Author: Kim So-un
About: The Story Bag, a captivating collection of Korean folk tales compiled
by the emininent Korean storyteller, Ms. Kim So-un, is sure to delight
the hearts of all “children” between the ages of eight and 80. Written
with earthy wit and pathos, the tales unveil the inevitable foibles of
people everywhere and expose the human-like qualities of animals and
the animal-like qualities of humans. Pulsating with the rhythm of life
and the seasons, these 30 stories transport the reader to a wonderland,
where a tiny mouse teaches filial piety to a spoiled child, a blind man
can “see” evil spirits, and fleas drink rice wine.
It is somehow deeply reassuring to know that even in present-day
politically-divided Korea, these same stories are still being told,
just as they have been for generations.
THIS story happened in an age before man ever ate onions. In those
days people used to eat people. That was because everybody saw
everybody else as cows, not as people at all. If you weren't careful,
you'd mistake your own father and mother or your brothers and sisters
for cows and eat them up. Surely there can be no sadder plight than
this—for people not to be able to tell the difference between people
Once there was a man who made just such a mistake. He ate up his own
brother! After a while he realized what he had done, but by then it was
too late. There was nothing he could do to make amends. “Oh, this is
terrible, terrible!” he cried. “I hate living in this place!”
So saying, the man left his home and started on a long journey in
search of a place where people saw people as people and not as cows.
“Surely, in this wide, wide world there must be a country when men
are men and cows are cows. I don't care how long it takes—I must find
such a country.”
And so he wandered over the world. He traveled deep into the
mountains. He journeyed over the sea. But, no matter where he went, he
still found that people ate each other. However, the man refused to
give up hope and continued his quest.
He saw many an autumn and many a winter.
The man was young when he started out on his travels. Now he was no
longer young. He was an old man. He continued his search, growing older
and older. At long last, he came to a country which he had never seen
nor heard of before.
Although he didn't yet realize it, this was the country he had been
looking for all these long, long years. The inhabitants were all living
happily together. Cows were cows, and people were people. They were
The aged traveler met up with an old man of this country, who greeted
him: “Hello! From where are you? And where are you going?”
“I have no definite place in mind,” answered the traveler. “I am only
searching for a country where people do not eat each other. Do you
think there is such a place in this wide world? I have been searching
for such a country for many, many years.”
“Oh my, you must have had a hard time,” said the aged inhabitant. “We
used to be like that here too. People used to look like cows to each
other and very often brothers ate brothers and sons ate their parents.
But that was all before we began eating onions.”
“Onions?” The old traveler was greatly surprised. “What is that
again? Onions? What are onions?”