Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Signs

University of Texas’s Reappearing Ghost Face

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place at a cafe one evening. The informant and I were in an open space but sat alone. I know that my informant really loves horror movies and ghost stories but often says that she is unfazed by them, so I asked her if there were any ghost stories or urban legend back from home that she was familiar with or believed. In this account, she tells the story of a ghost that resides in the University of Texas, something that was told to her by her friends in middle school. My informant laughed a lot throughout our conversation, most likely due to the fact that she doesn’t believe in ghosts and thus found this story a bit ridiculous. In this transcription of out conversation, I am identified as K and she is identified as A.

 

Text:

A: So, I’m from Houston, and so obviously there’s the University of Texas, and there’s like this story about the Ewing Wing. So, um, the University of Texas, the property that they own now was once owned by a guy that would threaten to haunt his children when he died if they ever sold his property, but after he died his daughter sold the property anyway and it became Ewing Hall at UT, and so when it was finished, a face started to appear on, like, one of the floors and there are actually photos of it, and it kind of resembles the owners, and it’s real creepy and that’s that.

 

K: What do you think this story represents? Why do people continue to tell it?

 

A: Well, there is this part of the story I left out [laughs] where the wall… the face keeps showing up, like they kept repainting over it and sandblasting it, but the face kept coming back. Even when they removed that chunk of the wall to another floor, the face still came back… I think people keep telling this just because it’s creepy, you know? Creepy ghost persistence…

 

K: How did this affect the people around you?

 

A: I mean, my friends, or like people I know that do believe in ghosts think it’s kind of cool or they think it’s like creepy and they don’t want to go near the Ewing Wing.

 

Thoughts:

I ended up looking up this story and, as it turns out, this ghost is well known throughout Galveston, Texas. It resides at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) campus, and the story that I found is quite similar to what my informant told me. Legend says that the building is haunted by the ghost of the former land owner; while he was still alive, UTMB offered to purchase his property, but he refused. Before he died, he made his family promise to never sell the family land and to make sure the land is passed on for many generations. However, once he died, his family betrayed his dying wish and sold the property, which is what began the construction of Ewing Hall.

Ghost stories, and other various types of legends or folklore,  are told because it’s a way for people to provide an explanation for something that they cannot understand. Furthermore, the telling of a ghost story reinforces remembering the events of the past, reminding us of specific people and places. So, what is the explanation for the ghost’s face that keeps reappearing, in spite of the efforts to completely get rid of it? It’s to remind us of the man who owned the land and instill guilt in us, the family who sold the land, and even the people of UTMB because they betrayed the owner’s wish. His reappearing face is a literal reminder of his existence, and it also serves as a warning function. Often times, ghost stories are told to shoo people away because most people choose not to live or be in a place that has a reputation of being haunted. We can see this as being true, for my informant admits that though many of her friends that believed in ghosts thought that this story was cool, it still made them fearful and not want to go near the Ewing Wing where they thought they could encounter the ghost.

 

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Signs

Don’t Stick Your Chopsticks Straight Into Your Rice

Context:

My informant is a 55 year old woman that immigrated from China to America in her early 30s. She is a mother, a registered nurse, and also a teacher in nursing school. In this account, she explains why Chinese people never stick their chopsticks straight up and down in their bowl of food. This conversation took place in a hotel one evening. The informant and I were alone, and I asked for the story behind this folklore because I had known of this superstition for a while, but never understood why it was considered bad. The informant told me the she learned this from her parents, and that this taboo is highly integrated into Chinese culture—“no Chinese person would ever be found doing this…” Because her English is broken, I have chosen to write down my own translation of what she told me, because a direct transcription may not make as much sense on paper as it did in conversation (due to lack of intonation and the fact that you cannot see her facial expressions or hand motions in a transcription).

 Text:

“Especially in the countryside, when they bury a person, they stick a stick on top of the section of land that they use to bury a person. On the stick, they tie little white strip of cloth to the stick, and this serves as the gravestone.

Because chopsticks are quite literally sticks, we can’t stick them straight up and down into our food because it too closely resembles the gravestone. Doing this is essentially a call to bad luck, because if you do it, you’ll bring death to both you and your family.

