Author Archive
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Turn The Fan Off

The Main Piece
It is common especially in Korean households for people to turn their fans off before they sleep. Despite incredibly high temperatures, there are some superstitious people who refuse to leave their fan on. Elizabeth is one of those people. She refuses to leave her fan on because she is afraid that the air circulation will cause her to die from lack of oxygen. Although she does not believe that will literally happen, she does acknowledge the supernatural world and believes “magical things could be at work and you never really know, so it’s best to be safe.” She was told from a young age that there is a chance that when one leaves the fan on, the carbon dioxide one exhales is trapped in the spinning of the fan. It is because of the accumulation of carbon dioxide Although this belief has never been scientifically proven, many people such as Elizabeth abide by this belief.
Background Information
My informant was my close friend Elizabeth Kim. She is a Korean undergraduate student, born and raised in California. Her father told her this story at an early age, and her father was told it by his parents. Although she suspects this story of simply being a way of them attempting to save electricity, she was extremely scared of not being able to breathe as a child. This childhood fear stuck with her until this present day.
Context
I first learned about Elizabeth’s hidden fear when I slept over at her house. It was extremely hot because it was during the summer, but luckily we had the fan on. When she turned it off as we were about to go to sleep I was confused as to how she could be possibly cold in this kind of heat. When I asked her to turn it back on she replied “no.” When I asked for an explanation she went on to explain the superstition and why she would rather simply just leave it off.
Personal Thoughts
When I first heard Elizabeth’s superstition I thought it would make a superb ghost story, but nothing more. At first I was upset because I was dying in the summer’s heat, but what could I do but abide by her rules. Looking back at it, I find it intriguing that a scientifically unsupported superstition such as that could have that much of an influence on my friend. For more superstitions having to do with fans and death, one can read: Why every Korean kid knows not to keep the fan on over night.
Works Cited
Lee, Kyung Jin. “Why Every Korean Kid Knows Not to Keep the Fan on over Night.” Public
Radio International. N.p., 4 Nov. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Signs

When Your Hands Make You Lose Money

The Main Piece
Look at your hand, making it as flat as possible with your fingers firmly touching one another. Do you see any holes or spaces between your fingers? Well, one can only hope not. According to my friend, Demie, any holes between the cracks of your fingers represent a great loss of money and income. For many Chinese people it is believed that money will fall through the slits of your hand, leaving you unable to catch it. She even remembers seeing portraits of men and women trying to catch their money, but it continuously falling back towards the ground. It served as a reminder to keep your hands tight and shut, especially when holding money. “My father always told me when I had cash in my hands to hold onto it tight, or it’ll fall through. But I think he also just didn’t want me to drop any of it on the ground.” This superstition reveals the Chinese belief in having one’s fate semi-predetermined.
Background Information
My informant is Demie Cuo, a current undergraduate student at USC and friend of my close friend, Elizabeth Kim. She has yet to meet someone that has holes between their fingers but has always figured “there has to be some people out there with them… what’s the point of making a belief that affects no one.” Demie recalls having her elementary school friends tell her this belief. “We were really into superstitions and beliefs like that. Especially one’s where we could figure out what our lives would be like in the future.”
Context
As we were studying together and she was procrastinating on her homework in the study lounge, she started staring at her hand and brought up this folk belief that she was told by her friends.
Personal Thoughts
I found this interesting to hear about having one’s wealth predetermined for them. It is easy to state that “the world’s against you,” but it is another thing to believe that it is because of body shapes, birthmarks, etc. that one’s life turned out the way that it did. The story was unique and interesting, I had heard of beliefs having to do with the markings on the palm of one’s hand, but never the cracks of their fingers.

Folk Beliefs
Game
Humor
Signs

Hands Mean Cancer?

