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Humor

Shitty Luck

Informant is my friend that has grown up in Taiwan and Canada, while also studying in LA.

Informant:

狗屎運 (Gou Shi Yun) literally means: “dog poo luck”. In our culture upon stepping on any type of poop is considered good luck. We just happen to say dog poo because there are more stray dogs that poo on the streets. Stepping on the dog poop on the street is in itself an unlucky event, but doing so is supposed to bring some personal good luck. Walking around carrying the luck everywhere as you go around!

I personally think that this is a pretty funny superstition about stepping on dog poop. It is like feeling bad for yourself to be this unlucky to step on poop, but thinking of it bringing good luck to yourself is a good way to get around being sad for oneself.

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Chopsticks

Informant is my friend that has grown up in Taiwan and Canada, while also studying in LA.

Informant:

 

Never, ever, ever put your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. This is a physical resemblance to burning incense. We only burn incense when you go to a temple and usually during a funeral, so putting your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice is like praying for someone’s death. Not tot the point of like a threat or anything but like a sign of disrespect.

My mom has always told me as a child to never do this. I never knew the reason, but only knew it was bad. This has really given me some interesting insight into my own culture and why we do these things.

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4th Floor

Informant is my friend that has grown up in Taiwan and Canada, while also studying in LA.

Informant:

 

In almost every modern apartment in Taiwan, they will usually have the 4th floor, but older buildings will not have the 4th floor because the number 4 is a homophone to the word death. 死(si) death and 四(si) four sound similar so to prevent people from living on the “floor of death” they got rid of the 4th floor. It is especially the case in Hospitals. There are no floors or rooms with the number 4, no one would want to stay in a hospital room or floor that has anything that reminds them of death!

I think this is very similar to the American unlucky number 13, although this seems to be more prevalent in Taiwan. Although not seen as much in newer buildings and such, it is still seen in the older buildings. Just goes to show that with time, some superstitions disappear in many ways.

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Shaky Legs

Informant is my friend that has grown up in Taiwan and Canada, while also studying in LA.

Informant:

I personally hate looking at people who shake their legs, especially seeing you do it so much annoys me so much. My dad used to say that it is bad in our culture because it is a sign of boredom as well as a sign of losing wealth. In ancient China, if you were to shake your legs, it is like shaking away your wealth. If you kept shaking your legs, you would lose all your coins as they would slip out of your pockets. That is why I always tell people this story to help them get rid of their bad habits.

I have a really bad habit of shaking my legs, after hearing this story I felt that although it does not really happen in our age with the invention of wallets and deep pockets, it is still partially true and definitely a better thing not to shake one’s legs.

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Trip to Dun Huang

The informant went to Dun Huang China in the early 2000s for her dissertation work and upon entering various old caves that contained Buddhist arts, she had a very supernatural phenomenon happen to her.

Informant: The first time I went there, I stayed in Dun Huang for a month. Then, that was a seminar for several professors and mostly graduate students in art history. Dun Huang caves have over 15 centuries of caves, until the 13th century. Over 400 caves there. For the first few weeks, we went through a few hundred caves. The earliest cave we went and did a review of it. During the last week, we went back from the earliest week as a review. Went back to one of the earliest caves there. 4th or 5th century. (refer to the picture). Painted on top of the door. So, it meant that it was the first thing you see when you look up.

When we started reviewing, the morning we went to the earliest caves and went over the significance of it. After lunch time, I did not go to nap though. I followed 2 nuns instead to the souvenir shop instead, and those 2 nuns were studying at the University of Arizona in religious studies. I didn’t buy anything, but they were looking at paintings of buddhas/bodhisattvas. Then, after seeing that picture you saw, it kind of reminded me of 四大天王, like guardians of the sacred/heaven. I saw that I was really drawn to the painting, so I decided to buy it. Then, I went back to my room and took a nap. After the nap, we went back to those caves and went back to a certain cave. The teacher wanted to show me something rare. The vegetable pigment was not that stable, so the pigments change color faded over time.

