Author Archives: Lilian Min

Red bean soup (红豆汤/糖水)

Dried dates
Red bean
Longan – a fruit like lychee
Rock sugar

Slow cook everything together in a pot on the stove so the beans would turn mushy. Serve either cold or hot.

The informant’s mother used to make red bean soup (in Chinese: 红豆汤 [hong duo tang] or 糖水 [tang shui]) with dates in it — it was supposed to help with period pains and overall health. Her mother make the soup from scratch in huge quantities.

In general, it was served cold in the summer and hot in the winter. The informant actually didn’t really like the soup that much, but her mother made it with such care that she couldn’t refuse.

The informant, one of my housemates, shared this recipe and background with me in conversation.

Many traditional foodways also doubled as remedies, and are often paired with other “practical” advice such as “don’t talk a lot in cold weather after eating a meal or your stomach will get upset.”

I was also raised by Chinese parents, and find that much of this kind of upbringing information could be corroborated with my own childhood. I think it’s super interesting that even though our parents came from different regions in China, they still carried much of the same cultural information over the Pacific and passed it on to their children in America.

Cheburashka (Чебура́шка)

Cheburashka is a “little fellow” who looks like a monkey and a bear. He’s small and furry, with big ears, and he’s “the cutest thing ever” (according to my informant).

The image of Cheburashka (Wikimedia)

The image of Cheburashka (Wikimedia)

The character originates from a Soviet story written in 1966 and created into a stop-motion animation film in 1969 and then several animated TV series between the 1960s and 1980s. In the stories, he shows up in a crate of oranges and doesn’t know where he is or where he came from. A crocodile named Ghean befriends him and grants Cheburashka’s wish to work as a toy in a daycare center. When Cheuburashka eats oranges, he falls asleep.

The informant owns a Cheburashka doll that he got as a gift from his sister, who went to Russia recently. When you squeeze it, it sings:
“Я играю на гармошке
У прохожих на виду…
К сожаленью, день рожденья
Только раз в году.”
“And I play the accordion for all to see
Sadly (my) birthday
Is only once a year.”

These cheburashkas are popular toys, and are cultural symbols — it was even used as a mascot/symbol for the Moscow Olympics. The informant says that he looks at Cheburashka and thinks, “That’s something that’s Russian.”

I spoke to my informant during an on-campus event.

What’s interesting about Cheburashka is that, like Paul Bunyan, the character itself originated from a creator’s work. However, like Paul Bunyan, Cheburashka has become an integral figure in Russian culture, to the point where it was considered a Russian icon for the Moscow Olympics.

I think the character itself is very cute, but it doesn’t necessarily have any strong ties to other Russian folklore creatures? I did a little bit of research and beyond Cheburashka’s own published materials and Olympics iconography, it doesn’t seem to tie into anything that existed prior, which I find extremely interesting. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that Cheburashka was created as a Soviet icon, and even though the Soviet Union is no more, the character has survived into the modern Russian lexicon.

Chinese food rap

萨其马, 鸡蛋糕,不够吃的有面包。
Banana, apple, pear,
Canned pineapple, orange.
Lima beans, sunflower seeds, if you want a cool drink, there’s soda.
Want to eat candy, chocolate, Shandong special candy,
Sticky dough cakes, fluffy egg cakes, if you don’t have enough there’s also bread.
Eat dumplings, fried yuanxiao (sweet or savory soup balls), Shandong spicy mustard green wild rice.
[Untrans. — the rest of the rap is said at a steady pace, and then it speeds up dramatically during the final lines, which according to my father, are about different types of clothing]

My father grew up in 西门外 (outside the West Gate of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China). When he was 7 or 8 (he is currently 55), all of the neighborhood kids, a group of about 20-30 all close in age, passed around this “food rap” as a communal joke, something that they could chant together. It wasn’t popular in the larger district area, just within that group.

Because my father lives on the East Coast, I called him to ask him about the rap. In addition to describing his feelings about the rap, he also actually did the rap — recording pending.

At the time, Chinese living standards were very poor — in his words, “Beijing was a very backward city at the time.” The foods and clothing he and his friends rapped about were considered luxury items at the time; in the modern context, things like bananas and canned pineapples are generally considered accessible goods, but for him, any fresh food was considered a special treat. It’s no surprise that so many of the items in the rap are sweets and candies, since it was created by children.

I grew up listening to him rap this song and other silly, lewd street songs. My mother berated him for sharing them with me and my sister, but we always thought they were hilarious. Now that I know the background behind the rap, I think it’s touching and sweet that my father retains this connection to his childhood, and am humbled by the story of my father’s upbringing.


When Moses got the Torah tablets (Ten Commandments) from God, at the top of Mt. Sinai, he stood on the top of Mt. Sinai and spoke the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel/Jewish people, who were all standing at the base of the mountain. Like you do, he said certain words and everyone at the bottom heard something different from each other, which is also what happens in conversation — you don’t hear exactly what someone says, because you have to interpret everything you hear.

A midrash is a story that was originally told by rabbis in order to fill in character story/background outside of the canonical text of the Torah. Over time, these stories would become passed down and written down in their own right, and though they are considered canonical now, they were originally told from the speculation of rabbis rather than the word of God, and are always told with that distinction.

The informant first learned this midrash around elementary school, from her father, and finds the story personally important to her because it gives her, as a Jewish person, the permission to interpret the text to be what she wants/needs it to be, and for that to be allowed. If someone else gets something else from a text than she does, then they can both be good interpretations without having to fight for authenticity.

I spoke to my informant during an on-campus event.

I think it’s really interesting that a canonical religious text actually gave a lot of leeway to individual interpretations, and that those interpretations then got folded back into the general religious understanding.

I think the meaning that my informant gathered from the midrash is also beautiful, and uniquely suited to her kind of sensibilities. I’m not that familiar with the Old Testament, or with Jewish traditions at all, so to hear someone speak about her religious practice in a way I, someone who isn’t religious, could understand helped me gain a new perspective on both her religion and her.

Boston’s Marathon Monday

On the day of the Boston Marathon, the entire city of Boston basically has a drinking holiday. From your freshman year to your senior year, you’re trained to know that when the marathon is happening, you have a day off and that everybody is going to get “totally shitfaced.” You start drinking in the morning, and keep drinking, and keep drinking… The goal is to be drunk and run outside to watch the marathon runners go through, as the marathon route goes through their campus.

People plan their drinking out the night before, and smuggle booze by the finish line. People don’t cheer the marathon runners for more than about an hour after the first people pass through, but the entire city is essentially in celebration.

The informant lives in Los Angeles now, but had previously been a student at Boston University for 3.5 years. Though he chose not to recount the events that happened during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, he still engages with Marathon Monday in a positive way, though he missed the 2014 marathon because he was in Los Angeles.

The informant shared this with me in conversation.

There are actually a lot of exceptions when it comes to American public “drinking holidays” — sports games and Independence Day between two of them. With the Boston Marathon, which is a sport event tied into a city celebration, the emotional connection residents feel with the race is extremely strong. I really love the fact that Boston residents can still celebrate the event even in the face of tragedy, and have rallied around both the marathon organization and the city itself.