Me: “At what age did that start? I feel like it’s a little weird to encourage six year old girls to run around saying ‘shit’ in French.”
Informant: “Hahah no no it started when you were like officially in a show at the company, like as an apprentice.”
The methods for creating good luck for a ballet performance is much different than creating good luck for a theatre performance. Saying “break a leg” is terrible luck in a ballet studio. Instead, you say “merde”. The informant says her instructor rationalizes it by simply stating “Shit happens. So we face it by saying it right off the bat.” The word is said just before a performance. In addition to saying “merde”, the dancers would snap the should strap of their leotard for good luck.
The informant was involved in ballet through most of her life and knows a lot about the secrets and traditions carried with being a part of a ballet company. She takes them all very seriously and indicates that most all of the other dancers did as well. For this particular one, it was important to do this and everyone participated without fail.
It’s not surprising that ballet has traditions that revolve around the same concepts as traditions in theatre. It’s also reasonable that, given the rather strict nature of ballet instruction, everyone follows these rules and swears by them in her company. The incorporation of French make complete sense, although the vulgarity being the primary luck-bringing mechanic is unexpected. She participated in this one ballet company for her whole experience, so it’s unclear if the replacement of phrases is exclusive to her or not.
흥부놀부 (Heung-bu Nol-bu) – Good Sir, Bad Sir
Sung is in his early 50s and works as an engineer. Born in Incheon, South Korea, he immigrated to the United States after he married in 1990. He heard the story of Heung-bu and Nol-bu when he was in the first or second grade in elementary school.
흥은 붕해 뜻이야 – 잘 된다는것이야. 놀은 잘 못 된다는거야 (노는 사람들을 놀부라고 부를듯이).
흥부 하고 놀부는 형재야. 근데 놀부가 형이야. 잘 살아, 부자집. 흥부는 가난한 집이야. 형이 동생을 잘 못 챙긴거지.한국에서는 첫재만 재산을주는거지. 흥부는 둘째니까 많이 못 받은거지. 어느날 흥부는 놀부한테 밥을 달라고 했는데, 놀부의 부인이 식은 밥을
준거지. 제비 (새) 가 날라와서 집을 만들었지, 놀부 집 밑에.옛날에 집 바로밑에 처마가있었어. 근데 제비가 떨어져서 다리가 부러졌어. 그래서 흥부가 다리를 고쳤어. 고마운 마음을 제비가 어떤 씨를 가져왔어. 흥부가 그걸 심었었지. 그 후에 박을 쓸려고했는데 도깨비가 튀어 나온가요. 그 도깨비가 물어본거야 “너는 뭘 갓고 싶으니?” 흥부가 밥 달라고해서 밥을 줬어. 돈도 달라고해서 돈도주고, 옷도주고, 집도주고. 흥부가 잘된거야, 그래서 그 형이 배가 아픈거지. 놀부가 일부로 처마를 떨어뜨려서 다리를 또 부라뜨리고 제비가 이번엔 놀부한테 씨를 가져온거야. 그래서 똑같이 씨를 심어서 이번에도 도깨비가 나타났어. 똑같은 질문을하는대 놀부가 “난 돈이 많이 있지만 흥부보다 더 많이 갓고싶으다! 돈 더 줘!” 라고 했다. 결국 나쁜 마음을 가진 놀부에게 돈을 다 잃었고 가난해졌다. 잘 살던 놀부는 평범한 인생을 살고 없었던 흥부는 좋은 인생을 살게됬다.
Heung is a word that means good luck. Nol means bad luck. In light of this tale, people who simply play and don’t work are called “Nol-bu”.
Heung and Nol are brothers. Nol is the firstborn and Heung is the second child. Nol is rich and wealthy while Heung leads a life of poverty. In these olden times, the father passes on most of the inheritance only to the firstborn son and the second son is lucky to have received anything. One day, Heung goes to his brother’s house and asks for rice to eat. Nol’s wife gives him cold and old rice. These old houses there are eaves built under the roofs. A swallow comes and builds his nest there. The swallow fell and broke its leg. Heung came across it and fixed its broken leg. Out of thanks, the swallow returned to Heung and gave him a seed. Heung planted the seed and one day using a gourd to water it, a dokgyebi (Korean bogey) springs out. It asks Heung “what do you want?” and he answers that he is hungry and wants rice. The dokgyebi gives him rice. Heung says he wants money and he is given money. Heung says he wants clothes, a house, and it is all granted to him. The brother sees this and his stomach hurts out of envy. Nol purposely drops the eave so the swallow breaks its leg again. This time Nol fixes the leg and the swallow once again returns and gives Nol a seed. Nol plants it and waits for the dokgyebi to appear. It does. It asks Nol “what is it that you want?” and Nol answers “I have a lot of money but I want more than Heung. Give me money!” In the end, the dokgyebi sees his evil heart and Nol is stripped of his money and wealth. The brother who once was rich is now poor and the brother who once was poor is now rich.
이 의미는 남들이 잘되는걸 따라가려면 잘 안 된다는거야. 있는걸 있을대 만족해라. 욕심 내면서 살면 망한다. 착하게 살아라.
