Author Archives: Melody Chiu

Idiom – Chinese

Literal Translation: point out deer as horse
My informant was my father. He told me that my grandmother taught him this idiom at a young age. The literal translation of this idiom is “to point out a deer as a horse.” The meaning for this idiom is that sometimes a person has to purposely trick others to see who is loyal. Basically, sometimes the truth must be twisted in order to have a good outcome. My father told me that many idioms in Chinese culture seem very random—that is, the words in them seem very out of place. However, he said that every idiom has its own story.
This idiom’s story comes from China’s deep history. Zhao Gao, who was the chief advisor to the Emperor at the time, wanted to have control of the entire government. To do so, he knew that he must have loyalty from all of the members. As a result, he decided to make a plan in order to see who was loyal to him. He called all of the members of the government to one room. He then brought a deer to the front of the room and told everyone that it was a horse. Undoubtedly, many in the court, along with the emperor, were befuddled by his actions. However, some members of the government stood behind him and called the deer a horse. After that day, the chief advisor slowly got rid of all the court members who did not support him during his test. I personally see this test as one of malicious intent. However, my father says that though the story is one involving evil, the idiom has evolved to a good one. He says that people must be very careful of who they choose to be their friends, and sometimes it takes several “tests” to see who your true loyal friends are.

Recipe – Mexican

Tamale Filling:

  • pork loin
  • large onion
  • garlic
  • dried California chile pods
  • water
  • salt

Tamale Dough:

  • masa harina
  • beef broth
  • baking powder
  • salt
  • lard
  • dried corn husks
  • sour cream

My informant for this recipe is a Mexican-American classmate. I asked Darin if there were any special dishes that his family eats often, and he told me that one item his family always makes for Christmas is tamales. He says that every Christmas, his family and many family friends will all gather into the same kitchen to make batches of tamales. During this time, they are able to all come together, which he says is very rare because everyone is so busy. Darin says that this has been a tradition even since before he was born. Each person in the family will have a different job; the women will make most of the filling and the dough. The men do more of the “packaging,” most likely because the women are the ones who know the recipe. In fact, Darin had to ask his mother for the exact ingredients for the tamales, even though he has made tamales for more than 20 years. Making the tamales is an all-day event, so many of the family and family friends will go around telling stories. He says that the parents love to talk about their children and talk about family because family is very important in their culture.

Festival – Hawaii/Japan

My informant described the traditions that people in Hawaii carry out on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. More specifically, he described to me what Japanese-Americans in Hawaii do to celebrate because he is part Japanese. He says that one of the biggest traditions that Japanese people carry out is the popping of fireworks. On New Year’s Eve on the dot of twelve, almost everyone in Hawaii pops fireworks on their front lawn. The fireworks that they pop are long strings of red firecrackers, and they create very loud popping sounds. He said that there is a legend for why Asian-Americans do this in Hawaii; however, the tale actually started in China. The story begins with a dragon that lived in the mountains. Every New Year’s, the dragon would come down from his mountain and into the village to steal away the little children and eat them. For many years, the people in the village could not figure out what to do. Instead of being happy and celebrating the New Year, people were very afraid of the events that would undoubtedly come. Then, one day, a man thought of using gunpowder to scare away the dragon. At the strike of midnight, the man set off the gunpowder and it scared away the dragon. Now, it is tradition to “scare away the dragon” by being as loud as possible.

The next tradition that takes place is on New Year’s Day. He says that there is a huge Japanese karaoke song festival that many Japanese-Americans will watch the night of the start of the New Year. This festival is actually recorded in Japan on their New Year’s Eve. He and his family also drink a Japanese mochi soup called “ozoni.” Ozonie contains clear noodles in a chicken broth, and has a variety of vegetable such as baby corn, carrots, and bamboo shoots. At the very bottom of the dish is a piece of soft mochi. For dessert, he and his family will have Japanese-style mochi that is fried in butter. The mochi is then coated in a type of brown sugar called “kinako.”

My informant tells me that these traditions are very common in Hawaii. He says that the sound of all the firecrackers popping at the strike of twelve is very deafening. However, he says that it is a very exciting time, and it makes him and all of his neighbors feel closer to one another. The food that he and his family make is also something to have them bond. Because he is part Irish, part Chinese, and part Japanese, he does not actually have one culture to follow. He says that this way of celebrating the New Year is a good way for all of his cultures to mend together and accept one another.


My informant related a tradition that runs in her family every time Christmastime comes around. When she was very young, she, her mother, and her sister all went shopping together at a department store. There, they were all amazed as the beautiful decorations. They wanted to bring back a bit of the splendor so her mother bought them a Christmas diorama. The diorama came with fake snow, a church, a schoolhouse, a house, and a man and a woman. It became a tradition to add a new piece every year during Christmas.

My informant says that this tradition brings together her and her family. Because everyone is so busy during the rest of the school year (she has two older siblings, but who were in college well before she was), the diorama gives all of them an “excuse” to spend a lot of time together. They spend several weeks before Christmas shopping together and searching for a unique piece to add to their diorama. The diorama is only shown in the house during Christmastime, and it sits on her mantel in her living room. She says that every time she or the rest of her family looks at it, they remember all of the Christmases they have spent together since many years ago.

My informant says that this tradition might have been brought on by something her grandmother did. Her grandmother had a quilt that she made after she married her grandfather. Each year, her grandmother would add on another piece of fabric from a special item that would remind her of times she spent with her family. My informant feels that her mother based the diorama idea on her own mother’s tradition.

Proverb – Chinese

Literal Translation: big water poured into dragon king’s temple

My informant told me that she learned this proverb when she was put in a bad situation. She was the project leader for one of her school classes. The rest of her classmates in her group did very little to no work, so she did the work for them in order to get a good grade in the project. However, when she turned in the project, the teacher accused her of cheating. No one else in the group stood up for her, though she had actually been doing them a favor. After she told her family about the situation, her grandmother taught her this phrase.

In Chinese culture, the dragon is one of the most important and powerful creatures. Although in Western cultures, dragons are usually associated with evilness or maliciousness, in Chinese culture, a dragon is known as a benevolent and intelligent creature. In ancient China, the people believed that there was a dragon god or king that lived in the oceans. They believed that this dragon was in control of the weather and of the sea. Therefore, people often went to the temple of the dragon god in order to give sacrifices so that their families would be safe at sea and so that there would be good weather. This proverb is actually a twist of irony. The people would go to the dragon god’s temple so that the dragon would stop floods from happening. So, going to his actual temple and flooding it with water would actually damage the temple, therefore hurting the dragon.

The moral of this proverb is that sometimes even good people who are in control of things can get hurt. Even those who are kind and helpful to others may get burned by those they trusted. What my informant’s grandmother was trying to teach her is that sometimes you have to be able to have a thick skin and accept the way others treat you. It will only make her stronger and know how to deal with other things in her life.