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Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
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Protection

“If you hold your breath all the way under a tunnel you make a wish.”

The informant, at the age of eight or nine, heard of this belief from her father as the family of four was making a road trip to Las Vegas.  She was a sheltered child who was used to getting her way, so she was complaining about the boring road trip they had to take that had lasted for hours already.  Her father then told her that only if she could hold her breath for the entire time the car was inside the tunnel, then she could make any wish and it would come true.  Coming from her father, a credible source up until then, she believed him and held her breath so that she could wish that the ride would be over soon.  Ever since then she has been holding her breath under tunnels and competing with her younger brother to see who could hold it in through the longest tunnel.  Because it was so much fun when she was younger, she still sometimes holds her breath and makes wishes, although she has outgrown the stage in her childhood when she would believe that her silent wish would somehow come true.  She thinks that it is just a great form of entertainment when one is bored.  Now she likes to tell her younger cousins the same belief, hoping it will bring them as much fun and entertainment as it did her all those times before.

Around Orange County there aren’t many tunnels to drive through.  In fact, the only time I have ever driven under a tunnel was during my own family road trips to Colorado, when we had to drive through mountains.  However, I stumbled upon this same belief in almost the same way the informant did, that you could make a wish if you held your breath for the entire time you went under a tunnel.  This wishmaking does not have to occur during road trips or during a family vacation.  It can occur at any time.  I also believe that this wishmaking is just another form of entertainment for young children, and nothing to take seriously.  I believe it is retold to spread information that is fun and enjoyable for everyone.

Legends
Myths
Narrative

The Tale of Two Brothers (Vietnam)

There once were two brothers who lived in Vietnam.  The older brother’s name was Tan and the younger brother’s name was Lang.  They were very close.  Then one day Tan decided to get married and moved away to live his life happily with his new bride.  His younger brother Lang, began to distance himself from his brother and one day disappeared.  He had left his home and wandered about, finally resting by a river, when he died from exhaustion and turned into a limestone rock.  His brother Tan began to worry about him and went out in search of his brother.  After a while, when he couldn’t find him he found a nice rock to sit on by the riverbed.  He soon fell asleep and died in his sleep from weariness and turned into a tree.  Not soon after, Tan’s wife began to wonder where her husband was and went to look for him.  When she couldn’t find him, she leaned against the tree by the riverbed and rested her foot on the rock.  Eventually she died and turned into a vine that wound around the tree.  Years later, a king came and ground up a leaf from the vine, a nut from the tree, and mixed it with lime.  The product was a sweet red juice that the king loved so from then on he brought that combination to all the weddings and it became a tradition to drink it between family members at every wedding ceremony.

This proverb was first heard by the informant from his mother just after the family had attended his aunt’s wedding.  The informant had asked, “Why do the family bring around that tree to everyone and they have to eat it?”  The informant’s mother answered that the tree represents a good marriage not only between the husband and bride but also a peaceful relationship between the two married people’s families, in order to prevent the same thing that happened to Lang, Tan and his wife.

This is a Vietnamese custom that has long been used at wedding ceremonies and receptions when the family of the groom brings the plant around the room and offering it to family members as they are being introduced.  This custom has also been brought over to the United States and is still practiced at modern traditional Vietnamese weddings as well.  It is passed on from generation to generation, to provide peace and healthy relationships between families.

 

Legends
Myths
Narrative

Legend of the Rice Cakes

There once was a King with three sons.  He was about to die so his dying wish was to have one of his sons succeed the throne after him.  However, he couldn’t decide which son to choose, although they all wanted it.  Since he enjoyed food, he said to his sons, “Whoever brings me the tastiest food he made from Vietnamese ingredients will become king after me.”  So the sons set off around the world to find the best food.  One son traveled to the mountains to bring back boar meat.  The second son brought back the tastiest fish from the South Sea.  The third thought long and hard about what he should bring to his father.  On the final day, he brought two simple rice cakes, which looked very plain when compared to the expensive dishes his two brothers had brought.  When the king asked the youngest son to explain why he had brought such simple dishes, the son explained that rice is the most valuable food in Vietnam, although it is very abundant.  The round rice cake represented the sky under which all the Vietnamese lived, while the square rice cake was stuff with beans and pork to represent the Earth that they live on (back then they still believed that the Earth was square). Each rice cake was made to represent the love that the son had for the King as well as Vietnam.”  After everyone heard this explanation, they knew that the youngest son would be the next king, and they all bowed down to him.

The informant first heard this story when he was a teenager, although he doesn’t remember who told it to him.  It was during the Lunar New Year (Tet) season because the Banh Chung and Banh Day (square and round rice cakes) are traditionally made and eaten during this time of the year.  During this time, families make Banh Chung and Banh Day and travel to their relatives’ houses, giving these cakes as a gift of love and caring for one another.

The feeling of receiving these rice cakes is a feeling of love and belonging to a group of people who care for you.  Because of this, the Vietnamese people have carried this tradition across the Pacific Ocean to America and still do this during the New Year season, maintaining the Vietnamese traditions and unity of the people.  The story continues to be passed on by those who know it, generally those who are adults and can remember the story and the significance of it are the ones who pass it down to the younger generation who in turn cherish it and will later pass it down.  I think this legend, real or fake, is a good explanation of Vietnamese unity and loving spirit.

