Author Archives: Ankita Mukherji

King’s Cup

Background Information: I came across the game King’s Cup at a party, and was immediately intrigued by how elaborate it was. I also noticed that different people were talking about different ways they had played it before, in different places or states, and this caught my attention. I interviewed Jack Runburg and Kevin Litman-Navarro, who are two college seniors. Jack learned to play the game during high school in Utah, where he grew up, while Kevin came across it at the beginning of college.

K: The game Kings cup is a game of skill and a game of luck… It requires a deck of cards, a group of people between four and eight, uh, a large… receptacle, in the middle of the table – a chalice, a goblet, whatever you’d like, and a beer for, uh, for each player. The game is played by fanning out the deck of cards around your goblets… your grail, if you’re into that… and they take turns pulling cards, and each card has a different rule assigned to it. So it’s like a bunch of mini-games within the larger game of King’s Cup

A: It has to be a beer?

K: It typically, if you wanna play the game properly, everyone has to be drinking the same thing, because at different points of the game you’re going to be pouring your drink into the large cup in the center, and drinking it all at the end.

A: Is it different playing it in high school and here? Since you’re from Utah, Jack?

J: Yeah generally like the first ten minutes of playing the game is trying to like, rectify, different people’s sets of rules, and choosing which ones to obey for that particular game.

A: Do you have any examples?

K: Jack, what was your typical rule for Queen?

J: Ok so, in high school I played Queen as Question Master, it’s different from the usual Question Master – it’s if, someone doesn’t speak in questions, meaning that if someone asks you a question and you don’t respond with a question, you lose.

K: Conversely in my version of Queen, it’s called Queen Mean, so when you pull Queen, everyone insults you.

A: Do you guys like the game?

J: It’s not really like a big party game, more of like a kickback… You need a small group, fewer than eight people… It’s fun because it’s dynamic, and not really repetitive.

A: Have you ever heard any stories or anything about where the game might have come from or something?

J: I have a sister who is ten years older than me, and I know that… well she grew up in San Diego and I grew up in Utah, and when I became of the age where I started to drink, she asked me, like ‘Oh, do you guys play King’s Cup?’ And I said yeah we do, and she said ‘What are your rules?’ And the only rules we differed on were Jacks and Aces, so it was cool that someone in like a completely different geographical area who was ten years older than me had like the same rules… I think it’s just been around for like really long.

Thoughts: I am very interested in how the game seems to transcend boundaries of both space and time within the US. Drinking games seem to serve an important function at parties, especially at college, where many might be seeing new faces or attempting to meet new friends. In these situations, games serve as a means of breaking the ice. King’s Cup adds another layer of complexity because of the variations, similar to the idea of oikotypes that we learned about in class – a piece of folklore having multiple regional and cultural variations. Playing King’s Cup perhaps adds a stimulus for conversation as well, as players discuss where they are from, and how or why their versions of the game might be different.


Background Information: I noticed that there were commonalities between swear-words or phrases in different languages. In particular, vulgarities related to mothers and sex seemed to transcend linguistic barriers. I interviewed Tanuj Gupta about the word, “maaderchod”, which means “motherfucker”, in Hindi. Tanuj grew up in Lucknow, India, and came to USC for his graduate degree, and speaks primarily Hindi and English. He first heard and began using the word at school, in the fifth grade.

Original script: मादरचोद

Phonetic script: Maaderchoad

Transliteration: Mother-fuck

Full translation: Motherfucker

Thoughts: I find it interesting how vulgarities like this one have evolved to become a part of individuals’ everyday speech and vernacular. Tanuj uses the word frequently when he is speaking Hindi with his friends, as an expression of frustration, amazement, or just for general emphasis. As Tanuj said, he learned the word in school as a child, and has continued to use it frequently. I find it interesting that vulgarities like this one are used in specific domains. It is learned and used among friends and equals, rather than with superiors, as it seems to express a level of comfort and familiarity within the group it is used in. It would also be interesting to analyze the seemingly cross-cultural taboo of associating “mothers” with sex.     

Grandmother’s Superstitions

Background Information: Elyse is a Junior at college, and she grew up in San Francisco, CA. Her grandmother is Chinese, and has lived in the United States from her 20s or 30s, according to Elyse. I interviewed Elyse about some of the superstitions her grandmother has.

