Tag Archives: Korean

red fan blue fan

1) “There was a woodcutter who came upon two magical fans… a red fan and a blue fan. Upon fanning his nose with the red fan, his nose grew double in size. He panicked! However, he then fanned his nose with the blue fan, and his nose shrunk! With these newfound magical devices, he devised a plan to get rich. He went to the local village noble’s house and fanned his nose without looking. The noble was panicking, believing he had an incurable disease, and called the entire village, offering a huge sum of money for whoever could cure him. The woodcutter brought the blue fan, cured him, and was given money that would last his children’s children. Because of his new wealth however, he quit woodcutting and became extremely bored. So he decided to use the red fan indefinitely to see how high his nose could grow. It made a dent in the floor of heaven! Angered by this occurrence, God snipped his nose and the woodcutter lived the rest of his life in pain…”  

2) This folktale was told to me and my grandparents by my mother. She first heard it at church when she was young. She said she wanted me to hear it because she doesn’t want me to live a life that is marked by greed. 

3) I had initially asked my grandparents for folktales, but they directed the responsibility onto my mother. They said they were curious as to what she knew because she has spent a lot of time growing up in America while being Korean. 

4) This folktale has large ties to the idea of Karma. Buddhism was the original major religious system in Korea, so it makes sense that its influence would be manifest in multiple forms. The ideas of karma and incarnation are quite grave, however, and since this folktale is a children’s story, it seems to have been packaged in a way that includes comedy and is more digestible for children. 


1) After a Korean exits prison, a white block of tofu, nothing else, is the first thing that they are supposed to eat. By doing this, they have a better chance to live a life of purity from that point after. 

2) My Korean mother told me about the “folk item / food” that is tofu because she said she wants me to know that even if I make a grave mistake, I will always have a chance at redemption if I assume the right mentality. 

3) My Korean mother told me this when I was eating dinner with my family. I asked if there are any Korean foods that have a traditional / folk significance, and after a moment of thinking she came up with the above example.

4) This practice started in the prisons of the Joseon dynasty, but is now seen in modern-day Korean noir films. Perhaps tied to its longevity is the fact that tofu is already such a staple food for Koreans. Also, in prison they only give inmates bean rice for food (no tofu). Tofu is also made from beans, but it is an elevated form of bean to the one included in rice in prisons. 

Even Monkeys Can Fall from Trees

Original Phrase: 원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다
Translation: Even monkeys can fall from trees.

K is a Korean American whose parents are of Korean ancestry. He is currently in college. He says that he had heard this proverb from his parents. This piece is memorable to him because he tries to take this message to heart when it comes to doing anything.

Context: This proverb came up in a discussion about proverbs. There was a back and forth between interesting proverbs and what they meant before this piece came up.

This proverb is very similar to other childhood proverbs in that it uses animals to teach children an important lesson in life. This lesson is that even the best, most specialized people can still fail. So do not be over confident. This is because monkeys are typically seen as adapted to living in trees. They spend all their time swinging from tree to tree, often looking like there isn’t a care in the world. In reality, however, these monkeys will still miss and fall from the tree. This message is pretty important to children as it teaches them to be humble about their skills. If you become arrogant and comfortable with your skills without being sufficiently cautious, you can still fail.

Stretching To Grow


Informant is a half-white, half-Korean student studying at USC who has lived in America their whole life.

Main Piece:

“It’s literally like, when I was in Korea—I’m short as fuck—and like every morning my aunt and my mom would get all the cousins and they would pull our legs—they would stretch the shit out of our legs every like, morning or night or something, so that like we could be taller. I didn’t grow [laughs].”


This conversation was recorded in-person. I asked my informant whether they knew of any Asian customs.


Being tall is somewhat associated with East Asian beauty standards—this is often done in comparison with Europeans, who are on average taller than Asians. In my informant’s case, they experienced a form of contagion magic that acts as a folk belief (the belief that being in contact with someone’s legs and physically stretching them out would make the person taller). The act of physical contact is perhaps what continues this custom, as the person feels like there is control over the act of someone growing taller, which is always an unknown. Belief in this custom has perhaps waned, as noted by my informant who laughs at the fact that they’re still short. 



Informant is a half-white, half-Korean student studying at USC who has lived in America their whole life.

“I feel like it’s not a tradition, just a holiday, on 추석 (Chuseok), which is like the Korean Thanksgiving, you eat like, rice cake also. You eat this like little, there’s like little colorful ones, I think they’re called 송편 (songpyeon, lit. “pine cake”), and they have little things in it, they go bad really fast.”


This conversation was recorded in-person. We were discussing holidays that we celebrated that had traditional foods usually eaten on said holiday.


Food is a major component of ethnic identity. As Elliot Oring notes in his book, Folk Groups and Folklore Genres, “it is unlikely that anyone who feels some stirrings of identification with an ethnic group cannot think of some dish recipe, or kind of meal that they particularly associate with their group” (35). Songpyeon is seen as quintessential to Chuseok, as it also carries symbolic belief, to show gratitude to the year’s harvest. Songpyeon is a type of dish made from rice, which is a staple crop in Korean food (there are also many other dishes that involve rice—tteok is a whole classification of various rice cakes). Making songpyeon invariably leads to a large quantity made, it is reasonable for it to be served on a holiday like Chuseok, traditionally celebrated with the entire family. As folklore, food serves as a symbol of in-group identification, creating a sense of community. Especially with members of a diaspora, food is also a way to stay connected with their culture that they otherwise would not be exposed to.