Author Archive
Humor

Butthole Hair (Korean Joke)

Background Info/Context:

Both my mom and dad would tell me this silly Korean expression, that I truly believed as a child, whenever I would cry and then start laughing. They used this phrase to make me laugh harder after crying, most likely to help me feel better or to just poke fun at me. They used to say it in a sing-song manner, implying that this is something that people would say to each other as a joke. This is a saying that my parents’ friends used to say to each other as kids.

 

Piece:

Korean:

울다가 웃음은 똥꼬에 털난다!

 

English Transcription:

Ool da ga oos uhm myun ddong go aye tul naan dah!

 

Transliteration:

Cry and then laugh then butthole hair grow!

 

Translation:

“If you cry and laugh, your butthole will grow hair!”

 

Thoughts:

This little saying is probably not true, but I think that it can be interpreted as more than a joke. Even though this phrase is usually told in a playful way, it has some serious implications in its underlying meaning. It seems like a light-hearted way of telling someone that they should not be so fickle about how they feel. Crying and laughing can be considered opposites to each other, as crying implies sadness, while laughing implies happiness. So at the most basic level, it does not really make sense for those reactions to occur one after the other. Growing butthole hair could be viewed as a “punishment” or a repercussion to having almost “bipolar” reactions. 

Humor

Eating While Laying Down

Background Info/Context:

As a child, I liked to eat snacks or meals while laying down, whether it be my parents’ bed or on the floor in front of the TV. My dad used to scold me, saying that it was bad for my digestion, but I never felt sick or nauseous. I had seen him do it a lot, so why would it be bad if I did it too? So he told me this Korean saying to try to prevent me from further eating while laying down.

 

 

Piece:

누어서 밥먹으면 소된다

 

Transcription:

Noo uh suh bap mug uhmyun soh doen dah.

 

Transliteration:

Lay down while eating cow become.

 

Translation:

“If you eat while laying down you’re gonna turn into a cow!”

 

 

Thoughts:

My dad probably said this to scare me into doing as he asked, and to prevent me from developing bad habits. Even though I never truly believed it, I did stop eating while laying down, just in case. I think this saying functions in a similar way to the belief of “If you eat the seeds of a watermelon, a watermelon will start growing inside you!” Although it’s not true, and there isn’t a real punishment for eating while laying down or eating watermelon seeds, they both seem to be things that people tell children to see if they are gullible or not.

 

Adulthood
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Green Frog (Korean Story)

Background Info/Context:

I was a very energetic child, but when my little sister was born, I transitioned to become rowdy and disobedient. I didn’t want to do anything my parents asked me to do, and I was difficult for the sake of being difficult. As a 5 year old, my mom tried to get me to understand why she needed me to listen to her, so she told me this old korean bedtime story.

 

Piece:

Korean:

“옛날에 엄마말을 잘 안듣는 청개구리가 있었어요.

엄마 말은 안듣는 청개구리는 언제나 엄마말 반대로만 했어요.

그러다 결국 엄마는 병이 나서 죽게 되었어요.

엄마는 마지막에 청개구리한테

“내가 죽거든 나를 냇가(강)에다 버려주어라”하고 얘기했어요.

엄마는 산에다 잘 묻어주기를 바랬지만

반대로 강에다 버려달라고 말해야

산에다가 묻어줄거라 생각했어요.

엄마가 죽고, 말썽꾸러기 청개구리는 울면서 마지막 엄마 말은 꼭 지켜줄려고,

엄마를 강에다 버리고, 비오는 날에는 엄마생각을 하고 울어요.”

 

English Transcription:

Yet nah rae umma mal uhl an duhd nuhn chong gae goo ree gah ees sus su yo.

Umma mal ul ahn duhd nuhn chong gae goo ree nuhn uhn jae nah umma mal ban dae roo man hay suh yo.

Guh ruh dah gyul gook umma nuhn byong ee nah suh jook gae dae suh yo.

Umma nuh mah jee mak eh chong gae goo ree han tae

“Nae ga jook guh duhn nah rur nae gah (gang) aye dah buh ryuh joo uh ruh” ha go yeah gi hes uh yo.

Umma nuhn san aye da jal moot uh joo gi rul ba ret ji man

Ban dae ro gang aye da buh ryuh dal la go mal hae ya

San eh da ga moot uh jool guh ra sang gak hays uh yo.

