Author Archives: choirene

Korean Proverb

There is a proverb in Korea that is “가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다”

Original script: 가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Ganeun mal-i gowaya oneun mal-i gobda

Transliteration: If the word you say is good, then the word coming back at you is good

Full translation: What goes around comes around.

Background: My informant is a 23-year-old friend from Korea, identified as J. She remembers this proverb because she thinks it’s applicable to everyday life. J says that she thinks this proverb has the idea that if she were to give someone a compliment, they will compliment her back. And because of this proverb, she tries her best to say nice things to people instead of gossiping behind their backs.

Thoughts:

I agree with J on this because it is a common belief that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. I think everyone, regardless of cultural background, should believe in this idea of treating others well because what goes around will come around. Just as some traditions believe in Karma, if you don’t treat others well, you will be punished and have to pay for your actions.

The Story of Momotaro–A Japanese Tale

Main Piece: This is a Japanese tale my friend told me about.


Long ago an elderly couple who lived in the mountains were doing their laundry as usual, and the grandmother saw a huge peach floating in the river, the grandmother took the peach home and cut it to eat it. But a baby boy came out from the peach. They named the baby boy Momotaro (momo= peach Taro= a very classic name for boys).

The boy grew so fast and very strong. One day. Momotaro said to the elderly couple he will go to the devils’ island to defeat the devils. The elderly couple gave Momotaro dumplings (きびだんご)so he could eat it on the trip.

On the way to the island, he met a dog and a monkey. Momotaro gave them きびだんご and they joined him to the island. Later on, he met a pheasant , also gave it a きびだんご and it also joined the party. The crew grew (like avengers).

They all successfully arrived at the devil’s island and cooperated with animals to get rid of the devils. He went back to his house and lived with the grandpa and grandma happily ever after.

Background:

My informant is a 25-year-old Japanese woman who grew up mostly in Hong Kong and Korea. She currently works in Japan. AI remembers hearing about this story on TV program about Japanese folktales. She isn’t sure if they tell this story in Japanese schools because she didn’t attend school in Japan. She says the story doesn’t mean much to her and it’s a popular tale in Japan. AI is also not sure of the meaning, but she thinks it has to do with working together to fight your devils.

Thoughts:

I don’t know any Japanese tales, but I have always been interested in Japanese culture and language. I think this story about a boy working with other animals to defeat the devil is an important message, if this is something that is told to children in Japanese schools. It tells them that they shouldn’t fight with their friends and that if they ever have problems, they should work together to figure it out. I think the message is common in other cultures as well.

Korean Mid-Autumn Festival

Main Piece:

This is a summary of mid-autumn festival in Korea that I talked to my mom about.

Mid-Autumn festival is August 15th on the lunar calendar and falls around mid-September to October. It is called “Chu-seok” and is kind of like Korean thanksgiving in that it is a seasonal holiday that celebrates harvest. The whole family gathers around and make “songpyeon” together, which is a half-moon shaped rice-cake with filling inside. The shape and filling vary from household and region. Some put in mashed beans or chesnuts but a more popular filling for children is combination of sesame seed and sugar.

My mom says she grew up eating the sesame seed and sugar songpyeon and had the mashed beans filling for the first time when she married my dad. The rest of the food eaten at chu-seok is similar to those eaten during lunar new year—meats, savoury pancakes.

Background:

I knew about Korean mid-autumn festival from participating in them when I was younger but didn’t know the exact details of the celebration and thought I would ask my mom to see if she had any insights about the tradition.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I thought it would be an interesting collection for this project because different countries celebrate Mid-Autumn festival differently.

Thoughts:

I don’t think mid-autumn festival was very big in my family. We had songpyeon but that was about it. I’m not sure if there are any activities that we do like sebae in New Year (refer to this post on Korean Lunar New Year for more information about this activity). I think traditionally, there were activities, but they haven’t really been kept today. Instead, I think Chuseok is about spending time with family and celebrating the year’s harvest.

