Tag Archives: Covid 19

Deceiving Yourself 掩耳盗铃

Background: My friend and I were talking about how different countries cope with the pandemic. We found that a few politicians around the world didn’t take the coronavirus seriously enough at first and pretended that it was only a small problem. My friend described them as “掩耳盗铃”.

Main piece:

掩耳盗铃

Pinyin: yan er dao ling

Transliteration: Cover your ears and steal the doorbell.

Informant’s explanation of the phrase: 

I think it came from a story. Well I’m not sure if it really happened, probably just a fable. A thief went to another person’s place because he wants their doorbell somehow. He tries to steal it, but he realized the doorbell would ring! So his genius solution is to cover his ears and then steal the bell. His logic is like he wouldn’t hear a sound, so other people won’t either. This dumbass got caught of course.

Context: As it was used by the informant in describing politicians who refused to take action, the proverb is used with irony to describe people who clearly understand what they do is wrong but still carry on with self-deception. 

Analysis: This particular form of proverb, 成语 (cheng yu), is very similar to another form of Chinese folk speech, the enigmatic folk similes. Both contain double meanings, with one layer of superficial storyline and a deeper connotation of advise, mockery, or knowledge. The difference, however, is that cheng yu often adhere to a uniform form of strictly four characters. While cheng yu are also proverbs that illustrate folk wisdom, in most cases the user must be familiar with the legend or history they allude to in order to use them in common speech. Cheng Yu thus becomes an identity marker. They reflect the culture, values, and identity of their “folk”, as well as a bigger reservoir of folklores that provide them with derivative connotations.

For a different version of this proverb, see

郑荣萍. “掩耳盗铃.” 中学生英语:少儿双语画刊 5 (2012): 13–13. Print.

Chinese Enigmatic Folk Similes

Background: A friend and I were talking about the COVID-19 situation in the US. She mentioned that at late February, when COVID started to spread in the US, some people bought masks and sent them to Wuhan, China to support the medical workers there. She brought up this common saying:

Main piece: 

泥菩萨过河——自身难保

Pinyin: ni pu sa duo he——zi shen nan bao

Transliteration: A mud Bodhisattva crosses the river——She can’t even save herself.

Context: This piece of folk speech is often used to describe people who are well-intentioned to help others, but are themselves in dangerous or unstable situations. In the context of COVID, the informant means that it is kind for those people to send masks to Wuhan, but their very own lives are at stake in the US already.

Analysis: This is an example of a particular genre of folk speech in Chinese, 歇后语 (xie hou yu), which has been translated as “Chinese enigmatic folk similes” or “quiz-cracks”. Different from proverbs, an enigmatic folk simile doesn’t directly offer a conclusion or an advice. Different from riddles, an enigmatic folk simile doesn’t propose an explicit question and doesn’t have an answer. Enigmatic folk similes often contain multiple meanings. Its form is often separated into two parts. The first part succinctly tells a story, often alluding to historical or religious instances, and the second part provides a proverbial conclusion that is in line with the context created by the first part, but often with deeper connotations. In this case, the story, “a mud Bodhisattva crosses the river”, requires the audience to imagine and suppose that mud dissembles in water, and therefore a mud Bodhisattva in a river, no matter what good intention she has, might perish before she is able to help others. The deeper connotation is that regardless of good intention, one must first be responsible for themselves before considering others, or else no one is benefitted. 

For different versions of enigmatic folk similes, see 

Rohsenow, John Snowden. A Chinese-English Dictionary of Enigmatic Folk Similes (xiēhòuyǔ) = Han Ying xie hou yu ci dian. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991.

Memorate of Racism and Corona Coughing

Informant: My editing partner told me about how she started having a coughing fit in class and the teacher actually asked her to leave. Like it wasn’t even the cough associated with Covid, it was a wet cough that she had been suffering from for a while. Everyone in class was freaking out even after she left.

Interviewer: She actually left the class? Do you think there was any racism as a part of it?

Informant: Oh it was racially charged. To say that it wasn’t racially charged would be f***ed. She’s f***ing asian.

