Author Archives: Charlyne Hsu

Contemporary Legend

Urban Legend

“If you flash your high beam four times when approaching an intersection, the light will change to green.”

Alison Ma told me this urban legend when we were driving around Irvine at 10 o’clock at night.  I was slowing down due to a red light and up ahead of us, we saw a few police cars with their lights on, parked on the side of the road because they just pulled someone over.  She said she heard that flashing the high beams to change the light to green when approaching an intersection was true from one of her friends.  The belief is that police use this trick.  Alison has not tried flashing her high beam four times to change the light.  She had also heard this urban legend from her dad, who heard it from a friend who supposedly heard this from a police officer.  Alledgely, the blinking of the high beam four times at a traffic light to turn it green is used by police cars, ambulances, etc. for emergencies.

Throughout history and in today’s society, people believe that they are some certain special people who are above the law.  Some of these special people are the wealthy, the celebrities, the politician and any other people that work with the law, such as policemen.  By assigning special powers to policeman, this urban legend fuels the belief that there are people in our society who are above the law.

The manner in which Alison learned about this urban legend is the classic way a legend is passed and spreads into a large one.  What the police officer told Alison’s dad’s friend could have been different from what Alison heard from her dad.  This is the reason why there could be several different urban legends surrounding policemen and their ability to control the traffic light.  For example, I have heard that instead of flashing the high beam four times to change the traffic light to green, flashing the high beam three times will change the traffic light.  It is curious that Alison told me that it requires four blinks of the head beam when the number three is the most popular number in Western and American cultures.  In most stories and folklore genres, there is a pattern of repeating things three times; therefore, it is interesting that the number four is used instead of three.  Possibly, if it is true that flashing the high beam a certain number of times can change the traffic light green, then most people would guess and try it using three flashes; therefore, to make it so the common people will not use this trick, policeman require four flashes, one more flash than what most people would do.



“Two hydrogens were walking down the street then one hydrogen looked at the other and said “I think I lost an electron” and so the other hydrogen said “Are you sure?” and the other hydrogen said “I’m positive”.”

The first time I heard this joke from Raksha was when she told it during a study break one night when both of us and some of our friends were in a study lounge.  I was doing some homework while Raksha and some other people were studying for a chemistry exam.  After studying for awhile, Raksha’s chemistry study group decided to take a break.  At one point, the conversation became about the chemistry review sessions, and then Raksha began repeating the chemistry jokes that her review leader had told them.  These jokes relaxed the students and provided them with a mental break, taking their minds off of their upcoming chemistry exam.

For those that are unfamiliar with chemistry, a hydrogen atom has an electron that carries a negative charge, a proton that carries a positive charge, and a neutron, which is neutral.  If hydrogen loses an electron, then it will only have a proton and a neutron; therefore, it only has a positive charge.  That is why the punch line of the joke is “I’m positive”, having a double meaning that the hydrogen is certain he is without an electron and since he is without an electron, he is positively charge.

Most likely, this joke would require an explanation for its humor to the people who do not understand hydrogen atoms and chemistry.  Since only students who have studied chemistry would understand this joke, this joke serves as a function like occupation or ethnic folklore.  The chemistry students are like a group and only its members will understand why this joke is funny.  This joke could help identify who are science students and who are not.  If one laughs and finds this joke entertaining, then he/she must have some knowledge of chemistry, whereas, if one does not comprehend the joke, he/she most likely does not know chemistry.

Märchen – Batswana


How the Elephant Learned Patience

“The Elephant, called Nelly, didn’t have a trunk, it had a normal nose.  He was very demanding because he was the biggest animal in the savannah of the Kalahari Desert.  He used his size to make people do what he wanted. He would tell the anteater to leave if he wanted to bask in the shade provided by the ant mount.  When he wanted to eat grass of off the greenest patch on the savannah, he told the zebras to leave; he threatened them with his size.  One day, he went to the watering hole and there was a crocodile basking in the only area which was available for drinking.  So, the elephant was scared because he knew the crocodile was dangerous.  At first, he just asked the crocodile to move and he said no. So the elephant got mad and stomped his feet, but the crocodile still chilled there. And then the elephant shouted and yelled at the crocodile; he wanted to be able to do what he wanted to do.  He went up closely to the crocodile and shouted.  The crocodile suddenly jumped up and bit the elephant’s nose and held on to his nose.  The elephant started freaking out and told the crocodile to leave him alone.  The elephant tried to pull away but the crocodile hung on.  Then they began a tug-of-war.  As they began to tug, the elephant’s nose started to grow and grow until it grew like 6 feet when suddenly the crocodile let go, leaving the elephant with a long trunk.  Every time the elephant sees the long trunk, it reminds him to be patient.”

Ruchira told me that he first heard this märchen when he was seven or eight years old.  He heard it from a village elder, Serowe, who was the chief of the village.  Ruchira said that there are several tales similar to “How the Elephant Learned Patience” regarding other common animals in Africa, such as there is a märchen that involves a moral lesson with why zebras have stripes.  Ruchira said that these types of märchen are common and often told to children.  These märchen teach children important qualities, such as the importance of having patience and not to be too demanding.

