Author Archives: Justin Durham-Catchings

Chinese Eyelid-Twitching

Informant:

E, a 22-year-old Chinese-Taiwanese female who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

E’s first language was English, but because her parents were immigrants, she quickly learned Mandarin as well. Her parents are proud of their culture, and thus they often participated in many Taiwan and Chinese traditions, and believed many of the superstitions, as well. This is one of the superstitions E’s mother believed.

Context:

Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because E is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing superstitions. When she knocked on wood, it brought this conversation up. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by E.

Main piece:

“One superstition that my mother would tell us was like… you know how sometimes you will get almost a pulse in your eyelids? Or it feels like your eyelid almost twitches? Well, there is this belief that if your left eye does this, it means good fortune will come to you, but if it happens in your right eye, then bad fortune will come to you… It’s sort of strange, but my mother fully believed this. Like, she would always exclaim out loud if one of her eyelids was doing the thing… She would always tell us to make sure to tell her so that she could do a prayer to prevent the bad fortune, but we never would.”

Thoughts:

I’ve heard a similar superstition in American folklore about your ears. If your right ear burns or hurts, then someone is talking good about you, but if your left ear burns or hurts, someone is speaking ill of you. It is interesting that this superstition implies that the left side is good, and the right side is bad, when most superstitions usually imply the opposite. I believe this is because most people are right-hand dominant, and thus the stories would favor the right unconsciously. It is cool to see a story favoring the left, and I’d bet it was started in a community where people were more left-dominant.

Chinese Red Ink Superstition

Informant:

E, a 22-year-old Chinese-Taiwanese female who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

E’s first language was English, but because her parents were immigrants, she quickly learned Mandarin as well. Her parents are proud of their culture, and thus they often participated in many Taiwan and Chinese traditions, and believed many of the superstitions, as well. This is one of the superstitions E’s mother believed.

Context:

Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because E is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing superstitions. When she knocked on wood, it brought this conversation up. The following is a transcript of the conversation I had with E. (I will be represented with a J.)

Main piece:

J: “Are there any other superstitions that you experienced growing up? With your family or friends? School, even?

E: “Another superstition that my parents had was red typically meant death or pain, so we would never write someone’s name in red, because it was almost like… wishing that upon someone.”

J: “Are there any other implications to the red ink?”

E: “Yeah! So, because the red ink represents that negative energy, it’s seen as rude or threatening to write letters in red. Even email or texts being red is seen as almost… taboo? Like I wrote an email to an older Chinese relative, and accidentally left some of the text red from something I had copied into the email, and she called my mom to tell her about it!”

J: “Do you think that this is more of an elderly superstition, or would you say younger people believe or participate in this as well?”

E: “Well, it definitely is an older people thing. But, because respect is such a large thing in both the Chinese and Taiwanese cultures, the young people try to observe these things. Like there are many superstitions like this that don’t necessarily make sense to the younger generations, but they still observe them in order to not upset or unintentionally insult the older generations.”

Thoughts:

The superstition is interesting on its own, but I think the conversation around whether young people believe it was the most interesting part of this conversation. I think that it is nice to be respectful of older generations’ traditions or superstitions, despite not believing in them. However, I got the vibe that E did not think that there was credibility to superstitions. I think every generation has their own traditions or superstitions, but it is still important to recognize and document the previous generations’ folklore.

 

Turkish Maturity/Repetition Proverb

Informant:

D, a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until Devran was 16.

Background info:

D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household.

Context:

This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say around the house when he was younger. He would also repeat this to his younger siblings when they would act up to try to show them that they are misbehaving. The following is the context for which it was said.

Me: “Are there any other phrases or sayings that your parents would say to you? Or Turkish phrases you would hear them say to themselves?”

D: “Um… Well, my brother, sister, and I were always misbehaving. When we would act out, my mother would not punish us with the traditional spanking… Instead, she would try to show us what we were doing wrong and ask us whether or not we would want to be doing this when we were old and gray. One of the phrases in Turkish that she would use was ‘İnsan yedisinde ne ise yetmişinde de odur’, which means that people who repeat bad actions at a young age, without realizing that they are bad, will continue them for the rest of their life.