Elyse: So, my grandma tells me this thing like, every time I go around to see her, what she does is she asks me to put my fingers together, kind of like a paddle, and then, you hold it up to the light, and if you have a lot of light coming through it, like a lot of holes in your fingers, it means that you lose money fast. And if your fingers are really tight-knit, it means you save money. So like, I have some little cracks, so that means that some of my money is going to leave through those.

Ankita: And she does this every time you see her?

Elyse: She’s like, can I see your hands, because she likes to read my palms every time I visit her, so she’ll be like, “oh, good hands”, and then she’ll tell me to put my hands together to check this one.

Ankita: Does she do this for everyone she meets?

Elyse: Sort of, she doesn’t do it for everyone, just like family or whatever. Like, it’s definitely not an actual science, and she’s not a palmist or anything either, but yeah…

Thoughts: It seems, from talking to Elyse, that her grandmother has many such superstitions that guide her everyday life. Many seem to be related to luck, prosperity and wealth, and these seem to be important to hold on to in Chinese culture. It is also interesting that her grandmother chooses to read the palms of her family and ensure that they are living by these superstitions as well, perhaps as a way of showing her care and concern for them.

Family steamboat

Background Information: Amanda is a Chinese Singaporean in her 2nd year of college, and she and her family grew up in Singapore. Her family, for various reasons, and as a result do not spend as much time with each other as in the past. As such, eating together — and cooking steamboat together, in particular, serves as an important ritual. I interviewed Amanda about this ritual.

Amanda: Once in a while my grandma will get all of us together and cook steamboat, which is basically cooking soup with a ton of ingredients like prawns and leafy vegetables and all that good stuff in the middle of the table on a tabletop stove, so it was a very involved process because we all had to sit there and wait for the soup to boil and then dish out our own meals, and steamboat dinners end up taking maybe 2, slightly more than 2 hours because we’re all talking while eating. We don’t do them very often, but it’s definitely become a special thing now where if I head home to Singapore after a long time, we’ll probably kind of celebrate it or commemorate it with a steamboat dinner, and it’d be a big thing if I invited someone, like a really good friend, to join us. I don’t even know how it really started, or when, because my grandma just did it one day as a very informal thing when before, we really only had steamboats anytime extended family came over, so like for Chinese New Year or a birthday or something like that, but yeah I like that it’s become an ‘our-family’ sort of thing, like the way we like to set everything up, arrange the table, what we talk about over our food, how our conversation topics transition, and how we’ll always end up sitting at the table at least half an hour after all the food’s gone, and usually it ends up being my dad occupied by the TV so he’ll be at the sofa, and it would be one of the few times my mum’s in a joking kind of mood, so the rest of us will just talk to her and share gossip from our lives and stuff.   

Thoughts: Again, it is very interesting to me how food traditions have many important social functions. Here, not only is the mere act of eating steamboat important, but also the performance of sitting together at a table and cooking it before eating it. This act is a means of bonding for Amanda’s family. Not only that, but it also seems to function as a sort of rite of passage for whoever Amanda invites to join her family It began with her grandmother, and seeing as it holds value for Amanda, it is a tradition that will be continued.


Background Information: Sharif is a Junior at college, and he grew up in California. He uses marijuana regularly, and I interviewed him about the supposed “weed day”—April 20th, and how he celebrates it.

Ankita: Have you always celebrated 4/20?

Sharif: Yeah, I usually like, since the 11th grade, when I like, tried marijuana for the first time, uh, I’ve been celebrating it, but I think it’s more of like uh… I think it’s just an excuse to be around like, your social group or your friends, and to share experiences with them and things like that. Yeah. It’s kind of like… it’s never really a fun day? Like, you just get high and sit there, you don’t do much hahaha, but like… I think that like… I dunno, I think this like self-proclaimed holiday is pretty fun.  Because like it’s like, for the people that do celebrate it, it’s like this common knowledge… it’s like this thing you share with the other people whoa re celebrating it. It’s like celebrating being lazy, which is kind of fun.

A: It’s kind of like a low-key thing, right? I’ve mostly seen it as internet culture?

S: Well I think it’s been around… for a long time. Like from the 60s maybe. Maybe. I’m not sure. I know there’s something called like, 7/10… Like July 10th is when like, people who like to smoke like concentrates? So basically like hash or something like that, they do it on 7/10, because backward, 7/10 means oil. And oil is what they call those things.

