Author Archives: choirene

Korean Proverb

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 20
Occupation: student
Residence: korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

There is a proverb in Korea that is “티끌모아태산”

Original script: 티끌모아태산

Phonetic (Roman) script: Tikkeul moa tae-san

Transliteration: Dust collection becomes a mountain

Full translation: A penny saved is a penny earned (Though not a direct translation, it has a similar meaning of this English proverbial phrase)

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that if you don’t give up and continue to work towards your goal, you will become successful and achieve your goals. She remembers this proverb because she thinks it’s applicable to her own life since she tends to give up very easily.

Thoughts:

I agree with Y about this proverb. I also tend to give up very easily when something doesn’t go the way that I planned. This proverb reminds us that we shouldn’t give up because every small effort will eventually accumulate to something bigger and through hardwork and effort, we will succeed. This applies to my own life because when I was a high school senior and applying to colleges, I didn’t get into a lot of schools that I wanted to. I had gone to a school that I didn’t really want to go to but found that it wasn’t for me. But I didn’t want to go through the college application process again and didn’t want to transfer. It was my mom who reminded me that I should at least put it the effort because it doesn’t hurt to try. The application process was a hard one, with many nights spent crying due to an existential crisis. I felt like giving up, but I pushed myself to write the best application I could and successfully transferred to USC.

Korean Proverb

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 20
Occupation: student
Residence: Korean
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

There is a proverb in Korea that is “바늘도둑이 소도둑 된다”

Original script: 바늘도둑이 소도둑 된다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Baneul-dodook ee so-dodook dwaenda.

Transliteration: Needle thief cow thief becomes.

Full translation: Someone who steals small things will eventually steal bigger things.

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that someone who starts stealing small things will eventually steal bigger things. So, if someone starts off shoplifting a pen, they will grow up to commit bigger crimes like robbing a bank. Y says she heard about this proverb a few years ago and remembers it because when she looks at crimes committed in Korea, she hopes that bigger crimes like murder can be prevented and fixed, by basing it on smaller crimes committed.

Thoughts:

I agree with this proverb and it reminded me of a criminal psychology class I took at USC a few years ago. In the class, we learned that someone who hurts animals will have a higher chance of committing murder and becoming a psychopath. I agree with Y’s thoughts about this piece because it is small crimes that we have to punish to prevent the criminal from committing bigger crimes in the future.

Korean Proverb

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 20
Occupation: student
Residence: Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Main Piece:

There is a proverb in Korea that is “소잃고 외양간 고친다”

Original script: 소잃고 외양간 고친다

Phonetic (Roman) script: So illko waeyanggan gochinda.

Transliteration: After losing cow, fix cowshed

Full translation: No point mending the cowshed after the losing the cow

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that you don’t look ahead to your problems and wait until the very last minute or sometimes after the problem has occurred to fix your problems. In other words, in times of crisis you don’t have plan and you only start preparing after the crisis has begun.

Y saw this proverb in a collection of Korean proverbs and it stood out to her because she thought it was very applicable to everyday life. She relates it to her own personal life by saying that when she studies or does something, she likes looking ahead to her problems to prevent that problem coming back to bite her later. She said that instead of regretting that she should have studied more on the day of an exam, she wants to compliment herself for working hard and that’s why she thinks of this proverb.

Thoughts:

I think this proverb is very relatable to myself as well. I have a habit of regretting my actions after I do them and I often go back and think about what I should have done. I constantly think about “what-ifs” and my dad always tells me to not dwell on the past and think about the future. As this proverb says, there’s no point fixing the cowshed after the cow has fled. In real life, there’s no point thinking about what should have been after what already happened.

The Maharaja and The Rice–An Indian Tale

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: student
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 22
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

The story goes, a maharaja (a king) was bored and commissioned a lowly mathematician to create a new game for him. The mathematician presented the maharaja with the game of chess. The maharaja was impressed with the game and offered the inventor any reward he wanted. The mathematician requested a single grain of rice. The maharaja said that it was too small of a reward, so the mathematician asked that a single grain of rice be placed on the first square of the chessboard. Then, on the next square two grains of rice, on the third square four grains of rice, with each square having double the amount of the previous square. The maharaja, though still believing it to be a too small reward, agreed.

