Author Archives: Sophia Park

Golden Ax, Silver Ax (Korean Story)

Background Info/Context:

My grandma told me the story of 금도끼 은도끼 (pronounced ghum do gi uhn do gi), or in English, Golden Ax, Silver Ax, when I was in elementary school after I was caught stealing Ritz crackers out of the prize box. This was a bedtime story that my grandma also told my mom when she was a child. Even though the main purpose of the story was to entertain my mom before she went to bed, my grandma was also trying to teach my mom not to lie and to be a good girl. In my case, my grandma was trying to show me that I need to be an honest person to have good things happen to me.



There was a man who cut trees for a living… a lumberjack. He was cutting trees in the woods when he accidentally dropped his ax into the pond. He was so sad because that ax was the only thing he had… so he started crying. Suddenly, a mountain god appeared. He had a golden ax, and asked the lumberjack, “Is this yours?” And then the lumberjack said, “No, the golden ax is not mine.” So the mountain god pulled out a silver ax and asked, “Is this one yours?” And the lumberjack responded, “No, that’s not mine.” So the mountain god was like, “Oh, you’re so honest. Then I’ll just gift you these axes and also give you your original one.”


But the lumberjack had a facial bump… like something was sticking out of his face. So people who had those were called a “혹부리,” (pronounced hok boori). But in their village, there is another bad guy with bump. So he heard that story and was like “Oh, then I’m gonna go” because the golden ax and silver ax are pure gold and silver, so you can be rich. So the bad man wanted that too, so he mimicked. He cut the tree, and dropped the ax and pretended to cry. The mountain god appeared again and asked, “Is this yours?” while holding the golden ax. And the man cried, “Oh yes that’s mine!” And then he held the silver ax and asked, “Is this one yours?” And the man said, “Oh yes that’s also mine!” The mountain god got really mad and said that the man was not honest, and he was very bad, so he gave him another facial bump instead.  




This story contains classic cause and effect examples that hope to lead children to be good and not lie or be selfish. The good guy was awarded for his honesty, while the bad man who tried to deceive the mountain god did not get any axes, but was given a facial bump.

The story is very specific in its consequences for people who lie, but folk literature plays a large part in children’s growth to extract a broader lesson from stories. “Golden Ax, Silver Ax” could be viewed from a larger scope to be a story about being a virtuous person, and that there are positive consequences for good behavior. While those who are not virtuous, will face negative consequences.


To read a different variation of this story, read “Golden Ax and Silver Ax : Korean Folktales” (2009) by Dongwol Kim Roberson.

The Pregnancy Dream

Background Info/Context:

My mom told me that when she was pregnant with me and my younger sister, she had a very distinct dream about each of us. Korean people call this pregnancy dream, 태몽 (pronounced tae mong). This apparently happens most frequently, to the mother, but often times the family or close friends. The dream uncovers some insight about the baby that is imminent.





내가 임신하기 전에 꿈을 꿨는데,

아침에 아파트 수영장에 나갔는데, 수영장에 큰 검은 물고기가 하나 가득있었어.

나는 그중에 제일 큰거를 한마리 잡아서 들고 왔는데, 엄청 크고 빛났었어.

그 얘기를 엄마한테 했는데 엄마가 태몽이라하더라고.



연수는 임신하고도 태몽을 안꿔서…

누구 내 태몽 꾼사람 없나… 하고 있었는데,

한국에 있는 친구가 갑자기 전화가 와서 나보고 임신했냐고 묻더라고,

내가 어떻게 알았냐고 물었더니,

내가 걔 꿈에 나와서 엄청큰 보석반지를 끼고 예쁘다고 자랑을 했다하더라고…


태몽은 예전에 아기 낳기전에 아들인지 딸인지 몰랐는데 알고싶으니까

태몽으로 아기 성별을 맞춰보곤했지

너희 꿈은 둘다 딸꿈


English Transcription:


Nae gah eem shin ha gi jun aye koom uhl kuh nun dae,

Ah chim aye ah pah tuh soo young jang aye nah gat nnun dae, soo young jang aye kun kum uhn mool go gi gah ha nah gah tuhk ees suh suh.

Nah nun guh joong aye jae il kun guh rur han mah ri jab ah suh dul go oah nun dae, um chung kuh go beet nah sus suh.

Guh yea gi rur umma han tae het nun dae umma ga tae mong ee ra ha duh rah go.



Yon soo nun eem shin ha go do tae mong ul an koouh su…

Noo goo nae tae mong koon sa ram ub na… ha go eet sus nun dae,

Han gook aye eet nun chin goo ga gap cha gi jun hwa ga owa suh nah bo go eem shin han nya go moot du ra go,

Nae ga uh dduh kae al at nya go mul ut duh ni,

Nae gah gae goom eh nah owa suh um chung kuhn bo suk ban ji rur yeah buh da go ja rang ul het da ha duh rah go…


Tae mong uhn yeh jun aye ah gi nat gi jun eh ah dul een ji tal een ji mol lat nun dae al go ship uh ni ka

Tae mong uh roe ah gi sung byul ul mat chi bo gon het ji

Nuh hi goom un dool da tal koom




When I pregnant before dream had,

Morning apartment swimming pool outside went, swimming pool inside big blackfish one full.

