Author Archives: Iris Park

Folk Belief – Kazakhstan, Korea

An active sex life can clear away acne

A Kazakh friend told me that she heard this, asking me if I thought it was true. I told her that I although I am not particularly inclined to believe it, I am not sure, and that I have heard it as well. She told me that her peers, mainly her Kazakh friends, would occasionally refer to it. I told her that in my experience in Korea, many people seemed to believe it, and a lot of adults would mention it as well too. For example, if a girl’s skin mysteriously cleared up, her friends might tease her by asking, “Who is it, who is it?”

Because both of us have international friends, and friends who have been abroad, we are both not completely sure where this belief originated from—whether it was predominantly Asian belief, or whether it was an American belief that our friends have picked up and brought back. It is so interesting to see, that as people’s concepts of nationality and ethnicity begin to blur, the distribution of our folklore consequently gets just as complicated and confusing. Is this a Korean belief that spread to Ukraine?—An American one that spread to both Korea and Kazakhstan?

Apart from its interesting distribution, I also think it shows a rather positive attitude towards sex. It implies that sex is a natural and healthy activity, and the lack of it could result in unhealthy skin. Because this belief is often expressed hand in hand with the belief that stress causes pimples, it also seems to suggest that either sex is a good way to dissipate stress—or that without sex, we are likely to experience stress.

If I were to guess, I would tend to think that this belief is probably more inline with Asian beliefs, than with American beliefs. Although Americans are much more liberal with their bodies, and open about sex—I still feel that I can perceive the Christian notions that sex is a temptation, or a guilty pleasure. Yes, the Americans are open about sex, but it simply means they are open about admitting their carnal desires. In Asia, or at least, in Korea, however, we are not as open about talking about sex, or showing lots of skin, but sex is not usually thought to be a “sin” or a “temptation.” More often, it is thought to be a natural phenomenon, and a rather normal and healthy one, at that. It is simply considered embarrassing and distasteful to talk about it too publicly, is all.

Folk Speech – Korean



One Hand Tribe

The word “jok,” officially meaning tribe or race, has been used informally to create a colorful range of neologism to denote the various subcultures that have emerged with new technologies and new trends. One big one that was in widespread use while I was in Korea in 2006 was “???,” (sounds like “Well-Bing-Jok) literally, the “Wellbeing Tribe,” which refers to the growing masses of people who have decided to lead a health-conscious lifestyle. Because often these neologisms use English terminology, it is not difficult to translate into English. Recently, Gisuk told me of a new term that is in use in Korea, and it is the “One Hand Tribe.” She learned this over the Internet in 2008. She said that it describes a subculture of people who, whether for pleasure or business, have become so proficient in cell phone use that they often are text messaging with one hand, while doing something else with the other.

Cell phones are an indispensable aspect of modern Korean culture; cell phones now act as a phone, email, lap top, TV, and accessory, and I have known a few people who could literally hold up a full blown text message conversation while doing three other things at once, so I was not very surprised to hear that they now have a word to refer to these people. I can only imagine, that in the future, we’ll be saying Two Hand Tribe, as opposed to One Hand Tribe, when the one handers have become the majority, and the primitive, peculiar people who need to use both hands to handle a cell phone—have become the minority tribe. I will probably be one of them.

Folk Metaphor

Zorrillo; Caballo; Paloma

Skunk; Horse; Bird (Pigeon/Dove)

These are common Spanish words for different animals, but for Spanish speaking truck drivers, zorrillo (skunk) means the highway patrol, a caballo (horse) is a policeman on motorcycle, and paloma (bird) denotes the patrol from the Department of Transportation (D.O.T.). Jorge learned these terms on the highways in Midwest United States—he simply kept hearing them in context, and eventually understood what they meant. When truck drivers are on the road, they use a radio to communicate with other truck drivers nearby. Interestingly, although they are not officially set apart, English speaking truck drivers and Spanish speaking drivers use different channels. He says he thinks that other languages might have their own channels as well, but he is not sure. These words are used mainly to warn others if they see patrolmen or police. Because the patrolmen and police have access to the radio as well, should they think to tune in, the truck drivers use this coding to avoid being so obvious.

Jorge thinks this shows a negative attitude toward the officers of the road. “It’s their job to give us tickets. If I can help another driver to not get a fine, that’s great.” He says it’s a way to be stealthy, but it is also a way to make fun of authority. “Sometimes we’ll say, ‘stupid horse’ or ‘dumb pigeon’ in Spanish.

I agree—naming the officers after animals is clearly a way to make fun of them. The Spanish-speaking truck drivers have code words for other things too, such as Romana (Roman) for the truck scales, but it is the terminology for road authority, in which they specifically make allusions to animals.

I think that there is a slightly different dimension to it as well—I think these terms also signify, in a sense, a feeling of power by the truck drivers. Truck drivers have little authority, on or off the road, but I noticed that when they are sitting aloft in their massive trucks, they feel powerful. In fact, sitting up there and looking down at all the other puny cars and buses one feels like king of the road, and the other vehicles do indeed look like creatures. While driving, Jorge would often refer to them as such, calling another car “that little thing.” An expert driver, he does not worry about making a mistake, but does tell me that if other cars break the rules, such as tailgating or cutting too closely in front of the truck, “they’d better watch out cause they’ll get squashed like a bug.” The patrolmen have authority over the drivers, of course, but sitting so high in their trucks seems to give them a slight sense of power, intangible as it might be. Black and white patrol cars really do look like little skunks, and the D.O.T. in their white cars do look like pigeons. Policemen on motorbikes, of course, do resemble a mounted horse.

