Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Foodways

The Rice In the Rice Bowl

The Main Piece
Rachel explains to me the superstition she was told by her mother from her early years about the dangers of not finishing every grain of rice on her plate: “Back home, when I was little, I always hated (said with emphasis) finishing my food ‘cause it would feel like my belly would explode. My mom would always tell me that even if I didn’t finish my meats and vegetables I had to finish every grain of rice on my plate or else I would lose all my money in the future, it was so annoying.” Rachel went on to explain that she would imagine herself as a hobo and that would be her encouragement for finishing every grain despite her belly possibly exploding. However, she told me this story as more of a reminiscence rather than a warning of possible losses or persuasion to finish my food.
Background Information
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Since childhood Rachel has always been told to finish all her food, as have many children all around the world. Although the practice may be common, the reasons and stories behind such practices have varied throughout time and regions. Rachel may have grown out of her imaginative years and says that she “doesn’t really believe in it anymore,” but she is reminded of her mother and her story from time to time as she eats and sees any left over rice on her plate. However, she does not perform any act of purposefully finishing every grain as she feels it is pointless. This story was passed down in her family for generations as her mother remembers her grandmother telling the story and so on.
Context
This Chinese superstition was told to me previously as Rachel and I ate Panda Express together at the Ronal Tutor Campus Center. I was eating fried rice and we were discussing our life back home.
Personal Thoughts
I found it quite interesting to hear the different stories that were told by our elders and passed down from generation to generation. Having lived with my grandmother who is also full Chinese for four years I have heard my own personal share of Chinese superstitions. I have learned that many vary from household to household depending on ancestry. It was also interesting hearing how Rachel told the story. The difference in generation and where and how she was raised influenced her take on the superstition. She no longer believes in it, recalling it as more of a “silly superstition” rather than something that should actually be taken with caution.

Legends
Narrative

The Bird Bridge

The Main Piece
The Gods have always been seen as powerful figures. In this tale, the Gods of our world have revealed their righteousness and sympathy for man. When two lovers have been forcibly separated because of their dueling families, as they are locked away on two separate sides of their households, the Gods decide to intervene in the dispute. They help the two lovers see each other again by calling upon the birds of the region to create a bridge for them once a year. They are allowed to spend their time together upon the bridge until the sun rises. Then, they must depart and wait the long year once again. The performer states “I always thought that it was so cute how they would wait for each other. I mean a year is a really long time and they only had that one night, but that one night must have been super magical.” She did also say that she may have left some parts out of her story since it was a long time ago.
Background Information
My informant is Elizabeth Kim, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Elizabeth was told this story by her father whenever she went to sleep during her youth, around the ages of six and seven years old. It was one of her favorite stories as she imagined finding her perfect soul mate, someone willing to wait every year for just one night with her. There was a time in her life where she would request the story every night. The story is a representation of true love, but also her dreams and goals as a child. As she looks back on it she says “I know it’s lame, but I still hope to find someone like that. It’s the stuff fairytales are made of ya’ know?” She says she is unsure of whether or not her dad made it up or not, but whenever she mentioned it with friends they would claim to have never heard it before.
Context
I was told this unique story as I was interviewing Elizabeth towards the second semester of our freshman year outside of Parkside Apartment at USC. The setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
Personal Thoughts
I learned a lot about the type of relationships Elizabeth fantasized about and the context of which these fantasies were instilled in her. It was great to hear about her childhood and her love for stories. I was interested in hearing the full story since she did say she felt she may have left some parts out, so I researched more. Although I could not find the version Elizabeth mentioned, there are different versions, some not even including lovers exist all mentioning a bridge of birds. One version is: Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds. While plot lines, details, or circumstances may vary in different versions there remains the common factor of a bird bridge being formed which I found interesting.
Works Cited
Hughart, Barry. Bridge of Birds. N.p.: St. Martin’s, 1984. Chronicles of Master Li and Number
Ten Ox. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Food For the Ancestors

