Author Archive
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

The Cook and the Cowhands

There was a joke that my grandpa used to tell. It’s a little off color but not so bad. But he told the story, and then my mom told the story, and I haven’t really told it but I can tell it to you so you can hear it. It’s a little bit racist but you can take the race out of it and it works just the same. This is a story that my grandfather’s older brother and father told him. So there was a ranch in the West somewhere, probably Colorado or California. There were cowhands, and they were working all day on the ranch, and they had a cook named Wong. They thought they would play some practical jokes on him. When Wong was sleeping, the cowhands they would tie his shoes together with lots of knots. The next day they waited for a reactions, but nothing happened—he just fixed his shoes and didn’t mention it. The next day they put thumbtacks on his seat. They waited to see his reaction, and when he sat down he kind of grimaced, but just swept them away and didn’t really care. The next day they either short-sheeted his bed or soaked his sheets with water—I don’t really remember. They waited for a reaction, and no reaction. So they finally decided to talk to him. “So Wong, you’ve been a really good sport, tying your shoes in knots and putting thumbtacks on your seat, and messing with your sheets, so we won’t do that to you anymore.” In a different voice; “You no more put knots in my shoes?” “No, no more knots in your shoes.” “You no more put tackies on my seat?” “No, no more tacks on your seat.” “You no more soak my sheets in water?” “No, we won’t soak your sheets in water anymore.” “Good, well I no more pee pee in your soup.”

This story is important to the informant because of its history, and it having been passed down for multiple generations. It reminds him of how different the world used to be regarding the treatment of minorities, and their portrayal.

I find it interesting that the racist aspect of this narrative isn’t actually essential to the story– it could be told just about the same, without making stereotypical voices or mentioning the races of the characters.


Yugong and the Two Mountains

Yugong was a ninety-year-old man who lived at the north of two high mountains, Mount Taixing and Mount Wangwu.Stretching over a wide expanse of land, the mountains blocked Yugong’s way making it inconvenient for him and his family to get around.

One day yugong gathered his family together and said,”Let’s do our best to level these two mountains. We shall open a road that leads to Yuzhou. What do you think?”

All but his wife agreed with him.”You don’t have the strength to cut even a small mound,” muttered his wife. “How on earth do you suppose you can level Mount Taixin and Mount Wanwu? Moreover, where will all the earth and rubble go?”

“Dump them into the Sea of Bohai!” said everyone.

So Yugong, his sons, and his grandsons started to break up rocks and remove the earth. They transported the earth and rubble to the Sea of Bohai.

Now Yugong’s neighbour was a widow who had an only child eight years old. Even the young boy offered his help eagerly.

Summer went by and winter came. It took Yugong and his crew a full year to travel back and forth once.

On the bank of the Yellow River dwelled an old man much respected for his wisdom. When he saw their back-breaking labour, he ridiculed Yugong saying,”Aren’t you foolish, my friend? You are very old now, and with whatever remains of your waning strength, you won’t be able to remove even a corner of the mountain.”

Yugong uttered a sigh and said,”A biased person like you will never understand. You can’t even compare with the widow’s little boy!””Even if I were dead, there will still be my children, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, my great great grandchildren. They descendants will go on forever. But these mountains will not grow any taler. We shall level them one day!” he declared with confidence.

The wise old man was totally silenced.

When the guardian gods of the mountains saw how determined Yugong and his crew were, they were struck with fear and reported the incident to the Emperor of Heavens. Filled with admiration for Yugong, the Emperor of Heavens ordered two mighty gods to carry the mountains away.

This is an interesting myth, and it seems like it tells more than just a lesson about morals, but also about the importance of lineage.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dragon Boat Festival

There was once a poet called Qu Yuan. He witnessed his country falling apart. With full patriotism, he committed suicide by jumping into the Yangzi River. People commemorate him nowadays by celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival. Celebration includes dragon boat racing and dumping rice dumplings into the water.

