Author Archive
Folk Beliefs

Russian Superstitions

The 26-year-old informant was born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. at a young age. During his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, he was a teaching assistant for a Russian folklore class and found these pieces of folklore to be particularly interesting or representative of Russian culture.

On shaking hands:

“One superstition is you’re never supposed to shake hands with someone across a threshold or doorway. It’s said to lead to separation and falling out, because you’re like, wishing to never see that person again. So that’s pretty common. Pretty much all Russians follow this rule.”

On whistling:

“Another sort of weird superstition is that you shouldn’t whistle–especially indoors, like ever, because it’ll lead to you losing all your money and having bad luck. It used to be this belief that the wind is bad. Like a bad demon-type creature, and in ancient pagan belief. The wind whistles, so by whistling, you’re inviting the wind demon into your house.”

 

These superstitions are interesting because they involve things that are quite common in the U.S. In fact, most Americans wouldn’t think twice about where they shake hands with someone or if they’re whistling indoors. It definitely highlights the slightly irrational ideas behind superstitions when you hear superstitions from other cultures that aren’t your own. However, all superstitions play a part in culture and thus contribute infinitely to it.

general

The Magic Gourd

The 24-year-old informant is originally from Rhode Island, but currently resides in New York, NY. Her parents are both from China, making her a first-generation American Born Chinese. This story was one that she heard as a child and has been engrained in her mind ever since.

“A long, long time ago, there was a boy who was fishing at the lake, and um, his classmates walk by and laughing at his fishing poles like, ‘Oh, so ugly, and so cheap!’

And they showed him, like ‘See, look at our fishing pole. We can fish biiiig fish! And so big and strong enough to pull them up.’

And on the other hand, his poor, very weak fish pole–even one fish can broken his pole. So, after the left and he was quietly sitting there, still fishing, fishing, fishing—and suddenly, he fished not a fish—it’s a gourd! He was very, very angry like, ‘I don’t want a gourd—I want a fish!’

However, the gourd, because it’s magic gourd, and talk about, ‘Please, ok save me! You can do whatever you want and I can satisfy you.’
And the boy’s not really wanting to bring the gourd back home, but he’s casually put him into the school bag. After he came back home, and he said, ‘Oh gosh, I have a lot of homework to do.’

The gourd, of course, tried to please him because, after all, he brought him back, and said ‘I can do whatever you want! I can satisfy you!’

The boy said, ‘Ok I have a lot of homework. Please do it for me.’

And pretty soon, ‘His homework was done in front of him.’

And also, he said ‘Oh I want to read certain books from our library but I forgot to bring them back home,’ and wow, suddenly, many, many books were full on his desk and another thing he said was, ‘Tomorrow, I want to eat a lot of good stuff like chicken, duck, and other things.’

Wow, a huge pile of money appeared on his desk. He was so satisfied he went out and bought all the food he wanted.

He went to school the next day and suddenly, there was a math test that he wasn’t prepared for. The gourd sensed that the boy needed help and helped him by copying a classmate’s test—but the test ended up having the classmate’s name on it too—and the girl’s test became blank. Of course, the boy was embarrassed and the teacher was not happy. So, the boy learned his lesson and did everything by himself from that point on to avoid embarrassment, and he learned humility and accountability.”

This story about a magic gourd is a very old story with Chinese origins, according to the informant. It represents Asian values of humility, honesty, and accountability– which Chinese people, especially, hold very highly.

Folk Beliefs
general
Holidays
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival

The 24-year-old informant is originally from Rhode Island, but currently resides in New York, NY. Her parents are both from China, making her a first-generation American Born Chinese. This story was one that she heard as a child and has been engrained in her mind ever since.

“A long, long time ago, there was a man—a great archer—and his wife, a beautiful maiden. One day, 10 suns rose in the sky, which threatened to scorch the entire earth. So, in retaliation, the archer shot 9 of the 10 suns down. Because of this, he became a celebrity in his village and in nearby villages as well. For this deed, he was rewarded a special elixir of immortality by the goddess of the sun. One day, when the archer’s wife was home alone, thieves broke into the house to steal the elixir of immortality. Because the wife did not want the thieves to steal it—she drank it all herself before any of the thieves could get to it. As a result, she immediately floated up to the heavens and situated herself on the moon because it’s the closest place to earth—‘cause she wanted to be as close to her husband as possible, and she became the new goddess of the Moon. The archer was so sad that he left food for her as a sacrifice, and thus created the traditions of the Mid-Autumn Festival.”

