Tag Archives: Korean culture

Insider and Outsider

Original Script: 인싸, 아싸

Phonetic (Roman) Script: Inssa and Ahssa

Full translation: Insider and Outsider

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the interviewer and the informant, and it was translated from its original language Korean.

Informant: There’s this popular slang in Korea, especially for school and office settings, mostly college. It’s “Inssa” and “Ahssa”, they alway go in Paris. Inssa is shortened for insider, and ahssah is shortened for outsider. They describe the type of person you are in a given social setting. Insiders are those who can blend well with the crowd. They’re popular, outgoing, they’d get drinks all the time, talk to professors well, all that. Outsiders are, well, outsiders. They’re the people who don’t have any friends, who are not up to date with pop culture and all the new slangs.

Interviewer: Is this concept any different from the pre-established introvert and extrovert?

Informant: I think inssa and ahssa are more exclusively to these specific social settings, like schools, and more specifically colleges. I think it’s just a newer way of saying the same stuff, but it has slightly different tones. Introvert and extrovert are more like internal, personality trait things. I think you can be an introvert and an inssa, like you don’t have to be an extrovert to have good connections.

Interviewer: Are there any variations of these terms?

Informant: Yes. You can add the word ‘haek’ in front of them. Haek is Korean for nuclear, and Koreans use that word as kind of an additive to really emphasize things. So a ‘haek-inssa’ would be a really extreme insider, someone who knows everyone in their school. A haek-ahssa would be someone who’s like invisible.

Interviewer: How would you describe yourself when you were in college?

Informant: I think I was more of an inssa at first, but towards later years I jus stopped caring so much

Background:

My informant is a Korean male in his mid 20s, working as a barista in Seoul. He graduated from college already, but he describes himself as well versed with current Korean lingo and college culture.

Context:

The conversation took place on the phone. The informant was in house by himself in a comfforbtale setting.

My thoughts:

These new words came across as more jokey than serious, but they still gave me the sense that it was to point out people who weren’t outgoing. I’m not sure if categorizing everyone in these standards would be positive, but I did find the terminology very catchy.

Zzam-Tiger

Original Script: 짬타이거

Phonetic (Roman) Script: Zzam tiger

Transliteration: Leftover tiger

Translation: Leftover cat

Main Piece:

The following conversation was translated from its original language Korean.

All Korean men have to serve in the military, so there’s a lot of military specific stuff and language that most men know. One thing that I remember is the zzam-tiger. “Zzam” is a shortened word for “zzanban” which means leftover food. Zzam tigers are cats that roam around army bases and eat leftover food. They are called tigers because I think it’s a cuter nickname, and Koreans just love anything that have to do with tigers. Most zzam-tigers are stray cats, but quite often there are upper ranking officers who bring their own pet cats to their bases, so it’s a mixed bag. But either way, no soldier is supposed to harm or even remotely be rude to the cat. Besides risking insulting your officer’s pet, why would you just be a dick to a cat? That’s mean. Most soldiers are really nice to these cats, because they’re cute. Most zzam-tigers are treated as mascots of those bases, and all bases have at least one zzam-tiger. It’s like having a communal pet. And it’s really therapeutic to have a cat around, because these cats are really friendly. They can also get rid of rats, if your base has any. Similarly, if your base has a dog, they are called zzam-wolf, and seagulls near navy ships are called zzam-phoenix. The part of the joke is to call them stronger than they really are. It’s part of the fun.

Background:

My informant is a Korean man in his mid 20s, who had just been discharged from his mandatory service about a year ago. His base also had a stray cat that was beloved by him and his fellow soldiers. Military jargon and tales are very a large part of Korean culture, especially for Korean men, as mandatory military service is an almost-universal experience for them. It is a unifying thing that most Korean men share, and a frequent conversation starter.

Context:

The conversation took place over the phone. My informant was at his house in Seoul, Korea, and he was alone in a comfortable setting.

My thoughts:

It is common to find stories of animals living amongst soldiers all around the world. Most U.S. bases in foreign countries allow soldiers to have pets, and historically most navy ships and submarines had cats on board to get rid of rats. Animals are known for providing therapeutic presence, and for soldiers who have high stress occupations, having these animals around seem like an effective way to help them.

