You have no items in your cart. Want to get some nice things?Go shopping
Koreans do not say “Speak of the devil” when the subject of a conversation suddenly appears. Instead they say, “Speak of the tiger.” It was the tiger, you see, that people long ago feared to mistakenly summon.
I met a boy who told me there were tigers in the hills. He was surprised that I was planning to go hiking alone. I guess he believed the children’s books he read. I knew these books. They were based on folktales and spoke of times when tigers truly did roam the Korean hills.
The truth is, one’s relationship with the Korean tiger is a good indicator of a person’s age. The oldest generation of Koreans may have actual first- or second-hand stories of an encounter with a wild tiger. But with succeeding generations, the experiences only grow vaguer, more remote and more imagined down to the present.
There are still wild boar here and, in the forest depths, a few reintroduced black bears. But it’s easy to envision the day when these creatures are gone, too, and when today’s youngest generation will invoke their lore in the same way that today’s elderly can conjure up a tale of a tiger.
At any rate, the tiger refuses to go away. I was once on a crowded elevator with a crying child. A tactful stranger said to the child in a gentle voice: “Shh, or a tiger will come.” Immediately the child stopped crying. The man feigned relief, saying, “Thank you, oh thank you! We’re safe now!”