I honestly don’t know if I fully believe in this custom, but because it’s been so ingrained in my culture, seeing people do it makes me extremely uncomfortable, and it just seems safer to not do it and to teach my own friends, family, and kids to not do it.”

 

Thoughts:

This is a taboo that I grew up knowing, but never understood why it wasn’t allowed. I remember my grandmother scolding me when I was around seven years old for sticking my chopsticks straight up and down in my bowl of rice, but when I asked her I couldn’t do it, she told me that it would give me indigestion. It actually wasn’t until this year, in college, when one of my friends that I made here (who also happens to be Chinese) and I were talking about the weird taboos we had grown up, and she mentioned that the chopstick one seemed to be a stretch because it was supposed to resemble a gravestone. Surprised, I decided to ask my informant about this taboo to clarify the reason for its existence.

I did some further research after my conversation with the informant, and I found out that there is more than one way that sticking your chopsticks straight into your food brings death: apparently, Chinese people stick burning incense into rice to honor the dead. Breaking this taboo can bring bad luck to you because no one is dead, so it’s as if you’re summoning death by honoring yourself. This is an example of sympathetic magic: the Chinese believe that if you make a gesture that resembles something bad in the world, you’re making a calling to it. I also noticed that this is not limited to only Chinese culture—in Japan, sticking your chopsticks vertically in a bowl is also considered taboo because it reminds Japanese people of funerals, where a bowl of rice is offered to the spirit of the person who has just died either at their deathbed or in front of the photograph.

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Protection
Signs

Why You Can’t Write Your Name in Red

Context:

My informant is a 55 year old woman that immigrated from China to America in her early 30s. She is a mother, a registered nurse, and also a teacher in nursing school.This conversation took place in a hotel one evening. The informant and I were alone. In this account, she explains why Chinese people never write their names in red. I asked for the story behind this folklore because I had known of this superstition for a while, but never understood why. Because her English is broken, I have chosen to write down my own translation of what she told me, because a direct transcription may not make as much sense on paper as it did in conversation (due to lack of intonation and the fact that you cannot see her facial expressions or hand motions in a transcription).

 

Text: 

“Chinese people never use the color red to write people’s names because historically, in China, when people’s names are written in red, it means that they are criminals that have been sentenced to death/ are dead. This doesn’t go to say that the color red is unlucky; in fact, the color red usually brings in good luck and is meant to express excitement and happiness. For example, during Chinese New Year, everything is decorated with red things. During a wedding, people wear red to celebrate and bring good luck to the newly wedded couple.

In this case, red is bad luck because it’s being written.  Usually, only people with authority can write in red. This isn’t just the people that decide which criminal to put on death row; we even see this school systems. Generally, a teacher is expected to use red pen to correct their students exams and papers; when a students sees a red marking, this means that they know they made a mistake and that they need to correct something. When the color is used in written form, it serves as a warning. So when someone’s name is written in red, and the name that they’ve written down is of someone that is still alive, Chinese people will panic or freak out because that means that they’ve ultimately just been sentenced to death by someone of higher authority (AKA, the person holding the red pen).

So traditionally, we never write people’s name in red ink because that means you want them to die.”

 

Thoughts:

I’ve known of this taboo my entire life—I remember when I was about 5 years old and I wrote my name in a bright pink pen, and my mom yelled at me and whited out my name. When I asked her why, she told me that pink was too close to the color red, and that I should never write my name in red or red-like colored ink. After that, until I was 14, my mom didn’t let me use pens that were a color other than black, blue, or green. A few years back, I again encountered something similar: I was working at a tutoring center, and my boss had written a girl’s name in red ink at the top of her worksheets that she had to take home. The mother of the girl, who was Chinese, screamed in front of the entire classroom, yelled at my boss, and then actually ended up having her daughter quit the tutoring center.

