Author Archive
Game

Mafia (a game)

My sister learned a card game called “Mafia” from her speech and debate teammates.  The game requires a playing deck and is often played in groups of six or more.  It’s particularly popular with high school and some college students (who often learned of the game in high school).

A player acts as the narrator and gives each player a card.  A king, queen, and jack must be distributed.  A player with the king card plays as the mafia.  A player with the queen card plays as the nurse.  A player with the jack card plays as a detective.  A player with any other card is a regular citizen.  Players do not reveal their cards to each other.

The narrator asks all players to put their heads down, and then asks the mafia to put their head(s) up and designated a player to “kill.”  The mafia raises their head and points to another player.  The narrator notes the decision and asks the mafia to put their head(s) back down again.  The narrator then asks the nurse(s) to put their head(s) up.  They are asked who they want to save.  They can point to any player, including thesmelves.  The narrator asks the nurse(s) to put their head(s) back down again.  The narrator asks the detective to put his/her head up.  The detective can point to a player and gesture to the narrator that they suspect this player is the mafia.  The narrator will nod or shake their head to affirm/deny their hunch.

The narrator asks all players to put their heads up.  The narrator is then tasked to create a story in which the targetted player dies, or a targetted player is in danger of dying but is saved by the nurse (depending on if the nurse makes the right decision to save the right player).  If the player dies, they have to re-enact the death the narrator devises, even if it’s incredibly ridiculous.  The story may reveal the identity of the nurse if the nurse saves the targetted player.

After the events unfold, the narrator allows for the players to vote for one person to be executed.  Players must decide amongst themselves and can accuse anyone (they don’t know anyone’s roles).  When they’ve come to a decision, the narrator describes the accused person’s execution.  After that, the narrator will reveal whether or not the mafia are still on the loose.  The game ends when either the mafia manage to kill everybody else, or if the other players successfully figure out the mafia and execute them.

My sister really likes playing this game because it has a lot of room for creative and persuasive tactics.  There are no rules to the narration (other than ‘make it entertaining’), and there are no rules as to what kinds of evidence players can present to accuse one another.  The game also doesn’t allow you to trust anyone, which makes the action suspenseful.

I think the game’s fostering of mistrust among players is particularly appealing to high school and college students because there is still a degree of uncertainty as to the full stories/personalities of your friends.  The game can reveal certain personality traits of  a player depending on if the players play with a personality true to themselves.  And in competitive environments like high school and college, this game allows for a sanctioned and cathartic experience of being unashamedly competitive against your own friends, if it means survival/success in the game.

My sister mentions that some narrators do not need the targetted player to re-enact their death.  This particular version that my sister describes (with re-enactments) is probably also appealing to her group of speech and debate competitiors, because speech and debate requires either persuasive or performative skills.

Contagious
Customs
Folk speech
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cantonese Wedding Comb Tradition

My mother said that when she was about to get married, she learned of a tradition that takes place before the day of the wedding.  Her older sister combed her hair the night before, and said the following lines:

一梳梳到老 (yi shu, shu dao lao)

二梳白髮齊眉 (er shu, bai fa jing wei)

三梳兒孫滿地 (san shu, er sun man di)

四梳有田有地 (si shu, you tian you di)

Each line is delivered with a stroke from a comb.

The first line translates to, “one stroke, stroke until old age.”  The first stroke comes with a wish for the bride-to-be to have a long life.

The second line translates to, “two strokes, your brows become white together.”  The second stroke wishes for the bride-to-be to have white eyebrows at the same time her husband does.  In other words, this stroke wishes for the couple to grow old together.

The third line translates to, “three strokes, children and grandchildren cover the ground.”  This third stroke wishes for the bride to have many children, and children who survive to raise grandchildren.

The fourth line translates to, “four strokes, you’ll have fields and have land.”   This wishes for the wife-to-be to own property.

