Tag Archives: Korean

Korean Proverb

There is a proverb in Korea that is “서당개 삼년이면 풍월을 읊는다”

Original script: 서당개 삼년이면 풍월을 읊는다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Seodang-gae samnyeon-imyeon pungwol-eul eulpneunda.

Transliteration: A dog at school will know words three years later

Full translation: Practice makes perfect

Background: My informant is a 23-year-old friend from Korea, identified as H. She interprets it to anyone with the guidance of an expert or in an environment of study, they will be able to learn something and become successful. She remembers this proverb because it relates to her own life. H says after she became a college student, she has realized the importance of self-directed teaching to fully understand concepts and has often felt jealousy of those who are able to understand concepts faster. Her experience in college has reminded her of this proverb.

Thoughts:

I agree with this proverb because I think it applies to any life situation. If you keep on practicing, you will succeed. Whether it is solving a math equation, learning an instrument or driving a car, you will succeed if you keep practicing. You will eventually be able to solve that very complicated math problem, play a difficult classic piece and get your driver’s license. It applies to every part of life and it reminds me that you shouldn’t give up.

Korean Proverb

There is a proverb in Korea that is “가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다”

Original script: 가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Ganeun mal-i gowaya oneun mal-i gobda

Transliteration: If the word you say is good, then the word coming back at you is good

Full translation: What goes around comes around.

Background: My informant is a 23-year-old friend from Korea, identified as J. She remembers this proverb because she thinks it’s applicable to everyday life. J says that she thinks this proverb has the idea that if she were to give someone a compliment, they will compliment her back. And because of this proverb, she tries her best to say nice things to people instead of gossiping behind their backs.

Thoughts:

I agree with J on this because it is a common belief that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. I think everyone, regardless of cultural background, should believe in this idea of treating others well because what goes around will come around. Just as some traditions believe in Karma, if you don’t treat others well, you will be punished and have to pay for your actions.

Korea’s First Birthday Tradition, Dol-jabi

Main Piece:

This is a translation from a conversation with my mom about first birthday traditions in Korea. She is identified here as M and I am identified as IC.

IC: Can you tell me about Dol-jabi?

M: Dol-jabi is a tradition where you get the baby to grab something on their first birthday to predict their future. Like, they’ll become this kind of person or become someone who likes this. This has been a tradition for a very long time. First birthdays were a big deal in Korea because there weren’t many babies who lived past their first birthday due to the harsh, poor conditions of living many families faced. So, the first birthday Dol-jabi was celebrating the baby for living a whole year and predicting their future.

For you and your brother I placed a ball of thread, money, pencil and rice-cake.

Thread means that you’ll live a long life because the thread won’t snap. Money means you’ll become rich and pencil means that you’ll study well. Rice-cake means that you will grow up not worrying about food.

IC: What did my brother grab?

M: Your brother grabbed money and pencil. Normally, you grab one and it’s done but I waited for one more, because why not?

IC: Do you remember which one my brother grabbed first?

M: I think he got money first.

IC: What about me?

M: You grabbed thread first and then money. But nowadays, that has changed and parents will put a lawyer’s gavel, stethoscope, microphone and other various things to predict specific jobs since a pencil is vague.

IC: What I find fascinating about this is that a one-year-old baby don’t know anything, and they just grab something out of curiosity, but adults will look and be like ‘yay, our kid will become a doctor!’ It’s fun, but in a way also strange.

M: Yeah, that’s true but it’s just fun and traditional. That’s why we do it.

Background:

In Korean tradition, first birthdays are important and and dol-jabi is a traditional Korean activity. It can be somewhat translated to an occupational reveal activity since it is more specific to types of occupations now. But this translation would have been inaccurate during my generation and older as it wasn’t specific to an occupation.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I had remembered about my mom telling me about this tradition and thought it would be an interesting collection for this project.

Thoughts:

I think this tradition was supposed to be something fun for the parents and relatives to predict their child’s future. Because it used to be broad and related to general success in life, it was a casual activity. The kind of activities they place now has changed and I kind of feel a generational difference. With my generation the meaning of items were broad but now it’s specific to jobs and it’s more likely that it won’t be accurate.

Korean Lunar New Year Traditions

This is a summary of lunar new year traditions in Korea that my mom told me about.

