2014 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior first place
"The Queen Swallow's Gift": A Tale of Hope for Today

I came home one afternoon and was confused to hear shouts coming from my room. I opened my door and encountered my two younger brothers running around and throwing my things on the ground of the room I had cleaned in the morning. I was just about to yell and scold them when I remembered the old Korean folktale “The Queen Swallow’s Gift” that my grandmother first told me when I was 5 years old. It is about two brothers named Hung-bu and Nol-bu, and how the older brother Nol-bu mistreated Hung-bu, yet Hung-bu showed him kindness and forgiveness, which helped them live in harmony together. Kindness and forgiveness are important virtues for human beings to incorporate in their lives even today. If more people were kind and forgiving, then our world would be more harmonious and not so full of violence and warfare.

Hung-bu showed incredible kindness in this story, compared to his brother Nol-bu’s cruelty. After their father died and Nol-bu took every valuable thing he could find in their father’s house, he treated Hung-bu and his family like servants. Then Nol-bu kicked Hung-bu’s family out of the house. When Hung-bu asked for just one small bag of rice to feed his family for the winter, Nol-bu told him to get out and hit him over and over again with a stick. I was amazed that Hung-bu did not even get mad, or shout back, or retaliate against his brother. He just kept on being kind. He was even kind to a baby swallow who had broken its leg. As a result of his kindness, the Queen Swallow sent gourd seeds that made Hung-bu and his family wealthy. He could have bragged to Nol-bu, or he could have told Nol-bu to go away when the older brother came to visit him, because of the cruelty that Nol-bu showed to him earlier. But instead, he welcomed Nol-bu in as if nothing had ever happened. Then when he found Nol-bu buried under the rubble of his house, after Nol-bu had opened the gourds that were actually filled with ogres and beggars instead of rice and jewels, Hung-bu did not laugh at Nol-bu or show happiness at his defeat. Instead, he took Nol-bu and his wife into his own house. The kindness that is the hardest is when another person is not kind to you. Kindness can change people’s lives, just like Hung-bu’s kindness changed Nol-bu’s cruelty. Imagine what the world would be like today if more people showed each other kindness. Eventually, cruelty would fade away, and the world would be a much happier place.

Hung-bu went beyond just kindness in this story. At the end of the folktale, Nol-bu finally realized his mistakes and asked Hung-bu for forgiveness. Hung-bu could have walked away without helping Hung-bu as Nol-bu had done to him earlier in this story, but instead Hung-bu showed him the incredible gift of forgiveness, which I think is harder than kindness because it means putting aside something wrong someone has done to you. When someone does something wrong to me, I find it incredibly hard to forgive. But when I do forgive, it feels like a huge weight is lifted off my shoulders, and I’m sure that the other person feels that way too. Although “The Queen Swallow’s Gift” was written in the 1300s, for it to have been passed down this many generations tells me that there’s a certain message in this story that Koreans want to remember and is necessary in the world today, especially in modern-day Korea. Even today the two Koreas, North and South, are still officially at war with each other. The two Koreas are like the two brothers in the folktale who are in conflict with each other. Just imagine if the two Koreas forgave each other: the constant threat of war in Korea would be gone.

Before Hung-bu and Nol-bu’s father died, he specifically told them, “My sons, it is time for me to leave this world. I want the two of you and your families to live in harmony together, sharing everything equally. That is all I ask.” Is there any hope one day for the two Koreas to live in harmony with one another, just like Hung-bu and Nol-bu finally did? There will be hope only if both Koreas act as Hung-bu acted, being kind, forgiving, and determined to live harmoniously. My hope is that one day, not just Korea but the rest of the world would all live in harmony together, but these ideals are not easy to achieve. Yet Hung-bu did so. If we follow his example, we would experience no more of these inexplicable tragedies like the Sandy Hook massacre, or the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or the Boston Marathon bombings. If we live in harmony with others, we would not have major conflicts with people or desire to harm them.

Even though I’ve heard this story many times before, I’m still inspired by it. Hung-bu sets a perfect example in this folktale about how we should act and treat other people. I am convinced that all people should strive for a life of kindness, forgiveness, and harmonious relationships with one another. The relationship between these two brothers looked as if there was no hope, but what seemed like a broken brotherhood between Hung-bu and Nol-bu turned into a relationship that would last forever. This story gives me hope that if people could act more like Hung-bu, our world would experience peace at last.