Author Archives: Tiffany Chang

Superstition – Chinese

Not finishing every grain of rice will result in not finding a husband.

Christina’s parents and grandparents moved over from Taiwan to Los Angeles and brought over many superstitions to pass on.  Even though Christina was born in the United States, she is still acquainted with these superstitions and follows it in front of her family.  At the dinner table, she remembers that she could not leave the table until she finished every single grain of rice in her rice bowl.  If she did not, then her mother would always say that she would not be able to find a husband in the future.  Christina also recalls being a particularly picky eater; she proved her mother wrong when she got married, despite the fact that she did not always finish her rice.  Christina simply thinks that this superstition was a tactic for her parents to make her eat more and to not be wasteful with her food, but does not think that it is true.

This approach toward Chinese superstitions shows that the second-generation children do not fully understand and accept their parents’ beliefs.  This is very common with the “Americanized” children who think that the parents make up beliefs to get their way.  However, this superstition can be explained in two ways.  First, each grain of rice in the bowl can be symbolic of the selection of husbands in the future.  When one is picky about which person, then one will never find a suitable husband.  Second, the Chinese like to be frugal and to not throw away leftovers.  In this manner, the idea of wasting the rice in the bowl is equivalent to not being a good wife.  Therefore, a husband will never come.  Regardless of the origin of this superstition, this belief focuses more on the values of the Chinese culture. If one does not find a good husband, it is equivalent to having bad luck, emphasizing the value that the Chinese puts on a good husband and family.  This superstition points out that the Chinese Americans do not always accept the beliefs of their culture, as well as the importance of a husband to a young woman.

Superstition – Chinese

For good luck, never flip a fish over.

Growing up in a family-run Chinese restaurant where his dad was the chef, Carl learned this superstition from his parents from when he was young.  At a meal, a fish is usually served family style, but there is an accepted way to eat this fish.  He says that one is supposed to eat the meat from one side, then remove the bone to eat the other side. Carl once asked his father where this superstition came from, and learned that it came from the ancient fisherman culture.  According to this story, if one flips the fish over, then it symbolically flips the fisherman’s boat over.  This flipping over of the boat is bad luck, thus flipping the fish over is bad luck as well.

The Chinese culture, which includes the Cantonese culture, is filled with various superstitions that one learns while young.  These superstitions originated in Asia, but as the immigrants came over to America, these beliefs were brought over with them.  In this way, Carl is brought up with the same Chinese beliefs that his father grew up with, even though he is in a completely different country.  The effect of the 2nd generation Cantonese-American does not rid one of a culture, but rather integrates the Chinese culture with the American culture.

Since Chinese fishermen have a long past, it is expected for them to have many superstitions about luck.  Thus, these beliefs are transferred to modern habits of dinner etiquette rather than a struggle with good luck.  In other words, the superstitions of the past are now acknowledged as good manners and not simply for luck.  Though it seems as if the bone is being removed for ease of accessing the meat of the opposite side, this is actually a superstitious act to get good luck.  Chinese society revolves around luck and is believes that it will help achieve a successful life.


“What did the Mexican gardener say when he sat on the grass?”  –Gracias

Justin came up with this joke during high school when he was with his friends.  He says that this joke is not meant to be racist, but is more a play on the words in Spanish and English.  He later explains this joke into more detail, saying that the Mexican gardener got grass on his behind when he sat on it.  He meant to say “grassy-ass” in English instead of saying “gracias” in Spanish.

This simple joke is humorous because of the double meaning of sounds in two different languages.  This use of puns is an example of an appropriate incongruity, which is an equivocation of two meanings under one sound.  We have this within the English language, but using puns across languages makes it even funnier.  The punch line is the answer to the joke: gracias, which means “thank you.”  It is possible that the gardener is thanking someone to let him sit on the grass, but the joke was made so quickly that this connection was probably not made at the time.

Even though this is a very simple joke, it also says a lot about the stereotypes that Southern Californians have of Mexicans. The humor of the joke actually comes from the illegitimate connection between “grassy-ass” and “gracias,” yet it is possible that one can take this joke in an offensive way.  Because Mexicans are very large part of the population, they are commonly employed as gardeners or maids.  Thus, the use of a Mexican as a gardener in this joke is expected and partly related to a racist idea.  The jokes that people have about Mexicans are due to the fact that they are just across the border of California and Mexico.  It is easy to make fun of the differences of language, especially because there are so many Mexicans in the area that the two languages are often used together.

Tradition – Hindi

During a Hindi wedding, there is a tradition that the bride’s side of the family tries to hide the groom’s shoes.  At the end of the wedding, if the groom still has not found his shoes, then the bride’s side will bid a certain amount of money for the groom to buy them back.

Trisha has learned this tradition from India where she was mainly raised.  She says that the girl’s side of the family usually hosts the wedding, meaning that they pay for most of it.  It is commonly the bride’s sisters who hide the shoes and ask for the money from the groom.  Done in a playful manner, the bride’s side of the family gathers together to collectively decide how much the groom should pay for them.  Trisha says that money in Indian culture is considered a blessing to the newlyweds.  It is meant to pass on good omens so that they will have a bright future.  In addition, these acts are very traditional and are crucial to an Indian wedding.

