Author Archives: Nancy Liu

Superstition – Asia

“Like you know people usually go like this all the time (she is sitting and shaking one of her legs up and down) you know it’s like a bad habit and your parents tell you to stop because it’s like your shaking your luck and money away.”

Samantha heard this superstition from her mother and her relatives when she was in kindergarten, living in Singapore. The superstition is said when people shake their legs because they are anxious, bored or just out of habit. For example, when Samantha sees her friend shaking his or her leg during class, she will tell him or her to stop because it is bad luck. The superstition spread because her parents told it to her when she was little and then she would tell her friends when she grew up. She also says that she will most likely share this with her children if she has any. This is an example of Carl von Sydow’s transition between passive and active bearers of folklore. Samantha was once a passive bearer as she listened to what her parents said and then she became an active bearer when she started telling it to other people. She thinks that its origins come from mainly bad manners, so parents will tell their children this to scare them because they do not want to be poor when they are older.

This superstition is widely held within the Asian community because my Korean, Japanese and Chinese friends all know about this. I think that since Asian families are very superstitious and focused on doing well in the future, they use luck and money as the main components of this belief. The theme of luck and achieving or losing luck is very prominent in Asian cultures. For Lunar New Year celebrations, many traditions incorporate the theme of obtaining and keeping luck, while getting rid of evil spirits. Many Asian superstitions follow these general themes and they mostly deal with luck. It reveals a part of what Asians believe in by focusing on luck and money.

I agree with all of these ideas of the origin of the superstition, but I also believe that it was started to stop children from engaging in this irritating action. Not only is it impolite to do it at a dinner table, it is also quite annoying for the person in the general vicinity of the person. In class, if a classmate is shaking his leg, it can be very disruptive to other students. I do not think that this superstition is only limited to children because it is incredibly applicable to adults. Adults have more awareness of what they are doing and so, they would be able to control their actions better. This superstition would be most effective for people who grew up in an Asian household because they would understand the value of luck and prosperity. I was taught to do things a certain way so that I would have a better future. It was all based off of luck and the idea that what we do now would affect us in the future. If we shake our legs now, then we will lose the potential to be wealthy in the future.

Idiom – China

?    ?    ?    ?

yi1 lu4 shun4 feng1

one road along wind

Wish you a smooth trip

My mother used this phrase when talking to my father before he left for a business trip. This phrase most likely originated from mainland China because her parents taught it to her when she grew up in Taiwan. Her parents were from Anhui, China before they moved to Taiwan because of the Civil war in the 1940s and 50s. Since this phrase existed before her birth, it is terminus ante quem 1949. My mother says that this phrase is mostly used when someone is leaving on a trip and you want to wish them well. Since sailing was a main mode of transportation in the past, going in the same direction as the wind was a good thing. And so, this phrase arose from that context, hoping that one’s travel path follows the direction of the wind so that they get there faster without as much turbulence. The Chinese are unsure about who came up with this phrase, but it must have been someone who lived by the sea or that sailed a lot. As more forms of transportation developed, it became widely used regardless of if it was by boat or not. My dad was going to take an airplane to China from Maryland, and so flying could also fit the context of the wind. If you fly in the same direction as the wind, you typically get to your destination faster. I have also heard this when people travel by car too, but that has nothing to do with the direction of the wind, demonstrating the extent to which this idiom is used.

I picked up this idiom just by hearing my mom say it and I also learned about it in Chinese school. It is a very common four-worded phrase that the Chinese like to use because it sends a warming message in very few words. The Chinese have many four-worded idioms that convey different ideas that originated thousands of years ago. Before in China, only scholars and poets would know about idioms, but as more and more people learned to read and write, they began to learn the idioms and began to use it in common speech.   It became a part of everyday speech and was not only limited to the upper class. In dynastical China, civil service examinations were also utilized to find new talent and intelligence within the country. This idiom may have arose from these examinations as well because people were compelled to make up new eloquent, four-worded phrases. I am sure that there were different variations of it before it was canonized into calligraphy scripts.

This idiom is also documented in A Chinese English Dictionary (Revised Edition) on page 1195. The definition that it gave was “have a pleasant journey; have a good trip, bon voyage.” Furthermore, the dictionary also says that this term is synonymous with ???? (yi1 lu4 ping2 an1), another four-worded idiom. Exactly translated it says “one road peace.” Chinese people came up with multiple ways to express the same idea.

Annotation: Hsiung, D.N. A Chinese English Dictionary (Revised Edition). Beijing, China: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press: 1999. p. 1195.

Superstition – Korea

“Koreans have this thing where they tell you not to whistle at night otherwise snakes are gonna come and bite you. We say that if you keep whistling, the snake will keep following your whistling.”

Sung learned this superstition from his parents when he was about five years old. Although he learned it in his home in Los Angeles, CA, he says that it came from Korea. His family is from Seoul, so they know much of the stories from that area. The snakes could potentially have come from their prevalence in the rural areas of Korea, making this idea plausible. This superstition is usually told to children if they are whistling to make them behave and not be noisy at night. Parents do not want their children to disrupt the elders of the house or even neighbors. It is more geared towards children because adults would not believe this. As people get older, they drop this superstition because they know better and that it does not really happen. However, children, the passive bearers, will believe almost anything an adult tells them, just like the figure of Santa Clause. This is a magic superstition where an action might provoke an unwanted action.

