Author Archives: connorye

How Zebras Came from Donkeys

SP is a first generation Korean American who was born in Anaheim but moved to and lived in Nairobi, Kenya for 15 years. She is a third culture kid and went to an international school there. Currently she is an International Relations major at USC.

“So basically there are a bunch of donkeys…and um they used to work hard every day carrying bundles for miles and miles across long distances. They were always working hard day in and day out, and they got really tired because all they wanted to do was lie on the grass and be like little free-spirited cute animals that didn’t do any work at all. So they found a wise old man sitting on a random hill or something, and the wise old man had an idea and said “Hey, why don’t I paint you so nobody can tell that you guys are donkeys? And then you won’t have to work anymore!” So then the donkeys were super happy about that and lined up to get painted first white, and then black stripes over that. And the old man said “Now you can run off and I will call you zebras and you will not be donkeys anymore.” Soon enough, other donkeys saw these weird ass animals roaming around with black and white stuff on them but they weren’t doing any work and they became jealous. So they also went to this old man and created a huge line all wanting to become new, reformed, beautiful zebras that played and rolled in the grass. But they got super impatient and kicked over the freaking paint pots and like kicked and stirred about so there was no more paint and the old man couldn’t turn any more donkeys into zebras. That’s why today, there are BOTH donkeys and zebras on the earth, and this is also a really important lesson from the Ugandan people about PATIENCE AS A VIRTUE.”

When I asked her where she learned this story from, she told me she learned it from children’s book when she was younger, and she re-read it recently, which is why she remembers it pretty clearly.

This Ugandan myth not only tells the story of how zebras came to be, but also has a moral to be learned from it. One thing I found interesting about the story was that it taught patience as a virtue but did not seem to make a comment on the laziness of the zebras (or the donkeys for that matter). I can imagine that myths such as this one arose from people’s curiosity about the physical similarity between two species, in this case the donkey and zebra.

신발 선물하면 도망간다

AK is a first generation Korean American from Cypress, California. She is majoring in Occupational Therapy at USC.

Koreans say not to buy your girlfriend or boyfriend shoes because they will walk away, meaning that they’ll break up with you.”

Original Translation: 신발 선물하면 도망간다
Pronunciation: shin-bal sun-mul-ha-myun do-mang-gan-dah
Literal Translation: If you gift someone a pair of shoes, he/she will run away

“This is a common phrases I heard growing up that was often used in a comedic way.”

I find it interesting how even in giving gifts, there are cultural taboos, or things that generally avoided. Also, the interpretation of the symbol of shoes is that they are specifically used for running away, and not something else such as protecting the feet from the ground. It could be useful to know metaphors such as this, because you could accidentally send the wrong message by buying your significant other shoes if they are Korean!

The Sun and the Moon

AB is from Seattle, Washington and is an Electrical Engineering major at USC. He is a first generation Korean American. He lived in Korea from 1 to 4 years old, so Korean was technically his first language even though he was born in the United States.

“Once upon a time there was a poor family consisting of a mother, son, and daughter. So the mother made money by working for other families. One day she was working for a rich family and took some rice cakes when she was leaving in order to feed her children. On her way back home, a tiger started following her and he was hungry. So he asked the mother for a rice cake. Because the mother didn’t want to be eaten, she gave the tiger a rice cake, but the tiger kept following her. And he kept asking for more rice cakes. Eventually the mother ran out of rice cakes and the tiger ate her, and then the tiger took the mother’s clothes, and disguised as the mother, he approached the house of the son and daughter. He’s at the house and knocks on the door and asks them to let him in, but the boy and the girl say “Your voice doesn’t sound like our mother” so they say “show us your hands” so the tiger shows them his claws and they say “your hands are dark and hairy. Our mother’s hands are white.” So the tiger goes and covers his hands in flour and shows them his hands again and they let the tiger in. He goes in and says he’ll go and make them dinner now, then the boy and the girl notice the tiger’s tail and realize it’s a tiger, so they run out of the house out of fear of being eaten and climb a tree. And then the tiger starts chasing them but doesn’t know where they are when he gets outside, so he starts running around until he sees the reflection of the children in a well, and says “Aha! You’re in the well!” but the boy says “No, we’re in the tree!” And then the tiger’s like “How did you get up there?” and the boy lied to him saying “We used oil,” so the tiger went and got oil and tried to climb the tree but slipped and fell down. And the girl started laughing at the tiger and while she was laughing she basically suggested that the tiger should use an axe instead. So the tiger went and got an axe and started chopping grooves into the tree to use as a ladder to climb up. So the tiger’s climbing up and the children are freaking out because they’re about to be eaten so they pray to God, and then a rope came down from the sky and they climb the rope. After they climb the rope, the tiger gets to the top of the tree but the children are gone. So he also prays to God asking him to “send down the rope if you want me to catch the children” so another rope falls from the sky and the tiger starts climbing the rope, but it’s a rotten rope so the rope breaks and the tiger falls back down to earth. Meanwhile, the children climb up to the skies and the boy becomes the sun and the girl becomes the moon, but then the moon says she is scared of the night, so instead the boy becomes the moon and the girl becomes the sun. The end.”

My informant said he originally heard this story sometime during his childhood, probably from a children’s book. When he first heard it he was quite confused but found it pretty funny and random.

I thought this myth was pretty random and humorous. It reminded me of the story of Little Red Riding Hood. I asked my informant if in Korean culture the sun is referred to as a female and the moon a male, but he said he wasn’t sure. If that is the case, then it would contrast to the Western notion that the moon is related to females and the sun to males.

아는 길도 물어가라

AB is from Seattle, Washington and is an Electrical Engineering major at USC. He is a first generation Korean American. He lived in Korea from 1 to 4 years old, so Korean was technically his first language even though he was born in the United States.

Korean proverb: 아는 길도 물어가라
Pronunciation: Aneun gildo muleogara
Translation: Even if you already know the way, ask again
Meaning: Don’t be overconfident/Don’t assume you already know everything perfectly

“Where did you first hear this proverb?”

“My parents told me and they would say it a lot. I guess you could use it for like…when you are about to do something, you should remind someone to be careful, or be wary, or don’t get cocky kind of. So it’s like reminding someone to double check before they do something.”

Although I have not heard this proverb before, it is something that I often practice in my own life. I am a huge proponent of double checking/clarifying things, especially for school assignments, because I hate spending a ton of time working on an assignment only to find out that I missed an important requirement.

Vietnamese Funerals

GD is from Orange County. She is a first generation Vietnamese American. Her parents are Vietnamese refugees. GD is a student as USC majoring in global health on the pre-medicine track. She wishes to return to Vietnam to serve the rural populations through maternal and child health care.

“For Vietnamese funerals, the immediate family of the deceased…um…wears headbands…or more like tied pieces of white cloth around our heads to represent the ashes of the deceased, even if they aren’t cremated.”

“I know from experience from both my grandmas’ funerals, as I had to wear them. In Asian culture, the hierarchy of the family is really important, so they’ll designate with stickers which generation you are. Then the guests attending the funeral know who to pay their respects to.”

As far as I know, this tradition is unique to Vietnamese culture. It also shows the cultural respect for the deceased and their legacy, as can be seen by how many people are paying respect bearing the name of the deceased person.