Author Archive
Foodways

Stollen – Traditional German Sweet Bread

About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.

My brother commented on a food tradition he picked up on.

Julian: “Every Christmas our Mom makes the same dish every year. It’s called Stollen, and it’s a traditional German sweet bread. It’s tastes like a crunchy fruitcake, but it’s not bad. Mom’s been making it for as long as I can remember. I’ve helped her make it before, so I think I can tell you what goes into it.”

“Stollen is made out of dried fruit, cake mix, marzipan, nuts, and gets powdered sugar thrown on top.”

“From what other people tell me, it’s sort of an acquired taste. I can imagine why, but I just like it a lot so I don’t really care what other people think. My mom got the recipe from her mother and so on so forth.”

Summary:

Stollen is a traditional German Sweetbread eaten as an alternative to fruitcake.

I one-hundred percent agree with my brother here. Stollen is a delicious food. Everybody’s always got that one thing they like that’s traditional. It doesn’t taste amazing, but it has that familiar flavor that just keeps you coming back. 

 

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chado

About the Interviewed: Yuki is a Japanese student  from the University of Hokkaido, currently studying western art and culture. She’s currently participating in an American homestay at a friend’s house in Southern California. Yuki is ethnically Japanese, and she’s said that her family has lived in Japan for a long time. She’s about 21 years old.

My subject, Yuki was willing to tell me about a folkloric tradition in her family. 

Yuki: “My dad performs Chado for work. In English, it means “Tea Ceremony”. Chado is the art of making exquisite tea, but it is also very difficult. You have to train for a long time to do it properly. Chado requires absolute [specific] steps. You can’t make mistakes. People pay a lot of money to watch Chado because it’s traditional.”

I ask Yuki if she can explain what a “Chado” performance looks like.

Yuki: “I can’t do [demonstrate?] it. It’s too hard. My dad studied for a very long time. I’m sorry. I can explain it though. You take a bowl, and you carefully clean it. Then you prepare the tea in a very special way. Chado is history. People used to make tea for Kings using the Chado style.”

I carefully ask if Chado is more about technique, or if the Tea is just that good.

Yuki: “(laughs) The technique is more important. But the Tea is better than most. Chado is about watching tradition.”

I ask what Chado has meant to Yuki.

Yuki: “I think it’s interesting. I just can’t do it. (laughs)”

Summary:

Chado, or Tea Ceremony, is a traditional art performance that has deep historical roots. It involves making tea using a highly articulate technique that requires intense training to master. People pay to watch those who know the technique perform their craft.

Yuki was unable to perform the tea ceremony for me, but independent research has shown me that there are a large number of materials required to make the ceremony “work”. It has a lot to do with the concept of “authenticity” in folklore. People want to engage in a culture that is as close to its original counterpart as possible.

Game

Kitty Wants A Corner!

About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.

Julian, my younger brother, was showing me a game he used to play when he was little.

Julian: “This game is called, ‘Kitty Wants a Corner’. To play you have to get a bunch of people, it has to be like, ten, in order to be fun.”

“First you have to get in a circle, and one person gets to be in the middle. That person is The Kitty. What The Kitty wants, is to get back into the circle. In order to do that, The Kitty has to replace somebody. But they can’t just walk back in. As The Kitty, they have to go around the circle and tell people they want a space. They do it like this.”

Julian gets up and begins to mime a conversation.

“Kitty wants a corner!”, says The Kitty.

“Not here. Try my neighbor!”, says the Corner (anyone in the circle).

Julian: “The Kitty just has to keep doing this.”

“How does the Kitty get back into the circle?”, I ask.

Julian: “This is the fun part. The people in the circle, the people around the Kitty, they have to switch places with each other. That’s their job. If nobody moves for 10 seconds, then the Kitty wins. The Kitty also has to do his job too, if he stops asking for a space for more than three seconds, then the circle wins. It’s sort of like a balance.”

“Anyway, when the people in the circle switch places, they have to walk across the circle. When they do that, if the Kitty is fast enough, he can take one of their places. The person in the middle becomes the new Kitty.”

I ask Julian where he learned how to play this game.

Julian: “I played it in elementary school. It was really popular then.”

Summary:

My younger brother played a game called “Kitty Wants A Corner” when he was little. The game’s objective is to not get caught in the circle. If you do, you become “The Kitty”, and then you have to get out of the circle.

I remember playing a lot of games like this when I was younger. I’m not sure where “Kitty” originates from, but if Julian can still remember how to play it after so long, then it must be impacting.

 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Oktoberfest

About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.

