H: Because the infant death rate was so high, people used to celebrate the baby’s birth after one month, so one month is actually their birthday. If they can, there is a big party and everyone gets red eggs. Ah-ma’s family was too poor to have a big party, but they give red eggs to the neighbors instead.
J: Why red eggs?
H: They’re a symbol of good luck and fortune. Also chicken eggs and chicken are a special treat in Taiwan. So the eggs are chicken eggs and red is for good things. [pause] You give them to people for other birthdays too, particularly for older people. Grandparents. Parents. Like 50 or 60. You give them red eggs too. You make red rice cakes stuffed with red bean. Anything with red bean paste. Mold it and make it the shape of, umm, the word doesn’t come out, a, a turtle! The rice cake in the shape of a turtle to symbolize long life. And if the person is older than you, you bow to them. When it’s their birthday, you bow to them.
The informant learned this traditon from their mother who was born in Taiwan where this was a practice in their village and aided in throwing the red egg party for their neice.
This story was shared upon request by the collector when asking about various cultural traditions.
I vaguely remember a red egg party for one of my first cousins. We dressed in red, fancy clothes and brought gifts. We ate red eggs and many other delicious foods and treats. Everything was red from the paper banners to the tablecloths to the food.
While red being a good color in Chinese culture is nothing new to me, I was surprised to hear at least some of the reasoning behind the eggs. In America, chicken is pretty cheap and easily available. Yet, for the informant, having chicken or chicken eggs was special and for celebratory occasions only.
He is in his late 40’s and works as a car mechanic. Born in Incheon, South Korea, he immigrated to the United States after he married in the late 1990s. He heard this story as a young child for a bedtime story from his mother.
엄마가 가난하고 돈을 벌려고 떡을 파는거야 길 거리에서. 하지만 그 날에는 하나도 못 팔았어. 집으로 돌아가는중에 호랑이가 나타나. 그 호랑아가 노래를 불러 “떡 하나만 던저주면 안 잡아먹지.” 그래서 엄마가 떡을 하나 던져줬지. 그걸 먹고 또 노래를 불렀어, 똑같이, 떡이 없어질때까지. 떡이 없으니까 호랑이가 이렇게 노래를 불렀지 “팔 하나 주면 안 잡아 먹지.” 그래서 엄마 호랑이에게 팔을 하나 줬지. 그리고 하랑이가 이렇게 팔 두개 하고 다리 두개 다 먹었어. 결국엔 엄마를 조금식 다 잡아먹었어. 엄마가 사는 집에 도착해서 엄마 모습이로 변신한거야. 아이들한테 불렀지 “엄마다 문 열어라.” 엄마 목소리가 이상해서 아이들이 조심했다. 엄마 모습을 가진 하랑이한테 팔을 보여달라고했어. 아이들이 “우리 엄마는 팔에 털이 잆어요!” 라고 얘기했다. 그래서 그 하랑이는 팔에있는 털을 깎았어. 그렇게 천천히 아이들이 호랑이의 힘을 빼넣고 살았다.
There is a mother who needs to sell dduk (rice cakes) but she was not able to sell any. On her way home a tiger approaches her and sings out to her “If you give me one dduk then I won’t eat you.” This is repeated until all of the dduk is gone. The tiger then says “If you give me an arm I won’t eat you.” After she gives him both arms he sings “If you give me a leg I won’t eat you.” And so the tiger devoured the mother piece by piece. The tiger approaches the house of the children and transforms into the mother. He calls out to the children to open the door. The children are wary because the voice doesn’t sound like their mother’s. They ask the tiger to insert its hand. It is furry. They tell the tiger that their mother doesn’t have any fur on her arm so the tiger shaved off all of its fur. In this way the children outwit the tiger and tires it out so that the children eventually capture it.
The story is meant to tell a moral. How the mother is tricked into giving herself up the tiger, the tiger is then tricked into giving up its life for greed. The tiger could have been content with the dduk offered to him, but it was not and devoured the mother. In turn, karma of a sort comes back at him as he is captured when he attempts to eat the mother’s children. From his side, he is greedy and desires another meal after essentially eating two. The tiger happened to be cleverer than the mother and the children happened to be cleverer than the tiger. The morale of the story is that what goes around truly does come around.
A different version of this story can be found at: http://mirror.enha.kr/wiki/햇님달님. The story is in Korean and differs in many detailed aspects. The incident occurs at night in this different version instead of day time, the mother sells bread instead of dduk (rice cakes), and the ending is different. As this story occurs at night, it ends with the coming of morning (sunrise). The death of the tale synchronizes with the sunrise, and the redness in the sky is said to be the staining of the tiger’s blood.
According to my informant, this is a popular Korean saying. It is said when a task is so easy, it’s like eating rice cakes while lying down. That activity takes absolutely no effort, so it means that a task resembling such an activity would also require little effort as well.
“Another person’s rice cake always looks bigger.”
According to my informant, this saying is similar to, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” Rice cakes are a traditional food item in Korea, so it tends to come up often in folk sayings and proverbs. Even if you have a rice cake that is exactly the same as the one another person is holding, the rice cake always seems to look bigger when it belongs to someone else. This is supposed to mean that even if you have everything you need to be content, sometimes, you tend to envy the things that another person has–simply because they are not yours.