Author Archives: Erin Lee

Tradition – University of Southern California

USC Sirens – Tradition/Chant

Milkshake, milkshake, milkshake, milkshake,

Smoothie, smoothie,

Pump the keg, pump the keg, pump the keg,

Java, java,

Milk the teets, milk the teets, milk the teets,


This is a chant that the Sirens always say with each other before any performance. The USC Sirens are USC’s first and only all female a cappella group. This chant was started by “a crazy lady from France” named Landis, one of the Sirens alumni. All Catherine knows is that she brought it up before one performance several years ago and it just stuck with the group. When asked how she feels about this chant, she exclaimed, “I love it!” She stated that she used to be highly involved in theater with her high school, and they also had a chant similar to the one listed above. She loves how chants such as the one presented above gets everyone pumped up for an upcoming performance. Initially, she said that the words of this chant were pointless and meaningless. But after a long pause, she stated, “I guess you could say that it has a lot of secret meanings. I never really thought about it that way though.” She said that these things were mainly for the sake of bringing a group together and getting everyone excited for a show.

I am also in this same a cappella group as Catherine, and share the same opinions about this chant that she has. I was also highly involved in theater in high school, and really enjoyed the moment of exhilaration before a performance, where everyone would get together in a circle and chant a certain chant. This particular chant is more meaningful to me because it is something that is solely known within the Sirens family. After sitting and staring at this chant for a while, I noticed a few hidden meanings engraved in the chant. First of all, each line of the chant involves some kind of drink, and the Sirens would always go out to eat or get a drink after every performance. The third line says, “pump the keg,” three times. Although we do not boast about this, the Sirens have been known to drink a fair amount of alcohol together, or at parties. Thus, this line is a representation of how important alcohol is to the Sirens culture, although not all of the Sirens partake in drinking alcohol. Finally, the last line says, “milk the teets.” Although this sounds completely random, I feel as though this line is trying to symbolize the fact that we are USC’s only all-female a cappella group. Thus, the line about milking the nipples, or “teets”, possibly means going out there and demonstrating the strength of women to the audience. Although there may be all of these possible meanings to the chant, I feel as though these chants are mainly for the purpose of pumping up the group, and not meant to be analyzed in a literal sense.

Folktale – Taiwan

Taiwan – Folktale

“This story is called ‘Filial Piety of Kuo Chu.’ So there’s this poor farmer couple. They have a grandma that lives with them… the farmer’s mom actually. They have three kids as well. However, they have little food… the bare necessities like rice, and the little greens picked from the ground. If lucky, meat. When they would eat, the grandmother would give food to her grandsons, leaving less food for herself. One day they started running out of food. The couple talked amongst themselves and decided that in order to save their mother they would have to kill their sons so the grandmother would have enough food for herself. The farmer said, ‘We can always have another son, but we cannot have another mother.’ As they go along to the farmland, they dig a big hole to put their sons’ bodies in. He strikes the ground two times. But when the guy strikes one more time, he hits a bunch of gold. He said that the gods were looking out for them and wanted to reward them because they were impressed at the amount of commitment and respect they had for family. So they took the gold and lived wealthily for the rest of their lives.”

On a summer visit to Taipei, Taiwan, Alex learned this story from his uncle, who read it from a children’s folktale book. His uncle actually gave Alex the book for his sixth birthday after telling him some stories from it. Alex described this folktale as a moral story about family that follows the Chinese belief of family being everything. He explained, “Without it, you’re nothing. It’s what you cherish and appreciate. You should always put family first.” Being born in Santa Barbara, California, Alex did not have the opportunity to visit Taiwan as often as he would like to. Thus, he cherishes each and every story he hears from his family members, especially the ones he learned during his trips to Taiwan, like the one shown above. Most of his family members reside in Taiwan, and he expresses regret for not being able to visit more often. He wishes he could have bonded with his family members more when he was younger because, back then, he didn’t have to worry about academics and other factors relating to young adulthood. This story made him realize how important his family is to him, and made him appreciate his family members and culture a whole lot more.

I agree that this particular tale emphasizes the importance of family in the Chinese culture. It illustrates the self-sacrificial love that each member of the family has for one another, for each character in the tale reflected this altruistic love in some way. The grandmother was selfless enough to give up a large portion of her food to feed her children. The farmer and his wife loved the grandmother enough to give up their own children for her sake. The story did not mention the sons being rebellious or angry about their parents’ decision. Finally, the gods recognized this love and rewarded them for their pure motives.