Clearly, this taboo is taken very seriously in Chinese culture; I ended up looking up why people couldn’t right their names in red after this conversation with my informant, simply because I had never heard of writing the names of criminals in blood as a practice. Sure enough, she was correct. In an article by a Vision Times: “All Eyes on China,” an online newspaper about China’s history, influence, and China in today’s context, Yi Ming writes: “In ancient times, a death row criminal’s name was written in chicken blood, and later this evolved to being written in red ink. Thus, in all official records, the names of death sentence criminals were written in red ink.” However, Ming gives even more reason for why the color red (in the context of writing names) is unlucky. She states that “Yán Wáng Yé, the King of Hell, also marked people about to come down to hell in red ink,” and that deceased death row criminals had their names written in red ink on their tombstones.

This folklore suggests that this taboo is an example of sympathetic magic, where “like produces like.” If you write your name in red, then you’re essentially writing a death sentence to yourself because it resembles the death sentence of a criminal or the red ink on a criminal’s gravestone. These taboos exist to protect ourselves socially; we would never want our own names written in red because we don’t want to die, and we would never want our relatives or friends names to be written in red because we don’t want them to disappear from our lives nor have anything tragic happen to them. We are surrounded by this fear of the reality that we can’t control the bad things that happened to our loved ones, so we attach this fear to rituals; these rituals give us autonomy over processes like this, perhaps psychology providing us comfort and making us feel like we are doing everything in our power to protect one another.  

 

To read more on this, this is the citation for Yi Ming’s article on Vision Times:

Ming, Yi. “A Chinese Taboo: Never Write Other People’s Names Using Red Ink.” Vision Times, 2

June 2016,

www.visiontimes.com/2016/06/02/a-chinese-taboo-never-write-other-peoples-names-using-red-ink.html.

 

Adulthood
Customs
Digital
Folk Beliefs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Determining Marriages from the Chinese Zodiac Calendar

Context:

My informant is a 55 year old woman that immigrated from China to America in her early 30s. She is a mother, a registered nurse, and also a teacher in nursing school. This conversation took place in a hotel one evening, and the informant and I were alone. In this account, she explains the significance behind the Chinese Zodiac calendar in relation how marriages or compatible partners are determined. I asked for the story behind this folklore because I know the Chinese zodiac calendar holds a lot of importance to the informant, for she has discussed it a lot with me in the past. She told me that she doesn’t remember how exactly she learned all of this; rather, it’s so integrated into Chinese culture and talked about so often that it almost seems like common knowledge that everyone will learn one way or another. Because her English is broken, I have chosen to write down my own translation of what she told me (while still trying to stay true to her performance), because a direct transcription may not make as much sense on paper as it did in conversation (due to lack of intonation and the fact that you cannot see her facial expressions or hand motions in a transcription). In this conversation, I am identified as K and she is identified as S.

 Text:

S: “In China, we have these zodiacs to, um, see what type of animal you are. For example, this year is the Year of the Pig, so everyone born this year will… have the Pig as their zodiac animal. I don’t remember exactly how it works, but, um, like, the Zodiac calendar lines up with the lunar year—everything we do and believe is connected to what point of the lunar year we’re at. So you can see why this zodiac calendar is so important. We even use it to, um, determine marriages. For example, if a person’s zodiac animal is a Chicken, they can’t marry someone who’s a Dog because chickens and dogs always fight in real life; symbolically, this means that these two, if they get married, will fight for the rest of their lives. Eventually, all of this fighting will break their marriage. Basically we turn to the zodiac calendar to look at, uhh, compatibility. Before Chinese people couples get married, they want to look at each others zodiacs and then look at this other thing called a ‘huang li,’ which determines which years and days they should get married.”

 

K: “Who else can’t get married?”

 

S: “I know that Pigs are considered perfect matches with Tigers, but, um, though I honestly can’t tell you why. I do know that Pigs, in Chinese culture, represent wealth, riches, and, like, will bring lots of happiness, so most people want to marry someone who’s zodiac animal is the year the Pig. People also want to get married the Year of the Pig, and especially want to have children the Year of the Pig.

 

Thoughts:

When I was a kid, my parents would always talk about our zodiac animals—my father is a sheep and my mother and I are rabbits. They would always talk about how their love was meant to be because, in the Chinese Zodiac calendar, sheeps and rabbits are considered perfect matches. Because it was so integrated into my childhood, I think I started to take on the characteristics and personality traits that were expected of a “Rabbit.”