Main piece:

Turkish: “İnsan yedisinde ne ise yetmişinde de odur”

English Translation: “What a man is at seven, he is at seventy”

Thoughts:

I later asked him if he could relate this phrase to any other common phrases he knew. He could not think of any, but it got me thinking about why this phrase existed. It speaks of childish behavior in a negative light, and almost ties it directly to immaturity, which I understand for the most part, but feel it is a bit overextending. Not all childish behavior is bad, and I think that is why his parents would use this phrase sparingly, to not discourage the good behavior. I think that this phrase is important in their family dynamic and in Turkish culture because they seem to value self-improvement over discipline. Showing someone their actions are wrong seems more important than punishing them for it. I have heard the American phrase “remaining childish is a tremendous state of innocence,” and I think it follows their family values as well.

 

San Francisco Hitch-Hiker Ghost Story

Informant:

J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a firepit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to J during one of these sessions.

Context:

This was told amongst a group of friends sitting in a circle around a firepit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“Okay, this next one is about a little girl from Sacramento… One night, a couple is driving down the road. It’s pitch-black and silent, all except the hum of the tires on the road… The roads are unusually empty, despite it being nearly midnight, and the headlights of the car created a cone of light, barely illuminating the edge of the road… *moves the flashlight in a circle on the ground around the fire*… As they’re driving, the hum of the tires starts to lull them into a trance. *Jacob’s voice began to get more and more quiet* Driving… Driving… Driving through the night. Out of nowhere, the boyfriend slams on the breaks! The girlfriend is lurched awake. ‘What the hell was that?!’ the girlfriend exclaimed. ‘I think I saw something on the side of the road…’. He backs up to find a little girl standing all alone. He stops the car and slowly gets out to ask the girl if she’s okay… Her clothes oddly out of place, her hair tangled, and her skin pale. Immediately, he notices that the girl’s arm is cut, and tears have run dry on her cheeks. ‘Are you okay? What are you doing out here all alone?’ The girl responds only by asking for a lift to her home, only a few miles down the road. Of course, the couple agrees to help the child, and offer to take her to the hospital, instead, but she insists on only going home… So, the couple drive her home, asking her a few questions, creating small-talk… Eventually, the girl stops responding and the couple look back to find she’s fallen asleep. They whisper quietly to each other the rest of the drive… As they pull up to the address, they slowly pull into the driveway. The couple notices that most of the house is dark, all except a single candle on the window by the door… Not wanting to wake the girl, the couple quietly gets out of the car to see if someone is home… *knock knock knock*…. No answer. *Knock Knock Knock*… Still, no answer… *KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*… The door slowly creeps open, and an old lady stands in the dark, the candle barely illuminating her. ‘Yes? How can I help you?’ The girlfriend answers, ‘I’m sorry to disturb you this late at night, but a little girl told us this was her address, and we thought we would bring her home.’ The old lady begins to tear up as the boyfriend goes to get the girl from the car. ‘I don’t know of any girl around here, only my late daughter, who died years ago in a car accident.’ The girlfriend turns pale and looks back at the car. The boyfriend stood staring at the empty backseat…”

Thoughts:

As I read back through this transcript, I wish I could better capture the feeling of this piece. The environment in which the piece was told really played into the feeling of the story. The cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us made it feel like we were surrounded by ghosts. I think the story was interesting coming from J, as he was raised in San Francisco, close to where this story is set. Being told at the summer camps, I believe it made it even more terrifying at the time (due to being told to children who lived near this setting). The recurring set of three also shows up in this story when the couple are knocking on the door, each time the knocking getting louder, as well as the repeated “Driving, driving, driving” to lull the listeners into a false sense of security. The sound effects that J used during the story really made it come alive, which is why I believe most recounts of live stories like this do not capture the actual experience of the story. I’ve also heard similar stories to this about a spirit or ghost making an appearance and convincing someone they are still alive, only to disappear later.

 

 

Tailypo Horror Story

Informant:

J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a firepit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to J during one of these sessions.

