USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘tiger’
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Determining Marriages from the Chinese Zodiac Calendar

Context:

My informant is a 55 year old woman that immigrated from China to America in her early 30s. She is a mother, a registered nurse, and also a teacher in nursing school. This conversation took place in a hotel one evening, and the informant and I were alone. In this account, she explains the significance behind the Chinese Zodiac calendar in relation how marriages or compatible partners are determined. I asked for the story behind this folklore because I know the Chinese zodiac calendar holds a lot of importance to the informant, for she has discussed it a lot with me in the past. She told me that she doesn’t remember how exactly she learned all of this; rather, it’s so integrated into Chinese culture and talked about so often that it almost seems like common knowledge that everyone will learn one way or another. Because her English is broken, I have chosen to write down my own translation of what she told me (while still trying to stay true to her performance), because a direct transcription may not make as much sense on paper as it did in conversation (due to lack of intonation and the fact that you cannot see her facial expressions or hand motions in a transcription). In this conversation, I am identified as K and she is identified as S.

 Text:

S: “In China, we have these zodiacs to, um, see what type of animal you are. For example, this year is the Year of the Pig, so everyone born this year will… have the Pig as their zodiac animal. I don’t remember exactly how it works, but, um, like, the Zodiac calendar lines up with the lunar year—everything we do and believe is connected to what point of the lunar year we’re at. So you can see why this zodiac calendar is so important. We even use it to, um, determine marriages. For example, if a person’s zodiac animal is a Chicken, they can’t marry someone who’s a Dog because chickens and dogs always fight in real life; symbolically, this means that these two, if they get married, will fight for the rest of their lives. Eventually, all of this fighting will break their marriage. Basically we turn to the zodiac calendar to look at, uhh, compatibility. Before Chinese people couples get married, they want to look at each others zodiacs and then look at this other thing called a ‘huang li,’ which determines which years and days they should get married.”

 

K: “Who else can’t get married?”

 

S: “I know that Pigs are considered perfect matches with Tigers, but, um, though I honestly can’t tell you why. I do know that Pigs, in Chinese culture, represent wealth, riches, and, like, will bring lots of happiness, so most people want to marry someone who’s zodiac animal is the year the Pig. People also want to get married the Year of the Pig, and especially want to have children the Year of the Pig.

 

Thoughts:

When I was a kid, my parents would always talk about our zodiac animals—my father is a sheep and my mother and I are rabbits. They would always talk about how their love was meant to be because, in the Chinese Zodiac calendar, sheeps and rabbits are considered perfect matches. Because it was so integrated into my childhood, I think I started to take on the characteristics and personality traits that were expected of a “Rabbit.”

After being told this folklore, I looked up what the expected traits of a Rabbit were, and the weaknesses include “timid” and “hesitant”—though I’ve grown out of it now, as I child, I rarely spoke to anyone because I was too nervous. Strengths of a Rabbit include being polite, generous, and responsible, which were all things that I was (and still am) known for among my family, friends, and peers. Because these traits of our Zodiac animals are so true to who we really are, it’s hard not to take these animals so seriously. As I’m getting older, the concept of marriage is becoming more and more relevant, so it’s natural that my Chinese parents, relatives, and the informant (who is also a Chinese relative) are starting to talk about my Zodiac in the context of marriage. Rabbits are apparently extremely compatible with most other Zodiac animals, according to my family, so perhaps that’s why they’re so confused as to why I’m not in a relationship yet/ thinking about marriage yet.

 

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Tiger’s Whisker – Korean Folktale

TEXT: Once upon a time, there was a woman with a husband who had just come back from a war. When her husband came back from the war, he was a different person. He used to be very kind and loving and stuff. But after the war, he was very harsh and short-tempered. He would snap at her if she had said something that he didn’t like. So the woman went to a local witch and after explaining her situation to the witch, asked if she had a potion that can change her husband back to who he used to be before the war. The witch said that this would be a very difficult potion to make but she did have a recipe for a potion that can help her with her husband. The witch told her that she needed the whisker of a live tiger to make the potion. The woman told her that that would be too difficult and almost impossible. The witch told her that if she did not have the whisker, she would not be able to help.