This story is a very notable myth regarding the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is the most commonly told origin story for this holiday. Other versions of the story say that the archer becomes the Sun because he is able to shoot down 9 of the 10 suns, and thus describe the origins of both the Sun and the Moon.

general
Narrative

The Three Brothers (Bauhinia)

The 54-year-old informant is a elementary school Chinese teacher and is originally from Taiyuan, China. She’s been hearing and telling Chinese folklore her entire life, and often shares it with her students. Her stories represent Chinese culture and the qualities that Chinese people value.

“Once, there were three brothers… they treat each other very well because in Chinese tradition, brotherly love in a family is very important because after parents pass away, brothers treat each other very well. If their relationship’s not great, that means the whole family will be broken. Even if they have the same last name, sometimes they will be like enemies.

Sooo, in this family there are three brothers, the first two are already married, and the third one married later, but the third brother’s wife is the kind of girl that brought in a lot of good stuff in terms of family needs. Like, silver and gold– she grew up in a rich family I guess… And this kind of situation, she tried to create trouble. She said, ‘Ok, why don’t we separate from the other two brothers, so this way, we can live better, right?’ Because they live together and they eat together and they work in the field together. So, this is why the wife of the third brother feels like it’s not fair and that they can live better without the two brothers. So, that’s why the property has to be divided into three.

So everything is divided really well and equally, but there’s only one tree in the yard… do not know how to do it. So they talk about how to divide the tree, probably just chop into three pieces and even the leaves would be divided equally. Over the night, this tree seemed to die… and when the brothers used an axe to try to cut it–the tree, it seems like, overnight, no longer lived. That’s why the big brother held the tree and cried, cried, cried. So the third brother asked, ‘Why are you crying?’

And the brother said, ‘See, even a tree understand human being because the tree thought you were going to chop it up, so that’s why it just died. Even trees have feelings, so why do our brothers want to divide our property into three parts?’

That’s why the big brother said, ‘Why don’t we not divide it into three. We still stay in the same family.’

After they said that, the tree came back to life!

So, actually, the flower of Hong Kong is from this kind of tree. So the reason they select this tree flower as a Hong Kong symbol is actually based upon this Asian story.”

This is an interesting story to me because if the Hong Kong flower is truly based on this story, it would make a lot of sense because the idea that Hong Kong is part of China, but they have two different systems, just as the brothers all decided to be one family and just live their own lives, as opposed to trying to completely separate into three different entities.

general
Humor
Narrative

The Fox Borrows the Tiger’s Power

The 54-year-old informant is a elementary school Chinese teacher and is originally from Taiyuan, China. She’s been hearing and telling Chinese folklore her entire life, and often shares it with her students. Her stories represent Chinese culture and the qualities that Chinese people value.

“Once upon a time, there was a tiger in the mountain. Because basically, tiger is the king in this mountain. One day, the fox met the tiger, and the tiger wanted to eat the fox, and the fox said, ‘Oh, I am more powerful than you. Why do you want to eat me?’

And the tiger said, ‘Haha! You’re joking! You’re more powerful than me?’

The fox said, ‘Yes, of course. Do you want me to show you?’

And the tiger said, ‘Yes, show me.’

Then the fox said, ‘Okay, you just come along with me. I’m go back to my home–my forest. My section of this mountain.’

So the fox casually and very enjoyably walked to the other side of the mountain, and the tiger followed him. Once the fox reached his territory, all the animals on the tree and the ground all ran away. The fox said, ‘Did you see that? Once I arrived here, they all ran away. Because they’re afraid of me!'”

 

In Chinese, idioms are commonly 4-word phrases that represent stories. This story is based on the Chinese idiom: 狐假虎威 (hu jia hu wei), which means “a fox exploits a tiger’s power.” In much of folklore, foxes are commonly known to be clever and sometimes deceitful animals, which is again represented in this story.

