Author Archives: ronniyoon

Korean Dream Superstition

“When you have a dream about teeth falling out, that is a very bad omen that brings death.”


My informant first heard this superstition from her mother when she was ten years old, living in the city of Pusan in South Korea.  Her mother had a dream that one of her bottom teeth fell out, so she told all her children to be careful.  Her mother was afraid that since her bottom teeth fell out in her dream that would mean someone younger than she would meet his or her death.  In Korea the people are anxious about having dreams of teeth being knocked out because they take that as a sign of death.  The upper row of teeth would mean death for someone older and the lower row of teeth would mean death for someone younger.  She believes that teeth falling out signifies death because once you reach a certain age, your teeth would start to deteriorate.  Teeth were vital in consuming food, so the absence of them were a great discomfort.  Therefore, when someone lost his or her teeth, it was common to believe death was near, especially without the technology of dentures then.

I can see how death and teeth falling out can be linked together.  The sign of youth can be when a baby first grows his or her teeth.  Hence, when someone becomes old enough to lose his or her teeth, that symbolizes a life coming to an end rather than a beginning.

Korean Wordplay

  • Me – It’s weird (or “Teeth will rot”).
  • X – Then go to a dentist.

My informant claims he had created this joke himself.  Nonetheless when he used it on others, they were not surprised saying they have heard the joke before.  Perhaps he did originally think of the joke but others also thought of it simultaneously.  This joke is a play on words.  To say, “It’s weird,” in Korean uses the exact same wording as saying, “Teeth will rot.”  He thought of the joke when he misinterpreted his wife.  While she was stating that something was weird, he took it as her saying that she had a toothache.  Without paying close attention, he advised her to go to the dentist.  Upon hearing such an arbitrary piece of advice, his wife understood his misinterpretation and laughed at him.  Ever since then, which was about a decade ago, he tells a person to go to a dentist if he or she says something is weird.

“It’s weird” and “Teeth will rot” are not just similar; they sound and are spelled exactly the same way.  It is easy to see why someone may accidentally misinterpret the two meanings.  Misinterpretations can be hilarious, so it is not wonder this turned into a joke with several people thinking of it at the same time.

Korean Directional Superstition

"North is the direction of Death"

My informant first heard this superstition from his mother when he was fourteen years old.  His father had passed away when he was thirteen, so in Korean tradition, the sons must prepare a shrine for the deceased father on the day the father died to commemorate his death.  It is a time of reflection and a time to remember the loved one who has passed away.  When he was preparing the meticulous shrine for his father with the help of his sisters and mother, his mother explained to him that the shrine must be set up towards the north side.  When he asked why, she answered that north is always the way of death.  She also added not to sleep facing the direction of north because that is like facing death.

There is some logic to people believing that north would be the direction of death.  Since it is a general belief that there is some kind of an after-life in most religions, people believe in spirits.  Usually after death, the spirits leave the heavy bodies and elevate to a higher plane.  That is why I believe people perceive north as the direction of death.

Korean Superstition – Hair cutting

It is bad luck to cut your hair or fingernails at night.


My informant first heard this superstition from his father some time during the late fifties in his hometown, the rural city of Daegu in Korea.  When he took out nail clippers from his drawer one night, his father ordered him to put it back in the drawer.  His father warned him that it was very bad luck to clip your nails at night.  Suk-Won’s father had learned from his father that at night crows lurk about and would pick up the discarded nails in their beaks and drop them off into the fields.  The nails would keep the seeds from sprouting and suck the nutrients out of the soil.  Afterwards there would be seasons without any good harvest.  The nails would have been easily accessible to the crows because Koreans who lived on farms during 1950’s and even now have paper doors that slide in their homes.  They do not have the hard wooden doors with knobs as we are accustomed to in America.

I do not believe that nails in the soil are detrimental to the growth of crops.  However, people in the countryside were sensitive about anything pertaining to their harvest because that was their only means of living.  Particularly living in the city nowhere near the action of agriculture, I do not heed this superstition at all since there.  Once again the Korean culture has an extremely negative view on the crow.  Farmers were superstitious that the crows would not only bring death through merely crowing in front of their homes but indirectly by preventing a successful harvest.

Korean Origin Myth

A spirit descended from the heavenly skies in search of a bride. If you feed animals garlic for a hundred days, they will transform into women. Thus, the spirit imprisoned a tiger and a bear in the Baik-Doo Mountain for a hundred days, feeding them garlic. However, the short-fused tiger escaped before the hundred days while the patient bear waited. The bear consequently transformed into a woman, and the spirit took her for his bride. They bore a son, the Dang-Goon, the creator of Korea. That is how the country of Korea came to be.


My informant first learned this myth in his elementary school in Daegu, Korea.  His teacher taught his class how Korea became what it was that day.  She started with this particular myth that explains how the great predecessor was divinely created – directly from a heavenly spirit and a bear turned into a woman.  The children believe the story completely, especially since Baik-Doo Mountain is an actual mountain.  Everyone in Korea is familiar with this myth; it is something that has been told from generation to the next.  It has become a vital part of the Korean tradition.

It is common for the Koreans to use animals in their narratives and give the animals characteristics.  Oftentimes, the tiger is portrayed as conniving, ravenous, and temperamental.  Therefore in this myth, the tiger cannot stand the hundred days and escapes.  The bear is usually portrayed as wise, slow and lazy, though.  The bear in the myth remains patiently.  Although this myth shows the bear in a positive aspect, in other Korean stories, the bear can represent stupidity and indolence.  I was not surprised to hear that the bear was the animal that waited long enough to become a woman.  In my opinion, Koreans have such a myth as this to reinforce the idea that their first king was not a mortal being but a direct descendent from a god.

