Author Archives: Tiffany Wen

Festival – Brazil

Brazilian Carnaval

“Carnival is held four days prior to Ash Wednesday, which is the mark of the beginning of Lent. So, carnival can be considered as an act of farewell to the pleasures of the flesh as you remember from the Christian studies. Brazilian carnival is very distinct, because it has used the occasion to express its culture and regional manifestations.

Carnival is a national festivity, but more to the young people. Families look more for peaceful places to rest, such as beaches and resorts.  It’s a common that businesses only start after carnival, since it usually takes place in the beginning of the year sometime in February. So, nobody wants to do much before carnival. Carnival happens in the summer, so the dress code is very casual, even in the expensive clubs. Men typically wear t-shirts, shorts, sandals, shirt, and pants. Women wear semi naked to very casual dress.

The famous carnival is in Rio, where there are the famous samba schools, very large well financed organizations that work the entire year in preparation for carnival. They parade over four entire nights as part of the official competition. In the northeast, specifically in Bahia, the carnival is different, but also very famous. The fun takes place more in the streets, where trucks are equipped with giant speakers and a platform where musicians play, called “trio eletrico”.  Massive numbers of people follow the trucks singing and dancing. The music is also different in the northeast. They have many regional rhythms, including axe and frevo especially.

I spent almost all carnival during my college time in the northeast, especially in Bahia and Pernambuco. My best trip was a almost 30 days or more travelling with 3 friends in a trailer and a jeep from SP to Rio Grande do Norte, which is the farthest tip of northeastern Brazil. During carnival, we enjoyed the street fun, went to clubs sometimes, and also enjoyed the beaches which are beautiful and vast in the northeast as you know. Tried a lot of typical northeast food (very spicy, lots of seafood) and learned some of their culture, although at that time we were more interested in fun like you. You can imagine carnival, the dirt and lack of hygiene, which lasted four days in the streets, were the only drawbacks that I can remember.” – Peter Wen


My dad told me about this history of this festival, which did not originally start in Brazil. The word carnival dates back hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Catholics in Italy started this tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent. Because Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they called their festival “carnevale,” which means “to put away the meat.”  The word is derived from the Latin words, “carne vale.” As time progressed, carnivals in Italy became famous and spread to other Catholic parts of Europe. As these European countries started to colonize parts of the Americas, the tradition of celebrating the carnival spread into those regions as well. The Portuguese brought Carnaval to Brazil. It is the last week to partake in festivities before the period of “quaresma,” a time when Catholics celebrate Lent and cannot have sex or eat meat. He even mentioned how the popularity of Carnaval has influenced another festivity-related event, Carnatal. This festival usually takes place before Carnaval, during the month of December in Natal (the capital of the Reio Grande do Norte state in the very northeast of Brazil). The name combines the words “carnaval” and “Natal.” During this festival, people also play traditional Carnaval music and dance and sing in the streets for about a week’s span. As we learned in class, this would exemplify the idea of multiplicity and variation since these Brazilian festivals sprung from the original Carnival celebrated in Europe.

My dad elaborated more about his memories of Carnaval than the actual history of the festival (he has lived in Brazil for approximately 20 years). Both locals and tourists engage in the same activities, some of which include dancing, singing, and feasting. He says:

“But one thing I can say about the people I saw on the streets, at the clubs and everywhere is that they wanted to have fun more than ever during those four days, like the farewell party. They forget the sadness of their lives and throw themselves into partying and whatever else comes during those days. My first time in the northeast during the Carnaval time was very unique. Being Asian and very few in those areas at that time, I could call attention wherever I went, specifically when I exposed myself sometimes dancing on the tables around the hundreds of kiosks, which was common for carnival on the streets. Friends who travelled with me were fun and also intellectual, so we had good debates during our trips, although less in degree if I compare to the States.  Those years of travelling were important to me as a way to learn to be more independent and confident, since I was still leaving with my parents until coming to the States, a different concept in Brazil. In addition, seeing different parts of the country, I felt more Brazilian and understood more of what Brazil was all about.”