A: Most people I talk to though, have told me that they celebrate 4/20 kind of ironically? Like not really as a serious thing. Is that true for you as well, or no?

S: Well to be honest with you, at least with my friend group, it’s a pretty serious thing. I mean… well like, the years that I’ve spent it with my friends that I grew up with, they… take it seriously in the way where it’s like, they’ll buy like, massive amounts of weed and like do things where like, on one hand you’re trying to be cautious and not be smoking everyday and stuff, but that day is a day to just splurge on it? And do things that are kind of ridiculous, like rolling a huge joint that’s like the size of your arm or something. It’s the day to like, do the dumbest thing you can and like, spend money on it. Also now that it’s more accepted, most places where you can buy medical marijuana, have extreme like, deals on that day. So I remember like a week ago, I bought… they just had like, $20 for an eighth of an ounce of weed, which is like half off, because usually it’d be like $40. It’s kind of like the Black Friday of buying weed. There’s literally like, lines outside of the places where you go.

A: Is it different celebrating it now that you’re not really with the friends you started smoking with? Like your high school friends?

S: Um, well… it definitely was more fun when you’re in high school. Like this year I didn’t smoke weed until like, 11pm? Because I had to work all day. But when I was younger, I remember specifically like, one 4/20, we—it was literally from like, 10am till the night time that we like woke up, and started, and were like very very high. I mean it’s really great. Like, I can’t really stop smoking weed… because I have some like, really amazing relationships that wouldn’t be as amazing without it.

Thoughts: The most interesting thing to me about this special day is how it seems to be common knowledge, especially among college students, without it having been officialized in any way. Most of the content about 4/20 is derived from internet culture, mostly consisting of memes and jokes. While smoking weed is an everyday activity, it is interesting how the community here as a whole, in an underground way, dedicates one day to glorifiying it, and doing things they would not normally do.


Background Information: Jay is a Filipino American, and he grew up in USA. I interviewed him about a story named ‘The Swan’, which he heard when he was visiting family in the Philippines.

Jay: It’s a story in the Philippines called “The Swan”, and uh, it’s a witch that lives in the jungle. And at night, she leans up against a tree, and the upper half of her body separates, and she flies around, and the witch lands on rooftops. She has this really long tongue, and it goes through the, like the thatched roof? And she looks for pregnant women, and then she uh, the tongue kind of like, sucks the baby out of the womb. And uh, then she flies away and in the morning-time she reattaches to her body, and she’s back to normal.

Ankita: So, where’d you hear this story?

Jay: In the Philippines, like from cousins… younger cousins. I’m not really sure like, who this story is meant for, or who it’s meant to be a lesson for… But yeah I don’t really tell it to my kids or anything. I think it’s just meant to be scary.

Thoughts: This story is reminiscent of the La Llorona story that we discussed in class, where La Llorona would walk about during the night, stealing children to replaec her own dead child. It is interesting how Jay is unable to trace where exactly he heard the story, or where it might have come from. I also wonder if Jay’s experience and relationship with this tale would be different from his family actually living and growing up in the Philippines.


Background Information: Julia Haft-Candell is a professor at USC, and she grew up in Oakland. Her family gets together every year to celebrate Passover, a Jewish occassion where people commemorate their liberation from slavery under the Egyptian people. I interviewed Julia about the origins of the day, as well as what her family does to celebrate it.

Julia: So, the Jews were slaves in Egypt, and… gosh, this is really hard, haha.

Ankita: Just like, whatever you remember about it is good.