그리고 사람들이 없는대로 복만받으면 “흥부심뽀다”라고 얘기해.
돈이있고 남을 안 도와주면서 살면 “놀부심뽀다”라고 하지.
The meaning behind this story is that you should not live trying to chase after those who are better off than yourself. In doing so, you will simply lose what you already have. Treasure what you are given and be content. By becoming greedy, you will only end up losing what you already have and can end up in a worse state than where you initially stood.
My dad told me this story after I talked to him about my aspirations for the future. In light of my future, he meant to tell me not to put too much on my plate. In becoming greedy not only for money but also in my activities, I can end up burning out or losing more than what I think I can gain. He also meant this story to be a reassurance that all will be well. Instead of becoming lost in the competition against others for a job or for a better future, it’s always best to focus on my life and myself.
Here my informant recounts her first experience with a USC tradition, which, although it began decades ago, still continues today:
So, every time there’s a football game here at USC, all the students have to kick one of our flagpoles on the way to the stadium for good luck, and basically, you can hear that clinging noise coming from the pole for, like, miles away I wanna say, even though that’s probably inaccurate… whatever! It’s just you can feel the pride of the Trojan family every time someone kicks that flagpole.
I experienced this tradition my first game day ever here at USC, which actually wasn’t even when I was a student, it was when I was in eight grade visiting the campus, and that’s how I knew I wanted to go to this school.
The fact that the informant recounted this tradition with such pride, remembering details from when she was in the eigth grade, shows its significance to her. Indeed, even if she did not really know when that young that she wanted to attend USC, this experience has come to represent that for her, and she obviously takes great pride in this long-held tradition.
“Everyone that comes to my house who’s at all superstitious claims our house is haunted. Now, I have noticed all kinds of weird stuff in this house over the years. Believe me… I could not disprove it. I could not prove it, but nor could I disprove it., so there’s a feeling that there’s something going on in the house. Now I always maintain that they’re good ghosts, but when we did Macbeth at the house… it seemed like a very rough time doing that play. There’s a huge rumor in the theatre world that if you produce the play Macbeth, it is a nightmare. All kinds of ghosts come out, mess with your projects. You get all kinds of things that could go wrong… it’s scary.
“That has gone on for hundreds of years. It is the one play—Shakespeare—that is considered so heinously evil. Because the—the guy invites a guest over to his house and then kills him to become king. So, it’s considered so—such an evil premise, that we don’t. You, know, it’s something that you, you take very seriously if you’re going to do the play, and… that summer it was a nightmare to do the theatre.”
The informant added that you can’t say the name Macbeth in the theatre. He said that instead, you’re to refer to it as “The Scottish Play” (and the king as “The Scottish King” and queen as “The Scottish Queen”). He said that everyone in theatre will tell you this, (so he can’t remember where he originally heard it, but he hears it frequently). The informant follows protocol and uses the title “The Scottish Play.”
A teacher he worked with at Santa Monica College “freaked out” when they said they wanted to produce Macbeth, and she directed them to take themselves outside, spin around three times, and spit over their shoulders. The informant said people are very serious about this.
During his production of Macbeth, he had a tenant that refused to leave and was not paying him rent (she was a friend of the informant), but a lease had been signed for another person to move in. He also had a rough time with the director, who had also threatened a lawsuit against one of the actors and well as against the informant.
I’ve heard of this superstition often throughout school where the play is frequently read in classes and performed by theatre students, but the specificities of this telling of it (the squatting renter and the lawsuit-threatening-director) add to the belief. It’s the little things that individuals add to the larger superstition that make it powerful and give it truth value.
“In China, there’s this thing called your ben ming nian, which is pretty much the year–for example, I am the year of the ram. So when it is year of the ram, so every twelve years–so when I’m twelve, twenty four, thirty six…every day of that year, you should wear red. For example, my mom’s ben ming nian was last year. She wore red underwear every single day. Red is not a normal color in her normal wardrobe, but she was just like, ‘I have to wear red every day somehow,’ so she went to Victoria’s Secret and bought seven pairs of red underwear. Red is just a good luck color in China, and especially when it’s your zodiac year.”
The zodiac is a powerful belief in Chinese culture; many Chinese people believe that the year of your birth strongly influences your personality. As told by my informant, wearing the lucky color red during your zodiac year, or ben ming nian, makes the luck stronger and gives you a good year. The belief is so strong that her mother, who normally never wears the color red, went out and bought enough underwear so she could wear the lucky color year-round.
“In this family, there’s a mother, a father, a grandma, and an older brother, and a daughter. And they’re eating pears. And what you’re supposed to do, like you can never split a pear. You can only eat a full pear. And I actually remember, fairly recently, I asked my mom if she wanted to split a pear, and she wouldn’t. The story started off with the littlest child gets the smallest pear. It’s about filial piety. The elders get the best pears. And you also can’t split pears. Because that splits your relationships with people. Keeping the pear together keeps the family together.”
There are two different stories going on here: a tale about a family who gets differently sized pears depending on age, and a folk belief that it is bad luck to split a pear. My informant told them so that they were interconnected. The story of the family eating pears is related to filial piety – the head of the house gets the biggest pear because he deserves the most respect, and the size of the fruit diminishes until the youngest child has the smallest pear.
