Last night, I read “은혜 갚은 까치” from Once Upon a Time in Korea. The title alone gave me so much information. I knew that 은혜 means “grace,” because of actress and former Baby V.O.X member 윤은혜. But, I didn’t know that 은혜 갚다 is kind of like “to return the favor.” If a good deed is done to you, you should 은혜 갚다. I had never heard of 까치 before. It is a magpie. Apparently, in Korea, the magpie is known as a good bird. In fairy tales, it is always a kind animal.
선비 – I guess the official translation would be “scholar,” but they are more than that. 선비 were 조선 era scholars who lived modest lives and aimed to have a perfect character, rather than wealth. 선비 are idealized and romanticized in Korean literature. They will often pass up positions of wealth and power in order to live a life of integrity and study. You can also see more of them in the current drama “밤을 걷는 선비.”
과거 – A national civil service exam during the 고려 and 조선 dynasties. In literature, 선비 often prepare for this exam or even pass it, but turn down government positions. Remember, they just want to improve their intelligence, not attain power.
한양 – During the 조선 era, 서울 was named 한양.
새가 울다 – In English, we say that birds sing or call. In Korean, they cry.
구렁이 – A type of sake
둥지 – Nest
나그네 – Literally, “wanderer,” but “traveler” sounds better in English.
복수를 하다 – To take revenge.
There we have it. This story had a lot more cultural and historic points than the last one. I had no idea that magpies were such kind birds. Apparently, crows are known to be a bad omen in Korea, too. What are good/bad birds in your culture?