USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘farmer’
Folk speech
Proverbs

“The Value of Hard Work”

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions or sayings he remembers from his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, but that in particular, his parents have always emphasized the value of hard work. The subject stated that the proverb is a traditional Chinese proverb, but provided me with a rough summary as he remembered his parents telling him. After doing some research, the story comes from a Chinese idiom, “Shòu zhū dài tù”, or “Watching a tree stump, waiting for rabbits” (visiontimes.com). Additionally, the original idiom does not mention the farmer himself dying, so this could possibly be an alternative ending that the subject’s parents told him for extra emphasis. This seems like a rather graphic story to tell to a young child, but the proverb and the idiom it originates from highlights the reliability of hard work instead of luck. (Source url: http://www.visiontimes.com/2013/11/18/the-chinese-idiom-watching-a-tree-stump-waiting-for-rabbits.html)

Main Piece

“The jist of the proverb is about a farmer who one day luckily manages to catch a rabbit that runs head first into a tree. So instead of farming or working hard, he decides to sit by the tree every day and wait for more rabbits to run into the tree. Of course that never happens because that’s only a really lucky occurrence, so he starves and dies.”   

Childhood
Narrative
Tales /märchen

A Korean Tale of Two Brothers

Jenny is a Korean-American studying Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Studies at USC. She transferred from Mt. San Antonio College to USC in the fall of 2016. After graduating and attaining her B.S. in a year, she plans to pursue her Master’s in Korea. Her hobbies are watching anime, eating Korean BBQ, and playing phone app games.

Original Script

Ok, so this is another story I actually saw—but I actually saw it on this, like, cartoon show that my mom got for me. It’s like a Korean cartoon. Um, basically what happened is there were two men and they were brothers and they were both farmers. And they lived in farms like right across from each other and every night one of the brothers, he, would be like, “Oh I think I want to give my other brother more hay so that he can be…he can like have more success.” And, so every night, he would bring over a bunch of hay from his farm to his brother’s farm and he would keep doing that with food and, um, maybe like fertilizer—things like that. And then what happened is one night he accidentally—‘cause it was really dark so he couldn’t really see well—he was walking and then he bumped into somebody and then he like looked to see who it was. And it was actually his own brother who was giving him, who like had, like, fertilizer and hay also. So it turned out that they were both giving each other, like, what they had just for the sake of the other brother.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant learned of this story from a book her mother read to her as a child. The tale of the two brothers has a special place in her heart because she admires the strong bonds between the siblings. Their ability to give and never expect anything in return brought a smile to her face every time before she fell asleep. The story taught her about familial sacrifice and to treasure her family.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

Although the story is a folk tale, there is a memorial tomb dedicated to the two brothers in Chungcheongnam-do. This suggests that the tale could actually be based on real siblings, making the story even more inspiring to people who have heard of it. Erected in 1497, the tomb is engraved with 173 hanja characters, extolling the brothers’ familial love and piety as ideal examples to future generations concerning how one should behave towards one’s family.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I found this narrative very heartwarming because of the sacrificial familial love it promotes. Hearing the tale reminded me of the numerous times both my parents and older sister have gone out of their way to support me and my dreams. Rather than the several stories I have heard about family feuds or sibling rivalries, this is one of generosity, of selfless love, and of everlasting brotherhood.

Humor
Legends
Narrative

The Coconut Tree

Contextual data: My informant (my roommate) told me this story late at night when I asked him if he could think of any stories his parents had told him when he was younger. Another of our friends was present, and she was laughing for much of the performance. According to my roommate, his father told him this story about a coconut thief and two lovers–all of whom have horrible fates–as a joke when they were driving in the car a couple years ago. His father was goofing around and trying to make him laugh, so we can assume this story is usually told as an attempt to be funny. My informant’s father is from Vietnam, and he presumably heard this story there. The following is an exact record of our conversation:

Jackson (me): All right, why don’t you tell me that story that you just told me?

I (my informant): Ok, so once upon a time, there was a Vietnamese farmer. Within his backyard, or farm, or whatever you want to call it, he had a coconut tree. Umm, one day a thief decided that he wanted to steal some of the farmer’s coconuts, so he snuck into the backyard, climbed the really high tree, and . . . umm . . . used his knife to cut off a few coconuts, and put them . . . uhh . . . he tied them around his waist and held a few. And then, underneath the tree was a couple kissing, and when the thief had too many coconuts he accidentally dropped one and it fell onto the man’s head, and he bit off the girl’s tongue. So the girl eventually died of blood loss in her mouth, and the man died of concussion, from the coconut falling on his head from meters above the ground.

J: [Laughing]

I: And, ultimately, the thief was tried for burglary [laughing] and eventually put into jail. The end.

J: [Laughing] All right, do you remember who told you that story?

I: My dad.

J: Uhh, did he mean it as a joke, or like a—

I: I think . . . I think he was just like joking around, but it’s definitely a story that he heard in Vietnam at one point in his life.

J: Ok, so your dad’s from Vietnam?

I: Yeah, he moved over in the 70s—to the U.S. in the 70s.

J: Do you think that the story has a meaning behind it, or something like a moral?

I: Uhh . . . don’t kiss under a really high coconut tree?

[Both laughing]

I: Umm . . . pay attention to your surroundings. Like, if the farmer was actually paying attention, then the thief would have been caught before all this stuff happened and umm the couple would have avoided a tragic fate. And the thief shouldn’t have been so greedy as to grab so many coconuts and dropping them to the ground.

J: Does the story have any personal meaning for you?

I: [Laughing] Umm . . . don’t stand under a coconut tree . . . or any dangerous objects.

Even just judging by our reactions (and that of my other friend who was present), the story is meant to elicit laughter, but it does so through very dark humor. It’s all about people doing things with bad connotations–a thief stealing coconuts and a couple having a romantic rendezvous late at night–and then getting into trouble because of it. As is the nature of all contemporary legends, this story may or may not have actually occurred, but the details have undoubtedly changed as it has been passed on. I think my informant is right about the meaning behind the story; it’s about being aware of your surroundings, but, beyond that, I think it’s about not doing what you shouldn’t be doing. It’s definitely black comedy, and it’s entertaining to listen to, but, in the end, everyone has something bad happen to them almost as punishment for what they’re doing right before. And who knows? As a contemporary legend, it could have actually happened.

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