After being told this folklore, I looked up what the expected traits of a Rabbit were, and the weaknesses include “timid” and “hesitant”—though I’ve grown out of it now, as I child, I rarely spoke to anyone because I was too nervous. Strengths of a Rabbit include being polite, generous, and responsible, which were all things that I was (and still am) known for among my family, friends, and peers. Because these traits of our Zodiac animals are so true to who we really are, it’s hard not to take these animals so seriously. As I’m getting older, the concept of marriage is becoming more and more relevant, so it’s natural that my Chinese parents, relatives, and the informant (who is also a Chinese relative) are starting to talk about my Zodiac in the context of marriage. Rabbits are apparently extremely compatible with most other Zodiac animals, according to my family, so perhaps that’s why they’re so confused as to why I’m not in a relationship yet/ thinking about marriage yet.

 

Folk speech
Game
general
Humor
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cool and Creamy

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student at the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat at a table with two other people, and we were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, he talks about a tradition that a student-run philanthropy (that holds a summer camp every year for the LAUSD community) does every year at our Spring Retreat called “Cool and Creamy”. Occasionally, one other person at our table, who is also a member of the organization,  interjected with her own comments. My informant learned this folklore just by attending Spring Retreat and watching counselors of past generations perform it. This is a transcription of his folklore, where he is identified as N, the girl that interjects is identified as L, and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

N: Okay, so “Cool and Creamy” is this voluntary tradition. It’s when two members, at Spring Retreat, perform this act in front of everyone as a part of the variety show, which is like a talent show, and they get, um, whipped cream, and they kind of sexualize it in a way… [laughs]

L: What, no not really!

 

(In the section directly below, when N speaks, I’ve recreated “Cool and Creamy” in the dialogue form that it’s actually performed, and the recreation is based off of my informant’s description. “Cool and Creamy” is essentially a ritualistic skit that involves a call and response between two people. Each person is given a bottle of canned whipped cream, and the goal of the tradition is essentially to put the whipped cream on the other person’s body parts until the can runs out. The names of the two people in here will be “A” and “B”.)

 

N: Yeah they sexualize, they totally sexualize “Cool and Creamy”! Yeah, yeah! They do!

      It goes like this:

A: Heyyyyyy B!

B: Heyyyyyy A!

      And then A goes like, “Do you like Cool and Creamy?” on a certain body part…. Like:

A: Do  YOU like Cool and Creamy on your elbows?

      And then B goes:

B: I LOVE Cool and Creamy on my elbows!

      And then A would spray the whipped cream on B’s elbows. And then it basically goes back and forth for like another five minutes, and it’s just kind of like a tradition. It’s um, like borderline funny. It’s almost It’s almost funny, mostly like, it’s mostly cause like we do it, but not funny because it’s funny.

K: How do you get chosen to do it?

N: Um, I think it’s just mostly older members… I don’t think people get selected to do it. But like, it’s something that like we’re guaranteed it’s going to show up at every single variety show.

K: Wait so then how do they pick who has to do it?

N: I think like two people just volunteer, like oh, which is a totally voluntarily process…. Yeah, people just volunteer… for some reason…

L: [laughs]

K: Why do people do it?

N: They do it because it’s tradition, you know? Sometimes you just gotta do it. Sometimes you just gotta do a little Cool and Creamy.

K: How did you learn this tradition?

N: How did I learn? They learn it from like past generations, so like, they’ll see that like the year before two counselors will do Cool and Creamy and then they’ll be like “Hey, this year we should do Cool and Creamy,” and then they’re like “Okay, let’s do Cool and Creamy” [laughs].

K: Why do people continue to do this?

N: Literally just because it’s tradition, it’s like literally just a weird thing that we do and it’s like “Okay, it’s weird, so we wanna just keep doing it every year… Forever.”

