Author Archives: Sara Hua

Greek Evil Eye (Object)

The informant showed me a piece of jewelry that she recently obtained from an expedition to Greece. It is strung on a very simple rope necklace. The pendant is what is called an “evil eye”. It is a vivid sapphire blue and in the shape of a circle. There is a smaller white circle within the blue stone. Finally, there’s a black dot. It looks like a bullseye target. The stone appears to be made out of some sort of glass, and the blue and white circles within it appear to be paint or a glaze. My informant told me that when she bought it, there were various sizes available – pendants, earrings, rings, and even large versions that you could hang on your door or as room decor.

My informant says that she picked up the item when she was on a cruise in the Mediterranean. She got it at the port in Mykonos at a street vendor, however she recalls seeing the exact same “evil eye” jewelry in Turkey. The store vendor in Turkey claimed it was a Turkish artifact, which may have to do with “Romantic Nationalism”.

My informant tells me that the store vendor says it’s to ward off bad luck.

Analysis: According to Dundes, the evil eye was thought to be the eye of envy – where a person giving someone else a look of envy could put a curse on that person. In Greek superstition, it is said that if someone felt like they were nauseous and had a sense of foreboding, like something bad was going to happen, it had to do with the evil eye curse. In the majority of the research, the curse was thought to be unintentional, and the result of an envious stare. A common practice is Greece and Turkey is to pin an evil eye pendant onto a newborn or a baby in order to protect them from harm. This artifact is actually found in many cities across the Mediterranean, making it hard to pinpoint a specific origin, however the general consensus among researchers is that it started in Greece.

Dundes concludes that the evil eye has to do with fish’s eyes, because they are always moisturized. The evil stare and effects of the evil eye curse come with withering, dehydration, etc, and the blue of the glass symbolizes water and moisture. Therefore it is a way to counteract the evil eye. Another theory that has received research is the theory that you “fight fire with fire”, so you wear an evil eye to neutralize the effects of the evil eye.

Annotation: Dundes, Alan. The Evil Eye: A Casebook. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, 1992. Print.

Three Monks, No Water

My informant told me that his mother used to tell him this story when he was younger, around the age of 6. The proverb goes “One monk will get two buckets of water, two monks will share a load of water, three monks will have no water.” The original proverb is here: “一个和尚挑水喝,两个和尚抬水喝,三个和尚没水喝。” (Yi ge he shang tiao shui he, liang ge he shang tai shui he, sang ge he shang mei shui he.)

Informant: “One monk lived on a mountain, and every day he went down the mountain with a stick with two buckets to haul water. However one day, another monk came to visit. The first monk made him help carry the stick, but the stick could only hold one bucket now. When the third monk came along, they all fought over who should go get the water. In the process, they knocked over a candle, and there was a fire in the temple. Finally, with a combined effort, they manage to put out the fire. Through this realization, they joined hands in fetching the water and the temple never lacked it again.”

Me: “What does the proverb mean to you?”

Informant: “Umm… hmmm…. I guess it means that you should always try to work together no matter what. But it’s weird… it suggests that people can’t work together. So I guess you need to stop being selfish and take responsibility?”

Analysis: The proverb suggests that with many people, no one wants to take the major responsibility. It can be related to the American proverb: “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” With too many people, it’s hard to divide responsibility because no one would feel right with someone resting. Like the story, with only two buckets it is impossible for all three monks to fetch water at the same time, but none of them were okay with one person resting. However with the story, it also shows that “many hands make light work”, or that unity can be harmonious and advantageous. In fact, after research, I discovered this story is often used as an anecdote or reference in books about people management.

This story was made into an animation in 1980 that contains no dialogue. Near the end of the animation, you see that the fat monk stays at the bottom to fill the buckets. The short monk then pulls the buckets upwards with a rope that has a hook attached to the end, and passes it to the tall monk. The tall monk then dumps it into the giant urn. This suggests dividing responsibilities up based on a person’s strength. The fat monk is not fast at running up a hill, so therefore it makes more sense that he stays at the bottom.

Annotation: Three Monks No Water. Perf. N/A. YouTube. YouTube, 21 Jan. 2012. Web. 02 May 2013. <>.

Three Monks, No Water animated short


Chinese Bridal Dowry

Informant: “I have little brother, and my mother always used to tell me that it’d be perfect if I married a Chinese man, because then he’d [his side of the family] would have to pay for the wedding. And if my little brother married an American women, she’d [her side of the family] have to pay for the dowry. So that way we’d be saving money, haha (laughs).”