The Main Piece
“If your hand is bigger than your face then it means you have cancer.” After hearing that one usually puts their hand in front of their face and the performer slaps the performee with their own hand.
Background Information
My informant is my roommate, Sarah Kwan. She is an undergraduate at USC and considers herself a hilarious person making people laugh at the jokes she tells. She enjoys telling this joke because she feels it is a “old-school classic.” She can recall when her own friend pulled the joke on her when she was in high school and has used it to prank others ever since. It was a good way for her to make groups of people laugh, although it did not work all the time. Because of its “classic”-ness many people had heard of it and did not find it amusing, however she continues to use it despite naysayers’ attitudes.
Context
This joke was performed in front of me and a couple other of my roommates. Unfortunately, many of my roommates did not particularly enjoy the joke, but it was an ice breaker as we half heartedly laughed at the joke. This may have occurred because of the fact that we were only a couple of weeks into the school year and did not know each other too well.
Personal Thoughts
I felt her attempt to break the ice with this joke had good intentions even if it did not work out the way she expected it to. It also revealed to me the usefulness of a joke and how these joke would get passed down from person to person, not necessarily being told by one another as stories are, but in the way that pranks are pulled on each other, thus creating a chain reaction of jokes or pranks.

Folk Beliefs

Splitting the Pair

The Main Piece
“I never gave another person shoes for any sort of present, then they’ll run away from you.” There is a common belief that by giving a person shoes it will later lead them to leave your life. Although this is simply a superstition, it has caused many people to second guess what kind of gift they want to give anyone who’s relationship they hold valuable. After all, it is a simple act to get the person another gift that could potentially save them from leaving your life.
Background Information
My informant is my roommate, Sarah Kwan, a current undergraduate student at USC. She had heard about this unspoken rule from her friends back in China. The word for pair in Chinese also means “the splitting of two,” this definition lead to the belief that if one was to give a person a “pair” of shoes, then it was as if they were splitting apart as well. She told me that at first she questioned this because people were technically giving the pair together, thereby not actually splitting the two, but as time went on she began to simply accept the superstition. “I didn’t want to chance anything, it wasn’t like the world was going to end if I never got my friends shoes. I could always get them something else.”
Context
My informant is Sarah Kwan, my roommate and personal friend. Sarah gave me this piece of advice as we were shopping for my friends present. I thought shoes would be a great idea to give my friend because this way he could use it every day. She was shocked to hear that I had never heard this superstition before and strongly recommended that I also not chance anything with my friends.
Personal Thoughts
I personally am not too superstitious, but I can understand why obeying such a simple task is accepted and performed. Friendship is highly valued, not monetarily, but on an emotional level so why would anyone want to put something like that at risk. I thought the shoe superstition sounded unnecessary at first, but I can see where it highlights values such as friendship.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Where’s the Four?

The Main Piece
The number four is an extremely unlucky number. Just as seven is said to be lucky, the number 4 is heeded with caution, especially in East Asia. In China it is common for buildings to skip making a button for the fourth floor button to be skipped and changed to five. The lore is that someone has either died on the floor, will die there, or a spirit will haunt it if marked with the number four. In most buildings, whether they are apartments or offices, one will not find the fourth floor. Although it does in fact exist, it is not a button in elevators because of superstitious reasons. Many workers find it better to keep on the safe side and preferably just skip the number.
Background Information
My informant is Demie Cuo, an undergraduate student at USC. This belief is common with many people of East Asian culture as they tend to associate words that sound similar with one another. The word for death sounds similar to the word for the number four. Therefore, they think of four as an unlucky number, bringing death to whatever it marks. Demie explained her shock when she came to the states and the fourth floor marking was present in elevators. It took her a while to get used to this oddity. Her parents would warn her of the number four, and even her friends knew about its superstition. She always felt best to abide by these warnings even though she was not truly scared of the number.
Context
I was told about this folk practice by my friend’s roommate, Demmie as we were going up in the elevator. We were discussing folklore previously and she was reminded of this practice as we were headed back to our rooms. She quickly discussed with me why the number four in elevators was extremely odd to her when she first came to the states.
Personal Thoughts
I found it extremely interesting to hear that a superstition has had that much power over a country. If anyone in America were to ever suggest something similar to that it would be quickly dismissed. This shows how much influence cultural beliefs have over the people all across East Asia and even various parts of the world. Although the superstition could be easily proven wrong with examples from any other country not abiding by the superstition, many companies and buildings still abide by this rule. It makes me wonder if there are any superstitions America abides by that go unnoticed simply because it is built into our own culture.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Magic
Protection

