Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Legalized Pot-Stepping

Dear Korean,

I've recently been getting into Korean dramas and picked
The Moon Embracing the Sun as my first. In an early episode, they try to find an eligible girl for the prince to marry. In one scene they have a line of young girls entering through the palace gates and stepping on this wooden or stone thing with their right foot as part of their entry pathway. If this is part of real traditional process, why do they do this? I was thinking it might be to test their grace, as girls who slip would be instantly eliminated?

A new Drama fan.

Enough with the depressing North Korea news. Here is an obligatory installment of AAK! where the Korean, bound, gagged and with a gun pointed to his head, is forced to answer a question about Korean dramas.
The drama in question is 해를 품은 달, and this is the scene that the questioner is referring to:

What are the women stepping on? It is actually the lid of a very large, cast-iron pot. In a traditional Korean kitchen, it is common to have a giant pot, about two feet wide or larger, in which the rice for the whole family is cooked. The women are stepping on the lid of such a pot.

This custom was not limited to the royal court, by the way. The pot lid also made an appearance in a wedding for the noblemen. The new bride would be carried from her old family to her husband's house in a carriage, and the carriage would stop inside of the walls of the house. The pot lid would be placed at the ground next to the carriage, such that the new bride would step on the lid first before stepping on the ground.

Why? There are two theories, and either or both may be true. The first is the theory that the questioner guessed--to test the grace and balance of the women who will eventually be the queen. The grace and balance are not just for the sake of physical appearance; it was believed that a graceful walk over the lid would lead to a smooth, peaceful marriage. In the drama Queen Myeongseong [명성황후], the princess-to-be is seen slipping from the lid, portending a rocky marriage. (Remember folks--this is just a drama. There is no record as to whether Queen Myeongseong actually slipped from the lid.)

The second theory is more directly connected to superstition. The lid, for obvious reasons, represents the kitchen and the spirit residing there. By stepping on the lid, the new bride is making an acquaintance with the spirit of the new kitchen, in which she will undoubtedly spend a great deal of time. (Don't shoot me for the sexism here. The Korean is just a messenger.) Considering the more widespread custom involving the noblemen, this is probably the truer purpose of stepping on the pot lid. In fact, in case of a wedding of a noble family, the bride uses two hands to lift up the pot lid three times before leaving her house, as a way of saying farewell to the old kitchen spirit.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Love this blog! Maybe we could follow each other on Bloglovin and/or GFC?

    Please leave me a comment on my blog and I will follow you!

  2. Nice foot. Not a bad start for foot fetish.

    There is one thing I don't understand. Not about feet or lids or pots or even Korean traditions per se. It is about me.

    I don't understand one thing - why in the world am I so addicted to Korean dramas?

    I have tried everything - American shows, British sitcoms, Japanese dramas, Taiwanese dramas, French movies.... and I hate them all. Actually, hate would not be an accurate term. I loathe them with passion. I think that the actors are mediocre (to put it mildly). The plots are ridiculous. They are not even funny - they are just beyond bad - atrocious. Plus the actors are SO UGLY. Where are those plastic surgeons when you need them?

    My friends recommended Downton Abbey. I have tried watching it. Honestly. For as long as two minutes. I came to conclusion that it was an abomination to continue. A self-inflicted torture. I just couldn't do it to myself.

    However, I long for my favorite Kdramas. I can watch them all night long and call in sick the next day. I choose them over anything else, even chocolate. I really respect Korean actors and actresses, directors and scriptwriters (unless they kill the main guy and then I am ready to kill them). It is like the total package - so sweet and innocent, so inspiring and beautiful.

    I am not sure why I like them so much. I have been trying to figure it out for a long time, all in vain. Could it be that my I.Q. is so high (and it is)? Or is it some kind of emotional intelligence? But I am not the only one. Those Korean drama actors are adored all over Asia and now even around the world. Strange but true. And so exciting!

    I just hope Korean actors continue doing what they are doing and not fall for being more Americanized. I think that what Kdrama has to offer to the world is so unique...

    Oh, here is an interesting detail. Lately people have been commenting how well I speak different languages. I haven't noticed that before, but now I get compliments all the time. I finally figured out what it is. Subconsciously, I mimic Korean polite intonations (opposite to banmal). So when I speak with politeness and reverence for the other speaker my language is perceived differently. Isn't it funny?

    Anyway, right now I am watching A Beauty Unmatched, Park Jung Geum. It is entertaining, I hope the writer does not mess it up.

    Too bad that some Koreans do not appreciate what they have. Kdrama is probably the best thing what our humanity has to offer on TV.

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  4. K-drama fans take notice of everything, but it's always good to want to understand certain traditions. It's like a mini lesson on Korean history.

    Korean dramas are terrible though, so I know why you hate them so much. I just finished watching "That Winter, the Wind Blows" and I was so angry at how it ended. Dramas kill too many of your brain cells and make you swear when you think about the nonsense you've just finished watching. The worst part is that they're completely addictive. I guess it's just the lure of the peninsula or an indication that I have issues.....LOL


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