Then, the rare thing they used was that the white was from lead/minerals. However, after the lead has been exposed to the air for too long, it becomes black. It takes a few centuries for it to change in color due to oxygenation. So, it looked all blackened out because of the white lead became black from all the oxygen.

But in one special cave, one area of the walls was peeled off, we could see the inner layer of the wall. So, we could see the original painting would look like without the color tarnished. Because in the cave it was dark, the darkness of the cave would make it even darker for the paintings. The cave was incredibly small, a few of us stood there and talked while some of us were still outside waiting to see. Suddenly, there was a something like a sandstorm, but because it rained very shortly last night, the humidity was higher. So, because of the rain made it more humid, the walls were old and gained moisture, something fell off from the ceiling. All the student left, but because I was talking to the professor, we were not wary of the painting falling. And because I realized what was going to fell on my head. One of the nuns that went to the souvenir shop pulled me out and tried to dust off the painting. But I said that it was a national treasure so I told them not to ruin the treasure that was all over me.

The painting that fell off? It was the painting that I bought. The other nun then walked up and told me to do more studying on Buddhism, had I done my research I would not be asking stupid questions. I guess it was something that Buddha was telling me, “Go do your research!”. Almost creepy for me.

 

After hearing her story, I personally thought it was a very supernatural experience. In her case, it felt like it was a wake-up call from above to take her studies seriously! Not only was that the case, but the sudden feeling to purchase that specific painting from the souvenir shop and leading to the pigment of the same painting to fall on her head was definitely not just a coincidence, but also a very significant symbolic sign.

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Ghost Month

The informant is my father who has always grown up in Taiwan but came to America for grad school. Understanding both cultures, he has a very wide understanding of the traditions in our household and its practices.

Informant: 中元節/鬼節 (Zhong Yuan Jie/Guai Jie) – Ghost month, is when the doors to the underworld open and ghosts come back to our world. This takes place from July to August and we put food outside and burn money for the ghosts and our ancestors. It is believed that the food will feed their hunger and the money is so that they can use in the underworld. It used to be practiced in every household, however, within the past 2 or 3 decades the houses and families have stopped doing it. Nowadays only those who run small businesses keep the tradition alive by putting tables outside their offices and putting out food and drinks while burning money in a large can. I think it has something to do with not upsetting the ghosts and satisfying them to prevent any bad luck.

I think this is interesting since it is still a prevalent tradition, but it has been long stopped being practiced by the households. Only those who run businesses do nott want to upset any of the ghosts and such, thus they try to give them what they want and go on with their businesses, hoping for no bad luck. Although after asking some of my Taiwanese friends, it is still practiced in households, but it is very rarely seen. It is interesting to see how such a prevalent tradition that takes up a whole month during the summer went from households to only businesses to continue performing the rituals.

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Tomb Sweeping Day

The informant is my father who has always grown up in Taiwan but came to America for grad school. Understanding both cultures, he has a very wide understanding of the traditions in our household and its practices.

Informant: 清明節 (Qing Ming Jie) – Tomb-sweeping day is a day of respecting one’s ancestors and going to their burial grounds to pray and clean their tombs. In our family, our ancestors are all on a big mountain with a very large grave that holds all of my ancestor’s ashes. Due to the large mountain and many other patrons, there is a group that stays there and periodically cleans the gravesites monthly. So because we do not have to do any of the cleaning, we bring food and drinks to offer to our ancestors. Inside the tomb site, we have a whiteboard that we use to leave our names down every time we visit. It has become a tradition for us to all write our names down every visit along with the date. Because you and your cousins are in America, you guys cannot attend Tomb Sweeping day, so we always write down your names instead.

I always understood that this day was to sweep your ancestors’ tombs, but since I have never experienced it, I never had to do any of the tomb sweeping myself. Honestly, my dad said that after our ancestors have bought that specific land on the mountain, we have never had to do any of the tomb sweeping, which in a sense defeats the whole purpose of the tradition. To better accommodate the traditional holiday in Taiwan, it has become a family reunion day for our family.