So the woman went home and made a bowl of rice smothered in meat sauce and brought it to the side of a mountain where a tiger lived. She left it on the edge of a cave and left. The next day, she went back to the mountain and saw that the rice bowl was empty. She replaced that empty bowl with another bowl of rice smothered in meat sauce. She repeated this for multiple days, weeks, months. Eventually, one day, when she was replacing the bowl of rice, she noticed that the tiger had been outside of its cave, waiting patiently. The next few days, she noticed that the tiger was closer and closer to where she normally put the bowl of rice. One day, she decided to stay by the rice bowl to see if the tiger felt comfortable enough to come and eat while she was watching. The tiger came and started eating the bowl of rice, and she even softly pet his head as he ate. The next day, the woman went back up to the mountain where the tiger lived with a bowl of rice and a pair of scissors. While the tiger was eating the rice, she carefully cut off a portion of the tiger’s whiskers, making sure that she did not hurt the tiger.

The next day, she ran to the witch and brought her the tigers whiskers. The witch grabbed the whiskers and threw it into the fire. The woman was very angry. The witch said that if the woman can tame a wild tiger, then why can’t she do the same for her husband. If she can gain the trust of a tiger, then why can she not be just as sensitive and caring for her husband, learning to gain his trust again.

CONTEXT: I asked my informant if she knew any Korean folktales while I was driving her to Orange County. She asked me if I had ever heard about the story of the woman and the Tiger’s whisker. I told her no so she started telling me the story from her memory.

INFORMANT: My informant originally learned of this folklore when she was in junior high school during her Korean Language school that she attended every Sunday after church. She remembered this story primarily because she had to learn it in Korean. This meant that she had to read it over and over again. She also had to practice telling the story in Korean. However, when she told me the story, she told me the story in English because that is her primary language.

My informant really likes the story because she thinks that it has a really good meaning and moral behind it. She likes the fact that the story emphasizes diligence and working at something. She liked how the story was saying that if you work hard at something continually without giving up, you would be rewarded.

MY INTERPRETATION:  My interpretation of this story aligns with my informant’s views of the story. I think the point of the story is to learn how to be sensitive and adapt to people who may be difficult to deal with. Similar to how someone would be very cautious around a dangerous wild animal, the same level of care and caution is required when dealing with people that are difficult. It’s clear that the husband comes back from the war a different person because of the trauma associated with war, or PTSD. If we truly care about something or someone, this story says that we must diligently care and be sensitive to them.

This tale is clearly not meant to be seen as a factual story that happened in the real world. The purpose of this story was primarily to get the meaning of the story across. There was a moment of implied causation within the story that I realized was there after I rewrote what she told me. When the woman in the story first sees that the bowl of rice was empty, it is implied that the tiger had eaten the bowl of rice.

Also, the use of the tiger and rice seems to be a cultural detail, rather than a universal one. If this story were to be told from an American perspective, I would think that the animal would be a lion, primarily because we view lions as the top of the food chain. When it comes to food, I would think that an American folktale would incorporate something specific to America, not rice. Tigers are strongly associated with Korean culture. Everything from the Korean Olympic mascot to children’s television shows, tigers are often used to represent the Korean culture and tradition. This seemed far more real to me when I asked my informant if she knew other stories and she listed off a few other folktales that she knew, all incorporating tigers.

Humor

Sir Sun and Sir Moon

햇님 하고 달님

The Informant:

He is in his late 40’s and works as a car mechanic. Born in Incheon, South Korea, he immigrated to the United States after he married in the late 1990s. He heard this story as a young child for a bedtime story from his mother.

