Author Archive
Folk speech
Proverbs

Chinese Proverb

“If you want to live, you have got to keep moving.”

My informant told me this proverb while she was taking me on a tour of an outdoor shopping center.  I had been really tired as we had been out for over two hours already and had asked if her if I could take a quick sitting break.  At this point, she said this proverb to me.  I asked her where she had heard it from and she told me that her friend had told her that phrase when he was trying to inspire her to exercise more.

I further asked her what the phrase meant to her.  She replied that when she first heard it, she just took on a biological interpretation of it.  In her words, she said, “People who exercise do actually live longer.”  However, after further pondering it, she felt like it was good spiritual motto for how to live her life in which she needs to continually go out or “move” in order to truly take advantage of the thrills and excitement in life. I agree with both of her interpretations of this and feel that it must have originated initially as a phrase to inspire an active lifestyle.

Legends
Narrative

Children Horror Story

So, there was this really, really good looking couple.  They had a baby girl that was super cute.  But as the baby grew up, she got less and less cute to the point where the parents became too embarrassed to take her out and have other people see her so they tried to keep her at home as much as possible.  One day, the little girl kept crying that she wanted to go to the park and the mom couldn’t handle it anymore, so she took her to the park.  At the park, the little girl was like, “Mommy, I need to use the bathroom.”  There wasn’t a bathroom anywhere so the mom brought her daughter to a little secluded grassy area that was on a cliff near the park. She told the daughter, “You can pee here. No one will see you.”  While the girl was peeing, the mom pushed her off the cliff and the little girl died.  A couple weeks later, she found out that she was pregnant again.  When the baby was born, it was the most adorable little baby boy and as he grew, he just got cuter and cuter.  The couple loved their son so much and was always showing him off.  One day, the mom brought the little boy out to the same park and he needed to pee.  The mom then took her son back to the grassy cliff area.  She told him, “Mommy will wait for you over there so take your time.”  He replied, “Ok, but Mommy? Please don’t push me off this time.”

My informant told me this story while we were eating dinner.  We had previously been discussing our beliefs regarding  the after life when she said that the topic reminded her of a story she heard.  She told me that her mother had told her this story.  When I asked her what this story meant to her, she told me that it taught her that she should never be embarrassed by their family.

I feel like the story is very effective because of the twist at the end.  When I was hearing this story I expected the ghost of the girl to return and push the boy off the cliff; I was completely blown away when it turned out that the boy was a reincarnation of the girl.  I agree with my informant’s interpretation.  Additionally, I believe there is a focus on how shallowness is a bad characteristic to have, as seen through the couple’s better treatment for their better looking child.  At the same time, the theme of revenge is somewhat present through the reincarnation of the little girl into the little boy.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection
Signs

Penny Superstition

If I see a penny on the floor and it’s tails, I have to flip it over and leave it there or else I will get bad luck.

My informant told me about this superstition while we were walking.  I had spotted a penny on the floor and was going to pick it up until he stopped me.  Then, I asked him where he had got this idea from.  He told me that he was sure that somebody had told him but was unsure about who the specific person was.  Nest, I asked him whether he really believes that picking up a tails penny would be bad luck.  He said that he did not but it does not hurt to listen to this superstition.

I feel like this superstition derived from the other superstition that finding a penny that is heads up is good luck.  Somebody might have wondered how to respond if they were to find a penny that was tail side up, and simply come to the conclusion that the opposite side should provide good luck.  Following this, the whole act of flipping the tails coin to heads helps increase the chance that somebody else will find the good luck penny.  For me, I believe that this superstition is a way for people to feel good about themselves in a small way.  By flipping the coin to heads, a person would feel like they have first of all vanquished the potential for bad luck and at the same time, saved somebody else from it.

general
Legends
Narrative

Japanese Suicide Story

There are these these two cliffs in Japan that are known for being a popular suicide spot.  One day, a photographer was on one of the cliffs taking pictures, you know, of the wildlife and plants and stuff.  Well as he was snapping shots, he noticed a girl on the other cliff.  He realized that she was going to commit suicide but there was nothing he could do since she was too far away, so he just started to take pictures of her suicide.  Well, later he went home and developed the pictures.  Each picture showed the woman falling lower and lower towards the water.  When he reached the final picture, the one right before the woman hits the water, he notices that the woman’s eyes are looking straight at the camera.

I was told this story by my informant while we were eating a late night dinner.  We had been just casually talking and exchanging horror stories for fun.  I asked her what this story meant to her, and she replied that this story seemed to be teaching that suicide is something that is evil and demonic.  It also seems to be a story to deter others from committing suicide.

