Author Archives: ktagawa

The Rice In the Rice Bowl

The Main Piece
Rachel explains to me the superstition she was told by her mother from her early years about the dangers of not finishing every grain of rice on her plate: “Back home, when I was little, I always hated (said with emphasis) finishing my food ‘cause it would feel like my belly would explode. My mom would always tell me that even if I didn’t finish my meats and vegetables I had to finish every grain of rice on my plate or else I would lose all my money in the future, it was so annoying.” Rachel went on to explain that she would imagine herself as a hobo and that would be her encouragement for finishing every grain despite her belly possibly exploding. However, she told me this story as more of a reminiscence rather than a warning of possible losses or persuasion to finish my food.
Background Information
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Since childhood Rachel has always been told to finish all her food, as have many children all around the world. Although the practice may be common, the reasons and stories behind such practices have varied throughout time and regions. Rachel may have grown out of her imaginative years and says that she “doesn’t really believe in it anymore,” but she is reminded of her mother and her story from time to time as she eats and sees any left over rice on her plate. However, she does not perform any act of purposefully finishing every grain as she feels it is pointless. This story was passed down in her family for generations as her mother remembers her grandmother telling the story and so on.
Context
This Chinese superstition was told to me previously as Rachel and I ate Panda Express together at the Ronal Tutor Campus Center. I was eating fried rice and we were discussing our life back home.
Personal Thoughts
I found it quite interesting to hear the different stories that were told by our elders and passed down from generation to generation. Having lived with my grandmother who is also full Chinese for four years I have heard my own personal share of Chinese superstitions. I have learned that many vary from household to household depending on ancestry. It was also interesting hearing how Rachel told the story. The difference in generation and where and how she was raised influenced her take on the superstition. She no longer believes in it, recalling it as more of a “silly superstition” rather than something that should actually be taken with caution.

The Bird Bridge

The Main Piece
The Gods have always been seen as powerful figures. In this tale, the Gods of our world have revealed their righteousness and sympathy for man. When two lovers have been forcibly separated because of their dueling families, as they are locked away on two separate sides of their households, the Gods decide to intervene in the dispute. They help the two lovers see each other again by calling upon the birds of the region to create a bridge for them once a year. They are allowed to spend their time together upon the bridge until the sun rises. Then, they must depart and wait the long year once again. The performer states “I always thought that it was so cute how they would wait for each other. I mean a year is a really long time and they only had that one night, but that one night must have been super magical.” She did also say that she may have left some parts out of her story since it was a long time ago.
Background Information
My informant is Elizabeth Kim, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Elizabeth was told this story by her father whenever she went to sleep during her youth, around the ages of six and seven years old. It was one of her favorite stories as she imagined finding her perfect soul mate, someone willing to wait every year for just one night with her. There was a time in her life where she would request the story every night. The story is a representation of true love, but also her dreams and goals as a child. As she looks back on it she says “I know it’s lame, but I still hope to find someone like that. It’s the stuff fairytales are made of ya’ know?” She says she is unsure of whether or not her dad made it up or not, but whenever she mentioned it with friends they would claim to have never heard it before.
Context
I was told this unique story as I was interviewing Elizabeth towards the second semester of our freshman year outside of Parkside Apartment at USC. The setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
Personal Thoughts
I learned a lot about the type of relationships Elizabeth fantasized about and the context of which these fantasies were instilled in her. It was great to hear about her childhood and her love for stories. I was interested in hearing the full story since she did say she felt she may have left some parts out, so I researched more. Although I could not find the version Elizabeth mentioned, there are different versions, some not even including lovers exist all mentioning a bridge of birds. One version is: Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds. While plot lines, details, or circumstances may vary in different versions there remains the common factor of a bird bridge being formed which I found interesting.
Works Cited
Hughart, Barry. Bridge of Birds. N.p.: St. Martin’s, 1984. Chronicles of Master Li and Number
Ten Ox. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Food For the Ancestors

