Anyone who’s both a kdrama addict and an idiom collector should watch Dae Jang Geum (a.k.a. Jewel in the Palace, 2003).
In every intrigue-packed episode there’s a proverb to ponder and a lesson to learn. Just take a look at these truisms from the drama.
Travel light unless you are the king.
On my last vacation, my toiletries alone filled one carry-on. How do the people in the past do it? Whether it’s a short trip to a nearby village or a long exile to Jeju Island, it’s always just that one teeny-weeny cloth bundle. Must learn, must learn!
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Lose the golden pheasant that’s meant for the king (or more specifically, for his tummy) and you’re in trouble. Really BIG trouble. Vigilance is key and distractions are eeevil. Repeat this once every hour: Don’t daydream!
One man’s meat is another man’s poison.
Just because other people don’t get sick eating sulphur ducks, that does not mean you’re immune. (Especially not if you have a stomach as delicate as the king’s.) Life’s lesson: Eat your veggies.
You can have too much of a good thing.
Still on the subject of the king’s tummy. You may rule the kingdom and eat the choicest produce in the land. You may even have a special well reserved for your exclusive use so that your water is always pristine. But the best can kill. Literally. Moral of the story? Cut down trips to expensive restaurants.
Out, damned spot! out, I say!
The palace girls cook up a storm and their clothes never get dirty. Amazing. I cook a pot of instant ramen and the soup splatters on my clothes. It’s not fair. Am I a splotch magnet? Reminder to self: Buy an apron.
Rule No. 1: Every hair in place.
Here’s another thing that’s unfair. Whatever their ranks, all the ladies of the palace have such immaculate hairdos. So much cooking (and backbiting) and not a hair out of place. I wonder, though, if they get headaches from having their hair pulled back so tightly. I know I’ll get a tension headache instantly, but, alas, can’t call on a female palace doctor to massage it away. Truism: None. Life’s unfair; deal with it.
O, what men dare do!
Don’t offend the powerful Choi family unless you want to get poisoned, demoted, banished, thrown into a storehouse, accused of treason, etc. There’s no end to the devious schemes hatched by the wicked in the drama. Fortunately, “all’s well that ends well.” Which goes to prove that whatever life’s trials, our famous bard has a quote for it!
Know your place in life.
No one expressed this truism more profoundly than His Majesty. Speaking to the object of his desire, our lovely Jang Geum, he said:
“As a king I command you.
As a man I beg you.”
Life’s fair after all!