Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

#134 Kongi and Potgi: A Cinderella Story from Korea (1996)

"You'll have to fill the water jars
before you can go." said her stepmother.
Han, Oki S. 

Once upon a time, "in a peaceful Korean village, there lived a kind hearted girl named Kongi." All was peaceful in her life with her mother and father, until, one terrible day, "Her mother became ill.  The village doctors tried to cure her, but soon she died.  Deeply saddened by her loss, Kongi was comforted by her loving father." Time went by, and soon he told his daughter that it was time for him to remarry.  He had found a woman he liked, with a girl just Kongi's age, he said. The wedding ceremony was held, and Kongi tried her best to be polite to her new stepmother and stepsister. But when she met Doki, the mother, and Potgi, her daughter, the mother just stared, but her daughter, "glared at her coldly, which made her uneasy.  'What a fine family we'll be!' said Kongi's father, all seemed to agree."  For a few days it was alright.  Then, when Kongi's father went out to work, his new wife said to Kongi," Stop dreaming! I'll certainly not be your servant."  When her father came home, the woman criticized his daughter severely.  "Shocked, he begged his wife to be more understanding. But when his pleas went unanswered, he said no more, hoping to keep peace in his household."  Instead, things got much worse.  Before long, the girl had been pushed from her own comfortable bed to the kitchen, and assigned the heaviest chores.  Every day she had to drag a gigantic pile of dirty laundry to the river, then wash it, all by herself . The other ladies of the village disapproved, saying to each other, "Her stepmother makes her work far too hard."  So gentle was Kongi's nature that she did not complain, even to these friendly women. During planting season, it was true that Potgi had to work in the fields, just as Kongi did.  But she chose the soft field near the river, and Kongi had to work on the rocky side of the hill.   She dared not come home without weeding the field, but after toiling all morning, she had barely made a dent in the work.  She sat down to cry, and that's when she heard a voice.  It said, "Mmmoo, don't worry.  I'll help you!" It was an ox, who had not been there an instant before. "He told her to rest, and gave her a juicy apple to eat."  Before Kongi had finished eating it, the big ox had cleared all of the rocks from the soil.  All of this time, Potgi and her mean mother were passing the time in shopping. They sampled cool drinks, nibbled from snacks, and said to one another, "Oh dear, it's getting late and Kongi's work is still not done." They laughed spitefully, and her stepmother began to plan her punishment.  But all of a sudden, Kongi stood before them, "with a big basket of apples."  Now Doki questioned her sharply, and Kongi said, "A kind ox stopped to help me.  He even gave me these apples that I've brought to share with you. " The two did not believe her, yet there was no denying that the work was done.  Soon the time of the Spring Festival was at hand.  Everyone in the village was making plans to go.  But Kongi's mother forbade it.  She planned that the girl would work, filling the family's water cisterns while everyone was away.  The girl hauled bucket after bucket to the huge jars.  No matter how many she poured in, it never seemed to become full.  She looked over the top, and saw why: the big jar was cracked.  Once again, she began to cry.  Then she heard a voice! It said, "Rrrribbit! I will help you, Kongi!"  The voice belonged to a chubby little toad.  It jumped right into the jar, puffed itself up, and plugged the hole. "How lucky I am to have such good friends." thought Kongi.  She was happy, because now she, too, could go to the festival.  She went, and had a marvelous time. There was dancing, and music, and so many flowers, and kinds of sweets!  Several years passed, and both Kongi and her stepsister began to think of marriage.  Then an exciting announcement came, from the palace.  "The prince was seeking a bride, and a great party would be held in his honor."  The village rejoiced, and all of the young women began to make preparations.  Such a bustle of new dresses, new hairstyles, and new shoes made of straw, the ones called gyeep shin. Doki spared no expense in helping Potgi beautify herself.  Kongi was told that she could not go.  Instead, when the big day came, Doki "told Kongi to take the bundles of grain from the bin, let the rice dry, and remove each kernel of rice from its hard, outer shell. 'When the rice jar is full, you make come to the palace." said this hateful woman.  Then she and her daughter swished away.  Kongi tried to obey.  She began to sprinkle the rice kernels out to dry, but there was so much of it. "Suddenly, a hundred little sparrows encircled her, singing.  'Chirp, chirp! Don't cry, Kongi, We will help you, then off to the palace you'll go!"  Before her very eyes, she saw them "use their beaks to peck out the grain, and flapped their wings to carry the hulls away in the breeze." In just a short time, the rice jar was full.  Now a new thought came to Kongi: how in the world could she hope to go to the palace, dressed in dirty rags? "Just then, a brilliant rainbow filled the sky, and radiant angels drifted down from the clouds.  Kongi was sure that she must be dreaming.  They dressed her in the finest silks and the loveliest shoes, embroidered with the tiniest of stitches.  Suddenly, four men carrying a sedan chair appeared in the yard" to carry her to the ball. So Kongi arrived at the palace in such splendor that the guests became silent  as she entered.  Then all began to question at once.  "What is your name?' 'What village do you come from?"  Kongi got so nervous that she could not speak.  Instead, she began to run, and before she knew it, she was out of the palace doors, running past the lotus blossoms in the pool, and out on the street.  The prince had followed her out.  "Suddenly, something caught his eye.  A jewellike slipper, finer than any he had seen, lay before him.  He knew at once that it must belong to the mysterious young woman."  When her stepmother and stepsister got home, they found her asleep in the kitchen.  She pretended not to hear when they said, "What a shame you couldn't go, Kongi."  Soon, the prince made an announcement that all of the young ladies in town must line up to try on the shoe he had found.  "As each presented her foot, it appeared that the slipper was just her size.  But that wasn't the case.  'That shoe is surely enchanted!" cried out the girls, each disappointed because it did not fit.  Then Doki said, "That shoe belongs to my daughter, Potgi." She tried to cram the foot into it, and nearly tore the slipper in two. "Next!' cried the groom.  Doki tried to push Kongi away. 'You are wasting your time!' she cried, to no avail." And when Kongi tried the shoe, it fitted her foot exactly.  That's when she pulled the other one out of her sleeve. "The prince was overjoyed to have found his princess.  The villagers celebrated the news of their wedding." Now it was time for  Doki and Potgi to beg the pardon of Kongi.  They had treated her badly, they said, and knew it well.  So forgiving was her nature that she "welcomed them warmly, and forgave them their unkindness. Her father could not have been more proud."  When Kongi became Queen, she served her subjects well.  This was because she "had learned to be patient, humble, and kind." She lived in peace and comfort for the rest of her life. 
From Han, O.S. & Plunkett, S. H. Kongi and Potgi: A Cinderella Story from Korea.  New York: Dial Books for Young Readers: Kongi and Potgi: A Cinderella Story from Korea
Notes: It is interesting to compare this version with the one that Shirley Climo has researched and published as Pear Blossom.  There too, the girl is aided by an ox, a frog, and sparrows.  Neither story has any retribution for the stepmother and daughter, as the character of the Cinderella girl is very forgiving. 
Montessori Connection: Natural History of Korea
1. Read this story, and write down which animals help Kongi. 
2. Read Shirley Climo's Korean Cinderella, Pear Blossom. 
3. Learn more about exactly what kind of ox, which species of toad, and the specifics of the sparrows that helped Kongi: A Field Guide to the Birds of Korea or Some reptiles and amphibians from Korea (University of Kansas publications. Museum of Natural History) 
4. Learn more about Korea: How to Draw South Korea's Sights and Symbols (A Kid's Guide to Drawing Countries of the World) or Letters from Korea: A Story of the Korean War (Kids' World)