Hello, everyone. Welcome to “Korean Folktales.” In this weekly corner, we introduce you to interesting traditional Korean folk stories. I’m Jinny Na. Today, I’ll talk about people who were notorious for their stinginess.
Once upon a time, there was a village where all the residents were very stingy. The villagers were reluctant to spend money on anything and never lent anyone their belongings. When a man went to his neighbor to borrow an ax, for example, the neighbor bluntly refused the request, saying, “I can’t lend you my ax. The ax will surely be worn out after you use it. Then I have to get another one.” It is easy to imagine that the man who wanted to borrow the ax would be too embarrassed to lift his head up. But that’s not really true. He simply replied, “Oh well, I understand you.” And he thought to himself that he had no choice but to use his own ax at home. It turned out that this tight-fisted man had hidden his ax in the beginning and tried to borrow one from his neighbor.
But the man might not be that stingy, compared to a family living in the same village. Whenever a party was held in the village, the family members would not eat anything from two days before the feast. After starving themselves for a couple of days, they stuffed themselves at the party so they would not have to eat again for another few days.
An old lady in the village was also infamous for her miserliness. One day, she wanted to kindle a fire in the stove. She looked for something to start the fire with, but she didn’t have anything. Even if she did have something, she would not have used it. Then, the old woman heard a commotion and went out to see what was happening. A big fire broke out in her neighborhood. She ran toward the house on fire. With everything inside the house burning fiercely, the owner of the house was crying bitterly and pacing around anxiously. The woman approached the distraught neighbor and asked him if he would mind if she took some fire from his house. The neighbor stopped crying and angrily yelled at her. “What! Are you saying that you want to take fire when my entire house was burning up? What a thing to say! Get out of my sight right now, you old hag! I don’t want you here.” Surprised by the neighbor’s furious reaction, the woman stepped backwards and grumbled about his stinginess. “What kind of a neighbor is he anyway? He has a big fire here but flatly refuses to share only a small part of it with me. I’ve never seen such a tightwad in my whole life.” Then she was firmly determined not to give him any fire even if she had a fire in her house.
In another episode, a father and his son in the village were walking along the river. The father accidentally missed his step and fell into the water. The man, who couldn’t swim, floundered in the water, crying for help. His son, who couldn’t swim either, frantically asked a young man passing by to save his father. The passer-by suggested that he receive ten coins in return for rescuing the man, since his clothes would be wet when he entered the water. Most people in this situation would not care about money, but just ask him to save the drowning man as quickly as possible. But the son was different. He began to bargain with the passer-by. “Well, ten coins sounds rather expensive. How about seven?” While the two were haggling over the price, the drowning father screamed. “What? You stupid idiot! Son, you are wasteful of money. Five coins are enough!” The penny pinchers were negotiating the price even at the moment when a man’s life was at stake. What a horrible village!
That’s it for today’s “Korean Folktales.” I hope you enjoyed the story. Thanks for listening. I’m Jinny Na. Goodbye, everyone.