Tag Archives: water

Slurs and Insults in a Coastal City

Background and context: The interviewer and the informant are both residents of Qingdao, a Northeastern coastal city in China. The city is known for its beaches, ports, and seafood. A big portion of the city’s economy relies on tourism. 

The informant talks in Mandarin, but with the Qingdao dialect. The interviewer and the informant talk about unique slurs and insults that only Qingdao people use.

1. 潮巴

pinyin: cháo ba

Transliteration: moist [“ba” doesn’t have meaning]

Translation: Idiot

2. 你脑子进水了

pinyin: ni nao zi jin shui le

Transliteration: You’ve got water in your head.

Translation: You’re so stupid.

Analysis: Because Qingdao is a coastal city and the sea has a very important role in Qingdao people’s life, language used by Qingdao people is heavily influenced by imageries and characters associated with the sea. In both insults, water or “moist” is directly linked with the geographical character of the city. “Moist” or having water in one’s head both signify a loss of control, a form of imbalance between humans and the ocean. This shows that Qingdao’s connection with the ocean is more complicated than people’s dependence on the sea. There might be an implicit fear as well in not being able to control the ocean and maintain a balance between human life and natural forces.

Naming your children with things like water for good personalities

HK: Chinese people are really superstitious about how you name your child––so all the Chinese children have like, names that are made up of Chinese characters, right? And within those characters, there are characters that mean certain things.

MW: What’s your name?

HK: Well, let’s just say that basically my name has a lot of fire character in it. Too much probably, that’s probably why I’m such a bitch.

MW: Haha. So then what did you name your kids?

HK: All my kids, we decided, had to have water in their names. In Chinese you know it as the part of the character, the “radical,” known as san dian shui. It’s basically three dots at the edge of some characters that denotate that the character is related to water. We did that so they would balance me out. Cause now I’m such a bitch, by my kids are pretty cool. Keeps the family balanced.

MW: And how does this make you feel?

HK: Well, again, it’s that superstition feeling where you feel like you should just do it because if you don’t you worry about what might happen, and then otherwise your mother in law can blame everything bad that happens on you because you didn’t name your kids water or whatever. But they all have nice names. I like them.

Background:

The informant, HK, was born in New York but has parents who are from China. She married and has three children. 

Context

HK now lives in Texas––I collected this story over a Zoom call. She has been one of my mother’s closest friends since college, and often, they would commiserate together with all of my other Chinese aunties about certain things their Chinese parents would make them do, or general annoyance over Chinese tradition. This was one of those calls.

Thoughts:

With a lot of other superstitions from any culture, you do it to avoid a consequence; but with names, it’s more fun, especially if you’re born in America. American names generally don’t have any meaning, or at least any meaning that everyone knows. In Chinese, every name means something, and generally, everyone knows that meaning. So of course there will be superstitions surrounding names because the meanings are so clear, but it adds a lot of beauty to the literal title of your identity. It’s something that I feel like a lot of Americans might miss out on.

Oka Falalla

Main Piece: 

Informant: The Choctaw of old tell the story of Oka Famalla, “the returning waters.” This story has been told among the Choctaw for as long as we know.

Interviewer: What is the “returning waters?”

Informant: Long ago, the Choctaw began to be influenced in a bad way by other people. And they began to lose traditional Choctaw values, like taking care of each other. The Creator, Hashtala, had warned the people that they needed to return to our ways, or something bad would happen to them. One man, though, was a good man. He tried to keep our traditional ways. So Hashtala told him to make a large raft out of limbs from the sassaphrass trees, a tree common to the Choctaw lands. He made this large raft, and then it began to rain. It rained for many days, no one really knows how long. Then it stopped. The man floated on the raft for many days after the rain stopped. Then he saw a small blue bird. This bird’s name translates into the English phrase of “turtle dove.” This small bird stayed with the man and as it would fly, the man paddled his raft in the direction the bird flew. Then they came upon land. The bird became a female and she and the man stayed together, had children, and began to populate the earth.

Interviewer: That story sounds a lot like the Bible story of Noah and the ark.

Informant: Yes. When the Choctaw heard the Bible story, they wondered how the writers of the Bible knew the story of Oka Famalla. But we also knew that many tribes had similar stories, so it was not a complete surprise when the white man had a story like theirs also.

Background:

The informant is a Choctaw man in his early 50’s. He was born in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma. He currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and children.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my father. My dad and I decided to have cigars in the back yard and I asked if he could share a few stories regarding our Native culture. I’ve grown up learning about these many traditions but asked him to explain them as if sharing with someone unfamiliar with the culture.

Thoughts: 

From Deucalion and Pyrrha of Greek Mythology to the story of Noah and the Ark in Judeo-Christian culture, flood stories have been a central theme in cultures all around the world. The Great Flood has pre-biblical origins, the oldest known account featuring Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Mesopotamia. After hearing the story of Oka Famalla, it was interesting to see the commonalties between these stories. They usually involve humanity becoming corrupt and a deity sending a flood to destroy the world as a result, a sort of a global baptism if you will. A morally righteous person is set apart and tasked to build a large boat to preserve his species. I thought it was interesting how the bird is featured in all of these stories, specifically the dove. This particular story stood out in that it has the bird transforming into a woman but other than that the similarities are quite note-worthy

Home remedy for hiccups by drinking a glass of water covered by a napkin

Main Piece:

Informant: Basically, you get a full cup of water, and you put a paper towel over the top of the cup. It has to be thick, so like a paper towel or a napkin. And then you have to drink through the paper towel, ten gulps without breathing. Like, big gulps too. 

