Author Archives: Marcus Wu

Family customs during Lunar New Year

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:

Our house has specific dishes that we make:

蛤蠣 (Ha Li)- These are small clams. After eating the clams, we put the clam shells under the table. this is to signify having money, as olden times clams were a symbol of money and wealth with pearls and such.

年糕 (Nian Gao)- This is rice cakes. This is a homophone to 年高 (Nian Gao) which implies promotions or prosperity year after year.

鯧魚 (Chang Yu) – A type of butterfish. we are supposed to eat fish because it is also a homophone in an idiom 年年有餘 (Nian Nian You Yu). This means to wish abundance year after year, so every lunar new year we eat fish. In my family, we eat this specific type of fish.

I personally do not know why we eat that specific fish, I do not think it was because it was anyone’s favorite or anything. I think it was just a really cheap fish back in my grandparent’s time so it kind of became custom to eat that specific fish. We still practice all of these traditions today, including putting the clams underneath the table. 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.

 

Second Trip to Dun Huang

The same informant told me another story of a vision that came to her during her second trip back to Dun Huang for more information research for her dissertation.

Informant: The second time I went back to Dun Huang 3 years later. I had to change my dissertation topic because I could not trace the whereabouts of the paintings I wanted to study. As an art historian, I can not write my dissertation base on reproductions I saw on books. So, I went and talked to professors in Du Huang to help change a dissertation topic.

Then I got a premonition: a woman on the bed, and a man next to the person on the bed kneeling. The man was looking at the person on the bed. I could not make out any faces. I would see this image constantly. It really creeped me out. To the point that when I went home, trying to study, the image would always pop out. I had no one to talk to about it either.

3 to 4 months later, it faded away though. After changing my dissertation topic, I went back to Dun Huang again 2 years later. That time I spent a week in japan for a week first, then went to China. Went to Japan to study about temples in Kyoto. Then I went to Dun Huang for research. That time I was so happy, had my preliminary draft for dissertation done. My purpose was to go back for more photographs and final research. Not all the 400+ caves were published, so I had to apply to go to undocumented caves.

My husband told me that we had to go our separate ways him being non-religious and me becoming super religious. Then one night he told me that he wanted a divorce. He had told me that there had been another woman while I was in China, someone else had been in my house and in my bed with my husband.

After talking to my best friend, she told me that the premonition was what happened a year later. Except for the woman on the bed was not me, but another woman. The image I saw was a vision.

 

After hearing this story, I felt that this was incredibly sad and extremely personal. I was against putting this story on this website, but she said it was in the past and that it is something that it was fine for me to post this. This was an incredibly spooky story for me to listen too. It felt like it was going to be something like a memory or something, but it ended up being a very sad story with a terrible twist to the ending of the story. having the same vision haunt the informant for many months, only to finally understand the vision as a premonition for the event that was to come about in the future.

Remembering your roots

Ther informant talks about her family saying that has been passed down from generation to generation of the family-owned lumber mill would tell to their children using very philosophical views to teach.

Informant: In 3rd grade, my grandfather came to stay with me when my parents went to Japan for 2 weeks. I heard my grandfather singing, when I went to compliment his singing, he scolded me saying that it was poetry. And he said my education was a disgrace, and he decided to teach me Tang poetry. He was incredibly well educated and opened his own school. They taught a lot of famous philosophers and martial arts. He began instructing me how to pronounce this poetry, but it was incredibly difficult for a little girl like me to learn.

he told me a story from Zuangzi 莊子, everyone should know their own ancestors and such. Just like the trees that our lumber mill production. We would cut the trees and put it into a river and pick them up downstream. However, when you put the tree in the river, you had to put the tree in the right way, the tip of tree trunk pointing upstream. This is so that it would go down smoothly if you don’t do it properly, then the tree will be confused. Even the trees know where their roots are, so all human beings need to know their roots/ancestry. As a tutor in traditional Chinese, everything with him was didactic, loaded with right vs. wrong, good and better, righteousness and all those Confucius values. This is a story that has been told by our family for the past I think 6 or 7 generations.

Just like trees, us humans need to know our roots and continue the legacy.

 

This was interesting, learning a little about my one’s ancestry and family teachings that have been passed down for many generations and knowing that using very philosophical views from a very famous philosopher in ancient China to be applied to a family that used to produce lumber in the past 2 centuries is somewhat amazing for me. I feel like the message that was mentioned really is important to not forget one’s ancestry and roots.

