Game
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Musical

“I Went to a Chinese Restaurant”

Contextual data: When asked about childhood games or rhymes she knew, my informant immediately thought of this game. My informant was born and grew up in Hawaii. She says she first learned this in first grade at school through a friend. She says at the time everyone used to play it. The lines are said simultaneously by two partners, to a simple tune, clapping hands in different patterns every other syllable. At the end of the game, both players freeze, and whoever moves first loses. This can be decided by the spectators surrounding the players, or by one of the players themselves. The following is a transcription of the song’s lyrics (line breaks my addition):

I went to a Chinese restaurant / to buy a loaf of bread. / The lady asked my name, / and this is what I said: / my name is L-i-l-i pickle-eye pickle-eye pom-pom beauty x-y cutie Indiana Jones don’t move!

My informant and I both had difficulty thinking about the significance behind the song or game–in her own words, the game “sounds nice” and “it doesn’t matter when you’re in first grade”–but I’m sure there is some. Perhaps “pickle-eye pickle-eye” is some kind of racial slur against Asian facial features (perhaps the owner of the Chinese restaurant?), and “pom-pom beauty x-y cutie” could reference any number of things, from cheerleading to large breasts. The lyrics are so abstract and seemingly disparate that it’s hard to string them together. Perhaps by this point they’ve changed so much from their earliest forms that it’s actually impossible to pinpoint any original, intended meaning (if there ever was one), and now people find significance in the simple pleasures of playing the game.

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