Author Archives: Janice Youn

Custom – Chinese


Vickie Yang learned how to use chopsticks from an early age from her parents.  Though she was born and raised in America, learning to use chopsticks was a basic skill that she was expected to learn as a Chinese American.  She was taught that chopsticks were not just another method of eating but an important part of Asian culture.  Using chopsticks gives a sense of pride to the user and instills a feeling of belonging.  It also pays respect to the culture by acknowledging the differences between American and Asian traditions.

Chopsticks are an interesting reflection of the Asian culture.  It illustrates the simplicity of Asian life while noting the delicate intricacies and detail often characterized of Asians.  For example, the Chinese and Japanese are known for their traditions of meditating and taking walks in tea gardens – lifestyles of pleasure and simplicity.  However, they are also widely recognized for their skills in producing beautiful pieces of art with intricate designs and minute details.  Likewise, chopsticks are a mix between simplicity and difficulty.  Chopsticks are fairly simple in that they are merely two pieces of sticks.  They’re nothing special like the 5 pronged fork or the sharp edged knife.  Rather, they’re merely 2 pieces of wood that can easily be made in nature from branches.  However, chopsticks are also complex in that they can be difficult to use.  It requires a degree of control by the hand and the correct manipulation of the fingers.  The ability to use a chopstick, therefore, is not as widespread as the usage of forks and spoons.  As a result, chopsticks remain a unique representation of the Asian culture.

Folk Belief – Chinese

“Noodles are a sign of longevity”

Ashley learned this superstition on the morning of her 7th birthday when her mom handed her a bowl of noodles to eat rather than the traditional eggs and bacon. When she commented on this change, her mom explained that noodles were a sign of longevity, and that it was custom for people to eat noodles on their birthday each year.  In China, it is believed that eating noodles will bring health and good luck upon the person for the following year and ensure him a long life.  The long and even noodles endow a long and consistent life without pauses or struggles to the eater.  Therefore, it is considered bad luck for an individual to cut the noodle strands while eating them.  He must instead consume the entire strands without breaking them.

This idea is similar to the belief that exists in Korea.  Long noodles represent a long and healthy life while characterizing consistent times.  Just as in China, where individuals eat noodles on their birthday, noodles play a significant role on birthdays in Korea.  In Korean tradition, gifts are endowed upon a child on his first birthday ranging from creativity to prosperity.  Several items representing different gifts, among them noodles, are placed in front of the child, and the child is given the chance to grasp one of these items.  If he picks up the bunch of noodles, it is believed that he will live a long and healthy life.  Therefore, the idea persists, in Korean culture as well as Chinese, that noodles are symbols of longevity and consistency.

Proverb – Spanish

Caras       vemos         corazones        no           sabemos

Faces        we see           hearts            no            we know

“Appearances can be deceiving”

Tony first heard this proverb when he was in elementary school, but it wasn’t until he reached high school that he learned the true meaning behind it.  When he heard it in elementary school, it was told in a context that he couldn’t quite relate to so the meaning of the proverb soon left him.  However, in high school, he came upon a situation that made him realize the truth of the statement.  It occurred during his freshman year from the transition from junior high into high school as he was trying to make a new group of friends.  As he developed friendships and went through freshman year, he realized the meaning of the phrase “appearances can be deceiving.”  While at times his friends seemed to care about him and put on a face of compassion, behind his back, they were completely different people.  Though they appeared to be a certain types of people in front of him, when they thought he wasn’t looking, they were complete opposites.  Appearances truly were deceiving.

This scenario is very common among people of all ages in America and in the rest of the world.  By nature, people are selfish creatures and will act in certain ways to benefit themselves.  Though they may desire something or feel a certain way about an individual, they will often not reveal their true feelings in order to avoid facing conflict or losing face.  It’s difficult therefore to determine how an individual is truly feeling and what he’s thinking.  In many ways, it reflects upon the business culture of America.  People need to be sociable with one another and make conversation in order to establish connections with business partners and make profitable deals.  Therefore, business associates may agree upon ideas on the outside to establish cordial relationships but like the proverb states, the underlying agendas of both parties are very different.

This proverb is very useful, however, for it warns individuals of the true nature of people.  It prepares children for the world while giving them a preview of the people they have yet to meet in the future.  As proverbs go, this one is extremely helpful for it not only contains wisdom about the deceitful nature of humans but also provides warning as to how they may appear.  By giving a general glimpse of what people are like, the proverb succeeds in preparing individuals for dealing with deceitful people.

