The Tale of the Korean Farting Tiger

A good friend of mine is a Korean student currently studying at UNC. After a recent visit home, he brought my wife and I several books as a gift. One of them, Folk Tales with English, was a childen’s book of Korean stories presented in English and Korean. The very first story in this book, “A Piping Tiger,” was so weird that I had to share it with the world.

“Ppilili ~, Ppilili ~ Ppilili ~”
One day, a young man was walking along the street playing his pipe.
“Oh, I am getting sleepy. I’d better take a nap.”
The young man slept snoring under a tree.

Then something happened!
A tiger was sprinkling water with his tail on the sleeping man’s face.
“Oh my god! What a disaster! What should I do?”
Pretending to be asleep, the young man thought what to do.

dripping tail

“Oh I got it! What a good idea!”
The young man stuck his pipe in the tiger’s rear end.
The startled tiger let out a fart.

flute attack

“Ppilili Bbung~ Ppilili Bung~”
The tiger, more startled by the piping sound,
began to run off like a wind.
“Ppilili Bbung~ Ppilili Bung~”
But as the tiger ran faster, the piping sound
with the fart became louder and louder.

Farting tiger 2

All the animals in the forest laughed out loudly.
“HaHaHa, a pipe in the tiger’s rear end!”
“HoHoHo, a fart with a pipe sound.”
So, the tiger became embarrassed and ran off deep into the forest.

Laughing animals

I think that I would have taken another route than the boy. When you’ve got a tiger sitting next to you, any action has at least a 95% chance of resulting in the boy getting mauled, but that action probably has a 99.9% or greater chance. It would be pretty embarrassing to explain to Saint Peter (or my ancestors, Allah, or whomever) that my last act in the mortal world was sodomizing a tiger with a musical instrument (especially if that instrument had been an heirloom passed down by said ancestors, who probably wouldn’t be amused).

When encountering new stories, it’s always interesting to try to figure out where it came from and what values it’s trying to impart. “Hansel and Gretel” is a pretty disturbing story today, but in medieval times when there wasn’t enough food to go around and there wasn’t the possibility of more food to come,  some families living alone did just abandon their children. And in an era when the biggest cause of death for women was childbirth, a lot of kids probably dealt with stepmothers who may have been less than thrilled with the idea of taking care of someone else’s kids.

But with this story, maybe there isn’t any real message behind the events. The tone is very light, and the story is obviously aimed at a very young audience. The tiger is really more of a mischief maker than anything else.

I imagine the story is intentionally funnier in Korean–the original language probably has some fart/music puns (we’ve got “Beans, beans, the musical fruit”). The shoving itself is surprising to American audiences, but we’re the culture that came up with Captain Underpants.

There’s a CD with audio recordings of the story in English and Korean, but I’m afraid to listen to it.


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