Author Archives: rosasuh

Seattle Autumn Harvest Festival Social

This story is from a Chinese-American friend from Seattle whose mother works for Microsoft. She is a first generation Chinese-American, with both her parents immigrating from China before she was born. The story is about her experience watching her mother dance in the Chinese dance troupe at a big social for the Asian community of Seattle to celebrate the Autumn Harvest Festival.


“Every few times a year, my whole family attends my mother’s dance performance to be her biggest fans. Her dance troupe dances for Chinese festivals, from New Year’s celebration to the Autumn Harvest Festival. When it becomes 8 pm, the light shines on her dance troupe, and she shines the brightest with the prettiest face and prettiest embroidered dress. The performance is an accumulation of all of her love and passion for Chinese dance. She is a busy working mom, who barely has enough time to sleep, but she insists on tirelessly improving dancing because it is her passion.

My family would feel inclined to say that her dance performances are the magnum opus of these events, but my personal and secret favorite part in volunteering in the events. My mother has danced in these festivals for pretty much all my life. I have attended every single one! These festivals would take place in large rented out churches to multiple entire buildings, but they were filled in and out with celebrations of Chinese culture. There were many stages that held skits (I was forced to be part of some before), Chinese puppetry, and many booths that teach Chinese art. When I was younger, I was the one of the children who would run to every corner of the event, collecting every free stuff, getting the sickest face painting, and watch every skit that related to things I enjoyed. My parents weren’t able to keep up with my enthusiasm, so I ran around with my fellow friends.

When I became older, I attended every festival as a volunteer, and brings me lots of happiness to bring the same joy I felt in the past to other children. I am proud to hold the title as the “cool face paint sister who can draw anything.” After being unable to take a break for hours as the lines keep building (i remember eating steamed dumplings covered in paint residue), many of the children and even adults get some sort of mark of my artistry on them. It made me even happier that they loved it after completion. After around like 7 hours of volunteering, I finally get to rest at 8pm though! And watch my beautiful mother dance.”


“This event began to recently be sponsored by Microsoft because all of the performances are usually done by people who work for Microsoft or their kids, and sometimes people who are friends with those Microsoft families cuz in Seattle pretty much all Asian families work for Microsoft or are friends with someone who does. So it’s become a thing where all of the Asian population of Seattle shows up.”


In my friend’s beautiful story, I noticed that there’s a strong family and community element to this event. All ages and occupations, from working mothers to families to little kids, are involved and there seems to be an event for every group (eg. face painting for the kids.) Because it’s a family event, there’s also a strong emphasis on passing down Asian/Chinese culture to the next generation so that the kids who grow up in the United States are still connected with their heritage. Furthermore, I thought it was really interesting that Microsoft itself recognized and supported the Asian community in its workforce, something that was completely optional for them to do. Perhaps Microsoft thought that supporting this community was important to unify company culture and present an image of itself as culturally aware and tolerant.

Yunnan/Sichuan Torch Festival

This is a story from when my informant, who is Chinese-American, went back to the rural town in Yunnan, China that her father’s family hails from when she was around 10 years old.


“So in Yunnan, China (and Sichuan, which I’ve learned from outside research) there’s this festival that happens at the end of summer called the torch festival, with a lot of stuff like people dancing around bonfires, lighting paper lanterns, lighting torches, etc. When I was younger and in China during that time, I participated in the festival at the rural town that my grandparents live in called Xiangyun. One of the activities I remember most about it is people gathering in a circle around the fire and jumping over it. I accidentally ran towards it as the same time as another person and burned a hole in my shoe haha.”


“When I asked my parents about it, they said it was to ward off insects as the harvest season started. When I did more research on it, I found out it was based around a specific legend of how a hero warded off a swarm of locusts with fire (I believe this story comes from the Yi people, but double check me on that). As far as I know, I think the custom is endemic to that specific area of Yunnan, cause I couldn’t find it in the resources on the torch festival online. Although I was only looking at sources in English, so that might’ve affected it.”


This festival shares a lot of similarities with many holidays that occur at the end of summer and usher in autumn and winter. It focuses on the presence of light and warmth (lighting torches and lanterns) to ward off the increased darkness of the following days and emphasizes creating a bountiful harvest by warding off harmful insects. The ritual of people jumping over a fire is interesting because it seems like people want to take the risk of being burned to heighten their spirits and get ready for the gloominess of winter.

Zhou Chu Eradicates the Three Scourges (周處除三害)

This is a folktale about the origins of Zhou Chu (周處) a famous Chinese general. I heard it from a Chinese international student (T.C.) currently studying in Stanford.


