Tag Archives: korea

The fairy and the woodworker

Context
I was having lunch with the informant. He lived in Korea until he was 14 years old, one year from finishing middle school. He then moved to the United States to finish his middle school and high school.

Piece
Informant: So, the male is not a farmer, but actually a woodworker. So he just like, cuts down trees.
So, the fairy is taking a bath. And like in a mountain, like a hot spring, for example. And then, the guy sees it. The guy cutting down trees sees it. So he takes the clothes away. And the fairy doesn’t know what happened. So the guy comes out and is like, if you want clothes you’ve gotta be my wife, which is, criminal. And then they become a forced couple, because that’s the guy’s wish. And then the girl somehow sees the clothes in the house and wears it and goes to the sky with her kid. And the guy doesn’t know what happened. That’s how the story ends basically.

The guy and the girl – they both didn’t want to be separated, but I don’t know why the girl wanted to be separated – wait, the girl wanted to be separated. She’s basically going back home.

Comment
Interviewer: so it’s the guy trying to find the girl?

Informant: Well, that’s the worst thing. I think, technically the both want to stay because they have a child. But she took the child with her. Then who pays for the child? (smile) That’s like a two-thousand year-old divorce story.

Analysis
The story is a shortened variation of the Chinese folktale the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl. In the story, a cowherd hides a fairy’s clothes and keeps her as his wife. Then, the fairy finds her clothes and is forced to return to the sky, leaving her children behind. Her mother forbids her from seeing her husband and separates the family by creating the Milky Way. Finally, the family are able to reunite on the Qi Xi Festival (七夕节) on the bridge formed by magpies.
The informant told me that Korea had two separate stories developed from the Chinese folktale. This version is a variation of the first half of the Chinese folktale. The cowherd becomes a woodworker, because forests are abundant in Korea, while fields and cows are common in China.

 

The Tiger’s Whisker – Korean Folktale

TEXT: Once upon a time, there was a woman with a husband who had just come back from a war. When her husband came back from the war, he was a different person. He used to be very kind and loving and stuff. But after the war, he was very harsh and short-tempered. He would snap at her if she had said something that he didn’t like. So the woman went to a local witch and after explaining her situation to the witch, asked if she had a potion that can change her husband back to who he used to be before the war. The witch said that this would be a very difficult potion to make but she did have a recipe for a potion that can help her with her husband. The witch told her that she needed the whisker of a live tiger to make the potion. The woman told her that that would be too difficult and almost impossible. The witch told her that if she did not have the whisker, she would not be able to help.

So the woman went home and made a bowl of rice smothered in meat sauce and brought it to the side of a mountain where a tiger lived. She left it on the edge of a cave and left. The next day, she went back to the mountain and saw that the rice bowl was empty. She replaced that empty bowl with another bowl of rice smothered in meat sauce. She repeated this for multiple days, weeks, months. Eventually, one day, when she was replacing the bowl of rice, she noticed that the tiger had been outside of its cave, waiting patiently. The next few days, she noticed that the tiger was closer and closer to where she normally put the bowl of rice. One day, she decided to stay by the rice bowl to see if the tiger felt comfortable enough to come and eat while she was watching. The tiger came and started eating the bowl of rice, and she even softly pet his head as he ate. The next day, the woman went back up to the mountain where the tiger lived with a bowl of rice and a pair of scissors. While the tiger was eating the rice, she carefully cut off a portion of the tiger’s whiskers, making sure that she did not hurt the tiger.

The next day, she ran to the witch and brought her the tigers whiskers. The witch grabbed the whiskers and threw it into the fire. The woman was very angry. The witch said that if the woman can tame a wild tiger, then why can’t she do the same for her husband. If she can gain the trust of a tiger, then why can she not be just as sensitive and caring for her husband, learning to gain his trust again.

CONTEXT: I asked my informant if she knew any Korean folktales while I was driving her to Orange County. She asked me if I had ever heard about the story of the woman and the Tiger’s whisker. I told her no so she started telling me the story from her memory.

INFORMANT: My informant originally learned of this folklore when she was in junior high school during her Korean Language school that she attended every Sunday after church. She remembered this story primarily because she had to learn it in Korean. This meant that she had to read it over and over again. She also had to practice telling the story in Korean. However, when she told me the story, she told me the story in English because that is her primary language.

My informant really likes the story because she thinks that it has a really good meaning and moral behind it. She likes the fact that the story emphasizes diligence and working at something. She liked how the story was saying that if you work hard at something continually without giving up, you would be rewarded.

