Author Archive
Digital
folk metaphor
Humor

安利 Amway/Brainwash

This word is also a very popular phrase that has been widely used online for these couple years in China.
The word now means strongly recommending somebody to do something.
Usually the person who uses it personally likes the subject so much and therefore wants to share with others so badly.
The interesting thing is, the word itself actually originates from an American marketing company Amway, the sub company of which has a huge reputation for being overly persuasive when they try to sell their products in China. Then people started making fun of that company and using the word “安利” (Amway) as a verb instead of a noun to describe the behavior of strongly recommending others to try something.
Moreover, as the word has been widely spread on the Internet, it tends to mean more like “brainwash” when people use it for fun.
Digital
Humor

吃土 Eat Dust

吃土 “Eat Dust” is a popular phrase that Chinese people started to use a lot on the Internet since 2015.

There are several different interpretations of this simple phrase:
1. the mostly recognized one is that people use it to make fun of themselves that they are too poor to buy food, so the only thing they could eat is the dust.

2. the word could also be used to attack other people, just like an euphemistic way to ask them to “eat shit.”

3. some video gamers use it because when their characters defeated in game, they will usually fall off and face to the ground, looks just like they’re eating the dust.

 

If we bring this cyber word to a lager context of real world Chinese society, this could also reflects the very imbalance of money holding right now in China. Even though it’s a decade that plenty of opportunities are coming up for people to make money, there are still a large amount of people in China don’t have a good living condition, whereas Internet becomes a perfect platform for them to release their stress.

 

Digital
Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

王八蛋 Son of a bitch

A “wángbādàn 忘/王八蛋” is the offspring of a woman lacking virtue. Another meaning of 王八 is 鼈 biē, fresh-water turtle.[4] Turtle heads reemerging from hiding in the turtle’s shell look like the glans emerging from the foreskin, and turtles lay eggs. So a “wang ba” is a woman who has lost her virtue, and a “wang ba dan” is the progeny of such a woman, a turtle product, but, figuratively, also a penis product.

This profanity term has actually been widely used in China for many years, and it is a pretty offensive one to use. I find in both western and eastern culture, it is considered to be very offensive one when the subject is related to close family members.

 

Customs
Game

Play house game

My informant is a 48 year-old woman who has lived her whole life in China by now.

“Girls always like to play the ‘play house game’ in a group of two or more when they’re little. We usually play it at home. Hold a doll in arms like our baby, and we also have role playing, like mom and dad. And we even have teacher, doctor or nurse sometimes. It’s funny that we feed food to those babies, take them to ‘doctors’, and tell stories to them. All like the scenario of taking care of kids, pretending that we were adults.”

“I think we just learnt this from girls older than us, saw them playing and we imitated. I think this shall be the game that almost every girl all over the world has played before haha.”

I find it really interesting that people always want to grow up faster when they’re kids, whereas many adults feel nostalgic to their childhood when they were much happier with less stress. Actually, I’m wondering is there really a clear line between kid and adult? Maybe people won’t really become adult until they have kids.

 

Myths
Old age

Vision before death

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“In my family, when my relatives are dying, they will always see someone who is dead before them, like they’re calling them. Like when my grandmother died, she saw her husband. (But how do you know about that? They’re dying right?) Yeah, but you know, like, when my grandma was dying, she would say ‘did you see grandpa? Grandpa was here.’ It’s within a few days, that week. And my aunt did that too, ‘I saw Raman’, which is her husband, who died 20 years before. I don’t know, who knows?”

There might be some other scientific explanations on that phenomenon, but I think it also make sense to me that when people are dying their brain uses this way of reasoning to release their fear toward death: there is still a good side about death that you’re gonna meet with your beloved one who has also been dead.

 

Myths

Ghosts at your waist

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“It was back to the time when I was at Oxford University in England. The library there is about 800 years old. All these very serious professors, scientists and scholars they all studied there, but the library has its own ghosts. It’s interesting that everybody says that ghosts were like floating “ooo ooo ooo”, you know, appeared like that, but they only come up to your waist. These were short. One scientist figured it out was he said that as the world gets older, the ground shifts, and there is more stuff piled down, and the level of the ground is actually higher now than it was in 1200, so he’s walking like on his ground. He’s walking at his time period. Isn’t that interesting? It’s like a snapshot, a photograph from thousand years ago. It’s just a guess from the scientists. Well people who saw them said they can’t see their feet. You could believe it or not, I don’t know!”