Folk speech
Humor
Musical

Barney Theme Song Parody

 “I hate you, you hate me, let’s get together and kill Barney, with a bazooka, and a big ol’ machine gun, boom, boom, boom and Barney’s dead.”

This is a song sung in the same tune as the song from the Barney television show that used to go, “I love you, you love me, we are happy family, with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too?”  In a way it is a play on it and mocks the cherished children’s show, which is as classic as Sesame Street and Big Bird.  However, this version is sung by slightly older children, such as the informant from Moorpark, CA, who are aware of more violent objects such as machine guns and bazookas.  The informant learned of this version of the Barney song from her older brother who was in sixth grade and had learned it from his friends at school.  She repeats it because she is at the age where she repeats everything her older brother does, no matter what it is, in order to impress the “grown ups” of how much she knows.  She likes it because she is a very lyrical person and likes to sings rhymes and tunes in the car whenever the family travels.

This is a saying often restricted to children, generally those who have grown up in the 90’s when Barney was still quite popular, who have grown older and are capable of creating such a creative and mocking rhyme.  I think that the kids retell it as a method of proving to other people and kids that they have grown up, almost a hierarchy among children.  Since the older kids know the new and different rhyme, they can distinguish themselves from the “kiddies” and “babies” who still watch Barney, the friendly purple dinosaur.  I think it is a sense of status that causes the children to spread this chant and they enjoy that feeling that they can be different from other students.

 

There are many versions of this mock barney song which can be found at http://www.amiright.com/parody/90s/barney0.shtml For example,

“I hate you, you hate me
Let’s get together and kill Barney
With tanks of water and acid he will drown
Barney escapes but he falls down”

Customs

“Blow out the candles and make a wish.”

This phrase was said to the informant on her birthday in January every year since she could remember speaking.  It is tradition for the family and/or friends to sing “Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear [informant’s name], happy birthday to you.”  Following the Happy Birthday song, the family members and friends are supposed to remind the birthday person to make a silent wish and blow out all of the candles in one blow so that the wish will come true.  For her family especially, they like to blow out the candles, make a wish, and then keep the wish a secret or else it will not come true.  The informant feels that this is not especially symbolic of anything, except that as the birthday girl, she should have something special that sets her apart from the others whose birthday it is not, so she gets a wish.  In turn, she likes to give the same opportunity to everyone else she celebrates birthdays with and the secret wish is always made.

This tradition is a tradition found commonly everywhere around the United States, especially because the Happy Birthday song is in English.  However, there are variations in other languages such as Spanish.  In both cultures, it is traditions to have the same number of candles on the birthday cake as the number of years the birthday girl or boy has lived.  Sometimes this tradition lasts until old age.  As a young person blows out the candles, she is blowing them all in one blow in hopes that her wish may come true.  She usually also blows out the candles herself, without any help, showing the strength and independence of the younger generation.  As the birthday person grows older and is blowing out seventy or eighty candles, blowing out the candles is a symbol of health and strength.  Often if the person is old she will also be helped by the younger generation, often little children younger than five years old, which I believe is symbolic of the young helping out the old.  However, though the people blowing out the candles may change, one thing always remains the same.  The birthday child, teen, parent, or grandparent will always receive one silent wish after the candles have all been blown out.

Game

“Black and white, black and white, black and white”

The informant first heard of this game in the third grade when she was about eight years old.  She was at her cousin’s house and they planned to play hide-and-go-seek-in-the-dark but everyone wanted to hide.  Nobody wanted to be the seeker.  Therefore her cousin told her a game that you can play to pick who has to be “it.”  All the players start with their hands behind their backs.  Then they are supposed to chant “black and white, black and white, black and white” while flipping one hand in the center of the circle.  For example, at the call of “black” one’s hand might be facing palm up, so at the call of “white” the palm must be facing down.  However, you can start in either position you want, palm up or down.  At the call of the third “white” the players with their hands in the minority position have to replay the game.  The majority doesn’t have to be “it.”  When the player number reaches three, whoever has the single odd hand has to be the seeker.  After the informant learned of this handy game, she used it for every game when no one wanted to be seeker.  She thinks it is a quick and easy way to pick fairly.

Though this game is originally Vietnamese, the informant’s cousin taught her in English.  The Vietnamese translation would be “đen và trắng,” but those words aren’t used as much.  This game is commonly played among children, even when they aren’t playing a game with a seeker.  Sometimes they will play just to see who the last person is and that person will be the winner instead of the loser who has to be “it.”  This game is spread by the children who love to play it and the game is a useful way of passing down the tradition of Vietnamese games.  Also I think because it is such a simple game, it arose from the children from Vietnam who are poor so they don’t have material games to play.  Therefore they come up with games they can play just with their hands or minds, so that they can still have fun and enjoy their youth.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Signs

“If you eat a double cherry when you’re pregnant, you’ll have twins.”

