The following story was told to me by the informant while talking about the things she learned while studying abroad in Taiwan.
“An aboriginal story from Taiwan… There’s a lot of different versions of it (the aboriginal story) and actually different tribes have the same story but different versions, but the one that I heard was told by a man of the Atyal tribe, he’s probably about sixty. So, It’s the story of two suns, and in the story, they’re living a long time ago, and the tribe is having a huge problem because there’s two suns in the sky, and it gets too hot, and it’s never dark, and it’s destroying the plants, and the people can’t live because they can’t sleep and they can’t produce any food for themselves, and I think the plant that they grow is millet. And so they want to select a hero from the tribe to go and shoot one of the suns with a bow and arrow, and so they keep on choosing the strongest man, and they have him go out. But every time he goes out, by the time he gets close enough to the sun to shoot it down, he’s become an old man, and he’s no longer the strong warrior of the tribe that could do it, and so they go on for a long time and they can’t… they have no way to solve the problem, and so then one time there’s a wise man and he’s strong, but he’s not the strongest, but he’s a smart young man and he says, ‘I’m going to take a young boy from the village, and I’m going to carry him on my back with me, and I’m gonna train him, and I’m gonna take him on my quest with me to take down the sun.’ and so by the time they get close enough to the sun, the wise young man is no longer a young man; he’s an old man. But he’s brought up a new young man who’s now strong enough pull the arrow and to shoot down the sun, and so he shoots down the sun and saves the tribe, and that’s how the story of two suns goes.”
The informant learned about this story because she was studying the ancient Taiwanese aboriginal language of the Atyal tribe. Their language is almost extinct, with only about 200 remaining native speakers. However, as the informant points out, this same legend is shared by some of the other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, in different versions. When I asked about the origins of the Atyal people and other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, the informant said that they are indeed related to the same Polynesian peoples who also inhabited New Zealand and/or Australia (she couldn’t remember which).
By examining aboriginal cultures where they are at risk of going extinct, we can learn more about ancient culture, and perhaps draw conclusions as to how modern cultures came to be. Unfortunately, aboriginal peoples like those belonging to the Atyal tribe are dwindling and being forgotten, a pattern that shows no signs of reversal. It’s important to document legends and myths such as the above before they disappear, so they can be examined and studied and perhaps teach us something about our modern society.
The informant told me about this joke when I asked him about some good jokes he had heard.
Informant: “So this is a joke I’ve heard from many people, some of them have claimed it to be true. The joke goes: ‘I heard about this person named Ladasha, and her name is spelled La-a. So it’s “Laa”, but it’s pronounced Ladasha. And I’ve heard this as a joke from some people. But one person who told me, actually insisted that they knew someone who knew Ladasha. Which is obviously not true.”
Collector: “Why is this a joke, what’s the funny part about it?”
Informant: “Oh, its just typography”
Collector: “When did you hear this first?”
Informant: “High school I believe, a couple years ago. I would hear about it every couple months or so. It was a thing people knew about.”
Collector: “Why do you think specifically the name Ladasha?”
Informant: “Because its funny and it sounds like a real name”
Collector: “It sounds like an African American name. Is there any reason why that is?”
Informant: “Some of those names I’ve seen do have vanity punctuation”
Collector: “So do you think this is poking fun at that?”
Informant: “Probably. I think there’s a Tiana in my high school (T’ana) so it’d be like, ‘T’ana’ so that was a vanity punctuation”
Collector: “So Ladasha could be a real name”
Informant: “Yes. But more likely I think is that someone named their baby that after they heard the joke”
This joke, in my opinion, is likely to indeed be poking fun at some African American names with unconventional punctuation, or as my informant called it, “vanity punctuation.”
My informant was telling me about some customs his family in New Jersey celebrates, and he seemed particularly fond of early Sunday dinners at 2pm.
Informant: “Every Sunday you eat dinner at like 2pm, and you have like a really big dinner that someone cooks. And you always have bread at the table, salad, pasta, and your whole family is expected to be there.”
Collector: “And then you wouldn’t have dinner after that?”
