Author Archives: Jennifer Min

Shaking Your Leg

“If you shake your leg, your luck will fall away”

My informant shared this superstition as one that her mother’s friends would say to her. She had a habit of shaking her leg whenever she would be sitting, and the ladies of her church always reprimanded her on this habit, stating this superstition. For her personally, she dislikes this saying because it annoyed her when people quoted it to her to scold her for jiggling her leg. She speculated that it probably comes from the idea that ladies should sit still, and such leg jiggling could look unstable. Also, the actual motion of shaking could cause “luck to fall off.”

I have also heard this superstition before. I don’t particularly believe that is has much truth behind it, although I did hear from somewhere that there is a variation of it in which shaking your leg can cause your money to fall away, possibly because shaking your leg could cause your wallet to fall out of your pants. This makes more logical sense, and luck and money can be related concepts. The explanation of the action of shaking being unpleasant to look at also makes sense to me, as it can seem disrespectful, especially at a church in the presence of elders.

Candy to Stick Your Scores

“A certain candy called yeot (엿) is often eaten or gifted before big tests in South Korea. This traditional candy is very sticky, kind of like a harder caramel. Therefore, eating such a sticky candy should help the answers stick in your mind before the test.”

My informant, Grace, said that this is a more recent tradition that developed amongst students, as pressures to do well in studies grew and expectations for test scores became higher. For her, it’s kind of a sad tradition because it shows the desperation of the students in South Korea to which succeeding in school is extremely important and causes large amounts of stress.

This tradition seems cute, eating a sticky candy to make answer stick. However, I do agree that it shows the changes in Korean society, as schooling turns more and more rigorous. I assume that students gifted these candies are under much pressure to perform well, if their parents present things such as this, it could serve as encouragement but may also add pressure as it shows the expectations of the parents for good scores.

“The Disobedient Frog”

“This story was a bedtime story that my grandma used to tell me sometimes when I was a child, probably around when I was in kindergarten. It was about a disobedient frog.

So, once upon a time, there was a tree frog who was very disobedient to his mother. He never did what he was told and always just did the opposite of whatever his mom wanted. For example, like if his mom said not to eat the bug, he would eat the bug and if his mom said to go west, he would go east. Because of his constant disobedience, the mommy frog ended up getting sick, and died. But before she died when she was very sick, she asked the disobedient son to bury her near the river, because, um, she thought he would do the opposite of what she asked, as always, and bury her in the land. However, because his mom became sick from his disobedience, the son frog repented from his ways and wanted to obey his mom at least for her final wish. So, he actually buried her by the river instead of on land. Each time it rained, he was so afraid that his mom’s body would wash away in the water so he would cry out. This is why you can hear a frog’s cries near rivers every time it rains.”

My informant told me this tale over lunch on a sunny day, as she stated that this story was the first one that popped up in her thoughts, as she was feeling homesick. She said that she remembered being so sad whenever her grandma would tell her this story, and that it would really make her feel love toward her mom. It helped her to at least try to be more obedient, because of fears that her mother would get sick if she disobeyed her. She would remember past instances of disobedience would remorse.

Hearing this story, I was also really struck with how sad and depressing the story is, especially for a tale that is often told to children. The way the mother and the son frog are never on the same page is really tragic, as it took his mothers death to make the son come to his senses and the mother was never able to see her changed son. She could have thought he never really loved her, as he was constantly disobedient, when he really did as evidence by his crying at each rainfall. This story could really scare children into obeying their parents, especially since children often take things literally. I think I personally can never hear the croaking of frogs the same way.

“Fight Heat with Heat”

“Fighting heat with heat. During the hot and humid summers, Koreans have the belief that eating hot or spicy things can cool you down, as well being in hotter places.”

Grace explained this seemingly paradoxical statement, that after being in an even hotter place or eating a hot thing, the original hot temperature of the summer will seem cool. She said that hot soups and spicy dishes are popular to eat in the summer, as well as are Korean spas. These spas are called jjimjilbangs, which have hot rooms of varying temperatures, in which people basically go inside to sweat. Supposedly after being in these rooms, people feel refreshed and cool, and sweating is even suppose to improve the skin, working also as a beauty treatment. She herself partakes of this tradition, as for some reason when the weather starts to turn hotter, she’ll find herself attracted to steaming soups and enjoys visiting the jjimjilbangs with her friends.

At first I found this tradition to be a bit puzzling, but after Grace’s explanation, I came to understand it. I’m not sure if I can personally relate to it, as when summer comes, I find myself craving ice cream and smoothies, not hot soups, but it does make sense that after being in a hotter condition, the original condition does not seem as bad.

The Nazis of La Crescenta

“In La Crescenta there is a legend that goes around students about the area. Many decades ago, La Crescenta used to be a Nazi area, so there are still remnants of that time present throughout La Crescenta. For example, they still have cannons in certain places, like near the elementary school. It’s said that on some days at night, small groups of people will still come out to these areas with Nazi remnants to remember their friends and family who were Nazi.”

This legend, to my informant, was something he experienced himself. He attended the elementary school where the cannon was at, and he and his friends would whisper about possible Nazi gathering. Although something like this is not very exciting or frightening to him now, back when he was a child, rumors like these made his life exciting.

Although I cannot directly relate to this legend, I do understand how it could have been something to make the boring local area a bit more thrilling. I had similar legends about my hometown area that could very well have just been randomly made up by one of my friends that spread. For example, there was a gated, rural area right next to my neighborhood with a lot of sheds and trees, and random farming tools that never seemed to be used or moved. My friends and I used to whisper that this area was used by a cult with strange traditions.