Korean Crow Superstition

If a crow cries in front of your house, death is near.


My informant first heard this when he eleven years old, living in the rural city of Daegu, Korea.  He had woken up early in the morning not to the rooster’s crow but to the cawing of a crow.  His father also awoke to chase the bird away.  His father cautioned him to be careful for the rest of the week because crows usually caw in front of a household that has death in its near future.  The cawing of these birds struck such fear in families.

The crow is not a welcome omen in the American culture, either.  I would think so because the crow is a fowl that is completely black.  Usually black is a sign of something ominous, evil, and more specifically death – hence, people wear black to funerals.  In Korea the term for crow has the meaning “blacky.”  I remember pulling into our driveway with my mother, and she was disconcerted to see a crow resting on our porch.  She chased it away as he described his father had done.  The black ominous figure casts a shadow over people who believe the crow brings news of death.

You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl.

“You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl.”


My informant first heard this saying as an eighth grader in middle school that is located in Downey, CA.  She had gone on a three-week trip to New York.  It was her second trip there.  The first time she had visited New York, she remembers being mesmerized by the city, and when she returned home, all she could think about was going back.  However, on this second trip to New York, she missed home, Los Angeles (Downey is a suburb of L.A.) very much.  No matter how exciting New York was, she became homesick.  A friend she had met on the trip there noticed her homesickness and told her, “You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl.”  Physically, Cindy was in New York, but her heart was at home, Los Angeles.

I personally love this quote and apply it to myself as well.  Distance from the place you grew up in and the place where you are surrounded by familiar faces and streets cannot make you forget the attachment to that place.  I have lived in L.A all my life, and if I were to live anywhere else for the time being, I will still have “L.A.” qualities about me.  I would probably not blend in with my new location immediately.  Similarly if a girl from a rural farm ventured into the city, she would still have traits that show she most likely grew up in a farm.  She may seem to be overwhelmed with the loud cars and crowded streets.  If I lived in the countryside for a year, people would obviously know I am from the urban area because I would probably appear very restless and uneasy with the calmness.  Where an individual was raised makes a large impact on that individual’s personality.  Hence, the girl can physically change her location, but her heart remains in the place she has called home for the years past.

Good things come in pairs.

“Good things come in pairs.”


My informant cannot recall when he first heard this proverb, but he heard it again recently at a New Years party in Huntington Beach in the year 2007.  A voluptuous girl was dancing in front of his friend and him who were sitting on the couch.  He laughed aloud when his friend who was practically leering at her nodded and said, “Good things really do come in pairs, don’t they?”  His friend was referring to the girl’s shapely breasts and rear, which she was flaunting in front of them as she danced.  This proverb has been around for a long time, and his friend added some humor into it as he saw fit in the circumstance.

Although I would not have thought of using this proverb in a circumstance as Andrew’s friend did, I do believe good things come in pairs.  My favorite number is two.  I consider it a lucky number because the idea of “double” is always appealing – double the fun, double the pleasure, double the happiness, double the wealth, etc.  It also ties in with other proverbs like the one that says, “Two heads are better than one.”  The song with the lyrics, “One is the loneliest number,” establishes the idea that two is then better because you won’t be alone.  Unlike the number thirteen that has such a stigma in America, two is more positively viewed, though not as much as the typical lucky number seven.

What comes around goes around.

“What comes around goes around.”


My informant first heard this proverb actually told to him a couple of years ago when he was sixteen years old.  He had been having fun while two-timing two girls, but eventually they found out about his infidelity.  A few months later after he cut his ties with both girls, he wanted to start fresh and leave that incident behind him.  When he was introduced to another girl who was from Fullerton, CA through a friend, he was extremely smitten with her.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, he had become a notorious topic among the girls.  The girl completely ignored him and appeared disinterested.  His friend later that night told Andrew that she already had heard the rumors about him and had said about him, “What comes around goes around.”  She had no guilt in snubbing him because he deserved it for his past wrongdoing.

This idea of karma is interesting because people feel relieved from the sense of justice.  Your transgressions will always come back to haunt you.  I do believe that what goes around comes around.  Conversely if you do beneficial activities, your goodness will somehow be rewarded later.  I believe this proverb has the intention of promoting good behavior while discouraging bad behavior.  I hear this proverb often in dealings with romantic relationships; when someone breaks another’s heart, that someone is bound to have his or her heart broken, too.  I tie in this proverb closely with another one: “What goes up must come down.”  Both advise that your actions have consequences in the future.

Annotation: This proverb is the title of the popular song by American singer Justin Timberlake, “What Comes Around Goes Around.”

Urban Legend – Masturbation Leads to Blindness

“Too much masturbation can result in blindness.”


My informant first heard this urban legend in his middle school in Downey, CA in seventh grade.  He was in the locker rooms with some of his friends changing after their Physical Education period.  The guys were horsing playing and talking candidly about private issues.  After bouts of laughter and socking each other in the arms, some of them settled down on the bench waiting for the rest of their friends to finish changing.  One of his friends started talking about pornography and how he started downloading them.  Then David asked if any of them had started masturbating.  His friend replied that he did but with caution because he heard from his older brother who was in high school that too much masturbation can lead to blindness.

I do not believe this to have any anatomically scientific basis to it – hence, it is an urban legend.  I think David’s friend’s older brother was playing a prank on his younger brother.  I have heard another variation that masturbating too much results in hair growing on your hand.  I believe people have told this urban legend in the past because initially it was taboo for people to engage in what some people, especially religious people, thought to be immoral habits.  However, nowadays people are a lot more accepting of this behavior calling it natural.