Umma ga jook go, mal sung koo ruh gi chong gae goo ree nun ool myun suh ma ji mak umma mal uhn kok ji kyuh jool la go,

Umma lul gang aye da buh ree go, bi oh nuhn nal eh nun umma sang gak ul hae go ool uh yo.

 

Transliteration:

A long time ago mom not listen green frog there was.

Mom words not listen green frog always mom words opposite did.

But at the end mom sick got died.

Mom last green frog tell “i die my body riverbank throw away.”

Mom mountain well buried wanted

Opposite riverbank throw away tell him

Mountain bury think he will.

Mom die, not listening green frog while cry last mom words definitely listen,

Mom riverbank throw away, rainy day mom think about cry.

 

English Translation:

A long time ago there was once a green frog, called “청개구리” in Korea (pronounce chong gae goo ree) who did not listen to his mom. Everything he did was the opposite of what she would ask. The mom was getting seriously sick, and it was almost time for her to die. So the mom has to tell her last words to the green frog, and she wants to say that when she dies, she wants to be buried well in the mountains. But she was afraid that her green frog wouldn’t listen, so she told him the opposite. At the end of her life, she told him, “When I die, you can throw me in the nearby riverbank.” So once his mom died, green frog was so regretful that he always did the opposite of what his mom asked, he decided to listen to his mom’s last words. So he really just threw his mom’s body away in the river. He was so sad and regretful, so when it rained, the green frog would cry at the river.

 

 

Thoughts:

I think this is a really sad story, and I used to cry when my mom told me about the Green Frog. The narrative takes a bad “habit” that many children can empathize with, and shows a dramatic consequence that the green frog has to face. The story acts as an indirect warning to children to listen to what their parents or authority figures in their lives, even if they don’t want to. Respecting elders is a large part in Korean culture, and this story is an engaging way to teach that lesson to children.

 

For another version of this story read the children’s book, “The Green Frogs” (1996) by Yumi Heo.

 

Folk speech
Narrative

“Contradictory” (Origin of the word in Chinese)

Background Info/Context:

A few friends and I were talking about different words in our own respective languages. For example, in Korean, a booger is called “코딱지 which literally translates to two separate words that mean “nose” and “sticky thing.” So my friend piped in saying that there was something similar in Chinese for the word “contradictory,” but needed to tell the story in order for us to understand.

 

Piece:

“In Chinese, the word for “contradictory” directly translates to “spear” “shield”– “mao thun.” Individually, the words mean “spear” and “shield,” but when you put them together, it means “contradictory,” and that’s because a long time ago, there was this Chinese salesmen, and he was selling like military armor and everything.

So he was walking down the street like “Hi everyone! Buy my spear! It’s the best spear ever! It can like pierce through anything in the world. It’s so strong” blah blah blah. And people would buy it. The next day, he would sell his shield. Like “Everyone, buy my shield! It’s the best shield ever, nothing can pierce through this.”

And then people are like “Hold on. Like you just said that you had the best spear in the world and it can pierce through anything. Would your spear pierce through your shield?” And so he was just kinda stuck like “Oh shoot, I don’t know.”

 

 

Thoughts:

I think this story is a nice way to help people remember this word in Mandarin. Many “compound” words in Korean actually mean what the words that are combined actually describe, but it was interesting to listen to this story about the word “contradictory,” and see how the meaning of this “compound” word in Chinese means something entirely differently to its parts.

I can see this story also serving as a lesson to people who are hypocritical or contradictory. More broadly, you shouldn’t say one thing and do another. For example, gossiping to one friend about someone else and then going to that other person and gossiping about their friend is bound to catch up to you.

Click this link to watch a different version of this story on Youtube: https://gbtimes.com/swords-shields-and-chinese-contradiction.

Customs
Gestures

Tapping Fingers While Receiving Tea

Background Info/Context:

My friends and I were out to dinner at a Korean Chinese-Style restaurant to get some noodles, and the waitress brought us a pot of tea. I started pouring into my friends’ cups, and I noticed that my Chinese friend was tapping her index finger and middle finger together on the table as I was pouring. So I asked her what she was doing, figuring that she was feeling restless or wanting to test the stickiness of the table. She surprisingly said, “You’ve never seen someone do this?” And when my other friend and I both shook our heads “no,” she told us why she did that. This is a practice that her uncle taught her to do when she was young.