The maharaja ordered his treasurer to pay the agreed upon sum. A week later, the mathematician returned to ask the maharaja why he had not received his reward. The maharaja, outraged that the treasurer had disobeyed him, summoned the treasurer and demanded to know why the mathematician had not been paid. The treasurer explained that by the time you get even halfway through the chessboard, the amount of grain required was more than the entire kingdom possessed. (By the 41st square on the chessboard, the maharaja would owe more than a trillion grains of rice.) There are also multiple endings to this store as well.

  1. The maharaja kills the mathematician to avoid paying the reward.
  2. The mathematician reveals himself to a God and tells the king he does not have to provide the reward. Just remember the lesson.

Background:

This is a summary of what my roommate, B, told me when I asked her if there were any Indian stories that she knew. B think she read about it in a bookstore that was a part of the temple her parents went to when she was younger. Most of the books were about Indian stories, but she remembers this in particular because it is pretty famous not just in India, but in the math and finance world. She says it’s a great illustration of exponential, a concept that is hard to visualize/grasp.

Context:

B said this was a legend about the day before Holi. This was collected from a message exchange with B since we were both busy with assignments and couldn’t coordinate a time that worked for both of us. I asked her questions and she answered them and then I summarized what she told me to make it into a coherent story.

Thoughts:

I think I heard this story somewhere before. I don’t recall if it was the same Indian king, but I remember hearing the concept of the grain of rice expanding exponentially. Maybe it was from some kind of math problem, but just as B said, I think this is a great illustration of the exponential. I think it kind of tells a lesson that you should always think before you answer because the maharaja didn’t think about his options and could have almost starved his entire nation if the treasurer hadn’t caught his mistake.

Holika Dahan: The day before Holi

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 22
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

The night before Holi, bonfires are lit in a ceremony known as Holika Dahan. The legend goes:

            The was once a young prince (he was a kid), the son of a tyrant king, who prayed to Rama (a deity in the Hinduism religion). The king thought himself to be a God and was furious that his son was worshipping another. The king told the young prince that unless he stopped worshipping Rama, he would punish him. The king’s sister, Holika, was blessed from birth as to never be harmed by fire. So, the king devised a punishment for his son for refusing to stop worshipping Rama. He would make the young prince burn in a fire.

As the king started a bonfire, he tauntingly asked his son, “Where is the god you worship? You will burn and no one will save you.” He started a bonfire and had his sister sit with the young prince in the fire to prevent him from escaping the flames. Then, something happened, the young prince wasn’t burning, the aunt was burning. (This is where the story diverges based on region).

  1. Rama stepped in to save the young prince and burn Holika
  2. Holika was blessed on the understanding that it can never be used to bring harm to anyone.
  3. Holika wore a shawl that would protect her from the fire. When she was sat down in the fire with the young prince on her lap, she prayed to Rama/Vishnu (gods are just reincarnations so technically same person but with different names and looks). Vishnu blew a gust of wind to knock the shawl off of Holika and on to the young prince, saving the kid and burning Holika.

Every year, the day before Holi, Indians light bonfires to celebrate Holika Dahan.

Background:

This is a summary of what my roommate, B, told me when I asked her about Indian traditions and festivals. She said her told her the story when she was kid and her family was in India during Holi. She saw the bonfires and asked them why they do it, so they told her that story. The ending they told her about was a combination of the one where Rama saves the prince and where the aunt dies because her blessing was not to be used to cause harm. From what she remembers, the story is supposed to be the age-old classic of good winning over evil with a bit of religion thrown in. 

Context:

B said this was a legend about the day before Holi. This was collected from a message exchange with B since we were both busy with assignments and couldn’t coordinate a time that worked for both of us. I asked her questions and she answered them and then I summarized what she told me to make it into a coherent story.

Thoughts:

I don’t know much about Indian traditions and I didn’t know about a tradition of the day before Holi. It was interesting to hear about a tradition that I didn’t know about. She said the message is good winning over evil, which is a broad concept and I think many different cultures have some kind of story with this basis. In fact, even the story of Cinderella or the Korean variation, Kong-Ji and Pat-Ji (refer to here) is about the good defeating evil.

Korean Proverb

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 23
Occupation: student
Residence: Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

There is a proverb in Korea that is “서당개 삼년이면 풍월을 읊는다”

Original script: 서당개 삼년이면 풍월을 읊는다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Seodang-gae samnyeon-imyeon pungwol-eul eulpneunda.

