Author Archive
general
Humor
Kinesthetic

Watermelon Tai Chi

Daniel is an immigrant from Hong Kong who immigrated to the United States in search of better opportunities and a better life for both him and his family. Living in a poor family with seven other siblings, he immediately went to work as a police officer after receiving his high school diploma in Hong Kong. Once he moved to Los Angeles, he worked as a computer technician, and subsequently, changed his career to a funeral counselor.

Original Script

I don’t know whether it’s true or a joke—I believe it’s a joke. For a tai chi master, he had a hard time to teach his disciple how to do the beginning steps of a sort of tai chi kung fu. Right now, I will illustrate in English:

One big watermelon. I cut it into two halves. This half I give to you, you don’t want it, I take it back. And the other half I give to you, you don’t want it too, I take it back.

And those are the steps of the beginning.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant heard about this tale from his friends during passing period in high school. His friends were taking tai chi at the time and demonstrated the moves of the watermelon tai chi to him. He believes the story is a joke, rather than the truth, because both the moves and the chant are humorous.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant at his house.

Tai chi is an internal form of Chinese martial arts used for its health benefits and defense training. Several styles of tai chi have developed over time; the five most common ones today are the Chen, Sun, Woo, Wu, and Yang styles. There are a few who believe that the watermelon tai chi was created because both tai chi and watermelons promote similar properties, such as improved blood circulation.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I first learned of this watermelon tai chi in my high school Chinese class. The teacher taught our class the moves and the chant; however, she did not mention that this form of tai chi was a joke, like the informant. When I performed the watermelon tai chi alongside the informant, I found the movements quite calming, but saying the chant in Cantonese was very amusing.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Shadow in the Burial Pot

Daniel is an immigrant from Hong Kong who immigrated to the United States in search of better opportunities and a better life for both him and his family. Living in a poor family with seven other siblings, he immediately went to work as a police officer after receiving his high school diploma in Hong Kong. Once he moved to Los Angeles, he worked as a computer technician, and subsequently, changed his career to a funeral counselor.

Original Script

This is our Chinese Asian tradition. When we do the funeral service in the cemetery, we will try to keep our shadow away from the burial pot. We believe that if our shadow fell into the pot, our soul will be buried together, which will cause us bad luck and illness.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant heard of this superstition from a Taoist priest during a funeral service. During one particular funeral service, his shadow was about to be caught in a burial pot before the priest pulled him away and explained this superstition to him.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant at his house.

There is the belief that the shadow is the manifestation of the soul; it is commonly associated with life and death. Among many cultures around the world, chaos and darkness were believed to be the beginnings of the cosmos. Thus, people came to believe that the shadow, as a reflection of darkness, possesses life within itself. In addition, one’s shadow imitates one’s actions; it seems to emulate life, leading to the assumption that shadows are living beings. From this belief, the Chinese superstition—a person’s shadow caught in a burial pot will invite bad luck and sickness—was born.

My Thoughts about the Performance

There are many superstitions revolving around death and funerals. According to some cultures, one’s shadow is an essential part of one’s humanity, identity, or soul. Losing it would incur bad luck or even death on the person. I find it interesting how the superstition told by the informant leads to the loss of a person’s soul. I expected the consequence of a person’s shadow entering the burial pot to be the person being haunted by the deceased, because this is one of the most common penalties involving the dead.  

Legends
Narrative

Qu Yuan

Sophie is an international student from Taiwan. She is pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. She hopes to find a career in computer security and plans to stay in the United States, specifically Los Angeles, to work. She enjoys watching anime and learning; from USC-sponsored workshops, she has learned how to code and create chat bots.

Original Script

So, in ancient Chinese times, there’s this poet whose name is Qū Yuán. And he wrote these really great poems and he’s also this really successful government official but then the emperor died. The new emperor doesn’t like him, so the emperor banished Qū Yuán. And then he got to this river and he was really sad and he just wrote his last poem and then jumped into the river and died. But the people around that area were really sad because he was this really good government official and then they just threw all this zòngzi, which means “rice dumplings,” and threw them into the river so that the fish would just eat the rice dumplings and not Qū Yuán’s body so he doesn’t get eaten. So yeah, and uh, Duān Wǔ Jié, which is Mid-Summer Festival, we eat rice dumplings to remember this great poet.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant hears this story every time she attends the Dragon Boat Festival near the summer solstice. At the festival, people re-enact the tragic life of the poet and minister, Qū Yuán, up to his death. It is a folk legend that the informant grew up hearing as a child, and it holds heavy historical importance to her.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

Qū Yuán is a famed and respected Chinese poet and minister from the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty. Known for his contributions to classical poetry and verses, he served as a role model for scholars and officials during the Han Dynasty; the public admired him for staying true to his principles unto death. In certain regions of China and Taiwan, people commemorate the death of Qū Yuán in the Dragon Boat Festival. They believed that the locals rowed through the Miluo River on dragon boats to retrieve Qū Yuán and tossed zòngzi, or balls of sticky rice, into the river to save the poet’s body from being consumed by the fish.

