Hello, everyone. Welcome to “Korean Folktales.” In this weekly corner, I talk about some interesting traditional Korean folk stories. I’m Jinny Na. Today, I’ll introduce you to the tale of Park Mun-su, one of the most renowned secret royal investigators from the Korean kingdom of Joseon.
During the Joseon era in the 18th century, a royal inspector named Park Mun-su was traveling around the country to examine whether local officials were doing their job properly. As it was usual for royal investigators to carry out their mission in secret, Park disguised himself to look like a beggar.
One evening, Park stopped by a roadside inn to have a meal and stay the night. There, he found a beggar who appeared to be starving. Park pitied the poor man. He ordered more food and offered it to the beggar. The next morning, like in the previous night, Park ordered meals for two and shared them with the beggar. When he was about to leave, the beggar said to him, “It looks like you’re a beggar, just like me. Why don’t we hang around together?” Park agreed, and the two men began to go around together.
One day, when they reached a village, the beggar suddenly entered a large house. Of course, inspector Park was with him. The beggar said to the lady in the house, “Listen. Three people in this house are in danger now. Call all the people in the house right now and tell them to lament at the top of their voices.” The lady was stunned but she thought something serious was happening. So she did what she was told. At that very moment, her husband was at the mountain behind the house, along with his two servants. They were cutting some wood that would be used as a coffin for the man’s mother, who was very sick. While they were sheltering from the sudden shower under a big rock, they heard people wailing from the house below. The man thought that his mother died and they quickly left the place. After they took a few steps, the big rock behind them collapsed with a thud. When the three returned home, they learned how they escaped death by an inch. The man made a deep bow a dozen times in front of the beggar and asked what he wanted to receive. The beggar asked the man to give him a hundred nyang. Nyang is the unit of old Korean money. The beggar gave the money to inspector Park and told him to keep it well since he would probably use it someday. Amazed, Park thought that the beggar was not an ordinary man.
Park and the beggar continued their journey. They dropped by two more houses. In the second house, the beggar cured an ailing child in a mysterious way. In the third house, the beggar helped the family build a tomb in an auspicious site for a deceased family member. The beggar received a hundred nyang each from the two families and gave the money to Park, who now had three hundred nyang in total. As if waiting for the moment to come, the beggar suggested that they go separate ways. He told Park to go straight up to the mountain path. With these words, the beggar disappeared, even before Park could reply.
Park kept walking, as instructed by the beggar, until he found a girl who was praying on her knees in front of a stone statue of Buddha along the path. Park asked her why she was praying so earnestly. She said, with tears in her eyes, “My father works at a local government office. While delivering three hundred nyang to another office, he unfortunately lost the money. If he fails to fulfill his mission by tomorrow, he will be executed. I’ve been praying here for days, as there’s nothing else I can do.” Park recalled three hundred nyang given by the beggar. The beggar predicted that Park would use the money someday, and his prediction proved to be true. He gave three hundred nyang to the young lady. “Don’t worry. Save your father with this money.” After the woman left, Park saw the stone Buddha statue, which looked very familiar to him. Taking a close look at the Buddha’s face, Park was very surprised. The stone Buddha looked exactly the same as the beggar, whom he had been with until just hours ago. Now, Park realized that Buddha’s spirit turned into a beggar and let him help the girl save her poor father.
That’s it for today’s “Korean Folktales.” Thanks for listening. I’m Jinny Na. Goodbye, everyone.