USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘sleep’
Folk speech
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic

Chinoisms: Sleep

Context & Analysis

The subject often mentions her mother’s “Chinoisms”, or unique sayings that her mother learned when growing up in Chino, CA. Below is the subject’s direct quote on the origin of her mother’s proverbs:

            “So my mom comes from Chino [California], and so she has a plethora of sayings that I didn’t even know what they meant earlier, I just said them until I got older and I was like “Oh! That actually makes sense!”

The subject’s mother’s response is cheeky and plays upon the pun created in the phrasing “How did you sleep?”. The question is rather contextual; if the question is taken literally (like how the subject’s mother does) it is results in a humorous answer.his reminded me a lot of classic “dad jokes”, or jokes that give literal responses to questions often with the purpose of irritating their children for a humorous result. The subject’s re-enactment of her mother’s gesture is also an important part of re-creating the joke, as the punchline of the joke is delivered physically rather than verbally.

Main Piece

“Almost religiously whenever my mom is asked “How did you sleep?’ she says “Like this!” and then she puts her hands next to her face, and, um, tilts to the side like she’s sleeping. [The subject put her hands in a prayer pose on the left side of her face like she’s sleeping on a pillow and tilts her head slightly].

Childhood
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

DANCE PARTIES

EXAMPLE:

Informant: What about dance parties?

Interviewer: What about dance parties?

Informant: We used to have them, as a kid. When I was younger. Would they count as folklore?

Interviewer: What do you mean?

Informant: Well it was like this thing. Like whenever it was late and it was bedtime, but we couldn’t go to sleep, we would have dance parties.

Interviewer: Who?

Informant: Well it would be like when we had been staying up talking to my mom, and then she would tell us to go to bed. But we weren’t tired. So she would throw a mini-dance party for my brothers and me.

Interviewer: Was there a specific song you would listen to?

Informant: Yeah! What was it? I know it. If you heard it, you would know it. (After Googling something) “Moondance” by Van Morrison. My aunt gave her like a mix CD from her high school reunion and that was on it. We would always listen to that song.

Interviewer: And dance?

Informant: Yeah. Until we got tired, then we would crash out and go to sleep.

ANALYSIS:

I feel like every parent must have a trick to get their kids to go to sleep, and this one sounds like a fun one that will easily tire the kids out. Kids, generally speaking, do not like to miss out on time with the adults and do not feel like they are missing out, so it makes sense that this informant’s mother would initiate the dance parties often when the informant and her siblings were up talking to the mother. When she said it was time to go to sleep, they probably groaned. So she made a game out of it.

I like the addition that it was one particular song, “Moondance”. That to me made it a ritual. That when they heard the words dance party, they knew exactly what music would played. It is also interesting that the music was passed along by another family member. That does not necessarily mean anything, but it is very folkloric to have all the elements passed down or along by other people. Her mother did not pick “Moondance” arbitrarily, it was on a CD her sister gave her. That just feels more special for the entire process and dance party.

Folk Beliefs

Never Sleep With Your Feet Facing North

My roommate’s parents were both born in Indian (she was born in the United States) so she sat down with me in my apartment and explained some folklore that she learned from her parents. Her relationship to the folklore isn’t necessarily that she truly believes in it, but that it’s an important part of her culture and something she thinks about from time to time.

“Never sleep with your feet facing north, always sleep with you head facing the north, because that is where God is. Putting your feet in that direction is disrespectful”

Q: So, sleeping with your head and feet in a certain direction is part of religion?

“It’s religious-based, because our main god, Ganapati, he…long story short, they needed to find a head for him. That’s why he has an elephant head. And they had to go find…like, get the head of the first animal that was facing north. And it was an elephant, so he has an elephant head. North is where God…everything good is in the north”

Q: So is the south considered bad?

“I don’t think it’s considered bad, it’s just that North is where the gods live. West, East, South… no gods live there, so we don’t even particularly care.”

Q: Does your family all follow this direction?

“It’s one of those things that’s always in the back of your head, like ‘never put your feet facing the north’ In my house at home I actually sleep facing south, but when I came to college I was like ‘oh this is north, I will sleep this way.’ I don’t believe that I will be curse or that I’m going to die because I slept in the wrong direction, but it’s something you think about”

Q: Do other people take it more seriously?

