YJ: I can keep writing as many as you can give me
YS: Alright hold on, let me take a sip. You ever heard about the one with the tiger?
YJ: Is it the one with a bear?
YS: No that’s a different one. So there’s this guy, in the old times, farmer and Lumberjack. Living with his widowed mother. Taking care of his mother and selling his lumber. Typical day of working and taking care of his work. One day a tiger appears by the mountain he lives. The man is scared and fears for his mother who will be left alone if he dies. The tiger starts prowling him ready to strike. The man has an idea and bows down to the tiger, and he exclaims to the tiger, calling him his brother. “It’s you, I’ve finally met you”. The tiger has lived a long life and asks what the hell guy is talking about.
“Do not try and trick me, you are doomed.” Says the tiger
The man laughs and says he has heard about his brother and how they were separated at birth and how he had a “king” written on his forehead. The tiger is confused and asks what he means. The two go to a nearby pond and shows him the tiger marks on his forehead and the tiger is convinced that they are brothers.
YJ: You’re going to need to explain that one to me
YS: Look up the word for tiger in Chinese in Google
YJ: Ohh so the character in the word looks like the pattern on its face
YS: So the man continues “Mom lost you in the mountains and the natural energies turned you into a tiger to protect this mountain and I’m glad to see you’re still alive”.
YS: The tiger is somehow “remembering” and buys into the story. The man is just relieved that he himself is alive. The man says just to come by the house from time to time. The tiger agrees and leaves. The man comes back home and tells the story and how he survived a tiger encounter. Tells him he lied about the lie about the king’s mark. The tigers are smart, warned the mother, I’m not sure how you will continue with this situation. The man says he won’t treat the tiger badly and won’t take advantage of his kindness. Time to time, the two receive dead game animals on their doorstep thanks to the tiger. The tiger’s occasional visits him during the lumberjack work and share drinks. The tiger begins to dress as a human and walks upright. The two share life stories and become good friends. The tiger says one day that he knows that there are some really valuable roots up the mountain, and the son becomes rich selling these roots. The tiger continues to help the two with food and the lumberjack begins to appreciate the tiger’s help. Time goes by, the man is rich but a lumberjack and has no title in society. The tiger happens to be friends with another rich man in town, a government official, and asks for a favor to introduce his brother to high society, the official says he knows a single lady and settles the marriage. Years later the mother gets really sick, the younger brother says he needs help and that mom is sick and comes to seek his help in genuine concern and dependence. The tiger wishes he could help but was scared to show himself in front of her as a tiger. He says that there’s a legendary root in another mountain and says he will find it. The tiger brings his own children, and they know how they’re related to the humans, to the next mountain. A giant centipede protects the root in the other mountain, the battle is unimportant, the tiger is powerful and brings the root back. The mother is still dying and as the tiger steps through the door and hears crying in the house as the mother had passed away. The tiger in grief runs into the mountain unable to save her and he yells out and dies in sorrow. The tiger’s corpse becomes a stone and the tiger’s children tells what happened to the younger brother and he holds the funeral for both his brother and mother. He says he lied about the tiger’s relationship and how he used them for his advantage and vows to take care of his children as in honor of him.
The informant is my brother who shared the stories he remembers the most from our parents to share with me when I asked him to assist me in this project. Tigers are a powerful symbol in Asian cultures and the key facet of this story relates to how the Chinese character for “king” is written as “王” and the tiger in the story has similar black patterns on its face. The Korean language is derived off of a simpler form of Chinese and the former has many roots in traditional Chinese writings. 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.
This is another story from a session between me and my brother sharing the stories he heard from the family before I was born.
I had a terrible feeling that this story would have some repercussions for lying being the source of someone’s good intentions. Thankfully the ending isn’t completely depressing and ends on a positive note that one’s wrongs can still be corrected and redeemed, particularly if a lie did not hurt either party. Tigers are a powerful symbol in Asian belief systems, at some points rivaling a dragon, and the story goes to show how tigers have this inner ability to communicate and live as humans after having lived so long. The Confucian virtue of honoring one’s parents, the ability for beasts to honor their parents, and honoring siblings are brought up and these notions have been ingrained in me pretty naturally. While I learned of actual Confucian principles later in life, the attitude towards respecting elders in particular is emphasized greatly in Korean society was and I never felt that it was an entirely bad thing to respect those who have experienced life longer than I have. I think the emphasis on family touches upon a rather important part of life and how indispensable is to maintain a good relationship between friends and family and see through one’s promises.
See E.B Landis’ collected works of Korean folklore pg.8 for another example of how tigers are portrayed in a noble light in Korean legends.
Landis, E. B. “Korean Folk-Tales.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 10, no. 39, 1897, pp. 282–292. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/533279. Accessed 3 May 2021.