Are you familiar with Korean folklore? In addition to stories like Cinderella, Snow White, and Magic Carpet, many Korean children today still grow up listening to their elders tell our traditional stories. Since the ancient times, these stories have been passed down orally from one generation to the next, and like all folklore, every tale has its own moral lesson. A donkey on the rooftop is one such tale, adopted from 옛 이야기 보따리 series compiled by the author 서정오, it is a story that shows the importance of good family relationship in gaining a happy life.
Once upon a time, there was Mr. Kim and Mr. Lee who were living as next-door neighbours. They shared many similarities: both had made lots of money as successful businessmen, both owned 10 acres of land respectively, and both were blessed with a large family of ten children. But as time went by, Mr. Kim seemed to get happier and happier, while Mr. Lee became increasingly distressed and troubled. So one day, Mr. Lee went to see Mr. Kim.
“Neighbour, despite being so similar in wealth, why are we so different? Year after year, you always have a smile on your face, whereas I am constantly burdened with anxiety and stress. What’s the secret?”
As Mr. Lee fussed about his troubles, Mr. Kim merely chuckled and said,
“Listen, if you do exactly as I tell you to do, you can become happy like me!”
“Oh please tell me what that is,” begged Mr. Lee.
“Go back to your house and tell your son to bring a donkey and drag it up onto the rooftop.”
“Is that going to work?”
“I can give you my word,” assured Mr. Kim.
Immediately, Mr. Lee ran back to his house and told his son to do what Mr. Kim had instructed. His son, when he heard this, looked at his father with a puzzled look on his face, as if trying to figure out whether he had heard him correctly.
“Drag a donkey onto the rooftop? You must be kidding, right?”
Because his son would not listen to him, Mr. Lee went back to see Mr. Kim and told him that his plan had not worked. Looking as if he was already expecting this, Mr. Kim gave him another set of instructions:
“Try this: ask your daughter-in-law to take a bag of salt, pour it into a bucket of water, and then tell her to retrieve the salt back from the water and put it back into its original bag.”
“Do you think this will help me become happy?”
Mr. Lee returned home and called for his daughter-in-law.
“Do you mind getting a bag of salt and pour it into the bucket of water, then retrieve the salt back from the water and put it back into the original bag?”
His daughter-in-law stared at him, eyes wide open in disbelief, and said,
“If you put salt in the water, it is all going to melt away. Father, you have lived for seventy-years and you still do not know this?”
Looking annoyed, his daughter-in-law left the room in a hurry, leaving his father-in-law alone and disappointed.
Returning to Mr. Kim, Mr. Lee complained how even this time, his plan had not worked. Nodding his head as a sign of understanding, Mr. Kim asked him to wait and see how he himself would do it. He called for his son.
“Hey, son, please drag a donkey up onto the rooftop!”
“Yes father,” replied Mr. Kim’s son.
Without any complaint, Mr. Kim’s son promptly brought out a donkey from the stable, tied a rope around its nose, then with one end of the rope still in his hand, climbed up the ladder onto the rooftop. From there, he started pulling hard at the rope to force the donkey too to come up to the rooftop.
Despite all his effort, the donkey gave no sign of budging. So Mr. Kim’s son called for his wife.
“Honey, come here and help me drag the donkey up onto the rooftop!”
His wife immediately came out from her room and started pushing the donkey from its back. Then, all his children came out and joined in the effort.
Seeing that the donkey would not move, Mr. Kim ordered his son and the others to stop. Then, he ordered his daughter-in-law to pour a bag of salt into a bucket of water and then to retrieve it.
“Yes father,” replied his daughter-in-law.
From the kitchen, his daughter-in-law came out slowly dragging the heavy bag of salt behind her. Seeing that she was having trouble, Mr. Kim’s son ran to his wife, took the bag from her hands, and carried it on his own back.
Mr. Kim then told his son to stop and put the bag down on the ground.
Then, turning to Mr. Lee, Mr. Kim said,
“This is how my family and I have become happy. When there is a difficulty, whenever there is trouble, we all work together to help solve the problem. Everyone trusts one another and everyone relies upon each other for help. This is the key to gaining happiness – having a good family relationship.