The Main Piece
“During certain times of the year we would leave out food for our ancestors, the date would very because it would depend on the date they died. So my grandma died on the 18th of September so we would leave food out for her then every year. It wouldn’t be for every relative we had ‘cus that would be excessive, but the ones we were especially close to we would be sure to leave food out for them. They would usually leave out duck, chicken and fruit on a nice porcelain plate, or whatever nice plate they could find around the house (just not any paper plates). For every ancestor it would always be the same food. After a night they would take the chicken and duck back into the house, pray for said ancestor, and eat it. However, they would leave the fruit out, unsure of why they would not eat the fruit exactly, but never questioned it since she was only a child.
Background Information
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Rachel did not understand the practice at first, she was too young to understand. She would spend a lot of time at her grandparents’ house since her family traveled a lot. The practice was more from her Cambodian side, her grandmother being full Cambodian. Rachel would help her grandmother with this practice during her elementary school days before she was old enough to stay home alone. She thinks of it fondly as a time where she was able to “take care of her ancestors” and hoped that her descendants would eventually take care of her as well.
Context
We discussed this in Ronald Tutor Campus Center over lunch as we were talking about our families and life back home.
Personal Thoughts
My grandmother is Cantonese, but is also very connected to her culture, feeling it is extremely important just as Rachel’s grandmother does. Therefore, it was easy for me to relate to growing up with grandparents extremely cultured, but not understanding all of their practices. I honestly thought it was a bit odd that they ate the food that they left overnight, but I suppose every culture has its oddities. Hearing about how this practice gave her more of a connection with her ancestors and hopes to have this practice create some type of relationship with her descendants that she may never meet in the future was very touching and heartwarming.

“Bless You”

The Main Piece
“I always was told to say bless you after every sneeze, I came from a very religious family and even though I didn’t totally get why I had to say it every time I would get yelled at if I didn’t.” Some folk practices are intensely practiced as in this case. The practice of saying bless you is instilled at a young age so it became a social norm for certain groups or communities. It was believed that when one sneezed the devil could come inside you so everyone would give you their blessings, at least that is what my informant was told. She later learned about the history behind the belief in high school when she learned about the bubonic plague. People would say “bless you” because if you sneezed, then there was the chance that you had the plague, which evidently meant death.
Background Information
My informant is Elizabeth Kim, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. She and her parents are Catholic, attending church every week. Her parents constantly attempt to instill in her religious values and while she does deem herself as Catholic, she is far less intense or strictly abiding to Catholic customs or practices. She found the saying interesting because it is so common among a variety of groups and communities, yet not many people know of or have different variations of why people say “bless you” when one sneezes.
Context
I was interviewing Elizabeth towards the second semester of our freshman year outside of Parkside Apartment at USC. The setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
Personal Thoughts
It was interesting to hear about the overlap in education and religion. The commonalities between the two reveal that there can be these similarities bringing together the two. It was also interesting to hear about Elizabeth’s difference in values from her parents yet their common belief or practice.

The Rabbit On the Moon

The Main Piece
When one looks up at the moon some say that they can see a rabbit made out of the craters on the moon. My informant, Demie, has told me that her family would often tell her the story of how the rabbit got to the moon. There were three gods and one of them lived on the moon. They all came down to Earth to look for food. There, they met a monkey, a fox, and a rabbit. They asked each to find them some food and while the monkey and the fox were able to get them food, being the cunning and quick animals that they are, the rabbit was unable to get them any food. The rabbit felt so bad that it offered itself up for food for the gods. The moon goddess was so touched by the rabbit’s generous act that she took it up with her to the moon to live with her. The story is told to represent selflessness and generosity.
Background Information
My informant is Demie Cao a current undergraduate student at USC and friend of my close friend, Elizabeth Kim. She enjoyed hearing this story from a young age because her favorite animal was the rabbit, therefore it was incredible to think that she could simply look up and it would be right there on the moon. Her father and mother would tell her the story from time to time and she would be reminded of the story whenever she would look up at the moon and see a rabbit. It is a symbol of her childhood and part of her culture as well.
Context
I was told this story as she, Elizabeth, and I were discussing folklore in her room. The conversations were casual as we relaxed in my dormitory. We were simply sharing stories, laughing at our own pasts.
Personal Thoughts
Hearing how a culture explains visuals in nature reveals a lot about the way they think in terms of who and what they respect. In this instance it is obvious that religion and moralistic values are an important part of their society. I felt the story did well in being able to instill these values in children from an early age and was a memorable story for all to remember.