I asked Julian about Oktoberfest and our family history of celebrating it.

Julian: “I like Oktoberfest. It’s fun. It’s not a day like most people think – it’s like two and a half weeks. In Germany, people celebrate for a long time.”

I ask Julian if he remembers what Oktoberfest is about.

Julian: “It’s just a festival – I think. It was the marriage festival for German King [King Ludwig I] in the early 1800’s. It was so fun that people never stopped celebrating it. There’s a lot of music and dancing. And beer. (laughs)”

I ask Julian what Oktoberfest means to him.

Julian: “It means booze! (laughs) I’m joking, I’m kidding. It’s when grandma and grandpa [our mom's side] and all of Dad’s friends come over here. We have a party. And I get a glass.”

Since we both turned thirteen, our parents give us a glass each year so that we don’t feel left out during the annual party. It’s not a lot of beer, but it’s meant to keep us cheerful.

I ask Julian why our family celebrates Oktoberfest like we do.

Julian: “Well, it’s more like a get-together. Our grandparents all came from Germany, so it’s a fun way to celebrate our heritage. Yeah it’s just fun, I guess. It’s about celebrating family and friends. I mean, it’s the only time other than Christmas when we’re all here together.”

“We only celebrate it for a day, but it’s a unique sorta celebration.”

Summary

My family celebrates the German Festival of Oktoberfest once a year by throwing an annual house party. Though it’s not celebrated in the *authentic* German way, it’s meant to be a fun way of touching our heritage.

Oktoberfest isn’t that complex of a festival; it’s not steeped in religious tradition, but it carries a sort of nationalistic pride. My parents are both second-generation German folk, meaning their parents came from the motherland. My parents were raised observing Germanic traditions and to them, this is a way of giving back. My family celebrates Oktoberfest the same way others celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or Mardi Gras, but we do it with the idea of uniting both family and friends.

 

Folk Dance

Skanking

About the Interviewed: Spencer is a former student of the George Washington University, now graduated and teaching English overseas. He describes his ethnic background as “Potpourri”, with his family having a mixture of Scottish-Polish origins with some Irish thrown in the mix. His family has lived in North America for generations, so he prefers to identify ethnically as just that. He is 22 years of age.

When I was a student at the George Washington University, my friend Spencer got really into Ska music.

Spencer: “Ska is a genre of music best described as a combo of Jamaican Reggae and [Western] rock music.” Spencer tells me. “It involves a combination of electric guitar and jazz instruments. It’s pretty uptempo.”

Spencer then tells me about a type of dancing unique to a “Ska” performance.

Spencer: “When you listen to Ska, you’ve gotta Skank. That’s just how you do it. When you Skank you’ve gotta just move to the music. You’ve gotta move to the beat.”

Spencer then gets up and gives me a small demonstration. He performs a sort-of hopping motion accompanied by a fist pump. He hops and jerks to the rhythm of a song I’m playing  on my ipod. As the music grows more uptempo, he begins to hop in a running-man pose. It’s important to note that his Skanking embodies a sort of lock-step movement. It’s a quick transition, and then a freeze; almost like a kind of rhythmic freeze-tag.

I ask him if he’s seen Skanking performed in other ways.

Spencer: “Yeah, people just go crazy. Ska is really loud so people just sort of let themselves go. Sometimes people shake around, they kick and stuff. I’ve seen crazy-ass stuff go down. I’ve seen people get hurt – they Skank so hard.”

Summary:

Skanking is a form of dance closely associated with Ska music. It is accomapnied most often by Ska music, and it consists of bopping and/or running in place to the beat of a song.

Like Ska music itself, Skanking embodies something wild and free. Not unlike “moshing”, Skanking allows an audience to participate in the culture of the music they are receiving. Essentially, they’re taking the positive energy they receive from the music, and sending it right back to the performers in an epic loop of positive feedback.

Regrettably, by his request, I was unable to record Spencer’s Skanking demo, but I’ve found some videos that seems to capture the spirit of the dance pretty well.

 

Game

Beerio Kart

About the Interviewed: Spencer is a former student of the George Washington University, now graduated and teaching English overseas. He describes his ethnic background as “Potpourri”, with his family having a mixture of Scottish-Polish origins with some Irish thrown in the mix. His family has lived in North America for generations, so he prefers to identify ethnically as just that. He is 22 years of age.

“Just don’t drink and drive man. That’s all there is to it.”

When I was at school at the George Washington University in the Fall of 2012, I met some ultra-cool people who I started to hang out with. One of them, a guy named Spencer, shared my love of early 90’s video games. When we were all together one weekend, Spencer introduced us to a game (supposedly of his own invention) called “Beerio Kart”.