The week of Carnaval is explored in the article, “Sex and Violence in Brazil: ‘carnaval, capoeira,’ and the Problem of Everyday Life,” by J. Lowell. This article basically explores how the themes of sex and violence are manifested in the annual festival of Carnaval and the traditional Brazilian dance, capoeria. It is a popular misconception to think that Brazilian Carnaval is “the furthest possible departure from the ordinary experience.” (540) This article tries to argue the contrary; that the rituals and traditions performed during Carnaval accurately reflect the everyday Brazilian experience.

The festival is much more than just a week of partying as demonstrated in the article. It is important for both native Brazilians and tourists to be aware of the festival’s origins and develop an appreciation for its religious and cultural meanings. According to a Brazilian friend of mine at USC, most young people today learn about the history of Carnaval from their history or Portuguese teachers, rather than their parents, which shows how uninformed native Brazilians are about their own culture’s traditions, let alone tourists who are generally more interested in the partying aspect than the historical significance.

Annotation: Lowell, J. “Sex and Violence in Brazil: ‘Carnaval, Capoeira,’ and the Problem of Everyday Life.” American Ethnologist (1999). JSTOR. 22 Apr. 2008.

Tradition/Food – Chinese

Mooncakes on Chinese New Year

“Mooncakes represent the full moon, which is the beginning of spring for the Chinese. Mooncakes are round and with black or red bean paste and yolk in the middle representing the full yellow moon in the dark evening sky. Chinese will gather outside the full moon to delight themselves with the moon cake” –Lee Lee Wong


The moon cake has been around since the 13th century Ming Dynasty and was commonly eaten during the Mid- Autumn Festival. The story in which it originated can be found in “Traditional Chinese Folktales” in the section titled, “The Secret in the Moon Cake.”The ongoing battle between the China and Mongolia was a rough time for the native Chinese. The Mongolians patrolled the city and stationed themselves in almost every home. Through collaboration with an old friend, General Ju came up with an ingenious plan to overthrow Mongolian dictatorship. They decided to set up a booth at the central marketplace to sell their delicious moon cakes, whose sweet bean paste attracted a huge crowd. Every time they sold a moon cake, they would give out a “bonus” moon cake, which contained all of the same ingredients except for a red mark that decorated the top of the pastry. Inside every moon cake marked with a red dot was a tiny piece of rolled paper containing the memo, “On the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival, when you see bonfires in the hills above the city, kill the Mongol soldier in your house.” Sure enough, on the day of the Festival at the time specified, huge fires broke out and all the Mongol soldiers quartered in Chinese family’s homes were killed as planned. The Mongol general made a last attempt to control the chaos by ordering the few remaining generals to fight. However, in the end, the Chinese prevailed and General Ju was hailed by the people. His victory earned him a seat on the Imperial Throne. Today, Chinese people eat moon cakes during the Mid- Autumn Festival. It is common for some to decorate their moon cakes with red coloring in honor of General Ju’s triumph over the Mongolians. The red is supposed to symbolize freedom and honor General Ju’s courageous efforts.

Like my mom said earlier, our family eats moon cakes around Chinese New Year. Since they are hard to make, we usually buy them at Chinese supermarkets in Flushing, Queens where my grandparents live and where we usually spend the New Year. Traditionally, moon cakes are eaten with tea. The moon cake is denser and richer than most Chinese pastries, since it contains rich products like the lotus seed paste. The saltiness of the yolk in the center balances the sweetness of the cake. The top of each cake has a Chinese imprint of a character, which usually represents the words “harmony” or “longevity,” and surrounding images for decoration, such as the moon or flowers. ( According to my mom, each cake is also expensive, starting off at $10 a moon cake (to feed one person), which is probably why they’re most commonly eaten during major Chinese holidays. I’m not sure whether or not people still eat moon cakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival because my family does not celebrate this holiday.

Annotation: Chin, Yin-Lien, Yetta Center, and Mildred Ross. Traditional Chinese Folktales. New York: An East Gate Book, 1989. 171-180.

Festival – Switzerland

Swiss Festival- Fêtes des Vignerons de Vevey

“This is not only a wine festival. For the Swiss it represents the celebration of 2 rural communities: the wine growers and the farmers living in the mountains and producing cheese. Usually the show is very well balanced and gives the same importance and visibility to wine growers from the lake side region and the “armaillis” coming from the “Fribourg” state. Among traditional families living in both regions it is not rare to have 2 to 3 generations taking part to the show as every participant is non-professional.