Me: “Did your husband have to pay for the wedding?”

Informant: “Well, we didn’t have a wedding. (laughs.) So I guess he got off free. He didn’t have to provide Jia Zhuang for me.”

Me: “Do people still do this?”

Informant: “Well, people who are more modern won’t care. After all, most people in China wear white wedding dresses instead of red now that China’s becoming more globalized and what not. Many families share the load of the wedding fee.”

Analysis: 嫁妆, (jia zhuang) literally means “Wedding Decoration”. In the traditional sense, this could include gold jewelry, embellishments, red shoes and bedding, etc. Now, it has expanded to include modern things like appliances.

Through my research I discovered that in China, the bride’s family does pay a dowry but gives it to the bride. Instead, when asking for the bride’s hand, the groom has to give gifts to the family. These gifts, “jia zhuang”, are similar to what typical American couples register for. Bedding, curtains, simple household appliances may all be included. Some of these the family will let the bride keep. It symbolizes respect for the family. What was most important was that it proved that the groom was capable of providing a good life style for the bride.

This goes down to cultural roots and practices such as filial piety, and having respect for one’s elders. When the bride marries the groom, she essentially becomes part of the groom’s family and leaves her own family.

My informant is 53, and currently works as a manager for Dow chemicals. She was born in QingDao China and currently resides in Beijing.

Japanese girl’s suicide drawing

My informant tells me this story of a teenage girl in Japan who drew a drawing Japan shortly before she committed suicide. The story and drawing went viral in Asia. In the forums online, it is said that you can see the girl’s sadness in the eyes of the girl in the picture. Forums warn against staring into the girls eyes for longer than 5 minutes, telling me that people have committed suicide after doing it. According to my informant, people say the picture changes,as you view it there is a hint of a growing taunting smirk appearing on the girls lips or a dark ring grows around the girl or her eyes.

Me: “Have you looked into the picture for five minutes?”

Informant: “No! I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but it’s really scary when you actually try it! I can’t meet the girl’s eyes for more than a few seconds because I’m afraid of what I will see!”

Me: “Do you believe that people have committed suicide from looking at the picture?”

Informant: Not really… I don’t think they did. But it’s a freaky story, so I don’t know.

Analysis: Through my research, I could not find any solid news articles to support the claim that people have committed suicide after looking at this drawing, though many people claim there are hundreds. Furthermore, I found some forum posts that claim a video-game designer in Japan was the real artist of the portrait and that he was still alive and well. Some forum posts claim that because the image has a blurry quality to it, if you stare at it for too long, your vision will get blurry as well and you are under the illusion that the picture is changing before your eyes. This also has to do with the image being seen on a digital screen.

Because of the context of the story and the atmosphere in which it is often read, this will help induce fear and influence a person’s response. This most likely is an elaborate internet hoax, much like a chain email letter. People enjoy being scared because it provides an adrenaline rush which can be extremely addicting.

My informant is 23, Korean-American, and currently studying at USC (expected graduation 2013). She first saw the picture and heard the story when she was in high school, approximately 16 years of age.

Hold your breath through a tunnel

The informant explained this game they often play on road trips: “Whenever I go driving with my  family, we all hold our breaths whenever we reach a tunnel. Though it often turns into a competition for them, it has become a tradition.”

Me: “When’s the first time you heard this game?”

Informant: “I don’t remember exactly… I just remember someone said, “There’s a tunnel, hold your breath!” and somehow we all started doing it. I think you were supposed to make a wish, but in the end we just saw who could last the longest! I remember my little brother would just puff out his cheeks so it looked like he was holding his breath when he was just breathing through his nose (laughs).”

Analysis: This game is common-practice, however it is hard to pinpoint the exact origin online. In the 1980s, it was thought that tunnel air would cure whopping cough, so mothers would bring their children to tunnels to cure them. In order to keep from contracting the respiratory disease, the people with the infected children would have to hold their breaths when accompanying them into the tunnel.

Another interpretation is that the air pressure may change when one goes through a tunnel at fast speeds, and holding your breath cures the pain in your ears. It’s is interesting that such a practice to prevent pain has developed into a superstition or game.

Annotation: This cure for whopping cough is mentioned in Arthur Beavan’s book “Tube, Tram, Train, Car” in the chapter about the London Railway.

“Tube, Tram, Train, and Car” by Arthur Beavan