Don’t Write In Red

The Main Piece
In Korea it is commonly known that if you write someone’s name in red, then they will die. It does not have written in any particular way or on any particular object, but simply in red ink. The color represents the blood of the person as if one was smearing it across the canvass. She has heard several stories of incidents happening where a person has died coincidentally after their name was written in red. While the myth can not be proven to be true or not, these rumors ventilate throughout Korea, keeping people on edge and careful of what they write.
Background Information
My informant is Elizabeth Kim, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC, she is also a full and third generation Korean. She states that it is because of her almost annual trips to Korea that she has heard of these various rumors, stories, and superstitions. She tells me about how she enjoys hearing these stories just as she enjoys hearing a scary story. There is the possibility that it could be real which keeps her excited. She hears it from her friends that live in Korea and sometimes even cousins or aunts members at family gatherings.
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 as we discussed the folklore she knew of.
Personal Thoughts
Hearing this piece of folklore actually made me a little nervous at first. I can not count the amount of times I have written people’s names in red. In fact, I have written my own name in red hundreds of times. In elementary school teachers make you correct other students’ paperwork and write “Corrected By: ______.” However, this also makes me consider the fact that everyone dies at some point and one’s name is always being written down. So perhaps it only makes sense or perhaps just coincidence that one dies and their name is written in red.

Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Birthday Customs

The Main Piece
A person’s birthday is a special day. A day of celebration, where said person should feel unique and get treated differently than all others. In the Jones household they uphold this tradition, but in their own unique way. They have set a couple of rules that each member of the household must abide by. The birthday person is allowed to choose every meal that the family will eat for the day and are “chore free,” which is claimed to be the second best part of the privilege. The number one benefit is known as “room choosing.” The birthday person selects any room in the house the night before and is able to totally rearrange it or decorate it in whatever way they want all at their beckoning call. Thereby, they can move furniture around, add curtains or mattresses, anything their heart desires. This room represents their throne, their palace, a place of luxury for the special birthday person. This is all done in celebration of the birthday person and everything is organized by members of the family in a collaborative effort to appease the birthday person.
Background Information
My informant is Nile Jones, a current undergraduate and close friend of mine at USC. Nile’s family has been performing this tradition ever since her eldest brother, who is now twenty-one years old, was six years old (therefore fifteen years of tradition). The Jones family has come to love the tradition as it is performed for each child and adult. Niles’ mother came up with the idea when she saw that her son was crying over not getting enough attention on his birthday. To get him to stop crying she told him that the day would be especially dedicated for him, and he continued to expect it to be so ever since. To make things equal she continued the tradition with each child.
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
Everyone, including myself, shares the commonality of celebrating birthdays. However, it was refreshing to hear that not everyone celebrates birthdays the same, drab way. The Jones family had their own take on what a birthday should entitle and expressed it through the traditions they practiced. I have learned that a family’s beliefs and ideals are often portrayed through the traditions that they practice.

general
Material

The Horse Statue

The Main Piece
Folk objects have been symbols for memories, past loved ones, and important places one has been to for ages. Their value is decided not monetarily, but by the owner. For instance, the porcelain horse statue Demie owns is not worth a lot monetarily, but because of its age and its passage through generations of family members, she finds it to be irreplaceable. To be more precise, the horse is a representation of her great, great, grandfather. Her family keeps it in the living room as a reminder of their ancestry and where they came from.
Background Information
My informant is Demie Cuo, a current undergraduate student at USC and friend of my close friend, Elizabeth Kim. The statue was brought to the states from China, it being one of the few possessions he owned. She is unsure why he brought the statue of all things, but it obviously meant a lot to him. Therefore, Demie cherishes it just as he cherishes it in respect for her great, great, grandfather. Her mother told her about the horse since it stems from her side of the family. Demie enjoys having the horse there because it makes her feel connected to her culture and ancestors even if she did not have the opportunity to meet them. She would also hope to pass down a folk object that would preserve her existence.
Context
She, Elizabeth, and I were relaxing in my dormitory sharing stories of our life back home. She casually brought up that if we were to ever visit her, that we would see this odd statue in living room. She began to explain the significance of it and why it was there.
Personal Thoughts
The idea of preserving my existence truly intrigues me. I had no idea that a folk object could mean that much or do so much for a family. It brings to light what small actions such as keeping a horse statue can do. I found it interesting the she placed value in the horse simply because it meant so much to her great great grandfather, even though she had never met him. It is obvious that ancestry and culture mean a lot to Demie and her family.