Korean Lunar New Year Traditions

This is a summary of lunar new year traditions in Korea that my mom told me about.

Lunar New Year is based on the lunar calendar so it’s either late January or February. It changes every year based on when January 1st is on the lunar calendar. It is called ‘Seol-lal”. In Korea, you eat rice-cake soup because it is believed that you get a year older when you have the rice-cake soup. There are also other foods, like savoury Korean pancakes and meat dishes like bulgogi or galbi. Traditionally, meat was expensive and rare, so it was a saved for special celebrations like new year.

Children also do “sebae” to elders, which is a traditional Korean bow reserved for new year. It is done out of respect and to wish them luck in the new year. In return, elders give them money along with words of wisdom. The words of wisdom often wish them well on their studies and work.

Traditionally, people used to wear “hanbok” a traditional Korean clothing but it’s less common now except for young children or newlyweds.

Background:

I knew about Korean Lunar New Year celebrations from participating in them myself, but I thought I’d ask my mom about it to see if she had any insights to why we eat what we do and any reasons for celebrating with sebae.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I thought it would be an interesting collection for this project because different countries celebrate Lunar New Year differently.

Thoughts:

Having spent a part of my life in Hong Kong, where lunar new year traditions are very different, I always stuck to Korean traditions with my family. I think it’s fascinating that different cultures celebrate it differently, even though it’s at the same time of the year. I haven’t been able to celebrate with the whole family in the past few years since I wasn’t home in Korea, but I still try to eat rice-cake soup if I can. If not on lunar new year, I’ll try to eat it on new year, like January 1st. For some reason, most Korean restaurants in the US are open during New Years while other restaurants are closed.

Korea’s First Birthday Tradition, Dol-jabi

Main Piece:

This is a translation from a conversation with my mom about first birthday traditions in Korea. She is identified here as M and I am identified as IC.

IC: Can you tell me about Dol-jabi?

M: Dol-jabi is a tradition where you get the baby to grab something on their first birthday to predict their future. Like, they’ll become this kind of person or become someone who likes this. This has been a tradition for a very long time. First birthdays were a big deal in Korea because there weren’t many babies who lived past their first birthday due to the harsh, poor conditions of living many families faced. So, the first birthday Dol-jabi was celebrating the baby for living a whole year and predicting their future.

For you and your brother I placed a ball of thread, money, pencil and rice-cake.

Thread means that you’ll live a long life because the thread won’t snap. Money means you’ll become rich and pencil means that you’ll study well. Rice-cake means that you will grow up not worrying about food.

IC: What did my brother grab?

M: Your brother grabbed money and pencil. Normally, you grab one and it’s done but I waited for one more, because why not?

IC: Do you remember which one my brother grabbed first?

M: I think he got money first.

IC: What about me?

M: You grabbed thread first and then money. But nowadays, that has changed and parents will put a lawyer’s gavel, stethoscope, microphone and other various things to predict specific jobs since a pencil is vague.

IC: What I find fascinating about this is that a one-year-old baby don’t know anything, and they just grab something out of curiosity, but adults will look and be like ‘yay, our kid will become a doctor!’ It’s fun, but in a way also strange.

M: Yeah, that’s true but it’s just fun and traditional. That’s why we do it.

Background:

In Korean tradition, first birthdays are important and and dol-jabi is a traditional Korean activity. It can be somewhat translated to an occupational reveal activity since it is more specific to types of occupations now. But this translation would have been inaccurate during my generation and older as it wasn’t specific to an occupation.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I had remembered about my mom telling me about this tradition and thought it would be an interesting collection for this project.

Thoughts:

I think this tradition was supposed to be something fun for the parents and relatives to predict their child’s future. Because it used to be broad and related to general success in life, it was a casual activity. The kind of activities they place now has changed and I kind of feel a generational difference. With my generation the meaning of items were broad but now it’s specific to jobs and it’s more likely that it won’t be accurate.