You must have watched the famous show called Squid Game (오징어 게임) on Netflix, but do you know the references behind it? There are many references to the South Korean culture such as food, history and tourist attractions that foreigners, like us, missed while watching it.
- The paper game - Ddakjji (딱지)
In the first episode, the main character, Seong Gi-hun, was chased by loan sharks after gambling away all his money. He was then seen playing Ddakjji with a man in suit on the subway platform. The man had promised to give Gi-hun 100,000 won each time he flipped his Ddakjji. After rounds of playing Ddakjji, the man gave Gi-hun the Squid Game card with shapes of square, circle and triangle printed on it. The card qualifies Gi-hun as a contestant of the Squid Game.
- The flower song - Mugunghwa flower (무궁화꽃)
During the first game, in the first episode, you may have heard that a giant robot doll says “무궁화 꽃이 피었습니다” (Mugunghwa kkoci pieotseumnida). When translated to English, it is “The rose of Sharon flower has bloomed”. The rose of Sharon flower is the national flower of South Korea, and is being referred in this children’s game.
The rose of Sharon became the national flower after Korea gained independence from Japan. It even appeared before the Gojoseon dynasty, symbolizing “Eternal blossom that never fades”. The flower is part of the South Korea’s national anthem and can be found on government organizations’ flags, such as the president’s emblem.
These are some variations of the flower:
Dansim : White, red, purple, or blue flower with intense red or purple center
Baedal : Pure white flower
Asadal : White flower with intense red center that fades to pale pink at the petal edges
All images are from the Ministry of the Interior and Safety
- The doll - Young-hee (영희)
The giant robot doll plays an important role in the “무궁화 꽃이 피었습니다” game, or known as the “Red light, green light” game in English. The rules of this game are simple. While the doll is singing and has her back facing the contestants, the contestants need to cross the finish line before the time runs out. If any contestant is caught moving when she is facing them and not singing, the contestant is shot and eliminated from the game.
For foreign viewers, the doll may seem irrelevant, but her presence is a reference to the childhood of many Koreans. The doll was inspired by Young-hee, a Korean girl found in children’s textbooks in the 70s and 80s. She has a male friend called Chulsoo. Young-hee is also a unisex name, and was very popular in the 50s.
- The lunch box - Dosirak (도시락)
In the third episode, we can see the players eating from a rectangular lunch box called Dosirak (or Gwakpap - 곽밥). It was introduced as a traditional way of packing food after Japan took control over Korea, together with other Japanese food like sushi (or Gimbap - 김밥). Back then, Dosirak was known as Bento.
Dosirak is usually homemade and stored in plastic or thermo-steel boxes. You can prepare your own by using cooked rice (Bap - 밥), eggs, soup (Guk - 국), side dishes (Banchan - 반찬), and other types of Korean food that you like. You can surely do a vegan version of it. These Dosirak can be found in convenience stores and train stations too.
- The honeycomb candy - Dalgona (달고나)
In the third episode, Dalgona (or Ppopki - 뽑기), or honeycomb in English, is a rounded Korean candy made of melted sugar and baking soda with a stamp of different shapes on it. The stamped shape needs to be cut out from the rest of the candy without breaking it. Apart from using a needle, you can lick the candy until the stamped shape comes out just like how Gi-hun did. The shapes on Dalgona can be a star, circle, triangle or even an umbrella, just like Gi-hun’s. Usually, you are given 5 minutes to complete the challenge, but the time can differ as seen in the show. The history of Dalgona comes from the 50s, and it is a cultural reference that appeared after the Korean war.
One interesting fact is that the Dalgona were made by candymakers called Segyero Dalgona. With 8 years of experience, the group from Seoul had produced 700 Dalgona for the show. During the early days of the pandemic, Segyero Dalgona experienced financial problems. However, the rise in popularity of Squid Game has gathered lines of people waiting to taste their Dalgona, thus improving their financial situation.
Images from Elissa Lim and Marie Claire
- The tower - Namsan Seoul Tower (남산서울타워)
In the second episode, when Gi-hun and Kang Sae-byeok left the game after majority of the players decided to end it, they were thrown out of a van blindfolded and tied up. Some seconds after this scene, you may spot the Namsan Seoul Tower, which is a famous landmark, in the background.
The Namsan Seoul Tower is a tourist attraction located in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Besides being an observatory and a broadcasting tower, it marks the highest point of the city. You can access it by cable cars that take you from the foot of the mountain to the tower. A one-way cable car ticket costs 7,000 won (almost 6 dollars) for an adult and 4,000 won (almost 3.30 dollars) for a child. A round-trip cable car ticket costs 9,500 won (almost 8 dollars) for an adult and 6,500 won (almost 5.50 dollars) for a child. The cable cars operate all year round from 10:00 to 22:00, except on Fridays, Saturdays and holidays, they operate until 23:00.
One of the many reasons why people visit this attraction is the opportunity to leave a padlock. This is usually done by couples in an attempt to mark their love for each other. Having said that, it can be done by anyone.
In the tower, you can find restrooms, restaurants, stores, free guide services for groups of 10 or more people (but only with reservations), pamphlets and maps in English, Japanese and Mandarin.
The cost of a visit to the observatory is 11,000 won (almost 10 dollars) for an adult, and 9,000 won (almost 7.50 dollars) for a child. You can also choose the Ryan CHEEZZZBALL ADVENTURE package: Big3 is 20,000 won (almost 17 dollars), Big2 is 16,000 won (almost 13.30 dollars) and Big1 is 10,000 won (almost 8.30 dollars). There are audio guides available at 3,000 won (almost 2.50 dollars). The tower is open all year round from 10:00 to 00:00 on Saturdays, and 10:00 to 23:00 on other days of the week.
Thank you for reading until here! See you next week!
Written by: Clara Diz Schmitt
Design by: Clara Diz Schmitt
Corrected by: Elissa Lim
Layout by: Isadora Thomazini
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