Context:

This was told amongst a group of friends sitting in a circle around a firepit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“Okay… so there’s this guy who lives in the mountains all alone. His life is simple and quiet… This guy… he keeps three dogs with him for hunting and tracking, but… one winter… there is a huge shortage of game… As his storages begin running out, he spends all day looking for food with his dogs and his rifle. One day, as he’s looking for dinner, he shoots a rabbit and shares it with his dogs. Obviously, he’s still hungry. He’s like six foot – one eighty… He continues his hunt until he finds some strange tracks he’s never seen before, three long claws… This dude’s starving, so he follows them late into the night. Eventually, the tracks go cold… The guy looks around…, frantically looking for new tracks, knowing he won’t see another animal for a while… As he’s looking around, he sees something stalking on the branches of a nearby tree… BAM!… He shoots it… He begins looking around for the animal but cannot find it. He eventually gives up, as it is getting late, and decides to head back empty-handed. As he begins to lay down, he notices that one of his dogs brought something back with them – the tail of the animal! He boils it into a stew and enjoys the reward of a long day before falling into a deep slumber… *Chittering, clawing, and scratching noises*… The guy slowly awakens to the noises to see the creature at the foot of his bed. In an otherworldly voice, the man hears it demand its ‘tailypo’. The dogs begin to growl and chase the creature back into the woods and the man passes out… He wakes again in the morning, thinking it was nothing more than a dream… One of the dogs is missing. He spends the day searching for it, but as night falls again, he gives up and tries to catch up on sleep from the night before… *Chittering, clawing, and scratching noises*… The man JUMPS awake to find the creature at the side of his bed now, demanding more aggressively that the man return its ‘tailypo’. His dogs again chase after the creature and the man, terrified, eventually falls asleep. When he wakens, he realizes that this was no dream… Two of his dogs are now missing, and he knows the creature will return this night. He begins fortifying his cabin and sits up all day and night with his gun and his last dog at his side… *Chittering, clawing, and scratching noises*… The dog jumps to its feet and runs after the noise, barking… *Barking, cut short*… *Chittering, clawing, and scratching noises*… The man shakingly aims his gun at the door… The window near his bed shatters. BAM! The man fires his weapon accidentally. As he frantically tries to reload his rifle, the creature leaps upon him. Eye to eye, the beast once again demands the return of his ‘tailypo’… As the sun rises, the man is flayed beyond recognition. To this day, on the darkest of nights, the creature can still be heard whispering for its ‘tailypo’… *Chittering, clawing, and scratching noises*…”

Thoughts:

As I read back through this transcript, I wish it could better capture the feeling of this piece. As far as ‘scary’ stories go, this piece was among one of the best I’ve ever heard. It was exhilarating, and the ambiance of the environment in which it was told played into it with the cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us. I think the story was interesting coming from J, as he was raised in San Francisco, nowhere near the woody area described in the story. However, because it was told during summer camps, I believe it made it even more terrifying at the time (due to being told to children unfamiliar with their environment). There are many stories in which events happen in sets of three. The number of dogs, the number of times the creature visits the man, and the number of claws the creature had are all sets of three. The sound effects that J used during the story really made it come alive, which is why I believe most recounts of live stories like this do not capture the actual experience of the story.

Turkish Tree Branch Proverb

Informant:

D, a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until D was 16.

Background info:

D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household.

Context:

This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say around the house when he was younger. He would also repeat this to his younger siblings when they would act up to try to show them that they are misbehaving. The following is the context for which it was said.

Me: “Are there any other phrases or sayings that your parents would say to you? Or Turkish phrases you would hear them say to themselves?”

D: “Um… Well, my brother, sister, and I were always misbehaving. When we would act out, my mother would not punish us with the traditional spanking… Instead, she would try to show us what we were doing wrong and ask us whether or not we would want to be doing this when we were old and gray. One of the phrases in Turkish that she would use was ‘Ağaç yaş iken eğilir’, which means that people should learn the best way to behave as soon as possible because older people tend to be stuck in their ways.

Main piece:

Turkish: “Ağaç yaş iken eğilir”

English Translation: “The tree branch should be bent when it is young”

Thoughts:

I asked him if he could relate this phrase to any other Turkish phrases, as this is a fairly common saying. He could not think of any. Though not exactly this phrase, there are variants in all cultures. For example, in English, we say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” which essentially has the same meaning. Things should be taught young, otherwise people will struggle to learn it. This is a common theme in a lot of proverbs and folk stories. This phrase can be applied in American culture, but it is also important to D’s family dynamic. The Turkish culture stresses teaching manners and polite etiquette early in life, and despite growing up in the United States, it’s interesting that the values carried over from his mother. Manners are something that was lacking in the American culture I saw growing up. Families focused more on punishing bad behavior to prevent it rather than show the children what is right.