“When Zhou Chu was a young man, he was a really violent and unruly person. He terrified the villagers in his hometown so much that he was known as one of the ‘three scourges’ to them alongside a tiger and a dragon. One day, a villager taunted him and suggested that he tried killing the tiger and the dragon even though they were stronger than him. Zhou Chu was arrogant and so he agreed. He went to fight them and the battle took two days. When he returned to the village he saw the villagers celebrating the deaths of the ‘two scourges’, and he realized that he himself was the third scourge. He never really realized just how deeply his actions had impacted his hometown and wanted to redeem himself, so he went to two famous generals, Lu Ji and Lu Yun, for advice. From them he learned how to be a better person and became a general himself and earned the admiration of the people in his town.”


“I learned this tale in middle school. In Chinese schools, you’re required to learn a lot of ancient texts and stories for Chinese literature class, and in some cases, you have to memorize them. The amount of stories that you have to learn and memorize is so tedious and long that it often feels insufferable, but I remember liking this story a lot because it really humanized Zhou Chu. Usually these generals are so heroic and larger-than-life that it’s hard to believe that they were people, but Zhou Chu’s imperfect background (even though dragons are not real) made him feel more relatable and likable.”


I think there’s a lot of stories about heroic figures (kings, generals, gods, etc.) who started off as malevolent or incompetent people and matured into admirable role models. As seen from the stories of King Alfred and Daquwanga that I recorded previously, it seems that this story structure exists across a variety of different cultures and has universal appeal. Maybe the fact that such larger-than-life figures come from ordinary and imperfect backgrounds make them seem even more awe inspiring. I thought this story structure was pretty similar to the hero’s journey because the hero starts off as an ordinary person in the ordinary world before they are irreversibly changed by an inciting event. Often, these protagonists have to mature like how Zhou Chu did to rise to the occasion and become heroes.

Parkside IRC water refill station tale

This is an urban legend/tall tale from a friend living at Parkside IRC about the water refill stations on every floor.


“So like, you know the water stations on every floor at IRC, right? Well, there’s this thing that happens every exam season where every time I try to fill my water the water comes out warm or hot. And I’ve talked to some people at IRC about it and apparently, it happens to them too. One person even says that the water tastes more metallic than usual during midterms. People say that like maybe there’s a ghost, you know, the Parkside ghost, that’s screwing with students when they’re at their most stressed time. Because there’s nothing worse than wanting a refreshing drink and getting lukewarm water instead.”


“I live in IRC so I notice when things I’m used to aren’t what they are like usually. I get my water from the station every day (I don’t even use the Brita that I bought at the beginning of the year) so I definetely notice if there’s a change. Usually I don’t really care if the water’s different, but everyone is on edge during exams. I guess maybe because I’m so stressed this kind of event becomes ingrained in my memory and it feels extra worse.”


Exam season is a stressful time for everyone, especially for people like my informant because she is in pre-engineering and needs to get good grades in order to get into the program that she wants next year. Many of my informant’s friends are also in pre-engineering and computer science, which is known as one of the most stressful and difficult majors (there’s a common saying that CS majors don’t shower or go outside because they’re too busy in their rooms coding,) so they are also similarly suffering and undergoing great amounts of stress.

When people are stressed, it’s common that even the smallest incidents feel huge and insufferable. Their stress amplifies things that people can usually brush off. Likewise, getting lukewarm water when you wanted an ice-cold drink can feel like the world is ending when you’re already stressed about exams or essays.

When people feel like they’ve been unrightfully wronged and can’t find an explanation for it, they try to find a divine or supernatural reason for what happened. For instance, when a storm suddenly comes without warning, some people blame God’s anger. In this case, people created a ghost to blame for the disappointing water.

Cat’s cradle

My informant was a Japanese-American college student at USC who grew up in California. Below is a transcript of our conversation talking about the cat’s cradle, a playground game she played as an elementary schooler.

“A cat’s cradle is a string that you can manipulate into different shapes with your hands by making a series of movements with your fingers. It was taught by my friends in elementary school and requires other people to help out to work since the patterns are easily forgettable; I had to ask people all the time how to do it. If you could make a shape out of a string people thought you were cool because you’re making a new shape out of a simple string. It felt mysterious and skillful, like a cool trick you can do to impress other kids on the playground.

I remember I also tried to teach my mom it, who said that she knew how to do it when she was younger but she forgot how to do it as she grew older. I didn’t play cat’s cradle after elementary school. There was no particular reason why; new trends just came up and I forgot how to make it.”

Cat’s cradle seems to invoke a similar sense of fascination and mystery as performing magic tricks, but this sensation seems to be quite ephemeral. It’s reminiscent of how children grow out of pretend play because they feel childish pretending like they’re something else and they want to feel more “grown-up” (this is reflected in how “too old to play pretend” is a common saying.) Because cat’s cradle was a social activity and needed other people to learn it from, the informant probably felt social pressure to stop doing something no longer regarded as “cool” anymore. The fact that the informant’s mother also knew how to do it but forgot as she grew older suggests that this is a common pattern among young children and occurs with every generation.