The Main Piece
“During certain times of the year we would leave out food for our ancestors, the date would very because it would depend on the date they died. So my grandma died on the 18th of September so we would leave food out for her then every year. It wouldn’t be for every relative we had ‘cus that would be excessive, but the ones we were especially close to we would be sure to leave food out for them. They would usually leave out duck, chicken and fruit on a nice porcelain plate, or whatever nice plate they could find around the house (just not any paper plates). For every ancestor it would always be the same food. After a night they would take the chicken and duck back into the house, pray for said ancestor, and eat it. However, they would leave the fruit out, unsure of why they would not eat the fruit exactly, but never questioned it since she was only a child.
Background Information
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Rachel did not understand the practice at first, she was too young to understand. She would spend a lot of time at her grandparents’ house since her family traveled a lot. The practice was more from her Cambodian side, her grandmother being full Cambodian. Rachel would help her grandmother with this practice during her elementary school days before she was old enough to stay home alone. She thinks of it fondly as a time where she was able to “take care of her ancestors” and hoped that her descendants would eventually take care of her as well.
Context
We discussed this in Ronald Tutor Campus Center over lunch as we were talking about our families and life back home.
Personal Thoughts
My grandmother is Cantonese, but is also very connected to her culture, feeling it is extremely important just as Rachel’s grandmother does. Therefore, it was easy for me to relate to growing up with grandparents extremely cultured, but not understanding all of their practices. I honestly thought it was a bit odd that they ate the food that they left overnight, but I suppose every culture has its oddities. Hearing about how this practice gave her more of a connection with her ancestors and hopes to have this practice create some type of relationship with her descendants that she may never meet in the future was very touching and heartwarming.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

“Bless You”

The Main Piece
“I always was told to say bless you after every sneeze, I came from a very religious family and even though I didn’t totally get why I had to say it every time I would get yelled at if I didn’t.” Some folk practices are intensely practiced as in this case. The practice of saying bless you is instilled at a young age so it became a social norm for certain groups or communities. It was believed that when one sneezed the devil could come inside you so everyone would give you their blessings, at least that is what my informant was told. She later learned about the history behind the belief in high school when she learned about the bubonic plague. People would say “bless you” because if you sneezed, then there was the chance that you had the plague, which evidently meant death.
Background Information
My informant is Elizabeth Kim, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. She and her parents are Catholic, attending church every week. Her parents constantly attempt to instill in her religious values and while she does deem herself as Catholic, she is far less intense or strictly abiding to Catholic customs or practices. She found the saying interesting because it is so common among a variety of groups and communities, yet not many people know of or have different variations of why people say “bless you” when one sneezes.
Context
I was interviewing Elizabeth towards the second semester of our freshman year outside of Parkside Apartment at USC. The setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
Personal Thoughts
It was interesting to hear about the overlap in education and religion. The commonalities between the two reveal that there can be these similarities bringing together the two. It was also interesting to hear about Elizabeth’s difference in values from her parents yet their common belief or practice.

Myths
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Rabbit On the Moon

The Main Piece
When one looks up at the moon some say that they can see a rabbit made out of the craters on the moon. My informant, Demie, has told me that her family would often tell her the story of how the rabbit got to the moon. There were three gods and one of them lived on the moon. They all came down to Earth to look for food. There, they met a monkey, a fox, and a rabbit. They asked each to find them some food and while the monkey and the fox were able to get them food, being the cunning and quick animals that they are, the rabbit was unable to get them any food. The rabbit felt so bad that it offered itself up for food for the gods. The moon goddess was so touched by the rabbit’s generous act that she took it up with her to the moon to live with her. The story is told to represent selflessness and generosity.
Background Information
My informant is Demie Cao a current undergraduate student at USC and friend of my close friend, Elizabeth Kim. She enjoyed hearing this story from a young age because her favorite animal was the rabbit, therefore it was incredible to think that she could simply look up and it would be right there on the moon. Her father and mother would tell her the story from time to time and she would be reminded of the story whenever she would look up at the moon and see a rabbit. It is a symbol of her childhood and part of her culture as well.
Context
I was told this story as she, Elizabeth, and I were discussing folklore in her room. The conversations were casual as we relaxed in my dormitory. We were simply sharing stories, laughing at our own pasts.
Personal Thoughts
Hearing how a culture explains visuals in nature reveals a lot about the way they think in terms of who and what they respect. In this instance it is obvious that religion and moralistic values are an important part of their society. I felt the story did well in being able to instill these values in children from an early age and was a memorable story for all to remember.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Legends
Narrative