Interviewer: Has it worked for you?

Informant: Mhmm, it has. It didn’t work last Friday though, but it usually works haha. 

Interviewer: Where did you learn it from? 

Informant: My mom, she always has us do it if we are hiccuping around her.

Interviewer: Do you know where your Mom learned it from?

Informant: I wanna say my grandma, my grandma has told me to do the same thing before so it was probably her. 

Background

My informant is a good friend and housemate of mine from USC and is a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention with a minor in Health Care Studies from San Dimas, CA. She says that a lot of her mannerisms and sayings come from growing up in San Dimas which she describes as being a very small town outside of Los Angeles that feels more midwest than the West coast. She attended summer camps throughout most of her life, starting as a camper and becoming a counselor in high school. 

Context

At a birthday celebration out house threw for my informant, she drank some alcoholic beverages and got the hiccups as a result. When I offered her my advice, she told me not to worry and that she had a trick to remedy the cure that was passed down in her family. She went upstairs to her kitchen with me, and I saw her drink the water from the cup. During our interview, I brought it up and she discussed it further with me. 

Analysis

From experience with my family and interacting with friends from back home, hiccup remedies differ from family to family and cultures. Essentially, all hiccup cures aim to do the same thing by controlling the diaphragm to stop it from producing hiccups. Usually, these are different methods of breath control, and drinking a glass of water without stopping is a good way to control breathing. Doing more research, I found this method also listed in the following article listed as number 6.

The article explains this method as a combination of breath control and the fact that “you’ll have to ‘pull’ even harder with your diaphragm to suck up the water.”

Russell, Elaine, and Reader’s Digest Editors. “How to Get Rid of Hiccups: 18 Home Remedies \That Actually Work.” Reader’s Digest, www.readersdigest.ca/health/conditions/7-ways-get-rid-hiccups/.

New Years Tradition: Throwing out the Water

Main Body: 

Informant: I don’t think my family did this all that much. Maybe they did, I’m not sure. But I know for sure other families did this where … sometimes they would open the door and throw a big bucket of water out.

Interviewer: Just throw a bucket of water out? Did have to be hot or cold or anything like that?

Informant: No, I – the temperature didn’t really matter.

Interviewer: Oh, so why do that?

Informant: I think it’s supposed to be getting rid of any bad luck for the next year. Like the water symbolizes all the old, bad luck and you’re just getting rid of it and getting a fresh start.

Background:

My informant is a friend and a fellow student at USC. She was born and raised in Florida but her father comes from Nicaragua and her mother comes from the Appalachian region. This tradition is something she got from her father and is something her entire family does regularly. She is under the impression that this is a common tradition that many families from Latin American countries participate in but she is unsure as to which countries specifically do or don’t participate in it. She thinks of it as another fun, special New Years’ tradition.

Context:

I had set up a Zoom call with my friend because she said she had some examples of folklore that she could share with me. This sample was shared during that call

Analysis:

This seems like a fairly straightforward tradition to me. Water usually doesn’t symbolize negative things, but I imagine there would be substantially more clean up involved with anything else. Additionally you could say there is significance in throwing the water out directly from one’s doorstep. The door is a threshold, it represents the line between what is in your home and what is not. By taking the water from inside your home, cross the threshold, to outside you are effectively making clear that the water (or bad luck) is no longer welcome in your home, in your life. There could be aspects of this that are tied to Latin American culture, or Nicaraguan culture specifically, but I’m not well versed enough to comment on them.

Looking for Water: Marathi Proverb about Appreciation

Text:

AB: “There’s this proverb that my mom says –”

“Kakhet kalsa gavala valsa”

AB: “– which basically means that you have um a pitcher of water in your hand but you’re looking for water in other places, which I mean happens literally too like how many times do you have glasses on your head and you keep for them in other places? But I think the more like metaphorical meaning is supposed to be that people tend to not realize what they have because they too busy like searching for things outside. So like not appreciating what you already have I guess.”

AB: “Yeah people usually say it to me when I’m complaining about all the problems in my life – they’re like “kakhet kalsa gavala valsa” like you’re not being grateful for all the good stuff that you have.”

 

Context:

The informant is an Indian-American college student from Los Altos, California. This conversation took place in my apartment while the informant and I, among a group of other people, were discussing our very diverse childhoods growing up in different parts of the world. Marathi is the language spoken in a specific region of India. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

The informant does a pretty good job of explaining what the proverb means. An English equivalent would be “the grass is always greener on the other side”. It is interesting how the informant relates it to literal situations like looking for glasses which were on your head all along – this to me highlights the relevance of proverbs and emphasizes their staying power. Because their literal meaning is so easily understood intuitively, their figurative meaning holds more power.

