Be careful where you throw out your nails

--Informant Info--
Nationality: South Korean
Age: 30
Occupation:
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/12/21
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Korean

Main Piece:

YS: Let’s go with this one first because I can tell it more accurately

YJ: So we’re skipping the first one?

YS: Yeah, I can’t remember enough to tell it properly. There’s this guy, it’s not like he’s poor they’re a bit well off, middle of the road. What happened is that the son clips his nails, gathers them all, and he threw them out into the street. His dad scolds him to not to throw them out into the street like that.

YJ: What time period is this again?

YS: Ancient Joseon times, medieval Korea. So a couple days later he went off in the street to hang out with his friends. He comes back home and he finds this exact same guy at his home talking to his father, a doppelganger, acting like nothing’s happened since he left the house earlier the day. He’s worried about his identity and he asks who the man is. The family is shocked at two identical people. He speaks the same, has the same habits, everything, even shared memories. The imposter turns out to be way more sociable and calmer, and he’s appealing to his family with rationality and the family is siding with him in the imposter’s accusation. The real son is about to get kicked out of his house by his father.

One thing I have to point out though, every Korean story is going to have a passer-by Korean Buddhist monk just walking around.

YJ: Why?

YS: It’s just how it is with how Confucianism discouraged individual names in stories.

YJ: Huh.

YS: Anyways, the monk arrives and said he sensed some foul deeds/energy here. Father says there’s a faker impersonating his son. The imposter son is being very calm about the situation. The monk sees this and says he knows what’s going on. He brings out a spell tag and the imposter start to shiver. The monk attaches the tag to the man and the imposter shrivels into a mouse. Monk asks the son what he did the day before. The son says he threw out his nails into the street. The nails you threw out was eaten by the mouse and inherited all your memories and transformed into you as he ate a part of you.

Background:

The informant, YS, is my brother who has heard many Korean folktales from our parents before I was born. As my brother mentioned, a wandering monk will always be the nameless benefactor that helps resolve a supernatural situation for the nameless protagonist of the story due to Confucianism and Buddhism’s influence on Korean culture and tradition before Christianity takes root in the country. My brother likes these types of folklore as he is an avid fan of mythologies and belief systems all over the world despite having been active debater against organized religion as well as having it be a fond memory of his country and family’s history before Christianity began phasing things out on the traditional spectrum of Korean culture.

Context:

My brother told me this story in a series of story-sharing sessions we had for the project and as for my own enrichment while he was forced to stay home with the family during the Covid pandemic. He is intimately more “Korean” than I am and has heard many of the stories my parents have heard from their parents before I was born. This was one of the stories he remembered with clarity among many he could not remember as accurately.

My Thoughts:

Hearing the story for the first time definitely had me guessing where in the world the story would go next between doppelgangers, wandering monks, and consuming nails to literally become another person. Once again, Korean folk elements are present within the Buddhist and Confucian elements to the story, seeing as though the rat was not killed for its actions. While individual names are still discouraged, an important lesson of self-respect and self-preservation in owning one’s own identity can be drawn from the tale. If I’m remembering correctly, my parents and my brother especially always told me to be extra careful when clipping nails as to not misplace any. While I’m sure this was mostly advised so as no one would step on them on accident, this particular story could still serve as foundation for not being careless with ones own body, even down to a smallest nail. Ironic that in trying to not make an archetype of heroic figures and characters, the restriction created a whole new set of archetypes based Confucian influences of the helpful monk.