My Thoughts about the Performance

While I have read about Qū Yuán in history books, I did not realize his legend was also considered the origins of dragon boat races and zòngzi. It was fascinating to hear about this famed historical figure, who is still celebrated today, and the legacy he left behind. I also find it interesting that he is commemorated only in certain parts of China during the Dragon Boat Festival. In other parts of China, such as southeast Jiangsu, people celebrate Wǔ Zǐxū at the festival; in northeastern Zhejiang, they celebrate Cao E.

Legends
Narrative

Zhong Kui

Sophie is an international student from Taiwan. She is pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. She hopes to find a career in computer security and plans to stay in the United States, specifically Los Angeles, to work. She enjoys watching anime and learning; from USC-sponsored workshops, she has learned how to code and create chatbots.

Original Script

There’s this guy in ancient China in Tang Dynasty. Actually, um, he’s a really smart guy and he went through this test to be a government official, and at that time, the test was taken in pen. So, um, they don’t know how the guy look like when he takes the test, and then the person grading test assigned the guy to be in first place. And then he went to the emperor and the emperor saw him and the emperor thought the guy was so ugly. He couldn’t be a government official because he was so ugly. And then the guy was really sad because he was so smart, but because he’s too ugly, he got rejected to be a government official so he killed himself in front of the emperor. And then the emperor felt sad too because he killed a guy by calling him ugly. So, the emperor put the guy’s face and everything on chūnlián, which is the red paper we put in front of temples and houses in New Year’s, so the guy could scare off bad spirits with his ugly face.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant read about this legend from a book when she was small. She remembered the story of Zhōng Kuí because she found it very amusing. Both the emperor’s reaction to Zhōng Kuí’s suicide and the fact that the man’s hideous appearance was the cause for the tragic end to his life were so ridiculous to her that it was funny.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

Zhōng Kuí is a legendary figure in Chinese mythology. He is widely regarded as a vanquisher of evil who commands a force of 80,000 demons. His image is often publicly displayed on household entrances for protection, due to his disfigured appearance and fearsome reputation.

My Thoughts about the Performance

Although I knew about the legend of Zhōng Kuí, I was surprised to hear from the informant that many Taiwanese people place Zhōng Kuí’s face on red paper to repel evil spirits on Chinese New Year’s. In contrast, most Chinese attach ménshén, or door gods, to entrances to protect themselves from evil. However, both countries plaster chūnlián on walls for luck and protection on New Year’s. Even though China and Taiwan share some similarities, I find the many cultural disparities or variations between the two very interesting.

Customs
Festival
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tsatsapipianu (Grain Harvest Festival)

Sophie is an international student from Taiwan. She is pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. She hopes to find a career in computer security and plans to stay in the United States, specifically Los Angeles, to work. She enjoys watching anime and learning; from USC-sponsored workshops, she has learned how to code and create chatbots.

Original Script

So, in Taiwan in this Aborigine tribe, we have this—no, not we—the Aborigines have this tradition that, uh, they create this giant swing. And then, um, so the princesses will be princess-carried into the swing. And then a guy will swing her up into the air and the higher she swings, it means the more possible she’s going to get married. And when she goes down the swing, a guy has to carry her and go around the swing for one round so her feet doesn’t touch the ground before going around the swing.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

One of the informant’s friends belongs to the Rukai tribe of Taiwan. In high school, the informant attended the Tsatsapipianu, or the Grain Harvest Festival, with her friend. She witnessed the Rukai perform this tradition around a large swing, called talaisi, and found the practice romantic.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

One of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples, the Rukai, view swings as representations of love, similar to that of a red rose. During the Rukai’s Grain Harvest Festival, a giant swing is used to present an opportunity for young single people to get to know one another. Due to its size, the talaisi requires two men to operate the swing, allowing the young maiden sitting on the swing to meet the men who wish to court her. Swings, known in the Rukai’s language as tiyuma, function as an effective method of communication for romance and possible marriage.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I thought this tradition of the Rukai is quite romantic. Marriage is a holy ceremony found in most, if not all, cultures around the world. It is a symbolic representation of commitment that binds two partners together as a family. In the culture of the Rukai people, this universal rite is seen as a time for friends and relatives from both partners’ families to unite as one large, extended family. Therefore, the talaisi, as a representation of romance, is surrounded by the village chief and all members of the tribe, who observe young men push the woman they wish to court on the swing. I admire how this practice does not involve merely two people; it encompasses everyone and brings them together as a community.