When viewed in this light, the belief that splitting pears with someone is bad luck makes perfect sense. If a pear represents filial piety and the relationships between family members, splitting it would be terrible for the family.
“If you shake your leg when you’re sitting, you shake off all your good luck.”
My informant comes from a Korean family. She had no idea why she was taught this as a child, but recalled her mother being adamant about the dangers of shaking one’s leg (she demonstrated – the saying seems to apply to when one is sitting with one leg crossed over the other, jiggling the foot of the leg on top). There could be some sort of superstition involved in this belief; however, I think it’s likely that people simply wanted their children to stop fidgeting and made up a reason for them to refrain.
“You can never say ‘good luck,’ you have to say ‘break a leg.’”
My informant grew up in the theater. This is perhaps the most common superstition among stage performers. Although my informant wasn’t sure exactly where the tradition comes from, it is likely that performers don’t want to jinx their show by talking about luck or anticipating a good show. Instead, “break a leg” does just the opposite – it wishes harm on the performer so that the opposite will happen.
Every summer, Braeden and his family go to the Hawaiian island of Kawaii. On the first Saturday that everyone in his family is together, they gather around the dinner table, and his grandma grabs a bunch of leis. Everyone at the table closes their eyes while the grandma walks around and places a lei on each person. One by one, each person guesses the color of their lei, either pink or white or yellow, and then opens his or her eyes to see if they guessed correctly. If you guess correctly, then you will have good luck for the rest of the time they are in Hawaii. That good luck can entail you being more likely to get the best wave of the day, being more likely to see a dolphin or whale or turtle, or even having a less chance of getting a mosquito bite. There is no consequence if someone at the table does not guess correctly, it just means that they won’t be extra lucky. Additionally, if by chance everyone at the table guesses correctly, then it means the whole family will have luck for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, Braeden says that everyone at the table all guessed correctly. On the other hand, if nobody at the table correctly guesses the color of his or her lei than the whole family will have bad luck for the rest of the year. Luckily, Braeden says that has also never happened.
Informant Background: The informant was born in Los Angeles. His family is originally from Taiwan. He grew up with his parents and grandparents who still speak Chinese, he does too. Many of his relatives are in Los Angeles so they all still practice a lot of Taiwanese/Chinese traditions and celebrate all the Chinese holiday such as: Chinese New Year, Ancestry day, Chinese Ghost day, etc. He said his family still hold many Chinese folk-beliefs and superstitions. He also travels back once in a while to visit his other relatives who are still back in Taiwan.
Do not live at the end of a street because all the bad energy of that street will gather at your house and never leave. It is also ideal if you can live with the mountains behind your house, and a steam in front. The mountain represents your family wealth. The stream represents the flow of energy renewing and also cash flows into your house.
The informant said this is a rule many Taiwanese people follow as a rule of thumb when they move into a new house or looking for a temporary place to live. Feng-shui is a tradition in Chinese culture that deals with the flow of natural and spiritual energy in spaces. The end of the street not only collect all the energy and not leave, it also is perceive as a “dead-end” where there is no other direction to go. These natural and man-made representations mostly have to do with wealth, which then leads to the well-being of the family.
I observed from my own traveling experience that this belief of Feng-Shui is widely spread and practiced in many countries. Throughout the years I observed that many who originated from China is aware of the concept of Feng-Shui. It is often practice at an older generation. The younger generations then seek advice on the subject matter from the older generation, using it as a rule of thumb before moving to a new place of residence. It also has influences in large developments where the developer will orient his project according to the belief thinking that his project will succeed.
This shows the importance of belief regardless of the truth and practicality in the folk-belief. Believing that wealth will come to your household will create an evidently better outlook in life than believing that your house collects all the bad energy of your street. Similar to how some people “knock-on-wood” because it makes them feel better, living in a proper Feng-Shui oriented house give the household a positive feel that at least their place of living is “correct.”
There have been many books in different languages about principle of Feng Shui. Some written by Chinese Feng Shui Masters, some are translations from collection of principles learned from the masters themselves. There are books written by non-Chinese about the subject matter. An example of that would be Feng Shui Your Life by Jayme Barrett and Jonn Coolidge where they illustrate how the practice of Feng Shui through design can better a home in term of spirits and energies. The author explore similar rules as the informant of the folklore stated above and also some in details to even where in the room to place a plant or to put a coffee table.
Feng-Shui is a belief that affects different scale of things. As mentioned by the informant it can effect a family’s well being through placement and orientation of the house. From the book mentioned above, Feng Shui can have an effect to an individual through placement of small objects within the room. It also reflects how folklore is tangled with everyday life.
Having these rules published challenges the notion of folklore vs. authored literature, even though it is clearly stated in the book that the authors do not claim these rules and theirs. It also challenges the idea of originality and authenticity since these authors are not from China but have studied under Chinese Feng Shui Master.
Barrett, Jayme, and Jonn Coolidge. Feng Shui Your Life. New York: Sterling Pub., 2003. Print