 

Thoughts:

This folklore is yet another example of a tradition that serves as a bonding experience. It’s not just the performers that become closer and more integrated into the organization; the camp counselors that simply just watch it happen also become a part of the “family.” As someone that is also a camp counselor in this organization, what’s particularly interesting to me about this tradition is it’s potential double reading. As my informant said, the tradition itself is not funny, but because it has sexual overtones (and just from the mere fact that we continue to do it every year) is what makes it funny. “Cool and Creamy” is fun because it’s weird and quirky, making is special to the organization, but the sexualization of the tradition also serves an ironic purpose that creates greater bonding potential. For example, the work that camp counselors do are meant to be very pure and good-intentioned, and when we’re around the kids it’s completely inappropriate to make any jokes that are foul or sex-related.

When we’re around the kids, we’re seen as leaders, role models, and adults, but this means that we have to keep our identity as college students hidden. Therefore, at Spring Retreat, when it’s only camp counselors with no kids around, we are given a chance to meld our camp counselor identities together with our college student identities, and thus comes the result of sexualizing things that, in a kids eyes, would just be seen as pure fun or just a few counselors messing around. Furthermore, “Cool and Creamy” is fun because it’s not explicitly dirty, but it has plausible deniability as a sexual joke. We can even see that my informant debated with L on whether or not the tradition is actually sexualized or if the sexualized interpretation is a way to trick counselors into making them feel bad for having a dirty mind.

“Cool and Creamy” is a perfect example of camp folklore being used to bond counselors together before summer camp happens, making counselors feel much closer so that, when summer camp comes around, everyone works together much more as a collective group. Because relationships are closer and everyone has had this shared experience, communication during camp becomes much easier. Counselors are much more comfortable around each other, thus making a much more successful summer camp than what would be without having this shared experience.

 

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

The Ghost of Andy’s Market Hill

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat alone at our own table, but were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, she tells the story of a ghost from a market in her hometown of Apple Valley, Minnesota. She learned this story in middle school via work of mouth, and stated that everyone in her town knew about it because they had all been to the market before. In this transcription of her folklore, where she is identified as P.

 

Text:

P: Okay, so in my town of Apple Valley, Minnesota, there used to be this gas station that everyone called Andy’s Market, but in high school it turned into a Super America… it’s like a chain gas station in Minnesota… but when I was younger it was like a local gas station and then the little, uh, convenience store by it was called Andy’s Market. Right next to Andy’s Market, there was this huge hill. My town is extremely flat, so this was, like, the place that a lot of kids went to go sledding in winter time. But also on this hill were archery… targets?… Basically places to practices archery, where there were targets.

 

So, this was a story that I heard in middle school. Anyways, the story goes that one day, a little girl was sledding on the hill and someone was practicing archery at the same time. And just as [laughs], just as she slid down the hill, an arrow… Someone was pulling the arrow back… I don’t even know the proper terminology, and the arrow goes through her eyes. So anyways, she died, and the story goes that she haunts Andy’s Market Hill. So people say that the only kids sledding on the hill can hear her and see her, but she floats around with an arrow through her head and calls out for her mom… That’s my folklore! [laughs]

 

Thoughts:

I found it strange that among all the follow up questions I asked her, not a single one of her responses mentioned anything about people ghost-hunting for the girl, or people suddenly avoiding Andy’s Market Hill in attempt to stay away from this haunted area. In my conversation with the informant afterwards, I asked her what this story meant to her. She told me that the story stood out to her personally because it “just seems too perfect… like, just as she was sledding down a hill, at that exact moment she gets hit by an arrow.” But aside from being skeptical of just how realistic this story was, she told me that she believes people like it because Andy’s Market Hill is something that everyone in her town drives past or walks past everyday, so they feel personally connected to the story. She admitted that her feelings on the story may seem morbid to many people because, personally, it makes her happy that there’s a story that ties everyone together: “It makes our town seem smaller and more interconnected, which I love.”

So perhaps one function of ghost stories that we don’t consider is it’s power to connect people and solely to connect people. Ghost stories often are used to remind us of our past wrongdoings, perhaps to teach us a lesson, or even serve as warning, often deterring us from going to the “haunted” location. Yet, in this case, Andy’s Market Hill does none of these things. It seems to simply be a story that is passed on among young kids as chatter; it’s something that they can all relate to and understand. It’s a story that’s all inclusive, and inclusivity is vital for a young child to feel. Andy’s Market Hill is an example of how ghost stories can be used to help kids fit in with the crowd and make them a part of an “in-group” that is often not easy for younger kids to find.

