Author Archives: Sophia Park

Butthole Hair (Korean Joke)

Background Info/Context:

Both my mom and dad would tell me this silly Korean expression, that I truly believed as a child, whenever I would cry and then start laughing. They used this phrase to make me laugh harder after crying, most likely to help me feel better or to just poke fun at me. They used to say it in a sing-song manner, implying that this is something that people would say to each other as a joke. This is a saying that my parents’ friends used to say to each other as kids.




울다가 웃음은 똥꼬에 털난다!


English Transcription:

Ool da ga oos uhm myun ddong go aye tul naan dah!



Cry and then laugh then butthole hair grow!



“If you cry and laugh, your butthole will grow hair!”



This little saying is probably not true, but I think that it can be interpreted as more than a joke. Even though this phrase is usually told in a playful way, it has some serious implications in its underlying meaning. It seems like a light-hearted way of telling someone that they should not be so fickle about how they feel. Crying and laughing can be considered opposites to each other, as crying implies sadness, while laughing implies happiness. So at the most basic level, it does not really make sense for those reactions to occur one after the other. Growing butthole hair could be viewed as a “punishment” or a repercussion to having almost “bipolar” reactions. 

Eating While Laying Down

Background Info/Context:

As a child, I liked to eat snacks or meals while laying down, whether it be my parents’ bed or on the floor in front of the TV. My dad used to scold me, saying that it was bad for my digestion, but I never felt sick or nauseous. I had seen him do it a lot, so why would it be bad if I did it too? So he told me this Korean saying to try to prevent me from further eating while laying down.




누어서 밥먹으면 소된다



Noo uh suh bap mug uhmyun soh doen dah.



Lay down while eating cow become.



“If you eat while laying down you’re gonna turn into a cow!”




My dad probably said this to scare me into doing as he asked, and to prevent me from developing bad habits. Even though I never truly believed it, I did stop eating while laying down, just in case. I think this saying functions in a similar way to the belief of “If you eat the seeds of a watermelon, a watermelon will start growing inside you!” Although it’s not true, and there isn’t a real punishment for eating while laying down or eating watermelon seeds, they both seem to be things that people tell children to see if they are gullible or not.


“Contradictory” (Origin of the word in Chinese)

Background Info/Context:

A few friends and I were talking about different words in our own respective languages. For example, in Korean, a booger is called “코딱지 which literally translates to two separate words that mean “nose” and “sticky thing.” So my friend piped in saying that there was something similar in Chinese for the word “contradictory,” but needed to tell the story in order for us to understand.



“In Chinese, the word for “contradictory” directly translates to “spear” “shield”– “mao thun.” Individually, the words mean “spear” and “shield,” but when you put them together, it means “contradictory,” and that’s because a long time ago, there was this Chinese salesmen, and he was selling like military armor and everything.

So he was walking down the street like “Hi everyone! Buy my spear! It’s the best spear ever! It can like pierce through anything in the world. It’s so strong” blah blah blah. And people would buy it. The next day, he would sell his shield. Like “Everyone, buy my shield! It’s the best shield ever, nothing can pierce through this.”

And then people are like “Hold on. Like you just said that you had the best spear in the world and it can pierce through anything. Would your spear pierce through your shield?” And so he was just kinda stuck like “Oh shoot, I don’t know.”




I think this story is a nice way to help people remember this word in Mandarin. Many “compound” words in Korean actually mean what the words that are combined actually describe, but it was interesting to listen to this story about the word “contradictory,” and see how the meaning of this “compound” word in Chinese means something entirely differently to its parts.

I can see this story also serving as a lesson to people who are hypocritical or contradictory. More broadly, you shouldn’t say one thing and do another. For example, gossiping to one friend about someone else and then going to that other person and gossiping about their friend is bound to catch up to you.

Click this link to watch a different version of this story on Youtube:

Tapping Fingers While Receiving Tea

Background Info/Context:

My friends and I were out to dinner at a Korean Chinese-Style restaurant to get some noodles, and the waitress brought us a pot of tea. I started pouring into my friends’ cups, and I noticed that my Chinese friend was tapping her index finger and middle finger together on the table as I was pouring. So I asked her what she was doing, figuring that she was feeling restless or wanting to test the stickiness of the table. She surprisingly said, “You’ve never seen someone do this?” And when my other friend and I both shook our heads “no,” she told us why she did that. This is a practice that her uncle taught her to do when she was young.



Friend: “Today in Chinese restaurants, when anyone pours tea for you, you have to use your two fingers and like tap the table next to your cup.”


Me: “As you’re pouring?”


Friend: “As the person’s pouring for you. You have to say “Thank you” to them by tapping your fingers like this *right index and middle finger and held out and touching, as they lightly tap the area next to her cup.* You could also knock your two fingers on the table.


Me: “So you do this if an older person if pouring for you?”


