“A needle burglar will become a cow burglar.”
This saying means that a burglar who starts out stealing small things will eventually move on to steal bigger things. It serves as an explanation for the fact that people cannot do something bad and end there; they are going to be tempted to do bigger, worse things.
“Don’t wash your hair the night before an exam.”
Many Korean students believe that when studying for an exam, all the knowledge is contained in the hair. Therefore, they believe that washing their hair before an exam will wash away the knowledge, and they will not be able to do well on an exam.
“Don’t step on the threshold when entering a room.”
This is a popular Chinese superstition. Many Chinese people say that stepping on a threshold when entering a room will result in a death in the family. To the Chinese, thresholds represent life, and stepping on thresholds can cut lives short.
“Take a shot of whiskey for a hangover.”
Although this hangover remedy seems to have absolutely no basis in reason or medical knowledge, my informant swears by it. Every time he has a hangover, he takes a shot of whiskey–no matter how badly he wants to throw up.
Perhaps this remedy works for my informant because whiskey is so strong that it can probably force a person to momentarily forget about any nausea or sickness. In addition, Korean males firmly believe in the power of alcohol as a remedy for anything.
“Eat mi-yuk-gook (seaweed soup) on our birthday.”
Korean people have a tradition of eating seaweed soup every birthday because this same soup is used as a source of rejuvenation for women who have just given birth. Seaweed contains many of the nutrients that are needed to make a body healthy and help it recuperate, so seaweed soup is commonly used to aid new mothers. Therefore, seaweed soup is eaten on birthdays in order to appreciate the suffering their mothers went through.
“Another person’s rice cake always looks bigger.”
According to my informant, this saying is similar to, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” Rice cakes are a traditional food item in Korea, so it tends to come up often in folk sayings and proverbs. Even if you have a rice cake that is exactly the same as the one another person is holding, the rice cake always seems to look bigger when it belongs to someone else. This is supposed to mean that even if you have everything you need to be content, sometimes, you tend to envy the things that another person has–simply because they are not yours.
“For indigestion, prick your finger with a needle and let the bad blood out.”
As my informant says, this is a remedy that is commonly used among Korean parents. Whenever someone is suffering from indigestion, the fastest and most relieving solution is to prick the tip of any finger and let a small amount of blood out.
Korean people believe in the existence of “bad” and “good” blood. Therefore, they believe that indigestion is a result of too much “bad” blood pooling in one life. In order to provide relief, the blood must be released so that the body can find some comfort.
“It’s like eating rice cakes while lying down.”
According to my informant, this is a popular Korean saying. It is said when a task is so easy, it’s like eating rice cakes while lying down. That activity takes absolutely no effort, so it means that a task resembling such an activity would also require little effort as well.
“Take tea with lemon and honey for a sore throat.”
This is a remedy that has been passed down from generation to generation in my informant’s family. Whenever he has a sore throat, his mother has always recommended drinking hot tea with lemon and honey; his mother had learned this from her mother, and the remedy keeps going back in generations.
Although tea with lemon and honey does not seem to have any medical reason for making sore throats better, it is probably the combination of hot, sweet, and sour tastes that alleviate the pain in the throat. Like most folk remedies, anything that seems to produce results is constantly reused and recommended, and this is probably how the tea has become a go-to solution for sore throats in my informant’s family.
Informant: William Lam
Primary Language: English; Other Language: Mandarin
“Don’t break off your noodles when you’re eating them.”
William told me that his family has always abided by the rule of not breaking off noodles when eating them. He said that he and his family believe that noodles represent lifelines, and breaking them off will mean their lives are going to be cut short as well.
Chinese people think of longevity as a very important concept, so anything that will harm their longevity will be avoided. This is probably why noodles, which represent life, are not cut short by being broken off. As William informs me, noodles are often symbols of life and are eaten to increase the length of life.