Author Archives: Melissa Leu

Folk Music – USA

Just a boy

And a girl

And a little canoe

With the moon shinin’ all around

And they talked

And they talked

‘Til the moon was dim

He said, “You better kiss me or get out and swim!”

So what ya gonna do

In a little canoe

With the moon shinin’ all a’

Boats floatin’ all a’

Girls swimming all around?

Oh yeah? Yeah!

Get out and swim!

Sydney told me she learned this song in elementary school from her mother when she participated in Girl Scouts. She learned the song in Houston, Texas, but believes that it was probably derived from a standard Girl Scouts handbook of songs to learn and teach. She said that she has no idea where her mother learned the song herself, but suspects that many other Girl Scouts troops sang similar (if not the same) songs as well. Since her mother was the leader of her Girl Scout troop, everyone in her troop learned it as well.

Sydney said that the song is usually sung in a variety of contexts. For example, the song can be used as a Girl Scouts meeting opener activity and is often sung to create a festive and lively atmosphere. The song can also be sung around a campfire, when all the girls are gathered around and settling down for the night. However, Sydney said that her troop usually sang the song when they were marching. Whether marching down the street or through the woods, the troop would sing this song in conjunction with a collection of other Girl Scouts affiliated songs. She said that the best time to sing it would be in a group with a troop of young girls. It is usually sung to consume time and to conjure up a fun and light-hearted atmosphere.

Sydney does not think the song is very difficult to understand. She feels that the lyrics spell out the meaning of the song. In her opinion, the song is about a boy and a girl, who row out into a body of water. They are having a good time, until night falls and they have to go back. The boy demands that the girl kiss him or else he will not row her back to shore. Instead of falling prey to the boy’s advances, the girl jumps aboard and swims to shore. Sydney says that this is a prime example of a female empowerment song for impressionable young girls. It says that boys like girls, but girls do not necessarily like boys. Also, she says that part of the reasons she still remembers the song is because it also gives young girls a glimpse into the future, especially at an age when they still do not understand male/female relations. She says that now, her reaction would probably be to just kiss the guy instead of swimming to shore.

I agree with Sydney in that this song is relatively simple and straightforward in meaning. But besides being a generally uplifting song, I think it is used most often used in communal settings in order to create a sense of bonding amongst young girls. It is targeted at a young age group because the song draws upon their shared naiveté of boy/girl relations and instills a sense of female independence. The fact that it is being promoted by an organization that stresses female leadership is no coincidence. It teaches the girls to be strong and not be pressured into giving in to male authority. The song also reveals the commonly held belief of males’ desires of female attention and at what lengths they will go to get it. It warns the young girls of these sexual encounters and tells them not to blindly follow male dominance and to stand up for themselves.

Superstition – USA

“If your dress rehearsal sucks, then your show will be good. But if your dress rehearsal is amazing, then your show is going to suck.”

Sydney participated in musical theater in high school and was exposed to a plethora of superstitions on having a good show. She learned this specific superstition while preparing for one of her shows. Although she does not remember hearing this superstition from any specific person, she said that multiple people probably spoke to her of it. Sydney said that people do not necessarily emphasize this superstition (ie: they do not say it in class), but they do begin to mention it often as time draws closer to the opening nights of the show.

Only people in theater tend to know about this superstition. Sydney told me that it is commonly used after a particularly terrible dress rehearsal. People are scared of performing poorly. She says that another context she hears this superstition is after the first run of the show (ie: opening night). Someone would be talking to the director and telling them what a great show they put on, to which the director would respond with comments about how nervous he/she felt after seeing the poor performance at the dress rehearsal, but that it all turned out okay in the end. Then the superstition would be dropped into the conversation, making it known that a bad dress rehearsal usually means a good show. If the dress rehearsal had gone well, then it would be cause for more worry.

Sydney made comments on how the superstition probably had some validity, though was not necessarily true. She said that when actors have a bad dress rehearsal, many of the kinks are found and able to be corrected. Thus, when actors make a lot of mistakes during dress rehearsal, they can fix things before the actual show. Sydney also noted that if the dress rehearsal is excellent, then there is less room for improvement. Many things end up going wrong during the show that were not anticipated because they were not caught during the dress rehearsal. With these reasons in mind, she says that there is probably a correlation between the two factors, but the statement as a whole is not necessarily true.

