Monday, July 6, 2009

Nolboo and Heungboo

Today, I was invited to a little party of the "Soccer Club" which consists of faculty who get together to play soccer after school once a week. They met under the big banyan tree on the back patio for beer, soju, watermelon, dried squid and fried chicken.

As is usual at these things, I didn't understand a lot of what was being said, but Mr Pak seemed intent on getting me drunk, so it was okay. Of course, at the end, he was the one who was drunk. As usual, they spent a lot of time talking about the problems with the Korean educational system. They also reflected on the day's game.

Afterwards, we went for second round at a local billiard hall, where I played eight ball with Mr Wright, the school's best athlete, and beat him 2 - 0. At this point, the party died out, and I walked home with Mr Hwang. Well, not home, actually, to dinner in Blue Nine, the big new building in my neighborhood which has about thirty restaurants. Mr Hwang wanted bap, so we ate at Nolboo. Budae jjigae is always good by me.

And so it was here I learned the Korean fable of Nolboo and Heungboo. Although, honestly, truth be known, it's a curiosity why they chose Nolboo instead of Heungboo for their corporate character. You see, Nolboo and Heungboo were brothers, Heungboo poor and Nolboo very wealthy, having stolen his brother's stake in the family estate. Nolboo was a miser, but Heungboo was generous to a fault, always sharing with others even though there was barely enough for his own family.

One day, he happened across an injured sparrow with a broken wing. He mended its wing and nursed it back to health. When he released it, the sparrow, 제비 jebi in Korean, returned with a pumpkin seed. When Heungboo planted it, the the vine grew an enormous pumpkin. When Heungboo's family cut it open, the pumpkin was filled with gold and treasure.

Upon hearing of his brother's good fortune and how he came upon it, Nolboo tried to do the same. He captured a jebi and broke its wing intentionally before nursing it and then ordering it to return in the spring with a magic melon seed. Just like with his brother, the bird returned with a single seed, only when Nolboo cut open his giant gourd, monsters and goblins came out. They beat Nolboo and his wife, and stole all their wealth.

So Nolboo was forced to ask his brother for help, which Heungboo was only too happy to provide, even though his brother had treated him so badly before. So why do you name your Korean restaurant franchise for the jerk? I guess because he's wealthy for most of the story, and you could probably get a finer meal in his house than in his brother's. But, at the end of the story, it's Heungbu that has the wealth; and furthermore, I would expect half-portions from a scrooge like Nolboo, whereas his brother would likely go without so that his visitor was well-fed.

Not that I expected an answer, but I went to the Nolboo corporate website to see what they had, and found some interesting Konglish, but it left me unconvinced:
...So we think that Heungboo stands for virtue and Nolboo for evil. But we need to understand implied meaning shown in 'Nolboo'... There are various attempts to reinterpret the meaning of Nolboo. You can see that he is a very creative person if you look at him out of conventional fixed idea.
First, Nolboo is a living person with vigor and practical. ...
Fourth, Nolboo is a puncy person without desperation.
He experienced all kinds of calamities when he cut gourds but he cut them all without yielding. There is a saying that there is a great man in a crisis. This type of person plans future and has capability to challenge again in crises.

I quote this for its humor value, but also because of a larger point: the writer obviously was chosen because he did well in English at school. He knows the plural of 'crisis' is 'crises', but cannot construct a paragraph using the words effectively.


Rod said...

I have seen that fable before somewhere. One of the teachers at Heritage told it to us somewhere along the line.

Jo-Anna said...

cool! I'd never heard this story before, but I love the budae jjigae at Nolboo!

Joha said...

It's been a long time since you have posted this but I want to make a minor correction. It was a swallow's leg(not a sparrow's wing) that Heungboo and Nolboo had fixed. The swallow flying in to one's house has always been a symbol of good luck for the Korean culture(though I'm not sure if it is because of this story ; symbol of bad luck are crows).
And about the characters, I think eventhough Nolboo was the bad guy he stands for the "wealthy image" of Korean old stories, and at the end, he regretted it and changed to be a good guy. And a retaurant's image must be "wealthy" instead of "poor" becuase it represents their food service.
I think that's why he was chosen to be the main character of the restaurants. For the Koreans it will be awkward if the main character was Heungboo, because he is still standing for his "poor but benevolent" image. (I don't know if i'm right, I'm just saying this because I didn't understand the quotation from the corporate's website,.. eventhough I'm Korean and I'm not fluent in english either)