I think there’s a very interesting relationship between science and these mysterious phenomenon. Since science started with bunch of people with strong curiosity to those strange phenomenon that hasn’t be explained at that time, and then after they have used series of experiments to prove their hypothesis right in their way, they become a sort of authority to many people nowadays. However, there are still so many strange things in the world now that could not be explained with a solidified answer that majority people could agree with. It’s like what been implied in Akira Kurosawa’s movie “Rashomon” (1950) that the same event could be phrased in totally different ways by the people who have actually involved in it, and there is no way to prove the fidelity of their words and thus there is no truth at all.

 

 

Legends
Narrative

Legend of Mae West

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“There is a hotel in Hancock park called Ravenswood, where the old actress Mae West used to live. Mae West was a very popular actress during 1930s. She is very sexy. she always challenged censorship. The story is that she wrote a play, she a very good writer, and put it on the broadway, and she called it “Sex”. which in the 1930s that was very shocking, very forbidden. There was a lot of censorship. She said ‘people say I’m against censorship, I’m not, I’m for it, cuz it makes me rich, cuz everybody wants to see what I do.’ So there is a story about once she showed up at the hotel with her new boyfriend in Santa Barbara, she wanted to register for the night. The hotel manager said this is a very moral place, we don’t allow for things like that, cuz you just gonna stay here for the sex. and we don’t do that kind of thing. that’s very naughty. So she said, can I borrow your phone? so she borrowed the phone and she called her agent, and she told the agent to buy the hotel. It’s okay, I own this hotel then.”

“It’s a good story, a story that had been told by people in the Hollywood industry.”
I think this legend very explicitly explains how money plays as the crucial role in this Hollywood industry along with this highly commercialized world even back to 30s, that the one who holds the most money would be the game changer. My informant comments with a neutral attitude by viewing it from a storyteller’s point of view without any moral judgement to the events.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Salt for bad spirits

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“She used to take salt with her when she went to new places, put them at corner and drive away bad spirits.”

“I think it’s their superstition from their peasants’ logic 100 years ago.”

I’ve actually heard this mystic belief of connection between salt and bad spirits in more than one cultures. To me it sounds very random and arbitrary, but if this activity could comfort the people who believe in that from anxiety and insecurity, I don’t think it should be criticized as superstition in a harsh way.

Folk speech
Humor

Where’s the toilet?

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“I learnt the amount of Polish from her, my grandmother, and it’s funny that because she was a peasant girl, when you say something like ‘where’s the toilet?’ to her it meant ‘you go out to as far with the shovel,’ coz there is no toilet, hahahaha, so that was her word for it. So after that once I went to fancy restaurant with my Polish friends, they were just complimenting on my Polish, and then I asked in Polish, my intention was to ask where is restroom, but literally it means ‘where’s the hole?’ as I asked. Then they were like laughing so badly, hahaha.”

I think it’s really an interesting scenario of people from different generations communicating with each other, in which they would bring in the phrases or terms that were generated only during their specific time period. In this case we can see that people tend to use more primitive and simple phrases in old days because of the less advanced progress of human inventions they had, and later on they use more concise words to convey the concept of those more complicated things that had been invented afterwards.

Digital
Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

看颜值 Score of Face

“2016年人丑就要多读书,体胖就要多跑步,又丑又胖的童鞋们,读书和跑步这两项运动似乎都不大适合你,狗带吧!2016年讲段子也得看颜值了!”

“In the year of 2016, READ more if you were ugly, RUN more if you were a fat-ass. For those who are both ugly and fat, stop wasting your time, just GO DIE! In the year of 2016, you have to look good even for telling this kind of joke!”

The popular culture in China nowadays has an unusual spotlight on people’s face, and there is a standard look that pleases the majority people. Ironically, that standard is based on the look of western people. Many people there have spent lots of many to do the surgery in order to look more “beautiful,” which are stereotyped into big eyes, high nose, small face… This almost became a “must” standard for the majority to judge on others, they call it “Score of Face.”

I think this is a funny, ridiculous and creepy phenomenon that people want to fit the arbitrary standard of beauty, and eventually they almost all look the same.

 

 

 

Reference:

http://lizhi.shangc.net/a/201601/12159.html

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