Author Archive
Folk speech
Humor

Chinese food rap

ITEM:
香蕉苹果大鸭梨。
罐头波萝大川橘。
铁蚕豆,葵花子,要喝凉的有汽水。
想吃糖,巧克力,山东特产高梁怡。
萨其马, 鸡蛋糕,不够吃的有面包。
吃馄饨,炸元宵,山东芥末辣青茭。
尼子大衣皮大衣。制服皮包布拉吉。
Banana, apple, pear,
Canned pineapple, orange.
Lima beans, sunflower seeds, if you want a cool drink, there’s soda.
Want to eat candy, chocolate, Shandong special candy,
Sticky dough cakes, fluffy egg cakes, if you don’t have enough there’s also bread.
Eat dumplings, fried yuanxiao (sweet or savory soup balls), Shandong spicy mustard green wild rice.
[Untrans. -- the rest of the rap is said at a steady pace, and then it speeds up dramatically during the final lines, which according to my father, are about different types of clothing]

BACKGROUND:
My father grew up in 西门外 (outside the West Gate of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China). When he was 7 or 8 (he is currently 55), all of the neighborhood kids, a group of about 20-30 all close in age, passed around this “food rap” as a communal joke, something that they could chant together. It wasn’t popular in the larger district area, just within that group.

CONTEXT:
Because my father lives on the East Coast, I called him to ask him about the rap. In addition to describing his feelings about the rap, he also actually did the rap — recording pending.

ANALYSIS:
At the time, Chinese living standards were very poor — in his words, “Beijing was a very backward city at the time.” The foods and clothing he and his friends rapped about were considered luxury items at the time; in the modern context, things like bananas and canned pineapples are generally considered accessible goods, but for him, any fresh food was considered a special treat. It’s no surprise that so many of the items in the rap are sweets and candies, since it was created by children.

I grew up listening to him rap this song and other silly, lewd street songs. My mother berated him for sharing them with me and my sister, but we always thought they were hilarious. Now that I know the background behind the rap, I think it’s touching and sweet that my father retains this connection to his childhood, and am humbled by the story of my father’s upbringing.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Foodways
Material

Red bean soup (红豆汤/糖水)

INFO:
Dried dates
Red bean
Longan – a fruit like lychee
Rock sugar
Water

Slow cook everything together in a pot on the stove so the beans would turn mushy. Serve either cold or hot.

BACKGROUND:
The informant’s mother used to make red bean soup (in Chinese: 红豆汤 [hong duo tang] or 糖水 [tang shui]) with dates in it — it was supposed to help with period pains and overall health. Her mother make the soup from scratch in huge quantities.

In general, it was served cold in the summer and hot in the winter. The informant actually didn’t really like the soup that much, but her mother made it with such care that she couldn’t refuse.

CONTEXT:
The informant, one of my housemates, shared this recipe and background with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
Many traditional foodways also doubled as remedies, and are often paired with other “practical” advice such as “don’t talk a lot in cold weather after eating a meal or your stomach will get upset.”

I was also raised by Chinese parents, and find that much of this kind of upbringing information could be corroborated with my own childhood. I think it’s super interesting that even though our parents came from different regions in China, they still carried much of the same cultural information over the Pacific and passed it on to their children in America.

Material

Cheburashka (Чебура́шка)

INFO:
Cheburashka is a “little fellow” who looks like a monkey and a bear. He’s small and furry, with big ears, and he’s “the cutest thing ever” (according to my informant).

The image of Cheburashka (Wikimedia)

The image of Cheburashka (Wikimedia)

The character originates from a Soviet story written in 1966 and created into a stop-motion animation film in 1969 and then several animated TV series between the 1960s and 1980s. In the stories, he shows up in a crate of oranges and doesn’t know where he is or where he came from. A crocodile named Ghean befriends him and grants Cheburashka’s wish to work as a toy in a daycare center. When Cheuburashka eats oranges, he falls asleep.

