Author Archives: Crystal Yang

Russian Superstitions

The 26-year-old informant was born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. at a young age. During his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, he was a teaching assistant for a Russian folklore class and found these pieces of folklore to be particularly interesting or representative of Russian culture.

On shaking hands:

“One superstition is you’re never supposed to shake hands with someone across a threshold or doorway. It’s said to lead to separation and falling out, because you’re like, wishing to never see that person again. So that’s pretty common. Pretty much all Russians follow this rule.”

On whistling:

“Another sort of weird superstition is that you shouldn’t whistle–especially indoors, like ever, because it’ll lead to you losing all your money and having bad luck. It used to be this belief that the wind is bad. Like a bad demon-type creature, and in ancient pagan belief. The wind whistles, so by whistling, you’re inviting the wind demon into your house.”

 

These superstitions are interesting because they involve things that are quite common in the U.S. In fact, most Americans wouldn’t think twice about where they shake hands with someone or if they’re whistling indoors. It definitely highlights the slightly irrational ideas behind superstitions when you hear superstitions from other cultures that aren’t your own. However, all superstitions play a part in culture and thus contribute infinitely to it.

The Magic Gourd

The 24-year-old informant is originally from Rhode Island, but currently resides in New York, NY. Her parents are both from China, making her a first-generation American Born Chinese. This story was one that she heard as a child and has been engrained in her mind ever since.

“A long, long time ago, there was a boy who was fishing at the lake, and um, his classmates walk by and laughing at his fishing poles like, ‘Oh, so ugly, and so cheap!’

And they showed him, like ‘See, look at our fishing pole. We can fish biiiig fish! And so big and strong enough to pull them up.’

And on the other hand, his poor, very weak fish pole–even one fish can broken his pole. So, after the left and he was quietly sitting there, still fishing, fishing, fishing—and suddenly, he fished not a fish—it’s a gourd! He was very, very angry like, ‘I don’t want a gourd—I want a fish!’

However, the gourd, because it’s magic gourd, and talk about, ‘Please, ok save me! You can do whatever you want and I can satisfy you.’
And the boy’s not really wanting to bring the gourd back home, but he’s casually put him into the school bag. After he came back home, and he said, ‘Oh gosh, I have a lot of homework to do.’

The gourd, of course, tried to please him because, after all, he brought him back, and said ‘I can do whatever you want! I can satisfy you!’

The boy said, ‘Ok I have a lot of homework. Please do it for me.’

And pretty soon, ‘His homework was done in front of him.’

And also, he said ‘Oh I want to read certain books from our library but I forgot to bring them back home,’ and wow, suddenly, many, many books were full on his desk and another thing he said was, ‘Tomorrow, I want to eat a lot of good stuff like chicken, duck, and other things.’

Wow, a huge pile of money appeared on his desk. He was so satisfied he went out and bought all the food he wanted.

He went to school the next day and suddenly, there was a math test that he wasn’t prepared for. The gourd sensed that the boy needed help and helped him by copying a classmate’s test—but the test ended up having the classmate’s name on it too—and the girl’s test became blank. Of course, the boy was embarrassed and the teacher was not happy. So, the boy learned his lesson and did everything by himself from that point on to avoid embarrassment, and he learned humility and accountability.”

This story about a magic gourd is a very old story with Chinese origins, according to the informant. It represents Asian values of humility, honesty, and accountability– which Chinese people, especially, hold very highly.

Origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival

The 24-year-old informant is originally from Rhode Island, but currently resides in New York, NY. Her parents are both from China, making her a first-generation American Born Chinese. This story was one that she heard as a child and has been engrained in her mind ever since.

“A long, long time ago, there was a man—a great archer—and his wife, a beautiful maiden. One day, 10 suns rose in the sky, which threatened to scorch the entire earth. So, in retaliation, the archer shot 9 of the 10 suns down. Because of this, he became a celebrity in his village and in nearby villages as well. For this deed, he was rewarded a special elixir of immortality by the goddess of the sun. One day, when the archer’s wife was home alone, thieves broke into the house to steal the elixir of immortality. Because the wife did not want the thieves to steal it—she drank it all herself before any of the thieves could get to it. As a result, she immediately floated up to the heavens and situated herself on the moon because it’s the closest place to earth—‘cause she wanted to be as close to her husband as possible, and she became the new goddess of the Moon. The archer was so sad that he left food for her as a sacrifice, and thus created the traditions of the Mid-Autumn Festival.”

