The “Red Mask” refers to the most prominent variation of an urban legend that was widely circulated in South Korea around the year 2004. As an urban legend originating from Japan’s story of the Kuchisake-onna (slit-mouthed woman; popular urban legend during 1990s Japan), the story itself was in circulation in Japan as early as the late 1970s, and first circulated around South Korea circa 1993 before re-emerging a decade later.
The informant is a South Korean native born in 1997, being seven years old during 2004 – the peak of the urban legend’s circulation. He recalls his classmates talking about the Red Mask, some with worry and others with possibly feigned bravery. Transcript of my conversation with him is as follows:
“So the Red Mask thing… it went like this, I think. A woman wearing a red mask asks a person if she looks pretty. In some stories, the person replies yes, and the woman makes her ‘look the same as her’ – she rips open both ends of the mouth until the mouth extends from ear to ear like the Joker from Batman, just with a bigger laceration! But if you say ‘I don’t know’, she only rips one side of your mouth. Some dudes also used to say that they saw different masks: For example, the Blue Mask is the Red Masks’s girlfriend. I’ve even heard stories where the Red Mask is goddamn five stories tall!”
The “Red Mask” urban legend is pertinent for a number of reasons: Firstly, it is an example of urban legends going across borders and experiencing changes in the process of doing so; as a nationally famous and well-documented example, the urban legend gives anthropologists opportunities to better understand how different national identities can affect representation of that culture. Secondly, the changes made in the iteration that circulated in South Korea in the 2000s were very different from the original urban legend – although the stories both told of a mysterious woman wearing a mask, the woman is quiet, mysterious and unsettling in the Japanese version, whereas in South Korea the woman is depicted as wearing a red mask and possesses inhuman strength and size. Many suspect the initial circulation of the legend to be from parents’ scaring stories meant to keep their child away from strangers. Therefore, the embellished description of a fearful figure may be just as significant in describing the Korean psyche of fear and not just transformations in folklore across borders.
In Hong Kong, the use of hot coke – a local delicacy – as a cold remedy is widely practiced throughout the region.
The informant is a Hong Kong native, and we first met in high school. He used to tell me how hot coke “does wonders for your cold”. This was taught to him by his mother during childhood. He personally heats the coke with no additions and drinks it, although he did say that “some people add ginger or brown sugar” to taste. The informant claims that hot coke should be consumed for medicinal reasons instead of reasons pertaining to taste. He believes that hot coke is “the way coke was supposed to be drank”.
As folklore, hot coke is pertinent for its overlap between food and folk medicine. Although within the United States and most of the world coke is consumed cold, in Hong Kong it takes on a cultural meaning as the coke is heated to form something uniquely cantonese.
Joke: “Yorick walks into a bar. There is no counter”
In the online video game League of Legends, five players play against another team of five players. Players choose a specific character to take into battle before the game starts, Yorick being one of them. The original meaning of this wordplay is that it is impossible to counter Yorick – at least at the time.
The informant is my younger brother. He is an avid player of the game, playing on a daily basis. He said the joke in self-deprecation after a losing a game against a player who used Yorick. When I asked him where the joke was from, he said that he first heard the joke in game back in 2012, when Yorick was a strong character to use. He added that because the joke got very popular around the game’s community, it is still used when complaining about characters that are too strong.
The example presented is pertinent as the joke was powerful enough to create other variants, such as:
“Jax walks into a bar. There is no counter.” (another character that was very strong at one point)
The meaning of the message is quite clear: The performer of this joke acknowledges that a certain character is too powerful through the use of witty language. Unsurprisingly, the joke is now commonly referenced throughout the community whenever something seems too strong. As a joke that has reached idiomatic levels of acceptance in its folk community, its influence is well demonstrated.
Gachimuchi refers to the originally Japanese style of Internet meme originating from the Japanese video streaming website Nico Nico Douga. Initially beginning with the submission of a gay pornographic wrestling video with a deceptive title circa 2008, it eventually evolved to take the form of a mash-up, where specific sound clips originating from said pornography were extensively sampled to cover existing musical pieces or create new sounds. This style of trolling later spread to nearby countries of South Korea and China, and recently Europe and the Americas through video streaming communities such as Youtube and Twitch.
As more of these videos are made through existing video samples, there is a regular cast of characters, and inside jokes have formed around many of them. Billy Herrington in particular achieved international stardom, visiting Japan and China multiple times, “thanks to the unexpected later success of his pornographic work”.
At a fundamental level, Gachimuchi is very much a misunderstanding of homosexuality, just in the opposite direction than usual, at least in the case of Asia. Gay men are typically seen as feminine by Asian cultures at large, but the widespread popularity of Gachimuchi led to a warped view of homosexuality – although gay men were no longer seen as effeminate they became part of an internet joke on an international scale. This is definitely one of many growing pains in Asia’s struggle in achieving social justice.
On the other hand, Gachimuchi showcases the creativity of its own folk group; content creators like HIWIRE reached a point of musical refinement where their take on Gachimuchi resembles electronic dance music productions (taking influences from various genres of house) rather than poorly sampled mash-ups of gay pornography. With the resurgence in western listeners and attention, this meme has been, and will be on the rise for a while.
“Every cloud has a silver lining”
This is a British proverb that means: In every unpleasant situation still has a positive aspect to it.
The informant is a childhood friend of mine of British descent. He claims to have heard this proverb multiple times throughout his life. This proverb is poignant for being a very ‘British’ proverb, for lack of a better word; at a literal level, the fact that a cloud refers to an unpleasant situation is very apt when considering the British obsession with weather. However, the most moving part of the proverb for me was that it was a message of hope – in hardship the person has to endure it, for there is hope to be found somewhere.