There are other significant gestures in this ritual as well.  The reason why my mother’s older sister combed her hair was because she was happily married, had children, and had a home.  Elder members of either family can comb the wife-to-be’s hair so long as they’re happily married and generally have experienced the wishes of this combing ceremony.  Widows or sickly wives can not perform this action.

After the combing ceremony, the wife-to-be can not sleep and must preserve the hair until the wedding.

There’s a lot going on in the gestures of this combing ceremony.  A happy marriage and future is very important, so it would make sense that this combing ceremony takes place.  The stressed need for a happily-wedded wife to perform this ceremony shows that theres is a form of contagious and homeopathic magic going on in the performance.  Since homeopathic magic follows a “like produces like” rationale, a happy wife combing a wife-to-be’s hair hopefully produces another happy wife.  On the other hand, the wife combing the wife-to-be’s hair acts as a form of transferrence.  She is transferring her happiness and successful marriage to the wife-to-be.

My mother noted that the fourth line was a recent addition.  With expanded rights and social roles for women, the wish for her ability to own property became very relevant.  This shows that the incantation and the practice of combing the wife-to-be’s hair is adaptive to changing circumstances.

Foodways
Holidays

Dia de los Reyes

My friend is a student at the University of Southern California.  His mother’s side of the family is Mexican, and his father’s side of the family is Serbian.

My friend’s family still celebrates a number of Mexican traditions.  According to my friend, one of the most important holidays in Mexico is Dia de los Reyes, the Day of the Kings.  The day celebrates the three kings who visited Jesus in the manger and gave him three gifts.  The reason behind the holiday is religious – my friend is not religious yet he still celebrates this holiday with his family.

There’s very specific foods that people eat on Dia de los Reyes.  During the day, children receive presents (my friend puts it as “second Christmas on a smaller scale).  In the evening, however, the family eays a big meal.  The main course is not specific, but my friend has often eaten meat like pork and turkey.  The desert of the evening meal is specific – it’s a cake called La Rosca de Reyes.  It’s representative of Jesus’s crown of thorns – it’s a bread ring that is decorated with mainly fruits and sugar.

It’s traditional to also hide baby Jesus figurines within la rosca de reyes.  Whoever gets a piece with a figurine inside of it becomes obliged to organize next year’s celebration.  In religious communities that celebrate it, the figurines are also tied with a tradition of dressing a statue of Jesus.  My friend’s family isn’t religious, so they just expect the person who gets the figurine to organize next year’s Dia de los Reyes.   He says that his family’s celebration of this is not related to the religious event but related to just having a day to bring the family together.

My friend’s account of Dia de los Reyes shows how folklore can be reworked to fit different circumstances.  I think it’s unsurprising that his non-religious family would celebrate a religious holiday if it meant that it gave a chane for a family get-together.  Now that my friend is in college, days like this would probably be more meaningful for the family, as he won’t be around as often.

Narrative

The Come Carne Ants (flesh-eating ants)