I between most big one catch and carry came, very big shiny.

This story mom told she tae mong it is.



Yeonsoo (my sister’s Korean name) pregnant after tae mong not…

Someone my tae mong dreamt wonder… thought had,

Korea in friend suddenly call came me pregnant asking,

I how did you know asked,

I her dream in came out very big


Tae mong is long time ago baby before born son is or daughter is did not know wants to know. Tae mong with baby gender guess. You all dream both daughter dream.


English Translation:


Before I was pregnant I had this dream. It was the morning, and I went out to the apartment pool. In the pool, there were a ton of big, black fish. Out of all of them, I caught the biggest one and carried it back. It was so big and shiny. I told this story to my mom and she said it was a “tae mong.”



When I was pregnant with Yeonsoo (Jamie’s Korean name), I did not dream a “tae mong.” But while I wondering if someone else dreamt a “tae mong” for me, I suddenly got a call from my friend in Korea. She asked me if I was pregnant. I asked her how she knew, and she said I appeared in her dream and was bragging about a giant jeweled ring.


Tae mong was used a long time ago before a baby was born to try to guess if it would be a boy or a girl. They used tae mong to try to match the baby’s gender. My dreams about both you and your sister were daughter dreams.



As I’ve never been pregnant before, I cannot attest to the gut feeling of when a dream specifically pertains to an unborn child. But this is a phenomenon that I’ve heard from multiple adult women. In fact, my photography professor’s mother, who is also Korean, stated that she’s heard that if the object in the dream that represents the child is small, the baby is male, but if that object is big, it will be female.

The distinct pregnancy dream may be a result of a combination of a multi-generational herd behavior and confirmation bias. When you hear that mothers and people around you have had strange dreams about an unborn child, you may think that one of the dreams you’ve had is related to theirs, snowballing the herd mentality.

This folk practice has been around for a long time, as implied by my mom, when she stated that pregnancy dreams were used as a method to try to guess a baby’s gender before there were ultrasounds and other technological advances. Although the accuracy of them is unknown, these dreams are remembered and shared with friends and family, even after many years.


There are gods in Rice

Background Info/Context:

Yigi and I were chatting about things that parents have said to their kids to make sure they were being studious, obedient, or respectful. She told me about a story that she heard that parents told children to make sure they finished their food.



Yigi – “Parents would tell me that in each rice, there lives a little god. And if you waste any, they will be upset and bring you bad luck, so you have to finish your food.”


Sophia – “Did you believe that as a kid?”


Y – “Uh, my parents didn’t tell me that story, and a friend of mine told me about it.”   



Children, including myself, don’t usually think about waste and often have tendencies to leave one bite of food, or be greedy and spoon a lot onto their plates and not end up finishing at the end of the meal. This story was probably told to children to scare them into finishing all of their food, but more importantly, to not be wasteful. Luck is heavily tied in Chinese culture, and people try to bring as much of it towards them as they can, by wearing red, having statues of dragons, etc. So bringing about bad luck by wasting food would be squandering the other efforts they’ve put to bring luck to them.


The New York Rat King

Background Info/Context:

At a party, a group of friends and I were talking about Ratatouille the movie, and my friend brought up another story he knows about rats. This is a legend that he heard throughout middle school and high school from classmates while growing up in New York. He’s never seen it himself, and never wants to.



“This is a legendary being that lives in New York, called the Rat King. So, the Rat King, is what happens when a bunch of rats get stuck in a room, and uh, as they squirm around each other, their tails get tied together. And eventually they’re all tied together, and they become the rat king. But because they’re tied together, only one of them can survive. So the other, so the one rat, survives, by eating the bodies that are tied to him and drags it around, as he, or she, walks, like scurries, around New York. Just a rat tied to a bunch of maimed and um eaten, half-eaten, other rats. And sometimes they say that, if you look really hard into the subway tracks, especially the ones around Times Square, you can see the Rat King scurrying with his tail tied to all the other dead bodies.”



This piece of folklore seems very believable, as there are millions of rats living in confined spaces in New York. However, there doesn’t seem to be any live evidence of one Rat King eating its way to “freedom” and control. This legend makes my skin crawl, and that’s probably its main purpose. As this is a story that was apparently heavily shared in middle school to freak people out.


Blessing a Baby After Sneezing

Background Info/Context:

Religion plays a large part in Jordanian culture, and Jordanians express it in many different ways. My boss told me about a practice that Jordanians do to their babies to maximize their blessings. She grew up giving babies the sign of the cross on them when they sneezed.



Rehab – “If a baby yawns, you’re supposed to do the, um, cross symbol on them to bless them when they sneeze or when they yawn. I think it’s more when they’re sneezing rather than yawning if I remember correctly.”


Sophia – “Do you think this a Jordanian thing? Because I’ve never heard that.”


R – “It’s probably a Jordanian religious thing, I don’t know. A lot of things have to do with God or what they think is religious.”



My boss later shared that giving someone the sign of the cross when they sneeze is not something that continues into adulthood. This is mostly a practice that is done on an infant, to ensure that they are blessed by God. I think adults do this for babies, because babies aren’t able to pray to God themselves, so doing the sign of the cross on them connects them to God even before they’re able to speak.