Author Archives: Joy

Chinese Red Eggs

Piece
H: Because the infant death rate was so high, people used to celebrate the baby’s birth after one month, so one month is actually their birthday. If they can, there is a big party and everyone gets red eggs. Ah-ma’s family was too poor to have a big party, but they give red eggs to the neighbors instead.
J: Why red eggs?
H: They’re a symbol of good luck and fortune. Also chicken eggs and chicken are a special treat in Taiwan. So the eggs are chicken eggs and red is for good things. [pause] You give them to people for other birthdays too, particularly for older people. Grandparents. Parents. Like 50 or 60. You give them red eggs too. You make red rice cakes stuffed with red bean. Anything with red bean paste. Mold it and make it the shape of, umm, the word doesn’t come out, a, a turtle! The rice cake in the shape of a turtle to symbolize long life. And if the person is older than you, you bow to them. When it’s their birthday, you bow to them.

Context
The informant learned this traditon from their mother who was born in Taiwan where this was a practice in their village and aided in throwing the red egg party for their neice.
This story was shared upon request by the collector when asking about various cultural traditions.

My Thoughts
I vaguely remember a red egg party for one of my first cousins. We dressed in red, fancy clothes and brought gifts. We ate red eggs and many other delicious foods and treats. Everything was red from the paper banners to the tablecloths to the food.
While red being a good color in Chinese culture is nothing new to me, I was surprised to hear at least some of the reasoning behind the eggs. In America, chicken is pretty cheap and easily available. Yet, for the informant, having chicken or chicken eggs was special and for celebratory occasions only.

Fail Faster

Piece
On my robotics team, we follow the saying “fail faster”. Starting from our first meeting, to our last match at champs, our design mentor always tells us to fail faster. By failing faster, we innovate faster. Failing faster encourages us, regardless of subteam, to think outside the box; to think big. When we know that something doesn’t work, we reflect off of it. What went well, what didn’t go well. This reflection helps us find a design or a plan of attack that works best for our team needs. We pass down the motto of fail faster both through mentors and students. Mentors always encourage us to fail faster, but so do the students. Like mentioned before, we encourage students regardless of subteam to think about side the box. Have a crazy design for a climber, or a new idea for an outreach event, let the team hear it.
Context
The informant shared this via an electronic platform of individuals who participate in the international robotics program in a conversation about team mottos. The informant is a student on their robotics team where the motto has been passed down from student to student and shared by older students and the team mentors. The motto “fail faster” is not the official motto of the team, but is the one that students are familiar with and feel the team works by. It has also become a motto for the students as they become engineering students and adults.
My Thoughts
This is an unofficial motto of my own robotics team, though less so than the informant. I have heard it in other teams as well as in some start-up level engineering companies and SpaceX. The idea is that if you just get something out and see it fail, you’ll move faster towards the right solution than trying to iterate in theoretical space until the design is perfect. This motto encourages members of those teams and companies to see failure as a learning opportunity more than anything. It tries to build a collaborative culture that pushes for innovation because they are okay if the mechanism doesn’t work. This motto can then overflow out of the workplace as individuals become more willing to take chances in life and try something new. They are taught to look at failure as an opportunity to learn and to make the most of it is coming up with a new solution or way forward. Furthermore, encouraging failure promotes inclusiveness. New members don’t have to be afraid of giving an idea because failure is something everyone does and experiences and the faster they get around to doing it, the more they will learn.

Order of Operations Mnemonic Device

Piece
PEMDAS- Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally
Context
The informant was introduced to this mnemonic device in late elementary school and middle school as a method to learn the order of operation: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. When solving a mathematical equation, the order that one performs the operations is important to reach the final answer. The students were taught “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally”; however, the informant and many other students in the class would change to simply say “Pemdas”, a made-up word, but one they could still remember. The phrase was less appealing to the informant and their peers as it was long and required them to break down the phrase into the first letters of each word to get the actual desired content.
My Thoughts
The students were taught the phrase “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally” by their teachers, but instead made their own mnemonic device to better match their preferences. The shorter device may point to a desire for efficiency in those who use it as they prefer a more straight-forward learning method than one that might be seen as ‘creative’.