On a side note, what is particularly fascinating to me is the repetition of the number three in this story. The farmer had three sons, and he dug a hole in the ground three times. Just as in American culture, “3” seems to be a number that is often used in Chinese culture. The concept of the number three being quite common is delineated in the chapter “The Number Three in American Culture,” from the book Every Man His Way: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. by Professor Alan Dundes of Berkeley University.[1] Although it could have been coincidence, it is still interesting to notice the similarity in conventions.

[1] Dundes, Alan, ed. Every Man His Way: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. Prentice – Hall, Inc., 1968.

Lullaby – Costa Rica

Lullaby – Costa Rica

“Los Pollitos Dicen”

“The Little Chicks Say”

Verse 1:

Los pollitos dicen pío, pío, pío

The little chicks they say pio pio pio

The little chicks say, “cheep, cheep, cheep,”

Cuando tienen hambre, cuando tienen frío.

When they have hunger, when they have cold

When they are hungry, when they are cold

Verse 2: (same melody)

La gallina busca el maíz y el trigo

The mother hen looks for the corn and the wheat

The mother hen looks for corn and wheat

les da la comida y les presta abrigo.

To them give the food and to them grant shelter

She gives them food and grants them shelter.

Verse 3: (same melody)

Bajo de sus alas, acurrucaditos

Under of her wings, huddling up,

Under mama’s wings, huddling up,

¡duermen los pollitos hasta el otro día!

Sleep the little chicks until the other day!

The little chicks sleep until the next day!

This is a Costa Rican nursery rhyme that Natalia’s mother used to sing to her when Natalia was a little girl. Whenever she was frightened about something or had a hard time going to sleep, Natalia would curl up on her mother’s lap as her mother whispered this song into her ear. She recalls falling asleep on her mother’s lap on several occasions while hearing this nursery rhyme. The words are very comforting to a young child, as they explain the comfort one can find under a mother’s wings.  She also explained that her grandmother would sing this lullaby to her mother when her mother was a toddler. Thus, Natalia hopes to preserve this family tradition as she teaches this lullaby to her own kids someday.

The lyrics of this nursery rhyme illustrate the unconditional and unyielding love that a mother has for her children, further highlighting the importance of maternal care in the Costa Rican culture. This rhyme begins with the sound of crying chicks that are hungry and cold, symbolizing the cries of children who need to be taken care of. Then, the mother hen actively searches for food and shelter, allowing the chicks to gather up under her wings and sleep. This is analogous to the amount of work mothers are willing to perform for the comfort of their children, and the complete protection that a mother desires to provide her children with. The fact that this nursery rhyme is presented to children usually by their mothers is a testament to the amount of self-sacrificial love that Costa Rican mothers have for their children.

A slightly different, but very similar, version of this lullaby was found in The Book of Lullabies, compiled by John M. Feierabend. Verse 1 and 2 of both Natalia’s version and the published version are identical. However, Verse 3 of the printed version states, “Bajo sus dos alas, acurrucaditos, cuando tienen suerio, duermen los pollitos,” rather than Natalia’s version which states, “Bajo de sus alas, acurrucaditos. ¡Duermen los pollitos hasta el otro día!” According to Feierabend, the published version is translated as “Under [the chick’s] wings, folded up, when they are sleepy, the chicks sleep.” This version of Verse 3 is not as potent and hopeful as the version that Natalia’s mother had sung to Natalia: “Under mama’s wings, huddling up, the little chicks sleep until the next day!” Although he does not state where or when he collected this piece of folklore, Feierabend states that lullabies are the root of all sung music, and “certainly one of the loveliest ways of showing a child how deeply you feel for him or her.” [1]

[1] Annotation: Feierabend, John M., comp. The Book of Lullabies. Chicago: GIA Publications, Inc., 2000. 66.

Proverb – Korean

Proverb – Korean

???? ???

kong shim un dae kong nah go

Bean planted place bean appears

???? ???

pat shim un dae pat nan da

Red bean planted place red bean appears

Where you plant a bean, a bean grows

Where you plant a red bean, a red bean grows

The interview with Myung Soon Lee, my mother, was conducted in Korean, and she felt as though this proverb was a vital lesson that everyone should be conscious of. According to her, this proverb has been passed down from generation to generation, and most Korean parents should have heard of this sometime in their lives. When asked to interpret this saying, she simply said, “Ni ga ha nun dae ro gut nun da” which means “You get what you put in.” The difference between a simple bean (“kong”) and a red bean (“pat”) is that a simple bean is fresh, while a red bean is typically soggy and easily mashed. Thus, a simple bean has a positive connotation and a red bean has a negative one.

