Tag Archives: Korean


Context: S is Korean as well as German, and they also showed me a gesture that they were taught growing up. Their parents told them to always accept a gift from someone with both of their hands rather than one because it showed respect and politeness and that you are giving your full attention to the person who is giving you the gift. 

Analysis: I believe that this is a big part of Asian culture. I was also taught to receive gifts with two hands and say thank you, especially if they were my elders, to show them my respect and my thanks. I know many of my Asian friends were also taught the same by their parents, and the gesture doesn’t always only apply to gifts, but when you are handed anything of importance because it signifies that you are giving the item and them your full attention and focus. I think it is a nice habit to have because so many interactions now aren’t even in person, but over the phone, or online, and they’ve lost their intimacy. It’s nice to slow down and just take a moment to put your focus entirely on one person and acknowledge and savour the moment you’re sharing.

Korean Folksong 1: Arirang

1) Original Performance: 

“아리랑 아리랑 홀로 아리랑

아리랑 고개를 넘어가보자

가다가 힘들면 쉬어가더라도

손잡고 가보자 같이 가보자”


“a-ri-rang a-ri-rang hol-lo a-ri-rang

ari-rang go-gae-reul nuh-muh gan-da

Ga-da-ga him-deul-myun shee-uh-ga-duh-ra-do

Son jab-go ga bo-ja ga-chee ga bo-ja”

Full Translation (Literal / Dynamic): 

“arirang arirang arirang alone

Let’s go beyond the arirang pass

Even if we rest and go because we’re tired from the journey

Let’s hold hands and go, let’s go together”

2) The informant is my grandmother, a Korean who immigrated to the US in the 1970s. My grandmother said that this song is a folk song that “every Korean knows.” She claims she heard it being played outside early in elementary school. She shared it with me because she said she wishes even her family who lives in America could try and understand some of the sentiments Korean’s attach to this song.

3) This was performed after my family came back from a hike during spring break and I asked if my grandmother had any famous folk songs she knew. She said Arirang is the most well-known and has multiple lyrical forms, but that she would share the one she knows.

4) In hearing this song, I’m led to make connections with a theme of Korea’s “suffering yet overcoming” throughout its history. The size of its land was always being altered due to invasions by China, it was colonized during the early 20th century by Japan, yet fought and gained independence, and it was split into North and South during the Korean War, a proxy war of the Cold War. Although different versions have different lyrics, the idea of suffering combined with a brilliant hope and resilience for a better future is echoed in nearly all renditions. This type of history could be what has both initiated and sustained the oral tradition of Arirang throughout generations. The lyrics of two people remaining together in a journey despite all odds has often been tied to a metaphor for the longing of Koreans to remain together despite obstacles like Japanese colonization, the Korean War, and a constant state of diaspora. 

Annotation: For a fuller version of the song, go to UNESCO’s webpage which is dedicated to Arirang and Korean cultural heritage: 

“Arirang, Lyrical Folk Song in the Republic of Korea.” UNESCO, Intangible Cultural Heritage, 2012, https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/arirang-lyrical-folk-song-in-the-republic-of-korea-00445. 

Korean Folksong 2: Dong, Dong, Dongdaemun

Entry 16: 


Original: 동, 동, 동대문을 열어라,

남, 남, 남대문을 열어라,

12시가 되면은

문을 닫는다.


Dong, dong, dong-dae-mon-eul yul-uh-lah

Nam, nam, nam-dae-moon-eul yul-uh-rah

12 shi-ga dwae-myun-eun

Moon-eul dad-neun-da

Full Translation: 

Open the east, east, east great gate. 

Open the south, south, south great gate. 

When the clock strikes 12

The gates are closed. 

2) My Korean grandmother shared this song with me because it was associated with a game she played in elementary school. She said it was one of the things she looked forward to most everyday because it gave her a break to have fun in between discipline and learning. 

3) This performance was actually done by my grandmother and mother together. My grandmother sang the lyrics, and my mother, being a pianist, improvised an accompaniment along with the melody.

4) This song is based off of a Korean children’s game in which two people form the “Dongdaemun gates” by making an arch with their arms while they sing the song. People keep circling through the gate until the song ends – the last two people who fail to make it through become the new “gate.” Both the East and South gates were major protectors of Seoul’s Royal Palace during the Joseon Dynasty. This song has its charm in that the idea of historical architecture which is hundreds of years old has been preserved and transformed into a game that is still played to this day. Folklore has the idea of creating great contrast – the gates were seen as a sacred protector that preserved Seoul during many grave invasions, but they are now referred to in a highly jovial context. 

