My lecture on protocol and good manners began just minutes after meeting the director of Yeijiwon, the Institute of Etiquette and Decorum, and I had not even signed up to be a student. The institute is the nearest that South Korea has to a finishing school and its bridal course provides training to produce the ultimate accomplished, self-effacing and desirable wife of every traditional man's dreams. Here, young women are taught the complex rules dictating a formal Korean wedding, how far to bend over when bowing and how every modest women should twice repulse a man's attempt to hold her hand before capitulating. Within minutes of our meeting, the formidable school director, Kang Yong-sook, had chided me for my informal greeting and more so for the unforgivable sin of not turning up with a business card. Ms Kang is extremely proud of the school which she founded and has run for more than 25 years. Her students are taught genuinely useful skills: how to cook traditional Korean food, how to wear traditional dress; and other more questionable accomplishments like how to carry oneself without making an unseemly noise (walk lightly on the balls of the feet). At about US$500 for several weeks of lectures, the price of feminine distinction is modest, but the time and energy this amount of self-improvement takes means that the students are from well-to-do families. Polished and aloof, many were recent graduates who had enrolled before looking for a job and a husband (or maybe just the husband), while others were on the verge of marriage. Some suggested that the course made them more eligible. Watching the students learn how to stitch and replace the collars on a traditional Korean dress, it was difficult to avoid some fleeting thoughts which involved concepts like 'time', 'money' and 'too much'. 'I would just send this to the dry-cleaners to be done,' one student confided, suggesting that changing times have managed to penetrate even the most staid of Korean social circles. But the young women demurely accepted instructions that after marriage they should never give orders to their husbands, but rather make requests. Despite often being described as one of Asia's most dynamic societies, South Korea's Confucian culture has historically restricted women to the care of home and family. Despite enormous advances, they still face systematic discrimination even before birth - the preference for male babies persists. At its best, the institute helps preserve a valued traditional culture, but in a country where the path to equal rights still lies ahead, perhaps they should be teaching women to stomp down that road instead of walking silently.