Material

Naruto Manga

The Main Piece
Manga has become an extremely important part in Japanese culture, creating a huge fan base which people of all ages, races, and genders enjoy. Certain mangas have become so rare that they are collectible and highly valued. Although the Naruto manga Sara’s family holds is not exactly “worth a million dollars,” it holds great value to her father. Being a fan of the manga since childhood, her grandfather greatly looked up to the manga’s protagonist. Since this was the first manga that he ever bought, it reminded him of his youth, “a time where he could just leave the real world and go off on his own and imagine anything he wanted.” He later passed it on to Sara’s father who intends on passing it down to his son.
Background Information
My informant is my roommate, Sarah Kwan. She is an undergraduate at USC and is considerably close with both her father and her grandfather. Her grandfather would often tell her stories of his past, one of them of him buying his first manga. He was so excited to have a legitimate manga, not any nock off American comic book, but the “real thing.” She says “I can still remember him telling me about it because he would tell me the story one hundred times. He’s so proud of it, he swears that it’s worth at least a couple of hundred dollars.” It is because of this belief that her father plans on passing it down to his son, that it holds value and that he can be of some use to him if he ever needs the money in the future. However, her grandfather passed it down to her father in hopes that her father would have the same appreciation for it that he did.
Context
Sarah told me this story as we were in our room together watching television and a Naruto commercial came on. She was reminded of her grandfather and father and felt the need to share her story with me.
Personal Thoughts
I felt that it was interesting to hear that the two generations of Kwan’s had different reasons for passing down the Naruto manga. It reveals that different generations have different motives for preserving certain folk object, which is not necessarily an idea to be looked down upon, simply that the way generations think is changing. Also, it is important to note that when the subject of Naruto is brought up, Sarah thinks of her grandfather and father. Thus, revealing the impact a folk object can have on not just its owners, but those that have seen the passage as well.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Material

The Banba Doll

The Main Piece
The Banba Doll, the name the Tan family has given it, is said to have the power to “affect the way your day will go. It has seven sides, one for every day of the week and you’re supposed to change its side every day.” This folk practice and object has been performed and passed down for generations. If one forgets to turn the Banma Doll, then the “Banma Doll will forget to give you your blessings.” It is also a metaphor for being sure one has all their belongings and double checking one has done everything necessary before leaving the house. Since the person was so forgetful, repercussions will come. The object has different Chinese characters on each side, each representing one day of the week. Rachel went on to state the importance of turning it over on the right day. “I’m not exactly sure why we had to turn it over on the right day, my grandmother never explained that part to us, but I remember her specifically saying that if we didn’t turn it over on the right day, then we might as well have not turned it over at all.” This action represents the idea that if one is going to do something, then they should do it right.” This is both a folk object and practice as it has been passed down from generation to generation and is a practice done daily.
Background Information
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current undergraduate student at USC. Although she has left it in her home in Singapore while she is away at college, whenever she returns home she is sure to turn the doll over. She says it has become common practice for her ever since her mom gave it to her. “I’m not sure where it all started, I just know it’s been in my family for what seems like forever and no one can seem to get rid of it.”
Context
We were discussing traveling over the summer and she brought up the fact that in her room there is the Banba Doll. I had no idea what that was so she continued to tell me more about it and the significance it held in her family.
Personal Thoughts
I found it odd for families to uphold such tedious practices with a background they were unknowledgeable on. It shows the power folk objects such as the Banba Doll can have on people. I personally would not partake in this practice, but perhaps it is because of its age and ancestry that the practice continues and I am simply unable to relate.

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