Customs
Gestures
Kinesthetic

Mano Po and Beso

Pauline is an international student from the Philippines. She is studying Chemical Engineering in the United States, and she plans to return to the Philippines once she graduates and receives her B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Her hobbies are watching anime, eating delicious food, and taking naps.

Original Script

One of the customs in the Philippines is this thing called mano po, which is basically like when you see like one of your older relatives like an aunt or grandparent or anyone who is basically older than you, you have to grab their hand and then you like place it on their forehead and then you say, “Mano po.” And that’s like the way of greeting people, like greeting of the elders, but people don’t really do it anymore in the city. I only do it when I visit my relatives in the province. So instead, like in the city, we just do this thing called beso, where you basically just put your cheek on someone else’s like, “Mwah, beso, hi.”

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant’s parents taught her this greeting when she was young. During visits to her elders, she would have to perform mano po. However, this greeting became less prevalent in her life as she grew older. Now, she only has to perform mano po for her older relatives in rural areas; in cities, she does beso.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

In the Philippines, mano po is a gesture performed as either a sign of respect to an elder or an acceptance of one’s blessings from the elder. In Filipino culture, the youth are expected to respect and value their elders for their wisdom and experience accumulated over the years. By offering one’s hand to an elder, one is demonstrating subservience to the elder and welcoming his or her blessings and knowledge. While mano po is still widely used in the Philippines, many Filipinos have replaced this gesture with beso. Not restricted to just older people, it has become a more common greeting between close friends and relatives in the Philippines.

My Thoughts about the Performance

Learning about the Filipino gestures, mano po and beso, reminded me of the various greetings I have practiced or observed from other cultures. Coming from a Cantonese background, I have been raised to respect my elders and obey whatever they say. Compared to the United States, which possesses a future-oriented culture, many East Asian countries seem to have a past-oriented culture, holding elders in high esteem. The beso reminded me of the cheek kissing gesture practiced by the French. Both nations perform this action in social functions to indicate friendship or respect.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Pagpag

Pauline is an international student from the Philippines. She is studying Chemical Engineering in the United States, and she plans to return to the Philippines once she graduates and receives her B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Her hobbies are watching anime, eating delicious food, and taking naps.

Original Script

In the Philippines, there’s this superstition that like every time you go to a wake or a funeral you’re not supposed to go straight home. You’re supposed to do this thing called pagpag, which is basically like after the wake or the funeral, like you go anywhere else that isn’t your home so like people usually like go to the mall, they don’t do anything, they just go in and walk out and then they go back home. Because that way you’re kinda like removing all of the bad energy and stopping the spirits from following you home. Because we believe like if you go straight home you’re going to bring all that bad energy with you. And the word pagpag basically means like for example if you have like a carpet and you want to remove all of the dust and hair you kind of flap it like that and all of the dust comes off and so that’s kind of like when you go into the place you’re kind of making pagpag all the bad energy from yourself.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant and her family are less traditional and do not perform pagpag after funerals. However, when the informant attends wakes or funerals with her more traditional Filipino friends, they make her perform pagpag with them. They usually go to a mall or a park for a while before returning to their homes

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

Pagpag is a term that means “to shake off the dust or dirt” in Tagalog. Filipinos have used the term to refer to the superstition that one cannot head directly back to one’s home after attending a funeral until one has performed pagpag. This ancient practice has been preserved by Filipinos in fear of the possibility of the dead’s soul following the visitor home after the wake.

My Thoughts about the Performance

There are many superstitions about funerals or wakes that involve one being haunted by the deceased. I find it interesting that many of my Filipino friends still practice pagpag with their families after funerals. They reason that these superstitious beliefs are merely guidelines to prevent any consequences; they lose nothing for following them. In other words, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Adulthood
Customs
general
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Bayanihan Spirit

Pauline is an international student from the Philippines. She is studying Chemical Engineering in the United States, and she plans to return to the Philippines once she graduates and receives her B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Her hobbies are watching anime, eating delicious food, and taking naps.