Engineering vs. Arts Degree Joke

The graduate with a Science degree asks, “Why does it work?” The graduate with an Engineering degree asks, “How does it work?” The graduate with an Accounting degree asks, “How much will it cost?” The graduate with an Arts degree asks, “Do you want fries with that?”
Context
In a group discussion including college freshmen and high school seniors over what major the students were studying or thinking about studying, one high school senior said they were trying to decide between being an engineering major versus an art major. One of the college freshmen then shared the joke. The group was comprised of students and alumni of the robotics program, so all were at least thinking about pursuing STEM majors.
My Thoughts
This is a commentary on the massive pay difference between the average engineering (most STEM) majors and arts majors. It is a way for the rivalry in high school between those who are more STEM minded versus the arts-minded to poke fun at one another. The joke can mean a couple of different things. One, it can be a reminder to students who have interests in both fields that a job in the arts is less stable and guaranteed paycheck wise than a career in engineering. The second is to feed the ego and feelings of superiority that many want-to-be-engineers have in the pre and early college years (and beyond for some).

Engineer’s Rounding Joke

Piece
“pi=10, it also equals 3 and e=3 so pi=e!”
Context
When talking about safety factors, the informant, an engineering student, shared the joke. Because engineers are always concerned about the safety of the users of their products (because getting sued is no fun) and like to account for the things more difficult to account for, one way to introduce a safety factor is to make pi equal to 10 in all calculations. This massive rounding then prompted the follow up of simply rounding e (~2.718) and pi (~3.14) could simply be rounded to 3 for simpler calculations and that error would be accounted for with the safety factor.
My Thoughts
This joke has some practicality to it by reminding engineers to have large safety factors to ensure the safety of their designs, it is also a joke on the rather flippant view of numbers that engineers have as it doesn’t always need to be precise but simply overkill enough for the application. I also relate this to the idea that engineers are lazy and so create processes and machines to ensure they can be lazy at the desired times. Multiplying or dividing by 10 is about as lazy as it gets in math.

Christ is Risen

Piece
R: “Christ is Risen!”
O: “He is Risen Indeed!”
Context
On Easter, one would greet another those they meet with “Christ is Risen!” and that person is supposed to respond with “He is Risen Indeed!”
The informant makes this exchange with people at their church and family members when waking them in the morning. They learned it from members of their childhood church.
My Thoughts
This exchange of ritualistic words is to celebrate and proclaim what Christians believe to be the most important part of Easter, the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. It is in response to Jesus’s benediction (after his resurrection) in Matthew 28:18-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”. It could also be a method of distinguishing who is a Christian and who isn’t throughout the day.

Waving/Beckoning Cat

R: Well, we gave him a cat for luck.
C: Why? And why is it waving
R: I’ve actually heard two stories for that. One, was a long time ago, there was an emperor who was a good man. He would always greet everyone he saw as he went about his walks. One day, he saw a cat waving at him and so he stopped to wave back. Then, right in front of him, whoooosh, a horse galloped by and would have hit him!
The other one I’ve heard is that the cat is actually beckoning you. So there was an emperor who was sitting under a tree and enjoying his day when he saw a cat beckoning him to come. So he did and then right after he was out from under the tree, lightning struck it and would have killed him had he not gone to the cat.
So now when someone is starting a new business, you give them a waving cat.
Context
The informant gave their brother-in-law a waving cat when he opened a new business and shared that story to those present when prompted to by his children. To the informant, it was a way of honoring their brother-in-law’s culture and sharing stories (the informant enjoys storytelling) that they had heard from their parents when growing up.
My Thoughts
I have heard several versions of this story besides the two shared here and have seen many different waving cats in Japanese stores. This shows the cultural desire to be able to influence things such as luck and to honor the things and people that bring good fortune: a good turn for a good turn. In another version of the story [see link below] the samurai is the one saved by the cat and he then goes on to give much wealth to the temple that the cat belonged to and honor the cat upon its death.
https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/maneki-neko-temple-tokyo/index.html