Traditionally, the emotion is at its peak when the “armaillis” are singing the “Ranz des vaches.” This song is well known by all the Swiss and it is a kind of regional hymn. In the old days when Swiss people used to be mercenary soldiers in the various European courts, it was considered as a national hymn. The song is written in a local dialect and the typical alphorn instruments are supporting the melody.” –Gino


Gino is a client and family friend of my dad’s and told me about this wine festival, which interestingly enough takes place roughly every generation. It is the world’s greatest wine festival and has taken place in the years 1905, 1927, 1955, 1977, and 1999 (the most recent festival to occur). While Gino is Italian, he was born and educated in the French speaking part of Switzerland, which is why he’s so familiar with the festival. However, he admits that he doesn’t have the same emotional ties to the event as the Swiss do. He has a few memories here and there of the event in the years 1977 and 1999. Although he wasn’t in the middle of the festival during 1977, he followed the events on TV and vividly remembers the main performance, “Lyoba.” In 1999, he was living right in the middle of the wine producing region. Almost the entire village was involved in the event. As an outsider of Italian origin, Gino was impressed with the dedication and efforts put forth by the non-professional actors who put together a great performance. The preparation went on for more than a year and is comparable to the famous preparation of the Samba School in Rio de Janeiro.

I found an article about this event on the New York Times website, “Travel Advisory; Swiss Winemakers Prepare to Party,” by Christopher Hall and published in December 27, 1998. It gives a rundown of the festival’s activities. It also provides basic statistics of the event’s normal turnout. Over 450,000 visitors celebrate in the town of Vevey (population 70,000) near the eastern end of Lake Geneva. The festival that year (1999) was organized by the Confrerie des Vignerons, a trade guild created back in the 17th century to promote the wine industry in the two wine regions of Lavaux and Chablais. The guild’s job was to build an arena fit for 16,000 people in Vevey’s Market Square, which faces the snowcapped French Alps. The main event is usually a performance. That year, 4600 actors, singers, and artists (mostly townspeople, not professionals) put together a performance, which presented myths, folklore, and contemporary aspects of winemaking. Other highlights included original live performances by Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne. Like any other national festival, Fêtes des Vignerons de Vevey provides music, food and dancing for approximately two weeks (the duration of the festival). The festival closes with a crowning of the region’s best vintners.

I had never heard of this festival before. I was curious to find out whether or not cities in the States hold versions of this festival. After doing some research, I learned that the small town of Vevay (population 1735) in Switzerland County, Indiana along the Ohio River celebrates a version of Fêtes des Vignerons de Vevey. Vevay holds the Swiss Wine Festival every year usually on the last weekend of August. Typical activities include amusement rides, pageants, car shows, cheerleading competitions, musical performances, famous grape stomping, and a showcase of the town’s Beer and Wine Gardens. People from all over Switzerland County partake in this celebration. This would be an example of how American culture and customs have been incorporated into the festival. From the article on Wikipedia, it was difficult to gauge how touristy this event is. However, Gino had mentioned that the celebration in Switzerland pays homage to wine and cheese producers. Evidently, the festival in Indiana does not focus as much on this aspect of the original festival, but still provides participants with an enjoyable Swiss experience.

Annotation: Hall, Christopher. “TRAVEL ADVISORY; Swiss Winemakers Prepare to Party.” New York Times 27 Dec. 1998. 24 Apr. 2008 <

Recipe – Sao Paulo, Brazil


1.      Soak a pound of feijao in water overnight

2.      Change water once or twice.

3.      If possible buy a pound of miscellaneous pork parts; ears, tongue…all dried and        sautéed meat. If the meat is not available, then get a pound of smoked sausage.

4.      Mince four garlic cloves and chop one yellow onion.

5.      Sauté garlic and onion in hot oil in a pressure cooker.

6.      Drain feijao and sauté with garlic and onion till onion is translucent.

7.      Add the meat or smoked sausage or both.

8.      Add enough water to cover the feijao mixture twice.

9.      Cover the pressure cooker and cook on medium low for at least an hour.

10.  “Feijoada” is ready.