Informant: “Yeah, it was really dumb, like ‘why are we eating dinner right now?’… Italians really like to cook, and when they have a guest, they always try to feed them”
When I asked the informer if he knew why his family chose to do early dinner at 2pm instead of just a regular large dinner at the “normal” dinner time around 6pm, he was unable to recall how this tradition started. My personal hypothesis is that it’s a way for the Italian side of his family to reconnect to their European roots, since many European cultures eat a large meal at around 2pm, and then dinner is typically late at night, around 10pm or so. However, a 10pm dinner would probably be too out of the ordinary for this Americanized family to handle, so they just chose to stick to an easier option, of having a large family meal at 2pm.
The informant and I were talking about sports and superstitions so he mentioned something specific to his home state’s sports culture.
“Hockey is really huge… a culture unlike anything in California. Everyone grows out their beard during playoffs season, and they don’t shave it until their team’s out of the playoffs. Bad luck for your team if you shave your beard. I don’t [participate], because I’m Asian and I can’t grow a beard.”
Sports superstitions are nothing unheard of, but it’s still interesting to observe how they vary from region to region. Some people don’t wash their jerseys until their team is knocked out of the playoffs, and some people don’t shave their beards. How such a tradition begins and spreads amongst a group of people would be interesting but probably difficult to investigate.
The informant and I were having breakfast one day, when he mentioned how much he missed Taylor ham from New Jersey. I asked him to tell me more about Taylor ham.
“So there’s this breakfast food and its called Taylor ham and it only exists in four counties in all of New Jersey and everywhere else in New Jersey it’s called pork roll, because that’s the generic version of Taylor ham, and in New York City and Pennsylvania it’s also called pork roll, and no one else in the United States knows what it is, and it’s amazing, and every morning a New Jerseyan wakes up, and they are like ‘I want a Taylor ham on egg and cheese and everything bagel at salt pepper and ketchup’ and they go to the bagel shop they get that… this guy named Taylor just decided to have this cut of ham.”
A peculiar aspect of the informant’s account of Taylor ham is his perspective that New Jersey has the “original” Taylor ham, and that other parts of New Jersey and New York call it something else. It would be interesting to find out if these other people consider “pork roll” the original version of the ham, and consider “Taylor” ham some quirky name that a small weird group of people in New Jersey use to refer to pork roll. Clearly, Taylor ham is a point of pride for my informant, and something that he shares the knowledge of with some fellow New Jerseyans.
The following family tradition/belief was told to my by the informant while talking about some of her family’s customs and traditions.
“When people get married or have children, we don’t have bridal or baby showers normally because it’s like, we think of it being bad luck because it’s something really good happening and to draw attention to that really good thing in your life is like asking for trouble, and so there’s this idea of the evil eye that’s watching and the evil eye, if it sees that you’re too happy or just ‘oh everything is just so perfect, my life is so great, I’m gonna have a new healthy baby’ or ‘I have a beautiful new marriage,’ it’s like drawing attention to that goodness is gonna make someone take it from you, and so our tradition is not to have a bridal shower for like a wedding or a baby shower… I think it stems from my grandma who’s Italian and Italian people will even wear around their neck or put on their baby’s christening robes little charms and there’s different ones; there’s like a little monkey fist, there’s a gold horn… there’s a bunch of different ones, and that’s supposed to ward off the evil eye so that even after the marriage or after the baby’s born, after these good things happen in your life, it keeps the evil eye from taking them away from you.”
The informant didn’t know what the different charms like the monkey fist or the gold horn symbolized when I asked her about it; she just knew that they were an important aspect of Italian cultural beliefs. She also mentioned that it was ironic that Italians tend to be quite Catholic (including her own family), but having lucky charms and believing in the evil eye is somewhat of a pagan custom.
The evil eye is a folk belief that’s shared amongst many different cultures, but it’s interesting to see that it even exists in Catholic culture. Maybe it’s an inconsistency in belief, or mutually exclusive from peoples’ Catholic beliefs. The informant also mentioned that if someone in her family married someone who insisted on having a baby or bridal shower, that they wouldn’t oppose it too much. So, this seems to be a loosely followed tradition, in the sense that the family prefers to follow it, but is not too strict about it if someone marrying into the family considers it an important part of their family tradition.
The informant learned the following legend while studying abroad in Taiwan, and told it to me while recounting her experience at National Taiwan University.