Transliteration: A dog at school will know words three years later

Full translation: Practice makes perfect

Background: My informant is a 23-year-old friend from Korea, identified as H. She interprets it to anyone with the guidance of an expert or in an environment of study, they will be able to learn something and become successful. She remembers this proverb because it relates to her own life. H says after she became a college student, she has realized the importance of self-directed teaching to fully understand concepts and has often felt jealousy of those who are able to understand concepts faster. Her experience in college has reminded her of this proverb.

Thoughts:

I agree with this proverb because I think it applies to any life situation. If you keep on practicing, you will succeed. Whether it is solving a math equation, learning an instrument or driving a car, you will succeed if you keep practicing. You will eventually be able to solve that very complicated math problem, play a difficult classic piece and get your driver’s license. It applies to every part of life and it reminds me that you shouldn’t give up.

打小人 (da siu yan) Hitting Villains Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese American
Age: 23
Occupation: part time tutor
Residence: Hong Kong
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This is a transcription of an interview with a friend from high school, identified as A. In this piece, I am identified as IC.

A: There’s this tradition called 打小人 (da siu yan), which means like to hit villains or hitting villains. The basic idea is that you hit a symbolic piece of paper or item, usually paper, while chanting in order to curse someone or something.

IC: So, it’s kind of like voodoo?

A: Kind of, I mean it’s not like a precise comparison, but you could say that it’s similar concept. So, you can target a person, spirits or just overall life to get it to do what you want to do. Like, you can try to hit away bad luck. Say you have an exam coming up and you don’t want to do badly, then you can ask someone to help you hit whatever might get in the way of you achieving your goal. It’s not a very big tradition in China; I’ve only really heard it in context of Hong Kong and maybe Guangzhou.

IC: Okay, what’s the process like?

A: I’ve never seen it in person but apparently, it’s best for it to be done in like shadowy areas. So, what you do is go up to these women who are in specific shadowy location and say what you want to curse. From what I understand each woman who does the hitting has a specific god or deity that they like to… I guess evoke when they are doing the chanting. The chanting for this is very nonsense, like I watched a video once and it was strange because no one ever talks that way. But I saw another video of another woman who said I guess, scripted prayers. It was like prayers towards a specific God or whatever.

IC: So, it’s just prayers asking a god to help?

A: Yeah, for example you ask about protection from bad spirits or another god about someone who’s cheating on you and wait until the woman is done hitting villains. I’m not sure how long it takes precisely.

IC: Are these deities ones that actually exist in like Chinese culture or is it just kind of made up?

A: They actually exist, like there are gods for specific things. There are so many deities in China.

Background:

My informant is 23 years old and she is my friend from high school, which was in Hong Kong. She went to New York for college and graduated last year. She is currently working in Hong Kong.

Context:

My informant was describing a common tradition in Hong Kong that she has never seen before but know about from her previous internship for a newspaper. She mentioned this when I asked about any traditions or activities that she knew about.

Thoughts:

I remember seeing some women with incense and hitting pieces of paper when I grew up in Hong Kong, but I didn’t think much about it because I wasn’t familiar with the tradition. After hearing my informant describe what it was, I pieced the two together. I think this is a very odd tradition, and I’m not sure if it works but I guess there are some people who believe in this and it’s why they participate.

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival and Myth about the Moon

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese America
Age: 23
Occupation: part time tutor
Residence: Hong Kong
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This is a transcription of an interview with a friend from high school, identified as A. In this piece, I am identified as IC.

IC: Can you tell me about Mid-Autumn festival?

A: Okay, so Mid-Autumn festival is a festival that is closely tied to Chinese traditions of celebrating the harvest. It’s in the fall, typically in late September or October usually September. And so, a large part of the Mid-Autumn festival is the celebration of family gatherings as well because the roundness of the moon is supposed to be symbolic of everyone sitting around the table at family gatherings. There’s also another huge component, which is moon worship that comes from a Chinese myth.

IC: Okay, can you tell me about that myth?

A: Yeah, so there was this man called Hou Yi who was really good at archery. One day, there was a huge drought because there were ten different suns in the sky, and he shot down nine of the suns and left the only last one up so we could still have sunlight.

