(a Korean folktale)
Once upon a time, long ago, there lived a boy named Bae who did not like to work — at anything. The only thing Bae loved was sleeping. He could sleep all day long, and all night long, too. The people in his village didn’t call him Bae. They called him Lazy.
One morning, Bae’s mother woke up and called to her son. “Bae, I’m sick. I can’t get out of bed, please bring me a glass of water.”
Bae rolled over in his bed and groaned. How could his mother do this to him? It was early. The sun was barely above the horizon. The sky was still half-dark. He groaned again and rolled over, and a moment later he was fast asleep.
“Bae!” his mother called more loudly, and her voice pierced the sweet dream Bae was having. “Bae, you lazy cow! Bring me some water!”
“Oh,” Bae sighed, “a lazy cow. How nice that would be.”
Lazy cows, Bae thought, did nothing all day long but laze in the grass. Being a lazy cow would be much better than being a boy whose mother wakes him from his sweet, dreamy sleep. Yes, it would be nice to be far away from his mother, who always asked him to bring her water and wash dishes and clean the barn. It would also be nice to be far away from his father, who asked him to work in the fields. It would be even nicer to be far away from his teachers, who asked him to do his work in school.
How nice it would be to live on his own, to sleep whenever he wished, with no one to disturb him.
That’s when Bae decided he was going to run away from home.
He rolled out of bed, carried a glass of water to his mother, waved farewell and set off down the road. Where would he go? He had no place in mind. Anywhere would be just fine, so long as no one asked him to work.
So he ambled and daydreamed — the next best thing to sleep and dreams — and he whistled and he hummed and he looked up at the bright blue sky and dreamed of living a nice, lazy life.
He went to the next village and came upon a market, where he happened to walk past an old man selling masks. When he spied a cow mask, he stopped and smiled. Soon he began to tell the old man his story.
“Only this morning I was wishing I could be a cow,” Bae said. “People call me Lazy, but I only wish to be left alone, like a cow.”
“Why is that?” the old man asked.
“I don’t like to work,” Bae told him. “In fact, I hate working. My mother calls me a Lazy Cow.”
The man smiled. “Well,” he said, “why don’t you go ahead and take this mask. If you put it on, you’ll be a cow!”
At first, Bae only stared at him. “You’re joking, right?” he asked, but the old man shook his head and pushed the mask toward Bae.
Gingerly, Bae lifted it up and put it on, and to his amazement, the moment he was wearing the mask, he turned into a cow! He opened his mouth to ask the old man what was happening, but “moo” was the only word he could utter.
The old man called out to the farmers, “Who would like to buy my cow?”
Soon a farmer bought the cow that had once been the boy named Bae.
“Don’t feed him turnips,” the old man told the farmer. “Turnips will kill him.”
The farmer led his new cow to his farm, and there he put him to work in the fields, hauling the plow. Whenever the cow stopped to rest, the farmer whipped him.
“Lazy cow!” he called.
Bae began to dream of the days when he had been a boy. If only he could turn back into that boy, he swore he would never complain about fetching his mother her water, washing the dishes or working with his dad. As he trudged through the fields under the farmer’s whip, he dreamed of his boyhood, remembering how much he loved his parents and his brothers and sisters. He couldn’t believe it, but he even missed school!
Then one morning, the cow that had been a boy named Bae remembered the old man’s warning to the farmer: Turnips! That was the trick. He knew there were some turnips in a nearby farmer’s field. Before dawn, when no one was looking, he sneaked out of the barn and made his way to the farm next door. He found a basket of turnips, and he took a big bite.
The moment he did, he felt himself changing, and he looked down and saw he was a boy. To his amazement and delight, he was a boy standing in his family’s fields. He reached for a hoe and began to work very hard.
“I’ll never be lazy again,” he whispered. “I’ll never be lazy again.”
From that morning on, Bae was never lazy for one moment. He worked harder than anyone else in his village, and no one called him Lazy anymore. Whenever he heard his mother call to him, “Bae, bring me some water,” he whispered prayers of thanks for his loving family, his strong body, his healthy mind, his teachers, his friends and his neighbors.