Lunar New Year is based on the lunar calendar so it’s either late January or February. It changes every year based on when January 1st is on the lunar calendar. It is called ‘Seol-lal”. In Korea, you eat rice-cake soup because it is believed that you get a year older when you have the rice-cake soup. There are also other foods, like savoury Korean pancakes and meat dishes like bulgogi or galbi. Traditionally, meat was expensive and rare, so it was a saved for special celebrations like new year.

Children also do “sebae” to elders, which is a traditional Korean bow reserved for new year. It is done out of respect and to wish them luck in the new year. In return, elders give them money along with words of wisdom. The words of wisdom often wish them well on their studies and work.

Traditionally, people used to wear “hanbok” a traditional Korean clothing but it’s less common now except for young children or newlyweds.

Background:

I knew about Korean Lunar New Year celebrations from participating in them myself, but I thought I’d ask my mom about it to see if she had any insights to why we eat what we do and any reasons for celebrating with sebae.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I thought it would be an interesting collection for this project because different countries celebrate Lunar New Year differently.

Thoughts:

Having spent a part of my life in Hong Kong, where lunar new year traditions are very different, I always stuck to Korean traditions with my family. I think it’s fascinating that different cultures celebrate it differently, even though it’s at the same time of the year. I haven’t been able to celebrate with the whole family in the past few years since I wasn’t home in Korea, but I still try to eat rice-cake soup if I can. If not on lunar new year, I’ll try to eat it on new year, like January 1st. For some reason, most Korean restaurants in the US are open during New Years while other restaurants are closed.

Korean Mid-Autumn Festival

Main Piece:

This is a summary of mid-autumn festival in Korea that I talked to my mom about.

Mid-Autumn festival is August 15th on the lunar calendar and falls around mid-September to October. It is called “Chu-seok” and is kind of like Korean thanksgiving in that it is a seasonal holiday that celebrates harvest. The whole family gathers around and make “songpyeon” together, which is a half-moon shaped rice-cake with filling inside. The shape and filling vary from household and region. Some put in mashed beans or chesnuts but a more popular filling for children is combination of sesame seed and sugar.

My mom says she grew up eating the sesame seed and sugar songpyeon and had the mashed beans filling for the first time when she married my dad. The rest of the food eaten at chu-seok is similar to those eaten during lunar new year—meats, savoury pancakes.

Background:

I knew about Korean mid-autumn festival from participating in them when I was younger but didn’t know the exact details of the celebration and thought I would ask my mom to see if she had any insights about the tradition.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I thought it would be an interesting collection for this project because different countries celebrate Mid-Autumn festival differently.

Thoughts:

I don’t think mid-autumn festival was very big in my family. We had songpyeon but that was about it. I’m not sure if there are any activities that we do like sebae in New Year (refer to this post on Korean Lunar New Year for more information about this activity). I think traditionally, there were activities, but they haven’t really been kept today. Instead, I think Chuseok is about spending time with family and celebrating the year’s harvest.

Korean Proverb

Main Piece:

There is a proverb in Korea that is “소잃고 외양간 고친다”

Original script: 소잃고 외양간 고친다

Phonetic (Roman) script: So illko waeyanggan gochinda.

Transliteration: After losing cow, fix cowshed

Full translation: No point mending the cowshed after the losing the cow

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that you don’t look ahead to your problems and wait until the very last minute or sometimes after the problem has occurred to fix your problems. In other words, in times of crisis you don’t have plan and you only start preparing after the crisis has begun.

Y saw this proverb in a collection of Korean proverbs and it stood out to her because she thought it was very applicable to everyday life. She relates it to her own personal life by saying that when she studies or does something, she likes looking ahead to her problems to prevent that problem coming back to bite her later. She said that instead of regretting that she should have studied more on the day of an exam, she wants to compliment herself for working hard and that’s why she thinks of this proverb.

Thoughts:

I think this proverb is very relatable to myself as well. I have a habit of regretting my actions after I do them and I often go back and think about what I should have done. I constantly think about “what-ifs” and my dad always tells me to not dwell on the past and think about the future. As this proverb says, there’s no point fixing the cowshed after the cow has fled. In real life, there’s no point thinking about what should have been after what already happened.