“When I was… in high school, I lived in Costa Rica for six months… and… we decided to live by the beach.  And when you live by the beach for six months, you have to go to the beach every single day…  because, you’re never going to ever have the opportunity again.  Forever… So we, we go to the beach every single day, and that led to us knowing all of the secret beaches, like none of the tourists would be there.  Um, and this one day… it was a weekend, we spent the entire day at this secret beach… we’re the only ones there.  No one else… in sight, for the entire day… and being on this beach… forever… eventually, I had to go use the restroom.  Now, even though it was an abandoned beach with no one in sight except for my family, I, I felt like it would be improper to use the ocean.  And so, I ran over to this nearby bush, then again it was an abandoned beach, there was like nobody nearby, so I walk over to this bush… And I…  I really needed to go, so I started running straight there, I’ve been having a lot of fun, I’m not paying much attention, running straight in this bush to hide and then… Well, jus- just the week before… ehm… one of, one of the… one of these security guards for the apartmen we were living in had told us this story of the ‘come carne’ plant… Now, if you know Spanish, you know come carne is the stupidest  names ever, it means ‘eat meat’ in Spanish… and I guess more accurately translates to flesh-eating.  Now the plant itself doesn’t eat flesh… it’s, it’s like this rose and it has these giant thorns, but way bigger than a rose, HUGE thorns.  And… it, it’s a weird thorn because it has no tip, it just has a hole at the top instead, so it’s not pointy.  It just looks like a thorn, with no… no top, just this hole, and inside this thorn lives a colony of ants.    Now these might actually be the come carne ants, one of them’s named come carne, it’s probably the ants but I thought it was the… the plant that was named, so…  Now these ants don’t actually eat flesh, they eat the sap produced by the plant, inside of its thorn… and in return they protect the plant from any goats that try to eat it.  So the goat would come over, wanna nibble on this bush, out jump these ants that will bite craters of flesh off the goat’s nose and the goat would run off, screaming in pain because it’s one of the most painful things ever now our security guard was telling us this, and was like ‘You’ve never felt pain… until you’ve been bitten by these come carne ants!’   Now… I really had to go, so I wasn’t thinking, and I definitely wasn’t looking at this bush… as I was relieving myself on it, completely naked, you know, pants down… sw-swim trunks down… And he was right, there is no pain until you’ve, you’ve been bitten by a come carne ant… and… and so yeah, they bite off these chunks of flesh, and I actually have a scar right here on my arm, ‘cause one of them got on my arm, it’s been several years now so it’s like… so it’s almost gone, especially since I’m tan, but you can see that tiny white bit…”

[“Oh, please don’t tell me your…”]
“…Oh, it’s fine, hahaha…  they were definitely like… only one got my arm but there were a whole lot more elsewhere… so… you know your first reaction is like, when you’ve got flesh eating ants on you is to… get them off, by jumping into the ocean to get them off but I REALLY, REALLY had to go, and so I finished up and then I ran into the ocean and got them off, and then my pain tolerance level for the next… few months, was like, through the roof, I couldn’t feel like, anything… I felt like a superhero afterwards because… yeah… you don’t feel pain like that… on an everyday basis.”

My friend is an Interactive Media and Games major at the University of Southern California.  He went to high school in Colorado, but as he says in the above story, he lived in Costa Rica for a while.

The story deals with an “urban legend” of sorts, of flesh-eating ants in the Caribbean.  I tried to look up solid evidence for flesh eating ants in Costa Rica but could not find anything documented.  Because of the uncertain veracity of the come carne ants this makes my friend’s story a memorate (though he does have scars on his arms to prove that something did, in fact, rip off a piece of his flesh).

My friend noted that he’s told this story many times since the incident.  I think it’s really popular because of it’s outlandish premise.  Going to beaches everyday is an unusual circumstance, and becoming so familiar with beaches that you know where the secret beaches are is something different as well.  The fact that the security guard did warn my friend and his family about ‘come carne’ ants helps make a really good story (almost like an informant at the beginning of marchen that warns the protagonist of something that would lead to serious consequence).  The idea of flesh-eating ants that can rip off your flesh, and the image of someone falling victim to them during urination is hilarious and outlandish.  Since he’s told this to a lot of friends in the United States, I think the location of Costa Rica is far enough to be slightly exotic, which makes this story feel more true… as if these ants were an alien form of ants that exist on some tropical island, on abandoned beaches that you shouldn’t go to after you’ve learned this story.  I think my friend aims to make it seem alien too, especially when he describes the thorns of the plant in which these ants hide.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Narrative

