USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘success’
Proverbs

“If you try, you may succeed.”

About the Interviewed: Yuki is a Japanese student  from the University of Hokkaido, currently studying western art and culture. She’s currently participating in an American homestay at a friend’s house in Southern California. Yuki is ethnically Japanese, and she’s said that her family has lived in Japan for a long time. She’s about 21 years old.

“為せば成る                                   Nasebanaru  
為さねば成らぬ何事も              Nasaneba naranu nanigoto mo
成らぬは人の為さぬなりけり”    Naranu wa hito no nasanunarikeri

This was a cool proverb that my subject, Yuki, shared with me. Transliterated, it means something like:

If you try, you may succeed.
If you don’t try, you will not succeed. This is true for all things.
Not succeeding is the result of not trying.

She told me that she didn’t come up with it, but rather that it was a proverb from the Edo period of Japan. She said that her parents repeated it to her a lot.

One thing I found striking about this proverb, was how it embodies a drive for success that addresses a fractures ego. Someone who tells themselves they cannot, according to the verse, will not succeed. It takes an open mind and a strong determination to find success in something, at least that’s what I get from it.

Myths
Narrative

Carp and Dragons in Vietnam

There’s a story in Vietnamese mythology that’s similar to the Chinese or Japanese story about the koi fish becoming a dragon.

There was an emperor who wanted to create new dragons because dragons bring rain, which helps crops grow. So many animals in the ocean were summoned to have a competition, where they had to jump over three gates of rain. The first animal that could jump over all three would get to be transformed into a dragon.

First, a fish—I think it was a tilapia?—tried, but only got past the first gate. The second to try was a catfish, but it hit its head on the second, so its head got flattened. The emperor rewarded it with dragon whiskers for effort. Next came the shrimp, but it only got past the second, so the emperor made it look like a miniature dragon. Lastly the carp tried, and it got past all three, so the emperor transformed it into a dragon.

Because of this, dragons symbolize success and wealth, and education in Vietnam is compared to the three gates.

Informant is a Vietnamese American and a member of USC VSA, and grew up learning about Vietnamese culture.

The carp’s transformation into a dragon is a common motif in Asian mythologies, with slight variations in each culture’s telling. It is also interesting to note that this myth has parallels to social function.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Protection

Evil eye sayings

Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. She says that a common thing to say when you see someone  in new clothes, or looking particularly beautiful; or when someone has very good fortune in (for instance) an exam or a job; or, especially, with children and new babies; is

“Nazr-bad-door” or “Chashme-bad-door”

 

 

 

 

 

 

which, word-for-word, means “look-bad-far-away” or “eye-bad-far-away”, but translates to, “May the Bad Gaze/Evil Eye stay far away from you.”

Analysis: The purpose of this little saying is basically to keep away the Evil Eye, which the informant says can be put on someone if they are envied or have something that others covet (eg, good grades or good health). When the Evil Eye is put on you, you may fall sick, fail in your job or school, lose your money, etc. Children are especially susceptible because they are often the center of attention, especially in the informant’s Pakistani family, and so if someone merely looks at a child with selfish or ungracious thought in their mind, the child could fall ill or have an accident, etc. It is thus important to remember to praise God when you see something beautiful and not be jealous or ungrateful, and this phrase is a way to remind oneself of that, and also to express the desire to protect someone from others’ ill gazes as well. The informant said all this as what people “used to believe”, implying that the traditional phrase is kept even though the specific belief may have been altered or abandoned altogether.
Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Yusheng for Chinese New Year

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  She is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  Her family is from China but she has lived in Southern California for nearly all of her life.  Her dad spends lots of time working in Shenzhen.  She speaks fluent Mandarin and English.

 

Context: I was talking with the informant about traditions and rituals her family has.

