Author Archives: Janice Youn

Custom – Chinese


Vickie Yang learned how to use chopsticks from an early age from her parents.  Though she was born and raised in America, learning to use chopsticks was a basic skill that she was expected to learn as a Chinese American.  She was taught that chopsticks were not just another method of eating but an important part of Asian culture.  Using chopsticks gives a sense of pride to the user and instills a feeling of belonging.  It also pays respect to the culture by acknowledging the differences between American and Asian traditions.

Chopsticks are an interesting reflection of the Asian culture.  It illustrates the simplicity of Asian life while noting the delicate intricacies and detail often characterized of Asians.  For example, the Chinese and Japanese are known for their traditions of meditating and taking walks in tea gardens – lifestyles of pleasure and simplicity.  However, they are also widely recognized for their skills in producing beautiful pieces of art with intricate designs and minute details.  Likewise, chopsticks are a mix between simplicity and difficulty.  Chopsticks are fairly simple in that they are merely two pieces of sticks.  They’re nothing special like the 5 pronged fork or the sharp edged knife.  Rather, they’re merely 2 pieces of wood that can easily be made in nature from branches.  However, chopsticks are also complex in that they can be difficult to use.  It requires a degree of control by the hand and the correct manipulation of the fingers.  The ability to use a chopstick, therefore, is not as widespread as the usage of forks and spoons.  As a result, chopsticks remain a unique representation of the Asian culture.

Folk Belief – Chinese

“Noodles are a sign of longevity”

Ashley learned this superstition on the morning of her 7th birthday when her mom handed her a bowl of noodles to eat rather than the traditional eggs and bacon. When she commented on this change, her mom explained that noodles were a sign of longevity, and that it was custom for people to eat noodles on their birthday each year.  In China, it is believed that eating noodles will bring health and good luck upon the person for the following year and ensure him a long life.  The long and even noodles endow a long and consistent life without pauses or struggles to the eater.  Therefore, it is considered bad luck for an individual to cut the noodle strands while eating them.  He must instead consume the entire strands without breaking them.

This idea is similar to the belief that exists in Korea.  Long noodles represent a long and healthy life while characterizing consistent times.  Just as in China, where individuals eat noodles on their birthday, noodles play a significant role on birthdays in Korea.  In Korean tradition, gifts are endowed upon a child on his first birthday ranging from creativity to prosperity.  Several items representing different gifts, among them noodles, are placed in front of the child, and the child is given the chance to grasp one of these items.  If he picks up the bunch of noodles, it is believed that he will live a long and healthy life.  Therefore, the idea persists, in Korean culture as well as Chinese, that noodles are symbols of longevity and consistency.

Proverb – Spanish

Caras       vemos         corazones        no           sabemos

Faces        we see           hearts            no            we know

“Appearances can be deceiving”

Tony first heard this proverb when he was in elementary school, but it wasn’t until he reached high school that he learned the true meaning behind it.  When he heard it in elementary school, it was told in a context that he couldn’t quite relate to so the meaning of the proverb soon left him.  However, in high school, he came upon a situation that made him realize the truth of the statement.  It occurred during his freshman year from the transition from junior high into high school as he was trying to make a new group of friends.  As he developed friendships and went through freshman year, he realized the meaning of the phrase “appearances can be deceiving.”  While at times his friends seemed to care about him and put on a face of compassion, behind his back, they were completely different people.  Though they appeared to be a certain types of people in front of him, when they thought he wasn’t looking, they were complete opposites.  Appearances truly were deceiving.

This scenario is very common among people of all ages in America and in the rest of the world.  By nature, people are selfish creatures and will act in certain ways to benefit themselves.  Though they may desire something or feel a certain way about an individual, they will often not reveal their true feelings in order to avoid facing conflict or losing face.  It’s difficult therefore to determine how an individual is truly feeling and what he’s thinking.  In many ways, it reflects upon the business culture of America.  People need to be sociable with one another and make conversation in order to establish connections with business partners and make profitable deals.  Therefore, business associates may agree upon ideas on the outside to establish cordial relationships but like the proverb states, the underlying agendas of both parties are very different.

This proverb is very useful, however, for it warns individuals of the true nature of people.  It prepares children for the world while giving them a preview of the people they have yet to meet in the future.  As proverbs go, this one is extremely helpful for it not only contains wisdom about the deceitful nature of humans but also provides warning as to how they may appear.  By giving a general glimpse of what people are like, the proverb succeeds in preparing individuals for dealing with deceitful people.

Folk Belief

“Knock on wood”

Janice Park first heard the phrase “knock on wood” during the winter of her freshman year in high school from a fellow student.  It was during finals when everyone was getting sick except for her, and when she commented on this fact, her friend immediately told her to knock on wood so as not to jinx herself.  She was told that by expressing her fortunate situation, she was exposing herself to bad luck.  It would cause her to be jinxed and would quickly change her situation to a worse one.  However, by knocking on wood, the jinx would become reversed and nothing bad would happen.  Therefore, it is important to knock on wood when one exclaims good situations in order to avoid tempting fate.

It is often believed that boasting or expressing fortunate situations will encourage evil spirits to inflict damage on one’s life.  As it was once thought that spirits dwelled in the trunks of trees, it seemed fitting to people to knock on wood whenever a statement was made in order to prevent the spirits from hearing.  By tapping on the wood, the spirit would not be able to hear the words being spoken and would therefore not be able to interfere in the individual’s life.  However, in modern days, knocking on wood has lost much of its historical connection with spirits.  Rather, it is used now as a simple gesture that indicates hope for good luck to continue.  Knocking on wood no longer prevents spirits from hearing people’s boastful comments but instead serves to appease the speaker’s nervous feelings for making such a statement.

Proverb – Korean

?                ?             ?             ???               ???? ?

fire              no            burn             chimney             smoke

“Can smoke rise from the chimney, when there’s no fire?”

Joseph learned this proverb from an older sister while growing up in a small rural town in Korea.  He was playing with his friend after school when his mom came up to him and told him to go home.  She was angry with him and didn’t want him to stay out any longer.  When Joseph went home later, he was frustrated with his mom and complained to his sister about the unfair situation.  His sister simply replied with the proverb, telling him that nothing happens without a cause.  Just as there can’t be smoke without a fire, events can’t occur without a cause.  Behind every situation, there is a source.  Therefore, as his sister claimed, there must be reason why he wasn’t allowed to go out anymore.

As Joseph learned later, he was forbidden from playing after school because he had been misbehaving in school.  His mother had received a phone call from the teacher as a result of his disruptive actions in class.  Just as the proverb stated, there was a reason behind his mother’s actions.  It was in response to his uncooperative behavior in school.  Therefore, Joseph had no one else to blame but himself.

Though this proverb doesn’t exist in English, its message plays a significant role in American culture.  It teaches individuals to be analytical while looking at different circumstances and encourages them to look at situations with a cause and effect mindset while keeping in mind that their own actions will have significant consequences.  It prepares individuals for the business world and creates a generation of people with critical minds.  Therefore, the proverb is largely used as a tool to advance the situations of individuals in America.  However, in Korea, the proverb is used more commonly to explain a situation in order to understand it.  Therefore, a difference exists between the cultures and their potential uses of the proverb.