Author Archives: Aidan Bradbury-Aranda

Hoja Nasreddin Afandi

“Being an Uzbek, one of the popular themes in the lore of the area I am from is that the rich are greedy and silly and the poor often teach them a lesson. In that regard, one of the folk stories commonly told is that of Hoja Nasreddin Afandi. To be exact, many stories. This was lore but has been since written down and published a lot, of course, as most folklore. Hoja is a title given for making a hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Nasreddin is also known as Nasreddin Afandi, or just Afandi, depending on the story being told. Whenever, a story “favorably” depicts Nasreddin as a trickster and shrewd defender of the oppressed, he is either called by his first name Nasreddin or by both his first name and the title, Hoja Nasreddin. However, when the story has him as a butt of a joke, then he goes simply by Afandi. He is so popular in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Northern Africa, that Afandi became a name for a simpleton in Uzbek, Tajiki, and Farsi. It is not unusual to hear people call somebody “Afandi” for being silly and naive.”

“Hoja Nasreddin has inspired countless books and movies. Today, he continues to be an enduring character in the oral tradition of modern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Egypt, and so on. His exploits fascinate people for the same reasons all over the globe. He is the clever underdog, always managing to humiliate the bumbling authorities and fanatics, who are hell bent on capturing or killing him. What is particularly interesting is that Hoja Nasreddin is explicitly non-violent, and wins time and again on his wits alone. To the sheer delight of audiences, who are sometimes rolling with sidesplitting laughter. Nasreddin is immortalized in several monuments in Bukhara, Moscow, and elsewhere, and a person cannot ignore Nasreddin in their studies of the region.”

(Sent via Email)

Though the informant does not remember any specific stories involving Hoja Nasreddin, she considers him to be a significant part of her upbringing in Uzbekistan, and later in Russia. Nasreddin can be seen to represent the common man – for although he is very wise and sagacious, many of his efforts in the stories that the informant recalls involve him resisting the rich and oppressive through non-violent resistance, trickery, and perseverance. In other words, he is basically the equivalent of a Robin Hood character for the region. Both his character, and the stories he appears in are infinitely relatable, on a variety of levels, given that they are often humorous, but at the same time convey a lesson or moral message. Although Nasreddin is believed to be a historical figure, his true origin is unclear, given the fact that many countries in the area claim him for themselves. This manifests itself in a variety of spellings for his name – Hoja, Hodja, Kodja, Mullah, etc.. – are all the same character. His widespread legacy has made him transcend history and become a legendary figure, a proud part of the national canon of many countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.


More information on Nasreddin can be found in the book:

Hengirmen, Mehmet. Nasreddin Hodja Stories. Ankara: Engin, 1995. Print.


Auspicious Phrases for Chinese New Years

Auspicious Phrases for Chinese New Years

“These are nice, compacted ways of wishing very generic and relatable positive thoughts during New Years. They are usually 4 character phrases… It is interesting that there is an entire canon of what you’re supposed to say at the event of greeting people during the New Year. There’s a certain ring to the way these phrases are said. And to be able to say these things, the more you’re able to say and the more pertinent they are to the recipient, the more impressive they are. Also, the more metaphorical they are and the more artful they are, the more impressive they are to the recipient.”

The informant who told me about these auspicious phrases was born and grew up in Hong Kong for a great part of his life. He speaks fluent Chinese and has had significant exposure to Chinese culture, given the fact that he and his family still speak the language and practice many of the traditional customs. He moved to the US in 5th grade.


出入平安 “Chu ru ping an”

“May you have peace wherever you enter and wherever you exit”

“Peace and safety to all who come and go”

This is said to someone who travels a lot, because it means you have peace both in and out. It is also popular to put over entranceways.


学业进步 “Xue ye jin bu”

“Improvement in studies”

This phrase is about good luck and success in academics. People say this when they greet each other during New Years, especially to younger people, students, who are indeed studying.


恭喜发财 “Gong xi fa cai”

“Congratulations on your luck”

People wish each other congratulations on New Years because of the old belief that there was a monster called “Nian” (which is a pun in and of itself because the Chinese word for “year” is “nian”) that would come out every New Year’s Eve and eat villagers. To survive that was good luck and something to be celebrated. In a more literal sense, the phrase is a pun, since it means “surviving” the year as well as surviving the monster. This is the traditional way of wishing “Happy New Year”, and is used most frequently in China.


新年快乐 “Xin nian kuai le”

“Happy New Year / New Year Happiness”

This is the modern way of saying “Happy New Year”. It is used more commonly now due to the fact that it comes closer to the meaning of the wester phrase of “Happy New Year”. This phrase is used more frequently in Hong Kong and the West.

