Author Archives: Queenique Dinh

Exchanging Senior Portraits – A High School Custom

Item:

Q: Did you take prom pictures?

T: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Oh! Exchanging pictures, that’s something people do, like prom pictures and senior pictures.

Q: Why do people exchange senior pictures?

T: Oh bro Ion’ know. I actually don’t know. Like… like… cause yenno people, like, write little notes on the back of it?

Q: Mhmm.

T: And it’s just, memories I guess.

Q: So did you learn about exchanging them when you started high school or what?

T: I didn’t even know!

Q: You didn’t know until you were a senior that people exchanged senior portraits?

T: I did but, like, I didn’t know, like, my freshman year.

Q: Oh, so, when did you figure out then?

T: Like…

Q: When I was a senior?

T: Ion’ know, probably. Most likely. I didn’t really talk to people.

 

Context:

This piece was collected from a high school student, denoted by ‘T’.  I inquired about any high school lore she knew about, and when she couldn’t think of any, we changed topics.  Later on in the conversation, she was prompted by my question about prom pictures to mention this custom.  Though she did not have much insight into the custom which she describes, I will provide further information on it in the following section.  The informant has attended the same school that I graduated from in Hawaii for all of high school and will be graduating this May.  As seen in the conversation above, she most likely learned the custom of exchanging senior portraits from when I approached graduation at the end of senior year and began preparing portraits to give to my teachers and friends.  The informant also mentions how she is especially aware of this custom now that it is her turn to partake in it; her peers have already begun taking casual pictures to use and she spoke to me about how she wants one of her friends to take her portraits as well.  The informant seems to primarily take this custom as just another one of those things high school seniors do before graduation, and as she said in the exchange, something you do “for the memories”.

 

Additional Personal Notes:

I can elaborate more on this custom, having participated in it myself when I graduated high school.  It should be noted that prom photos are exchanged as well between high school students, which may have reminded the informant about the exchange of senior portraits.  Photos from formal dances, including proms and winter formals, are generally exchanged amongst all grade levels; senior portraits, on the other hand, are exclusive to the graduating class.  They are commonly exchanged among graduating seniors and their closest friends (which may be other seniors or underclassmen), as well as their teachers and advisors, in the weeks leading up to graduation.  Oftentimes, the photo-givers would handwrite notes on the frames of portraits before giving them out, typically something along the lines of a thank you message or a good luck message.  I learned this custom from having upperclassmen friends who graduated before me; some of them gave me their portraits as well.  This custom is most commonly passed on through connections with graduating seniors, like if you received one as an underclassman for example.  In addition, some teachers would also display their collection of portraits from students in their classrooms, so students would be able to learn about this custom through that as well.

 

Analysis:

Having also participated in this custom when I graduated high school, my analysis of its significance has a personal bias because of the role it played for me during this time.  Since it is temporally exclusive to the weeks leading up to graduation and exclusive to members of the graduating class, I believe the custom of exchanging senior portraits is about reinforcing social relationships in a time of changing identity.  Although a student’s plans after high school may be solidified by this time, and she may spend her last few weeks enjoying time with her peers, there still remains a level of anxiety – particularly pertaining to her social relationships she has built throughout high school as a familiar environment is left behind for the uncertainty of life after graduation.   As such, exchanging senior portraits is a material way of reinforcing certain social relationships before they are tested, especially because they are selectively exchanged among friends.  Giving a friend your senior portrait is essentially communicating “I remember you” and “I want you to remember me”.  Furthermore, in the age of digital media, a tangible portrait literally holds more weight than merely texting each other photos.  In the case of exchanging with teacher or advisors, the senior portraits serve a similar purpose of reinforcing these social relationships because you would give them to your favorite and/or most influential teachers as a thank you and final goodbye.  As such, giving out senior portraits is, in fact, about the memories of the social relationships you built during high school and reinforcing them before you make the transition into adulthood.

Charge Books – A Navy Chief Initiation Tradition

Item:

T: The older chiefs will pass on the knowledge and the expertise to the new chiefs with the charge book, right? So then when you- before people in the old days, when you want to be chief you have to carry around a charge book to see all other chiefs to get the- collect the knowledge and experience from them.  But through the years, they use the charge books, they do all kinds of stuff with that charge book, yenno, they- they destroy the charge book, yenno, you’re supposed to protect that charge book, you cannot let the charge book go and some of the chiefs they’re destroying it and burning it so, it just doesn’t mean much anymore so they changed it new way, they changed it a lot, they put a lot of that restriction to them.  Some of the guys ruin it for other guys. So yeah.

