Background: This story is passed around between students. The informant relays that this story was especially common in “doksuhshil,” a Korean building used for overnight studying where students could rent out cubicle-like spaces for a day and study until 3-4 AM, and “hakwon,” the prep schools that are extremely commonplace in Korea.
Context: The informant conveyed this story to me over a video call, during nighttime in his house. He adopted a steady but story-telling tone, drawing out words for dramatic effect and making use of pauses.
Relation to story: The informant states that this story was common especially around finals seasons and during high school/university tryout exams (Korea, unlike America, has necessary exams to get into certain universities and high schools). He mentions he first heard it from a classmate, then continued to hear it throughout his academic career.
*(Notes: The informant will be referred to as “G” in the following text. Furthermore, this was originally told in Korean; it appears here in its translated form, translated by the interviewer.)
G: The name of this story is the Kong-Kong Gwishin. (TL: Kong-Kong Ghost) It was in a high school somewhere. There was a very hardworking student, but they were always ranked second. Even if they spent the night studying, they would always rank second. So, this student one day, they really wanted to rank first, so they spent nights and days studying, but again they ranked second. And, their seatmate who didn’t really seem like they studied at all, always was first. So, one day, they started to have somewhat of a competition.
I: Both of them?
G: Probably one-sided. The second-rank student cared a lot more about it, probably. So, one day, the second-rank student called the first-rank to the stairs, and pushed them, thinking “If only they weren’t there, I could become first.” As such, the first-ranking student fell to the bottom of the stairwell and died. In the exam after that, that second-rank student finally placed first. They felt guilty, but their greed to be first was so great that they said “There’s nothing that can be done about it,” and thinking that way, they continued on.
I: That’s so hardcore…
G: All over ranks. I mean, I guess I get it. But still. One day, that second-rank student was staying late in school and studying. Then, all of a sudden, all the way at the other end of the hall from the classroom, kong…kong…kong…kong….drrrrk. “Nobody here~” The one they had pushed to death with their own hands, that voice of the first-rank student, was echoing around the hall. After that, kong…kong…kong…kong….drrrrk. The door to the next classroom opened, “Nobody here~” and again: drrrrk. “Nobody here~” The student started to be scared, and remembered: Ah, if you meet eyes with a ghost, it’s said you’ll die, and quickly hid under their desk so their eyes didn’t meet the ghost’s eyes. Kong…kong…kong…kong…finally, the ghost was in front of their classroom. Suddenly, the door opened drrrrrk and at that moment, the student made eye contact with the ghost. The student died in that instant, and they heard “Found you~” before they died.
I: How’d they die if they were hiding under the desk?
G: That’s the scary part. See, the first-rank student had been pushed off that high stairwell, and fell backwards. Since they were falling backwards, they ended up landing on their head, and so their ghost hopped around on their head—kong….kong….kong…kong…—and had opened the door that way.
I: So the ghost was already looking straight at the student from the moment they entered the classroom? That’s so scary! I definitely would’ve made that same mistake…
G: Yes, exactly. So, that’s the story of the Kong-Kong Gwishin.
Interpretation: The environment and context of this story add significantly to the terror. The informant explains that this was frequently told in doksuhshils, which were often in tall office-style buildings with equally high stairwells; this makes the horror of the first-rank student falling down the stairs all the more real. (Note that Korean schools also almost always have several stories, as compared to American schools which do not always have them.) Since said doksuhshils were also frequented by late-night studiers like the student in the story, they also likely felt a thrill as they imagined this same horror happening to them, an interesting break in the monotony of work. This story also reads like a warning to not let greed consume your life, especially in relation to studies. Korea, being a heavily academic-oriented society, places immense importance on entrance exams for schools. This stress and pressure this brings drove the second-rank student to do a horrible thing, excusing it under the guise of it being necessary to succeed, and they suffered the consequences. The surprise of the gwishin finding the student because of their own murderous actions, even though the student hid, imparts the message that one cannot escape the consequences of their actions and warns students studying to be careful to still remain decent people even under stress.