What you need to play Beerio Kart:

*A Mario Kart video game, though any multiplayer video game that involves racing is fine as well.

*An alcoholic substance, though any beverage is fine.

*Friends.

Beerio Kart, is essentially a “drinking game”, though it can be played without alcohol. I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Spencer, and he was able to explain the rules to me in better detail.

“It’s pretty simple. All you do is load up a game that involves racing (the objective being to beat the other opponents to the finish line) and grab a drink. Your goal is to finish that drink  before you finish the race. The catch is, you can’t drink and drive your car at the same time, that’s illegal! You have to stop your vehicle in order to drink. The first person to reach the finish line with an empty glass/can wins. Just don’t drink and drive man. That’s all there is to it.”

Beerio Kart became something of a regular game that we’d play when we were together. I can almost guarantee that none of the original game developers could ever envision that their games would ever be played like this. We’ve all sort of gone our own ways; I transferred to USC, and most of them graduated. However, I still keep the tradition alive, teaching new friends the wonder and joy of Beerio Kart.

Customs

Taking Off Shoes – Japanese Domestic Customs

About the Interviewed: Yuki is a Japanese student  from the University of Hokkaido, currently studying western art and culture. She’s currently participating in an American homestay at a friend’s house in Southern California. Yuki is ethnically Japanese, and she’s said that her family has lived in Japan for a long time. She’s about 21 years old.

My subject, Yuki, was telling me about the customs involved when entering a Japanese home.

Yuki: “Japanese people don’t wear shoes in the house. We have a Gedabako [shoe rack] for putting shoes when you enter the house.”

I ask Yuki why she thinks that Western People and Japanese People have different ways of doing things.

Yuki: “I don’t understand why westerners wear shoes and walk on the floor. You can get dirty. In Japan, we walk on the floor in our feet, so it’s good to keep the floor clean.”

I tell Yuki that it might be because Japanese floors are lined with tatami mats, which Japanese people sleep, eat, and generally walk upon barefoot.

Yuki: “Not all Japanese people sleep on mats. But it’s important to keep them clean. (laugh) Walking indoors with shoes on is still something I find difficult.”

Summary:

In Japan, it’s seen as customary to take your shoes off when you enter the home. This is probably because Japanese people typically walk around barefoot, as well as sit upon the floor when they eat and sometimes sleep.

Japan isn’t the only culture in the world that has a custom against using shoes indoors. Countries in Europe, like Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia, as well as other Asian countries like Thailand and Korea, also have taboos against getting the floors dirty. I think it’s interesting that certain cultures are fine with the sanitation limits of using shoes indoors, yet others are more wary. Customs are oral traditions that are performed/enforced to maintain a cultural standard.

http://expatsincebirth.com/2013/11/24/take-off-your-shoes-please/

Holidays

Chinese Moon Festival – A Perspective

About the Interviewed: Jared is a sophomore at the University of Southern California, studying Finance. At the time of this interview, he is also my roommate. His ethnic background is distinctively Chinese, and his parents are first-generation American immigrants. He is 20 years old.

Jared: “My family celebrates unique traditions. We celebrate Chinese New Year, and we celebrate the Moon Festival.”

I ask him to explain the Moon Festival to me in greater detail.

Jared: “It’s pretty festive. My family decorates the place up. It’s a festival that’s centered around the moon, so you get a lot of festive stuff like that. The moon is symbolic of things like harvest and prosperity, so that’s where I guess it comes from. It happens around August – September, whenever the full moon is.”

I asked Jared about his experiences with the Festival. I ask him about any special foods he might eat.

Jared: Yeah, there are snacks. There’s this thing called mooncake, it’s kind of chewy – like mochi [japanese chewy sweet], it’s good, I like it. I have a lot of good memories of the Moon Festival. I’d say it’s nostalgic. As for other things, we sometimes play games. Like most things in Chinese culture, it’s pretty much centered around the family, so we spend a lot of time together.”

I tell Jared that I’m aware that Korea celebrates the Moon Festival as well. I was curious if he knew of any specific differences between the two.

Jared: I’m not entirely sure about all the differences, but I think they’re pretty similar. My Korean friends seem to know what I’m talking about when I talk about when I mention it.

Summary:

As a Chinese-American, Jared celebrates a holiday known as “The Moon Festival”, which celebrates a general coming of the moon and the harvests that follow. He recounts nostalgic experiences with food, games, and family.

