There’s a Korean folktale about a young frog who never listens to his mother, always doing the opposite of what he’s told. Then his mother falls ill and before she dies, knowing her son, she asks him to bury her by the river instead of farther inland. Grief-stricken after she dies, the frog finally decides to honor his mother’s wishes and buries her by the river, but the rains come and threaten to wash her body away, and the frog cries in despair. Moral: This is why you hear frogs by the river in the spring and why you should always listen to your mother.
I remember my own mother telling me and my brother this story of “Chung Gaeguri,” and for most of my life, I thought “chung” meant “contrary” or “obstinate,” but it turns out it just means “green.” In recounting this story to my husband and later, our children, I had always translated it as “contrary frog.” As the immigrant daughter of immigrant parents, I grew up arguing with my parents about so many things, often frustrated by the language barrier that exacerbated lack of understanding on both sides, and they would say, “you should be a lawyer, with all your stubborn arguing!” In true contrary frog fashion, I refused to go to law school. But unlike the green frog of the folktale, I’m trying to learn my life lessons before it’s too late, and also figure out how to convey them to my own little green frogs so they will listen, instead of doing something foolish like burying me by the river when the time comes.
In naming this blog, I decided to keep the “mistranslation” of contrary frog to preserve the idea that, as is so often the case, a story’s meaning can be grasped even when we don’t know all the words, and finding our own words for the ones we’ve lost can get us closer to the truth of things.