Currently, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.  Japan has always had a long history of seppuku.  Seppuku is the act of honorably committing suicide and was a totally acceptable act among Japanese citizens.  Nowadays, many people are committing suicide due to social pressures such as job loss and depression.  The problem has become so prevalent that the Japanese government is now actively funding suicide prevention programs in order to lower the suicide rates.  I believe that this story must have arisen from this need to decrease suicides as the act itself is portrayed as being something terrible and horrifying.

Legends
Narrative

Stinky Tofu Origin Story

A long time ago, there was a man and a woman who loved each other very much.  They were both married and very poor.  One day, a war broke out, and the man had to leave the woman to help fight the war.  Her husband told her that she would be back in six months.  While the husband was gone, the woman stayed at home and waited for him to come back.  She missed her husband very much so with the last of her savings at the end of the sixth month, she bought some very expensive tofu in order to prepare a fantastic dinner for her husband’s return.  However, on the day that he was supposed to come back, the wife received a letter informing her that her husband had to stay in the army for another month.  Since all her savings were gone, the wife had to start begging for food and picking plants from the wild in order to sustain herself.  She refused to eat the tofu because she wanted to save it for her husband.  At the end of the month, her husband finally returned.  The wife quickly went to prepare food for her husband, but noticed that the expensive tofu had rotted.  She started to cry and her husband saw her and asked, “Why are you crying?” The wife replied, “I bought this expensive tofu just for you but it has rotted away so now I can’t make you your dinner.”  The husband felt really bad so he told her, “Just cook it any way. I’m sure that it will still taste fine.” So the wife took the rotten tofu and cooked it anyways.  While she was cooking it, a putrid stench filled the air.  When the wife presented the dish to her husband, she said, “You don’t need to eat this. It smells horrible.”  But the husband, seeing how loyal and loving his wife was for waiting for him all this time, replied, “No, it’s ok. It smells fine,” and then he took a bite.  With that, he told his wife, “This is the most delicious tofu I have ever eaten! You have to make more!”  After that, the wife started making rotten tofu all the time and the husband would invite his friends over to try his wife’s dish.  The smell would always make people hesitant to try it, but after taking a bite, they would always love it.  And that’s how stinky tofu was invented.

Stinky tofu is a very traditional comfort food in Taiwanese cuisine and is basically fermented tofu that has been fried.  It is known for its disgusting stench which many people describe as being similar to garbage or used diapers.  My informant and I were eating stinky tofu at a restaurant inRowland Heights, and she asked me if I knew where stinky tofu originated from.  She then told me this story. When I asked her where she had heard it from, she told me that her mother had told her this story the first time my informant was trying  stinky tofu.

I think the main purpose of the story is to help convince people who are hesitant to eat stinky tofu to try it.  Evidence for this comes from the fact that my informant told me that this story convinced her to try stinky tofu for the first time.  The tale puts a romantic spin onto an otherwise seemingly disgusting product.  At the same time, this tale reveals many characteristics of Taiwanese society.  For instance, the idea that a woman should stay at home while the husband can go out to work is definitely present.  Simultaneously, this tale places a value on loyalty which can be seen through the wife character who waits for her husband and seeks to keep him happy no matter what.

general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

LMU Birthday Ritual

At Loyola Marymount University (LMU) inLos Angeles, it is tradition that on the night of a freshman’s birthday, that freshman has to be thrown into the Foley Fountain.

My informant is a currently a student at Loyola Marymount University.  She told me that she heard this piece of folklore when she was first taking a tour of the school; the tour guide had informed them that it was a tradition at this school although he had no idea where it had originated from.  When it was her birthday, her friends took her to the fountain and threw her into the water.  At the same time, my informant told me that this fountain throwing happened almost on a daily basis at night.

I asked my friend what she thought about this tradition.  She told me that as a viewer, it was always fun to watch people getting dunked in the water.  On the other hand, as somebody who was being thrown, it was quite scary since the Foley Fountain is known for being quite dirty.  However, afterwards, she said it was definitely one of the highlights of her freshman year at LMU.  I believe that this tradition is a right of passage at LMU as it is something that is expected of all freshman.  At the same time, I feel it is a quintessential part of the LMU student identity because my informant told me that whenever she meets alumni, they always ask her if she has been thrown into the Foley Fountain yet.

Game
general

Car Game – Zitch Dog

Basically, the point of the game is if you see a dog, you have to be the first person to say, “Zitch Dog!” and then you get a point. Person with the highest score by the end of the car ride gets free dinner.

My informant brought up this game during a long car ride with me and a couple other friends.  He told me that he learned of this game when he was taking a road trip with some of his other friends.  Although, the last time he played, the person with the lowest score would have to pay for everybody’s dinner.

