Author Archives: bdevera@usc.edu

Taiwanese Death Practices

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as MW.


MW: If a person dies, we have to not eat meat. Because our religion is Buddhism. They believe that you have to clarify yourself, as a family, so that your family member that died will go to heaven.

BD: You can’t eat meat for how long?

MW: I think for at least 30 days.

BD: Does only your family do this?

MW: It’s not only just my family. I think all Taiwanese families, and probably Chinese families too. For seven days we will turn on the lights, after they died, we believe that their spirit will come back. The light needs to be on so they can see. We also have to clean the front doorway, like with no shoes, so that they can walk into the house. Another thing we do is put coins at the door because we believe there is a God controlling the money, and he can walk in. But this one we do all the time.

BD: Not just after someone died?

MW: No, all the time for good luck.


 

Analysis:
This conversation had quite a few folk beliefs, some regarding death, some about good luck. It is rooted in Buddhism, according to the informant, and it is interesting how food is related to death in this way. The Providence Zen Center.  says the time period should be 49 days, for people to “check their consciousness and digest their karma,” http://providencezen.org/49-day-funeral-ceremony.

Doors and Windows Saying

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as PH.

PH: Every time that I’m blocking something, specifically when I’m like walking by the television and my mom is watching TV and then I get distracted, and I start watching, and I’m standing in front of the television, and she says “you’re a better door than window!” Like, “please move, you’re blocking my way.” But it’s like a cute thing that she says.

BD: Did she get it from anywhere?

PH: I don’t know! I think it is a normal saying, and I think her mom used to say it to her, but I’m not sure.


Analysis:
This piece of folklore is a very lighthearted metaphor. I have never heard it before, but it does make an awful lot of sense. It is interesting how the informant’s mother had likely heard it from her own mother, and I speculate this saying may be relegated to only their family. The use of doors and windows draws the mind to think of houses and buildings, which may be an effect the metaphor is going for.

“Fricky, Dicky, Dutch!”

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as NC.

NC: My father used to say “fricky, dicky, dutch!” whenever he got frustrated with something, but I have no idea why. I thought it was like a normal thing for people to say when they were frustrated. But then I was talking to my brother, and he told me he said that one time and everyone looked at him really weirdly, and that’s how he learned. So he gave me advice so I wouldn’t make the same mistake.

BD: Did your dad get this from anywhere in particular?

NC: I have no idea. My dad’s spanish, so English is his second language, so he definitely didn’t get it from his family. I have no idea. I feel like it’s something—when he says it, it’s like “freeky deeky duck!” because he has a Spanish accent—I guess it’s something that sort of rhymes, when you say it, it rolls off the tongue.

BD: No one else in your family says it?

NC: No.


Analysis: I hypothesize this bit of folk speech arose out of a need to not use profanity. It is interesting how it would have passed down to generations after the informant’s father, if not for the normalization by society—an unusual saying is stifled by those who are not familiar with it. The three words in the phrase seem to have no interconnectedness, save for the similar endings of the first two, and similar beginnings of the last two. Perhaps it only arose for the way it rolls off of the tongue.

Christmas Traditions

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as NC.

NC: Another tradition we have is Christmas morning. We have a very specific routine on how to like—attack the day. So first, everyone had to, like, wait for everyone else to get up. We normally had a preassigned time when we allowed to wake up the parents. Normally—I’m the youngest—normally I’d wake up first, then I’d wake up my brother, and then we would wake up my sister. Then, after that, we would wait, and all go down at the same time. No one was allowed downstairs before everyone’s allowed downstairs, so we’d all go down together. This includes parents. No one was allowed downstairs until the whole family was ready. And then we would go into the kitchen, and we would let my mom start preparing the coffee cake, because we would always have a coffee cake for breakfast. And once she had put that in the oven—she had already set up all the ingredients the night before, so she just had to mix them together and put it in the oven, we were then allowed to open the stockings. After that, once the coffee cake was done, we would eat breakfast and clean the dishes, and then we could open the presents around the tree. And we did this one by one, looking and commenting on each present, telling stories why we gave the present to each other, or why Santa gave it. And that was our day. I think this is funny because we’re actually Jewish, so this has nothing to do with anything that we believe in. It was just like, a fun tradition, that became very systematic.

BD: Who set this tradition? Your parents?


NC: I guess—my mom is Jewish, and my dad is Catholic, but he doesn’t celebrate Christmas. He’s from Spain, and they celebrate Three Kings’ Day, not Christmas in the same way. So I don’t really know, I guess it evolved as we got older.

BD: Where’s your mom from?

NC: She’s from New York.


Analysis: The thoroughness of this holiday tradition was both startling and quite entertaining. It reminds me also of another Christmas tradition I had listened to, and I am surprised at the ease with which immigrants to the United States adopt some very American traditions. As the informant said, his family is Jewish, so Christmas Day should not be that big of a deal. However, his dad is Catholic, though this does not seem to affect their traditions very much. Perhaps it is explained by his mom’s background—she is not first generation, and perhaps helped to start what the informant thinks is a more “American” Christmas tradition.

 

Chinese Moon Goddess

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as JL.

BD: So tell me about this legend.

JL: Okay, so there’s a legend about this woman who lives in the moon. She is the goddess of the moon, and what happened is there was this guy, a warrior—I guess the equivalent would be like Apollo, because he’s an archer. And he shoots down the suns. There’s like ten suns, back then, eons ago. And he shoots down nine of them because having ten was just way too much. The earth was just way too hot, and the people couldn’t do anything like grow crops and stuff because it was just too hot. So this guy comes along and shoots down nine of the suns—he has to keep one, otherwise there would be no daytime, but it’s a perfect balance where it’s not too hot. Because of his feat, he was granted a potion of immortality, but he didn’t drink it. He was a sweet guy, and didn’t want to leave his wife behind. He didn’t want to watch her grow old while he was immortal forever. So he stored it in his house. But then his apprentice broke into his house and tried to steal the potion, and the warrior’s wife instead drinks it herself. I guess, so it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands—his apprentice was not a cool dude. So her spirit went to the moon and she lives there immortal forever.

BD: Why the moon?

JL: I have no idea.

BD: Do most people know this story?

JL: Yes, it’s one of the better known myths in China. Like how everyone know the Greek gods, the moon lady is one of the better known stories.


 

Analysis:
There are many variations of this legend, likely in part because of how common it is in Chinese folklore. This is not the first time I’ve heard of the moon goddess, but this is the first time I have heard of her origins. Another version of this legend can be found at: http://www.moonfestival.org/the-legend-of-chang-e.html. The moon goddess is named as Chang’e. This legend is very interesting, because from it stems a lot of folklore regarding the moon. Superstitions such as pointing at the moon will cause the moon goddess to cut off your ear are related to this legend. A lot of Chinese cultural values also present themselves in this legend. The importance of family, and not leaving anyone behind is a very apparent one. Another is the importance of sacrificing for your family, which the goddess does—she does not want to live without her husband either, but she must in order to prevent his apprentice from obtaining the potion.