This story is a very notable myth regarding the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is the most commonly told origin story for this holiday. Other versions of the story say that the archer becomes the Sun because he is able to shoot down 9 of the 10 suns, and thus describe the origins of both the Sun and the Moon.

The Three Brothers (Bauhinia)

The 54-year-old informant is a elementary school Chinese teacher and is originally from Taiyuan, China. She’s been hearing and telling Chinese folklore her entire life, and often shares it with her students. Her stories represent Chinese culture and the qualities that Chinese people value.

“Once, there were three brothers… they treat each other very well because in Chinese tradition, brotherly love in a family is very important because after parents pass away, brothers treat each other very well. If their relationship’s not great, that means the whole family will be broken. Even if they have the same last name, sometimes they will be like enemies.

Sooo, in this family there are three brothers, the first two are already married, and the third one married later, but the third brother’s wife is the kind of girl that brought in a lot of good stuff in terms of family needs. Like, silver and gold– she grew up in a rich family I guess… And this kind of situation, she tried to create trouble. She said, ‘Ok, why don’t we separate from the other two brothers, so this way, we can live better, right?’ Because they live together and they eat together and they work in the field together. So, this is why the wife of the third brother feels like it’s not fair and that they can live better without the two brothers. So, that’s why the property has to be divided into three.

So everything is divided really well and equally, but there’s only one tree in the yard… do not know how to do it. So they talk about how to divide the tree, probably just chop into three pieces and even the leaves would be divided equally. Over the night, this tree seemed to die… and when the brothers used an axe to try to cut it–the tree, it seems like, overnight, no longer lived. That’s why the big brother held the tree and cried, cried, cried. So the third brother asked, ‘Why are you crying?’

And the brother said, ‘See, even a tree understand human being because the tree thought you were going to chop it up, so that’s why it just died. Even trees have feelings, so why do our brothers want to divide our property into three parts?’

That’s why the big brother said, ‘Why don’t we not divide it into three. We still stay in the same family.’

After they said that, the tree came back to life!

So, actually, the flower of Hong Kong is from this kind of tree. So the reason they select this tree flower as a Hong Kong symbol is actually based upon this Asian story.”

This is an interesting story to me because if the Hong Kong flower is truly based on this story, it would make a lot of sense because the idea that Hong Kong is part of China, but they have two different systems, just as the brothers all decided to be one family and just live their own lives, as opposed to trying to completely separate into three different entities.

The Fox Borrows the Tiger’s Power

The 54-year-old informant is a elementary school Chinese teacher and is originally from Taiyuan, China. She’s been hearing and telling Chinese folklore her entire life, and often shares it with her students. Her stories represent Chinese culture and the qualities that Chinese people value.

“Once upon a time, there was a tiger in the mountain. Because basically, tiger is the king in this mountain. One day, the fox met the tiger, and the tiger wanted to eat the fox, and the fox said, ‘Oh, I am more powerful than you. Why do you want to eat me?’

And the tiger said, ‘Haha! You’re joking! You’re more powerful than me?’

The fox said, ‘Yes, of course. Do you want me to show you?’

And the tiger said, ‘Yes, show me.’

Then the fox said, ‘Okay, you just come along with me. I’m go back to my home–my forest. My section of this mountain.’

So the fox casually and very enjoyably walked to the other side of the mountain, and the tiger followed him. Once the fox reached his territory, all the animals on the tree and the ground all ran away. The fox said, ‘Did you see that? Once I arrived here, they all ran away. Because they’re afraid of me!'”

 

In Chinese, idioms are commonly 4-word phrases that represent stories. This story is based on the Chinese idiom: 狐假虎威 (hu jia hu wei), which means “a fox exploits a tiger’s power.” In much of folklore, foxes are commonly known to be clever and sometimes deceitful animals, which is again represented in this story.