 

 

Unlucky Number Four

Informant:

E, a 22-year-old Chinese-Taiwanese female who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

E’s first language was English, but because her parents were immigrants, she quickly learned Mandarin as well. Her parents are proud of their culture, and thus they often participated in many Taiwan and Chinese traditions, and believed many of the superstitions, as well. This is one of the superstitions Eileen’s mother believed.

Context:

Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because E is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing superstitions. When she knocked on wood, it brought this conversation up. The following is a transcript of the conversation I had with E. (I will be represented with a J)

Main piece:

J: “Are there any other superstitions that you experienced growing up? With your family or friends? School, even?

E: “Uhh… Well, because my dad was Chinese, he would always warn us about the number 4. In Chinese, the number four sounds the same as the word death, so we would avoid it like the plague. Even today, if I have to travel, I ask to be moved to a new hotel room if I am placed on the fourth floor. In china, most of the hotels don’t even have a fourth floor. It just goes from the third to the fifth floor.… Freshman year, I had to stay on the fourth floor of the dorms, and it was one of the wort years of my life.”

J: “Why was it so bad?”

E: “Well, I was constantly getting sick, and I really seemed to struggle in my classes. As soon as I moved out of those dorms, my grades improved a lot, too! So you know, that kind of solidified it for me, I guess.”

J: “What are your thoughts on the number 7? A lot of people believe that it is almost the opposite of that. That the number 7 represents fortune or good luck. Are there any like that in Chinese folklore that you know of?”

E: “Yeah, here in the United States, 7 is big. 7 for good luck, and 13 for bad luck. Even our gambling has a game specifically for rolling dice to get 7. And of course, Friday the thirteenth. In terms of lucky Chinese numbers, the number 8 is considered to be pretty lucky. It sounds similar to a word that means ‘making fortune’ or ‘to make a fortune’.”

Thoughts:

This superstition seems to be a common theme across cultures. There seems to be an unlucky number that cultures try to avoid. For example, I’ve also seen hotels in the United States that do not have a thirteenth floor. A lot of buildings stop at the twelfth floor, too. There also tends to be a lucky number in each culture. We have the overarching 7 being lucky, but then people in the United States also have “lucky numbers” that they look for. It could be the person’s birthday, or just a number that they experienced something positive with growing up.

Turkish Proverb about Hurtful Sayings

Informant:

The informant (D), a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until D was 16.

Background info:

D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household.

Context:

This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say around the house when he was younger. He would also repeat this to his younger siblings when they would act up to try to show them that they are misbehaving. The following is the context for which it was said.

Me: “Are there any other phrases or sayings that your parents would say to you? Or Turkish phrases you would hear them say to themselves?”

D: “Because we were young and fought a lot, my mom would often repeat wisdom to us… One of the phrases in Turkish that she would use was ‘Bıçak yarası geçer, dil yarası geçmez’, which means that people could hurt you like… physically, but you will heal from those. But when people try to hurt one another with like words or insults, it will stick with them. People will feel the pain for a very long time, and they will think a lot about it. My mom would tell us she would rather pick us up from school for fighting than to hear that we were calling someone names or trying to insult someone like… personally.”

Main piece:

Turkish: “Bıçak yarası geçer, dil yarası geçmez”

English Translation: “A knife wound will heal, but a tongue wound festers”

Thoughts:

As D explained what this Turkish saying was, I kept thinking back to an English phrase that I heard a lot as a child. I would always be told that “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will/should never hurt you.” I find the difference in cultures very interesting, as his parents would almost encourage physical violence over emotional or verbal insults – almost saying that an attack on one’s character is one of the worst things. It makes sense that this would be taught young, as children are the most impressionable both in terms of learning right from wrong and being negatively affected by insults. Growing up in American schools, I witnessed teachers trying to prevent physical fighting more aggressively than verbal or emotional insults, but D’s family would rather let the kids fight physically (reasonably, of course) than have them call each other names or insult them. The Turkish culture stresses teaching manners and polite etiquette early in life, and despite growing up in the United States, it’s interesting that these values carried over from his mother.