 

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Protection

Why You Can’t Split a Pear

Context:

My informant is a 55 year old woman that immigrated from China to America in her early 30s. She is a mother, a registered nurse, and also a teacher in nursing school. This conversation took place in a hotel one evening, and the informant and I were alone. In this account, she explains why Chinese people can’t split pears when they eat them.I asked for the story behind this folklore because I had known of this superstition for a while, but never understood why it was considered bad luck.Because her English is broken, I have chosen to write down my own translation of what she told me, because a direct transcription may not make as much sense on paper as it did in conversation (due to lack of intonation and the fact that you cannot see her facial expressions or hand motions in a transcription). In this conversation, I am identified as K and she is identified as S.

 

Text:

S: Um, so, um, Chinese people have a lot of traditions that determine what you can and cannot do. So, in my family, my grandparents told us that two people can’t share one pear. In Chinese, the pear is pronounced “li,” but it has another meaning as well, which, when translated to English, means “separate.” So if a couple shares one pear, that means that they’ll eventually separate and can’t keep their marriage. If a mother and daughter split one pear, they have to separate– just, two people can never share one pear. But, for some reason, three or more people can share a pear; it’s just that two people can’t share a single pear or else they’re destined to separate.

 

K: Do you take this seriously?

 

S: I take this VERY seriously. When I cut a pear, only I eat it, only my daughter eats it, or only my daughter eats it. If my husband and daughter unknowingly eat slices of the same pear, then I will make sure to grab a slice for myself and eat it.

 

Thoughts:

Just like my informant, I also grew up with my grandparents telling me of this taboo that I can’t share a pear with someone. Frankly, I agree with it—as a Chinese person, I’m quite superstitious, and even when I think some of the traditions I follow are a bit ridiculous, it never hurts to abide by them just to be safe. The fear about sharing a pear makes sense— “sharing a pear” in Chinese is 分梨(fēn lí), which is a homophone of 分离(fēn lí), which means “to divorce” or “to separate.” This taboo seems to have elements of sympathetic magic, otherwise known as “like produces like.” “Sharing a pear” sounds just like “separate” in Chinese, so by sharing a pear with someone, it’s the equivalent action to separating with them.

In a cultural context, family in China is so important. We are raised to be extremely loyal to our elders; everything we have, from our knowledge to our place of privilege, is because of them. So why would you run the risk of being separated from them? This type of folklore is performed because we like to feel that we have control over processes like relationships. As humans, we have this feeling where we can’t control the bad things that occur over the people we love, so we attach this fear we have to rituals. These rituals, which include taboos and prohibitions are practiced to protect our social bonds.

Customs
Festival
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Vietnamese “Day of the Dead”

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student at the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat alone at our own table, but were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, he talks about a Vietnamese tradition, similar to the Day of the Dead, that his family practices every year in order to honor and respect his family’s ancestors. My informant says he never officially learned this folklore, but rather that his mom “just started doing it… One day I woke up and there’s just this altar in the middle of my house.” This is a transcription of his folklore, where he is identified as N and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

N: Hello, so um, this is really similar to the Spanish Day of the Dead—I don’t really know what it’s called to be honest—but it’s kind of like an ancestral worship thing, so like…

 

K: But specific only to Vietnamese?

 

N: Yeah for Vietnamese people! So we have a bunch of pictures of our ancestors, and then we have a bunch of food that we put on the table… Honestly we didn’t do much more than that. I’m pretty there’s a whole other tradition that went along with it…

 

K: Okay but why did you do it?

 

N: Just to like worship your ancestors and stuff. Like, “pay respect to your ancestors” kind of thing, and we’d just have pictures of a bunch on them on our table and we’d like offer them, like, Vietnamese food offerings.

 

K: Were they supposed to, like, come back and visit you or something?

 

N: No… well, maybe, I don’t know! Yeah… so that’s it.