The Story:

엄마가 가난하고 돈을 벌려고 떡을 파는거야 길 거리에서. 하지만 그 날에는 하나도 못 팔았어. 집으로 돌아가는중에 호랑이가 나타나. 그 호랑아가 노래를 불러 “떡 하나만 던저주면 안 잡아먹지.” 그래서 엄마가 떡을 하나 던져줬지. 그걸 먹고 또 노래를 불렀어, 똑같이, 떡이 없어질때까지. 떡이 없으니까 호랑이가 이렇게 노래를 불렀지 “팔 하나 주면 안 잡아 먹지.” 그래서 엄마 호랑이에게 팔을 하나 줬지. 그리고 하랑이가 이렇게 팔 두개 하고 다리 두개 다 먹었어. 결국엔 엄마를 조금식 다 잡아먹었어. 엄마가 사는 집에 도착해서 엄마 모습이로 변신한거야. 아이들한테 불렀지 “엄마다 문 열어라.” 엄마 목소리가 이상해서 아이들이 조심했다. 엄마 모습을 가진 하랑이한테 팔을 보여달라고했어. 아이들이 “우리 엄마는 팔에 털이 잆어요!” 라고 얘기했다. 그래서 그 하랑이는 팔에있는 털을 깎았어. 그렇게 천천히 아이들이 호랑이의 힘을 빼넣고 살았다.

There is a mother who needs to sell dduk (rice cakes) but she was not able to sell any. On her way home a tiger approaches her and sings out to her “If you give me one dduk then I won’t eat  you.” This is repeated until all of the dduk is gone. The tiger then says “If you give me an arm I won’t eat you.” After she gives him both arms he sings “If you give me a leg I won’t eat you.” And so the tiger devoured the mother piece by piece. The tiger approaches the house of the children and transforms into the mother. He calls out to the children to open the door. The children are wary because the voice doesn’t sound like their mother’s. They ask the tiger to insert its hand. It is furry. They tell the tiger that their mother doesn’t have any fur on her arm so the tiger shaved off all of its fur. In this way the children outwit the tiger and tires it out so that the children eventually capture it.

The Analysis:

The story is meant to tell a moral. How the mother is tricked into giving herself up the tiger, the tiger is then tricked into giving up its life for greed. The tiger could have been content with the dduk offered to him, but it was not and devoured the mother. In turn, karma of a sort comes back at him as he is captured when he attempts to eat the mother’s children. From his side, he is greedy and desires another meal after essentially eating two. The tiger happened to be cleverer than the mother and the children happened to be cleverer than the tiger. The morale of the story is that what goes around truly does come around.

 

A different version of this story can be found at: http://mirror.enha.kr/wiki/햇님달님. The story is in Korean and differs in many detailed aspects. The incident occurs at night in this different version instead of day time, the mother sells bread instead of dduk (rice cakes), and the ending is different. As this story occurs at night, it ends with the coming of morning (sunrise). The death of the tale synchronizes with the sunrise, and the redness in the sky is said to be the staining of the tiger’s blood.

Folk Beliefs
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Story of Hǔ Gū Pó

[Translated from Mandarin Chinese]

Once upon a time, the hǔ gū pó (虎姑婆; a tiger spirit) lived atop a mountain. She wanted to become human, but the only way to do so was to eat children. From time to time she left her mountain to visit the village below, where she would sneak up on children from behind and eat them. After a while, the villagers discovered that wearing a mask on the backs of their heads would confuse the hǔ gū pó and prevent her from eating them. She was starting to look very human, but she still had a tiger’s tail to hide. With no more children to catch, the hǔ gū pó wandered down to the houses.

In one house lived a girl, her younger brother, and their parents, but the parents were out of town for the day. The tiger spirit tucked her tail within her pants and disguised herself as the children’s aunt.
“Your parents asked me to look after you today,” she said, and the children let her in.

In the middle of the night, the little girl woke up to a strange crunching sound.
“What are you eating?” she asked the hǔ gū pó.
“I am eating peanuts,” came the reply. “Would you like some?”
The hǔ gū pó handed over one of the little boy’s fingers.
Understanding that the tiger spirit had already eaten her brother, the little girl escaped from the house, pretending that she needed to use the bathroom.