Friend: “No, I think if anyone does it for you. It’s just a way of saying “Thank you,” cuz you say “Thank you” to everyone. So the reasoning behind that is that like way back, in one of the dynasties, I don’t remember which one, but the king would have to like go out of the palace to like do stuff right. He can’t just stay in his home forever. So whenever he goes out, and he doesn’t want to be recognized, but let’s say he has lunch at a restaurant outside. Um, when he doesn’t want to be recognized, and no one’s allowed to bow to him, cuz it would just give it away. So instead of bowing to him, if anyone sees him and recognizes him, they would just like do this *taps two fingers on the table.* Or like subtle. So like kneeling right? So instead of bowing you kneel to the emperor. So they do this instead, to make it subtler. So now it’s like if anyone, it’s just a sign of respect.”

I really enjoyed this piece of folklore that my friend shared, because I had no idea that this was a common practice. I have never seen any of my friends tap their fingers or knuckles on the table, probably because it’s more of a traditional Chinese thing to do, rather than just verbally stating “Thank you.” I interpret this act to reiterate Chinese culture of respect for elders.

Green Frog (Korean Story)

Background Info/Context:

I was a very energetic child, but when my little sister was born, I transitioned to become rowdy and disobedient. I didn’t want to do anything my parents asked me to do, and I was difficult for the sake of being difficult. As a 5 year old, my mom tried to get me to understand why she needed me to listen to her, so she told me this old korean bedtime story.




“옛날에 엄마말을 잘 안듣는 청개구리가 있었어요.

엄마 말은 안듣는 청개구리는 언제나 엄마말 반대로만 했어요.

그러다 결국 엄마는 병이 나서 죽게 되었어요.

엄마는 마지막에 청개구리한테

“내가 죽거든 나를 냇가(강)에다 버려주어라”하고 얘기했어요.

엄마는 산에다 잘 묻어주기를 바랬지만

반대로 강에다 버려달라고 말해야

산에다가 묻어줄거라 생각했어요.

엄마가 죽고, 말썽꾸러기 청개구리는 울면서 마지막 엄마 말은 꼭 지켜줄려고,

엄마를 강에다 버리고, 비오는 날에는 엄마생각을 하고 울어요.”


English Transcription:

Yet nah rae umma mal uhl an duhd nuhn chong gae goo ree gah ees sus su yo.

Umma mal ul ahn duhd nuhn chong gae goo ree nuhn uhn jae nah umma mal ban dae roo man hay suh yo.

Guh ruh dah gyul gook umma nuhn byong ee nah suh jook gae dae suh yo.

Umma nuh mah jee mak eh chong gae goo ree han tae

“Nae ga jook guh duhn nah rur nae gah (gang) aye dah buh ryuh joo uh ruh” ha go yeah gi hes uh yo.

Umma nuhn san aye da jal moot uh joo gi rul ba ret ji man

Ban dae ro gang aye da buh ryuh dal la go mal hae ya

San eh da ga moot uh jool guh ra sang gak hays uh yo.

Umma ga jook go, mal sung koo ruh gi chong gae goo ree nun ool myun suh ma ji mak umma mal uhn kok ji kyuh jool la go,

Umma lul gang aye da buh ree go, bi oh nuhn nal eh nun umma sang gak ul hae go ool uh yo.



A long time ago mom not listen green frog there was.

Mom words not listen green frog always mom words opposite did.

But at the end mom sick got died.

Mom last green frog tell “i die my body riverbank throw away.”

Mom mountain well buried wanted

Opposite riverbank throw away tell him

Mountain bury think he will.

Mom die, not listening green frog while cry last mom words definitely listen,

Mom riverbank throw away, rainy day mom think about cry.


English Translation:

A long time ago there was once a green frog, called “청개구리” in Korea (pronounce chong gae goo ree) who did not listen to his mom. Everything he did was the opposite of what she would ask. The mom was getting seriously sick, and it was almost time for her to die. So the mom has to tell her last words to the green frog, and she wants to say that when she dies, she wants to be buried well in the mountains. But she was afraid that her green frog wouldn’t listen, so she told him the opposite. At the end of her life, she told him, “When I die, you can throw me in the nearby riverbank.” So once his mom died, green frog was so regretful that he always did the opposite of what his mom asked, he decided to listen to his mom’s last words. So he really just threw his mom’s body away in the river. He was so sad and regretful, so when it rained, the green frog would cry at the river.




I think this is a really sad story, and I used to cry when my mom told me about the Green Frog. The narrative takes a bad “habit” that many children can empathize with, and shows a dramatic consequence that the green frog has to face. The story acts as an indirect warning to children to listen to what their parents or authority figures in their lives, even if they don’t want to. Respecting elders is a large part in Korean culture, and this story is an engaging way to teach that lesson to children.


For another version of this story read the children’s book, “The Green Frogs” (1996) by Yumi Heo.