Author Archives: Sarah Wu

Korean New Year: Rice Cake Soup

“Well, New Year’s is pretty similar to I think Chinese New Year, and it’s like a mix of Chinese New Year and American New Year. Um, but…we have this soup and it’s uh, it’s a rice cake soup? And um basically it’s like you have meat and rice cakes in it and um, it’s like…every bowl of soup you consume means you’re like growing that much older. So that’s kinda like a thing where you eat like tons of that soup on New Year’s. And…it’s like custom to eat it, it’s kinda rude not to. Cuz then you’d be saying like oh this New Year’s not gonna be any different, or something. Eating that soup would signify that you’re growing older, like you’re maturing. Like you’re ready to have a fresh new year. And it’s like really good. And that’s basically the custom, I guess. It’s pretty much my mom makes it, but in most families it’s like homemade. And like if you go to church on New Year’s and stuff, that would be like what they serve for lunch or whatever. Yeah, it’s been around forever.”

When asked about Korean New Year traditions, my informant immediately thought of food as the primary marker of this celebration. She says the soup is very easy to make, just a simple mixture of meat, rice cakes, and broth. The simplicity means almost everyone would be able to make and afford this soup during New Year’s. The ritual of drinking as much soup as possible to signify growth and long life is reminiscent of the common tradition of drinking champagne on New Year’s, as a symbol of future wealth. Of course, there is nothing wrong with abstaining from champagne during a New Year celebration, whereas in this instance it is a breach of social conduct to refuse the soup. My informant almost made it sound like it would bring bad luck not to drink the soup, which I took as a sign that this is a very ingrained tradition.

The Weaver & The Cowherd

Informant: “This is a very very old story, and it goes back to way…back when…it’s very, like, back when the Koreans thought like, um, like there were kind of gods and supernatural beings that lived with them. Ok, so basically there was this princess from one region and there would be…there was a prince in another region. And it’s not really like Romeo & Juliet, but um they were like from two different sides and they fell in love. So um, they would spend like every minute that they could together. And um, so their parents got mad, the royal families got mad because their prince was tryin to like train to become a king, and he’s basically tryin to learn and like be serious. And he was just like, literally just head over heels in love and he was really distracted. So his family forbid him to see her and um, the princess was also punished because they just didn’t want her to be with him, I guess? And I forgot the details, but um, basically they were forbidden to see each other. And they were banished and um, oh! [informant claps] I forgot to mention. They lived in heaven, like they were like a godly family. And he…so they were not able to see each other, and they were really really devastated and depressed. And um so…both of them were punished to labor, like, even though they were a princess and a prince. So like the princess would have to like work and like oh she had to like weave and sew and like make bunches and bunches of fabric and clothes so that the heavens can like bring those clothes back to earth. And um…um…basically the prince was required to labor but um farming-wise. So he had to like cultivate animals and like…like…what is it? Plough? Yeah, farm. And…so that the food would be available for like down on earth or whatever. So they spent years and years apart and um…but the gods they like took pity on them and they said ok, like once a year, you guys can see each other. Yeah. So, once a year you guys are able to reunite. But they were on different sides of heaven, so when that day came they like ran to those sides but they were separated. There was no way to get across from like one side to another cuz I guess it’s like a sky. So like they were just like ok what do we do? And like all these crows and birds basically came and like flew over and made a bridge for the prince and princess so they could walk across and see each other. So they would kinda like run across the birds. And they finally reunited! Um but…I think that’s supposed to be why there’s a lot of birds at certain points in the year? I’m not sure what the purpose was but that’s like the most well known fairytale.”

Me: “I think it’s why there’s a constellation in the sky. Like that’s the version I heard…”

Informant: “It’s not a constellation, but I think it’s something about the weather.”

Me: “The one that I heard was like—there’s a Chinese version—was that that was the Milky Way.”

Informant: “Yes! [informant claps] Yeah, that’s it.”

The informant currently lives in California, but was born (and grew up) in South Korea. When asked if there was a bedtime story or tale that every child knew, she immediately thought of this one, which she said either her mother or grandmother told her. Interestingly, when she got to the story’s conclusion, she immediately knew there was a purpose or a reason for the tale, but could not remember it at first. There is an identical Chinese myth of the same name, which is why I interjected at the conclusion. The reason I have also included this under ‘festivals’ is that in the Chinese and Taiwanese tradition, this myth is an integral part of the Qixi festival (which I grew up knowing as the Double Seven festival), which is similar to Valentine’s Day. However, my informant did not associate this myth with any type of festival in Korean culture. On another note, this type of ‘star-crossed lovers’ tale has trickled into many works of literature over time. As my informant pointed out, it’s not exactly like the tale of Romeo & Juliet, but there are definite parallels there.