The next morning the tiger spirit found the little girl hiding atop a tree.
“Come down,” the hǔ gū pó demanded, hungry.
“Fine,” the girl said. “But you should prepare a vat of boiling oil first, so I’ll taste better.”
The hǔ gū pó did just that.
“Now, hoist up the vat to me. I will cook myself and then jump into your mouth. Close your eyes and open your mouth.”
The tiger spirit did just that. The little girl poured the oil into the hǔ gū pó’s mouth and therefore killed her.

The story of hǔ gū pó is a well-known children’s folktale in Taiwan, and this is one of the many versions. It has been compared to the western tales of the Little Red Riding Hood, and “The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats”. It has been adapted into a less violent nursery rhyme telling children to stop crying and to go to sleep. The informant (my father) had learned the story from his parents and in turn told it to me many times as a kid. 

When I first heard it, I did not think much of the plot points—upon retrospect, however, the story seemed unusually gruesome for a children’s tale. While “The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats” has a similar premise, it is not as violent. The wolf deceives the goats and gobbles them up, but the youngest goat is able to cut open the wolf and save his siblings from its stomach, replacing the weight with rocks, which eventually drown the wolf. In the story of hǔ gū pó, the brother is not only eaten, but the sister receives the dismembered finger as food. She also kills the tiger spirit quite directly/actively. This may be a reflection on the differing cultural contexts of these two tales, in terms of ethics, etc.

folk metaphor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

When Tigers Used to Smoke

Interview Extract:

Informant: So I work in for a publishing company called Kaya Press, and it focuses on the Asian Diaspora, so it publishes Asian authors mostly. And well, it’s logo, you can find it online if you go to Kaya.com, and their logo is a tiger smoking a cigar, or smoking—I think originally it was supposed to be a pipe, but they updated it to be more modern. Although I think they should have kept it as a pipe because now it just looks like a joint.”

Me: “What does the tiger and whatever its smoking symbolize, or why is that the logo?”

Informant: “So we got the idea from the Korean mode of storytelling. Like instead of starting their folktales with ‘Once upon a time,’ like in the Western European tradition, they started ‘Back when tigers used to smoke.’

The tiger is just, I guess it some sort of culturally important image, and by invoking that image, it goes back to some mystical, legendary days. Yeah…I don’t know too much about it or about Kaya’s link to the tiger, but I suppose the idea behind the logo is that we celebrate literature and strive to pull from Asian culture, so it makes sense that we’d like, incorporate the beginning of folktales into our logo. And I think it does give it some legend-like quality or mysticism anyway, because you don’t like really see tigers smoking.”

Me: “Do animals typically smoke in Asian folklore?”

Informant: “I’m not really too sure. Like, I guess it was just limited to when they started their tales, but I don’t really know.”

Analysis:

“When tigers used to smoke” is quite the mystical beginning and would appropriately set the tone for any magical or supernatural folktale, as well as any that involved animals. It has an even more distant connotation than the Western “once upon a time,” because it personifies the tiger and allows him to do something very sophisticated. In a sense, there is a story within that opening itself, and it

Unfortunately, that Korean folklore may be lost to many people as they become more and more used to the typical “once upon a time.” The Kaya Press, which my informant mentioned, acknowledges this and helps to revive the smoking tiger with its logo and dedication to publishing Asian authors. This not only allows for increased globalization and spread of different cultures, but also allows the saying to remain intact, albeit through a visual form instead of a spoken or written one.

Also, Kaya Press is updating the phrase itself, by modernizing the tiger to be smoking a cigar instead of a pipe, as they had done so before. It’s documented proof of how a piece of folklore can transform throughout the years so it can reach a wider audience, although my informant did lament this fact. She claimed the tiger smoking a pipe would have been more impressive, although who knows, that may not have been what it was originally intended when the story opening was coined in the first place.

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