2010 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior second place

Persimmons to Cloudbursts
Una Koh

The Tiger and the Persimmon is a hilarious folk tale my father told me some number of years ago. When I visited the folk tale index and read The Tiger and the Cloudburst, I was reminded of the bedtime story my dad once told, translated from its original Korean, and also remembered what it meant to me back then: just a story from the country I was born in. What does it mean now? A laugh at the Chinese, even if the character that came from China was just a tiger? A somewhat grotesque tale, but not so much compared to a German version of Cinderella? No, not really. Cinderella’s a fairy tale, not a folk tale. There must be a difference somewhere in there, right? Besides, in The Tiger and the Cloudburst, there is a tiger, a bear, and a cow-thief rather than a girl with glass slippers and her fairy godmother.

I think this story means that words are extremely important, that you should understand what’s going on, and that if you are resourceful, you can get out of a sticky situation. According to the comment at the bottom of the story on the folk tale index, the “general theme” of this “story is probably playing more with the idea that command of language is one of the things that distinguished humans from animals” (Fenkl). I suppose that is really what The Tiger and the Cloudburst is about, but when I think of the tiger and the bear as more human-like animals, I feel more as if the folk tale means that words are important and that you need to understand your surroundings and be resourceful. I think this because the tiger in the folk tale is frightened by a simple man, who he thinks is the sonagi. The tiger would have simply eaten the cow thief if he understood what a sonagi was: a cloudburst. As for the resourcefulness, the cow thief killed the bear and scared away the tiger with the string that held his topknot, which I find rather ingenious.

This folk tale’s importance may be part of teaching little ones what exactly a sonagi, or cloudburst, is. I myself had to ask my mother, (like many other times there was a Korean word I didn’t recognize or had forgotten,) since the version of this folk tale I first heard was The Tiger and the Persimmon, and I never heard the word sonagi before. Even after we had an entire conversation about it, I still did not completely understand. The telling of the folk tale to a little child might’ve been helpful for them to understand what a sonagi was.

Personally, I think that the Korean folk tale, The Tiger and the Cloudburst, was created to demonstrate how far misinterpretation can get you. The tiger from China misinterpreted the farmers’ reactions to the sonagi; he thought they were hiding from a beast more ferocious than he rather than a cloudburst. The cow thief misinterprets the thick pelt of the tiger as the thick pelt of a large, exotic cow. The tiger misinterprets the sudden grip of the cow thief as the claws of the dreaded sonagi. The cow thief initially misinterprets the bear’s testicles as “large, dangling pouches”. The tiger finally misinterprets the bear’s cries as an indication that the sonagi is killing the bear, and then goes back to China. Throughout the entire story, the tiger and the cow thief are drawing faulty conclusions and causing the story to move onto another misinterpretation, until the tiger leaves for his home so as to not be killed by the dangerous “sonagi”.

Overall, The Tiger and the Cloudburst is an amazing Korean folk tale, which I believe is all about words, understanding of surroundings, humans and animals, language, resourcefulness, and misinterpretations – and cloudbursts, of course. The word, “cloudburst” is in the title, after all.