Author Archives: Jeff Hsu

Sea Salt

Informant SW is a USC student who went to high school in Hong Kong but his nationality is Korean, so he grew up hearing a lot of Korean folk stories and doing a lot of Korean traditions.

Just tell me the first story that comes to your mind

SW: “Once upon a time the Emperor of Korea had a mill that would spin anything you want. If you asked it to spin gold, it would spin it, basically just say it and it will come out. Anyways, there was a thief that wanted to steal this mill, so one day he dressed up as a government official and started talking to another government official. The thief told the other guy that the King buried the mill so that no one could steal it. The other guy says ‘nah man, the mill is in the garden and is un-stealable because theres people walking around all the time’. So the thief waits until its nightfall and then steals the mill and gets on a boat to get out of the kingdom. While on the boat the thief thinks about what he’s going to ask the mill to make. Eventually he thinks ‘I’ll make salt because everyone wants talk!’. So he tells the mill to make salt, and since he was so happy he didn’t tell it to stop. Eventually the salt got so heavy that the boat sank. Since the mill was never told to stop it continues to make salt and that is why the sea is salty.”

I’ve never heard this story and never heard anything similar to it. In fact I’ve never heard a story explaining why the sea was salty, which is why I found this story really interesting. For some reason this story reminds me of Rumpelstiltskin because they both of the element of the spinning wheel. I like how a lot of folklore stories involve a thief and a magical item and the thief uses the item wrong which explains some natural phenomenon. Very interesting.


Informant KY is my aunt who was born and raised in Shanghai, and came to the states when she was in her late 20s.

Original: 畫蛇添足

Phonetic: hua she tian zu

Translation: draw snake add feet

So tell me where this proverb came from

KL: “So a long time ago in China, they prayed to Buddha and stuff right? So one day after praying this dude had a bottle of wine left and he was going to share it with his friends but he didn’t have enough. So he thought ‘why don’t I have them do a competition where they draw a snake. The first person to finish drawing a snake will get to have this wine all to himself’. So, the guy tells his friends and his friends are all down. They begin their drawing. Eventually one guy finishes, but he sees everyone is still drawing so he laughs out loud and says ‘man i can add feet to this snake and still be faster than you guys’. Which is exactly what he did, he began to draw feet for the snake. However, while this guy was drawing his feet for his snake someone else finishes and take the bottle of wine. The guy who got the bottle of wine turns to the guy drawing the feet and says “why would you even draw feet on a snake, snake don’t have feet dumbass’. ”

okay so is that it or what do this proverb mean?

KL: “Basically the point of this proverb is to tell people to not do more than they need to, because sometimes doing more will only cause you more trouble.”

Thoughts: A lot of Chinese proverbs are based off of stories to teach a lesson, and the proverb literally spells out what happens in the story. I think even though this saying has a point, many times doing extra can still pay off. For example, doing extra work at a job may get you a raise, or going above and beyond in homework will get you a better grade etc.


Informant SW is a USC student who went to high school in Hong Kong but his nationality is Korean, so he grew up hearing a lot of Korean folk stories and doing a lot of Korean traditions.

SW: “Once upon a time there was a frog who was very disobedient. He would do the opposite of everything his mom told him. So one day his mom tells him to say croak, and the frog says… crack or something I can’t remember. He says something that isn’t croak. Anyways, one day the mother calls his son over and says hey I’m about to die so could you bury me bury me by the stream and not the mountain, thinking that the frog would bury her in the mountains because he always does the opposite of what she says. When the mom dies the frog feels so bad for never doing what his mom tells him to do, so he does what his mother tells him to do and buries her next to the stream. A storm comes and washes the mother’s grave away and the frog was so sad he just keeps shouting croak. And that is why frogs croak when it rains.”

Even though my informant says that the story is about frogs and why they croak, I feel like the more important message in this story is to listen to your parents. I feel like this is one of those stories that parents tell their kids so that their kids would listen to them. It is very interesting to see different culture’s way of making kids listen to their parents. Some cultures say monsters will come eat the kids if they’re disobedient, and others are less gruesome like this one.

Hungry Tiger

Informant SW is a USC student who went to high school in Hong Kong but his nationality is Korean, so he grew up hearing a lot of Korean folk stories and doing a lot of Korean traditions.

SW: “There was once a tiger who terrorized the people in the village. One day a guy was walking around in the forest when he came across the tiger who had fallen into a pit and couldn’t get out. The tiger begged the guy to help him out. The guy said he would help him only if the tiger didn’t eat him. The tiger said okay, so the guy helped the tiger out. The moment the tiger got out he attacked the guy. However, before the tiger could eat the guy the guy said they should ask for a second opinion on whether the tiger should eat him or not. Since the tiger liked playing games with his prey, the tiger said okay. So, the guy asks a nearby rabbit if the tiger had the right to eat him. The rabbit said, okay reenact everything so I can see what happened. The tiger jumps into the pit again and the rabbit tells the guy to run away and don’t be stupid like that next time.”

wait but what was the moral of the story?

SW: “I kind of forgot but I think the moral of the story is that you have to think before you act or else you might end up doing something stupid.”

I think this story is very funny because even though this story is about thinking before you act, both the tiger and the man failed to do so. The man should’ve left the tiger in the pit and the tiger should not have jumped into the pit. I guess it is kind of a double warning to people. I have heard of similar stories to this one, except the tiger was a hideous monster and I forgot how but somehow it relates to why people release firecrackers during Chinese New Year.

The Story of Chunhyang

Informant SW is a USC student who went to high school in Hong Kong but his nationality is Korean, so he grew up hearing a lot of Korean folk stories and doing a lot of Korean traditions.

SW: “This is a love story okay thats like pretty well known in Korea. So once upon a time there was a guy called Mongryong who was walking around when he see this girl and instantly falls in love. The girl’s name was Chunhyang. So Mongryong finds out who this girl is and asks her mother for her hand in marriage. Her mother says yes, even though Chunhyang doesn’t want to, and they get married.

However, Mongryong’s father is a government official and has to leave to another city, so Mongryong has to follow him. Before leaving, Chunhyang gives Mongryong a ring as a token and reminder of love. After Mongryong leaves a guy called Pyon replaces his father. Pyon is a super greedy person and just drinks and parties every day. Eventually Mongryong places first in his exams and because a spy for the government to find corrupt government officials. Mongryong, in disguise, goes back to his hometown to see Pyon ruining his village. At Pyon’s birthday, Mongryong reveals himself and arrests Pyon. However, Chunhyang doesn’t believe that Mongryong is who he says he is. Mongryong shows Chunhyang the ring she gave him and she is shocked and then they live happily ever after.”

To me this story is very generic, I felt like I have heard this story a billion times. Love stories in Asia is always about a guy and girl falling in love but then they end up getting separated, then something bad befalls the girl and the guy comes back but the girl does not recognize him until he proves to her that he is who he says he is. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other similar stories all across Asia and maybe even in Western society.