T: So the new way is, inside your chief’s mess, depending on how big it is – some mess got really small number of people, some people got a big – but you list all the chiefs in your mess and you go to see each one of them.. to get the knowledge to pass down.  That’s what you’re supposed to do during the transition period.

Q: So you’re not considered an actual chief until you finish that process?

T: Well, that’s the tradition, but the new- I mean, the way, once you got selected for chief, you gonna become a chief either yes or no but, yenno, if you go through the transition, you go through the training, you become a chief.  If you don’t you decide not to do that, other chiefs they’re gonna call you an E7 not a chief.  So in the Navy, you call someone an E7, that’s in-insulting.

Q: So does that mean you still have yours then?

T: Have what?

Q: Your charge book?

T: You’re always supposed to have it with you. You carry that through your life, that’s your memory.

 

Context:

I collected this piece in a conversation about the informant’s experiences in the U.S. Navy.  He joined in 1990 and served 26 years before retiring as a Senior Chief Petty Officer in 2017.  He recalled the charge book tradition while discussing some of the Navy Chief culture.  He also mentioned how the Navy Chief’s Mess is the largest association in the world.  He has a lot of pride in being a retired Navy chief, saying how “The Chiefs are the backbone of the Navy, the Chiefs make the Navy run.”  The informant remembers his own initiation in which he also completed a charge book as a significant moment in his life, especially considering how he asserts that you carry your charge book through your life.  He briefly joked about how when you ask a Navy Chief their birthday, they’ll ask back which one in regards to their actual birthday or the day they became pinned as a Chief.  In addition, the informant talked about why there may be such significant traditions around becoming a Navy Chief.  He says that in other branches, moving from to an E7 ranking is nothing particularly special.  For the US Navy, though, becoming a Chief (the equivalent title for an E7) holds a higher significance and as such has an initiation “just like joining a fraternity”.

 

Analysis:

Initiation rites and traditions are a means of legitimizing or introducing an individual’s membership in a group to those who are already members, especially beyond any official announcement.  Particularly in the charge book tradition described above, even though becoming a Chief is an official designation in the Navy, the informant mentions how the other Chiefs will not acknowledge an individual as such unless they have completed the initiation tradition.  The alienation of those who choose not to participate is further emphasized by their insulting address as an E7, as also mentioned by the informant.  The process of the initiation is quite literally gaining a body of knowledge and experience from the existing members of the Chief’s Mess that otherwise would have taken years of experience to learn.  Especially considering how disparities in knowledge or experience are the basis of distinguishing a certain identity, as the Chief candidates complete their charge books, they slowly close the gap between themselves and the Chiefs already in the.  Thus, they slowly become part of the association.  The pieces of advice given are like stepping stones as the candidates complete their transition; once they have completed all of them, they have earned the right to be called Chief and a part of the Navy Chief’s Mess.  Initiation traditions, like completing a charge book to become a Navy Chief, not only legitimize an individual’s membership in a group, they also provide the means to earn an identity that cannot merely be given.

White Headbands – A Chinese Folk Belief

Item:

Q: Why can’t you wear white headbands?

H: 嗰啲 (go2 di1) white 係人地死咗人地 先戴白色吖嗎(hai6 jan4 dei6  sei2 zo2 jan4 dei6  sin1 daai3 baak6 sik1 aa1 maa3)

[Translation: People only wear white when people die, right.]

Q: 白色件衫定係 白色喺個 頭(baak6 sik1 gin6 saam1 ding6 hai6 baak6 sik1 hai2 go3 tau4)

[Translation: White clothes or white on the head?]

H: 個頭 (go3 tau4)  Like when the parents, like the- your upper generation, like your parents or your grandparents or something, yeah.  When they pass away, so wearing the white [gesturing a headband]. So Asians nope, not gonna wear the white headbands.

[Translation: The head.] (Rest of line remains the same)

Q: So the person who dies wears the white or when you have someone who passed away?

H: Mhmm. So the younger generation will need to put the white thing on their heads, so that’s why no Asians wearing white headbands.

 

Context:

I collected this folk belief as part of a conversation in both Cantonese and English about Chinese traditions and customs.  The informant, denoted by ‘H’ in the exchange above, is Chinese and was born and raised in a Chinese community in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States in her late teens.  She can speak Cantonese fluently but chose to speak to me in both Cantonese and English for my understanding.  It should also be noted that the informant likely meant East and Southeast Asians when referring to Asians in the text because these are the cultures that are most similar to her own.  She didn’t mention specifically where she learned about white headbands from when asked but only said that you just know this kind of thing growing up because you would see it all the time in Vietnam.  She also told me about how one of her daughters unknowingly wore a white scrunchie once and thus had to explain the symbolism behind it before making her take it off.  White headbands as a funeral custom is an inherent part of the culture in which she grew up, and as such, she will never forget about it and will always stay away from wearing one out of proper context herself.