 

Piece:

Friend: “Today in Chinese restaurants, when anyone pours tea for you, you have to use your two fingers and like tap the table next to your cup.”

 

Me: “As you’re pouring?”

 

Friend: “As the person’s pouring for you. You have to say “Thank you” to them by tapping your fingers like this *right index and middle finger and held out and touching, as they lightly tap the area next to her cup.* You could also knock your two fingers on the table.

 

Me: “So you do this if an older person if pouring for you?”

 

Friend: “No, I think if anyone does it for you. It’s just a way of saying “Thank you,” cuz you say “Thank you” to everyone. So the reasoning behind that is that like way back, in one of the dynasties, I don’t remember which one, but the king would have to like go out of the palace to like do stuff right. He can’t just stay in his home forever. So whenever he goes out, and he doesn’t want to be recognized, but let’s say he has lunch at a restaurant outside. Um, when he doesn’t want to be recognized, and no one’s allowed to bow to him, cuz it would just give it away. So instead of bowing to him, if anyone sees him and recognizes him, they would just like do this *taps two fingers on the table.* Or like subtle. So like kneeling right? So instead of bowing you kneel to the emperor. So they do this instead, to make it subtler. So now it’s like if anyone, it’s just a sign of respect.”


Thoughts:
I really enjoyed this piece of folklore that my friend shared, because I had no idea that this was a common practice. I have never seen any of my friends tap their fingers or knuckles on the table, probably because it’s more of a traditional Chinese thing to do, rather than just verbally stating “Thank you.” I interpret this act to reiterate Chinese culture of respect for elders.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Foodways

There are gods in Rice

Background Info/Context:

Yigi and I were chatting about things that parents have said to their kids to make sure they were being studious, obedient, or respectful. She told me about a story that she heard that parents told children to make sure they finished their food.

 

Piece:

Yigi – “Parents would tell me that in each rice, there lives a little god. And if you waste any, they will be upset and bring you bad luck, so you have to finish your food.”

 

Sophia – “Did you believe that as a kid?”

 

Y – “Uh, my parents didn’t tell me that story, and a friend of mine told me about it.”   

 

Thoughts:

Children, including myself, don’t usually think about waste and often have tendencies to leave one bite of food, or be greedy and spoon a lot onto their plates and not end up finishing at the end of the meal. This story was probably told to children to scare them into finishing all of their food, but more importantly, to not be wasteful. Luck is heavily tied in Chinese culture, and people try to bring as much of it towards them as they can, by wearing red, having statues of dragons, etc. So bringing about bad luck by wasting food would be squandering the other efforts they’ve put to bring luck to them.

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

The Pregnancy Dream

Background Info/Context:

My mom told me that when she was pregnant with me and my younger sister, she had a very distinct dream about each of us. Korean people call this pregnancy dream, 태몽 (pronounced tae mong). This apparently happens most frequently, to the mother, but often times the family or close friends. The dream uncovers some insight about the baby that is imminent.

 

Piece:

Korean:

Sophia-

내가 임신하기 전에 꿈을 꿨는데,

아침에 아파트 수영장에 나갔는데, 수영장에 큰 검은 물고기가 하나 가득있었어.

나는 그중에 제일 큰거를 한마리 잡아서 들고 왔는데, 엄청 크고 빛났었어.

그 얘기를 엄마한테 했는데 엄마가 태몽이라하더라고.

 

Jamie-

연수는 임신하고도 태몽을 안꿔서…

누구 내 태몽 꾼사람 없나… 하고 있었는데,

한국에 있는 친구가 갑자기 전화가 와서 나보고 임신했냐고 묻더라고,

내가 어떻게 알았냐고 물었더니,

내가 걔 꿈에 나와서 엄청큰 보석반지를 끼고 예쁘다고 자랑을 했다하더라고…

 

태몽은 예전에 아기 낳기전에 아들인지 딸인지 몰랐는데 알고싶으니까

태몽으로 아기 성별을 맞춰보곤했지

너희 꿈은 둘다 딸꿈

 

English Transcription:

Sophia-

Nae gah eem shin ha gi jun aye koom uhl kuh nun dae,

Ah chim aye ah pah tuh soo young jang aye nah gat nnun dae, soo young jang aye kun kum uhn mool go gi gah ha nah gah tuhk ees suh suh.