The Curse of the Secret Flan Recipe

“Oh yeah so my mom has this secret recipe for flan… that… as I understand it you can make the flan in a third of the time as it usually takes, and it’s… considered the best flan anyone’s ever had… according to people who eat it, but I don’t like flan so I don’t actually know… um… and, yeah, she’s got this secret recipe and everyone she’s ever told this recipe to has like, vanished from our lives, and…”
[“Do you know the recipe yourself?”]
“Myself?  No.  I’ve glimpsed it but I don’t… I didn’t commit it to memory.  Yeah… everyone who’s… who’s read the memory, has been like friends who then move away suddenly, and we never talk to them again…  or like yeah, I don’t know, the worst was when she like… gave my girlfriend the recipe… and… and then yeah… and then she broke up with me.  Eheheheh.”
[“Does everyone in your family now, like, believe the recipe…”]
“I mean, we knew the curse before she told, but she’s like… ‘okay, it’s alright, this will break the curse, and it didn’t…”

My friend is an Interactive Media and Games major at the University of Southern California.  His father is from Colombia and his mother is from Spain.  He was born in Texas.

This story is about one of his mother’s recipes, and for him, the flan is significant not so much because of its taste or recipe, but for its effect on his family’s friends.  Thus, this is more about the folk belief than the particular foodway.

The curse of the flan does affect his family’s willingness to share the recipe.  Apparently, the times his mother has been willing to give out the recipe have significantly lessened.  But she does believe that there’s a possibility to break the curse.  As the attempt to give it to my friend’s ex-girlfriend demonstrated, however, the curse has not yet been broken.

While the giving of the recipe and the departure of friends might not be correlated, the fact that my friend and his family correlate them indicate that there’s some belief that divulging this secret can actually lead to broken friendships.  Since they believe in the curse, my friend’s family might not share as much as they could with their friends in order to maintain relationships.
One thought that I had while listening to the story is that it reflects a belief in distance for maintaining healthy friendships (not completely, but to some extent).

It’s interesting how my friend, who’s neither tasted nor made the flan, accepts that the curse exists through experience.  There’s no need to explain it with any other factor outside of the giving of the recipe.  Overall, it’s a humorous story and I wonder if the curse will ever be broken.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

“The wolves are coming!” 狼來了!

“So a long long time ago, there was a kid… he has to release the sheep at home.  So everyday he would run up the top of a mountain, watching the sheep eat grass and the like.  So everyday is like this and he thinks it’s really boring.  When he was bored, he would look everywhere and when he looked down he would see a lot of farmers, they’re there tilling the soil.  So the boy thinks, “Eeeh?  I’m this bored, why don’t I fool them first!”  So, really loudly… then… so he thinks, “how do I fool them?” And he loudly yells “Save me!  Wolves are coming!” So… the farmers at the foot of the mountain go, “Eh?  The kid on the mountain is yelling for help… he says there’s a wolf,” so they immediately put down all their work, run up the mountain to save the boy.  So the boy is watching the farmers, so he sees the farmers running up the mountain and thinks it’s really funny, and very entertaining, like watching them do a show or something, so he… then the farmers run up and are exhausted, panting, and when they reach the boy, the boy happily claps his hands “Yay, yay, I fooled you guys!  I fooled you guys, there wasn’t a wolf in the first place, seeing you all run up, so cute!”  So the farmers say “Huh, this kid, playing with us like this,”  so they unhappily descend the mountain.  So okay, an amount of time passes, the boy still has to go up the mountain every day to tend to the sheep, and he sits and thinks “Ughh, so boring… last time was pretty fun though!  Again!”  So for a second time… then… he tries it again, yelling “Save me, save me!  Wolves are coming, the wolves are coming and carrying all my sheep away!  Save me, you better come quickly and save me!”  Then the farmers, at first, see him yelling like that and have… have… hesit-hesitate, have some hesitation, thinking “Hm?  Is this kid… is it true this time?”  But the kid, seeing the farmers… he calls the farmer and sees they are ignoring them and continues, acting really afraid and yelling “Save me, save me!”  The farmers don’t want to risk having wolves eating the sheep, so at the end the farmers decide to run up the mountain and save the kid, and they run, run, run, run up the mountain and the kid, again, goes, “Yay, yay, you’re all dense, you’re all silly, hahaha!  You’re all really silly!”  So this time the farmers are really angry… “This kid really is naughty, so ill-disciplined, right?”  “He’s like this, tricking us, wanting us to abandon our work to run up and save him, he… it turns out he’s joking with us.”  Then, an amount of time passes, and the kid goes up the mountain to tend to the flock again, and this time he’s really unlucky, there really is a wolf coming.  When the wolf is actually coming, it carries away his sheep, bites his goat…his sheep.  This time he’s actually terrified and screams “Save me! Save me!  Farmers below, hurry up and save, there’s really a wolf!  Faster, save me!”  Then the farmers hear it this time and think  “This kid is fooling us again?  He’s already fooled us twice… let’s not go save him.”  This time the farmers decide to ignore the kid.  Unfortunately, this time, a wolf really does come down.  So the wolf ate… carried away all the sheep and wounded the kid as well.  This kid, at this time, is really regretful.  He thinks, “why did I have to lie in the past to trick people?  Now that I’ve tricked people, they no longer have trust, they don’t trust me, so this time when I really have hardship, no one is willing to help me.”  So this story teaches children to be honest, don’t lie; if you lie, no one will trust you, and if there’s really danger, no one will save you.”