The Landowner and the Rooster

The Main Piece
Many East Asian cultures instill values in children through the legends they tell. Catherine recalls a story her grandparents would tell her as a child about a greedy landowner, his workers, and a rooster. Although the landowner was rich, he was extremely greedy, trying to make as much money as possible. Every day his workers would wake up when the rooster crowed and begin plowing the fields. “The landowner wanted them to work more so he came up with…with a scheme! To make the farmers work more, he would sneak up into one of the villager’s rooster house and would make a crowing sound. When the rooster heard this it too would make a crowing sound, but a louder one that woke up the other roosters in the village. Then, the workers would wake up, thinking it was time to plow the fields, making them work longer hours. One night a boy went to take a piss outside and saw the landowner. He told all the farmers so they came up with their own plan. The next night, when the landowner crept up into the rooster’s house one of the men yelled ‘THIEF’ and all the villagers came out and beat him up. That’s pretty much the end.”
Background Information
The informant of this story is Catherine Wang, a current undergraduate student at USC and personal friend of mine. She recalls this story being told to her by her mother in an attempt to teach her daughter not to steal from or swindle others. As a child she enjoyed hearing this story because she felt it was funny imagining the landowner getting “beaten to a pulp.” To this day she still enjoys hearing and telling this story, but now it is because of the righteousness the plot line contains which she believes is absent in reality.
Context
Catherine told me this story as we were riding the monorail together and we were talking about each other’s families. The conversation turned into more of a comparison of our two different lifestyles as we saw how our family’s differing beliefs influenced the stories we were told at an early age.
Personal Thoughts
At first I had no idea what to expect when Catherine asked me “Do you know the story that had the rich landowner and the rooster?” It sounded as if it would be a simple children’s book, but as Catherine later explained to me, it represented the abuse of the Chinese government during the time and encouraged workers to take a stand and revolt against the government. While I always understood many children’s stories to have some type of moralistic meaning behind it, I did not consider this legend to also be a metaphor for the governmental system and abuse and the current time.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Hollywood Shuffle

The Main Piece
Nile has her own family tradition which she calls “doing the Hollywood Shuffle.” Whenever she has family coming into town her family would dedicate at least a couple hours to cleaning the house. It is their own code for doing chores and “making the house presentable to the average eye.” There are chores designated for certain people, they even had a chart made for different people to know what they were doing. Being that Nile’s family is considerably large, this tradition has been passed down for generations. Each child, depending on their age and what order they were in lineup (lineup being based on order of birth), would be designated a certain task. For instance, the youngest would do the dishes, the middle child would mop the floors, and the eldest would cook the meal for the night. As they got older they would also upgrade to different tasks, sometimes multiple tasks in one Shuffle. There would also be the task of learning how to perform the job well. As soon as you were of age the younger sibling may take over the elder one’s job. At that time they would begin “shadowing the older one.” Nile’s family tradition of the Hollywood Shuffle created an organized system to prepare for guests that seemed fair and made each person responsible for a certain task.
Background Information
My informant is Nile Jones, a current undergraduate and close friend of mine at USC. She comes from a large family, thus inspiring the necessity for a tradition such as the Hollywood Shuffle. Nile first started doing the Hollywood Shuffle at the age of five years old, but did not fully comprehend the system until she was in the eighth grade. Her mother was the one who first instilled this tradition in her, although it was instilled unwillingly, she obeyed under her mother’s command. Now, she has a newfound respect for the system as she understands the necessity to clean the house at least under the occasion that there are expected guests. She plans to follow the tradition and instill it in her children as well.
Context
Nile told me about this tradition as we were preparing dinner at her place. She was reminiscing about all the chores she would have to do and how she hated having to “shadow” her older brother and sister.
Personal Thoughts
I enjoyed hearing about how larger families work. I came from a small household with only one brother so it was interesting to hear about the various chores and lifestyle Nile lead. I never would have thought of such an organized system, but I suppose it is necessary when one has such a big family. I was glad to hear her plans to keep the tradition alive as it represents not only her past experiences under the practice, but also instills it in her children.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Monthly Debates