Annotation:

Ng, Teresa. The Cowherd and the Weaver. 2011. eBook.

Korean Thanksgiving

Informant: “Ok, so Korean Thanksgiving is like…almost the same thing. But it’s like a different kind of purpose? And our kind of goal is like to honor our ancestors. So we have a big Korean Thanksgiving feast, where there’s a lot of food and a lot of traditional Korean dishes. Like not just Korean barbeque or anything, but like…like rice cakes and like pretty things, and…and…”

Me: “Is it on the same day as American Thanksgiving?”

Informant: “No, it’s not. I actually don’t know the exact date cuz it kind of shifts every year.”

Me: “What month is it, do you know?”

Informant: “November. But it’s like, it’s probably more early November, late October-ish. And, um, so we have a feast. And if you’re in Korea, like, the custom would be to go visit the gravestones, or your family’s…cemetery. Like, where your…cuz in Korea you’re usually, your ancestors would kinda be buried in the same land, plot of land. So you kinda go and you kinda respect them, and sometimes you like put out food on the graves. And…”

Me: “What’s the purpose of putting the food on the graves?”

Informant: “It’s just so…so you’re remember the deceased ones kind of? And you’re like, cuz they’re not. Cuz in Korea your deceased ancestors aren’t really like dead. They’re actually supposed to be kinda like present, omnipresent in your household. So you’re kinda just like recognizing it. And you would give them like the best stuff. Like very like fragrant things, and sometimes there’d be incense and whatnot. Um, in America we don’t really get to go to the gravestones. But um, what is it? But we, ehem, meet up with like extended family, and…hahahaha hahaha…uhhh. It’s kinda like an American Thanksgiving, but it’s just different. Because you’re remembering different things than I think you….I dunno, like in American Thanksgiving.”

Korean Thanksgiving is celebrated according to the lunar calendar, as opposed to the solar calendar used in the US, which is why the date shifts. However, it usually occurs in November, roughly around the same time as American Thanksgiving. This is most likely because this time of year is harvest season, during which it is only natural to celebrate increased bounty. However, as my informant pointed out, the Korean version of this holiday celebrates something very different. Korean Thanksgiving celebrates (or rather, pays respect to) the deceased and ancestors. I think this is indicative of different cultural attitudes; whereas future-oriented America celebrates the new bounty of the year, past-oriented Korea pays respected to family members who are no longer there, but not entirely absent. Furthermore, in American Thanksgiving, the feast is eaten by all present as a way to celebrate the excess of a successful harvest. In the Korean version of the holiday, however, the choicest foods are set aside for ancestors. A large part of this holiday is placed-based, since the point of it is being able to visit the family plot. I found it interesting to hear how immigrant families have adapted the holiday to still keep the spirit of the holiday, even when they are not able to visit the graves in person.

The Disobedient Frog

Informant: “It’s about, like, this baby frog…hahahaha. Not a baby frog, ok, like..hahahaha”

Me: “A tadpole?”

Informant: “No hahahhahaha…like a kid frog. A kid frog, and he’s with his…he. So there’s a mother frog and a boy frog, and he’s extremely disobedient…and like sassy, right? And this mother frog is always like asking him to do things, but he’s always like messing around, talking back. So, um, yeah. He always just disobeyed her, he never really took her seriously. And like, um, she would tell him ok, this is how you croak like a frog. Like this is…like, what sound do frogs make? Like, ribbit, kind of? But in Korean the ribbit is different, but like she like, ok, so this is how you would ribbit. And she’s trying to teach him how to ribbit like a frog, like a proper frog. And like, you would like expand your stomach and say ribbit, ribbit. And the boy frog would be like ok. So he’s expand like his stomach, but be like…robbit. Or, or like some kind of other word. And she would get like so frustrated with him! And one day, the mother frog got really really sick, and she was kind of dying? And her last kind of dying wish to her son was, um, bury me on the mountain, and not near the river. And she said that precisely because she knew her disobedient frog son would do exactly the opposite as she told him, and she wanted to be buried on the mountain, so she was like, don’t bury me on the mountain. So he was like, ok. So she finally died, and then her son was soooo devastated, and he was like ohh my gosh, I can’t believe I’ve been so rude and so”

Me: “Wait, she wanted to be buried near the river or on the mountain?”