Penny for a Clock

Piece
“You cannot give time”
Context
In Chinese culture, you cannot give someone a clock, watch, or any other time-keeping device as it is seen as giving the person time or highlighting how much time they have left on earth. It is especially insulting if given to someone older than you. So instead of giving someone a clock or other time-keeping device, you sell it to them. The person you are “gifting” the clock to will then give you a penny (or the lowest form of currency of that region) so that they are instead purchasing it from you.
My Thoughts
Death is terrifying for most people and thus their culture will reflect that fear of the uncertainty. This practice shows the desire to ignore the passing time, or at least not acknowledge that there time may be coming to close. It also showcases a level of respect shown to ones elders in Asian culture that is not seen in American culture.
Scholar Annamma Joy writes about this in Gift Giving in Hong Kong and the Continuum of Social Ties where on page 250, she reports on a field study where a participant said, “I did buy a clock for a friend, but in Chinese culture clocks are never given as gifts because they are associated with death. But before I gave the gift, I asked her for a small amount of money, so that it appeared as if she had bought it for herself.”
Joy, Annamma. “Gift Giving in Hong Kong and the Continuum of Social Ties.” Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 28, no. 2, 2001, pp. 239–256. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/322900. Accessed 1 May 2020.

Dragon Boats Legend

Piece
It was originally a native tribe holiday. A dragon boat competition. Rowboat? Like rowboats competition, in the beginning of summer and you had lots of special food. After the festival, the weather stays warm.
In the old days, China was always a kingdom. This was before China unified to one kingdom. At that time, there were several kingdoms and there was always war, it was not very peaceful. There was a king, back before… it was called the three kingdom era. There were more than three kingdoms but that must have been the three major ones. There was a test to see who had the most knowledge, every year, and the winner would get to advise the king. The poets were very knowledgeable in literature, and there was one poet, Qu Yuan, who was very loyal to his king, but another king was trying to lure him with his daughter to marry. Qu Yuan was a very good advisor, but his king did not listen to him, so Qu Yuan worried that his kingdom would be swallowed by the others. So at the end, he gives up on the king and was so sad that he jumped into the river and die. The people of the kingdom tried to find his body and that is where the dragon boat competition started. They also made a lot of bout-zons and threw them in the river in hope that the fishes would not eat him.
Context
The informant heard this story from their mother during a childhood celebration. The informant does not practice any of the described activities nor celebrate the holiday as an adult with a family.
This story was shared during a family gathering as it related to another story told that specifically focused on the tradition of throwing bout-zons into a river after a person has died in those waters.
My Thoughts
This story highlights a lot of the attributes important to Taiwanese culture: Chiyan is loyal to his king, even when he is not heard. He cares for his people and works for their benefit. And he is honored after his death by the people that he served. He is not tempted away from his duty by the offer of a princess’ hand in marriage, but instead seeks knowledge and to do what is good for the people of his kingdom. This idea of self-sacrifice and the pursuit of knowledge is perpetuated in many Asian cultures even now. While Americans may find his death pointless, the intended audience of Taiwanese people see his death as a statement of his care for the kingdom and its people.
Scholar Huang Zheng wrote that the Dragon Boat Festival was to commemorate two individuals: Qu Yuan and Wu Zixu, and that the festival sought to exorcise evil. This version introduces another character and attempts to explain the dragon figureheads of the boats.
Zheng, Huang. “A Review and the Expectation of the Dragon Boat Festival Culture.” Journal of Hunan Agricultural University, 2010.

Bah-tzan Legend

Piece
During celebrations, we eat bah-tzans. The reason we eat bah-tzan is because there was a story. There were two friends, they were very good friends. Normally you stay in your town, but these two friends were in different towns, so they said they would meet by the river. One would wait by the river and the other would come. The story is that the friends are so loyal that even when there was a flood, he waited. But he died in the flood but the friend want to remember him so he made so many bah-tzan sand threw them in the river so that the fish would eat them instead of his friends’ body.
Context
A bah-tzan is sticky, glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. It is more commonly called zongi in China. There are many different types of this type of dumpling depending on the region as different foods are mixed in with the rice such as meats, egg, peanuts, and mushrooms.
The informant learned of this story from their mother during a celebration in her childhood. The story was interesting, however when asked about how they felt about it, the informant responded with, “wasteful” and while an entertaining story, not significant to their personal cultural identity.
The family was eating a different kind of bah-tzan than normal and so one member asked about the different types and if there was a story behind bah-tzans.
My Thoughts
My initials thoughts were in line with my informant, it seems wasteful to throw so much food into the river. And while I admire the friends’ loyalty to one another, I feel that one must have a certain amount of discernment in dangerous weather and trust that the friendship can stand a missed meeting. This story says a lot about Taiwanese culture which heavily values loyalty, family, and friendships. Self-sacrifice for others is highly praised in Taiwanese culture, thus this story has appeal to them. Furthermore, the story shares the importance of the body when honoring a deceased individual.