“At National Taiwan University, there’s a big lake in the middle of campus, and it’s called Drunken Moon Lake, and the story is that there was a woman who was I think rejected by her lover, for some reason couldn’t be with her lover, and she drowned herself in the lake and I’m not sure how long ago it was, so they believe that a ghost is an unhappy spirit, like an unrestful soul. And they believe that she lives there on the lake. So there is a pagoda in the middle of the lake that doesn’t have a bridge to it, there’s no way to get to it, so there’s just birds there, and they believe that she lives there with other unhappy female ghosts, female sprits, and that if you’re a man, you should not walk by the lake, especially at like sunset or dusk. And if you do walk by the lake, you should definitely not talk to any woman because it could be an evil spirit trying to seduce you and she’ll drag you into the lake with her. Or else, if she doesn’t drag you into the lake, she could also go with you and pretend to be your wife or your girlfriend, but she’ll continue to bring bad things into your life and continue to haunt you without you knowing. And you’ll think you’re in love with her and meanwhile she’s destroying your life. So yeah, don’t find a girlfriend at Drunken Moon Lake”
The informant learned of this legend gradually over her time studying abroad in Taiwan, as whenever she would be around the lake, other people would warn her and tell her about the ghost that resided in it. She received pieces of the story in both English and Mandarin from different people.
The informant did not mention anything regarding the origins of this tale, or why people believed it, but it seemed to be taken quite seriously. Like many other horror tales and legends, maybe its origins had some practical application. Perhaps it was meant to deter young men from approaching the lake for some reason. Perhaps someone wanted to keep them away from flirting with the women around the lake, or keep them from trying to swim in the lake.
I was discussing the topic of memes with the informant, so she told me about the popular “awkward penguin” meme theme.
“The awkward penguin meme is just like, I don’t know, people put phrases on it, like extremely awkward situations that happen to them in daily life, you know? And I don’t know, it’s just meant to be funny… With these kind of memes, the animal really like defines it, and I guess like, maybe that it’s a penguin because penguins walk awkwardly, you know? How they walk. So it wouldn’t really work if you put something like a lion, because lions aren’t awkward, they’re just super graceful and awesome, so like, it wouldn’t work, so I think the penguin is very central to the idea”
There have been a lot of customized memes since memes began getting super popular a few years ago, but there’s been a few big meme themes that have been especially popular because of their widespread relevance. The awkward penguin, as explained by my informant above, seems to be one of those enduring meme themes.
Below is an example of a meme created using the awkward penguin template, from an unknown internet author.
The informant was discussing several things her family does for family reunions, so I asked her to elaborate on the details.
“We do family reunions, and one of the traditions is we wear really horrible t-shirts that have our family crest on top. And they’re usually like a super garish yellow and they’re super ugly, and the back of it says, ‘memories build traditions,’ and during the reunions we usually play horseshoes and batchi and my grandpa makes ice cream… We used to hold them down by my grandparents’ house, and they live in southern Indiana on the Ohio river, and there was always a tree down, and so my grandpa would take slices of the tree, like he’d take cross sections of branches, and he’d write ‘[family last name] reunion whatever year,’ and then he’d write like a quote from the reunion, like something that happened and then he’d lacquer it and drill a hole on the top and he’d give it to everyone for Christmas.
We play batchi ball… batchi ball is like a giant rectangular area, locked off by a string, and then you toss a ball around and then you have a really little ball, and the goal is to get the little ball as close to the bigger ball as possible. It’s kind of hard to describe without showing. It’s like an Italian game, I think… it can be made of different materials. Ours is made of a kind of… I think it’s like a metal ball and it’s covered in plastic, and they’re about the size of two fists, and you.. there’s… like four different sets of colors and two teams will… choose a color and you can have up to four teams, I think. And then, um, you basically take turns… OH, no no, this is how it works: you toss this little white ball in the middle of the thing and you can toss it either really close or really far, and whenever you toss it you want to toss it to the furthest corner, because then the goal of the rest of the game is to toss the larger balls and get them as close to the small ball as possible… but if they go out of bounds, then it doesn’t count. So, if you put it in the side corner, then no one’s gonna be able to reach it. Because the heavier balls are heavier and hard to toss”
Family traditions, especially family reunions, are quite common. But as illustrated above by my informant, some families go to great extent to make sure those reunions are a big deal and memorable. Games seem to be a common theme of family reunions, but making t-shirts is probably less heard of.