Nah nun guh joong aye jae il kun guh rur han mah ri jab ah suh dul go oah nun dae, um chung kuh go beet nah sus suh.

Guh yea gi rur umma han tae het nun dae umma ga tae mong ee ra ha duh rah go.

 

Jamie-

Yon soo nun eem shin ha go do tae mong ul an koouh su…

Noo goo nae tae mong koon sa ram ub na… ha go eet sus nun dae,

Han gook aye eet nun chin goo ga gap cha gi jun hwa ga owa suh nah bo go eem shin han nya go moot du ra go,

Nae ga uh dduh kae al at nya go mul ut duh ni,

Nae gah gae goom eh nah owa suh um chung kuhn bo suk ban ji rur yeah buh da go ja rang ul het da ha duh rah go…

 

Tae mong uhn yeh jun aye ah gi nat gi jun eh ah dul een ji tal een ji mol lat nun dae al go ship uh ni ka

Tae mong uh roe ah gi sung byul ul mat chi bo gon het ji

Nuh hi goom un dool da tal koom

 

Transliteration:

Sophia-

When I pregnant before dream had,

Morning apartment swimming pool outside went, swimming pool inside big blackfish one full.

I between most big one catch and carry came, very big shiny.

This story mom told she tae mong it is.

 

Jamie-

Yeonsoo (my sister’s Korean name) pregnant after tae mong not…

Someone my tae mong dreamt wonder… thought had,

Korea in friend suddenly call came me pregnant asking,

I how did you know asked,

I her dream in came out very big

 

Tae mong is long time ago baby before born son is or daughter is did not know wants to know. Tae mong with baby gender guess. You all dream both daughter dream.

 

English Translation:

Sophia-

Before I was pregnant I had this dream. It was the morning, and I went out to the apartment pool. In the pool, there were a ton of big, black fish. Out of all of them, I caught the biggest one and carried it back. It was so big and shiny. I told this story to my mom and she said it was a “tae mong.”

 

Jamie-

When I was pregnant with Yeonsoo (Jamie’s Korean name), I did not dream a “tae mong.” But while I wondering if someone else dreamt a “tae mong” for me, I suddenly got a call from my friend in Korea. She asked me if I was pregnant. I asked her how she knew, and she said I appeared in her dream and was bragging about a giant jeweled ring.

 

Tae mong was used a long time ago before a baby was born to try to guess if it would be a boy or a girl. They used tae mong to try to match the baby’s gender. My dreams about both you and your sister were daughter dreams.

 

Thoughts:

As I’ve never been pregnant before, I cannot attest to the gut feeling of when a dream specifically pertains to an unborn child. But this is a phenomenon that I’ve heard from multiple adult women. In fact, my photography professor’s mother, who is also Korean, stated that she’s heard that if the object in the dream that represents the child is small, the baby is male, but if that object is big, it will be female.

The distinct pregnancy dream may be a result of a combination of a multi-generational herd behavior and confirmation bias. When you hear that mothers and people around you have had strange dreams about an unborn child, you may think that one of the dreams you’ve had is related to theirs, snowballing the herd mentality.

This folk practice has been around for a long time, as implied by my mom, when she stated that pregnancy dreams were used as a method to try to guess a baby’s gender before there were ultrasounds and other technological advances. Although the accuracy of them is unknown, these dreams are remembered and shared with friends and family, even after many years.

 

Legends

The New York Rat King

Background Info/Context:

At a party, a group of friends and I were talking about Ratatouille the movie, and my friend brought up another story he knows about rats. This is a legend that he heard throughout middle school and high school from classmates while growing up in New York. He’s never seen it himself, and never wants to.

 

Piece:

“This is a legendary being that lives in New York, called the Rat King. So, the Rat King, is what happens when a bunch of rats get stuck in a room, and uh, as they squirm around each other, their tails get tied together. And eventually they’re all tied together, and they become the rat king. But because they’re tied together, only one of them can survive. So the other, so the one rat, survives, by eating the bodies that are tied to him and drags it around, as he, or she, walks, like scurries, around New York. Just a rat tied to a bunch of maimed and um eaten, half-eaten, other rats. And sometimes they say that, if you look really hard into the subway tracks, especially the ones around Times Square, you can see the Rat King scurrying with his tail tied to all the other dead bodies.”

