Don’t stick your chopsticks into your rice.
I was having dinner with my family back in my father’s home town when I was younger. When we are watiting for other family members to be seated, my younger cousin casually sticked his chopsticks into his bowl of rice. My father stopped him. My father told me that it is not right to stick your chopsticks into rice because people only do that when they are worshipping ancestors or in front of a grave. Doing so on a dinner table is extremely rude to others and also brings bad luck to people. Basically, you would only stick a pair of chopsticks into rice in front of dead people.
The story was told on a dinner table to stop my counsin’s impolite behavior. It happened during a family dinner with other members in my family.
There are a lot of different manners you are supposed to follow on a Chinese dinner table. I shared the same experience as sticking my chopsticks into rice and got shouted at by my parents when I was younger. A kid may just do it because of fun or childish curiousness, grown-up adults should tell them not to do so by explaining the culture to them gentally.
I was helping prepare the dining table someday. The informant told me don’t put the chopsticks uneven in length
When Chinese people are having dinner, puting the chopsticks uneven in length means bad luck. We called it “三长两短/ three pieces long and two pieces short.” It represented “death”. Chinese people believe when some one died, he/her will be put into a coffin. When the body is in the coffin and the cover is not closed yet, it is called “三长两短”. Therefore, it is ominous to put chopsticks in this way.
The infotmant is my mother and she was helping me setting up the dining table. She learned the dining table manner from her parents when she was young and she just felt like I shoud inhet it too.
This piece was collected during a casual conversation between the informant and me before dinner.
I think it is kind of weird that people can connect anything from the table to death. But it is also interesting. This may mean that Chinese people really value meals with family.
Main Piece: 月が綺麗ですね /The moon is very pretty (tonight).
The informant told me that it is too direct for Japanese people to say “I love you”. Japanese as a language is very obscure. In daily conversation, people are being extremely polite to each other. Therefore. directly saying “I love you” seems to be rude and abrupt. Instead of saying that out, they would say “the moon is very pretty tonight”. This is because there is a story about a Japanese famour writer, Soseki Natsume, translated “I love you” into 月が綺麗ですね. When people thinking about 月が綺麗ですね , they would think of “I love you”. It’s a connonative way of expressing love to someone.
The informant is a student from China studying abroad in Japan. She heard this term and the story of Soseki Natsume before she went to Japan. In this coversation, she told me that the story might not be true. Because the story gets popular after Natsume’s death, no one know if he really translated “I love you” into something with the moon.
I collected this piece through a casual interview with my informant in social media chat box.
This piece is well-known because of anime. Lots of Japanses anime and manga adapted this term into their story. I knew it from somewhere else before this interview as well. But still, it is a very romantic way to tell someone your love.
Original text: 夏が終わった
Translated text: The summer ends.
The informant told me that in Japanese, words sometimes have more meanings than they seem to have. For example, “summer” is not only a season. It represented the best time of love. “Summer” is when you are fervently love someone but haven’t decided to tell him/her. It’s like the beautiful relationship between highschoolers: they are in love, but too young to say it out bravely. When “the summer ends”, it means someone decided to give up on a relationship, or a fruitless love.
More generally, 夏が終わった also means the best period of one’s time has ends. It’s like the end of teenage.
The informant is a student from China studying abroad in Japan. She saw the hashtag 夏が終わった on twitter. People do not only post about season under it, but also use it to descrive something more emotional. She shared this with me through social media chat box.
I collected this piece through a casual interview with my informant in social media chat box.
It’s a really beautiful to say something inside someone ends. I like how Eastern Asian culture tends to have more connotation in their language.
Me: I want a new pair of board shoes.
Father: Sure, we can go shopping after the Qingming festival.
Me: You mean after tomorrow? Why not tomorrow?
Father: You don’t buy shoes(鞋xie) on Qingming because it brought bad luck (邪xie).
Me：It sounds like a terrible joke.
Father: I mean it.
My father used to go tomb weeping with my grandparents on Qingming. But none of them went because of the pandemic. Instead, we were talking about what to do for the short break (It’s a official holiday). He told me he heard this from his father and I should remember not to buy shoes on Qingming as well.
I collected this piece when I was casually talk to my father through phone call.
Homophonic words sounds like joke to me at these days. But in the past, people really believed those words with the same pronouce could bring them bad luck. My father still believe in it. I don’t know if I should follow that but I will remember this weird taboo.
To celebrate one’s birthday in China, one should eat noodles instead of cakes. And one has to finish the noodles in his/her bowl.
