Known as The Rainbow Nation South Africa is one of the most racially diverse countries on Earth. It boasts 11 official languages and dozens of less widely-spoken dialects. The history of South Africa is not a pleasant one: having been colonized firstly by the Dutch, then the British the native tribes were involved in almost constant warfare and bloodshed. In 1948 the system of apartheid was set up wherein coloured and particularly black people were subjected to almost total curtailment of their freedoms.
This was to last for almost 50 years.
The end of the apartheid system however did not bring about the benefits foreseen by the architect of the new era: Nelson Mandela. With sky-high rates of crime – South Africa has one of the world’s highest murder rates – widespread poverty and inequality, frequent floods, daily power outages, terrible roads, a huge influx of refugees mainly from the wrecked economy of Zimbabwe, and suffering through two pandemics, firstly AIDS and now COVID, the country seems an odd subject to choose for our series on Paths to Happiness and yet despite all the hardships South Africa still has much to offer.
In a country with vast open spaces and abundant wildlife, the love of nature is very apparent. To visit the many wildlife reserves such as the famed Kruger Park or simply to walk through the bush, often barefoot the South Africans love to commune with the wild.
Family is of great importance, as are social get-togethers. The unique institution known as the braii, is far more than simply a barbecue. Every braii, where meats and sausages are grilled over slow-burning wood, is a party, accompanied by lashings of beer and gallons of South Africa’s locally-produced wines.
However, what holds the country together is the philosophy of ubuntu, famously propagated by Nelson Mandela as he strove to bring together a country riven by the divisions of apartheid. The meaning of ubuntu is ‘I am because you are: you are because of me.’ It applies not just to people but to animals, plants, the environment, the bush and the hills and the rivers. It means to be conscious of others, to understand that we do not exist alone, that we belong to the world and are responsible for it. It is, explains one South African the same way that flowering plants and crops depend on small insects to pollinate them, for their own survival.
So, even in a land plagued by many problems, still, the South African philosophy is to care for everyone and everything surrounding them.
Sandwiched between the huge, densely populated land masses and economic powerhouses of China and Japan is South Korea. Unsurprisingly they have assimilated the cultures of both their great neighbours so that almost everyone in South Korea will profess to be an adherent of Buddhism, Taoism, or Confucianism, though you will also find a surprisingly large number of Christians.
Wellness plays a significant part in the Korean lifestyle, whether it is hiking in the mountains or eating natural, healthy foods. Nowhere is this exemplified better than the national dish of kimchi, fermented cabbage pickled together with red chilies, garlic, ginger, and salt. This is not simply an accompaniment to your Korean meal: it is an essential part of Korean life and is believed to bring health and sustenance through the harsh Korean winters. Koreans must believe this – they eat an average of 22 kilos of kimchi per head per year.
Then there are the country’s legendary Jjimjilbang, or bath-houses. Here you can enjoy not just a long, healthy soak in a hot tub surrounded by the scents of herbs and spices but also a massage, a swim in the pool, saunas, ice rooms, and even a place to sleep.
The unofficial motto of South Korea is Hongik Ingan. This was the philosophy of Dangun, the legendary warrior and founder of the first Korean kingdom in the year 2333 BC. It translates as ‘to live for the benefit of all humankind’. This is coupled with nunchi, the ability to interpret people’s emotions by their actions, their body language, to intuitively sum up the feeling of a room or a meeting and to act accordingly.
So in a way not dissimilar from the philosophy of another, very distant and very different country.