 

Item: “For Chinese New Year my family usually gets together.  Traditionally, ever since I can remember, the adults have given kids red envelopes filled with money, and, we always have specific foods that translate to specific proverbs like good fortune and good health.  An example would be, having, um fish, because “Nian nian you yu” means abundance throughout the years, but the last word ‘yu’ means abundance but also means fish.  They are two completely different words but have the same pronunciation.  And, a couple of other things we would say is, “Gong Xi Fa Cai” which means ‘congratulations for your wealth’, “Wan Shu Ru Yi” which means ‘may all your wishes be fulfilled’.

 

Sometimes our family does follow this tradition but we don’t follow it too strictly, but there should be a placing order in how you bring the different foods to the tables.  You’re also supposed to say phrases with the addition of each ingredient such as pepper or lime or oil.  Uh, some of the themes touch upon wealth, luck, youth and business success or advancement.  That’s basically one specific dish but there are other flourless cakes that basically expands as you cook it.  It kind of symbolizes growth for kids especially.  Our family also hangs specific square red banners that has the word “Chūnmeaning ‘spring’.  We’d flip it upside down because when you flip it it means ‘dao’, or ‘it is here’ like ‘spring is here’.  We also do that with ‘fu’ which means prosperity, so prosperity it is here”.

Analysis: Chinese New Year really seems to revolve around luck, prosperity and happiness for the new year.  The props used – which vary from clothing to food eaten to the number of dishes served all are meant to be congruent with Chinese lore and beliefs.  The number 8 means good luck so things are done in eights, the color red is lucky so red is shown often and new, clean things are seen as ushering in good luck for the coming year.  There is a cyclical nature in Chinese/Eastern thought that we do not have here in the West.  The coming of the new year, though celebrated here, doesn’t truly entail the “reset” that it does in China.  This may be in part due to the fact that the Chinese civilization has been around for over four millenia (most of which they were relatively isolated), so they’ve seen a much longer time span of existence than most other cultures.  As such they’ve seen empires rise and fall, other warring worlds, and geographies change but still remain, which may contribute to their more cyclical way of thinking as opposed to the U.S.  There also seems to be very set things that are done in a precise process each new year celebration.  This is in contrast to many of the U.S. informants I interviewed who admitted a much more diverse and relaxed understanding of rituals and traditions.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Go Slowly

Form of Folklore:  Folk Speech (Proverb)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when he and his family moved to the United States, at the age of forty two.  In his youth, he had been exposed to folklore founded in Armenian, Russian, and Greek culture.  Even though he now lives in America, he is surrounded by a tight net community composed of people who speak Armenian or Russian and come from a background similar to his own.  As a result, most of the folklore he knows is mainly based on his cultural upbringing.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law.

Item:   Russian Transliteration – Tsikha yedzish, dalshu budzish.
English Translation – Go slowly, go far.

Informant Comments:  The informant heard this proverb from his father.  He believes that it is true most of the time.  In his experience, those who took their time to do something right would usually achieve more that those who would rush through a task.  He, however, believes that going too slow and not finishing in a timely manner is almost as bad as finishing with a poor product.  The proverb, therefore, holds partial truth for the informant.

Analysis:  This proverb is similar to one in English:  “Slow and steady wins the race.”  Patience is the fundamental virtue in this folklore.  The person who has the patience to go slowly will be successful (i.e. go far) in life.  The proverb does hold a lot of truth, but like the informer, I would say that go slowly is not always the primary virtue.  Sometimes, being prompt and being meticulous when doing something is more important than taking the time to do it.  Nevertheless, the proverb offers great encouragement to those who are going slowly by offering them the prospect of going far; it also helps those who are rushed, reconsider their ways and slow down their pace.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Proverbs

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

My informant once gave me this phrase as words of encouragement. He told me that he had used it many times for himself when he was faced with some difficult task or situation. He was a singer, and he also acted in plays, and when he was preparing for an audition he would use this phrase to ease his nerves and prepare him for the difficult competition against his peers. My informant did not know the precise origin of the saying, however he mentioned that he remembered that John F. Kennedy recited it in his inauguration address. I believe he used it to express the fact that the road to success for the United States was too long and difficult to expect immediate results, that patience be the key.

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