Author Archives: Shanil Gunasekara

New Year custom – China

New Year custom – China

During Chinese New Year it was customary to eat certain kinds of food since they represented certain good fortunes in Chinese culture. Hanlong’s family ate noodles, fish, Nian Gao ( a form of gelatinous pudding), Buddha’s delight ( a vegetarian dish ), Jau gok (dumpling) and Mandarin Oranges on Chinese New Year Day. While Hanlong could not recollect why they ate some of those dishes, he said that the pronunciation of the food in Chinese correlated to other words.

Hanlong explained that “In the case of fish, (?yú), is similar to surpluses (?yú) or overabundance; Mandarin Oranges are also consumed since they are the most abundant fruit at the time. Nian Gao, the gelationous pudding, has a pronunciation that is a homophone for “a more prosperous year”, and is eaten in many parts of Eastern China. The Buddha’s delight has a type of algae pronounced “fat choy” in Cantonese that sounds like “prosperity”.”

However, not all food consumed have homophones. Hanlong illustrated that the noodles eaten are long, to represent long life and that the Jiaozi dumplings resemble ancient Chinese gold ingots, probably to indicate wealth.

Hanlong first encountered this tradition at a very young age while living in China. He learnt the tradition from his parents but doesn’t intend to carry it on. He observes that it is a fast dying tradition and rarely sees it occur while living in Philadelphia, even in Chinese communities. He blames westernization for people’s disregard. “People think of costume dragons and stuff on Chinese New Year” he exclaims. It saddens him to know that in the near future very few outside of China will practice or even know about food customs on Chinese New Year.

I have been fortunate enough to experience Chinese New Year food due to my close friendship with a peer from Hong Kong during my high school years. However, even though I consumed fish and noodles on Chinese New Year I was not aware of their significance. My personal experiences of Chinese New Year have also been of dragons parading the streets and fireworks. It is indeed sad to see an age old tradition dying at the hands of westernization.

Proverb – United States of America

Proverb – United States of America

“Blessing in disguise.”

I first heard Jon use this proverb after I found out that a terrible score I got for a math quiz (which I did not study for due to another midterm the same day) would not count towards my overall grade. The blessing in this case is that I made the right decision in studying for my midterm instead of the quiz and that my bad score on the quiz amounted to nothing negative other than a dent in my pride. However, I promised myself not to risk it ever again!
Jon learnt this proverb from his Mom, who used it whenever he felt bad about something that happened only to realize later that it was to his benefit. One instance his mom used this proverb was when Jon failed to join his high school hip hop team last year. He was devastated but later found out that all the team’s scheduled performances were on a SAT weekend. At the time Jon was a high school senior hoping to attend university and even if he made the hip hop team he would not have been able to perform. This is arguably a more relevant example of when to use the proverb when compared to Jon’s first use of it to me.

Jon believes that this proverb helps people garner a positive outlook on certain failures, especially when success was not necessarily ‘vital’. Therefore, he uses it whenever someone is sad about an unsuccessful but non-vital venture. Unfortunately, rarely do situations arise when this proverb garners relevant use. He believes it should be used sparingly so as not to lose its effectiveness.

While I do not impart this proverb to others I have come across it not only in Los Angeles but also back home in Sri Lanka. When I was a child my grandmother often used it to dampen a failed venture. The proverb might have reached Sri Lanka sometime during the English colonization of the island and while I don’t find its wisdom invaluable it does prove effective in alleviating  sadness in failure.

Annotation: This proverb is often documented and if further background is required I would recommend Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs & Sayings,by Gregory Titelman published in 1996 (on page 176).

Riddle/Joke – United States of America

Riddle/Joke – United States of America

“So there are ten fish in a bowl, and one dies, how many are left? 10 ‘cause the dead one is still in the bowl.”

“So there are 10 birds on a tree and you shoot and kill one, how many are left? 0 ‘cause the rest flew away.”

“So there are 10 lit candles and the wind blows out 1, how many are left? 1 ‘cause the others burned down.”

It was a sultry Sunday afternoon when I first heard Hanlong test a bunch of us with this riddle. No one got even close to the correct answers, either because they expected a stupid reply or just didn’t have the logical capacity to deduce the answer. It was very amusing so I asked Hanlong more about it.

He said that it was kind of a craze back in his elementary school. One of his peers used it to challenge the intelligence of the rest of the class in a bid for being the smartest pupil in class. Hanlong also indicated that it wasn’t just a test of logic but also used to make those that failed to answer it feel inferior. Therefore, it is safe to say that at the time it was quite condescending.

What surprised me was that we, a group of university freshmen, failed to garner a correct answer. But, as it is with many riddles, many fail to answer it correctly the first time, regardless of their intellectual prowess. But, in using this riddle at the time, Hanlong made everyone laugh profusely, for no less than a few minutes. It was our severe lack of logic that led to this. However, this can be contrasted to an elementary school environment, where failure would have resulted in a very sad child, or if things were malicious, a stream of tears.