 

Analysis:

This folk belief can be tied to a belief in sympathetic magic: since white headbands are worn as part of funeral custom when a member of your family has died, you could potentially cause death in the family by wearing them if no one has actually passed away.  The likeness of performing the custom during a particular event may evoke the event itself to happen.  Here we can also see an example of the difference in color symbolism between cultures, a difference that becomes apparent when one is removed from the immediate environment of their own culture.  The informant grew up around this symbolism, taking it as a given, and as such never recognized it as significant until coming to the United States.  In the United States and other western countries, white is often a symbol of innocence and purity.  On the other hand, in Vietnam and other eastern countries, white is a symbol of death and thus only worn during funerary rights.  This is likely why the informant’s daughter did not initially realize the bad omen of wearing a white scrunchie because she did not have the background of having grown up in Vietnam where white headbands were only worn for funerals.  Now with another example of the symbolism in the color white in Chinese and Vietnamese cultures, I can understand why it is also a bad omen to wear white during the lunar new year.  Since it represents death, you may bring death upon yourself.  All in all, this folk belief outlines the symbolism of the color white in East and Southeast Asian cultures and furthermore, it proves how one’s own culture is not immediately recognizable until taken out of its initial context.

Tanks – A Pen and Paper Game

Item:

M: This is Tanks, at least that’s what I’ve always heard it as.  Um, we have two different control schemes that we’ve played with.  He used to do an actual flick to move it*, um, I never did.  Mine was always just pressure.  And then you just see if you can- the danger is actually stabbing the other person the pen, but you set it up at the end of the triangle, and then the- your tank moves to wherever, um, so you see that tank only moved a little bit.  (Gestures towards recent opponent move) So the goal of this is to actually eliminate your- the- all of your opponent’s tanks.

*By it, he meant a pen.

 

Summary of Game Rules:

Each player draws three triangles at either end of a sheet of paper pointing towards the opposite end; the paper should be fairly large like loose-leaf or computer paper.  The players take turns placing a pen at the tip of one of their drawn triangles and by either flicking the point or applying significant pressure draws a line from that point.  Regardless of the orientation of the line, the new tank is drawn facing the opposite end of the paper.  The tank’s new position is drawn at the end of the line.  To eliminate an opponent’s tank, your line must solidly touch the other person’s tank; eliminated tanks are crossed through with an X.  Whoever eliminates all of the opposing tanks first wins.  Please see the reference images below.

 

Context:

This game was collecting while hanging out with a group of friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about different games from our childhoods.  The primary informant, ‘M’, provided the brief description above as he was playing it with another informant who also gave his experience with this game.  The summary of the game rules was written using the explanation given and my observations as the game occurred.  The primary informant stated how he learned this game in elementary school while living in Okinawa, specifying that he attended school with both Japanese and other American students.  He also stated that this game was something he did during camps with his friends as well.  The informant playing against him grew up in San Diego and learned this game from his dad when he was four years old.  He mentioned how he was surprised that others knew this game because he thought it was just a game among Asians since his dad never fully assimilated into American society.

 

Analysis:

A quick search online yielded dozens of variations on this game, including, but not limited to, playing with planes or rockets instead of tanks, drawing a map that players must navigate around while also trying to destroy their opponents’ tanks, or destroying the tanks by means of gunshots as opposed to running directly into them.  Even with the two players above, they knew two different ways to complete their move: flicking the tip of the pen as it is standing or applying pressure until the pen slips from underneath itself.  I believe the drastic variations in the game and the spread in geographic location where this game is learned is due to a number of different reasons.  As a start, pen and paper games are easily accessible because of the simplicity of materials.  They travel easily and the game is easy to teach because the materials are familiar to most and do not need to be transported.  Tanks has no cultural or language dependencies, allowing it to be shared across cultures and potentially even cultivate cross-cultural relationships.  There is not a large learning or knowledge curve to overcome before the game can be enjoyed, either.  Lastly, as evidenced by how the opponent from the game above learned it from his father, there are no age limitations to this game.  The gameplay does not necessarily become boring or childish; younger kids may enjoy being able to flick pens around and destroy tanks, while adults may find simple pleasure in strategizing how to make a move or entertainment in playing.  Thus, it is easily passed down between generations and easily perpetuated over time.  All of these factors in the gameplay of tanks lend to how easily it can be modified and how easily it is shared among people.  Tanks is easily accessible by people from a variety of different cultural and personal backgrounds, and thus it can foster interpersonal connectedness wherever it travels through the shared enjoyment of a simple pen and paper game.