My mother heard this story from her mother as a child.  Her mother would tell her this story, usually like a bedtime story, and teach her the lesson of not lying.  My mother and her sisters would often rely on their mother to tell stories like this to pass the time.

At first, I didn’t recognize the story because the title was “Wolf is coming!”  in Cantonese (狼來了!)  But when I heard the story I recognized it as a version of the folk story, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”  I think the difference in the titles comes down to the fact that “狼來了!” is catchier (long loi liu!) and that “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” does not have a particularly smooth Cantonese translation.

In this telling in particular, the “kid” is referred to in Cantonese as siu peng you (xiao peng you, 小朋友), which refers to kids in general but is also understood to refer to boys more often than girls.  Perhaps this is because most other versions of the story feature a boy.  I also found it interesting that the kid sees farmers, instead of being part of a village and yelling to the villagers for help.  The comments of the boy towards the farmers are likely different with each performance.  The “hahahas” were added as a sort of flavor by my mother in this particular performance of the piece.

In other versions I’ve heard, the resolution is adverse but not particularly violent; for example, the sheep would run away at the sight of the wolf.  I was surprised that this version, which my mother learned as a child, has the kid injured and the sheep eaten.  There is also no seen with the farmers teaching the kid a lesson – the lesson comes from the kid reflecting on his mistake.

A variation of this tale in literature can be found in B.G. Hennessy’s children’s book, The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  It seems that there’s yet another variation in this authored text;  at some point the boy’s friend gets involved.  The information of this book is below:

Hennessy, B. G., and Boris Kulikov. The Boy Who Cried Wolf. New York: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2006. Print.

Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“An American, a Russian, and a Mexican are in a plane…”

“Uh… an American, a Russian, and a Mexican are in a plane… and umm… the plane is about to crash or something that’s the joke.”
[“Uh huh.”]
“So the… the Russian jumps… jumps out and says ‘for my country!  And… the American jumps out and says ‘for my flag!’ And then… the Mexican jumps out, and says, ‘for my sandalsss!!!!”

My friend is an animation major at the University of Southern California.  She has some Irish relatives and Mexican relatives.

My friend remembers a joke her father told her in Spanish, but since I didn’t understand Spanish she told it to me in English and told the joke as best as she could.  The joke is supposed to make fun of some stereotypes that Mexicans are aware of.  The “sandals” referred to in the joke are “chancla,” which, as my friend described it, are sandals that Mexican women wear.  Chancla are  also associated with the image of angry Mexican mothers with chanclas in their hands, possibly beating children who upset them.