11.  Serve it with kale (vegetable), farofa (a manioc flour), and orange (to take away the heaviness of the dish).


My mother grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil for almost twenty years before coming to the States. She doesn’t remember a specific person introducing her to this traditional Brazilian dish. She said she learned the recipe from her girlfriends in Brazil and her cleaning lady. There are endless ways to prepare the dish, so she learned it differently every time. Also, while no one knows why, it is common to eat feijoada every Wednesday and Saturday. Most Brazilians know that feijoada was originally a slave dish. Slaves used feijao (beans) and all the leftover meat from their masters’ kitchen to make this dish. The stew-like dish is rich in protein, which gave the slaves their strength.

“The Production and Consumption of Culture in Brazil,” by Ruben George Oliven, explores the history of feijoada and its cultural significance as a stamp of Brazilian culture. While feijoada is considered a national dish by Brazilians, some varieties of beans (a major component of the dish) are still considered “food only for Blacks (soul food).” (104) I think this misconception is largely a result of a lack of awareness of Brazil’s demographics. Brazil’s Northeastern region has a high population of Blacks, a historical product of colonization and slavery on the sugar cane engenhos. ( The Southern and Western regions are much more balanced in terms of demographics. The Afro-Brazilian presence is manifested in a variety of cultural elements, including food and the feijoada dish.

Like my mom addressed earlier, feijado is usually eaten with other foods, such as vegetables or rice (which is my personal favorite). My mom makes this dish about twice a year. She usually makes a huge batch that we end up eating as leftovers for the next month or two (the leftovers taste just as good as the original). I personally love the underlying history of feijoada.  Brazilians today owe so much of their culture to the African slaves, including a less relevant but equally important cultural element, the traditional dance of capoeira, which is also addressed in the article, “The Production and Consumption in Brazil.”

Annotation: George, Ruben. “The Production and Consumption in Brazil.” Latin American Perspectives (1984). JSTOR. 24 Apr. 2008.

Ritual – Armenian

Armenian Wedding Rituals

Part 1

“So, Armenians from Iran (Persian Armenians) have this tradition on the wedding day. When the bride is getting ready in her room, and all her bridesmaids and her mom and grandma and close relatives are helping her get ready, they take the bride’s shoe and write all the bridesmaid’s names on the bottom of the shoe. The meaning is that, once the night is over, the bride takes off her shoes and the name that’s still on the shoe and that hasn’t been rubbed off on the floor or anything is the name of the bridesmaid who will get married next. It’s cute. I’ve never heard of that before my friend told me that she was in a wedding where they did that. I think it’s pretty superstitious and I don’t really believe it, but it’s fun and entertaining!”

Part 2

“Armenians are obsessed with marriage and matchmaking and love and predicting love, and just getting everyone married off because that’s what makes them happy! We’re so obsessed that we have a Saint’s Day dedicated to predicting WHO we’re going to fall in love and marry! I know…! It’s called Saint Sarkis Day, and girls are the only ones who participate in this day’s traditions. What happens is that on the evening of this certain day, girls go to their local Armenian deli and get this really really salty bread. We eat a piece of this bread before we go to sleep. We can’t drink ANY water or liquids or whatever after we eat this bread because it’s supposed to make us dream about, or see IN a dream, the guy we’re going to marry. It’s worked for like half of my female family members and failed for a few… My grandma said that she dreamt about being in my grandpa’s (her husband’s) house in Armenia, but she didn’t know that that was HIS house until she married him and saw pictures of his mom – she saw his mom in the dream. So it was like an indirect…uhhh…what’s the word? Like revelation! I found out about it THIS YEAR! All these years, I’ve been DEPRIVED of the knowledge of knowing who I’m potentially going to marry! That’s not fair! I wanna know!!! But then again, I don’t, ya know?!! It’ll ruin life’s surprise! None of my friends do it. Actually, I can’t say that; I haven’t really asked them. But I feel like they would talk about it if they did it, ya know?”