 

general
Proverbs

The Old Man Who Lost His Horse

The 54-year-old informant is a elementary school Chinese teacher and is originally from Taiyuan, China. She’s been hearing and telling Chinese folklore her entire life, and often shares it with her students. Her stories represent Chinese culture and the qualities that Chinese people value.

“Once there was an old man that lived on the border of China and Mongolia. He had one horse that was very, very handsome in terms of height, strong-ness, and had a luscious mane. Very handsome. One day, the horse ran away. The man wanted to have a horse so he could breed and raise more similar horses, but it ran away! So he was very, very sad. He complained a lot.

But his neighbor said, ‘Well you lost your horse, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing! It may be a good thing.’ But the man was still sad about his horse because it was a good horse and he shouldn’t have lost it because it was so good, so strong. Also, a lot of people admired him because of that horse.

And after a couple of weeks, the horse came back! And it brought a group of horses back to his home. The man was very, very happy. The neighbor said, ‘See? You lost your horse–it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Right now you got more horses, right?’ So the man was very happy. And his son was very snobby, saying, ‘See? My dad is doing very well. We have so many great-looking horses!’

One day, his song was riding the horses because those horses run fast, but guess what? Unfortunately, his son fell from the horse’s back and broke his legs. The father said, ‘So bad! We have a good, but it’s bad that you broke your legs.’ So the neighbor told him again, ‘It doesn’t mean that this is a bad thing.’

So around the border, you know, China and other countries often go to war. They fight each other, right? Since crippled people can’t be drafted in the army, the son was not drafted. In the whole village, he was the only man of his age to not be drafted. He married and also had grandsons for the old man. The neighbor said, ‘See? That’s not a bad thing. Everyone went off to war, and they might not come back.’ So, at least his son stayed with him, so this is not a bad thing.

The moral of this story is, when something appears to be a bad situation–it’s not necessarily a bad situation. It might be good! Bad situations change to good situations, good situations change to bad situations.”

This story emphasizes the idea of things that are “blessings in disguise.” This story describes positive, concrete events that come out of bad situations, but we as an audience can glean that we can always find the good in bad or undesirable situations, or the “silver lining,” if you will. And this goes for almost any situation.

general
Narrative

High Achiever’s Story

The 54-year-old informant is a elementary school Chinese teacher and is originally from Taiyuan, China. She’s been hearing and telling Chinese folklore her entire life, and often shares it with her students. Her stories represent Chinese culture and the qualities that Chinese people value.

“Once upon a time, there was a young man who… uhm, passed a national test, and.. and his future will be very, very bright. So, suddenly, one lady knocked the door, and he opened the door, and that lady asked him, “Say, do you remember me?”

And uh, this young man said, “Oh yes! I remember you! And I remembered you rescued me and cured my illness.”

And the lady said, “Yes, that was me.”

She said, “Did you remember when you passed by our hometown on the way to the capital city that held the test, you were very, very sick. And one of the herb medical doctors said ‘We need one very special prescription that is probably somewhere, so then your illness can be cured.”

At this time, a lady– a young lady who’s sitting nearby and heard about it said ‘Wow it happens to be my family has one secret prescription. It might be cure your illness.’

So she found their family secret prescription and went to mountaintop and found every element on that prescription, and eventually, this young man was cured. After he was cured, he found he doesn’t want to go to capital city to take the test. He thought he recovered and stay here very comfortably. However, this young lady encouraged him and said, ‘Your future is set on the test. If you pass it, your future will be very, very bright. Why did you give up? You don’t need to give up.’

That man said, ‘Oh yes, probably you’re right.’ So he went to the test and he passed it. And I think he got the number one score. So that’s why he said to the young lady, ‘Thank you very much for rescuing me and curing my illness.’

However, on second thought, he looked at the young lady twice and thought, Wow this lady has very ordinary clothes–nothing special. I would find better girls with finer clothes to be my future wife instead of this lady.

So that’s why he turned around and said ‘Well, I don’t think you fit with my future lifestyle, so I would rather stop this kind of relationship.’

Then the girl was very sad and she left.