Wonhyo and the Skull Water

Main Piece:

The following was transcribed from a conversation between the interviewer and the informant.

Informant: Korean culture is built on Confucianism and Buddhist teachings are very common. So a lot of proverbs, old sayings, and things like that nature are based on these concepts. A very famous story that’s even relevant today is Wonhyo. Wonhyo was an early Buddhist monk, a scholar, and a philosopher in Shinla dynasty, which is around like during the 600s. The story goes that he was on his way to China for essentially a study abroad. One night on his journey, he found a cave to take shelter in and decided to spend the night there. Inside the cave he found a bucket of water, and because he was thirsty he drank it all and it was delicious- tasted like water. Next morning, we woke up and realized that it was actually a human skull not a bucket, and the water was actually like some remnants from the brain basically. He learned from that incident that everything is up to your own beliefs, because like he believed the water to be good and his body in part made him to believe that, you know, so he decided not to pursue the study abroad and came back to Shinla (Korea).

Interviewer: Can you give me examples of how this story has become modernized? How do people nowadays use it?

Informant: It’s mostly like for comedic, or funny situations. Like for example, I saw this post on Twitter that basically this girl who works at Subway ran out of salt, so whenever a customer would ask for more salt she’d had to shake an empty salt shaker just to front. But apparently one customer complained that there was too much salt in their sandwich. In that situation, Koreans would describe it as the ‘skull salt shaker’, it’s like you add skull in front of the object in question, that makes the joke.

Interviewer: Why and how do you think a story that old stayed relevant even till this day?

Informant: I think with stories like these, the older the better, because they’re so distanced from any time specific things that it makes the story almost universal. And it’s just a relatable morale, everything depends on how you decided to look at it, that’s something that people can think about, no matter what year it is.

Background:

The informant is a student living in Seoul, Korea. She’s finished all her general education (from elementary to high school) in Korea, and now currently goes to a college in Seoul. She describes that the first time she read about the story of Wonhyo was through a history text book in 5th grade. Even though the informant isn’t a practicing Buddhist (she describes herself as atheist, like most Koreans), these beliefs and teachings are widely accepted and used disregard one’s religious beliefs.

Context:

The conversation took place over the phone, while the informant was alone in her college dorm, in a safe and comfortable environment.

My thoughts:

Upon doing some research, I learned that there are a few different versions of the story of Wonhyo. In the Japanese telling, Wonhyo went inside a cave only to learn next morning that it was actually a grave (so the water and skull is absent in this version). In another telling, it’s the combination of the two- he went inside a grave and drank the skull water. No matter which version of the story is the most faithful to what actually happened, the central morale of the tale remains the same.

1st Birthday – Korean Tradition

Piece:

“A Korean tradition celebrates a baby’s first birthday and it’s super traditional, like the baby wears the traditional Korean outfit and there’s rice cakes that are like rainbow, and there’s like fruit and always a lot of food but the main event is where uhm you set the baby in front of 5 or 6 different objects, and the baby has to choose one. Like a pen is going to be intellectual/writer, a stethoscope means you’ll probably be a doctor, there’s usually something for sports and there’s like other things that the parents want to throw in. Now there’s like cameras if their parents are photographers, or a paintbrush for an artist, but you put the baby in front and the baby chooses one of the things and that’s supposed to kinda predict what they are going to do in life and that’s a big part of the birthday celebration.”

Background Information: The informant is a current USC student with a Korean background. We were discussing childhood stories when she suddenly remembered a big tradition in Korean culture.  After telling me the story, the informant texted her mom inquiring about her first birthday celebration. She didn’t remember what item she chose as a baby, so she asked her mom. Her mom responded and said that the informant had chosen a pen, which as mentioned in the piece, represented intellectual/writer. I asked the informant if her decision of choosing the pen was consistent with her major and she agreed that it was.

Context: I was explaining the purpose of my assignment to the informant by providing different examples of folklore that I had collected from other students. After giving several examples, the informant stopped me in my tracks and began telling me this piece. This tradition is something that the informant’s family participate in. She remembers it because whenever a first birthday is celebrated, a family reunion is planned to witness the tradition. 