Julia: So…the pharaoh… Like, the evil pharaoh. Not all the pharaohs were evil, but this one was, and he was worried about, I think kinda like, about the Jewish uprising, and the potential of Jewish men to like, overthrow their masters? So he ordered all Jewish sons born to be killed. And, a woman had a son, and couldn’t bring herself to do that, so she put him in a basket in the water, and flaoted him down the river, and the evil pharaoh’s like, daughter, or sister or something, found him, and raised him as a Prince of Egypt, even though he was Jewish. And, at some point like… and this is Moses, like this is the origin story of Moses… and at some point God said to him like, you are a chosen Jewish person, and he was like ‘woah’, and then like, God said like, you are gonna lead the Jews out of slavery, and I’m gonna show you how. And because he was in with the evil pharaoh and one of the Egyptians, basically, he was able to just like, talk to him and say like, ‘you should let us go because God is gonna get mad…’ and the pharaoh kept saying like, ‘ok I’ll let you go’, but then changing his mind… And then, eventually, God did the plagues? Like, the 10 plagues? So he ordered these plagues against the Egyptians as like a punishment for holding the Jews as slaves, so there are all these plagues like locusts, and blood… and all the cows died… and, I dunno, there were all these terrible afflictions. So the final plague was death of the first born? For Egyptians. So God told the Jews to rub lamb’s blood around their door, the night that the Angel of Death was gonna get the first borns and kill them… so the… Angel of Death ‘passed over’ the Jewish families, because they knew to put the lamb’s blood on the door. So that’s where the name comes from. And that’s when the pharaoh was finally like, ‘okay fine go’, because his son died… And then so, they gathered, like they had no time, so they just gathered everything, all their  belongings real quick, and left, like they didn’t even have time for the bread that they were baking to rise, so that’s what matzo is, this like, unleavened flat bread that we eat on Passover. And, um, Moses’ people, the Jewish people, went across the desert, and got to the Red Sea, and they were like, ‘oh crap, the sea’, and Moses was like, ‘don’t worry I got it’, and he parted it, and they all went through, and by then the pharaoh had changed his mind and sent soldiers, and they were chasing them, but when they were in the middle of the sea then the sea went back together and all the soldiers drowned, and so on… So that whole time is commemorated as Passover.

Ankita: So what do you guys do to celebrate it?

Julia: Okay so, you have a seder, like a seder plate, and it has, traditionally a lamb shank, to represent the blood on the doorway, there’s parsley, that you dip in salt water, to represent spring-time, and bitter herbs, and like, tears I think? And um, there’s this stuff called charoset, which is like apple, and nut, and like wine, like a mixture that you eat with the matzo, and it symbolizes the mortar between the bricks that the slaves would have to use to build the pyramids and stuff… And, there’s a hard-boiled egg to represent life I think, and there’s horseradish for like, bitterness… There’s also the Haggadah, kind of like this prayer book that you read through, and there’s a leader who reads through, and it tells the story of Passover, as well as prayers that you say before you… so there’s just a lot of like, reading and talking and singing, um, before you can eat. You can eat the parsley and you can eat the matzo, but you can’t eat the actual food till like, you’re done through the whole prayer book.

Ankita: Is the leader usually like a Rabbi or someone?

Julia: It’s usually just like, I mean traditionally it’s like the dad, or like the man of the house, you know, but that can of course, you know like I did it this year…In all of my family seders we’ve just kind of like, taken turns to be leaders.

Ankita: So there’s no rule like it has to be the oldest person or something?

Julia: No, but there is a rule for the youngest person in the seder. There are these four questions that the youngest participant has to ask — um, ‘why is this night different from all other nights’, ‘why do we eat this, instead of this’, and then we answer, and so on.

Thoughts: It was interesting to hear the unofficial way in which Julia told the origin story of Passover. To me, it shows how this story has been in her knowledge for a long time, as she seems deeply familiar with it, and is able to use her own words to explain it. I also enjoyed hearing about the various little traditions during the seder that are usually performed, and how there may be such variations from family to family.

Hair-cutting superstition

Background Information: Fatima is a Sophomore in college, and she grew up in a Muslim household in San Diego, CA. While not a devout believer herself, , her mother is, and as such has some beliefs and superstitions that she does not necessarily follow herself. Throwing one’s hair in the ocean after cutting it, for example, is one of them.

F: So, ok, so whenever I cut my hair, my mom says that I have to put it into a plastic bag and throw it into the ocean, otherwise someone is gonna steal it and do voodoo on it, and it’s because she’s Muslim, and apparently it’s a Muslim thing.

A: Do you actually follow it then?

F: Um, I personally just always cut my hair at home… I don’t throw it in the ocean, like I normally just throw it away just because I don’t really believe it, but every time my mom cuts my hair she’ll actually bag it up and throw it in the ocean.

Thoughts: Like what we discussed in class, the origins of many folk beliefs are unknown, or become lost. I find this interesting, especially in the case of superstition, as superstitions are often ingrained into the way people live their lives.