The Main Piece
Growing up Nile became accustomed to having the tradition of monthly debates with her neighboring community. Around four to five families would meet at one house, but “honestly, everyone was invited to come join and debate. Even children!” They would have debates on religion, world problems, anything making the news. Although some topics could be considered explicit they still allowed children to sit in because the parent’s felt it was necessary for them to be informed on what was going on in the world, despite how graphic or cruel it could be. Nile also added that they usually do not go into too much detail with explicit topics until later, when the children have gotten bored and leave the room to do other things. Everyone is able to contribute their own ideas and opinions, these debates would often go until two or three in the morning.
Background Information
My informant is Nile Jones, a current undergraduate and close friend of mine at USC. She enjoys having these monthly debates because it allowed her to keep updated on what is going on in the world. It also pushed everyone to look into certain topics more because if one was asked their opinion on a certain topic, but did not have anything to contribute they would feel embarrassed. She participated in this tradition since she was six years old. It started because whenever her family would throw parties. Many times families would spend the night and they wanted to be entertained. The Jones’ clever way of keeping their guests awake and interested would be opening up these debates. Thereby, it became a tradition in which many were involved in. Her grandmother was the first one to suggest it and it has been continued ever since.
Context
Nile told me about this tradition as we were eating dinner together one night. I asked her about any stories she had of home and she remembered having wild debates with her family members back home in Georgia. She says that compared to home, life at USC is not as hectic.
Personal Thoughts
Hearing about Nile’s monthly debates warmed my heart. It made me wish that my family had more parties and celebrations, gathering together others from our community. I often felt disconnected from our other neighbors because my brother and I would always be indoors. Having these types of debates would have allowed us or any family to open up to a larger group. However, it made me wonder if these types of debates ever caused problems between the debaters, if their pride ever got in the way of their friendship and good sportsmanship. When I asked Nile this, she simply replied that “everyone knows to keep their cool.” Overall I think this tradition is great and hope to be able to implement it in my family in the future.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cousins All Aboard

The Main Piece
It is customary in Nile’s family to take her cousins in during the summer to help teach them certain life lessons and values that their aunts or uncles feel they are incapable of doing. While taking cousins in and teaching them about life may seem odd to some, Nile finds this completely normal and a part of her life. Cousins would be sent to the Jones household for various reasons. These reasons include losing weight, divorce, adjusting to urban lifestyle, wanting more interaction with other teenagers or children, and learning to be away from home. This was not only for Nile’s cousin’s benefit, but also Nile’s and her family’s benefit. They were able to interact with people who were not in their direct family and learned to deal with social situations which they normally would not. The summer-stay was usually for only one cousin at a time and the child would usually be between the age of ten to sixteen years old. This was an important factor to consider because they wanted to send them in when they were “sort of independent, where they didn’t need to call mommy every night.” The child would be accepted into the family and treated like a normal member. They would do chores, play with the other children, thus molding them and giving them proper social skills and proper habits.
Background Information
My informant is Nile Jones, a current undergraduate and close friend of mine at USC. She recalls having her cousins over for as long as she can remember. When she asked her mother, her mother stated that they had been doing this since her great, great grandmother was alive. Nile enjoys this tradition because she can see her own personal benefits and those of her cousins. She also feels it is a good way for her to interact with her cousins. The first time her mother told her that her cousins were coming to stay she was confused as to what was going on, but with her mother’s explanation she soon began to understand the meaning behind the tradition.
Context
Nile told me this story as we were sitting together discussing her life at home. I found so many elements of her life differed from mine, I had so many questions to ask. It was casual conversation as we were simply chatting like normal friends. Hearing stories about my friend’s different lives has expanded my mind as I learn about their different lifestyles.
Personal Thoughts
I thought that it was an interesting way for Nile to keep in touch with her cousins. I barely ever talk to my cousins even though they live next door to me. It has encouraged me to reach out and take a more proactive role in their lives. I enjoyed hearing the way that Nile’s family was having a positive influence on their family members, trying to help them out as much as possible.

Myths
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Zodiac Race

The Main Piece
Why is the cat not apart of the Chinese Zodiac calendar? Supposedly, the gods set up a competition, a race, for all the animals to compete and win their place in the calendar. However, while all the other animals knew what day the race would be on, the rat was clever and lied to the cat. The rat told the cat that the race would be on a different day so that when the race actually did happen, the cat was no where to be found. The cat wound up missing the race and was unable to be a part of the Zodiac calendar. This tale also explains why cats hate rats in the real world as well.
Background Information
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Being that her mother is Chinese and extremely cultured, she had a good understanding of the Zodiac calendar. Her mother would tell her this tale to explain how the animals got their place. She explained that it was a childhood story that she, and many of her other friends, grew up with. As a child, she enjoyed imagining and reenacting the race with her stuffed animals. It was because she could relate it with the Zodiac calendar, something she uses even to this day, that she can so easily remember the story and its relevance. She states that the story represents not just her childhood, but also her culture.
Context
This Chinese tale was told to me previously as Rachel and I ate Panda Express together at the Ronal Tutor Campus Center. We were discussing our life back home, the setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
Personal Thoughts
I enjoyed hearing about the Zodiac calendar. My mother was never really too cultured so hearing about my own culture was a delight. I found it also intriguing that the tale was also able to incorporate an explanation for the cat’s dislike of rats, thereby offering some sort of validity to the story.

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