Customs

Duan Wu Festival

The informant is my grandmother from Taiwan, her hobbies are going to church and cooking. She says because Chinese tradition is very custom and done in certain ways it is weird to “stray” off on doing certain traditions. However, our family has done many of the same traditions, except starting from my great-grandparents time (4 generations), we had done some of these Lunar New Year traditions differently.

Informant:

端午節 (Duan Wu Jie) is the festival celebrating the beginning of spring. The tradition is to make 綜子 (Zong Zi), which is commonly called sticky rice pudding. It is contained using bamboo leaves and wrapped very tightly using a string. It can contain various other ingredients, but my family likes to put in: beef, beans, egg and mushrooms. Instead of the traditional way of steaming it, my grandmother boils it, which is a technique southern Taiwanese people do instead of the conventional and traditional way of steaming it.

香包 (Xiang Bao) is a small parcel that contains some kind of beans that has a certain smell to keep bugs away. The parcels are then hung around the house to keep away mosquitos. They are also considered to be toys that in my grandparent’s childhood would use to throw and hit other kids with it.

This specific festival was something I had known only about eating sticky rice pudding, but none of the other traditions that I had ever practiced. Knowing these new practices are very helpful for understanding my own culture and having a better grasp of my own roots.

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Lunar New Year Traditions

The informant is my grandmother from Taiwan, her hobbies are going to church and cooking. She says because Chinese tradition is very custom and done in certain ways it is weird to “stray” off on doing certain traditions. However, our family has done many of the same traditions, except starting from my great-grandparents time (4 generations), we had done some of these Lunar New Year traditions differently.

Informant:

We also eat a whole chicken but cannot eat head, legs, butt. We leave the leftovers to the 5th day, this means keeping your leftovers like your money.

Day 1 – eat only vegetarian for breakfast, a tradition that is still practiced in our family, but do not know the reason for it. Leftover rice is always made into dry rice, making into porridge will bring about rain. For breakfast, we have to eat boiled spinach. When boiling it, we put the whole spinach piece in as a symbol of living longer. 羅波糕 (Ruo Buo Gao) – In the Taiwanese dialect it means being “lucky winning lottery”. This is radish cake that we eat every Lunar New Year, specifically on the first day.

A lot of the traditions are practiced still, but in some cases, the meanings were lost. Although that may be the case, our family still blindly continued the rituals. Our family mainly continues to do many of the traditional rituals, but if it is too complicated or annoying we would rather change it to accommodate our preferences. This was interesting to hear because I had never asked or understood what doing all these actions implied, because I was rarely in Taiwan to celebrate lunar new year, I had no idea what or why my family would do such specific things.

 

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Food for even the Mice

The informant is my grandmother from Taiwan, her hobbies are going to church and cooking. She says because Chinese tradition is very custom and done in certain ways it is weird to “stray” off on doing certain traditions. However, our family has done many of the same traditions, except starting from my great-grandparents time (4 generations), we had done some of these Lunar New Year traditions differently.

Informant:

When I was growing up we would prepare a separate meal for these specific mice. Although we do not do it anymore because our house is clean and there are no mice around, it was very common during my time when we grew up. The specific mice we fed were called 錢鼠 (Qian Shu). Because their name had money in their names, we would hope that after feeding these mice, we would become prosperous.

The mice are called Asian house shrew/money shrew in english. This was interesting because even my father did not know or believe that these mice were actually real. My grandmother had to convince my father that they actually existed, but they are not seen anymore. This came as a surprise to me, because during this time my grandparents were under Japanese rule and that these traditions did not come from them, but they were extremely poor during that time. Feeding random mice for good luck seems very weird for me, especially since they did not have a lot of food, to begin with. However, seeing as it all panned out well, I guess feeding the mice did help!

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