“I think so. I know when I would go home and visit my grandparents, they’re in flats, so there’s not a lot of space, so we’d have to combine beds and it was really inconvenient the ways the two beds combined, but it was like ‘you have to face sleeping north so this is how the beds will be arranged’ But that was one thing, at home. I only have experience at home. My grandparents didn’t care when we went to a hotel, they were like, yeah whatever. It’s more like your primary bed is a big deal”

 

This folk belief has a basis in religion, but it doesn’t seem that there a large consequences for not following the belief. Unlike some folk beliefs, there is not really a set punishment for disobeying; instead, what is important is conveying respect to the gods.

Folk Beliefs

The Sitting Ghost

Informant was teaching and boarding at a high school in the mountains, a three-hour bus ride away from the city. The dorm was a foreign environment that frightened her. When she finally fell asleep, she was awoken by a strange presence that she sensed at the foot of her bed. She was unable to move, feeling as though something were pressing down on her, though nothing was above her. When her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she noticed a man standing at the foot of her bed, fully clad in an ancient Chinese military costume. Since he was watching her peacefully, she assumed that it was an acquaintance from a past life or simply a passing spirit and fell back to sleep in peace, believing that he was there to protect her.

In Western cultures this phenomenon is known as sleep paralysis, and psychologists have come up with scientific explanations. In Taiwan, however, the cause is attributed to ghosts. The phenomenon is known as “鬼壓床” (gǔi yā chuáng), which literally means “ghost pressing the bed,” and the symptoms are strikingly similar. Author Maxine Hong Kingston describes this phenomenon as the “sitting ghost” in her memoir The Woman Warrior.

Due to the prevalence of Taoism and Buddhism in Taiwan, the vast majority of the population—regardless of religion—believes in ghosts. Ghosts are not necessarily evil, as anyone could potentially become a ghost after they die. 

general
Magic
Myths

Scissor Lock

Scissor lock

The Informant:

My friend, was born in Los Angeles, CA. He is an only child and stayed in Southern California his whole life. He came over to my room one day and I randomly asked him if he had any good stories. I asked him specifically if he ever heard about the scissor lock and he told me:

The Story:

You’re asleep. You wake up in the middle of the night and you’re in your room. You see a figure in a corner – a grandma. She’s a Korean grandma wearing traditional clothing, not the nice kind of the type that commoners and poor people wear, with gray hair. She’s sitting on a chair, moaning and weeping. You want to get up and talk to her but you can’t. All you can do is move your eyes. You look to the right and it’s a blank wall. You look back at the grandma and she’s gone. Suddenly you feel a presence at the base of your head. You want to look up but you can’t – you’re petrified. You want to do something but you can’t because you’re stuck. You can’t move. Then I started saying prayers and singing praise songs and everything went away.  You wake up with your arms crossed and hands on your shoulders, like a scissor.

 This never happened to me, thankfully, but I know people who have experienced it.

The Analysis:

The scissor lock is an occurrence that I first came across two years ago. When I asked my friend to tell me this story, it was late at night around 11pm. The room was very bright and the story did not seem scary at the time. The scissor lock appears to be a common occurrence among Koreans, Korean Christians especially. This version included specifically seeing a grandma clothed in old, dirty clothes. It is not known whether this is a general case of a specific case for just my friend. The name scissor lock appears to come from the position in which one wakes up in, with your arms crossed diagonally across the body.

Adulthood
Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sleeping Around the Christmas Tree

Here my informant recounts a Christmas tradition her family shares:

My family always sleeps, well, not always, we’ve done it before… Okay, so we always sleep in the living room right around the Christmas tree at Christmas time, and all of us just, like, sleep on the floor on this big mat. Uh, just like a mat, just, not like an inflatable bed, but we’d just kind of each make our own, we’d call it a mat, but it was more our own kind of blanket and pillow bed I guess, we’d all sleep on the floor with.

My informant described how her family started this tradition when she was just one year old, and how she, her parents, and her sister would spread out blankets and pillows under the Christmas tree, and sleep there together on Christmas eve. She said it was a way for her family to celebrate being together and loving one another on such a special holiday, and how it always made her appreciate what a wonderful home she had.

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