Informant: “She wanted to be buried on the mountain, but she asked him as a dying wish, don’t bury me on the mountain, bury me on the river. Cuz she was assuming he was gonna disobey her and do exactly the opposite. So when she did die, he was like really sad, and he was really regretful of what a horrible son he was. And he was like, I cannot believe, like, I just wasted my life being horrible to my mom and now she’s gone. And I guess…one thing I can at least do for her is to obey, finally, like…completely obey her wish. And…so he was like ok, I’m gonna bury her near the…next to the river. Cuz that’s what she told me to do. So, even though he knew it was like an unwise decision to bury her near the river, he did it anyway cuz that’s what he thought his mom wanted. Hahaha…so, he like…why am I laughing? Ok, he buried her next to the river and um, whenever it would rain, he would go and watch over that grave so that it wouldn’t wash away. And he’d be, um, crying. And like, making frog noises like, ribbiting I guess? What…every time it rains because he would be asking, like, oh please don’t let my mother’s grave wash away. He’d be crying, so there’s this kind of Korean, like, folk…tale? Like, that’s why frogs always make noises when it rains. Yeah, that’s basically it…hahaha.”

My informant recalls this tale her mother told her before bed when she was little. I would describe this as a cross between a märchen and an extended proverb. I would primarily identify it as a märchen because it features elements not meant to be taken as ‘real,’ namely the talking frogs. However, it also has an underlying moral element, as well as a lesson. The frog’s regret at his mother’s passing is a roundabout way of saying ‘listen to your parents.’ Note that my informant laughs when she explains what happens after the mother passes away. There is definite irony in the turn of events, and perhaps something to be said about giving someone instructions assuming they will do the opposite. However, the young frog repents and works doubly hard to make it up to his mother. Because his attitude change comes late, he must show his repentance by guarding over her grave every day for the rest of his life. In the end though, he is a good son. I also found the part at the end very amusing, as this parable turned into a proverb of sorts, explaining why frogs ribbit when it rains.

Lakewood Senior Campout

Informant: “Every year, the graduating seniors at my high school at home in Lakewood, Colorado, um, have a senior campout. Where they camp out on the soccer field on the night before for the last night of school…and they’re just really rowdy and often try to break into the school and do some kind of prank. And then the following day, on the last day of school, they have a giant shaving cream fight. Out in the same, like, area of the field of the school, where they just attack each other mercilessly with shaving cream. And then walk home covered in shaving cream.”

Me: “Did you do it?”

Informant: “Yes, I did it, hahaha…um, yeah. So I participated in the campout and shaving cream fight. The campout was really fun, and every year the principal threatens to shut it down…because everyone’s too rowdy and does too many obnoxious and destructive things. But, and they never actually do. And…sometimes the police show up, that didn’t happen my year. And then the shaving cream fight is just really awesome because you just get covered in shaving cream.”

My informant heard about the campout and shaving cream fight from older students when she was an underclassman, and then eventually participated as a graduating senior. This campout represents the liminal period between high school and college, which are generally thought of as two separate stages of life. In fact, it could be classified as the zone between childhood and young adulthood, since many people turn 18 between high school and their freshman year. This ‘initiation’ solidifies the seniors’ status as no longer being in high school, which may explain their desire to be rowdy and celebrate the end of childhood. It has many parallels with USC’s own Fountain Run, which graduating seniors participate in each year as a way to mark yet another transition.

Making “Pasty”

“Ok, uhh, my mom’s family is French Canadian, and they have the recipe for “pasties” in their family. So, um, whenever the family gets together to get, to have a reunion…every year, everyone gets together in the kitchen and makes them and the recipe gets passed down between generations. Um, it’s like meat and cheese and potatoes all wrapped up in some sort of bread product, some kind of like bun thing that you bake. And then everybody eats it together, and it’s really delicious. Uh, my mom has five siblings, and…and so when…when everybody gets together, it’s like her five siblings and then all of the cousins and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles that are all together. Um, so there’s like three or four generations in the kitchen together. At the same time, and everybody makes it. And the older generation kind of talks about their parents and like where the recipe came from and that history. And they tell the younger generation about that. And then the younger generation, I guess, learns the recipe and learns the story and everything.”

According to my informant, ‘pasty’ is actually an English recipe, but was passed down through the French Canadian side of her family. She suspects it traces back to England through her family somehow, although she is unsure of the specifics. She also added that her great-grandparents were both bakers, which makes the recipe even more of a personal connection to her past. I find it interesting that so many generations would be in the kitchen at the same time because of one item of food. Another thing I noted was that the ingredients are all relatively inexpensive and easy to find nowadays. Pasty, which has Cornish origins, has been made as a hearty and affordable worker’s meal in the past. However, it also once served as fare for royalty, with more expensive cuts of meat inside the dough exterior.

