Monday, October 5, 2009

A Korean Fairy Tale or Two

Today was an average Monday.  It didn't drag as much as usual because we didn't have class on Friday, so the material's not as old hat.  I only took one photograph today.

I took this photo out my bus window.  I was struck by how European she looked.  Her style, the trike, the basket... The only thing that screamed Korea was her position in the middle of busy traffic.

I forgot to report on how my kids' did with the Burgerville assignment.  Most of them did it pretty half-assed, choosing things that made me unsure of whether or not they even went to the website.  But, the students that fully participated did well.  Almost all chose the Tillamook Cheeseburger and several chose strawberry milkshakes.  One girl chose strawberry lemonade and one of the berry sundaes.  She went all out.  I like her style.

One of Ian's classes talked about mythology today.  Two stories they told him were about a nine tailed fox and a story involving goat children and a wolf (think Three Little Pigs meets Little Red Riding Hood).  I did some wikipedia-ing and found a few things.  If you want to know more, it's pretty easy to find this stuff on Google and Wikipedia.

The nine tailed fox is called a Gumiho (or Kumiho).  This creature is capable of changing it's appearance as it wishes, but it is never fully successful.  There is always something animal-like or fox-like about it.  It uses it's ability to trick people (usually into marrying it, but I don't know what it gains from this), though the creature wasn't always considered evil.  Every story of it's transformation (save for one) has it changing into a woman.  Go figure.

The other story was more familiar:  A goat-woman leaves her seven (Korean lucky number) goat children at home while she runs to the market.  The ubiquitous malicious wolf, knowing she is out, moves in to trick the children, so he may have them for dinner.  He dips his paw in flour and waves it through a small opening in the door, telling the children that "Mother is home, you may unlock the door."  The goat-children do so and discover a terrifying wolf to be behind the door instead of their mother.  They run and run, but eventually the wolf catches and eats six of the seven.  Feeling full, the wolf lays down for a nap.  The seventh child comes out of hiding and sees the wolf asleep.  He slits open the wolf's belly and out pop his six siblings.  They fill the wolf's now empty belly with rocks and throw him in the river.  The end.

The Korean creation myth is pretty interesting, too.  It's too long and complicated to try and summarize it here, but I recommend you look it up.

Numbers are important to Koreans and Korean mythology.  Seven is a lucky number, referring to the Seven Pronged Sword which is an archeological and historical treasure of both South Korea and Japan (though archeologists say it's origins are in Korea).  Four is a very unlucky and bad number.  In our elevator the floors are as follows: 1, 2, 3, F, 5, 6... Just as many American elevators skip 13 because of it's connotations, Korean elevators skip 4.  4's unluckiness stems from a homonym (like most Eastern numerology).  The word for four (pinyin ) sounds almost identical to the Chinese word for death (pinyin).  

If you're interested in more of this, it's super easy to find online.  Also, you could ask me specific questions and I could look them up and ask around for you.

Happy Monday!


  1. Did any of the kids get the Oregon Harvest Burger? If so, I am lobbying to give them some extra credit.

    I have fun reading your blog every day! We miss you at home, but it still feels like we get to be a part of your everyday lives! :)


  2. Are you speaking of the myth of Tangun? It is pretty interesting , About a heavenly Prince who wanted to rule overe mankind, and his father, ruler of heaven knew that his son would bring happiness to all people, and looking at earth chose Mount Taebak as the place for his son to go to earth.He arrives beneath a sandalwood tree where he creates a holy city.He brings with him heavenly seals (not sure if is the animal they are talking about here or what), and 3000loyal subjects from heaven, which are possibly spirits. THe Prince, Hwangun, also brought 3 ministers, the Earl of Wind, the Master of rain, and the master of clouds.
    The myth contains animals, agriculture, homeopothy medicine.
    And in this version the prince neither kills or overthrows anyone to gain his power over Korea. So Korea is created with comforting feeling of calm and efficiency.
    There is alot more to this story, but it kind of gives you the idea.
    My question is that this seems somewhat Budhist, and is this myth a basis for one of the religions in Korea?

  3. Nope. Nobody chose the veggie burgers. I think we'll have to go to Seoul to meet any Korean vegetarians. Jecheon is just too "rural."

    The original religion of Korea is Shamanism, which I think has a few commonalities with Buddhism. Buddhism came to Korea and Japan from China. That is part of the myth that I am talking about, but there are other parts where the descendants of the spirit people become mortal because they begin to eat plants instead of the Earth's "milk."