ghosts and red ink

even before i came here, i had heard from a few different sources that you should never write a korean's name in red because red is associated with death. so if you write someone's name in red, you are basically saying that you want them to die. i'm so glad i found out about this beforehand and was able to avoid making that faux pas, because it turns out that it is pretty serious!

exhibit a) a while ago, i was writing example sentences on the board in a class of eight to ten-year-olds and was using a red marker because the black and blue markers that i had were running low on ink. i used a sentence that had the name of a fake person in it. i thought it would be okay to use red since it wasn't a real person. also, i kind of wanted to test it to see how they would react, since i wasn't really sure how serious this belief is. a few of the kids kind of freaked out. "teacher! teacher! no! red is bad! red means die." i said, "but it's not a real person..." some of the kids seemed to not be bothered by it and were a little annoyed with the other kids for making a big deal of it, like they were just being silly and superstitious. nevertheless, i erased the name and wrote it again in black ink, and all was right with the world.

today, at the beginning of class (the same class that i tested the red ink with), this one really animated kid was telling a story about how he had seen a ghost in his bedroom last night. these kids' english is at a pretty low level, so most of the story was sound effects and motions. he demonstrated how the ghost peaked around the door at him and walked up to his bed. its eyes were red and flashing. he also had two other stories of times when he has seen ghosts. i actually kind of believe in ghosts, so i was really interested and tried to get him to elaborate as much as possible. i was starting to get scared a little bit and so were the other kids. he said something that the ghost supposedly said, which i didn't understand at all. then he drew something on a girl's notebook. i totally did not understand this part of the story, so i don't know what this drawing was supposed to represent but it looked like this: "OIX" ... ??? anyway, the girl was freaked out enough that she erased it right away.

when storytime had come to a close, i decided to start class how i usually do and ask them what day and date it is and write it on the board. the whole class flipped their lids when i wrote the date in red. i mean, it wasn't just a few kids this time. it was pretty much all of them, and the reaction was so forceful that it even scared me a little. i erased it as fast as i could. this surprised me because i had only heard of the taboo on red ink being related to people's names. i use the red marker for other things and it's never been an issue. the only explanation i can think, and it kind of makes sense to me, is that since we had been talking about ghosts and everyone was scared, the red was especially problematic. i am really interested to find out more about this belief and what exactly you can and can't write in red ink. i clearly need to do some more research.

(read more about korean ghosts and red ink here.)