Background Information: Clarise is a second-year student at USC, and she grew up in Wisconsin. I interviewed her about her family’s Thanksgiving traditions, as she celebrates it with them every year.

Ankita: So what do you guys usually do, or like eat at Thanksgiving dinners?

Clarise: Turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, gravy, corn, green beans… A lot of the usual Thanksgiving things.

Ankita: Do all families make like, similar things?

Clarise: Ya, I’d say similar things. I think certain families have their own like, familial traditions, like one of ours are these like mini cinnamon rolls? I dunno why, it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, and we still make that. And we make pies, that’s a big Thanksgiving thing… My mom’s really into that, so.

Ankita: And who usually makes the food?

Clarise: Um, usually it’s just one aunt that cooks like, the main stuff, but then the other aunts and uncles that have like, specialty dishes, will bring those. So it’s kind of a collaborative effort.

Ankita: Have you ever helped make something?

Clarise: No, I’ve never helped…Actually, once, in the middle of summer, I was really craving Thanksgiving,  and I was like 13 years old, so I was like, ‘Dad! We have to go to the grocery store!’ So like I looked up recipes for all the things that you make at Thanksgiving, and I made a whole dinner by myself.

Ankita: Wow, and did you call your whole family over too?

Clarise: Yeah! Cus I wanted it to resemble what we had at Thanksgiving time. So yeah, I made a turkey.

Ankita: Does your family get together often?

Clarise: No, it’s mostly holidays. Or like, birthdays or special occassions. But it’s like, super rare that we all hang out, like just cuz. Because you know, we all have like our own schedules and stuff.

Ankita: And do you guys ever talk about like… the origins of Thanksgiving, or like, why it’s celebrated or anything?

Clarise: No. It’s never acknowledged. We just do it, because it’s… very American, haha.

Thoughts: Thanksgiving is such a widely celebrated holiday among Americans, so it is interesting to me how it has evolved from it’s origins to becoming simply a time when families can get together, and students can go home for a week, to make food and eat together. I also enjoyed Clarise’s story about constructing her own faux-Thanksgiving. While all the traditions were adhered to, and she even invited her whole family over, it still was not technically Thanksgiving, as the date was not right. This shows that the timing itself is significant for holidays and festivals or celebrations.

Spanish Lullaby

Background Information: Shawn Barnes is a Junior at college, and his family is Mexican on his mother’s side. I interviewed him about a Spanish lullaby that he remembers his mother singing to him at night as a child.

Original (Spanish):

“A la roro niño

A lo roro ya

Duérmete mi niño

Duérmete mi amor.

Este niño lindo

Que nació de mañana,

Quiere que lo lleven

A pasear en carcacha.

Este niño lindo

Que nació de día

Quiere que lo lleven

A la dulcería

Este niño

Que nació de noche

Quiere que lo lleven

A pasear en coche.

Este niño lindo

Se quiere dormir,

Y el pícaro sueño

No quiere venir.

Este niño lindo

Que nació de noche

Quiere que lo lleven

A pasear en coche.”


“Lullaby baby

Lullaby now.

Sleep my baby,

Sleep my love.

This pretty baby

Who was born in the morning,

Wants to be taken

For a jalopy ride.

This sweet baby

Who was born during the day,

Wants to be taken

To the candy shop.

This pretty baby

Who was born at night,

Wants to be taken

For a stroller ride.

This pretty baby

Wants to sleep

But the naughty sleep

Doesn’t want to come.

This pretty baby

Who was born at night,

Wants to be taken

For a stroller ride.

Shawn: “So, it’s a way to like, put a child to sleep and then say all these good things about them. And then oftentimes my mom would like to rush it a little bit, because I’d go like, ‘Mom can you sing “La Roro”, and so she’d just like rush through one verse and say ‘se acabó’, or like “it’s over, go to sleep.” But like, I still remember her tucking me in and it was sort of a cute thing.”

Thoughts: Lullabies are interesting, and I have found that they often stick in people’s memories, even if it is in a vague form, perhaps because they are repetitive and musical. This lullaby seems to be meant for encouraging a child to go to sleep, while also showing the child love and talking about sweet and pleasant things. Perhaps this is an attempt to ensure pleasant dreams for the child as well.