Background: My informant and I were discussing the fear that was taking over the university campus and she brought up this story she heard from a friend.

Context:

Thoughts: The reason why I had to ask a clarifying question was because I suspected the student in question was Asian. At the time a lot of Asian students were facing racists slights such as this. It makes me wonder if the informant’s friend still would have been asked to leave the class if she wasn’t Asian.

Food Worker Slang

The following is a transcribed interview between interviewee and I. Interviewee is further referred to as MH.

MH: Better watch out, Miss. ‘Rona is coming for us!

Me: What does that mean? 

MH: It means that Coronavirus is coming for us all like an angry woman. That’s what we all call it at work so it isn’t so heavy. 

Me: So you call COVID-19 Miss ‘Rona?

MH: hahaha, yeah.  

Background:

Interviewee works for Trader Joe’s, a supermarket chain that has been providing food services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers have developed lots of folk slang during this time, some of which I picked up and was able to ask about. 

Context: 

This piece of folklore was collected from a quick phone call when interviewee had just gotten off of work. The setting was very casual, as we were just talking to catch up and share some folklore.

Thoughts:

Lots of slang has been cropping up about coronavirus, especially in communities that are on the front lines, like in food or medical services. It is interesting seeing that some of the people who are most exposed to coronavirus are trying to make a joke of it, even in just the name, so that they can lighten the tone of the overarching fear and hostility they may be facing in the workplace.

Another variation of the infamous Quarantini

The following is a transcribed interview between interviewee and I. Interviewee is hereby further referred to as MH. MH was speaking about some of the things that Trader Joe’s, a local supermarket is doing for the COVID-19 pandemic.

MH: Today I made a sign for the store advertising quarantinis LOL.

Me: What does Trader Joe’s consider a quarantini?

MH: Oh, well a quarantini is just cinnamon vodka and apple cider. I’m not sure if that’s everyone’s definition of it, but that’s the recipe that all Trader Joe’s across the country are sharing. You should try it, it’s delicious and cheap and they’re flying off the shelves, everyone’s doing it. 

Me: No way, I have to get on that LOL.

Background: 

Interviewee works for Trader Joe’s, a supermarket chain that has been providing food services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trader Joe’s, along with many other supermarkets have been essential businesses during the pandemic and the community of food service workers have been impacting daily life because they are one of the few who are still working. Further, supermarkets are one of the only in-person businesses still running, where many people will interact. 

Context: 

This interview was conducted over a video call between me and Interviewee, MH, so it was very casual. We are long-time friends and she works and goes to school in San Diego, CA. 

Thoughts:

It’s interesting because this definition of quaratinis is different from others I’ve heard. She says that it’s a specific recipe, but there are so many others. Some, like in an earlier interview I conducted, don’t think that it is a recipe at all, but a concept for any mixed drink made at home. It is interesting how much variation there is in this drink even though the people I’ve spoken to have all been from a relatively similar region and in some of the same communities.

Zoom Parties

This interview was conducted over a video chat between me and interviewee, hereby further referred to as NC.

NC: I’m going to a zoom party tonight. You wanna come?

Me: What’s that?

NC: A zoom party?

Me: Yeah

NC: It’s like a get-together or gathering of people, like a real party, except it’s all virtual through zoom. 

Me: Wait, but how does that work?

NC: Well basically someone hosts the meeting like hosting the party, invites all of their friends with the link and everyone can log on and talk or send chats, etc. It’s nothing like a real party but it’s still social interaction. 

Me: Cool, so do people get dressed up nicely like when they’re going to a party or is everyone still in pajamas and sweats?

NC: It depends who’s in the party. Like if it’s your close friends, everyone is just casual and in PJ’s but if it’s a big party with some people you don’t know you obviously don’t wanna look like shit on camera. 

Me: Ok, thanks.

Background: 

Interviewee is a friend of mine who has been picking up on a lot of slang from other friends and classmates. She is a senior at an East-Coast University, but has since moved back to the west since COVID-19.