Original Script

So there’s this custom from the olden times in the Philippines that’s called Bayanihan. So before like people used to live in like really small bamboo huts and when like people wanted to move because maybe like the ground is not fertile anymore and they wanted to go to another place like near the shore or something. Like instead of just leaving their home and building a new one, it’s like actually portable—there’s sticks at the bottom—and then like you can like carry your house and then just move it. So the concept of Bayanihan is all your neighbors are like going to help you carry the house.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant learned about the Bayanihan spirit in elementary school. Her teacher wished to teach this value to her students because it is an integral part of Filipino culture and possesses heavy historical importance.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

The Bayanihan is a Filipino custom that refers to the spirit of communal unity, collaborating and working together to achieve a particular goal. “Bayan” means “community, nation, or town,” while bayanihan means “being in a bayan.” This concept can be traced back to the tradition of rural areas in the Philippines, where the town’s people would lend a hand to a family who is relocating. The Bayanihan spirit demonstrates the Filipino value of helping one another, especially in times of need, without expecting anything in return.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I really admire this quality valued by the Filipinos. When I visited the Philippines with my family a few years ago, I noticed that the Bayanihan spirit is still very much alive. While I was in the rural areas, the locals went out of their way to welcome and help my family and me. I also saw a group of Filipino men help a family move their house to another location.

general
Myths
Narrative

Aswang

Pauline is an international student from the Philippines. She is studying Chemical Engineering in the United States, and she plans to return to the Philippines once she graduates and receives her B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Her hobbies are watching anime, eating delicious food, and taking naps.

Original Script

Alright, so there’s this creature in Philippine culture. It’s called the Aswang, so it’s basically like the Filipino version of a vampire. So like it’s a shapeshifter like during the day it’s a normal human and it can talk to other people and you can’t tell it’s an Aswang, but then at night it transforms into this really ugly monster. And then, what it likes to do is like it likes to look for pregnant women and then it like sucks out the fetus and eats it. That’s what its food is. And then it also likes to eat little kids. And it likes to eat like their livers and their hearts. So yeah, so that’s the Aswang and they make this really ugly sound like, “Eahhh.” And then it like tries to delude you so like the louder the noise is the farther away the aswang is. So like when it’s really near you, you can’t hear anything so you can’t tell that it’s there. And basically, to lure it away, you need to hang like garlic on your door like for the vampire. Or like you put like salt or something on your door.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

She heard about this creature from her parents when she was small. They tried to get her to sleep by warning her that the Aswang would kidnap and eat her if she does not.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

The Aswang, a carnivorous, shapeshifting monster in Filipino folklore, is the most feared amongst the mythological creatures of the Philippines. Especially popular in the southern areas of Luzon, areas of Mindanao, and the Visayas, the Aswang has gained regional names, such as “bayot,” “kling-kling,” and “tik-tik.” This creature has endured centuries, told by mothers to their children as warnings to avoid walking the streets at night. The Aswang had also been used to explain events relating to grave robberies, child kidnappings, and other bizarre incidents.

My Thoughts about the Performance

Hearing about this myth reminded me of the stories I heard about the Bogeyman. Both creatures, amongst the many others in various cultures, are used by adults to frighten children into exhibiting good behavior. Parents would tell their children that if they misbehave, a certain monster would take them. It seems that these Aswang variants are universal, common to the folklore of several countries.

Customs
Holidays
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year’s Monster

Daniel is an immigrant from Hong Kong who immigrated to the United States in search of better opportunities and a better life for both him and his family. Living in a poor family with seven other siblings, he immediately went to work as a police officer after receiving his high school diploma in Hong Kong. Once he moved to Los Angeles, he worked as a computer technician, and subsequently, changed his career to a funeral counselor.

Original Script

This legend is talking about the New Year’s Eve. A lot of Chinese, they like to light the firecracker during the New Year’s Eve because they believe, actually the legend said that there will be a monster coming out during that time. They light the firecracker in order to scare away the monster. I think that this tradition is still used in most of China.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant performed this tradition with his parents and relatives ever since he could remember as a child. He continues this practice with his wife and children every year on Chinese New Year’s. Neither him or his family believe in the existence of the monster, but they continue this Chinese custom because it is an enjoyable opportunity to bond as a family. His children enjoy this custom especially, because they can run around freely, lighting firecrackers and making a lot of noise.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant at his house.

According to Chinese mythology, the Nián, whose name means “year,” is a beast that would appear every New Year’s Eve to consume humans and animals alike. However, an old man from Peach Blossom Village eventually discovered that the monster had three main weaknesses: the color red, loud noises, and firelight. Many New Year traditions, such as the firecrackers and the Chinese Lion dance, have originated from the legend of the Nián.

My Thoughts about the Performance

In many cultures, people generate a lot of noise and light during festivals, believing that the sounds and brightness would scare away evil spirits. When I was small, I never wondered about the reason why the Chinese let off firecrackers on Chinese New Year; I merely thought it was for fun. After learning about this legend, I found it fascinating how the Chinese came up with a tool possessing three different features to combat the mythological creature on Chinese New Year. This tool—the firecracker—utilizes the color red, bright firelight, and loud blasts to scare off the Nián.

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