Tag Archives: fish

Korean Simile: Cats and Fish

Nationality: Korean
Primary Language: Korean
Age: 50
Occupation: Country Branch Manager
Residence: Seoul, South Korea
Performance Date: 16 February 2024

Tags: cats, fish, Korean, simile, proverb, stupidity


“고양이에 생선 맡긴꼴.”

Literal: ‘It’s like you’re asking a cat to protect the fish’

Meaning: ‘You’re giving an important/dangerous job to someone ruthlessly/irresponsibly.’


R is a born and raised South Korean. This is one of the sayings R taught me when growing up in Korea, along with a plethora of other proverbs and lessons. Apparently he had heard it from his father before him and so on, and it’s a pretty common Korean saying. One of the first times R said this in proper context was when he was complaining about someone in his workplace being given a task that he knew the person couldn’t really handle, but management insisted on letting the person handle the task instead of R anyway.


Koreans love similes, metaphors, and all types of idioms; I had an entire unit in Korean Idioms when I was studying the language growing up. I haven’t had many chances to use them in day-to-day conversations with other Koreans, but say something like this to any Korean local and they’ll immediately know what you’re talking about. This saying in particular brings to mind many stories like ‘Inviting a Snake to your House’ and ‘The Frog on the Alligator’s Back’, in which precarious situations are likened to dangerous animals.

Fish for Lunar New Year

CONTEXT: TL is a fourth year student at USC. He is originally from Connecticut and first participated in this tradition with his family. He continued in this tradition marking the Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year until he moved to USC for college. TL’s parents are both from Thailand, and he does not feel very connected to this tradition, but participated for many years for his dad.


TL: So every year, before college, on Chinese New Year, even though my family isn’t Chinese, my dad always made us have fish because I think that there’s something about fish being good luck in Chinese culture. So we always had fish…. He’s always really impressed by the China in the 21st century and he tried to convince my family to move to China when I was younger. Well, my dad’s grandparents immigrated from China, but he grew up in Thailand. I honestly don’t think it’s because of his family lineage, I think it’s just because he just really likes China and wants us to embrace Chinese culture, even though I don’t consider my family to be Chinese. So we ate fish for dinner and that was the main dish. I don’t think there was a specific kind of fish, it differed every year. It was the whole fish. In Chinese culture and in Asian culture you eat the entire fish as a family. But there’s no chance I will continue to do this.


I think this family tradition, started by TL’s dad, is one way of mirroring a culture he has a lot of respect for. Based on TL’s description and interpretation, it is possible that TL’s dad tries to incorporate other aspects of his understanding or interpretation of Chinese culture, whether from his grandparents or from his own time spent in China, into his own life, and that this tradition is one way to involve his family. It is also a tradition to mark a specific time of year, which is significant because it brings family together at least once per year, with predictability. TL’s family does not otherwise celebrate Lunar New Year in any way, or celebrate any other Chinese holidays. After some research into the Lunar New Year, I found that it is not only celebrated in China, and though it is not a public holiday in Thailand, it is still celebrated as about 15% of the population in Thailand is of Chinese descent (as of 2023). Being that TL’s dad is from Thailand, it may also be that he was around the celebration in childhood and wants his children to share in that experience. TL does not plan to continue this tradition as he does not wish to celebrate the Lunar New Year because he says he does not feel a strong connection to it.

A Fishy Remedy


Make your hiccups stop by saying “fish” over and over again.


When PK was younger, he had hiccups and couldn’t get them to stop, so he asked his dad what to do. He told him to say “fish” over and over again until they went away. He tried a bit, found that it didn’t work, and then asked his father a second time. His father said to try again–“it will work eventually.”

He would say it over and over and over again until the hiccups stopped. Whether or not they stopped because of “fish” or of natural causes is unknown, but PK likes to believe that saying “fish” was the remedy.


These folk “remedies” are told to children to provide an effective, lighthearted solution to their inexplicable problems. This is where folklore separates from science and biology: unofficial knowledge passed down from parent to child cannot be taught in institutions. Even if saying “fish” doesn’t actually stop the hiccups, it further establishes this sense of trust; it is comforting to know that your father has different tricks up his sleeve for each problem you encounter. The magic behind folklore rests upon our ability to believe. These ‘life hacks’ reflect a reservoir of experience and knowledge; the power dynamic between parent and child is created from the differences in our stages of life. What we learn from our parents can be passed down to our children, and remedies can soon become familial traditions. Even without fully understanding why you’re doing something, you believe in it because of parental authority and familiarity. We don’t question the logicality of folklore. Although some of these remedies may be widespread and have different variations across multiple regions, it’s almost as if your parent has this special, niche understanding of how the world works–they possess wisdom beyond standardized, common knowledge.

One Eyed Willy of Chollas Lake

Context: H is a  23 year old American, born in California and lived there until moving to Denver Colorado for College. After spending nearly five years in Denver he moved to New Mexico where he currently lives and has lived for the past two years. This entry was collected over a Zoom call. 

Intv: “Do you remember any of the tales that came out of the summer camp we went to?”

H: “There was that one, of like One Eyed Willy… I wish I could remember the story better, you might actually be able to help me out a little.” 

Intv: “Hmm wasn’t there like a kid who was fishing or something?”

H: “I thought it had to do with a fish that took the eye of a fisherman? Oh, didn’t it go like The fisherman hooked the fish in the eye, and when the fish started to pull, he wouldn’t let go and got dragged down into the lake? Cause I remember there was that structure out in the lake and we all used to say that’s where the fisherman remained, and we were always told to look out for a fish with one eye when we would fish.” 

Analysis: I can’t say for certain, but I wonder if One Eyed Willy got his name from The Goonies. However, for a kid without any prior knowledge of The Goonies, it so easily became a piece of folklore that many children, myself included, believed. Outside of being a fun ghost story however, it also serves the purpose of informing young campers how to be safe while fishing. To be careful so that One Eyed Willy wouldn’t get you. 


Description: It is the tossing of fish salad done during the New Years. People would circle around with chopsticks in hand. Then they would throw the salad as high as they are able, the higher meaning better fortune for the next year and having your wishes come true. The fish is the most important part due to the pun of the Chinese word for fish sounding like the word for abundance.

Background: It is something commonly done within her household. I was able to observe this ritual when we did it with a group of friends.


The salad is prepared with sauces, assorted vegetables and most importantly fish. The dish will then be presented on a table where people would gather. Each participant will be equipped with a pair of chopsticks. When the ritual begins, each participant will toss the contents as high as they can while saying their wishes. The duration of the ritual varies. At the end, the salad is consumed like a normal meal.

My thoughts:

In terms of cuisine, the salad is delicious. While the tossing does tend to make a mess, the sense of community and energy it brings is well worth it. There are many elements of this tradition that I believe are very neat. One thing is the origin of the tradition. It is mainly practiced by people who are ethnically Chinese living in Singapore or Malaysian. Most of the wordplay originated from the Chinese language, the fish signifying abundance is well known to any one who is Chinese. This tradition creates a branching and unique identity that separates itself from the traditions of the mainland and Taiwan. Food is commonly seen as something that brings people together; sharing food is often a bonding experience especially with home made cuisine. The community aspect is especially true for those in Malaysia, where ethnically Chinese people are part of the minority.