MY INTERPRETATION:  My interpretation of this story aligns with my informant’s views of the story. I think the point of the story is to learn how to be sensitive and adapt to people who may be difficult to deal with. Similar to how someone would be very cautious around a dangerous wild animal, the same level of care and caution is required when dealing with people that are difficult. It’s clear that the husband comes back from the war a different person because of the trauma associated with war, or PTSD. If we truly care about something or someone, this story says that we must diligently care and be sensitive to them.

This tale is clearly not meant to be seen as a factual story that happened in the real world. The purpose of this story was primarily to get the meaning of the story across. There was a moment of implied causation within the story that I realized was there after I rewrote what she told me. When the woman in the story first sees that the bowl of rice was empty, it is implied that the tiger had eaten the bowl of rice.

Also, the use of the tiger and rice seems to be a cultural detail, rather than a universal one. If this story were to be told from an American perspective, I would think that the animal would be a lion, primarily because we view lions as the top of the food chain. When it comes to food, I would think that an American folktale would incorporate something specific to America, not rice. Tigers are strongly associated with Korean culture. Everything from the Korean Olympic mascot to children’s television shows, tigers are often used to represent the Korean culture and tradition. This seemed far more real to me when I asked my informant if she knew other stories and she listed off a few other folktales that she knew, all incorporating tigers.

Korean Proverb: Sparrow Following a Crane

A sparrow tried to follow a crane and split its crotch

BACKGROUND:

The direct translation of the proverb tells of a Korean Crow-Tilt (closely related to a sparrow) who tries to be as elegant as a crane. In doing so, the crow-tilt ends up making a fool of itself. Crow-tilts are often known for having short, stubby legs unlike the crane. So if the crow-tilt were to walk the same strides as a crane, it would split the crotch of its pants and completely embarrass itself. The moral of the proverb is to not try to put so much effort into the way that you look and to be satisfied with who you are, otherwise you’re going to fall flat.

MY THOUGHTS:

I feel like this is a clever proverb with a beneficial lesson. Admittedly, I was a bit taken aback when I first heard the English translation. My source was very kind and patient with me in explaining what the actual meaning behind it is. After a little explanation I was able to value it for what it is.

Hand Gesture – Korea

My informant was born in South Korean, but moved to America when she was 16 years old. She explained to me how when she first moved, she was very confused by some of the cultural differences including hand gestures.

In America, we wave people over with our palms facing up. A similar motion that is common in western culture to beckon someone over is curling the index finger. However, in Korea both of these are considered extremely rude and degrading. They typically use the same hand motions to gesture over dogs.

Respect is a huge attribute in Asian culture. It is deeply rooted in family and demonstrated formally through gestures and language. Therefore, using the “American wave” on a human is equivalent to treating or calling them an animal. Koreans will signal people over by having their palm face down, and using a little “digging” or small swimming motion with their hand. Another way to describe it would be having your palm face down and waving it up and down vertically. If you tried calling a cab in Korea using the Western style wave, you would undeniably be rejected and ignored.

At first, my informant thought that Americans were “kind of arrogant and snobby.” She didn’t realize that there would be a significantly different meaning in something as trivial as gesturing someone over. She eventually caught on that people were not intentionally trying to be rude, and that it was just part of western culture to call people over using the palm facing up.

This made me really think about how important it is to be culturally aware, especially while traveling. There are so many little differences that may seem insignificant, but is actually really important to recognize. It helps us better understand our global peers and can prevent us from accidentally offending others.

Aesop Tales

Interviewer: What is being performed?

 

Informant: We have our own series of ‘Aesop Tale’ like folk stories and stories with moral lessons. By Jacqueline Jung

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

 

 Informant: I like these pieces because having exposure to Western and Eastern stories- it’s so interesting to see the cross over of  ‘moral lessons’ (air quotes) or the emphasis of compassion or community. I learned of these stories when I moved to Korea.

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: South Korea. (but born and raised in the US)

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: Not tied to a specific religion but they are Korean folktales.

 

Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: When I was living in Korea, moved there in 2006 and when I was learning the language, reading various folktale books.

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: I think very similar to Aesop. They were developed as stories for kids to be compassionate and hardworking.

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: They are very sweet stories. I find them particularly fascinating because they have really similar aspects with tales like Cinderella, The Ant and the Grasshopper and other Western Folktales.

 

Context of the performance– conversation with classmate before class

 

Thoughts about the piece– Reading a children’s book to learn a language is common and this exposure to cultural beliefs seems to have another purpose, to teach about societal values through story at a young age or to an immigrant. You can read a version of the Korean Ant and the Grasshopper here: http://www.uexpress.com/tell-me-a-story/2015/6/28/the-goblin-treasure-a-korean-folktale