 

Thoughts:

This piece of folklore seems very believable, as there are millions of rats living in confined spaces in New York. However, there doesn’t seem to be any live evidence of one Rat King eating its way to “freedom” and control. This legend makes my skin crawl, and that’s probably its main purpose. As this is a story that was apparently heavily shared in middle school to freak people out.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Narrative

Golden Ax, Silver Ax (Korean Story)

Background Info/Context:

My grandma told me the story of 금도끼 은도끼 (pronounced ghum do gi uhn do gi), or in English, Golden Ax, Silver Ax, when I was in elementary school after I was caught stealing Ritz crackers out of the prize box. This was a bedtime story that my grandma also told my mom when she was a child. Even though the main purpose of the story was to entertain my mom before she went to bed, my grandma was also trying to teach my mom not to lie and to be a good girl. In my case, my grandma was trying to show me that I need to be an honest person to have good things happen to me.

 

Piece:

There was a man who cut trees for a living… a lumberjack. He was cutting trees in the woods when he accidentally dropped his ax into the pond. He was so sad because that ax was the only thing he had… so he started crying. Suddenly, a mountain god appeared. He had a golden ax, and asked the lumberjack, “Is this yours?” And then the lumberjack said, “No, the golden ax is not mine.” So the mountain god pulled out a silver ax and asked, “Is this one yours?” And the lumberjack responded, “No, that’s not mine.” So the mountain god was like, “Oh, you’re so honest. Then I’ll just gift you these axes and also give you your original one.”

 

But the lumberjack had a facial bump… like something was sticking out of his face. So people who had those were called a “혹부리,” (pronounced hok boori). But in their village, there is another bad guy with bump. So he heard that story and was like “Oh, then I’m gonna go” because the golden ax and silver ax are pure gold and silver, so you can be rich. So the bad man wanted that too, so he mimicked. He cut the tree, and dropped the ax and pretended to cry. The mountain god appeared again and asked, “Is this yours?” while holding the golden ax. And the man cried, “Oh yes that’s mine!” And then he held the silver ax and asked, “Is this one yours?” And the man said, “Oh yes that’s also mine!” The mountain god got really mad and said that the man was not honest, and he was very bad, so he gave him another facial bump instead.  

 

 

Thoughts:

This story contains classic cause and effect examples that hope to lead children to be good and not lie or be selfish. The good guy was awarded for his honesty, while the bad man who tried to deceive the mountain god did not get any axes, but was given a facial bump.

The story is very specific in its consequences for people who lie, but folk literature plays a large part in children’s growth to extract a broader lesson from stories. “Golden Ax, Silver Ax” could be viewed from a larger scope to be a story about being a virtuous person, and that there are positive consequences for good behavior. While those who are not virtuous, will face negative consequences.

 

To read a different variation of this story, read “Golden Ax and Silver Ax : Korean Folktales” (2009) by Dongwol Kim Roberson.

Gestation, birth, and infancy
Gestures
Protection
Signs

Blessing a Baby After Sneezing

Background Info/Context:

Religion plays a large part in Jordanian culture, and Jordanians express it in many different ways. My boss told me about a practice that Jordanians do to their babies to maximize their blessings. She grew up giving babies the sign of the cross on them when they sneezed.

 

Piece:

Rehab – “If a baby yawns, you’re supposed to do the, um, cross symbol on them to bless them when they sneeze or when they yawn. I think it’s more when they’re sneezing rather than yawning if I remember correctly.”

 

Sophia – “Do you think this a Jordanian thing? Because I’ve never heard that.”

 

R – “It’s probably a Jordanian religious thing, I don’t know. A lot of things have to do with God or what they think is religious.”

 

Thoughts:

My boss later shared that giving someone the sign of the cross when they sneeze is not something that continues into adulthood. This is mostly a practice that is done on an infant, to ensure that they are blessed by God. I think adults do this for babies, because babies aren’t able to pray to God themselves, so doing the sign of the cross on them connects them to God even before they’re able to speak.

[geolocation]