Folk Belief

“Knock on wood”

Janice Park first heard the phrase “knock on wood” during the winter of her freshman year in high school from a fellow student.  It was during finals when everyone was getting sick except for her, and when she commented on this fact, her friend immediately told her to knock on wood so as not to jinx herself.  She was told that by expressing her fortunate situation, she was exposing herself to bad luck.  It would cause her to be jinxed and would quickly change her situation to a worse one.  However, by knocking on wood, the jinx would become reversed and nothing bad would happen.  Therefore, it is important to knock on wood when one exclaims good situations in order to avoid tempting fate.

It is often believed that boasting or expressing fortunate situations will encourage evil spirits to inflict damage on one’s life.  As it was once thought that spirits dwelled in the trunks of trees, it seemed fitting to people to knock on wood whenever a statement was made in order to prevent the spirits from hearing.  By tapping on the wood, the spirit would not be able to hear the words being spoken and would therefore not be able to interfere in the individual’s life.  However, in modern days, knocking on wood has lost much of its historical connection with spirits.  Rather, it is used now as a simple gesture that indicates hope for good luck to continue.  Knocking on wood no longer prevents spirits from hearing people’s boastful comments but instead serves to appease the speaker’s nervous feelings for making such a statement.

Proverb – Korean

?                ?             ?             ???               ???? ?

fire              no            burn             chimney             smoke

“Can smoke rise from the chimney, when there’s no fire?”

Joseph learned this proverb from an older sister while growing up in a small rural town in Korea.  He was playing with his friend after school when his mom came up to him and told him to go home.  She was angry with him and didn’t want him to stay out any longer.  When Joseph went home later, he was frustrated with his mom and complained to his sister about the unfair situation.  His sister simply replied with the proverb, telling him that nothing happens without a cause.  Just as there can’t be smoke without a fire, events can’t occur without a cause.  Behind every situation, there is a source.  Therefore, as his sister claimed, there must be reason why he wasn’t allowed to go out anymore.

As Joseph learned later, he was forbidden from playing after school because he had been misbehaving in school.  His mother had received a phone call from the teacher as a result of his disruptive actions in class.  Just as the proverb stated, there was a reason behind his mother’s actions.  It was in response to his uncooperative behavior in school.  Therefore, Joseph had no one else to blame but himself.

Though this proverb doesn’t exist in English, its message plays a significant role in American culture.  It teaches individuals to be analytical while looking at different circumstances and encourages them to look at situations with a cause and effect mindset while keeping in mind that their own actions will have significant consequences.  It prepares individuals for the business world and creates a generation of people with critical minds.  Therefore, the proverb is largely used as a tool to advance the situations of individuals in America.  However, in Korea, the proverb is used more commonly to explain a situation in order to understand it.  Therefore, a difference exists between the cultures and their potential uses of the proverb.


When I first came upon this riddle, I was in my senior year of high school.  I was in my English class waiting for the bell to ring and I had nothing to do.  Therefore, one of my friends turned around and told me this riddle.

In the riddle, there are two men in a bar.  They decide to play poker for a bit of money.  After several games, the first man has lost most of them and is in debt.  However he doesn’t have any money to pay the second man.  Therefore, he decides to try and run away without paying his opponent.  He runs into his car, rolls up the window, and locks the door.  The second man walks out angrily with a gun and shoots and kills the first man.  However, no damage is done to the car.  There are no scratches, no bullet holes, or any other mark.  One man was in the car while the other was outside, and yet no visible sign of damage existed.  How did this happen?

The answer to the riddle is that the first man was in a convertible.  As there was no roof to the car, the second man was able to kill the first without damaging the car.  When I first heard this riddle, I couldn’t comprehend how the situation could exist.  It seemed impossible that the first man could be killed when he was separated from the second man by the car.  It didn’t occur to me until later that he could be in a convertible.  As with many other people, I was looking at the riddle with a narrow mind and failed to see the other possibilities that existed.  It wasn’t until I began to question what I assumed to be true that I saw the answer.  I had been determined that the car was a regular car that I didn’t realize it could be otherwise.  Thus, this reflects upon the inability of people to see things as they truly are and their tendency to believe things as they are familiar with.

The riddle also reflects upon the American belief of justice.  Because the first man had tried to run away without paying the second man, it was only fair that he was killed.  The riddle presents no ill feelings towards the second man for committing murder but rather focuses on how the first man was killed.  It seems to suggest that the first man deserved to die and there was no surprise that he did.  This is similar to the response the riddle elicits in the listeners.  They don’t feel compassion for the dead man but instead accepts that his death was justified.  The murder itself isn’t what bothers the listeners; it’s how the murder was committed that confuses them.  Therefore, this riddle exemplifies the belief system of Americans on justice.

Game – Korean

??? – Korean seesaw


Joanne learned this Korean traditional game from her grandma when she was 7 years old during a traditional New Year’s Day celebration.  She was at her grandma’s house celebrating the New Year and listening to her grandma tell stories of her childhood.  Of the stories, the most memorable one was about how she used to jump on the Korean seesaw with her friends on New Year’s Day.  Because girls were forbidden from participating in games with men, the women celebrated the new year by playing nol-ttwigi.

