Author Archives: Scott Wey

Cure for Asian Glow

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“I’ve heard that if you get Asian glow that if you drink pepto bismol before you drink, you won’t turn red, but I don’t get Asian glow so I guess I would never find out first hand. Unfortunately.”

“Asian glow” describes when a person of Asian descent consumes alcohol and experiences flushing of the face, neck, and chest. This is often considered unattractive and embarrassing. This phenomenon stems from a single mutation in the aldehyde dehydrogenase gene, which ultimately prevents the breakdown of alcohol. Because acetaldehyde builds up in the body, creating the symptoms characteristic of Asian glow, the condition is commonly thought of as an allergic reaction. I have definitely heard of drinking Pepto Bismol to quell Asian glow because it contains common digestive enzymes that prevent other conditions, but recommended dosages vary from a capful to an entire bottle. This advice is a modern folk remedy.

See:
Impraim C., Wang G., and A. Yoshida. (1982) “Structural mutation in a major human aldehyde dehydrogenase gene results in loss of enzyme activity.” American Journal of Human Genetics 34(6):837-841.

Advice for Tap Water

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“My dad used to tell me, or I guess he still tells me, that when you’re using tap water, you should try to have it on the coldest setting because if its too hot it’ll dissolve minerals in the pipes and that’s bad for you to ingest. So you should always use cold tap water.”

There is a lot of mistrust towards municipal water supplies and the plumbing that carries it in the United States, as exemplified by this advice. One only needs to look at Brita water filter sales to confirm that many people in the US do not trust that the water coming out of the tap is safe to drink. I feel there is a lot of paranoia about municipal water because the subject happens to combine two very important topics: the government and water. There is a lot of distrust and ill-will towards the government. Often, it seems like there is a general consensus that the government is inept and does not care about the well being of its citizens. Whether this is actually true or not is up for debate, but when this idea of governmental bungling is applied to water, a vital resource, we seem to tend to assume that there is no way that the government could be managing such a vital resource properly.

Beware of the Cold

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“So other things that my parents told me about like cold being bad for you is that when I get out of the shower, I should dry my hair otherwise the cold will give me like, headaches when I grow up. And I shouldn’t work out in like a really air conditioned or cold environment, because I’m going to get sick and not like cold sick but like lifelong illness and pains. So yeah, that’s what they told me.”

The informant’s parents are Taiwanese. My parents would tell me things similar to this all the time. It seems like Taiwanese people have a lot of problems with the cold. Since air conditioning is a relatively new invention, the fear of air conditioning is reflective of the suspicious attitude towards new things that many older Taiwanese people hold. Even in the United States, many parents tell their children to dress warmly to prevent them from catching a cold. However, it has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that cold temperatures have little to do with illness and colds. There is no causal relationship. So how did this association between cold and illness come about?

A professor at USC studying alternative health beliefs explained to me how, based on her research, the belief came to be. Long ago, before modern medicine and the advanced understanding of disease we have today, lower class citizens often lived in squalor, had poor nutrition, and did not have the resources to keep warm. Due to compromised immune systems from malnutrition coupled with poor sanitation, diseases spread quickly through these perpetually cold populations and eventually being cold became tied to illness.

Microwave Fears

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“Something else my dad told me was that when you heat up food in the microwave, you can’t stand in front of it or you’ll get cancer. But I used to really like processed food, so I would always use the microwave and I would be really hungry so I’d stand in front of it and wait and he would get mad.”

The health belief that microwave radiation will induce cancer is something that I’ve heard before. I have also heard this belief applied to the tera-hertz radiation used in TSA body scanners. Many of my relatives from Taiwan have also mentioned this health belief about radiation in general.

As mankind has entered the nuclear era, harnessing the intramolecular forces for energy and weaponry, radiation has become a very real threat. Radiation often dominates our news and our history. Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island, and Hiroshima have left very strong impressions on the global consciousness. This fear is perhaps intensified by the fact that radiation is an invisible force that none of us are capable of perceiving. We do not know when we are subjected to it and most of us do not understand the complexities of its various forms. So we’ve simply learned to fear the word “radiation”, associating it with all of the nuclear tragedies that has befallen mankind.

However, this fear of microwave radiation and tera-hertz radiation is unfounded. Microwave radiation and tera-hertz radiation are very different from the radiation that nuclear meltdowns produce. I once held the belief that microwaves could induce cancer. A physicist I worked with in high school told me that while high concentrations of microwave radiation might cook a human being from inside out, microwave radiation simple does not carry enough energy to do the genetic damage to induce cancer. The same applies to tera-hertz radiation.

See:

Vecchia, Paolo. “Perception of Risks from Electromagnetic Fields: Lessons for the Future.” Journal of Biological Physics 29.2-3 (2003): 269-274.

The Flag and Luck

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“When I was younger, at my school we would have flag duty, which meant that every morning before the start of classes we would have to go take the American flag and put it on the flagpole and hoist it up and apparently its bad luck if it ever touches the ground. So we had to make sure it never touched the ground.”

The American flag is one of the symbols of our country and should be respected. There exists a formal United States Flag Code in Chapter 1 of the United States Code that outlines how the flag of the United States should be treated. According to this document, the flag should not ever touch the ground or anything beneath it, as it is considered disrespectful to allow that to happen. This might be where this piece of folklore stems from. It certainly does seem like disrespecting something as symbolic and important as the US flag would invite bad luck. Perhaps the teachers at the school felt it may be difficult for young students to comprehend treating the flag with such respect, and described the consequences as “bad luck” as a more universal reason not to accidentally disrespect the flag. Furthermore, this piece of folklore might help to ensure that young flag guards take extra care when handling the flag.

A related urban legend states that the US flag must be burned if it ever touches the ground. This is actually just a combination of the two United States Flag Codes. The other flag code is about how a worn out flag must be destroyed respectfully, most often in fire. The urban legend sounds plausible as a flag dirtied by the ground might be considered ruined and fire is often thought to be a purifying force.