I decided to research the origins of Zitch Dog and found that it came from an episode of “How I Met Your Mother.”  As an avid fan of the television show “How I Met Your Mother,” I had seen the episode before but had assumed that it was already an established game.  I was surprised to find that the writers of the show had invented it.  The one main difference between the TV show version and my informant’s version is that in the show, there is no real prize for the winner, only bragging rights.  When I asked my friend if he was aware that it came from the show, his response was that he had never even heard of the show before.  While folklore has had a big influence over published media, this case is an excellent example of media creating and affecting folklore.

Annotations:
Harris, Chris. “Arrivederci, Fiero.” How I Met Your Mother. Dir. Pamela Fryman. CBS. 26 Feb. 20007. Television.

general
Humor

Chinese Parrot Joke

(Translated from Chinese)  The owner of a local store trained his pet parrot to say, ‘Welcome!’ whenever somebody entered the store and then, ‘Thanks for visiting!’ whenever somebody left the store.  One day, a little boy entered the store and heard the parrot say ‘Welcome!’  Hearing this, the boy was so taken aback that he took a step back out of the shop which then caused the parrot to screech, ‘Thanks for visiting.’  The boy thought that it was so funny that he began to step in and out of the store really quickly causing the bird to yell out, ‘Welcome! Thanks for visiting! Welcome! Thanks for visiting!’ over and over again.  Eventually, the bird got really agitated and yelled out really loudly to everyone in the shop, ‘Boss, somebody is playing with your bird!

The punchline of this joke can be found in the last phrase that is said by the parrot.  In Chinese, the word for bird (鸟) is also slang for the word penis.  Therefore, the phrase can also be translated to, “Boss, somebody is playing with your penis.”  This double meaning makes the joke funny as the parrot is publicly declaring that the shop owner is engaged in a sexual activity to all the people nearby.

My informant told me this joke when the two of us saw a talking parrot in a pet shop and it reminded her of this. She told me that her father, the owner of a small shop, had told her this story when she was little.  When she first heard it as a child, she did not understand that bird also meant penis.  Instead, she found humor in that the bird reacted to the little boy’s actions rather than the phrase said by the parrot.  As an adult, she finally understood the true meaning of the joke.  To me, I think it’s a reflection of a taboo that has been placed on sex in Asian society.  My reason for this is that people find this joke funny because the bird made such a declaration.  This implies that sex is not something that should be talked about publicly or out loud.

Folk Beliefs
general
Signs

擲筊 – Fortunetelling Blocks

擲筊 (Bwa Bwei) Blocks and the Different Responses擲筊 (Bwa Bwei) is an ancient from of fortune telling. My informant, a Buddhist, uses these wooden blocks as a way to ask Buddha questions. Bwa Bwei comes in the form of two curved red blocks; one side of the block is flat and the other is round. The blocks are thrown onto the ground and the way they land represent different answers. In figure A, one lands on the flat side and the other lands on its round side. This represents a "yes" answer. Both figures B and C represent "no" answers, but have different meanings. For figure B, Buddha is angry at the question being asked. For figure C, Buddha is laughing at the question. The blocks have to be thrown three times and get the same answer all three times in order to be a confirmed answer.

My informant told me about this ritual when we were visiting a Hsi Lai Temple, a Buddhist worshiping center.  She told me she had learned this from a monk when she was little girl attending Temple.  She uses this method to answer a lot of personal and financial question.  An example of questions that she was ask are “Will this business deal be good for the company?” and “Will my daughter get into college?”  I asked her if she truly believed that Bwa Bweis revealed the best answers and possibly, the future.  My informant replied that for her, they have never been wrong.

I think that this form of fortune telling is a way to emphasize and support the idea of destiny.  Since the questions asked tend to be ones that reveal what will happen in the future, the answers seem to suggest that the future is set in stone and is just waiting to happen.  At the same time, I also view this practice as a stress reliever of sorts since the questions are usually associated with stress-inducing topics.  By getting an answer, the person no longer has to really worry anymore since the result is inevitable.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Hiccups Cure – Sugar Under the Tongue

“If you ever have the hiccups, just put some sugar under your tongue to get rid of them.”

My informant told me this one day when I had a severe cases of the hiccups.  I was just telling him that I had tried many other folk remedies (holding my breath, gulping water, etc.) but none of them worked.  He then told me that one of his friends at work had told him that putting sugar under the tongue can eliminate hiccups.  He also told me that he had tried it before, and it really worked for him.  So, I proceeded to put sugar under my tongue, and sure enough, all my hiccups went away.

I think this remedy probably originated from somebody who was experimenting methods to get rid of hiccups.  While this method works for me, I am still somewhat skeptical if the act of putting sugar under your tongue really is a cure for hiccups.  Part of me believes that this whole thing is probably just a placebo effect.  My informant told me that he also believes that it is a placebo effect.  Despite this, he still tells other people about this cure when they have the hiccups

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