 

Thoughts:

In this account, it was clear that my informant didn’t know a lot about the tradition and was even slightly unenthusiastic about it. This may be attributed to the fact that he’s uncomfortable because he feels that he should know more about the tradition because his family has been doing it every year ever since he can remember. During our conversation, it seemed like he felt a little ashamed or guilty that he wasn’t as informed, especially when he knows it’s so important to his family.

In a separate conversation, my informant told me that his parents were immigrants to this country, but that he was born in Los Angeles, California. Sometimes, people can be embarrassed or shy when they tell cultural stories, especially if they don’t have strong connections to their culture, which seems to be the case with my informant. Even though he gets the gist of it, my informant seems disconnected from this practice because he was never the one to set up the altar, pull out the photos of his ancestors, or cook the food that his family offered. In this case, my informant seems to only be a passive bearer of this tradition: he can recognize the folklore when it’s performed or being created, but he doesn’t seem capable of replicating it. His parents, on the other hand, have clearly been the active bearers of this tradition in his family. This could be due to the fact that they are immigrants, and thus are much more strongly connected to its purpose.

This tradition speaks to immigrant status and identity; my informant is in a liminal state of being a part of a Vietnamese identity because he was born to Vietnamese parents, but also being American because of the fact that he was born and raised in America. Because of this, he loses a lot of the authenticity of his Vietnamese identity. Even from the very start, we can see that he introduces this tradition not by it’s Vietnamese name, but as a tradition that is “similar to the Spanish Day of the Dead.” Perhaps this is because in America, Day of the Dead is much more well-known and integrated into American culture than most other ethnic holidays. For example, when I took Spanish in high school, we would celebrate Day of the Dead every year as a way to immerse ourselves into the culture. As a child, it’s possible that he came to understand his own family’s folklore in the context of America. Thus, rather than thinking that Day of the Dead is similar to this Vietnamese tradition that his family practices, his mind was instead wired to notice that this tradition is similar to the popular holiday of Day of the Dead.

On the other hand, understanding that Day of the Dead is a much more understood and well-known celebration, my informant perhaps uses Day of the Dead to explain his tradition in terms of other peoples folklore to help it be better understood. His way of introducing it as a Vietnamese version of the Day of the Dead could be his way of saying “Day of the Dead is not a mainstream holiday, and neither is mine.”

 

Childhood
general
Myths
Narrative

The Race Around the World with Kartikeya and Lord Ganesha

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat alone at our own table, but were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, she tells a traditional Hindi story about a race between Kartikeya, the god of war, and Lord Ganesha, the lord of obstacles, learning, and the people. She learned this story from her mother, who told this story to my informant and my informant’s sister to “make sure we respect her, cause’ parents are our world.” In this transcription of her folklore, she is identified as P and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

P: So this is the folklore of Ganesha and his brother, um Kartikeya’s, race around the world. So basically, [laughs], ok, so basically, um, one day, his parents were like, “We want you to race for this mango!” And, um, there was two songs and one mango, so they decided to have a race for that one mango. So both boys really wanted to win this mango [giggles], but they had to race around the world and be the first one to finish, so, so Ganesha picked his trusty steed of a mouse. And, his brother, Kartikeya, picked a peacock. So, Ganesha was a little chubby boy, and he had a mouse, which isn’t the fastest… And… well aren’t elephants scared of mice? Is that a thing?

 

K: Yeah, I’ve heard that before too.

 

P: So maybe that’s like also a thing, I don’t know. Um, so people were like “Eh, he’s not gonna win.” And his brother had the peacock, which is a lot faster, and he’s like a slim boy [laughs]. So anyways, the race starts, Kartikeya books it on his peacock, circling the world, but Lord Ganesha, smart boy, he doesn’t start. Instead, he goes to his parents, sits them down, and then goes on his mouse and circles them, because to him, his parents are his world.

 

K: Awwwww!

 

P: So he got the mango! [laughs]

 

K: Where did you learn that story?

 

P: Um, my mother told me that story. I think it’s also to make sure we respect her, cause parents are our world.

 

K: Ok that’s fair. Did it teach you that? Did it actually serve its purpose?