Chinese philosophy told by my grandfather

The informant talks about her grandfather teaching her a well-known philosophical passage and somewhat like an idiom

Informant: Then he would tell ma another story about being ambitious, or living out to your full capacity from Zhuangzi again. “If you are a bird, you should be the biggest bird in the sky, 大鵬鳥. They are so big that when they spread out their wings, the occupy half of the sky.” I would challenge him “It doesn’t make sense. Then there would be only 2 birds in the sky because 2 would cover the whole sky!” Then he would tell me that “If you are a fish, then you should be the biggest fish in the sea. The big one that’s called the whale.” I would tell him, “No, sorry grandpa, whale is not a fish, it is a mammal!”

But then when I went back to Penghu, where my grandpa lived for 10 years of his life since he came to Taiwan with his father when he was 11, I finally realized how come he was so strict and serious all the times. We got off the bus at the community center where they were offering the elderly a luncheon that day. All elders sat up straight listening to the head of the village talking, no one was walking around, no one was talking, they all sat up straight listening. Then we went to a small park. The decoration at the park was red lantern with 三字經, another didactic passage telling us how to behave well, to be loyal to your emperor and filial to you parents and stuff. They got a grant to refurbish a section of the village where no one lived there many more. They made ceramic plates on the house, again with all didactic passages like honor your words, work hard, don’t be lazy, be polite and kind to others…

Growing up in Taiwan, I knew the phrase 慎終追遠, which means to know your ancestors. I probably used it hundreds of time writing essays and stuff, but I never really felt what it meant. This is the sad part of the modern day education, we learn many things as a knowledge, the meaning of those words literally, but not really felt it. You would have to really spend the time to talk with, live with, go back to the environment he grew up, then you would really understand how and why he was the way he was. I thought I knew my grandfather, but I always hope he would not be so dead serious. But it only took me 10 minutes setting foot in the village he grew up with, then I understood why he was so serious, then I really understood the meaning of 慎終追遠.

 

This is a very important part of the chinese culture, displays of filial piety is incredibly deep-rooted in our culture and it is something that is taught to toddlers in the east still practiced today. This is something that is quite lacking in the west, except for Hispanic culture as I am told. That aside, growing up in America, I rarely see filial piety being practiced. After hearing this story it really is interesting that coming from a Taiwanese family as well, although my parents do not feel that I must be obligated to be filial to them unlike they have been taught all their lives, it is something that is very eye-opening to me.

Slenderman

My informant is a good friend that loves ghost stories.

Informant:

My favorite ghost story is definitely about the Slenderman.

It is believed that Slenderman has been around for many centuries as an urban legend. The Slenderman usually is seen to be hanging around young children and is extremely tall, standing maybe around like 8 to 10 feet. He is supposed to have 2 dominant hands and many tentacles that act like more hands that can retract and grow to his bidding. He is like a creeper that hangs around little children and ‘disciplines’ the naughty and alone children. Although he is an urban legend, from the version I heard, he walks around in a black suit with no face and lures children in suburban areas into forests. He is not scared of being seen in broad daylight and there are even some pictures on the internet that show his existence.

I know about this urban legend and have actually played an authored literature of this urban legend as a video game. It was made about 5 years ago and stays somewhat true to the urban legend. You play as a man looking for his lost child that was taken away. Your only clues are these 8 pages around this area which you cannot leave because you are fenced in. At the same time, you will be chased down by the Slenderman.With only a flashlight you have to find the whereabouts of your lost kid, if you see the Slenderman you only have one option, and that is to run the hell away. It is interesting how the game takes a German urban legend and makes it into a game.

Taiwanese urban ghost story

Informant is a good friend of mine that loves ghost stories

Informant: 

This one story that my sis told me when I was a kid that really creeped me out for a while So here goes the version I remembered.

An apartment in Taiwan recently had a female student hearing a soft noise of a girl moaning at night, it was the 5th floor (top floor) and usually no one would go up there. Being scared, the female student went to find a Taoist priest to come investigate.

The Taoist priest, after doing some rituals at the girl’s apartment said the previous tenant of the apartment was of a girl who committed suicide by jumping out the windows because of relationship troubles. The Taoist priest says the girl’s ghost has very strong hatred and warns the female student that 3 days later is the day the girl died, and her ghost will come through your door one last time “ you must not make eye contact with her, or you will die. I have laid traps that will block most of her vision, but just in case, you should hide under the table that night.

So…on the third night, the female student did what The Taoist priest said and hid under the table.

The very next day, the Taoist priest came back to the apartment and found the female student dead. Apparently, Because the girl had jumped out the window and died falling….her ghost came in the door upsidedown .