When I initially learned about this project, I knew Nicole would be one of the best resources to go to. A little background on Nicole: she has accumulated a repertoire of folklore since childhood and essentially lives and breathes Armenian culture. When I asked Nicole to share some Armenian folklore with me, she looked overwhelmed. The thought of having to choose only a few to share seemed an impossible task. She is a particularly active member of her ethnic community. She explained to me that ever since the Armenian genocide took place, Armenians all over the world have been fighting to create awareness about the genocide and prove that it actually happened (since Turkey continues to deny all accusations of its role in the genocide). However, being an Armenian in the US makes this a difficult task since Turkey is an ally to our country. Nonetheless, Nicole continues to spread the awareness through individual and group efforts. She decided to share Armenian wedding rituals with me.

The fact that wedding rituals came to mind first speaks volumes to the significance of this ceremony in Armenian culture. As mentioned above, Nicole learned about the first ritual from a friend and the second one from her grandmother. The two rituals don’t have a specific relational or chronological order; I chose to include both of them as a way of reinforcing the importance of the wedding day in Armenian culture. I gather that women of this culture tend to get married at a much younger age than American women. In the Armenian culture, young women are constantly reminded of their future wedding day. The time leading up to this day is spent dreaming about and pursuing the perfect man.

I have never heard of either ritual, but they seem to rely heavily on superstition and luck. These traditions remind me of childhood games I used to play with my friends when we were in elementary school, “he loves me, he loves me not,” which involves a girl plucking petals off of a flower and alternating between “he loves me” and “he loves me not.” The last petal pertains to your her fate. However, I can’t think of any games that I would play at this age (I am 20 years old now) pertaining to a future husband. The culture that I was brought up with does not focus so much on marriage as it does getting a solid education and a successful job. However, I think it would still be fun to engage in some of these rituals (even Nicole does not fully believe in them).

Folk Item/Folk Remedy – Sicily, Italy

Italian Folklore- Talisman/ Folk Remedy from Sicily

“The bull horn is worn as a talisman to guard against demons and protect its wearers from the evil eye. Another similar symbol worn in Sicily is the image of a fist with the thumb and pinky fingers pointed outward.  These symbols come out of a superstitious culture, and Gramma says as good Catholic people we are supposed to trust in God to protect us and shouldn’t rely on old superstitions.  They continue to be worn however because it is tradition, and even Gramma has them.  One of them is in the form of a keychain and resembles a red chili pepper more than an actual horn which I find quite amusing.  Whenever I ask Gramma about old traditions she dismisses them saying, “What do we know, we’re dumb immigrants” and this sentiment reflects how, as for many immigrants of the early twentieth century, it was more important to become Americanized and adopt American traditions then to hold on to the old Italian ones.

Another tradition I recall Gramma telling me about is her famous folk remedy to cure ear infections. She was around five at the time she used to get pretty regular ear infections and ear aches. Her mother used to take her down to nursing mothers at the hospital and they would spray breast milk in her ears. Because she was so young, she doesn’t remember if the home remedy worked or not. I don’t think she uses this remedy anymore. She doesn’t get ear infections anymore, but more importantly, she abandoned a lot of her old Italian ways the more she accustomed to American traditions.” – Mary Z.


Mary later told me that the talisman, which looks like a chili pepper, evolved out of the phallic symbols of pre Catholic Italy, which she learned on the History Channel. More women than men wear this talisman as a way to ward off the evil eye, which is the blanket term for a curse that someone might cast on someone else’s family. Although her grandmother does not believe in the talisman’s power to ward off the evil eye, she continues to wear the amulet out of tradition. Her quick abandonment of Italian rituals probably had to do with the fact that she settled in Cleveland, Ohio, a city that does not particularly have a high concentration of Italian immigrants. This talisman, also known as the “corno,” which translates into “little horn,” can be coral, gold, or silver. The horn part of the amulet is always gold or coral. It is common for non-Italians to mistake this amulet for a chili pepper. At the same time, many Italians today don’t know the full origin of the corno and its homage to both the Lunar and Sea Goddess (

Rose Scurria, Mary’s grandmother, is 89 years old and was a homemaker her whole life. She was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but spent her childhood years travelling back and forth between the US and Sicily. Her family lived in the small mountain village of Lonngi. Lonngi is one of several poor mountain villages in Sicily, where residents wash clothes on rocks and essentially live backwards lives. Constant travelling and prior experience living in the mountain village of Lonngi has given Rose a wealth of knowledge as far as folklore and folk remedy go.