Chinese New Years

Chinese New Years

The informant who told me about the traditions associated with Chinese New Years was born and grew up in Hong Kong for a great part of his life. He speaks fluent Chinese and has had significant exposure to Chinese culture, given the fact that he and his family still speak the language and practice many of the traditional customs. He moved to the US in 5th grade.

Chinese New Years usually takes place during the end of January or in the beginning of February based on the Gregorian Calendar, because it is lunar based in comparison to the Western Calendar and therefore follows the moon. It is formally a fifteen day celebration, however, the informant’s family usually doesn’t celebrate past the second or third day and then the fifteenth day because it is significant in its own right. Throughout the New Year’s celebration, there is a tradition of saying auspicious phrases, which are usually 4 character phrases, related to good luck and happiness in every situation (See entry: Auspicious Phrases for Chinese New Years).

On New Years Eve there’s a big dinner, where the family eats a lot of food. The informant’s family, like a lot of Chinese families, places a lot of emphasis on abundance so the meal is a lot about saving up to have an abundance and then not wasting it. It is traditional to clear the table of food. There are puns, given that some of the foods have significant meanings – for example fish is eaten during New Year’s Eve dinner because fish sounds like the Chinese word for “abundance”. Tonal difference again is important. You eat foods like this to get good luck, homeopathically. In a more modern context on New Years Eve, you turn on the TV to a station that is celebrating. It is a really big deal, with people doing traditional plays or traditional performances like the dragon dance, which all come from stories about monsters and how New Years originally was a way to scare away those monsters with noise and fireworks. According to the informant, there is not too much of a liminal sense to the way in which his family celebrates New Years, other than making noise. Although here in the US there are stricter regulations on fireworks, back in Hong Kong, streets explode with fireworks, especially in more rural areas where the tradition stays really strong. New Years Day is a day when the entire family spends time with the fathers side of the family. Visiting his father’s parents is very convenient for the informant, given that the informant’s grandmother lives with them. It is therefore a pretty normal day, however there is a tradition for the elders to give kids red pockets or red envelopes. Giving a red envelope with money to a child meant that you hoped they would live long enough to use it. It used to be a reality that before the age of 1, many children in China died. The giving of red envelopes was an assurance that they would survive. New Years Day also involves more food, but it is a different set of food. This includes a vegetable that sounds exactly like the Chinese phrase for good luck or prosperity.

The Second Day, you visit the mom’s side of the family, which can be difficult for some people like the informant’s family since his mom’s family lives in Hong Kong. Instead he calls. The third day is called ‘Red Mouth’ which is connected to the fact that you are not supposed to talk to people that day. In a modern context, no one really practices that anymore, but it used to be practiced because apparently you risked making inflammatory remarks, angering people, and ruining relationships. The informant’s family doesn’t observe it. In fact his family primarily observes only Day 1 and Day 2 because that is all about visiting family and congratulating everyone for making it to the new year. An interesting fact is that in China, instead of saying “Happy New Year” you say “Congratulations”. This is due to the belief back in the old days that there were monsters that terrorized villages, and to escape being eaten by the monster on New Years Eve and to survive and make it to the new year was a big deal. Fireworks have something to do with why monsters don’t exist anymore, because they scare them off and starve them to death. The informant doesn’t really know what happens from day 4-14, given that his family doesn’t observe these days. Day 15, however, is the end of the New Year period, and it is celebrated with the lantern festival. Traditionally people would make lanterns with riddles on them. Its all about riddles, poetry and also eating dumplings, since the word for these dumplings is a pun of “lantern festival” in Chinese. The informant knows that in China and Hong Kong give breaks from school for students, but due to the fact that it is not the case here, he and his family work around and celebrate the most significant days of it. As he says, “It’s Chinese New Years in a very light sense.” He also said that his family used to dress traditional dress during this time, but after immigrating to the US a lot of things got watered down because people do not have the time. The informant has celebrated the traditional Chinese New Year for the entirety of his life.

Chinese Riddle/Tongue Twister

“men wai you shi shi shi zhi shi shi zi,

hui shi you shi shi shi zhi shi shi zi ?”


 “Beyond the door are 44 stone lions, or are they 44 dead lions?”