This is actually a similar ghost story that I have found on the internet when I was digging around. This story is especially common in Japan where people have suicided by jumping off the rooftops of buildings. Like this story, because they fell on their head, they appear upside down and just looking at them will be the cause of your death. Many suicidal ghost stories are very common in Asia because of the high amount o suicide rates, it is honestly scary how people turn tragedies like suicides into ghost stories, but if it prevents people from suiciding I guess it is a way to save people from certain death.

Xin Hai Tunnel

The informant is my friend that loves ghost stories.

Informant: So, the Xin-Hai tunnel is one of the oldest tunnels in Taipei city. It connects one of the nearby rural areas to the Taipei City for faster transportation. It was notorious for accidents due to its poor lighting and steep curves. So one night a taxi driver picked up a young woman on the city side of the Xin-Hai tunnel around midnight on a rainy night. She told the driver to take her through the tunnel and that her home is just five minutes away from the other side of the tunnel. The taxi driver turned on his meter and proceeded through the tunnel. The young woman sat in the backseat quietly. She did not respond when the taxi driver tried to strike up a conversation. She was also motionless the entire trip. The driver pulled up to an old house, and the young woman apologized to the driver that she forgot her purse at work. She asked him to wait outside and she will go get money from her house. The taxi driver saw her go into the house. He waited and waited until twenty minutes had gone by. He grew impatient and went knocking on the door. An old man answered the door with a one hundred New Taiwanese Dollar (NTD) in his hand. The taxi driver was very mad and told the old man how he had wasted 20 minutes waiting outside. The old man stood there and let the driver finished his rant. The old man said, “I am sorry. That was my daughter. She died three years ago in a car accident on the other side of the tunnel. Since the day of the accident, she comes home every night.”

This story was freaking scary for me. Whenever I go visit my grandparents, this tunnel is the fastest way to getting to my grandparent’s house. After hearing this story, I might just have to take another route home, otherwise taking the taxi to my grandparent’s house will always haunt me knowing this story.

Ghost of UBC

Informant is a friend of mine that loves ghost stories.

Informant: There is a long drive into the campus. The road is completely empty except for the trees on the sides. The road is kinda long and the story is that some couple was driving on the road. They got into a fight and the girl stepped out of the car and right after getting out she got hit by another car. To this day it’s said that her spirit still haunts University Boulevard. Numerous reports by male students claim that they picked up a woman who handed them a piece of paper with the library’s address on it. She’ll jump in the rear seat, and then quickly disappear. This has happened on more than one occasion.

Me: So when you drive down the road at night did you ever see or hear the girl?

Informant: Nah, there is never anything on that road. I do use that ghost story to fool around and scare the shit outta people though!

This was so spooky when I first heard it. I had always planned on visiting my friend at UBC, but upon hearing this spooky ghost story I didn’t feel like I wanted to go visit him anymore! Even if it seems like a made up story, I personally do not like getting scared out of my wits.

From what I have found, it is an old tale that has been passed down for many years, upon hearing it I did some research and it is very similar to the generic “vanishing hitchhiker”

 

Bubble Gum

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:

When you were a child, after every sports game that you played in, we would always go watch you play. After each game, we would always go to the Japanese market near our house and would always buy you bubble gum. It was always something that you liked to do as a kid, blowing bubble gum became a habit after every game. It eventually became something you apparently needed that could calm you down when you were younger. The first time you were flying by yourself is when you were 9 years old. At the time you were not very nervous, but we prepared you a lot of bubble gum because it helped you relax when you were younger.

I guess that makes sense! That explains my weird thing I have for having to chew gum whenever I attend any type of event. Musical, sports, entertainment or even educational involved events I always have an urge to chew bubble gum, if I do not have that I usually chew on a straw. It is some kind of ritual for me to chew gum to ease my nerves. If I do not have anything to chew, I think I end up biting my own nails, which is a terrible habit.

Moon Festival

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:

中秋節 (Zhong Qiu Jie) – It is a celebration of when the moon is the biggest during the year. We celebrate it by eating 月餅 (Yue Bing) which is moon cakes. We also have a tradition to go outside and have barbecues with friends and family while enjoying the beautiful moon. In our family, we do not go do barbecues outside because it is too much of a hassle, so we usually just go to a barbecue restaurant to eat. After that, we always go home and eat fruits, one particular fruit we eat is pomelo. When you were a child we used to eat the fruit and use the shell of the fruit as a hat for you to play around with. As a kid, we even used the fruit shell as slippers to save money. It also has a great smell so we always leave it outside as a fragrance.

I have sometimes been in Taiwan during this time, I for one personally love this holiday because I get to eat delicious barbecue. I definitely do not remember doing such a tradition of putting fruit on top of my head, but it does sound like something I would do as a kid.