Personal analysis: I remember when I was younger, I was watching the movie Tinkerbell with my siblings and one of the scenes included a tradition similar to the Korean tradition that was described. Upon being born, Tinkerbell was placed in the middle of a circle surrounded by different objects. It was explicitly stated that whatever item she picked up first would determine her job in the fairy world kingdom. Now that I’ve been informed that this is a Korean tradition, I’m not surprised that Disney “borrowed” this folklore and incorporated in one of their movies.

 

 

 

 

 

The Tiger’s Whisker – Korean Folktale

TEXT: Once upon a time, there was a woman with a husband who had just come back from a war. When her husband came back from the war, he was a different person. He used to be very kind and loving and stuff. But after the war, he was very harsh and short-tempered. He would snap at her if she had said something that he didn’t like. So the woman went to a local witch and after explaining her situation to the witch, asked if she had a potion that can change her husband back to who he used to be before the war. The witch said that this would be a very difficult potion to make but she did have a recipe for a potion that can help her with her husband. The witch told her that she needed the whisker of a live tiger to make the potion. The woman told her that that would be too difficult and almost impossible. The witch told her that if she did not have the whisker, she would not be able to help.

So the woman went home and made a bowl of rice smothered in meat sauce and brought it to the side of a mountain where a tiger lived. She left it on the edge of a cave and left. The next day, she went back to the mountain and saw that the rice bowl was empty. She replaced that empty bowl with another bowl of rice smothered in meat sauce. She repeated this for multiple days, weeks, months. Eventually, one day, when she was replacing the bowl of rice, she noticed that the tiger had been outside of its cave, waiting patiently. The next few days, she noticed that the tiger was closer and closer to where she normally put the bowl of rice. One day, she decided to stay by the rice bowl to see if the tiger felt comfortable enough to come and eat while she was watching. The tiger came and started eating the bowl of rice, and she even softly pet his head as he ate. The next day, the woman went back up to the mountain where the tiger lived with a bowl of rice and a pair of scissors. While the tiger was eating the rice, she carefully cut off a portion of the tiger’s whiskers, making sure that she did not hurt the tiger.

The next day, she ran to the witch and brought her the tigers whiskers. The witch grabbed the whiskers and threw it into the fire. The woman was very angry. The witch said that if the woman can tame a wild tiger, then why can’t she do the same for her husband. If she can gain the trust of a tiger, then why can she not be just as sensitive and caring for her husband, learning to gain his trust again.

CONTEXT: I asked my informant if she knew any Korean folktales while I was driving her to Orange County. She asked me if I had ever heard about the story of the woman and the Tiger’s whisker. I told her no so she started telling me the story from her memory.

INFORMANT: My informant originally learned of this folklore when she was in junior high school during her Korean Language school that she attended every Sunday after church. She remembered this story primarily because she had to learn it in Korean. This meant that she had to read it over and over again. She also had to practice telling the story in Korean. However, when she told me the story, she told me the story in English because that is her primary language.

My informant really likes the story because she thinks that it has a really good meaning and moral behind it. She likes the fact that the story emphasizes diligence and working at something. She liked how the story was saying that if you work hard at something continually without giving up, you would be rewarded.

MY INTERPRETATION:  My interpretation of this story aligns with my informant’s views of the story. I think the point of the story is to learn how to be sensitive and adapt to people who may be difficult to deal with. Similar to how someone would be very cautious around a dangerous wild animal, the same level of care and caution is required when dealing with people that are difficult. It’s clear that the husband comes back from the war a different person because of the trauma associated with war, or PTSD. If we truly care about something or someone, this story says that we must diligently care and be sensitive to them.

This tale is clearly not meant to be seen as a factual story that happened in the real world. The purpose of this story was primarily to get the meaning of the story across. There was a moment of implied causation within the story that I realized was there after I rewrote what she told me. When the woman in the story first sees that the bowl of rice was empty, it is implied that the tiger had eaten the bowl of rice.

Also, the use of the tiger and rice seems to be a cultural detail, rather than a universal one. If this story were to be told from an American perspective, I would think that the animal would be a lion, primarily because we view lions as the top of the food chain. When it comes to food, I would think that an American folktale would incorporate something specific to America, not rice. Tigers are strongly associated with Korean culture. Everything from the Korean Olympic mascot to children’s television shows, tigers are often used to represent the Korean culture and tradition. This seemed far more real to me when I asked my informant if she knew other stories and she listed off a few other folktales that she knew, all incorporating tigers.