IC: Wait, I feel like I’ve heard this before.

A: Yeah, you probably heard it in like high school.

IC: Probably. Anyway, continue.

A: Right, so this immortal was impressed by Hou Yi, so he gave him an elixir for immortality, but he didn’t want to be immortal without his wife and it was only a one-person kind of deal. He decided to not take it and instead kept it and have his wife, Chang’e be the keeper of the elixir to guard it. But one day when he was out doing something official like, official business or whatever, Chang’e was approached by Hou Yi’s apprentice who demanded that she give him the elixir. Instead of handing it over she took the potion herself and became immortal. Then, she ascended to the moon and so now people worship Chang’e as a kind of goddess of the moon to commemorate her bravery and quick thinking.

My family doesn’t worship her, but I guess it depends on other people or what you believe in, like I’m sure many people still worship gods in China, especially in more rural communities.

IC: What does your family do in mid-Autumn festival to celebrate it?

A: So, we gather together as a family and a popular tradition in China is eating mooncakes. Mooncakes are like… I’m going to call them pastries or like cakes that are made with really dense white lotus paste and most of the traditional ones have an egg yolk in the middle. Recently, there have been a lot of creative kind of recreations over the years. For example, recently, there have been mochi ones and like sesame flavoured ones.

IC: I miss mooncakes, like the ones without yolk. The ones with yolk are gross. Is there anything else your family does?

A: Same, we’re the minority. Uh, not really. It’s just mostly a nighttime celebration but lanterns are a part of the celebration, I think. When I was younger, I would go outside with an electric paper lantern and play around and hang them up. The reason why lanterns are important is not very well known. It seems to be that lanterns have become a symbol of the festival.

Background:

My informant is 23 years old and she is my friend from high school, which was in Hong Kong. She went to New York for college and graduated last year. She is currently working in Hong Kong.

Context:

I asked her about this tradition because I vaguely remember learning about Chinese traditions for Mid-Autumn Festival during Chinese class in high school. I also remember eating mooncakes in Hong Kong, even though my family didn’t celebrate it the same way. I thought it would be interesting to ask someone who comes from a Chinese/Hong Kong background to ask about the specifics since I don’t know much about it. All I knew was from textbooks designed for speakers learning it as a second language.

Thoughts:

Hearing my friend talk about how her family celebrates it and the traditions that she knows about was interesting to hear as different countries celebrate it differently. It was informative to learn about the story of Hou Yi and Chang’e and although worshipping the moon goddess is something everyone does, it was still interesting to learn about the tradition and the importance of the moon.

Chinese New Year

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese American
Age: 23
Occupation: Part time Tutor
Residence: Hong Kong
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This is a transcription of an interview with a friend from high school, identified as A. In this piece, I am identified as IC.

IC: So, tell me about Chinese New Year. Where does it come from?

A: Lunar New Year is something that happens at the beginning of every calendar year and so it’s also often referred to as the spring festival. There are 12 animals that represent each year and how this myth came to be is that there were these animals who were basically told to engage in a race to determine who would be symbols for each year. The twelve animals in order are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. The rat is first because it rode on the ox’s back and cheated.

I heard about a variation that the cat was tricked out of the race by the mouse which is why they hate each other. I forget exactly how the cat was tricked out, but this supposedly also explains why cat chases the mouse so much.

IC: What does your family does to celebrate? Like what do you eat and what activities do you do?

A: And so one of the things that we eat every year is this thing called 年糕 (nin gou) which translates to new year cake and so it’s this It’s like not really a cake it’s like a slice of it’s like glutinous. We also eat 蘿蔔糕 (lo baak guo) which is like a radish cake and it’s my personal favourite. Then there are traditions associated with it and the most popular with children at the very least is the giving of the red package.

IC: Yeah, I remember those.

A: Yeah, so it’s married couples, and only married couples, give away red packets to the younger generation.

IC: Why is it red?

A: It’s a symbolism of colour because red a lucky colour in Chinese culture and that’s why you see in Chinese brides wear red during weddings, simply because it’s a very lucky colour. So, by giving red package, the deal here is that you’re helping give them luck for that year.

IC: How much money is in the envelope?