The informant, then twelve years old, first heard this phrase from her uncle, whose wife was pregnant at the time.  Her uncle and aunt were gathered with the family and announced their pregnancy.  Later after dinner, the family was eating cherries together and was discussing whether the baby would be a boy or a girl, when the topic of twins came up.  The informant’s uncle saw her aunt eating a double cherry and said, “Did you know that if you eat a double cherry while you’re pregnant, you’re going to have twins?”  My informant doesn’t really believe that this is true because she does not believe in superstitions, although it is a superstition that everyone in her family likes to joke about, because it also happened to come true.  Her aunt ended up giving birth to twin girls six months later.  This is why the informant likes to retell the tale, because it makes the superstition much more mysterious and believable when it actually comes true.

I believe this superstition is highly unlikely to be true because the events are completely separate, and that the informant’s story just happened by coincidence.  However, superstitions are always driven by the chance occurrences that happen to confirm them, making some people believe that they’re true while they may completely be random happenings.  I believe the informant tells the story only to joke around, poking fun when pregnant women are around.  The superstition is so seemingly arbitrary that people tend to believe that nobody could possibly create such a fantastical story up, so it must have some sort of truth behind it.  This is how the superstition of double cherries is spread and dispersed.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“There’s plenty of other fish in the sea.”

The informant first heard this proverb when she found out that her crush had just gotten a steady girlfriend in the seventh grade.  Her best friend realized how sad she was because she had been silently moody all day long.  When she found out the reason why she tried to explain to the informant that “there are plenty of other fish in the sea,” meaning that there are many different types of guys in the world.  If you don’t catch one, there is always another one that you might want more, and maybe if you didn’t catch this one this time, next time it will be even better when you do manage to catch it.  The informant believes that this saying is just for immediate comfort, for the best thing that any good friend can do is listen and think of ways to help their friend feel better about themselves.  She retells the proverb because she has been through that experience before and it always feels better to help someone through something that you overcame in the past.

It is true that there are always plenty of other fish in the sea.  However, this saying doesn’t always work, since emotions are hard to control.  The saying very much reflects the optimism of our society though.  The United States is a very future-oriented society, where we are always looking toward the future, saying “forget the past, think of all the possibilities for the future!”  I think people say this to their depressed friends because it helps motivate them to look toward the brighter and better future, where they are in control of what happens in their lives and they are the only ones who can choose when and where they will be sad or happy and they won’t let any single guy prove them wrong.

There is in interesting cartoon by J. Hitchcock and Zahn related to this proverb at http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/p/plenty_more_fish_in_the_sea.asp .

Humor

Fun Guy/Fungi Joke

Q:  Why did the girl mushroom like the boy mushroom?

A:  Because he was a Fun-Guy (Fungi).

The informant first heard this joke when she was a Freshman in high school during one of her intense study sessions for Biology class.  She first heard it from her teacher, who was a laid back, down-to-earth, person with a great sense of humor.  It was during an after school session, when the students were all preparing for the lab practicum at the end of the year that would have a large impact on their grade when the teacher suddenly rose and said to the students, “Hey guys, lighten up. Let me tell you a joke.  Why did the girl mushroom like the boy mushroom?  Because he was a Fun-Guy.”  What made the joke more funny was the fact that the teacher was red in the face when she was telling it.  Though it is an intellectual joke only understood by those who have the elementary understanding that mushrooms are a type of fungi, she remembered it well because she thought it was a cute joke.  She retold it because she liked to use jokes to “break the ice” or make people laugh.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Proverbs

“Gần mực thì đen, gần đèn thì sang”

“gần mực thì đen, gần đèn thì sang”

Literal translation: “close to ink then black, near by light then bright”

The informant learned of this Vietnamese proverb when he was in third grade of Vietnamese school, while studying for a test.  Again he heard it from his grandmother also, which is when he began to remember it clearly.  His grandmother would tell him this proverb whenever she talked about his studies and friends at school.  She would say, “gần mực thì đen, gần đèn thì sang,” which implies that you are what your friends make of you.  If you hang out with bad friends (ink), you will become bad (black).  If you have good friends (light), they will influence you to become good (bright).  The informant believes this piece of wisdom because he sees it come true in his cousins’ lives.  One was really wild and rebellious and when she found a boyfriend who was very religious and good, she began to change into her old, nice self.  The informant likes to retell this to his friends who are Vietnamese, often making them laugh because normally one would not randomly quote a proverb out of the blue, but he likes to lighten the mood with quirky sayings.

This is a fairly common Vietnamese proverb, often used to teach younger kids to have good friends and be influenced by good people, opposed to bad friends.  The original proverb is actually a play on words as well as a useful saying about choosing your friends wisely.  It is slightly repetitive yet different, it also uses “đen” for black and “đèn” for light, in order to emphasize the similarities between the two phrases for increased memorability.  This creates the most unique phrase that is easy to learn and easy to say.  Usually it is the older generation teaching the younger generation, as it is in the informant’s case.  However, the younger generation can also spread it to others.  I believe they spread the knowledge because somewhere deep down they have an appreciation for the Vietnamese language and because that proverb is so true and the play on words is so easy to memorize, it remains in one’s memory, even from childhood.

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