Lei-Giving

Informant: “So apparently, everywhere else besides Hawaii does not gives leis during graduation or…like birthdays. So like basically, a lei is like…a circle of love that you can put around someone’s neck…hahahahaha…hahahaha…hahahahaha…and typically, they’re made out of flowers, like they get quite elaborate. There are different leis for males and females, and like the males have like, lil like kukui nuts or like maile leaves. Which are just…like, green…hahahaha…leaves…hahahahahahahahahaha. I’m the worst person ever to talk about this stuff! Anyway, and yeah. And women’s are usually much more colorful, and they come with like orchid flowers, like all these fancy flowers. And they have like Hawaiian, traditional Hawaiian flowers, that are native only to Hawaii. And you can give them during graduations or birthdays, and like, the most popular lei-giving season is during May? Hahahahahahahahahahahaha…hahahahahaha!”

Me: “What’s so funny about May?”

Informant: “I don’t know! It’s just like, during May? Like ok? Hahahaha. Ok, then during May, there’s like…everyone graduates! So that’s why it’s the most popular season for lei-giving, makers, and like everyone gives each other leis. Like all graduates, all the family members, all the friends. So like we always end up with like ARMFULS, and like leis, and like they’ll go from our neck all the way up to the top of our heads. Like covering our eyes, can’t see anything! Cuz there’s so many leis. So much love. Oh, and nowadays, besides just flower leis, there are candy leis…where people like, basically tie candy together. And then there are finger leis! Which are really easy to make out of yarn. Yup. Oh! And then a lot of people make these really fancy-ass crochet leis. Yeah…they’re really nice. And they’ll make em all in school colors, good times. Oh wait wait wait! Are you still going?”

Me: “Yeah, still going.”

Informant: “Ok, there are also haku leis. Which are, like, smaller more dense versions of a lei. But it’s like for your head. And you put it on your haku, which is your head. And they’re your…and there’s like special versions made by women who are very very…what’s it called? Skilled! At the craft of making haku leis and they’re quite hard. You have to do like flower arrangements, you gotta like weave them in together. And it’s quite, quite arduous work. But it looks very beautiful in the end, and you can always let them dry out, you can keep them. Dried haku leis, or dried leis, and they’re very nice.”

My informant talks about leis, which are essentially garlands that serve as a symbol of love or affection. As she explained, there are many different types of leis, and varying levels of lei construction in terms of difficulty. She does not seem to privilege one form above the other, although she did point out that the special haku leis are usually only made by women who are skilled in that craft. There are also other types of leis which are not covered in this performance, as well as special rituals associated with lei-giving. As she notes, it is typical to keep leis once they have dried out, since these are an expression of love and not to be thrown away. This folk object is particularly interesting because it has a definite presence in the Hawaiian tourist industry today. Many visitors are given (or sold) leis at Hawaiian airports, usually made of brightly colored flowers or plastic flowers. Leis have become a sort of symbol many people associate with Hawaii, and yet they are usually unaware of the full context of this folk object.

“Da Kine”

“The word da kine. Um, I guess it comes from the Hawaiian Pidgin language? Which is like, slang in Hawaii, and like there’s a bunch of different kinds of slang words. And like da kine is just like the most versatile of all those words. You can use it to fill in anything. Like, any kinda noun, like or verb too! So you can be like I want da kine today! That, that would mean like, I want to go do something today. Or, it would be a filler for anything you forget the name of, so like I ate da kine. Oh, da kine girl’s name, like, I forget…hahahaha…Da Kine is also the name of a bag company. They make like backpacks and suitcases and wallets and snowboarding equipment. But I’m not quite sure if that’s Hawaiian…”

My informant talks about a Pidgin term, which is a type of slang spoken by native Hawaiians. Usually, a slang word stands in for another specified word, but ‘da kine’ is interesting in that it can be used to cover any word or phrase in a conversation, and listener treats it as an actual filler word. I also found it interesting when she brought up the bag company, and wasn’t sure whether it was Hawaiian or not. It brings up the question of authenticity, and whether or not this term strictly ‘belongs to’ Pidgin speakers. Is the bag company’s use of this word to sell product inauthentic, or is it a way of spreading Hawaiian culture?