Korean Proverb

There is a proverb in Korea that is “바늘도둑이 소도둑 된다”

Original script: 바늘도둑이 소도둑 된다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Baneul-dodook ee so-dodook dwaenda.

Transliteration: Needle thief cow thief becomes.

Full translation: Someone who steals small things will eventually steal bigger things.

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that someone who starts stealing small things will eventually steal bigger things. So, if someone starts off shoplifting a pen, they will grow up to commit bigger crimes like robbing a bank. Y says she heard about this proverb a few years ago and remembers it because when she looks at crimes committed in Korea, she hopes that bigger crimes like murder can be prevented and fixed, by basing it on smaller crimes committed.

Thoughts:

I agree with this proverb and it reminded me of a criminal psychology class I took at USC a few years ago. In the class, we learned that someone who hurts animals will have a higher chance of committing murder and becoming a psychopath. I agree with Y’s thoughts about this piece because it is small crimes that we have to punish to prevent the criminal from committing bigger crimes in the future.

Korean Proverb

There is a proverb in Korea that is “티끌모아태산”

Original script: 티끌모아태산

Phonetic (Roman) script: Tikkeul moa tae-san

Transliteration: Dust collection becomes a mountain

Full translation: A penny saved is a penny earned (Though not a direct translation, it has a similar meaning of this English proverbial phrase)

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that if you don’t give up and continue to work towards your goal, you will become successful and achieve your goals. She remembers this proverb because she thinks it’s applicable to her own life since she tends to give up very easily.

Thoughts:

I agree with Y about this proverb. I also tend to give up very easily when something doesn’t go the way that I planned. This proverb reminds us that we shouldn’t give up because every small effort will eventually accumulate to something bigger and through hardwork and effort, we will succeed. This applies to my own life because when I was a high school senior and applying to colleges, I didn’t get into a lot of schools that I wanted to. I had gone to a school that I didn’t really want to go to but found that it wasn’t for me. But I didn’t want to go through the college application process again and didn’t want to transfer. It was my mom who reminded me that I should at least put it the effort because it doesn’t hurt to try. The application process was a hard one, with many nights spent crying due to an existential crisis. I felt like giving up, but I pushed myself to write the best application I could and successfully transferred to USC.

Kong-Ji and Pat-Ji, A Korean Cinderella Story

This is a story of Kong-Ji and Pat-Ji. It is a Korean version of Cinderella.

Main Piece:

Kong-Ji was a younger living with her dad in a small village. When she was young, her mother died and his dad brought in a new mother. The stepmother had a daughter called Pat-Ji. Whenever Kong-Ji’s dad wasn’t present, her stepmother and Pat-Ji treated her horribly and forced her to chores.

One day, there was a feast held in the village to celebrate the governor’s son’s birthday and everyone was invited. Kong-Ji wanted to go but her stepmother and Pat-Ji told her that she had to finish all her chores if she wanted to go. The job was to fill a broken jar full of water, pull the grass in the fields with insufficient tools. After she finished these chores, if she could weave her own clothing, then she could go to the feast.

Kong-Ji started filling the jar but noticed that it was impossible because it kept spilling out. Then, a toad appeared and filled the crack in the jar with his body to help her fill the jar.

Next, she had to plow the field and pull grass, but her hoe was made from wood instead of metal. Whenever she tried to use it, it would break, and Kong-Ji’s hands were full of cuts. A bull appeared and helped her plow the field. With the bull’s help, she was able to plow through the whole field.

Her next task was to weave clothing. A fairy appeared and helped her weave the clothing and Kong-Ji was able to get the work done a lot faster. The fairy made a beautiful garment and Kong-Ji was able to wear it to the feast and meet the governor’s son.

The governor’s son fell in love with Kong-Ji but she had to instantly leave when she spotted her stepmother and Pat-Ji who wanted to know the mysterious woman the governor’s son was taken by. While fleeing, she shed a pair of her shoes and the governor’s son wandered all around the village looking for the owner of the shoe until she found Kong-Ji.

Kong-Ji and the governor’s son got married and punished the stepmother and Pat-Ji.

Background:

This story is a popular children’s story in Korea. I had heard about it when I was younger, but this particular collection was translation of a version my friend told me about. She said she knew about this piece from hearing it from her own parents when she was younger. She doesn’t know if there are any meaning behind the story or if she learned anything from it. She says it’s just a story that she heard when she was younger.