While I do not have a solid understanding of Italian culture, I can relate to the culture in terms of its belief in superstition and the power of talisman. I wear a cloth bracelet that I got from Brazil, which honors a saint in the Northeast city of Bahia. While the bracelet does not ward off evil spirits, it supposedly brings the person wearing it good luck if they tie the bracelet three times in a knot while making a wish. If anything, I wear the bracelet as a constant reminder of my Brazilian identity and belief in the good luck it brings.


Legend of Tannadoonnah

“There is a tribe of Indians who lived where camp is now…land of birches; you know, birch trees and a birch lake. They lead a simple, peaceful life…they farmed and gathered fish. They lived like this for many years and eventually the white settlers spread into Michigan. They felt their lives were interrupted because white men were taking things from them. Things were tense because they couldn’t communicate with each other and it looked like there was going to be a war. The chief’s daughter was the peacemaker between the Indian tribe and white man because she won affections of one of the white men. Instead of gaining trust from both, she made both sides suspicious of her. All the Indians were afraid she was betraying them. White men saw how close she was with her father and thought she was a fraud. But then, one day, fighting erupted between the Indians and white men, and the princess was scared and didn’t want her people to get hurt. She didn’t want her new friends to get hurt either, so she got in middle of it. She was killed. The main white man told them she wasn’t a spy…was trying to make peace all along, so the white men and Indian tribe gave Tannadoonah a nice burial site. They grew a tree on top of her grave. It grew and now it protects and watches over the land and is supposed to symbolize protection and friendship between nature (Indians) and white men (campers).

They say that campers are still haunted by Indians. Most of the time, Indians go back to their old ways and play tricks on white men. The council fire room at the camp site was the big council meeting room for Indians. You can go to this tree and her spirit is still there. You can see how she lives through the tree. The roots are twisted and you can see parts of her face and elbow in the tree. It’s her body being incorporated into tree.” –Caitlin Fitzgerald


One day when reminiscing about old summer camp memories, my roommate Caitlin shared this story with me. She went to Camp Tannadoonah, a camp affiliated with Campfire Girls. She learned about the story on a tour of the camp when she was five years old. Every summer when she went back to camp, her campfire leader would retell the story. Caitlin definitely believes in the story. The tree and council room have different connotations. While the tree represents princess Tannadoonah’s guardian spirit, the council room holds scary spirits (and continues to scare the campers).

Before telling me her version of the story (the version her camp leader told her when she was five), she gave me the original story as it was presented on both the camp’s website and others who remember the original version. She says:

“Princess Tannadoonah was promised to be married to a warrior. There was a drought, so the men were in charge of finding food. The princess didn’t want to leave home. She decided to stay because her husband promised to come back for her. In the end, she died before he could come back. He buried her body and planted a tree over her grave. The tree, that is now the tree of Tannadoonah, grew over many years. All of its branches represent the amount of love that Princess Tannadoonah and her warrior had for one another.”

For a camp that has been around since 1921, the legend inevitably experienced multiplicity and variation. Today, according to Caitlin, there are endless variations of the story.

After hearing her story, I recalled my days at Camp Cayuga, sitting around a campfire at 9:00 pm (which was late for me at the time since I was in 8th grade), watching camp counselors and campers enact certain camp songs and stories. This daily ritual essentially brings folklore to life and emulates the traditional act of storytelling that Native Americans started hundreds of years ago. All in all, I could not think of a better place to find folklore than at summer camp. Camp brings people together, creates a sense of belonging, and preserves legends and rituals. I almost think of summer camp as a culture that kids engage in. Since I’m from the east coast (and apparently summer camps are more prevalent there than they are on the west coast), I always bring up summer camp rituals, only to find that no one else knows what I’m talking about. Caitlin was similarly surprised that I had never heard of Tannadoonah’s story.

