Tag Archives: #Korean

Working Mother Ballad


N is a college student at the University of Southern California, she told me about a bedtime story her mother used to tell her when she was little. She tells me this story is sung as a ballad, but she no longer remembers how the ballad was recited, so she narrated the story instead. According to N, the melody of the ballad is very sad, therefore the story is better when preformed accurately. N and her mother are Korean but moved to America when N was a baby.


“The story is about a mom and her baby, who live on an island at sea. The mom had to leave her baby son home alone to go to work, where she collects limpets every day. The baby son would stay at home and miss his mom but couldn’t do anything other than sit by the sea and listen to the waves crashing, which would put him to sleep. The mom was working but would become worried over her son, so she would rush home with her basket half full and find her little son sleeping.


Some time ago, many mothers had to leave their children alone so they could go work because no one else could take care of them. It is believed that that is how this song originated. This ballad might be related to the war times, explaining the absence of a father in this story. It is evident that the quality and replication of folklore are better when performed by an active bearer; perhaps hearing the story from the informant’s mother might have been more insightful. It is often hard to collect folklore from a generation that does not actively bear their culture’s traditional folklore.

Mother and son frogs


N is a college student at the University of Southern California, she told me about a bedtime story her mother used to tell her when she was little. N and her mother are Korean but moved to America when N was a baby.


“She [her mother] told me multiple stories but there is one I remember the most because I would cry every time I heard it. So, there was a son and a mom, and they were both frogs. The frog son would never listen to his mom and always did the opposite of what she asked him to do. She would tell him to do his homework, but he would play instead; she would ask him to gather wood from the forest, but he would get sand from the beach. Everything she said, he would do the exact opposite. One day, she was very sick and knew she was going to die, so she told her son ‘When I die, bury me in the shallow banks of the swamp’, thinking her son wouldn’t listen to her. She actually wanted to be buried high up the mountains but expected him to do the opposite of what she asked. When she died her son was very regretful for what he did to his mom, so he decides to listen to her last wish. He buries her in the shallow banks of the swamp as she asked him to; the problem was that every time it rained, all the mud and sand were washed away, and the grave was unearthed. Every time it rained, he would sit and cry in fear of his mother’s body floating away because of the rain.”


Apparently, frog stories are a common reoccurring theme in Korean folklore, as well as mother-son stories. This story seems both like a tale and a fable, as it is used as an aesthetic narration, but at the same time, it is meant to teach the children listening to the story the importance of obeying their parents. This story is in some way very sad and graphic, as it depicts a child watching their mother’s corpse constantly resurface, traumatizing and punishing him for his actions in the past. It clearly is also a story about the importance of maintaining one’s reputation in a good way. When searching online, I found a similar tale by the name of “The Green Frogs”.

Korean Handgame

English translation: 

On the blue sky, Milky Way,

White boat

A tree of a tree and a rabbit 

It’s not a mast and there’s no sting.

It’s good to go to the west country. 

Cross the Milky Way to the cloud country. 

Where are you going after the cloud country.

Shining brightly from a distance

It’s a new star lamp. Find the way. 

First, you clap with two hands, then each other’s front of their hands touch, then clap together (all in a wave-like motion). Then clap again, then both mirror one hand above, one hand below, and clap together, then a final clap with both hands from each. This will continue until the song ends. 

The informant explains that the Korean hand game combines a Korean song with hand clapping that goes along with the rhythm. She was taught as a kid by her mother and quickly began to do it with her friends. The song is called Half Moon, and the lyrics seem to relate to the night sky and stars. The informant believes that it may have some tie to other Korean folklore but is not entirely sure. She explains that most if not all Korean children know this game.

The interesting thing about this hand-clapping game is that the game really is not a game. There is no winning in this game, and it simply ends when the song ends. There is no competition, and nothing to achieve other than the cultural aspect. I believe that because it is of Korean culture and origin, it has a more collectivist culture and thus its purpose is different.