This märchen is similar to the tales for Aesop’s fables, using animals to teach children the importance of having certain personal qualities.  “How the Elephant Learned Patience” reminds me of the story of Pinocchio and how his nose was also elongated, however, not for not having patience, but for lying instead.  By making the physical consequence of having no patience being a permanent severely elongated nose, the märchen highly stresses the importance of patience because the audience would view a six foot long nose to be a highly undesirable characteristic to have.  “How the Elephant Learned Patience” reminds me of Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare”, where the arrogant hare learned an important lesson that slow and steady can win the race.  Just like the hare, who learned his lesson when he lost the race, the elephant learned a moral lesson through a misfortunate event.

“How the Elephant Learned Patience” may be more popular in Africa than in America because the elephant and the other animal characters are more common in Africa than the rest of the world.  Moreover, the tale is set in the savannah, a place that the African audience recognizes and is familiar with.

Superstition – Chinese

Chinese Superstition

“Uncle Joe bought a carving of a Chinese dragon-horse.  This Chinese dragon-horse, a scared animal that looks fierce and is suppose to be a good warrior, was carved out a special stone from somewhere remote China.  This object is supposed to scare the evil away and bring good luck.  Uncle Joe put it in his apartment and his family began to feel uncomfortable, like headaches and feeling not relaxed and too tense.  Finally, they brought in a person who is believed to have the ability to communicate with the supernatural.  That person identified that the Chinese dragon-horse was too mean and too strong.  He told Uncle Joe to wash the carving in warm water.  When Uncle Joe rinsed the dragon-horse, the water turned red, indicating that the dragon-horse was bloody, meaning it had killed a lot already.  After the dragon-horse was watched and put back in the apartment, the apartment felt more pleasant to live in.”

My dad told me this Feng Shui story.  Uncle Joe, who lives in Beijing, China, is a good, longtime friend of my dad.

The Chinese dragon-horse is a folk object.  It is hand carved from a single stone, which is usually a precious, special stone, although the Chinese dragon-horses do not have to be carved from the same type of stone.  Each Chinese dragon-horse is unique because each one is carved from a different stone, has a different shape, and has its own unique details.  These items serve the same physiological purpose as guard dogs, except the dragon-horses are inanimate objects. The reliance on the dragon-horses for protection demonstrates how greatly the Chinese believe in supernatural powers.

This story demonstrates how popular Feng Shui is, especially among the Chinese and is an important aspect of the Chinese culture.  The belief in supernatural power plays a very large role in the Chinese culture.  Uncle Joe’s story shows how Feng Shui is very key when it comes to someone’s home.  It is important that one’s home has good, positive energy because the energy in the atmosphere affects the lives of the people in the household.  Since the Chinese dragon-horse’s spirit was too strong, it had a negative impact on Uncle Joe and his family.  However, once they bathed the Chinese dragon-horse and reduced the strength of the spirit, the environment at Uncle Joe’s home became more comfortable.  Uncle Joe’s story is an example of the Chinese’s belief in achieving harmony and balance.  Feng Shui is so important that it is incorporated into building and buying homes, and also the decorating of the house.

Tradition – Chinese

Cultural Tradition

“During Chinese New Year’s, my family always places small dishes of food in front of the portrait of a deceased relative.  We put flowers, food, and fruit, usually the food they liked, in front of the portrait.  My grandma then takes chopsticks and touches each dish to represent that the relative received the food and ate it.”

This is a tradition I have grown up with.  My mother explained to me that this is a way to keep our relatives close and makes it feel as if they are part of our celebrations.  Moreover, it helps us keep their memory alive.  This is a Chinese tradition that my family follows every year.  My parents perform this tradition every year because their parents use to do it; my parents grew up with the tradition and they are imparting it to the younger generation.

This tradition highlights the high value the Chinese culture places on family; family and ancestors are very important.  The Chinese family prides itself on having strong family connections.  The remaining family members want to make sure that the deceased relatives are taken care of in their world, serving as an example of filial piety.  Filial piety, which is loving, respecting, and paying dutiful attention to elders, is a core value in the Chinese culture.  In my family and in other Chinese families that I know, one of the key indicators of well-being is being well-fed and eating good food.  Moreover, this Chinese New Year’s tradition reflects how the Chinese culture is more past-oriented compared to the American culture because this tradition allows my family to keep the past close to us.  In actuality, it brings the past to be a part of the present.  This may coincide with why the reception after a funeral service is somewhat merrier than the somber mood of the funeral, since the family and guests are celebrating the life of the deceased rather than showing their grief because traditions, such as the Chinese New Year’s tradition, allows them to feel as the deceased are still with them.  It never feels as if they are truly gone.

My grandma always performs the symbolic eating of the ancestors’ food before anyone begins to eat because in the Chinese culture, to show respect, the elders eat first.  If the ancestors were alive, they would be the ones to eat and begin the dinner.  By having the ancestors “eat” first, the family is paying their respects and acting as if the deceased relatives are present.