Sung thinks that this superstition was created by elders in order to scare kids so that they would be quiet and not annoy people with their whistling. He is not quite sure what the origin of the story is, but he believes that it is all a lie and completely untrue.

I agree with Sung’s view on this superstition because whistling can be very annoying and disruptive to people that can hear it. It is difficult to make children stop doing something once they learn it. If parents just tell their kids to stop whistling for no reason besides that they are being noisy, they probably will not listen. However, if you scare the children with this superstition, they are more likely to be silent. Children are very gullible and believe most things that adults tell them, especially when they deal with scary creatures. As the monster in this superstition, snakes are very real to children. They are not some imaginary creature, but instead are actual reptiles that could hurt them. This superstition could be believed by children up until they get over their fear of snakes, so I am guessing around the age of twelve or so. I am not so sure if this superstition would work too well in American society now because snakes are not a big factor in a typical American household. Many Americans have nice homes that would prevent snakes from entering and attacking children. Living in a sheltered environment, children nowadays are less likely to believe in this superstition.

Legend – Nepal

“In Nepal, there’s a pond behind my grandfather’s house and at night when the moon is out and reflects on the pond, you can see a reflection of a lady. Behind the pond, there’s an old, worn down, beaten shack where a mother and her three sons use to live. And behind the shack there was this mansion that they use to live in when the husband was alive. The story goes that after the father died, the family became very poor and had to sell all their belongings because the father was the main breadwinner. After the father died, they had to move into the small shack. The one thing that the woman wouldn’t sell was her wedding ring because she loved her husband too much. The eldest son got tired of living in such destitute conditions and begged his mother to sell the ring. One night he got fed up and cut off his mother’s finger with the ring and ran away and became a rich man.

One night while the eldest son was driving back from work, he noticed a woman on the side of the road and he pulled over and asked if she needed help. The lady told him that she was really tired and her house was only a mile down the road and asked if he could give her a lift. He agreed and let the lady in his car and as they were driving towards her house, he told her that she looked familiar but could not put a name to her face. She pretended to be surprised but she already knew who he was and told him that she often gets that remark from people. She shows him her hand and he freaks out and realizes that the hand belongs to his mother and loses control of the car and goes off a cliff and dies.

Her reflection is still seen on the pond because she’s still looking for the ring that her son sold a long time ago.”

My friend, Rocky, heard about this story when she was in the third grade while visiting her grandfather in Nepal. She says that it is a family story and it deals with the history of the house. The house had been passed down through the family for many generations. She heard the story from her older cousin and she thinks that her cousin probably heard it from another family member. It is often told between the children of the house. Rocky believes that it was made up to scare kids so that they do not go out at night. She always wanted to go play outside, but her parents never wanted to let her, and so her cousin shared the story with her. Rocky also thinks that her cousins made it scarier just to poke fun at her. One night when she could see the moon out, her cousins hid behind some white curtains and started making noises and it freaked her out.

I believe that Rocky’s idea about the origins of this legend could be true. It definitely seems like a scare tactic to keep children away from the pond at night. This story would keep children wary of going too close to the pond when the moon is out, a dangerous time for children to be out alone. The legend also seems to be pretty recent because the son drives a car. Automobiles did not become widespread until the 1920s and so, I am guessing that either the legend is only a few generations old or that newer generations of children added the car into the story. The second assumption makes more sense to me because the legend is folklore and is subjected to alterations and variations according to Alan Dundes.

Legend – Hawaii

“There’s this Seven Bridges story around where I live that Tim and his friends brought me to.  When you walk in you cross seven bridges. It’s like a little trail thing and when you come back out, you only cross six because the last bridge you cross is to the underworld. So like you never come back out of the underworld or whatever once you’re in it, so you never cross the last bridge when you come back. We went pass the first one and I freaked out and we left. But it’s private property and so it gets blocked off at the fourth bridge.”

The first time Amanda heard about the seven bridges was when her friend told her about ghost hunting in her early high school career. She went home and researched online and eventually found the story there. However, she heard it again back in August when she was nineteen years old when her friends brought her to the actual place even though she did not want to go. She thinks the story is pretty old, but that it was created after Hawaii was civilized and built up to what it is like now after seeing the structure of the bridges. If the bridges are still in tact, then it means that they cannot be that old. The story of the seven bridges is often told when a group of teenagers are together and have nothing else to do but to share scary stories. According to Amanda, there are quite a few ghost stories that are native to Hawaii. Since the seven bridges are right by Amanda’s hometown, it is a very popular one amongst the students there.

I am guessing that this story arose from someone who was walking on the trail at night and got spooked by something they heard or saw. Since the seven bridges are surrounded by trees, it is easy to mistaken noises and movements of the trees for something else. The legend could be a result of a memorate which is when someone narrates what happened to them and then the audience interprets it into a legendary form. In this case, it deals with death and ghosts. This could also be an urban legend because it is presented in an eerie manner and deals with a contemporary setting. It deals with psychological views of death and the underworld because people are still unsure about what the afterlife has in store for them. It is one of the major insecurities of the human race; what comes after life.