This is an interesting festival, and I can’t think of any American festivals or holidays that celebrate someone committing suicide.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Fiji Cold Remedy

I learned this from a friend of my dad’s who was an Indian guy living in Fiji when we lived there. We always got sick on the plane coming over, a cold or whatever.  It works—makes you feel much better, makes being sick much less awful, and it tastes good, I drink it when I’m feeling okay, too.
If you feel like you’re getting a cold, you go to an Indian market and you buy these things to make tea  and then I’ll tell you what to do with them.  I guess it’s really an infusion, not a tea, but anyway.

So first you buy whole cloves.  These are the most important and if you can’t find anything else they’ll help some.  They have a slight numbing quality—dentists use eugenol, which is clove oil—and they’re also pretty antibacterial—and then you take like twelve cloves and twelve peppercorns, black peppercorns for sneezing, for your sinuses, a couple of bruised cardamom pods—they make you cough stuff up—and some fennel seeds, like a couple of big pinches, it also, like, loosens phlegm, there’s a thing in it that they isolate to make cough medicine—and a cinnamon stick because I don’t know, it’s supposed to be warming.  I think mostly it just tastes really good in there. You put in some sliced fresh ginger to clear your sinuses and maybe a slice of lemon or a little honey and you pour boiling water over it all and let it sit for a while.  Then drink it.  And you can re-infuse it a few times.  The ginger and fennel make it good for stomach stuff, too.

If you can’t get this stuff, just go order a chai tea with no milk.  It’s a lot of the same stuff.  But this is better.


I had actually recently heard about a similar version of this cold remedy, and it seems the use of cloves and peppercorns in a tea-like infusion is a popular way to treat cold symptoms.



He’s just a furry guy that walks around the Santa Cruz Mountains. All I can picture is Chewbacca in my mind because they kind of resemble each other a bit. It’s something I remember from my childhood as being a big story, and they even have a museum in the Santa Cruz mountains. We used to go backpacking all the time when I was a kid, and it used to be a big thing, back in the 70s. It seemed like people were actively searching for him.

The legend of bigfoot is very popular and widespread, but I hadn’t heard the variation that he lives in the Santa Cruz mountains. I usually only heard that he lived in the Pacific Northwest, like Oregon or Washington.



The Creature from the Black Lagoon

The creature from the black lagoon. I don’t even know it’s from a lake, but when we used to go backpacking, we’d go swimming in lakes, and Bruce my brother would always taunt me that the creature of the Black Lagoon was behind me and scare the poop out of me. I think it looks like a dinosaur or something. I’d want to swim out of the lake really fast. I think it came from a movie but I’d have to look it up.

I had heard of this creature before, and I feel like there may have been a children’s book about it at some point.

Folk Beliefs

Rabbit Feet

I’ve heard people cut off rabbit feet for good luck. I remember when I was growing up in school in the 70s it was really popular for people to carry around a rabbit foot on their backpack or their purse. I can’t remember if it brought you good luck or what. Definitely not good luck for the rabbit. And they were real rabbit’s feet, so gross. But I think I wanted one.

I had heard of rabbits feet being lucky before, but I had never actually seen it in person. I feel like this piece of folklore might disappear with the next generation.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Bear Statue

At Interlochen in Michigan. There was always a statue of a bear on campus, and it was a tradition for everyone just to pee on the bear. Usually just done at the end of the year cause it’s usually snowy during the rest of the year. Started by academy kids, no idea how it really started. I actually did it once. It was funny because sometimes people who didn’t know would sit on the bear, and it was really gross.

There is a really weird tradition, but it makes sense that it would come from a bunch of kids at an away-from-home school.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fighting Blueberries

At my high school before I got there, there was a soccer team named the Fighting Blueberries because it was an art school and nobody did sports. And then a group of latino men wanted to reform it and named it the Rainbow Twinks. They were very proud of it. It was a tradition to give the soccer team a silly name every time.

This is funny, as most of my experiences with high school sports teams have been pretty serious names.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Throwing Pennies

At summer camp—there’s a horn solo in Liszt Les Prelude. People in the orchestra supposed to throw pennies at the horn player. Camp has been around since the 1800s. Heard about it from other people in the orchestra, but I never saw it happen.

This took place at the informant’s high school, Interlochen.

This seems like a really bizarre tradition, and it’s kind of strange that it was talked about and passed along by students, but never followed through during my informant’s time there.