Running Faucets for Cramp Relief

Context: I came home one day at the beginning of this year to all of the faucets running and I asked my roommate what was going on and she told me this story. So I asked her to re-tell me why she does it.

Piece: So basically, I don’t know where my mom… well let me tell the long version of the story. So you know when you are you they tell you not to keep the water running when you brush your teeth? They’re like “turn off the faucet to save water!” Well I would always say that, and my mom always left the faucet running when she brushed her teeth and I would be like, “Mommy, you’re wasting water!” And she has always said, “I have to leave the faucet running or I’ll gag or like throw up.” And I never understood that until I started like, when I’m on my period or nauseous for any reason and so I turn the faucet on and leave the water running. It’s supposed to help you like feel like less nauseous. Something about the sound of running water can like ease nausea. I feel like it might have been something my mom got from my grandma. It sounds like something my grandma would do.

Background: The informant is a 19 year old USC student of Pakistani and Indian descent. She is very close to her family and shares many traditions and beliefs with them. She learned this from her mother and does it whenever she gets her period cramps.

Analysis: This tradition is something I have never heard of before. It is a sort of remedy/ homeopathic healing technique. It is often said that water sounds are soothing, but this is the first time I have heard them help with pain. I have heard of soaking in hot water to ease pain, but it is interesting that this piece refers to sounds, which tackles the mental state rather than the physical.

Cup of water and broom prank

Informant is a junior at Penn State University who grew up in NJ. Informant tells me that they heard about the prank first from a camp counselor, and then on a TV show which they can’t remember.

The following is a description of the prank and how to pull it off:

 

“So, it’s pretty easy. All you need is a cup of water, a chair, and a broom. And somebody else in the house with you… to prank of course.

First, you take the chair and hold the cup of water to the ceiling so the rim of the cup is on the ceiling. Then, take the broom and use the stick part to press the bottom of the cup to the ceiling, holding it there. Now you can move the chair back… or have a friend do it or something, because you have to keep the cup on the ceiling.

Next, you just wait until somebody walks by. Ask them if they could hold the broom for a second so you can run and grab something, or go to the bathroom, or whatever you want to say. The idea is that if you get them to hold the broom and walk away, they have no choice but to just stand there or have a cup of water fall on them. It’s foolproof!”

 

This prank is pretty sinister because of how easy it is to set up, and how dire the circumstances become for the poor soul who falls for it. Ideally this is a prank you would pull on a close friend or family member. Although the intent can be lighthearted, I would imagine this would really drive anybody crazy– especially if he or she had something else to do before being either drenched in water or reduced to standing under the cup helplessly.

“It has to be somebody you could afford to anger and disappoint, like your brother” my informant tells me, giggling.

 

 

Ritual: Water

Main Piece: “One ritual that my family partakes in is when we go on long trips or vacations. So basically when you leave the home for an extended period of time, someone will throw a cup of water while you’re walking away from your house, so, to the back of your feet kind of”

Background: This is a ritual for the informant and her family. The informant was born in the U.S. and her parents were born and raised in Afghanistan. The family has been in the United States for about 30 years but still practices many pieces of Afghan folklore. The informant thinks this particular ritual uses water as a symbol of purity for leaving a place with “good and clean intentions”. She notes that this ritual takes place at the doorway.

Performance Context: The informant and I had lunch together and sat at a table across from each other.

My Thoughts: This Afghan ritual uses the symbols of water and the threshold of the doorway. Besides the notions of water as a symbol of purity, I understand the threshold of the doorway as significant as an entry and exit point. It is interesting that the informant and her family continue to practice this ritual, even in the U.S. The informant mentioned how rarely her family takes vacations and trips. I wonder if her family may have a reluctance to go to new places, as the informant noted earlier that their immigration and assimilation to the U.S. was somewhat troubling and disturbing to their culutral beliefs and traditions. I also intepret the ritual as a combination of valuing the past and looking forward to the present. The U.S. is known to have a forward looking mentality, while countries of the Middle East hold the past in high regard.

Don’t Wash Your Hair

Don’t Wash Your Hair

The Informant:

She was born in Cerritos, CA and has lived there her whole life with her family. Her parents were born in Korea but immigrated to the U.S. in their teens. They live a less traditional Asian lives than others.

The superstition:

If you wash your hair at night after you study, everything you memorized and learned up till then will be lost.

She also repeated the text in Korean for me:

공부하고 자기전에 머리를 가므면 외운거 다 지워진다, 잊어버려. 그거야 그냥 장난이지.

 The Analysis:

This story was told to my friend before her big exam when she was in middle school. It is analogous to the idea that washing her hair will also wash out everything in her head that was stored up till that point. She says that the story was told by her mother, who had then heard it from her mother back in Korea. An insight that I gained was the Korea is surrounded by water. Korean life is also dominated by water, with rivers and the ocean. It is a possibility that this saying sprung up due to the Korean affinity for water, which later might have turned into a repulsion of so much water.

It is difficult to understand the insight on a less literal analysis.