I find it interesting that this motif of introducing nationality as a primary piece of exposition finds its way into Mexican humor.  I remember a joke that begins with “An Irishman, a Japanese, and an American were all in a hot air balloon” that proceeds to operate off of stereotypes as well. It never occurred to me to think that that particular motif would be in other cultures’ jokes. Since my friend heard this from her father, I’m guessing that more often than not this is a joke Mexicans would tell other Mexicans, since they’d understand why “chancla” are so iconic and so humorous in this context.  The stereotyping of the Russian and American also seem to go off of Mexican perceptions of those two nationalities and their fervent nationalism.  Since I heard this joke in English and had to have my friend explain the punchline for me, I believe this joke would be far better for someone who understood Spanish and understood Mexican culture.  “Sandals” still evoke a pretty silly image, but “chancla” have a particular significance for Mexicans.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

The Ghosts of Happy Valley Cemetery

My mother told me that there is a folk belief among tram drivers in Hong Kong.  Whenever a tram driver passes along the Happy Valley cemetery on their route at night, they stop their tram regardless of whether or not they see people waiting on the sidewalk.  This is because of a fire that occurred in the area:

“Many years ago, in Hong Kong’s Happy Valley, there’s a horse racing track.  Back then Hong Kong didn’t officially build stands at the race track, so they’d often make stands out of bamboo.  So every time there’s horse racing people would watch in the stands as others race horses.  One time there was a fire, and there were too many people who couldn’t escape.  Many people burned to death.  Now, across the horse racing track, they’ve built a Happy Valley Cemetery, you’ve passed it before, haven’t you?”

[“Yeah, I’ve passed it before.”]

“The victims of the fire are buried there.”

The Cantonese name for Happy Valley is 跑馬地 (Pao ma dei), which literally means “horse racing grounds.”  It’s interesting to hear about the story in English – the name “Happy Valley” makes the story of the tragedy and the existence of ghosts even more eerie.

My mother emphasizes that the fire itself took place a long, long time ago.  It surprises me that these legends of ghosts still remain.  The cemetery has contained many people not related to the disaster since then, but the circumstances surrounding its construction continue to haunt it.  My mother noted that she would hear a lot of colleagues talk about these ghosts along the cemetery; the tragedy still resonates with many Hong Kong residents, even if it’s been decades since the accident.

Trams are considered relics of the past in Hong Kong (they’re kept running for their penchant to attract tourists and retain a sense of nostalgia), so I also find it interesting that it is the tram drivers who keep this tradition alive the strongest.  Perhaps trams are the primary vehicle that still remain from that era, and the belief is that ghosts would recognize it.  It’s really interesting that my mother made sure to point out it was tram drivers, not taxi or bus drivers (who operate more modern modes of public transportation).

Folk Beliefs
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dia de los Muertos Altar

My friend is an animation major at the University of Southern California.  She has some Irish relatives and Mexican relatives.

My friend would celebrate Dia de Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) by creating an altar for a loved one.  She said that traditionally, the altar had to have cempazuchitl (yellow marigolds) and candles.  The cempazuchitl bring about a festive look to the altar and indicate an air of celebration.  My friend said that Dia de los Muertos is much more about celebrating death and celebrating dead loved ones.

On Dia de Los Muertos, the spirits come out and their surviving loved ones put candles on their altars.  The candles then serve to “light the way” for the spirits to their loved ones.

This year in college, my friend had to adjust what she could put on the altar.  The setup became much more simplistic and focused on the cempazuchitl and the candles.  Each altar is supposed to be dedicated to loved ones – my friend dedicated her altar to her grandfather, but did not have a personal item of his in college.  The tradition is to put a personal item of the deceased one as a way to indicate the altar is for them.  As a substitute, my friend placed a photo of her grandfather on the altar.

I find it very interesting that this tradition of creating the altar revolves on the belief that the spirits are still a part of this world, and that those who are living have an obligation to maintain interactions with the dead.  The fact that my friend talked about having to simplify the altar also makes me believe that altars are usually a really vibrant arrangement.  Many of the elements of the altar visually reinforce the idea of celebration instead of mourning.  It also calls for a personal involvement from the altar maker.  The effect of dedicating the altar to a particular loved one is different from generally dedicating to the dead.

