USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘korea’
general

Hand Gesture – Korea

My informant was born in South Korean, but moved to America when she was 16 years old. She explained to me how when she first moved, she was very confused by some of the cultural differences including hand gestures.

In America, we wave people over with our palms facing up. A similar motion that is common in western culture to beckon someone over is curling the index finger. However, in Korea both of these are considered extremely rude and degrading. They typically use the same hand motions to gesture over dogs.

Respect is a huge attribute in Asian culture. It is deeply rooted in family and demonstrated formally through gestures and language. Therefore, using the “American wave” on a human is equivalent to treating or calling them an animal. Koreans will signal people over by having their palm face down, and using a little “digging” or small swimming motion with their hand. Another way to describe it would be having your palm face down and waving it up and down vertically. If you tried calling a cab in Korea using the Western style wave, you would undeniably be rejected and ignored.

At first, my informant thought that Americans were “kind of arrogant and snobby.” She didn’t realize that there would be a significantly different meaning in something as trivial as gesturing someone over. She eventually caught on that people were not intentionally trying to be rude, and that it was just part of western culture to call people over using the palm facing up.

This made me really think about how important it is to be culturally aware, especially while traveling. There are so many little differences that may seem insignificant, but is actually really important to recognize. It helps us better understand our global peers and can prevent us from accidentally offending others.

Tales /märchen

Aesop Tales

Interviewer: What is being performed?

 

Informant: We have our own series of ‘Aesop Tale’ like folk stories and stories with moral lessons. By Jacqueline Jung

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

 

 Informant: I like these pieces because having exposure to Western and Eastern stories- it’s so interesting to see the cross over of  ‘moral lessons’ (air quotes) or the emphasis of compassion or community. I learned of these stories when I moved to Korea.

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: South Korea. (but born and raised in the US)

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: Not tied to a specific religion but they are Korean folktales.

 

Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: When I was living in Korea, moved there in 2006 and when I was learning the language, reading various folktale books.

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: I think very similar to Aesop. They were developed as stories for kids to be compassionate and hardworking.

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: They are very sweet stories. I find them particularly fascinating because they have really similar aspects with tales like Cinderella, The Ant and the Grasshopper and other Western Folktales.

 

Context of the performance- conversation with classmate before class

 

Thoughts about the piece- Reading a children’s book to learn a language is common and this exposure to cultural beliefs seems to have another purpose, to teach about societal values through story at a young age or to an immigrant. You can read a version of the Korean Ant and the Grasshopper here: http://www.uexpress.com/tell-me-a-story/2015/6/28/the-goblin-treasure-a-korean-folktale

 

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy

The Golden Dragon

Interviewer: What is being performed?

Informant: Folk belief by Crystal Soojung Choi

When a Korean mother becomes pregnant with a son, she has a dream that a golden dragon appears to her.

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

Informant: My dad told me this story because my grandmother (his mom) had that dream when she was pregnant with my dad. I really like this story because of the mystical qualities surrounding it.

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but my dad was born and raised in the Boseon area of South Korea.

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: It’s a dream that Korean mothers have when pregnant with a son so I suppose it is prevalent in Korean families.

 

Interviewer:  Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: From my father before I went to sleep one night.

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: It could be part of the values of royal families in older generations that a son was desired for offspring and thus, they were welcomed as a precious treasure before and after birth.

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: With the appearance of the golden dragon, it could show how precious a child is in a family and that they are treasured and loved.

 

Context of the performance- conversation with a classmate

 

Thoughts about the piece- Other portents of sons include dreaming of cows, tigers, snakes and pigs but dragons are the luckiest. Daughters are symbolized in dreams by flowers, jewelry and other delicate objects. More Korean dream interpretation here: koreancultureblog.com/2015/03/17/try-the-korean-way-of-dream-interpretation/

Tales /märchen

Shim Chung

심청은 태어나자 마자 어머니를 여의고, 맹인 심학규의 딸로 홀로 아버지를 극진히 모시며 살아간다. 어느 날 심봉사는 실수로 개천에 빠져 허우적거리는 것을 지나가던 한 스님이 구해주고, 그 스님에게 부처님에게 공양하면 눈을 뜰 수 있다는  말에 넘어가 절에 공양미 300석을 바치겠다고 약속한다.

 

심청은 중국과 조선을 오고 가며 장사를 하던 상인들이 물살이 심해 사고가 자주 발생하는 인당수 지역에 용왕님을 달래기 위한 인신공양으로 바칠 사람을 찾고 있다는 소문을 듣고, 아버지의 눈을 뜨기 위해 자신이 그 제물이 되기로 작정하고 공양미 300석을 받고 인당수로 몸을 던지는데…

 

이에 감복한 하늘에 의해 용궁을 거쳐 다시 지상으로 올라가 황후가 되고 맹인 잔치를 벌여 아버지를 찾게 되었으며, 딸과 재회한 기쁨에 심봉사도 눈을 뜨게 된다는 내용.

