2018 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior third place

I chose to write about The Queen Swallow’s Gift. This story revolves around two brothers, Nol-bu and Hungbu, and their father’s dying wish. Before their father dies, he tells his two sons that his last wish is for them to share his belongings equally and to live in peace and harmony together. As soon as he dies, Nol-bu completely disregards his father’s wish, only thinking of himself and his family. Nol-bu is egotistical, self absorbed, and materialistic. He takes all of his father’s things and treats his brother horribly, eventually throwing his brother and his family onto the streets. Hung-bu is the opposite of his brother. He is kind, compassionate, and respectful; even feeding an injured baby bird when barely able to feed his own family.

As the story comes to an end, Hung-bu finds wealth and security for his family because of The Queen Swallows Gift, while Nol-bu finds himself and his family destitute with no food or shelter. He was so selfish and greedy, even breaking a baby bird’s leg trying to receive the same good fortune his brother did. Nol-bu brought his situation on himself with his cruelness.

If I could change this folk tale it would for sure be the ending. Nol-bu gets exactly what he deserves, but Hungbu takes pity on him anyway. With this trite happy ending, the reader is left wondering if Nol-bu even learned any lesson at all.

I strive to live by the golden rule of “treat other as you want to be treated”; Hung-bu seems to embody this rule himself. The reader is left happy, as karma comes back in the form of “what goes around comes around.” Hung-bu and Nol-bu both get what they deserve. Hung-bu gets positive karma; three goards filled with jewels, rice, and carpenters for his kindness to the injured baby bird. These items are well deserved after he showed such compassion, kindness, and even humor in the midst of horrible circumstances. This outcome is very satisfying. On the other hand, Nol-bu gets negative karma; beggars, putrid night soil, and ogres that tear down his house because of his awful behavior. He and his wife are buried in the rubble of their material things; surely this a fitting ending that gives the reader great satisfaction! Soon after though, Hung-bu goes to Nol-bu’s house and sees what has happened to him. Nol-bu apologizes and admits he was wrong, and of course because of Hung-bu’s kind soul, he forgives his brother. However I do not think Nol-bu deserves Hung-bu’s forgiveness. Did Nol-bu even learn his lesson or is he still self obsessed and cruel to people and animals? The ending seems too simple with many unanswered questions. Is the tale trying to convey that no matter how horrible a person acts it is best to “forgive and forget?”

I believe this Korean folktale is trying to teach people to be the best they can be no matter their circumstances; that good deeds and individual worth are determined by ones actions, and to never give up in the face of adversity. I understand the message that they are trying to deliver, though still do not agree with the ending. My school has a sister school in South Korea. Our teachers are always talking about the global community and the importance of our actions. As a student I strive to live by all of my school’s core values: compassion, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect; however not all students do. These are often the kids who seem to fool the teachers, as well as other students. I have been bullied by a girl in my class since kindergarten. She has hurt me with words and actions, saying awful lies about me to other students, even shoving me for no reason, while slyly smiling and putting on an innocent face to the adults nearby. I keep waiting for “karma” to catch up with her, but it does not seem to. I wonder what fairness this is. I stoically march on and keep living by the golden rule; my “mask” of calmness hiding the years of hurt and pain I have endured at the hands of a bully.

That is why the ending of this folktale is so frustrating to me. I understand the message this Korean folktale is trying to convey, but my heart truly wants for Nol-bu to get what he deserves. How can a character so mean and nasty get a happy ending, and what message does this teach? If we really want to place value in kindness, must cruelty be rewarded as well? My brain screams for a fair karmic ending in this folktale that we often don’t get to experience in real life.