Kristin Congdon’s essay “Making Merry with Death,” included in Peter Narvaez’s collection Of Corpse, contains a version of this altar, which is part of the ofrenda (offering) in Dia de los Muertos:

Narváez, Peter. Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2003. Print.

Narrative

Red (a Ghost Story)

“So there’s this ghost story that I heard at Mock Trial state, and… it goes something like… There’s a man who checks into this hotel, and… he’s there alone.  So every night he’s there he goes down to the bar, and while he’s sitting in the bar, having a drink… he observes… up at the counter… he sees the back of this beautiful young woman.  And… he keeps trying to muster up the courage to go talk to her, but as soon as he’s close… uh… she just… goes away.  So he’s keep trying every night and every single night he sees the same beautiful woman and he keeps… trying to bring up the courage to go talk to her.  But she leaves every single time… he’s supposed to go talk to her.
So at night when he retires to his room… he… hears a scratching… at the door.  He wakes up… and he asks, “who’s there?”  But nobody responds.  So… he goes up to the door and looks through the eye hole… and all he can see is red…  There’s nothing there but the color red.  He finds this… kinda odd so he just goes back to sleep.
Uh, when he goes back to the bar he sees the woman again, same chain of events occur… he’s back at his room that night… hears the scratching again.  He looks at the eyehole, asks “who’s there?” No one’s there… it’s JUST the color red.  So the next day… he goes back to the bar… and he sees that the girl is gone.  So he goes up to the bartender and says… “Where’s that girl who sat here every night,  I really wanted to talk to her.  And… the bartender is like… “Oh… um… you mean that young woman?  Well… she left… but there was something really really odd about her.”  And the man asks, “what was that?”  And the bartender says… “Her eyes were colored red.”

My sister heard this story from a friend on a car ride back from a mock trial competition.  She and her friends were sharing scary stories when it was around evening.

My sister was particularly disturbed by this story and claims to think about/dream about it for the remainder of the day and night she hears or re-tells it.  She says that the thing that scares her the most is the connection between the girl’s eye color and the red that the man sees through the eye hole.  The catch is that every night she was here, the girl was peering through the eye hole, watching the man.  She says the thought of being watched in places of supposed privacy frightens her.

When I first heard the story, my first thought aabout the color red was that this either represented a trait of the man or the girl.  I thought that the color would imply something sexual about the story, so I was surprised that the association was quite literal – that the girl’s eyes are red and so when she went to watch the man it covered the eye hole’s view with red.  The story was not as disturbing for me, probably because I was expecting some form of bizarre twist when I had the conversation with the informant, and it was outdoors and fairly light.  The place in which this piece is performed is important. My sister heard this story during the evening in a car – the cramped and dark environment probably contributed to how the story impacted her.  However, I do agree with her on the frightening prospect of being watched without knowing.  I think the element of having the man “watch” the girl without knowing the girl was watching him all along helps emphasize that twist and underlying fear in the audience.

I also noticed that my sister learned this from a high school classmate and was performed in a group of high school students.   I think that the story is scary for high school students because privacy is something adolescents value a lot.  Although adolescents use things such as social networking and are pretty immersed in an environment of disclosure, they also want a certain extent of privacy for their own thoughts.  I feel like high school students like the informant worry about surveillance because they understand how the world they’re growing up in is becoming more and more transparent (partially because of their own practices).

In my opinion, this story shares similarities with other scary stories involving being watched.  The main recurring elements in the story (the girl and the red behind the eye hole) are kept mysterious throughout the entire story – at the end, another character/informant makes the terrifying connection for both the main character and the audience.  But the girl doesn’t really come across as a ghost to me.  She has an unusual characteristic and doesn’t actually speak to the man, but the story itself doesn’t explicitly call her a ghost.  So I find it interesting that my sister calls this a ghost story.

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