My mother learned this proverb when she was in high school from both her teacher and her mother, who had also learned it from her own mother. Her schoolteacher would tell her students this in the beginning of the year to encourage the students to put forth their best effort in every task they were given. Also, her mother would tell her this every time she was studying for a test as a means of motivation. In turn, my mother told me this as I was studying for the SATs and also as I was applying for college. She told me that if I worked hard, I would see the benefits, which would be a good score on the SATs, or an acceptance to the college of my dreams. I felt as though this saying was as much a warning as it was an encouragement. The initial part of the saying, “Where you plant a bean, a bean grows,” was positive and hopeful, while the latter part of the saying, “Where you plant a red bean, a red bean grows,” was ominous and intimidating. Nevertheless, I believe it was necessary to have this juxtaposition of opposing senses, hopeful and ominous, in order to effectively get the message across, especially because students are usually the intended audience of this proverb.

This seems like such a simple concept, but it is necessary to be reminded of such things we deem as trivial. It is easy to overlook these important life lessons and blindly strive for ones aspirations. I am thankful that my mother instilled in me this piece of wisdom. It allows me to be more conscious of my efforts whenever I am performing a task. This proverb also provides me with a window to traditional Korean culture. The fact that this saying has been passed down for so many generations is a testament to the hard-working and diligent nature of Koreans. Having never visited Korea in my entire life, I am able to better understand a large aspect of my heritage because of this proverb.

Folktale – Korean

Korean Folktale: The Disobedient Frog

“This is probably the most widely known Korean folktale because like almost everyone I talked to heard about it. So there was this young troublemaking frog who lived with his mother. He never did anything his mother told him to do. In fact, he always did the complete opposite just for the sake of being disobedient. Like if his mom told him to go to sleep, he would run around and stay up really late. If she told him to hop around on the grass, he would go swim in the river. Stuff like that. So pretty much he would always do the opposite of what she told him to do. She always scolded him for being so disobedient and warned him that she wasn’t always going to be around to take care of him. He didn’t seem to care at all as he kept on disobeying her. Eventually, she couldn’t handle any more of his rowdiness and defiance that she became very sick. Regardless of her sickness, the disobedient frog kept being rebellious. When she realized that she was about to die, she called for her son to give him directions for her burial. She wanted to be buried on the mountainside on dry land, but she knew that her son would do the opposite of whatever she asked him to do, so she asked him to bury her beside the river. He didn’t realize how serious his mom was, until she finally passed away just a few days later. The disobedient frog was so sad that he couldn’t stop crying because he knew it was his fault that she died. He regretted being so disobedient to her requests while she was alive, so he decided to listen to what his mother said for once. So, he buried her beside the river. The next day, a huge storm came. The river became flooded and washed away his mother’s grave. The frog was so overwhelmed with guilt and sadness that he let out a series of loud croaks. So that’s why it is said that frogs croak loudly when there’s a storm.”

Eunice Lee, my roommate, told me this particular story because she feels as though this is the most widely known Korean folklore there is. She stated that every Korean person she asked, somehow heard of this story. She learned it when she was in elementary school from her parents, and she hasn’t forgotten it since then. Her parents sat her down and explained to her this story when she refused to do her chores. After hearing the story, she said she felt extremely guilty about not listening to her parents and rushed off into her room to make her bed. She thinks that folktales such as the one mentioned above are vital to an individual’s childhood because they provide imaginative stories as a means of teaching a vital life lesson that will be engraved in the listener’s heart forever. In other words, it is a very effective tool of getting a point across. She hopes to be able to tell her own children this story someday.

I also heard this exact same story when I was younger from both my Korean school teacher and my mother. My teacher told our entire class this story in the beginning of the year to introduce us to the Korean culture and to tell us to pay attention and be obedient to her. My mother told me this story when we were having dinner one day. She said she read it in a children’s book, and also heard it from her own mother. After telling me the story, she stated that she is not going to be around forever so I should respect her requests and be obedient. I took this story to heart because it instilled in me a new appreciation for my mother, because she reminded me that she would not be around forever.

This folktale is mentioned in the Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales & Fairy Tales, edited by Donald Haase.[1] The author summarizes the plot of this story as “a son who fails to respect and obey his mother is doomed to a life of grief and regret after her death.” The author also states that Korean tales reflect Confucianism ideals that express loyalty to family, veneration of ancestors, typically privileging sons over daughters, self-discipline, and considerate social behavior. All of these themes are present in the story of “The Disobedient Frog.”

[1] Annotation: Haase, Donald, ed. “Korean Tales.” Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales & Fairy Tales. 3 vols. Westport: Greenwood P, 2008.