The informant owns a Cheburashka doll that he got as a gift from his sister, who went to Russia recently. When you squeeze it, it sings:
“Я играю на гармошке
У прохожих на виду…
К сожаленью, день рожденья
Только раз в году.”
“And I play the accordion for all to see
Sadly (my) birthday
Is only once a year.”

BACKGROUND:
These cheburashkas are popular toys, and are cultural symbols — it was even used as a mascot/symbol for the Moscow Olympics. The informant says that he looks at Cheburashka and thinks, “That’s something that’s Russian.”

CONTEXT:
I spoke to my informant during an on-campus event.

ANALYSIS:
What’s interesting about Cheburashka is that, like Paul Bunyan, the character itself originated from a creator’s work. However, like Paul Bunyan, Cheburashka has become an integral figure in Russian culture, to the point where it was considered a Russian icon for the Moscow Olympics.

I think the character itself is very cute, but it doesn’t necessarily have any strong ties to other Russian folklore creatures? I did a little bit of research and beyond Cheburashka’s own published materials and Olympics iconography, it doesn’t seem to tie into anything that existed prior, which I find extremely interesting. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that Cheburashka was created as a Soviet icon, and even though the Soviet Union is no more, the character has survived into the modern Russian lexicon.

Customs

USC game days – kicking the flagpole

INFO:
During any game day, while walking to the Coliseum, Trojan football fans (anyone who’s rooting for USC) kick the bases of the flagpoles at the end of Trousdale for good luck during the game.

BACKGROUND:
On the way to the Coliseum (USC’s football stadium), it’s common to see fans passing into the stadium park to kick the flagpoles. The informant, as a marching band member, was told from the first game on to kick the pole as the band marched by, but other USC students find out from student friends or USC alumni at the games.

CONTEXT:
I spoke to my informant during an on-campus event.

ANALYSIS:
It doesn’t appear that there is any real rational behind the practice? Maybe it’s like the theater practice of “breaking a leg” or the general saying “knock on wood,” with the caveat that since not all USC Trojan football fans are USC students or alumni, the flagpoles are a universally-recognized symbol that all fans can engage with.

Foodways
Material

Polish galumpkis (stuffed cabbage rolls)

INFO:
Ground beef with some seasoning
Rice with garlic and onions
Cabbage

Wrap the ground beef and rice (season with pepper and salt) with the boiled cabbage. Bake them in tomato sauce for four hours at 325F.

BACKGROUND:
The informant’s grandmother would make them, maybe a dozen times total during the informant’s childhood. It’s a recipe that’s been passed down for a while that they would have it around holidays, Christmas mostly. The informant’s family is Polish, so though he didn’t connect with the food much, he still felt obligated to eat it, as it was a part of his family heritage.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
The fact that the informant ate the food despite not liking it shows how strong this particular tradition runs in his family. I always think that it’s so interesting when people participate in their “heritage” rites without acting engaging with them on an enjoyable level. I also think that the particular mix of ingredients in galumpkis is reminiscent of Polish cuisine, but the informant couldn’t answer as to the sentiment.

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish-Catholic religious rituals

INFO:
Receive blessed chalk from priest. Above each doorway to your house, write the initials of the three Wise Men: Balthasar, Caspar, Melchior. Then you light some incense by those doors. For his family, Christmas didn’t end until the Epiphany, that’s when the Wise Men find Jesus, which was January 6th.

For Christmas and Easter, you exchange an oplatek (a more synthetic-feeling communion wafer). You’d take a piece from a plate and then go around to each of your family members and break off a piece of their’s yourself and take it, and then they’d take a piece of your’s, and you’d all wish each other well. After everybody’s exchanged and had a piece with everybody else, you eat it.

