Sunday, March 29, 2009

The tale of Han Seok Bong

When I was cleaning out the garage (my favorite spring break activity!), I came across this Korean story that I translated and illustrated for one of my classes in college. This is a little longer than my normal post, but bear with me. It's the Korean folk tale of Han Seok Bong.

Long ago in a small village far from here, a boy named Han Seok Bong lived with his mother. She sold rice cakes for a living, and their family was poor. Because of their poverty, they could not afford to send Seok Bong to school. He stayed home by himself all day.

Sometimes Seok Bong would amuse himself by writing his letters in the dirt in front of their home. One day, a gentleman happened to pass by and praised the boy's talent at calligraphy. From that point on, Seok Bong worked hard on writing his letters.

Seok Bong's mother saw her son's diligence and skill. She determined to send him to the temple so he could improve his skills by studying with the masters. Seok Bong was happy for the chance to go and learn, but the thought of living away from his mother made him sad.

"The art of writing is more than just talent," his mother told him. "Practice is essential. You must study and work hard for ten years, and don't give a second thought about home."

Three years passed by. Seok Bong worked hard and studied diligently. He determined he had learned all that he could, and decided to leave the temple and return home to his village.

When he reached the mountain near his village he began to run. We he saw the gate to his house he ran even faster. He burst though the gate, and with a loud voice he cried, "Mother!"

His mother was busy cutting rice cakes. She looked up at him and said, "Has it been ten years? Why have you come back so soon?"

"There is nothing left for me to learn at the temple," he replied. From now on I will take care of you."

"I don't want to be taken care of," his mother replied. "What I want most is for you to become an outstanding young man of character."

"Let's see how well you have learned," she said. "We will have a contest. I will cut my rice cakes, and you write your letters. We will see if you are yet a master."

They each assembled their materials. Seok Bong began to write, and his mother began to cut her rice cakes.

Then his mother blew out the lamp. The room was pitch black.

After a while, she lit the lantern again. The letters Seok Bong had written in the dark were crooked. Some were big, some were small. However, the rice cakes his mother had cut were each exactly the same size.

Seok Bong gathered his materials, stood up and bowed to his mother.

"I am sorry," he said. And he returned straightway to the temple.

After seven more years of study, Seok Bong returned home. His mother greeted him with joy.

Han Seok Bong's skill as a calligrapher became known far and wide, even as far away as the courts of China.

1 comment:

  1. I just returned from studying in China, and I can tell you, writing Chinese characters with precision and beauty really does take great skill and an incredibly long period of continual practice. I've been complimented on my written characters before by native Chinese teachers, and it makes me proud since I'm not even of East Asian descent (I'm from Latin America). Good story. I can totally relate (except for the perfectionist mother, thank goodness).