“This one is really common in schools, at least in my experience, because not only is it a riddle or a play on words, but the best way to describe it is a tongue twister. To be able to say it would prove your aptitude with the language, because Chinese works on a system where you have four pronunciation levels; there’s a flat, a rising, a dip and then a fall tone, and with the tone itself it changes meaning. Anyway, its a very short phrase, and translated it means, “Beyond the door are 44 stone lions, or are they 44 dead lions?” Usually the person hearing the rhyme is not expected to have an answer for it, in the context I learned it its not so much for that as it is can you say it and not mess up, and if you don’t mess up then you’re pretty good.  One of the most important things about speaking Chinese is to be aware of the difference in meaning one change in tone can make. I mean for me it was a lot of fun, and kids get a lot of bravado because they feel they know how to pronounce words properly. So it was a way to encourage kids to learn tonal differences. I never really studied why this tongue twister became so popular, but I do know that a lot of old Chinese houses like stone lions in front of their doors, as guardian spirits.” (see entry: Chinese Door Guardians)

The informant who told me about this tongue twister was born and grew up in Hong Kong for a great part of his life. He speaks fluent Chinese and has had significant exposure to Chinese culture, given the fact that he and his family still speak the language and practice many of the traditional customs. He moved to the US in 5th grade.

The informant remembers first learning this tongue twister in school about 9 years ago, when he still lived in Hong Kong. China has a very established culture of tongue twisters, given that the language is difficult to speak and tonal differences are key. He says that this is one of he most prolific and popular tongue twisters in China, and like the others, it relies on the difficulty of its pronunciation to create the challenge. Apparently this is a shortened version of a longer, more difficult tongue twister that is practiced by people schooled in traditional Chinese, however, this is the more popular one.

Chiste Alemán

Chiste Alemán

German Joke

“Existe otro chiste, que cuando yo estaba en la escuela primaria un compañero me lo contó. Y lo contaba con mucha gracia. El chiste es bueno, era la época de Adolfo Hitler. Entonces, resulta que Adolfo Hitler tenia para atender al pueblo, de su parte, unos inspectores que iban a revisar las cosas que hicieran falta en las colonias. Llegaba el inspector y les preguntaba que cual era el problema que tenían. Entonces llego a una colonia, y en esa colonia, pregunto si necesitaban algún servicio. Un señor ahí dijo que necesitaba que le destaparan el baño. Bueno, paso la siguiente semana, volvió el inspector,  y encontró que el mismo señor, no tenia la mano levantada en el “Hail Hitler!” como era la costumbre. El inspector, bastante molesto, le pregunto que porque no alzaba la mano, y el señor le respondió que todavía no le habían destapado el baño. Así pasaron varias semanas, y siempre la misma persona con la misma queja, no alzando la mano. Finalmente, un día regreso el inspector y encontró al mismo señor levantando la mano. Y dijo, ‘Ay que bueno! Ya le resolvieron su problema!” Pero el señor contesto, ‘No, es que así ya esta hasta este alto el excusado de caca!’”

“There’s another joke, that one of my classmates told me when I was in elementary school. He told it very well. The joke is a good one, it was the time of Adolf Hitler. Anyway, it turns out that Adolf Hitler had, to attend to the needs of the German people, some inspectors who went to look around and check that nothing was going missing or wrong around the neighborhoods. The inspector would arrive and ask the people what the  problem was that they were having. So one day he arrived in a certain neighborhood, and asked the residents if then needed some service. A man there said that he needed someone to unclog his toilet. Upon returning the following week, the inspector noticed that the same man who had requested the service, was not raising his hand in the “Hail Hitler” salute that was the custom. The inspector, being somewhat upset by this, asked him why he wasn’t raising his hand, and the man replied that no one had come to fix his toilet yet. In this same way many weeks passed, always the same man with the same complaint, not raising his hand. Finally, one day the inspector came back and found the same man, making the salute. And he said, ‘Oh great! They came to fix your problem!’ But the man replied, ‘No, its because this is how high the toilet has been filled with caca!’”

My grandfather, the informant for this joke, was born and has lived in Mexico all his life.   He has seen the country change drastically and in many different ways over the 86 years of his life, and as a result knows a very great amount about Mexican culture, customs, and folklore. He often tells jokes, riddles and stories that he has garnered throughout his life, most of which he remembers very clearly and recites in the form a great storyteller.

The informant remembers this joke very clearly from his childhood because it was very relevant for the time period. He was in elementary school when Hitler began his rule in Germany, and this joke in fact, predates World War II, given that the informant must have heard it at some point during the 30s. The joke is very interesting, for although it uses dirty humor to get laughs, it speaks very truthfully to the state that Germany was in after World War I, when Hitler came to power. The economy and infrastructure were in shambles, making it very possible that no one would come and fix any problems, in ones house, for weeks. It also begins hinting at the fascist regime that Hitler would eventually enforce, with the detail of the man not raising his hand in a salute and being scolded for it. Although it is not a native Mexican joke, the fact that the informant heard it from a friend must mean that it had been in circulation at least minimally among the school children. It represents a joke that resonates both in a literal childish way as well as a more serious political and social commentary.