 

Shim Chung lost her mother as soon as she was born, and lived alone with her father, Shim Hak-gyu, who was blind. One day, Shim Hak-gyu fell into a river and saved by a Buddhist priest and promised him that he would give 300 bags of rice to the temple, for which Buddha would fix his blindness.

 

Shim Chung heard rumors that the merchants who went to China and Chosun and went to the market looking for a person to serve as a human sacrifice in order to appease the King Yongdang in the frequent occurrence of accidents. In order to open his father’s eyes, she determined to become this, and take the 300 bags of rice throwing herself into the sea.

 

When she threw herself into the sea, the heavenly god was moved and saved her. She became the wife of a king and the King provided a party for blind people and her father was invited there and met her daughter. Surprised and pleased, he opened his eyes.

 

Background Information:

 

This story emphasizes serving one’s parents with devotion which is very important in Korean culture. This story is in children’s book and learned at elementary school.

 

Context:

 

This is mostly performed as Korean traditional opera.

Personal Analysis:

This story shows that Korean people care about respecting elders. It’s a part of their culture that respect is given as a default unlike in America where respect should be earned. The happy ending seems a bit unrealistic, but it shows the daughter doing her duty to serve her dad as well as the blessings that came because of it.

Foodways

Korean Pajeon Sauce

Information about the Informant

My informant is from a Vietnamese family. She’s currently an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington. In her spare time, she loves to knit and cook, primarily baked goods, but also some “Asian” recipes that she learned from her family. This is a recipe for a Korean sauce for “pajeons,” which is a type of pancake-like dish with green onions as a primary ingredient (for the pancakes, not the sauce).

Transcript

“To make the sauce for the Korean Pa jeon, I do–let’s estimate it to 3 tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of Worchestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon of chili garlic sauce, roasted sesame seeds, and 1 tablespoon of the–just the lemon ponzu sauce.”

Collector: “And you just mix it all together?”

“Yeah. And I think that’s it.”

Analysis

One of the things my informant shares with her mother is their mutual love of cooking. This is a recipe passed down to the informant from her mother, and is interesting because it clearly not “authentically” Korean. There is the obvious “inauthenticity” of a Korean recipe being passed down through a family of non-Korean though East Asian extraction, but in a closer examination of the ingredients that my informant gave me, one in particular stands out as unusual. Worchestershire sauce is definitely not of Korean, let alone, Asian origin, an ingredient that is strongly associated with the European continent. There is also the ingredient chili garlic sauce, with chili being a plant that is native to the Americas and which only spread after Columbus’s voyage. This raises questions, as is often the case, of what is authentic cultural food? Is the use of the chili pepper acceptable as the plant spread in the 16th century, but Worchestershire sauce is not because it has stronger ties to a non-Asian culture? This is a recipe that my informant and her mother have been using for years, but it’s clear that some elements did not come from some grand chain of passing-down all the way from the ancient Koreans.

Digital
general
Narrative

Japanese girl’s suicide drawing

My informant tells me this story of a teenage girl in Japan who drew a drawing Japan shortly before she committed suicide. The story and drawing went viral in Asia. In the forums online, it is said that you can see the girl’s sadness in the eyes of the girl in the picture. Forums warn against staring into the girls eyes for longer than 5 minutes, telling me that people have committed suicide after doing it. According to my informant, people say the picture changes,as you view it there is a hint of a growing taunting smirk appearing on the girls lips or a dark ring grows around the girl or her eyes.

Me: “Have you looked into the picture for five minutes?”

Informant: “No! I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but it’s really scary when you actually try it! I can’t meet the girl’s eyes for more than a few seconds because I’m afraid of what I will see!”

Me: “Do you believe that people have committed suicide from looking at the picture?”

Informant: Not really… I don’t think they did. But it’s a freaky story, so I don’t know.

Analysis: Through my research, I could not find any solid news articles to support the claim that people have committed suicide after looking at this drawing, though many people claim there are hundreds. Furthermore, I found some forum posts that claim a video-game designer in Japan was the real artist of the portrait and that he was still alive and well. Some forum posts claim that because the image has a blurry quality to it, if you stare at it for too long, your vision will get blurry as well and you are under the illusion that the picture is changing before your eyes. This also has to do with the image being seen on a digital screen.

Because of the context of the story and the atmosphere in which it is often read, this will help induce fear and influence a person’s response. This most likely is an elaborate internet hoax, much like a chain email letter. People enjoy being scared because it provides an adrenaline rush which can be extremely addicting.