 

P: Um, I don’t it taught me to respect my parents because it’s just some thing you do as a human being… as a good person, but I think it like, was a cute way to look at it. Does that make sense?

 

K: Do you plan on continuing telling this story?

 

P: Okay, honestly, I don’t know, just because it’s a religious story and I’m not very religious. But, it’s like a good moral story, I mean aside from the whole parent thing, it just shows that like, you don’t need to be the fastest or the slimmest to win a race, you need your wits and intelligence! You don’t need a peacock, you just need a mouse to get your mango. The mango of life.

Thoughts:

This story is particularly interesting because melds to forms of folklore together: a cultural story with the concept or phrase of “you are my world.” My informant told me that a large part of Indian culture is respecting your parents and recognizing that you’re parents have done so much for you. By having Ganesha express that his parents are his whole world, this story is ultimately a very endearing and wholesome way to teach children that their parents should be the center of their love because they are where they are because of their parents. The mango also seems to represent the idea that if you give your parents your love and respect, they will always reward you in return with theirs.

For another version of this story, please refer to the citation below:

Krithika, R. “Race around the World.” The Hindu, The Hindu, 17 Dec. 2015, www.thehindu.com/features/kids/why-were-ganesha-and-karthikeya-keen-on-winning-the-race/article8000267.ece.

 

Childhood
Folk speech
Game
general
Musical

Childhood Hand Clapping Games (Down by the Banks)

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student from the University of Southern California, and serves as a Residential Assistant at USC McCarthy Honors College. In this account, she describes a childhood rhyme/game that she commonly played with her friends when she was younger. The way this game is played is for children to sit in a circle with their hands lying open on each others, open palm with the next person’s right hand on top of your left. When the rhyme begins, the first child takes their right hands and crosses it across their body to hit the right hand of the next kid, and the child’s hand who is hit last by the time the rhyme ends is “out.” This conversation took place at McCarthy Honors College one evening, and is actually a continuation of a conversation that we had a few days prior to this one. The initial conversation involved a three more people, in which we all shared our various versions of the rhyme with each other, surprised at how there are different versions. However, for this specific conversation, the one where I focus on only my informant’s version of the rhyme, she and I were alone in a private space. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as E and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

E: Ok, so,  I was talking with some friends recently and we all remembered like a certain, like, childhood rhyme or game that we used to play, like in elementary school or whatever. And it involved some hand clapping, I will say that, but something we realized is that, like, regionally, the rhyme seems to vary. So like, my friends from the midwest had like a different rendition of it, but like it was only changed by like maybe a few words. So here it as, as I know it:

 

Down by the river by the hanky panky,

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to banky.

A E I O U bamboo,

Sugar is sweet and so are you,

So bing bing bong you are out.

 

K: In what context would you sing this song?

 

E: Um, I mean it’s definitely of more of like a play time, recess time thing. Like I don’t think it’d be, uh, how shall I say, acceptable to do this in class.

 

K: How did you learn or hear about this little rhyme?

 

E: Oh, probably like kids who are cooler than me on the playground. I mean, I’m just being honest.

 

K: So definitely not formally taught.

 

E: Oh, certainly not. Like my teachers never like taught me.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that this folklore was especially interesting because it ties to my personal experience with this childhood rhyme. I personally did not consider this childhood rhyme folklore until this conversation because I remember being a kid and doing this in music class, where I was formally taught by an institution of how to play this game. I was surprised when I learned that this is normally something that is passed down or performed by other children rather than something that is taught by a music teacher. Furthermore, I was excited by the fact that my version of the rhyme was different:

 

Down by the banks of the hankity pankies,

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to bankies.

With an Eeps, Ips, Ohps, Ops,

He’s got the lily with the big ‘ker-plop’!

 

For another example of  “Down by the Banks,” please refer to this source:

“Down by the Banks of the Hanky Panky.” King County Library System, The Kingsgate Library, kcls.org/content/down-by-the-banks-of-the-hanky-panky/.

For more examples of children’s hand clapping games, please refer to this source:

Sutton-Smith, Brian, et al., editors. Children’s Folklore: A Source Book. University Press of Colorado, 1999. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46nskz.

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