This superstition falls under the sign category, where people look for signs from the universe to predict a good or bad outcome. However, instead of looking at tealeaves or reading palms, participants in musical theater look to the dress rehearsal as a predictor of success. At first the superstition seems illogical. If the dress rehearsal runs smoothly, then the show should also follow suit. However, I think that this superstition works by quelling the fears of the participants. Although Sydney had a more logical way of approaching the superstition, she said that many of her peers looked to the dress rehearsal as a concrete indicator of the show’s success. I think that people have a need to attribute their fears and anxiety. If the dress rehearsal goes poorly, the saying becomes a way of coping with the additional pressure added to making a good show. It downplays the feelings of tension by writing them off with illogical reasoning.

This superstition also seems to work like a jinx, where it is almost bad luck to have the play turn out well before the actual opening night. It runs parallel to many other theater superstitions. For example, people do not wish good luck to participants for fear of jinxing them. Instead, people would rather hear “break a leg.” The opposite result of what is desired is spoken or acted in order to avoid negative results.

Game – University of Southern California

“’Paptong’ is literally translated from Korean into English as rice bucket. It is a… both the name of an object and uhh… game that every new member of USC Korean Student Association [KSA] plays as part of their initiation. It is set up by the upperclassmen as a rite of passage. And these ‘seniors,’ or older members, pour a large content of alcohol into a bowl. Then… uhh… they mix a variety of food into the bowl. And usually, the food is whatever is available at the time. Sometimes it has ramen [Asian instant noodles], kimchi [fermented lettuce], and spam. After the seniors are finished preparing the “paptong” [bowl with alcohol and food], they hand it over to the younger class and tell them to drink and finish everything in the bowl. Uhhh…there are usually a lot of underclassmen to initiate, but they tell the underclassmen to drink as much as they can for the group before passing it on to the next person anyways.”

Alicia participated in “paptong” during the winter retreat. The game only takes place during KSA retreats, usually held once during the fall and winter. During the retreat, the upperclassmen of the club initiate the game. Alicia said that they do not disclose the contents of what goes into the “paptong,” but it is generally understood that the mixture would not be pleasant and would include copious amounts of alcohol. All of the new members are expected to participate and she says that peer pressure plays a large part in the voluntary game. Although it would be acceptable for new members to opt out of the game, Alicia said that no one does because everyone understands that it is just a part of the tradition.

Alicia said that sometimes when other schools plan their retreats to coincide with USC’s retreat, the clubs come together to form a competition amongst the schools. The school that can finish the “paptong” the fastest wins. However, she claims that even in these cases the game is less of a competition than a form of bonding amongst the new members. The retreat is a time for new and old members to get to know one another, and the “paptong” serves as a medium to achieve that purpose.

I think that “paptong” is also a clear reflection of the respect shown to elders within Asian culture. It is widely known that the younger generation is not meant to challenge the older generation and should listen to them obediently. New members of KSA probably play this game primarily because of this reason. Since most members of KSA are of Asian descent, many of them have been taught at a young age to follow their elders, which can be exhibited in their behaviors in regards to this game.

Another possible reason is because the game is generally understood as a rite of passage. It is an initiation ceremony that transforms new members into senior members. “Paptong” is a tradition that has been held at every retreat, so members do not necessarily view the game negatively. This mentality is also very similar to fraternities and their hazing rituals. Despite not necessarily liking a task, pledges go through with them because they know that previous pledge classes have done it before them. It becomes a rite of passage that a new member must go through in order to feel part of the group. Especially during youth, the need to be accepted plays an enormous role in motivating actions and behavior.

Legend – Korean

“There’s this really popular story in Korea and they even made it into a lot of dramas. Uhh… it’s about this girl named Chunhyang and her dad died and her mom teaches her how to be a really proper lady. But they are like the Korean version of geishas. So she’s thought of as really low in society. Umm. So one day, Chunhyang is out swinging on the swings and this random guy sees her. His name is Mongyong, and he falls in love with her. Ummm.. Mongyong is the son of a major and he tries to get with her, but she rejects him. Later, she falls in love with him anyways and they get married in secret. Mmm… then the guy’s dad gets a promotion and they move so they separate for a while. He finishes school and he gets a job as one of those internal affairs type of guys that arrest corrupt officials. He goes back to his hometown where Chunhyang is and finds out that she’s been arrested by the new mayor there. Uhh… The mayor is this really bad guy and he tries to seduce Chunhyang, but she rejects him, so he arrests her and sentences her to death. When she is about to be killed, Mongyong reveals himself and arrests the mayor. Mmmm… Then the two live happily ever after.”

Alicia learned this story from her mother when she was a young girl, probably still attending elementary school in Los Angeles. It was one of those stories that her mom told her to amuse her and pass the time. She said that her mother learned it from her mother, but that the story is actually very common knowledge in Korea. In fact, it is often written in textbooks about Korea. Alicia, herself, has learned this story from multiple sources, including in one of her classes at the University of Southern California.