Birthday cake is a western custom. Originally in China, people celebrate their birthday by eating noodles. A real bowl of birthday noodles should formed by one single piece of noodle. But nowadays the standard is loose, any noodles can work.
When I was in quarantined in my dorm in Los Angeles, I happened to celebrate my 20th birthday alone. My grandma called me and told me don’t forget to cook myself some noodles. I asked her to explain this custom again and she did. But she couldn’t remember how she heard it. It is just so widely performed that everyone seems to know it by nature.
My grandma called me and mentioned this custom, I asked her for more information for this collection.
I actually want to have a bowl of real Birthday noodles someday.
In Chinese lunar calender, there is the twelve-year cycle represented by twelve animals as zodiac. When it is the same zodiac as the year you are born, you are supposed to wear red. No matter it is underwear, socks, or any clothes, you should always have a piece of red on your body. It would bless you a smooth year of fate.
2020 is the year of mouse, which is my mother’s zodiac. One day we are changing cloth in the room, I saw her wearing a red underwear which is not her style. So I asked her about it and she told me this custom of wearing red in the year of fate. She also said she heard it from her parents and apprantly it is a wide spread agreement in Chinese society. She said I also wore red when I was 12 but I don’t remember.
This piece was collected quickly through a daily talk with my mother when we are in the middle of doing something else.
Chinese people have a positive belief of the color red. It represents good luck and can protect us from bad things. I think there may not be any scientific proof behind this color belief today, but there might be some relation in the past. For example, maybe red helps people to discover each other in dangerous situation. Or maybe red makes people feel warm. Anyway, I am always glad to see my mom wear something colorful.
Main piece: where you hold on the chopsticks decides how far you are gonna go away from your home.
The informant said one of my relatives said I would go really far because I held the chopsticks near the end of it. There is a belief of how far you held the chopsticks from the bottom reveals how far you are gonna be away from your home.
The informant said when I was young I held my chopsticks really far away from the bottom, then one relative of us told her that I might go really far.
The informant is my mom. She heard this piece from one of my relatives and did not really believed it. She mentioned this only because we were talking about that relative.
I was casually chatting with the informant.
No matter if it is a real thing or just superstition, I did go far away from home to study. I still hold the chopasticks closed to the top.
Main piece: 隔夜油炸鬼——冇厘火气
Original piece in Cantonese: 隔夜油炸鬼——冇厘火气
In Chinese: 隔夜油条——没有一点点阳刚气
Translated: A overnight deep-fried dough stick, doesn’t have any hardness left.
Explain: Deep-fred dough stick is a popular snack in Guangdong area. It is crunchy and tasty when it’s fresh made. But after a night, it will be soft and cold, not as good at all. Guangdong people use this two-part riddle to descrive some one doesn’t have any vitality, or someone who is too good temper and never got mad.
Q is a friend I met on Internet. She was from Guangzhou, China, where they speak Cantonese and Mandarin as their daily language. I asked Q to share some Cantanese proverb with me through internet and she agreed. The category pf proverb we are talking about has a specific name called “歇后语”. It is a kind of two-part allegorical saying. There are some content connection between the first part and the second part as well. Normally, they can form a simple story.
I was casually interviewing my internet friend Q through a chinese social media.
This one is different from all the other Cantonese proverb I’ve heard because I have never heard anything close to it in Chinese. At first, I thought it is used to describe someone doing belated action because of the term “overnight” in Chinese. But the usage of this is far different from it. It is very interesting to me.
Main piece: A Red Bean Porridge recipe taught by my grandma, acknowledged being especially helpful for reducing symptoms of period.
Red bean: 50g; Black rice: 50g; pearl barley: 50g; Red dates: a few; Longans: a few; Peanuts: a few; Sugar: a little;
Almost all of the ingredients in this recipe except sugar and peanuts, are believed to be healthy to women, especially during their periods. Food like red beans, black rice and red dates are supposed to enrich the blood because of its color. Pearl barley are believed to be good to women’s skin. Longans are just healthy in general. And I think my grandma only adds peanuts and sugar to make me willing to eat it. If you want to be extra healthy, you can replace sugar with brown sugar.
My grandma called me when I was in quarantine and share this recipe as concerning for my health.
I was never a fan of this red bean porridge when I was young. I thought it is disguesting that my grandma put in all the ingredients and boiled them. When I grew older and started having my period, this porridge actually helped reduce my pain several times. I don’t know if it is just because it’s some hot stuff and you always feel good eating hot food when you are in period. I’d rather believe it’s a magical recipe that would make me feel better.