This legend narrates the story of swindler Kim Seon- dal from Pyeongyang.
Kim Seon-dal is believed to be a figure from the 19th century. The most widely known folk narrative about him is that of Kim selling water from Daedong River:
One day Kim Seon-dal went out to Daedong River and passed out money to people fetching water, asking them to return the money the following day. As scheduled, he went out to Daedong River the following day and retrieved the money that he had passed out, saying, “Please pay for your water.” When a passerby, who happened to be a rich visitor from afar, became curious and asked Kim what he was doing, Kim replied that he was selling the water from Daedong River. The passerby, feeling greedy, purchased the right to sell water from the river from Kim for a huge sum, and the following morning, went out to Daedong River and demanded money from peole fetching water. Only when no one would pay him he realized that he had been fooled.
There are many other variations of this narrative, of Kim Seon-dal making a fortune through deceptive schemes, which includes one of Kim selling red bean porridge that had gone bad by telling people that the porridge had been flavored with vinegar. When Kim Seon-dal’s family made too much red bean porridge on Dongji (Winter Solstice) and the leftovers began to go bad, Kim took the porridge to the market, advertising the sales of vinegared red bea porridge and non-vinegared porridge, the vinegared porridge priced higher than the non-vinegared. If someone ordered non- vinegared porridge, looked down on the customer, saying an unrefined country bumpkin like him/ her would never have tasted vinegared porridge. No customer wanted to be looked down upon as a country bumpkin, which made them all order the vinegared porridge, and in the end Kim Seon-dal was able to sell all the porridge that had gone bad.
In some versions, Kim’s schemes aim not at making money but acquiring free food, usually by posing as someone else at the inn: Kim puts on the clothes of a monk who is asleep next to him and goes out to eat dog meat; or he puts on the clothes of a mourner and goes to a courtesan’s tavern to enjoy the entertainment, which he promises to pay for the following morning, leaving the mourner’s head dress as collateral. The following day, it falls on the monk or the mourner to not only pay for the food and service that Kim enjoyed, but also to suffer embarrassment.
Kim Seon-dal’s talent lies in seeing through the minds of other people. In other words, Kim was able to deceive people with groundless statements about paying for water from Daedong River or spoiled porridge being a delicacy because he knew and used the psychology of the greed of the ignorant outsider or the insecurities of country folks. Kim’s schemes of posing as a monk or mourner are based on his traits as a character capable of crossing the borders of status or class. He is aware of the fact that people often perceive others not as individuals but as a monk or a mourner, which he takes advantage of.
The Kim Seon-dal legends are trickster narratives that offer entertainment while jolting and attacking the existing social order, and Kim can be seen as a character contributing to the collapse of the medieval order and the preparation of a new order for the modern times. He is also portrayed as a hero of the people fighting for the lowly class, since the targets of his schemes are often rich men or those of high social stauts.