This story is told usually to young children who have yet to learn much about Korean culture and its past, usually around the elementary ages. It can be performed at any time, but usually comes up when talking about Korean folklore or culture. Although many Korean-Americans know of this story, Alicia said that most details are lost in the American versions. She said that the full version is most often heard in Korea. She also said that some people in America confuse dramatized versions of the story with the original.

Alicia regards this story as very typical and a mixture between Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet. She does not think much of the story and its cultural importance and explained by saying that it acts like a child’s favorite bedtime story. However, she did say that it is one of the few stories still being passed down and the various versions continue to be a part of Korea’s culture.

I think that the story of Chunhyang and Mongyong is very similar to many maarchen and legend stories. The good and evil characters are typified and are not necessarily very developed. The story basically tells the audience that love conquers all, no matter what gets in the way. The story also reveals that a long time ago there was a caste system in Korea. Rank and status was very important in arranging marriages. People in government are considered of higher power and therefore better status, while working families are just commoners. There is a fine line of separation between the two groups, which explains why Chunhyang and Mongyong had to get married secretly.

Folk Speech – Philippines

“So Portagee.”

The phrase “so portagee” is pidgin slang that means that something is idiotic or brainless. For example, if someone dropped their drink in a water fountain in Hawaii. The response would be to tell them that they are “so portagee.” It usually has negative connotations and is often linked to poking fun at the Portuguese.

Pidgin is a very simplified kind of folk speech with very limited vocabulary and grammar involved. It is especially popularly used in Hawaii. According to Bernadette, it can be considered almost a dialect of the English language. It is a kind of slang or shortcut that is often used amongst friends. The language is documented in “Pidgin English in Hawaii,” which tells the history of how the language evolved from contact between the Hawaiians, various English speakers, and other immigrant workers. According to the article, Pidgin was originally used by laborers to “receive work instructions.” The languages were mixed and simplified to create a jargon specific to Hawaii. Another example of pidgin in the article is, “Please ‘scuze too much small wahine he no can come school tomalo,” which means please excuse the little girl, for she cannot come to school tomorrow.” Pidgin can be considered a fusion language and a result of the state’s historical background.

Bernadette said that she learned this phrase spending a lot of time in Hawaii, almost every summer since she was a baby. Her cousins live in Hawaii and spoke to each other in pidgin. She started noticing the differences in language when she was around 4 years old and because of the close contact picked up on a lot of the slang, especially phrases her relatives would use.

“So Portagee.” is just one of those phrases that she vividly remembers because of a specific incident in her childhood. She went to the beach with her cousins, Ray and Bridget. They were building some sandcastles, when Bridget wanted to go get water to help shape the mini structure. She ended up saying something like, “I’m going to go get some wet water.” Her imprecision with the English language caused Ray to yell out, “Wet water? So portagee, Bridget!” Bernadette says that this response was typical of Ray, because he was known to be a speaker of pidgin as well as making fun of Bridget constantly. Whatever the case, this situation solidified the phrase in Bernadette’s memory.
Bernadette likes this phrase because she learned it in her childhood and reminds her of a simpler time. It makes her reminisce about Hawaii and all her good memories there. At the same time, she feels that to use it is very unprofessional and inappropriate. She said, “It’s one of those stereotypes in Hawaii that Portuguese people are stupid,” a view which she strong disapproves of. In essence, the phrase is actually saying, “so Portuguese,” which makes it a negative stereotype of a specific nationality.

I think that the phrase, “so Portagee,” is actually quite demeaning. Bernadette is correct when she says that it brings about a negative connation of a certain group of people. The phrase is not only mean spirited, but also makes the speaker themselves look very provincial. It makes them seem like they do not know proper English. Their apparent ignorance is ironic because the phrase is meant to disparage the stupidity of the Portuguese.

In addition, I think that the roots of these stereotypes probably come from a long time ago, when the Portuguese first immigrated to Hawaii and were the state’s laborers. There was probably a class system in which the Portuguese were the bottom rung or near the bottom in rank. Although, the phrase has probably lost most of its malevolence, it still carries with it the negative associations of the past.

Ethnic stereotypes are found a lot in American culture. One could probably replace the word Portagee with any other race and have it make sense. For example, one could say, “so Asian,” in response to someone watching Anime (Japanese animation cartoons) or doing well in a math class.” Both draw on well-known stereotypes to make fun of a certain ethnicity as well as to insult the person who the phrase is directed to.

Annotation: William, Smith C. “Pidgin English in Hawaii.” American Speech 8 (1933): 15-19. JSTOR.