Context:

This piece of folklore was collected during a video call between me and interviewee during the Coronavirus Pandemic. I have known the interviewee for many years, so the conversation was casual. 

Thoughts:

This is a new custom that has only begun because of the pandemic. Something like this, people meeting up online or even considering a “party” online would’ve been looked at as something almost uncool before the pandemic. However, now there is a big cultural shift into supporting and promoting technological meetups and even gaming. I think it is good that we are learning the possibilities of the tech world to bring us together and, maybe, we can change the way we socialize and interact from this.

Folk Medicine in a time of crisis

The following is a transcribed interview between me and interviewee, MH.

Me: How are you protecting yourself against the coronavirus?

MH: OMG, well I’ve been crushing up garlic and taking it like a shot in the morning with some hot black tea with honey in it to chase it. And all our stores are getting completely wiped out of garlic because everyone is upping the garlic to boost their immune system. Our stores are also getting drained of all our kombuchas because everyone is upping the probiotics. But I thought it was pretty surprising how fast the garlic has been going, it is like never before.

Me: Thanks so much.

Background:

Interviewee works for Trader Joe’s, a supermarket chain that has been providing food services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trader Joe’s, along with many other supermarkets have been essential businesses during the pandemic and the community of food service workers have been impacting daily life because they are one of the few who are still working. Further, supermarkets are one of the only in-person businesses still running, where many people will interact. 

Context:

This piece of folklore was collected from a quick phone call when interviewee had just gotten off of work. The setting was very casual, as we were just talking to catch up and share some folklore.

Thoughts:

Garlic is a well-known and established folk medicine for colds. However, I think it is interesting how popular this remedy has gotten with the coronavirus since there aren’t any known medicines that work for it yet. I think that it is the lack of medicines for the virus that is leading to a large surge in natural medicine and ancient eastern remedies. However, most popularly is simply raw garlic cloves being ingested or eaten. And, even more interestingly, since the interviewee works in a supermarket chain, she says that their stock is diminishing across America. And so, maybe it is possible that all over America, people are desperate and trying anything that may help them fight off this virus. Their first source of medicine seems to be reaching for the tried-and-true garlic cloves. 
For some more history on this remedy, here’s a quick, easy-to-read source with some interesting information on the growth of this remedy: https://home.howstuffworks.com/garlic3.htm

COVID-19 Car Parades

Background: AR is my college roommate and friend. She spent the first fifteen years of her life in Minneapolis, Minnesota before moving to Thousand Oaks, California for high school. She is currently in her twenties and attends school at the University of Southern California.


Context:
AR and I conducted this interview over Zoom, since this was amidst California’s Stay-At-Home orders for COVID -19. Both of our birthdays are coming up within the next few months, so we began speculating how we could celebrate without gathering a large group of people under one roof. AR brought up the idea of car parades, which I then asked her to elaborate on.

Main Piece:

(In the following interview the informant is identified as AR and the interviewer is identified as JS.)

AR: So for my friend’s birthday, her mom organized a little drive-by parade kind of “moment.” Um, and so her brother texted me and asked me if I would come at a certain time and I was like “Heck yeah I will!” Um, so, we surprised her on her birthday and people drove by in their cars and then me and her girlfriend, we got out of the car, and like, stood in her yard and like, had a conversation—social distancing! [Laughs] Um, yeah but that was kind of it because I had class after, so I had to leave early, but yeah it was like a little surprise moment. Yeah.

JS: Did you know about these parades before?

AR: No.

JS: Okay.

AR: But I feel like now that I know about them, like, I’m not that surprised by them, because I know that for a lot of medical workers people do like drive-bys with posters and stuff, so it’s pretty common…form of communicating in quarantine.

JS: How many people participated? Or like cars or whatever?

AR: Um, there were five cars and then two of them had like family friends in them, and then the other three were like me, her girlfriend, and then like another friend.

JS: Did you guys like dress up at all or make posters?

AR: Um, the family friends did—they made posters. Uh, I mean I guess I wore something nice?…Yeah. [laughs]

JS: Did you guys loop around the block multiple times? How’d you guys meet up beforehand?