Context:

This was collected from a casual conversation with a friend form Korea, who I asked about Korean children’s stories she heard about when she was younger.

Thoughts:

Just like there’s Cinderella in Western cultures, Korea has their own variation of the story of an evil stepmother and her daughter who treats the adopted daughter horribly. I think this just shows that different cultures and countries have their own folk stories they tell children. Just as there are differences in the German and French version of Cinderella, Korea has their own version of Cinderella in the form of Kong-Ji and Pat-Ji. While the name isn’t the same, the premise is the same and it is a testament to the common folklore tropes in many cultures.

Annotation: For another version of this tale, refer to

Kang, Sungsook. “Kongjwi and Patjwi.” Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture, National Folk Museum of Korea, folkency.nfm.go.kr/en/topic/detail/5996.

산후조리 (sanhujori), Korean Postpartum care

Main Piece:

This is a translation of a conversation with my mom about “Sanhu-jori” which can vaguely be translated to postpartum care. My mom is identified as M, and I am identified as IC.

IC: Can you tell me about sanhujori? What is it?

M: After you give birth, your body is weak and tired so it is a traditional custom that new mothers should rest and recover. You should be careful and take care of yourself for about three weeks to a month.

IC: What do you have to do to take care of yourself? Are there any precautions you need to take?

M: Yes, typically you don’t eat hard, spicy or cold foods. You also have to stay warm with the baby so it’s harder in the summer since it’s hot. I think the precautions have become laxer now but when I had you and your brother, I wore socks to keep my feet warm and didn’t do any physical labour.

IC: If you can’t have hard, spicy or cold foods, what are you supposed to eat?

M: Traditionally you have mi-yeok-gook, which is Korean traditional seaweed soup. It’s warm, nutritious and easy to eat and I had it for all three meals, every day for three weeks.

IC: Wait, in Korea we eat seaweed soup on our birthday, does this tradition of sanhujori have anything to do with that?

M: Yes, it’s because the mother had it when the baby was born so it just keeps that tradition.

IC: Why is taking care of yourself after birth so important in Korea?

M: It is believed that if you didn’t take care of yourself, you have a higher risk of getting sick later. Like your bones would be weaker so you would have more pain in those areas.

IC: You had me in the US. What do you think are the differences between post-birth procedures and traditions in Korea and the US?

M: It’s very different. I don’t think the US has specific procedures of postpartum care. After you were born, I wasn’t feeling very well, and the nurse came in and asked if I wanted ice cubes to suck on. This was very surprising to me and I didn’t understand why. The first meal they gave me was like bread, orange juice and yogurt and it was very hard for me to stomach it. So, I asked your dad to make seaweed soup at home and bring it for me.

IC: Why do you think it’s so different?

M: I think it has to do with strength, bone structure and physique. When we were bringing you home, we had to put you in a car-seat and bring that to the car. It was very heavy for me and I had to ask your dad to help me but there was this woman who gave birth around the same time I did, and she lifted up the car-seat without any problems.

IC: So, how did you take care of yourself after I was born, since you had to rest?

M: When I was in Korea and had your brother, there was a sanhujori helper we hired to help around the house. And when you were born, my mother—so your grandmother—contacted her and asked if she could go to the US to help care for her daughter who had just given birth. She agreed, and my grandmother paid for the travel expenses and she came and helped me.

Background:

I vaguely knew about sanhujori but didn’t know the details of it since I’ve never experienced it myself. I thought it would be interesting to ask my mom about it and knew that she would have a unique insight into the differences of Asian and Western cultures and traditions since she had me in the US and my brother in Korea.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting. I asked her about specific procedures that a new mom has to follow to take care of her body.

Thoughts:

As this is something, I haven’t experienced myself, I thought it was interesting to hear about the traditions of Korea. It was also fascinating to hear the diffrences between Asian and Western cultures from my mom who has experienced both cultures. The difference really shows the variation of tradition, which is something we’ve talked about in this class. Just as fairytales and myths have variation from country to country and sometimes household to household, even something as simple as post-birth procedures are different. I think if I decide to have kids in the future, I will also try to do sanhujori if I can.