several technological advances, but hangul was by far the most important. Also pictured is a special kind of screen made just for Joseon-era kings, and text from Yongbieocheonga — Korea’s first piece of written literature.

On the back is the globe of Honcheonsigye, the only remaining astrological clock from the Joseon Dynasty, national treasure #230, and Cheonsang Yeolcha Bunyajido, a 14th century Korean star map. National treasure #228, the work shows over 1000 stars, 260 constellations, and ecliptic and equatorial lines.

This is the oman won — 50,000 won — bill, which is worth $44.68. On the obverse of this bill is Shin Saimdang, mother of Yi Hwang. In the background is Chochungdo, national treasure #595, which is a folding screen embroidered with flowers and insects. On the reverse, just bamboo and plum trees. Pretty plain.

Well, that’s a lot of information to digest. To be honest, it was mostly for me anyway. It was super interesting to learn about some Korean historical figures. I wish I could’ve done it at home so I could spend more time reading and not just copying. I guess I’ll have to do that reading on my own later. It’s also worth noting that all the bills are slightly different sizes. The larger the bill, the larger the paper. It’s not super noticable unless you have all the bills stacked on top of each other, but it’s enough to give me a headache because I’m super OCD about all the bills in my wallet all being lined up perfectly together so the folds are in the same places on each bill.

I’ve got the language group tonight. Sometimes I find it super hard to study Korean outside of the group, particularly vocabulary, which is what I need to work on the most right now. Friday, I’m heading out to another Cheonan City FC game. Hopefully it’s warmer by then. I spent some time researching, and Cheonan’s in the middle of a tough set of three games. They played Incheon last Saturday, Busan Tuesday, and Yongin City Friday. Those are the top three teams in the league right now, and in Cheonan’s two years of participation in the league, they haven’t finished better than tenth, so it’s a real rough stretch. Getting the point against Incheon was great, particularly after the bad start, and Tuesday they lost the match to Busan 0-1. Hopefully they can get three points against Yongin on Friday and come out of the three game nightmare fairly well.

Saturday it looks like I’m probably going to Bucheon with Dave to see one of his friends. Bucheon is almost exactly in-between Seoul and Incheon. He says it’s a lot bigger and more happening than Cheonan, and it has a sizable foreign population. I guess it’s one of the cities like Cheonan that was only recently developed, but it’s a couple steps ahead of Cheonan, so there’s more shit to do. I’m honestly just ready to have a weekend that isn’t either slow as hell or a hectic runaround like my weekends end up being. I’d enjoy just a nice night on the town and a guaranteed place to sleep.


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