t was fall in South Korea when I noticed that my middle school students were coming to class with the tips of their fingers dyed orange. At first, I assumed that they were doing some sort of art project in their public school classes (painting leaves or something) and just hadn’t bothered to wash their hands before coming to mine.
After a few days passed and their fingers were still orange, I decided it was time to ask some questions. I started prodding my students for answers, but every time I asked a class for an explanation, they would shift uncomfortably in their seats and tell me they didn’t know the English words to explain it to me.
I finally managed to get an answer out of one of my female students, who told me, amongst embarrassed giggles from the rest of the class, that it was a ‘love potion’. Not wanting to press the issue and embarrass her more, I turned to some of the Korean teachers during a break for more information.
They explained that once the monsoon rains have finally subsided, usually in September, it is an old tradition for young Koreans to dye the tips of their fingers with a mixture made from a flowering plant called bong seon hwa. (In English the flower is often called touch-me-not, spotted snapweed or rose balsam.) Tradition states that if your nails are still orange by the time the first snow falls than you will find your true love. Some also believe that it is a way to ward off evil spirits and keep children safe as the seasons change.
Who knew orange fingers could have so much power!