Now we use this riddle as more of a joke. Although, I had never come across it as an elementary school student, I now use it sometimes in close company for a laugh. It’s great for a random laugh and for some a nostalgic remembrance of their past endeavors in school. Of course, I’d never use this in serious company although I’m sure Hanlong would not hesitate.

Folk speech – United States of America

Folk speech – United States of America

‘Leet’ , ‘Newb’ , ‘Pwnage’

If you walked into an internet cyber café crowded with video gamers some of the first words you would hear (screamed in a rather high pitched tone) would be ‘leet’, ‘newb’, ‘pwange’, normally followed by or preceded with numerous profanities. You would have a similar experience if you walked into my dormitory suite anytime after 10 pm on a weekday. 5 out of the 8 people I live with are video gamers, including myself, and it isn’t uncommon for us to switch to gamer speech in the heat of a game of Counter-Strike or Warcraft.

The word ‘Leet’ is derived from ‘elite’ and is often used when referring to a veteran player or a particularly brilliant in-game action made by a player. One might say “That guys leet” when referring to a veteran or “That was a leet move” when referring to an amazing tactic used. ‘Newb’ is an abbreviation of ‘Newbie’ which is a slang term for a newcomer to online gaming. It is often used as an insult when a player does something amateurish in-game. ‘Pwnage’ is derived from ‘ownage’ which refer to the domination of a player in-game. It is now often used in speech outside gaming, mostly when an individual wins an argument.

I chose to sample this piece from my suitemate, Fung, rather than document it myself, since I feel that Fung’s use of game speech often seeps its way into his regular speech, which has subsequently started to rub off on the rest of us, even my 3 suitemates that don’t game. Fung said that he first came across gamer speech at an internet cyber café, which is where many of us first experienced it as well. He feels it’s an integral part of the gaming experience and that using it helps to differentiate between a casual and hardcore gamer. According to him there is no such thing as a video gaming experience unless the participants are well versed in game speech.

While some might attribute this to only North American gamers, this form of speech is universal, all gaming communities have them. This is mainly due to its proliferation through online gaming. Therefore, if you want to personally experience or document cases in which it is used, the most effective way would be to buy an online game and become part of its community.

I personally feel that while it adds to the gaming experience, game speech is not a vital part of being a gamer. However, it does instill a sense of identity, a sense of truly relating oneself to a hobby that’s become a crucial part of one’s life.

Catch Phrase – United States of America

Catch phrase – United States of America

‘All your base are belong to us’

This is a phrase I hear numerous times while playing online games such as World of Warcraft. I often see it used when a team of players triumph over another, but I never knew where it originated from. Fung explained to me that the phrase originated from a series of dialogue in the intro to a video game called Zero Wing. It was originally a Japanese game that was poorly translated into English.

‘English translation of opening scene dialogue:

Narrator: In A.D. 2101, war was beginning.

Captain: What happen ?

Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.

(spoken in the Flash animation as Someone set up us the bomb)

Operator: We get signal.

Captain: What !

Operator: Main screen turn on.

Captain: It’s you !!

CATS: How are you gentlemen !!

CATS: All your base are belong to us.

CATS: You are on the way to destruction.

Captain: What you say !!

CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.

CATS: Ha Ha Ha Ha ….

(spoken in the Flash animation as Ha Ha Ha)

Operator: Captain!! *

Captain: Take off every ‘ZIG’ !!

Captain: You know what you doing.

Captain: Move ‘ZIG’.

Captain: For great justice. ‘

The above scene was accompanied by flash animation and was a huge internet phenomenon in 2001-2002. It was the subject of numerous Internet memes due to the humor many users found in its broken English. Fung feels that the phrase “All your base are belong to us” fits perfectly into the showboating mentality of some gamers, especially in team based games. Many in-game clans or guilds often use this term whenever they are victors in a battle or as a clan slogan.

It is very interesting to consider how such an unintentional erring in game production by the makers of Zero Wing has led to such an online phenomenon. As with most internet crazes this one revolves around humor. While professional reviewers would frown upon the broken English in the dialogue as a flaw in the game, the players hold it close to their heart, it would not be the same experience without it.

Moreover, I believe that gamers hold onto this phrase because it says a lot about game development. A video game doesn’t have to be graphically brilliant or revolutionary to be fun, it just needs that spark of originality, which is sometimes completely unintentional.

Like me, Fung first came across this catch phrase while playing online games. He feels that it has become a core part of game culture. Although, he does agree that some gamers overuse it which is generally annoying. While I don’t think that it’s a core part of game culture, I do think that catch phrases make game-play much more enjoyable.