My roommate’s experience with the Moon Festival is not unlike the nostalgia most people associate with Western holidays like Halloween or Christmas. The use of the “festival” in different cultures holds a great significance to the individual. It’s “nostalgia” that in part motivates tradition to spread from one generation to the next.

Digital
Folk speech
Humor

Leauge of Legends – Slang Words and Memes

About the Interviewed: Jared is a sophomore at the University of Southern California, studying Finance. At the time of this interview, he is also my roommate. His ethnic background is distinctively Chinese, and his parents are first-generation American immigrants. He is 20 years old.

At this point of the interview, I highlighted upon my roommate’s love of League of Legends, a massively popular online computer game.

Jared: “League of Legends is an extremely popular game. People play it all over the world. You play it by choosing a hero and joining a team. You have to help your team defeat the other team. It’s pretty simple.”

I ask him about any slang words or unique vernacular he may have encountered while playing such a globally accessed game.

Jared: “Sure. There’s a ton of humor and inside jokes between people who play the game. Internet memes and things like that are pretty popular on there. Aside from basic things like, LOL and WTF, League has other things. A few of the more recent ones- one of them is like, BM, which stands for Bad-Mannered, it’s like when you do things out of line, or sabotage the team, that’s what BM means.”

I ask him if it came about as a result of cooperative play. 

Jared: “Yeah pretty much. Another one is ‘GG, no RE’, I don’t know if you’ve heard that, it means “Good Game, no Rematch”, if you want a rematch, you just type RE.”

I ask if he thinks that these phrases came from the community or the people who made the game.

Jared: “They’re probably from the community – thousands of people play the game everyday. There’s actually a meme going around right now – LOMO. There was a guy on one of the Chinese teams – Vasili – instead of typing L.M.A.O. [Laughing My Ass Off] he kept typing L.O.M.O, so people have been saying LOMO a lot lately.”

Here, I ask Jared if he thinks that League’s multi-regional nature contributes to the evolution of these slang terms and jokes.

Jared: “Totally, yeah, It’s always changing.”

Summary:

Players of the popular online game “League of Legends” has developed a number of slang terms and abbreviations as a response to the rapidly evolving culture of the game.

 Games like “League of Legends”, that have large, active global communities, are sources of evolving culture. In order to make the game more efficient, players invented terminology to keep things fluid – terminology that can be recognized almost universally, from players in America to players in Korea. The Internet is full of subcultures such as this, but League’s mass popularity ensures that its culture is always on the move.

Folk speech
Humor

Reading

About the Interviewed: Davey is a student at the George Washington University double-majoring in English and LGBT Studies. His ethnic background hails from Spain. At the time of this interview, he was currently on leave at his home in Southern California. He is biologically male, but he identifies as gender-queer. Nonetheless, he prefers male pronouns. He is 20 years old.

Davey: “Because reading is what? Fundamental, darling.”

I have just opened up a can of worms. I have asked Davey Gonzalez about the LGBT art of ‘reading’, which is not the same thing as reading books.

Davey: “Okay, before we begin, we have to address these issues from a herstorical standpoint.”

We laugh; Davey and I both like to say ‘Herstory’ instead of ‘History’ when addressing LGBT issues. It’s something of an inside joke. 

Davey: “Reading is an art of poetic insult. When you read someone, you go into them, and you scoop out all of their flashy insecurities. You are reading people like a book. Gay people had it first. They used it as a way to be expressive. It was a way that we all got along. We just read the shit out of each other. This was before your time, or my time.”

I asked him to “read” me. For scientific purposes.

Davey: “I can’t read you David, you’re too nice. …Aw, I’m just kidding, you fickle bitch.”

We laugh.

Davey: “I mean seriously, you come to my place, my home, dressed like you’re going motha-fuckin swimming. [I was wearing a tank top and shorts] You came here to record me? To ask me questions? With my beautiful voice? I don’t think so! Make up your mind, darling!”

I’m in hysterics at this point. I ask him if he thinks that people sometimes take reading the wrong way.

Davey: “Well, there’s a difference between giving a read and being a bitch. When you read, it’s collaborative. Both people are in on it [the act]. Now if I called you a fat slut, that wouldn’t be a read, that would just be true.”

I hit him jokingly with my sandal. Hard.

Summary:

The term “reading” in LGBT culture, refers to the spoken act of pointing out flaws in others for comedic or dramatic effect. Davey wanted me to envision it as the more artistic form of a “diss”.

“Reading” has seen a resurgence among people like Davey in circles of the LGBT community. The popularity of shows like “The New Normal” and “Rupaul’s Drag Race”, have made popular certain elements of LGBT culture that have existed since as far back as the 1970’s. 

 

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