The Makahiki Festival

“Ok, so there’s a Hawaiian tradition of celebrating Makahiki, which is, um, like kind of like a lunar festival but not quite. But it’s like celebrating a god named Lono, he was like a war god so they always had like war-related games during his festival. And usually the festival took place in like March, and I remember my high school would celebrate it, because during like third grade, we would learn a lot about the Hawaiian culture. And at the beginning of the festival there would always be a march, and like a call? It’s called like a chant, it’s like a … I don’t remember how the chant went, but I remember we used to have to chant it. And it was quite lengthy. But it like, after you chanted it, you would really feel like the spiritualness of it. And basically they’d have a little march, and the leader would blow a conch shell, which is like a big…cone shell, and it makes a horn kinda noise…hahahaha…and …hahahahahahaha…and anyways, so like and everyone would wear these white, um, like pieces of kapa, kinda like a Greek tunic, but it would be made out of Hawaiian materials. And we would all walk from the classrooms to the field where they would have this really elaborate setup. And there’d be like a giant field like kinda marked off with like coconut rope. And they way they’d make that is that like they get these like coconuts and they husk them, and then they braid together the ropes. And it’s quite, like, laborous, labor-intensive. And then they have like these special stones that mark like the corners or the, like the entrance, and you have to do…this like special, special ritual with the native Hawaiians, before you can enter into this sacred space for Makahiki. And you have to like press your forehead, touch foreheads, and you have to like take a breath together. Yeahhh… I remember in third grade it was kind of awkward, but like that’s what you had to do, so ok! You just did it! And then they would give you little pieces of sweet potato, and you’d just eat it. And you’d go inside and they’d have little games set up, and like there’d be spear throwing, so you’d actually get to throw like a wooden spear. Like it would be kinda duller, but you threw it into like a banana stalk. And then like, if you got it in, then you’d be like AW YEAH! And…hahahahahaha…hahahahaha…hahahaha…and then there were other games, like this kinda like rock bowling. Like all these things have special Hawaiian names, but like I don’t remember what they’re called but. So basically, you just kinda roll like this puck-shaped stone between these two sticks, and you have a partner, and then like each time the distance just like grows. And you get really good at throwing rocks…hahahahaha. And then there was like, a bunch of foot races and like wrestling, like various kinds of wrestling. Because like Lono was the war god, so we did a lot of…kind of like…wrestling, warlike, military…like not quite military, but you know. Fighting-ish kind of games. Yeah, and it was fun. Celebrated every year.”

My informant recalls her celebration of the annual Makahiki festival from elementary school all the way through high school. Makahiki is actually a much longer celebration, more of a season than a single holiday, but her school would observe it for one day only. Festivals bring together many different kinds of folklore. My informant recalls singing, games, ritualized actions, and food all in this single event. One of the more interesting points she touched on was the entering of the festival space. As she explained, only native Hawaiians could take part in the ritual to allow people in, creating an actual physical barrier between the sacred space inside and everything else outside. This makes the festival a somewhat exclusive event, since certain actions must be observed before anyone can enter.

The Chicken Riaba

“There’s this really popular Russian fairytale to tell your kids about the chicken Riaba. So that chicken um…it uh…what do you call it? It had an egg…so it nests an egg? Lay an egg! Ok, so it lays an egg, but that egg is golden. And uh and then again, it’s in the village with the old woman and the old man, so the older married couple. So the older woman is trying to break it and it doesn’t break because it’s golden. And the man is trying to break it and it doesn’t break because it’s golden. And uh…so what happens next, oh my god. See? I remember, I remember it in my heart. So …ok! So here comes the little mouse. So they basically try to break it, it doesn’t work, and then the little mouse runs by and with its tail just whisks the egg from the table. The egg falls and breaks. And then uh, the old woman’s crying, the old man is crying. So what are we gonna do? And then the chicken Riaba tells them, oh don’t cry grandma, don’t cry grandpa. I’m gonna lay another egg for you, which is going to be a regular egg. Which…doesn’t make much sense. So not a golden one, but a normal one. So they’re happy and the chicken Riaba is gonna give them another egg.”

According to my informant, The Chicken Riaba comes from tales her grandparents told her before she could read. She adds that these tales don’t technically have an author, and were typically passed down from generation to generation. While I was listening to this story, I have to admit it made absolutely no sense to me, which I was amused to hear she agreed with at the conclusion of the tale. First, the couple tries to break the egg, but then both man and woman become sad when the mouse breaks the egg. Then, when Riaba offers a much less valuable normal egg in place of the golden one, they are somehow happy. I’m not entirely sure what this märchen is supposed to mean, but my informant seemed to take it all in stride despite her admission that it doesn’t necessarily make logical sense. Perhaps this points to cultural differences; after all, there are many tales, legends, and myths in my repertoire that probably make even less sense than The Chicken Riaba to those outside my culture.