Story – China

How My Grandfather’s Middle Name Came to Be (the Hong Mountain)

“My grandfather’s middle name is Hong. It is a prestigious name, it seems, after the Hong Mountain in the village of WuXi. The story goes that a close blood relative of a Chinese emperor was buried there; his tombstone standing alone on this mountain overlooking the village. This lonely man was the direct heir to the emperor’s throne. He, however, didn’t want to rule the Chinese empire. He wanted to be free of imperial duties so he could be a free man. He left the imperial palace and wandered off as far as he could. He ended up in the village of WuXi and entered a temple. There he became ill and was taken care of by the village people.

The emperor dispatched search parties all over the empire looking for his last relative. One of these search parties led by one of the emperor’s close ambassadors arrived at WuXi, after hearing news about a strange sick man, whose identity no one knew of, showing up at this village. Upon the search party’s arrival, the ambassador went straight to see this unidentified man. He immediately recognized the heir to the empire and sent out for the imperial doctors. Unfortunately, the illness was in such an advanced stage that no Chinese medicine or medical expertise could have helped. The heir to the throne died in this village. Before his death, he made his last wish. He wished to be buried in this village and not to be brought back to the imperial palace.

The village people wanted to honor this guest. They gave him a respectful and proper burial. They chose the highest site on the Hong Mountain where no one has ever been buried before and made a tombstone fit for a member of the imperial family.

That’s where my grandfather got his middle name.” –Lee Lee Wong


This legend is an example of ethnic folklore as manifested in a middle name. Every name stands for something different, whether it be a personal quality or in this case, the history of an emperor’s descendent. In the traditional Chinese culture, one’s middle name carries just as much value as the first name. A typical Chinese name reads in the order of last, middle, and first name.  Choosing a name in the Chinese culture relies heavily on the name’s underlying history and connotations. Perhaps my great grandfather’s parents gave him that name to honor the story of the emperor’s descendent. The story’s themes create the name’s significance, which include individualism and self-discovery. These were probably traits my great grandfather’s parents wanted to instill in him.

It is common for the Chinese to tell stories about the origins of a surname or middle name. Culturally, the Chinese honor their ancestors and look to the past for answers to the present. Unlike American culture, which is forward-facing in the social and cultural context, Chinese culture is reliant on past events and stories. A great deal of attention is paid to the surname, which can say a lot about a person’s character and background.

My mom learned about this story from her father. She unfortunately cannot write in Chinese as well as she can speak the language, which is why I could not document this story in its original language, Cantonese. She told me that her grandfather’s name is something he and our family should be proud of and has essentially become a part of our heritage. The name ties our family to royalty and reflects hopes for grand accomplishments in life. The name’s imperial traits include wisdom, culture, richness, and a long legacy of family ties. While my mother didn’t know him very well, she said he loved to read and learn which instill the name with even more meaning. My grandfather takes great pleasure in sharing stories of this kind because he believes the name’s significance will continue to run in our family and bring us good fortune.

Proverb – China


“Sai Won Shi Ma”

“Farmer’s Lost of Horse”

“Don’t get easily discouraged by a misfortune and don’t get too excited about a fortune”

“There is a farmer and son living on a farm. They raise nice horses. One night, the barn’s gate is accidentally left open and one of the black stallions disappears. The following morning, the villagers hear about the news and commensurate with the farmer and his son. For days, the son searches for the horse, but to no avail. In response to the villagers’ consolation, the farmer remains calm and tells them he is not too concerned. The following day, the black stallion returns to the farm with a white horse. The villagers rejoice and congratulate the farmer. Not only did the black stallion return, but they also gained a new horse, which was big news at the time. The farmer, however, does not partake in the celebration of the horses; he tells the villagers not to get too excited. He tells them they may not be so fortunate. A few days later, the son is riding the horses, loses control, and falls and breaks his leg. The village people sympathize with the son and express their sincere apologies for the misfortune. The farmer, however, tells the villagers that he wouldn’t call the accident a “misfortune.” Two months later, the village is invaded by enemies. As a result, everyone has to fight in the army, with the exception of the son who is still recovering from the accident. Ninety percent of the young men who fight in the army are killed. The moral of the story is that one should not get discouraged after a misfortunate event. At the same time, one should not get overly triumphant over good news, because it can easily be followed by misfortune.” – Ping Hu


I collected this proverb from Ping, a good family friend. She was born and raised in Beijing. She moved to New York for high school and attended undergraduate and graduate schools in the States. Altogether, she has lived in the country for 19 years. However, she currently travels back and forth between Beijing, Switzerland, and the States for work. According to Ping, both stories- the “monkey” and “the boy who lost his horse”- are extremely popular and originated in mainland China.