A:  That depends on the person giving the envelope. So usually newlyweds give less because they won’t have as much money and also, they don’t want to build high expectations. But the tradition is called拜年 (bai nian) and first you go to your father’s grandparents place to pay respects for the new year and then you go to your other grandparent’s place. I think that’s the order but I’m not really particularly sure about that because my dad’s parents live in LA, so I usually just go to my mom’s side of the family for that. It’s just going there spending time with your grandparents and like wishing them well for the new year.

IC: Are there any specific things that you’re supposed to do to pay respects or is it just like talking to them and spending time with them?

A: Well, this applies to the whole festival in general actually but there are a lot of four-word sayings that you say.  They are blessings that you say to people. Some examples are 年年有餘 (nin nin yau yu) which means “may you be prosperous every year” and 快高長大 (fai gou zheung dai) which means “grow up well”. The main one is 恭喜發財 (gong hei faat choi) which means “happy new year”.

IC: Yeah, I remember that phrase. Are there any other foods that you eat? Like aren’t you supposed to eat fish or something? That’s what I remember from Chinese class in high school.

A: Are we? I don’t know… I don’t think we do that.

IC: Oh, okay. I mean, I guess it’s different for everyone. Like you don’t have to eat everything you’re supposed to.

A: Oh, there is this one thing where Chinese households have a candy box during New Year. I don’t know why but there’s a box of candy and sweet stuff in every household.

Background:

My informant is 23 years old and she is my friend from high school, which was in Hong Kong. Though she is American, she went She went to New York for college and graduated last year. She is currently working in Hong Kong. She knows about this tradition because her family is from Hong Kong and celebrates Lunar New Year.

Context:

I asked her about this tradition because I vaguely remember learning about Chinese traditions for Lunar New Year during Chinese class in high school. I thought it would be interesting to ask someone who comes from a Chinese/Hong Kong background to ask about the specifics since I don’t know much about it. All I knew was from textbooks designed for speakers learning it as a second language.

Thoughts:

Hearing my friend talk about how her family celebrates it and the traditions that she knows about was interesting to hear as different countries celebrate it differently. It was informative to learn about some foods that she eats and sayings other than the popular phrase that means happy new year.

Vietnamese New Year

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: student
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This is a conversation with my friend, identified as C, about Vietnamese New Year. I am identified as IC in this transcription.

IC: When is vietnamese new year? What is it called—is there a vietnamese name for it?

C: It’s called Tết and takes place on the first day of the first month of the lunar year, so usually late Jan or early February

IC: What kind of foods do you eat?

C: My family doesn’t celebrate super traditionally. We usually eat potluck style with a mix of foods. Someone usually will bring a pig, and there’s Gỏi cuốn, which is spring roll with peanut sauce. Also, there’s Chả giò, which is basically an egg roll, Bánh cuốn, rice flour with meat and Chả lụa, which is pork sausage. Most of them are eaten with Nước mam, a diluted fish sauce. We usually have that with a mix of maybe duck, vegetables like green beans or Brussel sprouts or a casserole, sometimes potatoes, a fried rice dish, fried chicken wings.

IC: Is there a reason for eating certain foods?

C: No, not that I know of. There might be but my family isn’t super traditional so I’m not sure.

IC: Are there any activities that you do?

C: Yeah, the older people give the red envelopes with money to younger ones. We call it lì xì. I think there are also other activities that people traditionally do, but we don’t do them so I’m not sure.

IC: That’s cool, Korea has a similar tradition where elders give money to younger ones.

C: Yeah, it’s probably a similar tradition in Asian cultures.

IC: Are there traditional Vietnamese clothes that you wear?

C: My grandma wears the Vietnamese dress called áo dài and people like the colour red, which represents good luck.

Background:

My informant is a 22-year-old half-Vietnamese and half-American who was my roommate last year. Although she doesn’t celebrate it very traditionally as she mentioned, she agreed to answer a few questions when I mentioned this project and asked her about it.

Context:

This was collected over a casual conversation on FaceTime, as I couldn’t meet with her in person since she went back home to the Bay Area amidst the current pandemic situation.

Thoughts:

I didn’t know anything about Vietnamese New Year and hearing about the foods they eat and traditional clothing they wear was interesting to hear. I found the similarity of the money envelope in Korean New Year celebration fascinating. It shows that while traditions are different around the world, some of them have similar roots.