My informant is 23, Korean-American, and currently studying at USC (expected graduation 2013). She first saw the picture and heard the story when she was in high school, approximately 16 years of age.

Folk Beliefs
Myths
Narrative

The Virgin Ghost

Whenever an unmarried woman dies, her spirit is cursed to become a “virgin ghost.” She is forced to roam around, instead of having passage to heaven or having a peaceful afterlife. This ghost is cursed, as no one loves her in the after-life and her appearance also frightens the living.

This story was told to my informant by her friend. They both believed as teenagers that they needed to get married, as they did not want to be cursed as a ghost. She now believes that this was told to encourage young women to get married.  Korean culture wants their offspring to get married as soon as possible. This is due to the fact that in the olden days Koreans considered unmarried bachelors to still be children. My informant also stated that this myth is quite prevalent in Korean television shows that deal with horror aspects.

This is quite interesting as the Korean culture values so much that they are willing to frighten young women in to getting married. What this folklore basically states to Korean women is that, if you didn’t get married you were not wanted, thus in the afterlife you are cursed to frighten people and roam around. Interestingly females ghosts are also prevalent in Asian folklore as menacing creatures, my informant could not give me a reason why to this. It does make sense to me that a “Virgin Ghost” would be lonely in the afterlife as her appearance is frightening. However my informant stated that if the “Virgin Ghost” meets a “ghost spouse,” the spirit will be free to have a peaceful afterlife.

Customs
Folk medicine
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Korean Ritual: Eating seaweed soup on your birthday, leads to a longer life.

In Korea, everyone eats seaweed soup on their birthdays as it brings them a good year and also a long life.

My informant stated that ever since she could remember, her mother would make her seaweed soup on her birthday. She stated that when she asked her mother why every year and on everyone’s birthday they eat this soup, she stated “By eating this soup on your birthday, you will live a longer life.” When I asked my informant where this belief came from, she stated that the long seaweed represents a longer life line. She also stated that pregnant mothers eat this soup once a day for a month during their pregnancy, so that their child will live a long life.

My informant states that she keeps this ritual alive as she makes this soup for her children every year for their birthdays. I believe that this belief came from the nutritional value of seaweed. Seaweed is also a very affordable and cheap food for people in Korea. I believe that in the poorer areas of Korea, seaweed was easily attainable and thus became a staple for birthdays and in general for subsistence. The symbology of eating a long piece of food on one’s birthday to elongate the eater’s life is also a nice symbol.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Korean Dream Superstition

“When you have a dream about teeth falling out, that is a very bad omen that brings death.”

 

My informant first heard this superstition from her mother when she was ten years old, living in the city of Pusan in South Korea.  Her mother had a dream that one of her bottom teeth fell out, so she told all her children to be careful.  Her mother was afraid that since her bottom teeth fell out in her dream that would mean someone younger than she would meet his or her death.  In Korea the people are anxious about having dreams of teeth being knocked out because they take that as a sign of death.  The upper row of teeth would mean death for someone older and the lower row of teeth would mean death for someone younger.  She believes that teeth falling out signifies death because once you reach a certain age, your teeth would start to deteriorate.  Teeth were vital in consuming food, so the absence of them were a great discomfort.  Therefore, when someone lost his or her teeth, it was common to believe death was near, especially without the technology of dentures then.

I can see how death and teeth falling out can be linked together.  The sign of youth can be when a baby first grows his or her teeth.  Hence, when someone becomes old enough to lose his or her teeth, that symbolizes a life coming to an end rather than a beginning.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

She’s got her shoes on backwards. – Korean Expression

“She’s got her shoes on backwards.”

 

My informant first heard this saying in her hometown, the urban city of Pusan, Korea.  It is duty in Korea for males to devote two years of their lives to army training.  The training is not optional but mandatory.  As soon as they were called, the boys would have to leave everything they were doing to move into a military base for two years.  “She’s got her shoes on backwards” is a common saying when a young man returns from his army training.  The saying means that his girlfriend before the army training would have married someone else by the time he returns.  She would did not faithfully wait for him.  Gwi heard this saying when she was in high school and her two older brothers were leaving for army training, and their mother warned them that by the time they return they should not expect their girlfriends to be patiently waiting because they would most likely “have their shoes on backwards.”

Apparently it happened quite frequently in Korea that a girl would not wait for her man to return from training, especially if she were faced with proposals from other men.  I can see how the saying originated.  When you have your shoes on backwards, your shoes point to a different direction.  Instead of walking to her man, she would walk the other direction to a different man.  If she has her shoes on backwards, she would walk away from her man.

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