Finally, I think these words are also significant in that they reveal how important it is for truck drivers to cooperate and support one another. More than people in other professions, truck drivers seem to bond very closely, they are generally very warm to each other. I have seen Jorge talk jovially and joke around with random truck drivers who pass by over the radio, and have never witnessed hostility or rivalry. It is natural, then, that they would want to help fellow drivers avoid a large fine, or a damaging record on their licenses. Driving for days at a time alone in a truck can get lonely, I suppose, and truck drivers seem to turn to one another for companionship, as well as for road information.

Folk Speech – Korean



eye moisture

A pity

Gisuk was talking to her young niece when she first heard this term. She said she must have said something ‘un-hip,’ because her niece suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, ????!” meaning, “Oh, it’s a pity!” Gisuk did not understand however, and asked her what that word meant. Her niece told her it was ?(?) eye, and ?(?) moisture; short for “moisture on the eyeball,” it is an expression of pity so deep that the eyes start to tear up. Gisuk told me that it was largely an Internet term used by young people online.

I had heard, or rather seen, the word in use before, but had not heard of this explanation. After some research, I found out that it originated when a famous Korean comedian, Ji Sang-ryeol (???) said comically “??? ????” (My eyeballs are fogging up). It instantly became a popular phrase over the internet, until people started to shorten it to just two syllables, the first syllable of the word ‘eyeball’ and the first syllable of the word ‘fogging up.’ In my opinion, this is a perfect example that says an awful lot about the online Korean youth culture.

First of all, the shortening of a two word phrase into a two syllable word is the most common and conspicuous form among these Korean Internet terms. The South Koreans are among the top, if not the top, users of Internet, and have developed a very extensive online culture. The shortening of phrases suits this online culture well, as it is much more of a task to type out long phrases than to merely speak them.

The creativity and unpredictability of the words that get mashed together is also very typical of Internet words. The young people are often find the more colorful and ingenuous creations more appealing, and these are the ones that catch on. Gisuk also mentioned that she thought it was a way to exclude the older generation—to make up words with unpredictable meanings and spread knowledge of it over the Internet.

Another thing that this word points to is the somewhat homogenous nature of Korea’s entertainment. Ji Sang-ryeol is not a mega-star, and yet it is not likely that there are many Korean nationals who have not heard of him. There is not as much diversity on Korean television as there is on American television, and if there is a show on the main channels, everyone is bound to have watched it, or have heard of it. In this way, trends catch on impossibly fast and widely in Korea—and it helps that Koreans are stoutly collectivistic. Therefore, if there is a catchy phrase uttered on television, it is literally a matter of days before many are saying it—with the Internet, the spread is faster and wilder.

Interestingly enough, because of this, it is a goal of some Korean celebrities, especially comedians, to try to begin a new trendy catchphrase, to the point that they have begun to make fun that desire as well.

Joke – California

Sick of being criticized, the police decided to try to pick out a few outstanding drivers and reward them for their good driving habits, as opposed to only punishing the bad drivers. After a month of careful observation, ten officers were sent to reward the designated good drivers.

One officer found his lucky driver, pulled him over, and explained the situation to the nervous driver. “You’ve just earned a reward of one hundred dollars for your excellent driving!” he said, “just out of curiosity, what are you going to do with the money?”

Delighted, the driver announced, “I’m going to go get a drivers’ license!”

Horrified, his wife said, “Please, officer, don’t believe him—he’s drunk!”

With a sigh of defeat, one of the passengers in the back exclaimed, “I knew we’d get caught in the stolen car!”

As the disgusted police officer began to whip out his pen, there could be heard an impatient knock from the back of the car.

“Ey, we cross the border yet?”

(this last line was performed with an exaggerated Spanish accent)

Mary learned this joke from a Hispanic friend in California. She believes that her friend also learned it in California. She says she performs this casually to her friends when they are exchanging jokes. When asked what she thought it means, she said she thinks “it’s basically a joke about illegal immigrants,” and that it’s funny because the people in the car keep unwittingly revealing their secrets that they were hoping to conceal.

Could there be a timelier joke? It is probably no accident that this joke is circulating whilst anti-immigrant sentiments are growing stronger. I agree with Mary that it is funny because of the way the driver and passengers talk themselves into trouble, but I think that the main feature of this joke is that it obscures the identity of these poor, witless folks until the very end. The punch line is a punch line in that it suddenly reveals that they are undocumented immigrants trying sneak in. Admittedly, I gave a hearty laugh when I heard this joke, and I still do not think that the joke is particularly mean-spirited—but after some analysis, I now believe that this joke unfortunately reinforces some negative stereotypes that circulate in California. We are painted a picture of this pack of people crammed into a car, including into the trunk, and they have broken law after law after law. Not only is the driver driving drunk and without a license, they have actually stolen the car. Up until the last line, the listener may or may not have suspected that they were Latin American immigrants, but when we hear the last line it is almost as though we slap our foreheads and go ‘Why of course! Who else would nonchalantly break all the laws and load an entire mob into a single car?’

It is hard to laugh too hard now; these are very damaging stereotypes for the Latin American community, and the joke seems to use humor to confirm them quietly in our minds while we are caught off guard amidst the laughter. And it almost strangely sounds like an argument for the rising anti-immigrant attitude in the US.