The name of this website “Tigers & Magpies” is inspired by a particular type of Korean folk art painting that I fell in love with when I first saw it. Some people might not get the association at first glance so I want to give everyone the background information.
Since I am not an expert on the history or significance of Korean folk art, I’ve copied a small section from the wonderful book Tales of Korean folk paintings: Minhwa for you to read. I highly recommend the book to anyone who is the least bit interested in Korean folk art because the book covers a broad spectrum of art styles, is beautifully illustrated, and written in clear, easy to understand English.
Another fantastic book I can recommend is the Handbook of Korean Art: Folk Paintings. It’s packed full of great photos and simple explanations.
The images you see here have been borrowed from other sites on the internet. Links and credits are given.
Photo (Left): Jimmy . Lin
From Tales of Korean folk paintings: Minhwa (p131-135)
Magpies and Tigers (까치와 호랑이)
An important subset of tiger paintings is hojak-do (호작도), the paintings of magpies and tigers. In such a painting, a smiling tiger is looking at a magpie sitting in a pine tree. A folktale provides context for this image.
Once upon a time, a tiger wandered into a big puddle in the forest. Incapable of freeing himself, he anxiously waited for someone to rescue him. He endured three days without a meal before a goodhearted woodcutter happened to pass by.
The tiger begged the man to save his life. When the woodcutter obliged, the ungrateful tiger attempted to eat him. Startled by this turn of events, the woodcutter asked an ox and a pine tree to fairly judge the case. But the pair sided with the tiger, urging him to eat the woodcutter.
In desperation, the woodcutter turned to a magpie for a final opinion. The magpie asked the woodcutter and the tiger to reenact the story so that he could make an appropriate judgment.
The foolish tiger returned to the puddle, and the woodcutter was saved. Because of this tale, a magpie has long been considered a friend to humans.
In Korea, a magpie is known as the bearer of good news. It is also an envoy of a tutelary deity who has control over people’s happiness and fortune, while a tiger is the messenger who carries out the deity’s wishes.
These beliefs very likely originate in China, where a painting of a leopard with a magpie has the meaning “to spread good news.” The word for leopard, p’yo, sounds similar to po (포), which means “to inform,” while a magpie was sometimes called huijak (희작), or “happy magpie.”
Accordingly, a painting that combined both creatures was called pohui (포희), or “happy message.” With the addition of a pine tree, representing the first month of the year, it becomes shinyon pohui (신연포희), in other words “to receive good news when greeting the New Year.”
Some observers read these paintings into a political meaning: namely, that the preening tiger can be interpreted as an incompetent or corrupt official, while a magpie in a pine tree is the symbol of the aggrieved populace. The satire elicits our laughter through the presentations of a ludicrous image of a tiger and of a twittering magpie that derides authoritative and corrupt statesmen.
A little more about me and this project…
I first came to Korea in 2006, 2 months before my 30th birthday. I didn’t have a clue what to expect. I didn’t know a single thing about the Korean language, and except for Taekwondo, the 88′ Olympics, and the Korean War, I didn’t know anything about Korea. Looking back on the last 5+ years in Korea, I can see that I’ve learned and grown a great deal in Korea.
I have slowly but steadily learned to speak Korean. I passed the Test of Proficiency In Korean (TOPIK) level 4 in 2011, which means I can read, write, and listen in Korean at a high intermediate level. I still find speaking difficult, and there seems to be no end to new vocabulary. These days, I’m taking a more active approach to learning hanja, the Chinese characters on which most of the Korean language is based. If all goes well, I hope to pass level 6 of the TOPIK, its final level, by 2014. That won’t be the end of learning Korean, but will be a great achievement in my journey to become bilingual.
I believe that I’ve changed as a person because I’ve allowed myself to be influenced by Korean society and culture. My world view, so to speak, is broader than it was before coming to Korea. It’s difficult to put into words at the moment exactly how that is true for me, but I think the changes have come from trying to follow the cultural rules and blend in as best as I can.
Living far away from my native home has brought many difficulties, but has also brought many opportunities. And I am now more convinced than ever that the opportunity to learn is the key to my long-term happiness in Korea. Learning the Korean language, learning the customs and culture codes, learning the history, and learning about the natural environment are all adding to my personal power and overall satisfaction in Korea.
That’s where this project, “Tigers & Magpies“, comes into play. This is a vehicle for me to document my experiences, and to reflect on from time to time so that I can develop myself. So, first and foremost, this website is a selfish endeavor. I do it for myself first because it gives me immeasurable satisfaction to look at my travel photos and relive my experiences. By making this project public, it becomes a tool for me to inspire others to take advantage of the privilege we have of living in Korea. At least that’s what my hope is… to inspire people just a little to get out, do, and see.