BACKGROUND:
The informant participated in these rituals growing up and still participates in them now, usually in family-based groups of six or seven people, all Polish-Catholic.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
The informant isn’t particularly religious now, so it’s interesting to me that he still participates in these deeply religious ceremonies in the presence of family. Additionally, though I’ve heard of the practice of taking communion wafers, I didn’t realize that there could be regional/event-based differences in the supposedly universal, standardized practice.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Belsnickel

INFO:
There are variations of the story in which Belsnickel would arrive before Christmas to scare children into being good, but the “more terrifying” story (according to my informant) is when if you were bad, Belsnickel would come between Christmas and Epiphany and take your presents. Belsnickel has patchy fur, tattered clothing and a black hat and claws.

BACKGROUND:
The informant’s parents used to threaten him with Belsnickel’s wrath if he were behaving badly. His father told him that Belsnickel’s origins were German because his mother used to threaten him with the story. Compared to everything else the informant’s family practiced as proud Polish-Americans, anything that wasn’t distinctly Polish was delineated as so by his parents.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
In this particular case, the fact that the informant’s parents went out of their way to distinguish the “national heritage” of this particular folklore figure is interesting. Even though many cultures share overlapping facets of folklore, the strong national distinctions many people feel actually do make their way into the spreading of stories and figures.

Foodways
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese birthday noodles

INFO:
The informant’s parents would make her noodles on her birthday. No particular kind — just any sort of Asian noodles (not spaghetti) in soup, with no particular seasonings.

You have to eat noodles on your birthday and you can’t bite them — they symbolize long life, so don’t literally cut it short.

BACKGROUND:
There are a lot of noodle dishes in Asian culture, and the correlation between the long noodles and the idea of longevity is one that’s very prominent in Asian food cultures.

The informant’s parents would make her noodles on her birthday. No particular kind — just any sort of Asian noodles (not spaghetti) in soup, with no particular seasonings.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
I also grew up in a Chinese household, but I never heard the story about the noodles in the context of birthdays, only in general. It’s interesting to see how even when I’ve engaged with a particular piece of folklore, there is still variation in how that piece is presented.

Humor

Accounting jokes

18. Brooke Briody: Accounting jokes (5/1)

INFO:
There are 3 types of accountants. Those who can count and those who can’t.

How does Santa’s accountant value his sleigh? Net PRESENT value.

Where do homeless accountants live? In a tax shelter.

BACKGROUND:
The informant is going to be an accountant soon, but was told the story during a friend’s birthday party, when a random man at the party walked up to her group of friends and tried to chat them up with a series of cheesy accounting jokes, not realizing that she and many of her friends were accounting majors at USC.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
While these jokes are ostensibly for people in the accounting occupation, someone with a basic understanding of what the profession entails (dry, “nerdy”) can also hear these jokes and find them funny, not because they’re funny but because they’re so in line with popular perceptions of what accountant humor is like.

Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Italian-American holiday meals

INFO:
Before every holiday meal, which is several courses, the informant’s grandmother will make lasagna with meatballs in it, then wedding soup which has lentils and meatballs in it, then the full meal itself with has the “random staples of each holiday,” but there will always be pizza bread (cheese and sauce on toasted bread) and spinach bread. Each family member has their own favorite desserts too, like ice cream cake rolls, a “gross-tasting” checkered cheesecake that they all eat to appease his grandmother. The only one who still cares about saying grace at the table is his grandmother now.

His favorite meal is a gnocchi, which has to be specially requested for a meal — he loves shaking parmesan cheese over them. He also loves “a good ham,” with some pineapple and maraschino cherries, and apple kuchen (a golden cake and a hard bottom layer of coconut).

BACKGROUND:
Though the informant’s family is several generations removed from their initial immigration from Italy, the family’s still kept up many food traditions, even as other traditions, such as saying grace, have fallen by the wayside. The informant also mentioned that the meal courses were generally set around a core menu, and these satellite dishes may not be as “traditional” as those core items.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
I really like the idea of carrying on food traditions but leaving room for them to expand and grow, as they do here. Additionally, the informant’s recounting of the meal clearly brought a smile to his face — it’s always cool to see how people you may not know too well, as in the case with the informant, react when they engage with their heritage in a previously unknown way.

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