It was not long that this young man became ill. Same kind of illness caused by the same type of disease. He asked someone to look for this girl, but this girl was never found. So the man was not cured.

From this story, you can tell that anytime people help you– you should be thankful and not turn around and not recognize their kindness. There are a lot, a lot of similar stories like this in China, just to warn people to be thankful to people who provide convenience or help you. You should remember them and be thankful.”

 

This story has strong Chinese themes including, gratefulness and humbleness. These ideas are extremely important to Chinese culture and growing up, I was definitely taught the importance of these concepts.

general
Myths
Narrative

The Sun and the Moon

The 22-year-old informant was born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. at a very young age. She chose to share this story because they are commonly told in Korean culture.

“There’s this tiger and he sees this brother and sister, and he’s like ‘Can I please have some food?’ and they give him rice cakes, and he tries them, but doesn’t like them, so he starts chasing the brother and sister to eat them, which is messed up! So the children climb up a tree and the tiger’s like, ‘How did you get up there?’ and the brother’s like, ‘We used oil to climb up the tree,’ so the tiger rubs oil on his paws and tries to climb up the tree, but then he slides down. And then the sister’s like “Ha ha!” so then the tiger takes an axe and chops the tree down, so they get chased again. So they’re running and they start to pray to God and they’re like ‘Hey God, please let us live and bring down a rope that we can climb up.’ So two ropes fall in front of them. Then the tiger comes and is like, ‘Can I also have a rope, God?’ So then God brings down a rope, except it’s a rotten rope, so he starts to climb it and he falls and dies. So the brother and sister keep climbing and going up the rope and they become the sun and the moon.”

 

This is an origin story of the sun and the moon, but the story also serves a moral, which is essentially that good things come to those who are good. Basically– you get what you deserve.

general
Narrative

Silly Man Moved Mountains

The 24-year-old informant is originally from Rhode Island, but currently resides in New York, NY. Her parents are both from China, making her a first-generation American Born Chinese. This story was one that she heard as a child and has been engrained in her mind ever since.

“Once there was an old man that desperately wanted to move these mountains that were in front of his house. He thought that they were obstructing his path—and also his family’s. He began digging and digging and digging, and he eventually made his sons and grandsons do the same. Everyone thought he was foolish for trying to do so, but he vowed that his descendants would continue to do this forever. But, the gods heard and admired this man’s perseverance and decided to move the mountains for him. This defied the man’s critics and showed that if you try hard enough, you can accomplish whatever you want.”

This story is a simple one that represents strong work ethic and good intentions. Everyone can take something away from this story and decide to work harder in some aspect of his/her life, whether it’s school, work, family, friendships. Even just good intentions can have a positive effect.

general
Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Ungrateful Tiger

The 22-year-old informant was born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. at a very young age. She chose to share this story because they are commonly told in Korean culture.

“So basically this tiger falls into this deep, deep pit. And he calls out for help and this rabbit comes, and the tiger’s like ‘Please help me! Please help me out of here!’ and the rabbit’s like, ‘No if I do, you’ll eat me.’ And the tiger’s like, ‘No no, I promise I won’t eat you!’ and the rabbit’s like ‘Are you sure? Do you promise?” and the tiger’s like, ‘Yes, I promise,’ so the rabbit agrees to help him. So he throws down this long vine and he the tiger uses it to climb back up. And when he gets back up, he’s like, ‘Ok now I’m going to eat you,’ and the rabbit’s like ‘Hey that’s not cool! You can’t do that. Let’s ask someone else their opinion,’ and the tiger’s like, ‘Fine, let’s ask someone else what they think.’ So this other animal–I forget what kind of animal it is–but some other animal comes along and is like, ‘Woah what’s going on here?’ and the rabbit’s like, ‘This tiger’s trying to eat me!’ and tries to explain what happened. And then, the rabbit’s like, ‘I know, I’ll just show you what happened. Tiger, can you show us what happened?’ And the tiger’s like ‘Yeah sure.’ and he jumps in the pit, and then they leave.”

I find this piece to be quite funny, but what I find interesting about it is the lesson to not be cruel or too foolish, as it will cause problems in one’s life, just like what happened to the tiger.

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