 

Images:

Tanks Game Board

The tanks game board, where each player starts with three triangles at their end of the paper.  You can see the drawn lines from each tank for the moves made, and how a tank is destroyed in the center because the opponent’s line crossed through it.
Tanks Gameplay

An example of the gameplay in tanks.  This player is making his moves by applying pressure to the pen until it buckles from underneath itself, making a line on the paper as it does so.

 Additional Informant Information:

The information for the primary informant, ‘M’, is above the item, the same information for the second informant is included below.

‘A’ – Nationality: American-Taiwanese, Age: 22, Occupation: Digital Marketing/Entrepreneur, Residence: Los Angeles, CA, Primary Language: English, Other Languages: Mandarin, Japanese

Challenge Coins – A Navy Chief Tradition

Item:

T: Well, the challenge coin, it started during the war.  So.. the guys would go to the war, they come back, they bring stuff back like their.. their.. kind of their achievements, their, yenno, their bragging rights, right?

Q: Mhmm.

T: People bring in guns, ammo, explosive stuff so it’s kind of get danger, right? So that’s why they start doin’ the – that’s the kind of challenging each other, so that’s.. they start the, using coins instead, so they’re challenge coins.

Q: Mhmm.

T: Right. So for the Chiefs, the Navy Chiefs, the challenge coin, you’re supposed to have it with you all the time, so every time you go in the bar, you go and sit and talk, somebody can pull out the coin and start tapping, right?  If they’re tapping on the bar and.. whoever doesn’t have a coin in them, they have to buy drinks for everybody else.  But, if they’re tapping and everybody got a coin, the guy that’s tapping the guy gonna buy the drinks for everybody else.

T: So with the Chiefs, the coin is more.. every chief gonna walk around with a coin.  Sometime they personalize their own coin or sometime they have, like, their command coin. So.. but the Chief coin a lot different than just a command coin.  It’s just the Chief coin got an anchor on it; every Chief coin got an anchor on it.  It’s for the Chief’s Mess, Chief Association.

Q: Did you ever get stuck on the end of the stick where you had to buy drinks?

T: Never.  Friends that cover me too. Some carry multiple coins with them, they just slip it through under the table.

 

Context:

I collected this piece in a conversation with a retired U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer about his experiences during active duty.  I had actually heard about this piece before and inquired about it directly.  The informant told me about challenge coins and other traditions in the conversation following the exchange above.  He talked about how he learned this piece while completing a charge book as part of his Chief’s initiation, and took pride in never having had to pay for drinks for the Mess in his 13 years as a Chief.  For my understanding, the informant explained that the Chief’s Mess is essentially the Chief’s association.  Inside the Mess, they can address any and all problems conflicts, including personal ones, but outside of the Mess, the Navy Chiefs are one operational unit that “makes the Navy run.”

 

Analysis:

The informant mentioned how Navy Chiefs are expected to have challenge coins on them at all times, but this expectation is never specified. Rather, it is something that is passed from person to person in between Chiefs.  Like how the informant learned about challenge coins through his charge book, a Chief would hope someone else tells him or helps him out before he has to buy drinks.  Carrying a challenge coin, then, becomes a way of proving one’s identity as a Chief.  It may also be a material reminder to uphold the expectations of a Navy Chief and fulfill those duties because it needs to be on you constantly.  It is less of an initiation though, I would say, rather than a game or a test of sorts.  The Navy Chief’s initiation is completing a charge book, and those who do not go through with this are called E7 instead of Chief.  In the case of the challenge coin, the repercussions are significantly less insulting, albeit still undesirable.  Also, as opposed to an initiation process, this tradition continues throughout the entirety of one’s service as a Chief rather than just at the start.  The possibility of being tested for a challenge coin can happen at any time, so individuals must be constantly prepared for it.  In addition, the informant mentions how he has had friends help him out when he did not have a challenge coin.  This is an interesting point because the challenge coin tradition, as a whole, asserts the group identity as the Navy Chief’s Mess and their relationship as an operational unit.  Since this tradition happens in the Mess, where they are able to set aside their responsibility of acting as a cohesive unit, individual interpersonal relationships can be revealed.  The possibility of helping each other out is an example.  Just as how only certain people may be friends within a larger group of people, potentially only certain Chiefs will be friends within a certain Mess, whether it be because of shared backgrounds or experiences, etc.  These friendships work to prevent each other from punishments and potential embarrassment from being caught without a challenge coin.  All in all, the challenge coin tradition of U.S. Navy Chiefs is a symbol of Chiefhood, through constantly having one on you as a material reminder of your duties and being prepared to present it as proof of your identity.