Similar to regular seesaws, nol-ttwigi requires the use of a long board with participants on each side.  However, unlike seesaws, the participants do not sit on the board but rather stand on the edges.  As one partner jumps on the board, the other is forced up.  Because the individuals are both standing up, it creates a thrilling experience as they are tossed into the air.  This game played an important role for women in the old days because it allowed them to experience excitement and action without disobeying the strict rules society placed on women.  According to Joanne’s grandma, women in previous times were prohibited from leaving the gates of their homes and were restricted to living within the walls of their houses.  As a result, nol-ttwigi was a blessing to their lives for it allowed them to see past the walls of their confinement.  Each time they were pushed up by their partner on the other side, they were able to catch a glimpse of the outside world.  Therefore, nol-ttwigi became a popular game among women for it provided females with a temporary entrance into the outside world.  It has since been established as a traditional game in Korea and is played during holidays and special occasions.

Annotation: Koh, Frances M. Korean Games. Eastwest Press: 1997.

In this book of Korean games, the author describes the traditional game of nol-ttwigi.

Proverb – Spanish

Crea        fama       y               acuestate          a           dormir

Create      fame      and           go to bed           to          to sleep

“First impressions go a long way”

Tony learned this proverb from his grandfather when he was preparing for college interviews as a high school senior.  He was trying to predict the possible interview questions he would face when his grandpa reminded him that it was also important how he looked for the interview.  He would be meeting the university officials for the first time and how they viewed him initially would affect how the rest of the interview would be run.  When a student makes a very strong first impression the interviewer is eager to carry out the interview.  However, if the interviewee isn’t impressed by the student, it makes it difficult for him/her to change his/her opinion.  The initial impression of the interviewee will always remain and will influence his views on the individual.

First impressions are also important in a variety of situations, ranging from a simple meeting of one’s parents to establishing business connections.  Jut as parents would not want their child hanging out with an individual with body piercings and tattoos all over, business associates will not want to form bonds with someone who looks unorganized and unstable.  Appearance, therefore, is one of the first steps in establishing trust and deeper relationships.  It provides individuals with an initial understanding of who you are and either stirs in them a desire to want to know you deeper, or fails to.  Therefore, it is important to remember the importance of the initial encounter with people and to understand that first impressions can often make or break an individual’s future.

Myth – Singapore

The name of Singapore

Alric learned this myth in high school during a class on world geography.  The class had been studying the southeast nations and his teacher felt compelled to share the story with her students.  The myth attempts to explain the origin of the name Singapore while exploring the characteristics of the land.

According to the story, the name of the land was first established by a Malay king when he visited the island.  Upon stepping foot on the land, the king came upon a majestic creature full of grace and power.  It was roaming across the island with authority, protecting the land from foreign invaders.  The king was amazed at its beauty and magnificence and overwhelmed that such a creature existed on the land.  In his eyes, the animal was comparable to the grandiose lions that existed in the far west.  The king therefore deduced that the creature was a “singa,” or a lion, and claimed that the island would be known as Singapura, or the city of lions.

By placing such a strong and powerful meaning behind the name of the island, the myth creates a majestic and awe-inducing charm about the land.  By being a land of lions – a land of beautiful and magnificent creatures – Singapore can be seen as a high and grandiose land.  It increases the allure of the island and encourages people to come and explore the place where even the lions deemed fit for living.  Therefore, by creating an explanation for the origin of the land’s name, the myth adds to the charm and appeal of the island.


Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?

A: (according to Hamlet) That is not the question.

Jane Lee first learned this riddle from a friend when she was in first grade.   When her friend asked her the question, she responded with the traditional “to get to the other side.”  Since then, she has heard many versions to the riddle, but her favorite answer to the question has been what she claims Hamlet’s answer would have been – “that is not the question.”  As riddles are often viewed to be sharp and witty, she likes the clever way in which Shakepeare’s Hamlet was incorporated into the joke.  She believes that it brings the academic world into the joke world and stirs humor in a subtle but funny way.

Of the different versions of the riddle, the traditional answer seems most fitting with the American culture.  By providing humor with an answer that is, by itself not funny, the joke becomes funny by the unexpectedness of the answer.  Many individuals expect riddles to be clever and tricky, but because the answer to this riddle is so plain and simple, the twist generates a sense of humor.  The simple nature of the riddle also makes it enjoyable to people.  As it is not a neck riddle, the individual does not feel pressured to answer but can do so at a leisurely pace.  Therefore, this is one of the most well known and enjoyed riddles in the United States.