Korean Folksong 3: choo-eun baram



날 부르는 바람이 왜 이렇게 차가운 걸까?

차가운데 나에게 희망을 주는 것이다

날 부르는 바람이 날 어디로 인도하는 걸까?

이 차가움을 견디고 따라 갈 것이다


Nal boo-reuh-neun ba-ram-ee wae ee-ruh-kae cha-ga-oon-gul-kka?

cha-ga-oon-dae na-ae-gae hee-mang-eul joo-neun-guh-shee-dah.

nal boo-reun-neun ba-ram-ee nal uh-di-loh indoh-ha-neun gul-kka?

ee cha-ga-oom-eul gyun-di-go dda-rah gal-guh-shee-dah.

Full Translation: 

Oh wind who’s calling me, why are you so cold? 

Despite the cold, you also give me hope.

Oh wind who’s calling me, where are you leading me?

I will endure the chill of your breeze, and follow you. 

2) My Korean grandmother introduced this folk song, called “cold wind,” to me because it was a song that she learned during middle school, but came to have great meaning to her after she immigrated to America in her late 20s. She said her decision to come to America made her scared, but she was willing to endure this fear for the possibility of a future as a nurse in the US. 

3) This performance was actually done by my grandmother and mother together. My grandmother sang the lyrics, and my mother, being a pianist, improvised an accompaniment along with the melody. It was a set of four Korean folk songs that they performed in front of me and the rest of our family. 

4) I connect this folk song to the Korean concept of ‘Han.’ Han is an emotion that connotes an accumulation of Koreans’ suffering over time. It is a very dynamic emotion that has a fierce color that could almost signal the energy and birth of new possibilities. I think the song my grandma sang connects to this concept because although it invokes the necessity of suffering along a certain road, it also signals that there should be hope that despite this suffering a worthwhile outcome could arise. 

Korean Folksong 4: Fate’s Appearance



빛나는 그대를 보면 볼수록 태양이 어두워진다

청국의 가장 아름다운 천사들도 평범해 보여지게 하는 그대가 

어디에서 온 걸까? 

다른 세계 – 가능

다른 세월 – 가능

이 세계 – 확실히 불가능

우리의 출신이 세상 차이니 낯선데 뭔가 인연인 듯이 익숙하다

Romanization / Transliteration: 

Bit-na-neun geu-dae-reul bo-myun bol-soo-rok tae-yang-ee eoh-doo-wuh-jin-da

chung-kook-eh ga-jang ah-reum-da-oon chun-sah-deul-do pyung-bum-hae bo-yuh-ji-gae ha-neun geu-dae ga eoh-di-ae-suh on-gul-kka?

da-reun seh-gye – ga-neung

da-reun seh-woul – ga-neung

Ee-seh-gye – hawk-shil-hee bool-ga-neung

Oo-ree-eh chool-sheen-ee sae-sang cha-i-ni nat-sun-dae mwon-ga in-yun-in deu-si eek-sook-ha-da

Full Translation: 

The more I see you shine, the darker the sun gets. 

Where did you, who can make even heaven’s most beautiful angels appear ordinary, come from? 

A different world is possible

A different time is possible

But you being from the same world is without a doubt impossible

Since our origins are so different, you seem strange, but something, as if it’s fate, is familiar

2) My Korean grandmother introduced this folk song, called “인연의 나타남” (fate’s appearance) to me because it was a song that she learned during highschool, and it came to have great meaning for her when she met my grandfather. She said the song is about a very idealistic love, and she told me that she hopes people don’t yet give up on the idea that such a love could possibly exist. 

3) This performance was actually done by my grandmother and mother together. My grandmother sang the lyrics, and my mother, being a pianist, improvised an accompaniment along with the melody. It was a set of four Korean folk songs that they performed in front of me and the rest of our family. 

4) This song is centered around the idea of two lovers who are of completely different backgrounds. The subject of the folk song is a person who appears almost perfect, so perfect that assuming a relationship with that person seems near impossible. However, the concept of fate, Inyun, in Korean plays a big role in the song’s theme. It suggests that no matter how infeasible this relationship seems, if fate wills its manifestation then it will come to be. This song also leads me to compare Inyun with the concept of Akyun, which depicts a relationship that is also subject to fate, but is instead bound to be ill-fated. Comparing these two concepts, it becomes clear that Korean tradition attributes both miracles and tragedies to the idea of fate.