AR: We didn’t meet up beforehand. So we all just, like, went to their house and parked on the block. And I texted her brother and was like, “I’m here” and he said “Okay, we’re on the patio”—they have a patio above their garage, and so I came out and stood in their driveway with her girlfriend and just chatted and then some other cars came by and just stopped in the street and said hi and then left.

Thoughts: I’ve also had the opportunity to witness COVID-19 car parades, though the ones I saw were far more disruptive than the ones AR describes. For her, it seemed like the “car parade” was mostly an excuse to come over and talk from six feet away. They did not honk repeatedly or circle around the block multiple times or blast music from their cars, as many of these car parades often do. Still, it’s a pretty clever way to socialize with people while “social-distancing” and provides an excuse for people to get out of the house. I’d guess that it’s a far more common occurrence in suburbs, where most participants have access to a car and don’t have to worry about blocking traffic.

Car “Breeds” are Just as Important as Animal Breeds

Main story: 

With the current 2020 outbreak of COVID-19, veterinary technicians (hereby referred to as vet techs) are still slated to go to work as animal care is finally looked at as essential by most all of the U.S. However, nobody outside of the people who work in the clinics are allowed into the clinic. Vet techs are doing patient intakes over the phone and then asking the owner of the patient what car they are in so when they exit the clinic to the parking lot to get the animal to be taken inside and treated they know which car to go to. Because of this, vet techs are also having to learn what different car makes and models actually look like on top of everything else. So this meme is relatable across all veterinary clinics as this is the standardized procedure. But the other joke in the meme is the reference to car models as “breeds”, obviously dogs and cats and horses have breeds within their species that vet techs all know. And now they are having to memorize a whole other form of breed. 

Background: 

The informant who made the meme is a veterinary technician. They are almost attacked by animals every day they go to work. However, no matter how crazy it gets with the animals, they maintain they could not imagine any other job. 

Context: 

The informant is a coworker of mine, I am also a vet tech. They sent the meme in our clinic’s group chat. 

My thoughts: 

I found this very funny and highly relatable. As a vet tech myself, I find myself on the phone with clients and asking them what car they are in and only half of the time actually knowing what their car looks like. The other half of the time I am googling on the computer on my way out their car make and memorizing it quickly so I do not look completely out of touch and incompetent when I walk outside looking for the owner’s car.

Quarantini: the social-distanced Martini

The following is a transcribed interview conducted over a video chat between me and interviewee, hereby further referred to as NC.

NC: Let’s have this conversation over some quarantinis. 

Me: Quarantinis? What are those?

NC: It’s just a saying for video chatting with your friends with drinks. Basically any drink that you make while you’re drinking at home by yourself or while cyber “drinking with friends” is a quarantini.

Me: What does that stem from?

NC: Well, because we’re in quarantine and can’t go out for martinis, we’re just gonna have to settle for our indoor social-distanced drink, the quarantini of your choice made with whatever you have on-hand or that isn’t sold out of your local grocery store. 

Me: Fair point. So just to be clear, any drink that you’re drinking is considered a quarantini?

NC: Well, other than like beer and wine. It’s basically any mixed drink but it doesn’t really matter what it is since no one can see what you’re drinking anyways!

Me: And where did you pick this up?

NC: Oh, everyone is just saying it. I’m sure it started out as a meme and spread from there.

Background: 

Interviewee is a friend of mine who has been picking up on a lot of slang from other friends and classmates. She is a senior at an East-Coast University, but has since moved back to the west since COVID-19.

Context:

This piece of folklore was collected during a video call between me and interviewee during the Coronavirus Pandemic. I have known the interviewee for many years, so the conversation was casual. 

Thoughts:

I think that people are doing what they can to get by during the stay-at-home orders and one of those things seems to be regular alcohol consumption. According to the news sources, alcohol purchase and consumption is up during the quarantine. Further, people are finding ways to socialize, even in social distancing. This was not the first time, nor the last that I heard the term “quarantini” to refer to a drink made at home during this time. The term is now fairly common and I have been also seeing quite a few memes about it as well.