Ping remembers learning all kinds of proverbs during her elementary school years, which sheds light on the functional and cultural role of proverbs. According to Ping, proverbs are used in a wide range of contexts, whether that be in public speaking, education, business gatherings, etc. Often times, people hold contests to see who knows more proverbs, since they are so prevalent in the Chinese culture and play such a big role in the way people communicate.

Like most people I interviewed for folklore, Ping prefaced her stories by telling me she could go on and on about proverbs. Her favorite aspect of a proverb is that it can convey a powerful message in only four Chinese characters. She says, “No one needs to rehash the long story to make the point which comes handy in social networking and business speaking.  I guess that’s what we usually refer to as “culture” – it’s a set of understanding, value and belief deeply embedded in the people who shared the same background.” This one in particular is one of her personal favorites. It has guided her in both her personal and professional life. The moral of the story is as follows: “you will not be successful if you don’t keep your perspective intact. By the same token, a major setback in life is not necessarily a lost cause if you approach the situation with calm and patience.” Ping told me that she constantly reflects on this proverb when faced with either triumphs or setbacks as a way to boost her confidence and maintain an optimistic outlook on a situation. Perseverance is not as easy task but is rewarded once a person overcomes whatever obstacle presents itself.

I myself take comfort in the story’s message. It takes will power and a positive attitude to be able to come to terms with reality and face life’s difficulties. I am further drawn to the message because people have pointed out that I am a “Negative Nancy” and have a hard time staying positive in unfavorable situations. The proverb calls us to question and re-evaluate our attitudes because attitudes ultimately drive our behavior and the way we outwardly live our lives. It also stresses the importance of balance; we should not be overly accepting or critical of life’s fortunes and misfortunes. We should learn from our mistakes and constantly push forward no matter how difficult a situation is.

Another interesting element of the underlying story is its attention to luck. The father never seems to engage in celebratory actions, but rather detached from the triumphs and setbacks that take place in the story. He constantly reminds the villagers to stay levelheaded across good and bad situations, which is similar to the saying, “the bad is always followed by the good” and “the good is always followed by the bad.” The proverb is commonly used in social networking and business practices, which demonstrates its functional nature in the Chinese culture.

Recipe – Finnish

Krospu- Finnish Pancake Recipe

2 C milk
½ C sugar
1/3 tsp salt
1 1/4 C flour
½ C butter

– Mix all ingredients except butter together.
– Melt butter in 4 9” glass pie pans in 375 degree oven.
– Pour batter over hot butter and bake approximately 30 minutes
– Serve warm with powdered sugar and syrup.


This recipe was passed down by Natalie’s great grandmother, Faye Joki McLean, who is full Finnish. She passed away, but would be around 90 years old if she were still alive. She was a single mom who raised her large extended Finnish family in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, which has a large Finnish population. She spoke Finnish growing up, but as she got older, had fewer opportunities to speak to other people (outside of her family) in her native tongue.

Her great grandmother always made an effort to preserve their family heritage. Natalie has known about this recipe since childhood. She says they are a staple in Finnish food, sort of like American pancakes, but not as sweet. Her great grandmother passed it down to Natalie’s mother. Every now and then, her family eats Kropsu for breakfast. Also, they will eat them with a special Finnish meatball dish during large family gatherings.

There is no better way to preserve a culture than to preserve its food and pass down traditional recipes. Most often, the preparation of the food makes the dish unique to the culture. After all, the ingredients for Kropsu do not seem any different from the ingredients of a generic, American pancake. In my family, most of the recipes that have been passed down are relatively easy to make. The one that comes to mind is the Brazilian dessert, brigadeiro, which requires only condensed milk and Nesquick. However, it is the process and timing that make it distinct from other desserts that may require the same ingredients. If you cook it under time, it will not solidify into a concrete ball. If you cook it over time, it will be too hard and lose its smooth texture. The same idea probably applies to the Kropsu.