The Indian culture, like every other culture, is guided by many of these traditions that are passed down.  In ceremonies that exhibit a rite of passage, there are commonly many rituals that are done and not questioned.  Because money symbolizes a blessing, it indicates their perception of the influence that money has on a couple’s future.  Money is always an important aspect that guides a culture’s actions, also shown by the bidding of the shoes.  A further interpretation of this tradition is that the groom should have enough money to support his wife.  Thus, if he is able to afford the bid of the shoes, then he will be financially stable for the future to protect the girl.  Although Trisha said that this was originally a Hindi tradition, this act has spread throughout Northern India and has been infused into the wedding festivities.  It is still mainly Hindi and is usually not followed in Southern India.  It is known to be a light-hearted act, which shows that the period of getting married is intended to be a reason to celebrate.  This celebration of the union between two people is a very important time in their lives, and the ceremonies are a way of passing down folklore during this rite of passage.

Proverb – Chinese

Mandarin:                                ?        ?        ?        ??    ?        ?        ?        ?   ?

English Literal Translation:    Ice        freeze  three    feet      not       one      day      chill

English Proverb: One day of cold weather will not result in three feet of ice.

Mrs. Chang heard this phrase in Taiwan, but does not remember exactly whom she heard it from.  She says that this proverb means that a problem does not come overnight, but accumulated over time.  One has to be patient with things and not blame problems on one specific time and place.  She says that the imagery of three feet of ice freezing over comes from the mountains of Taiwan where the farmers used to live.  In the winter, it was not possible for the ice to freeze that much in one night, but if the people did not take care of it, the problem grew until it was not manageable.

This proverb is a way to communicate that problems don’t arise overnight but are created over time.  This proverb is very popular in the Chinese culture and is also very practical in use.  It shows that problems have to be handled from the very beginning or else it will compound and be impossible to handle.  It concentrates on the problem itself and its origins, getting to the bottom of the problem to fix it.  Also, a series of events has to build up to a dilemma.

Another way of looking at this proverb is that one has to stop a problem from getting out of hand or else it will result in something bigger.  The imagery of three feet of ice is like a blockade on anything—too cold to grasp and too hard to break.  With this block of ice, any solution is hindered and slowed down.  Because it takes so long for the problem to build up, the only way to get rid of it is to give it time and let the ice melt.  Thus, the time that it takes for the problem to build is the time that it takes for the problem to end.  This proverb is passed down to show the importance of handing one’s problems from the beginning to avoid more conflict.


“Where do Jews with ADD go?” –a Concentration Camp

Benjamin first heard this joke from a friend and retold it in a group of college students.  He says that it is funny just because people with this disorder have difficulty concentrating.  He has no further interpretation of this joke, only to say that jokes about Jews are offensively funny.

Although the Jews went through a lot of suffering during the Holocaust, the Jewish people are still criticized to this day.  The humor from this joke comes from the double meaning of the “concentration camp.”  On one hand, it is the camp that the Germans sent the Jews in order to separate them.  On the other hand, the concentration camp can be the literal meaning in that it is a camp where people concentrate.  Therefore, people with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which is a disorder in which one has a short attention span, should attend this camp so that they can focus.  This blason populaire joke, which is a joke that makes fun of a certain group, is very popular in evoking humor.  Though offensive, many people laugh with guilt because they know that it is insulting but still is a play on words.  This joke not only makes fun of the Jewish people but also the mentally challenged group.  Some people find humor in the faults of others; in this case, not being able to concentrate is the fault.  A combination of the Jews and the mentally challenged compounds the humor of this joke.

This joke was told in English and is from the American culture.  Americans find other people’s problems humorous, and the ones who dare to tell the joke risk being rude and offensive to certain groups, especially the Jewish and the mentally incapable.  The American culture tends to live in the present, not caring about what happened in the past and ignoring the innate anomalies of human genes.  This joke’s humor is based on making fun of other groups, as well as a double meaning of the place “concentration camp,” which can be taken literally or historically.  In any case, the joke can only be told in front of people who are tolerant of racism and prejudice.

Legend – Hawaii

When Hawaii was still being established, each individual island had a king. King Kamehameha had a large army and decided to unify all the islands.  Legend has it that he cornered people on the Pali mountain ridge until they eventually fell off the cliff.  Therefore, nobody on the island dares to upset King Kamehameha or else they know that they will suffer great consequences.

Along with many superstitions, there is always a legend behind it.  Jillian remembered this legend after telling the superstition of never bringing pork over the Pali.  She says that the Hawaiians never want to upset the gods, and King Kamehameha is the King of all the islands.  He helped the Hawaiians unite together as one island rather than many small islands.  The Pali ridge is a dangerous place that people drive over to reach the other side of the island.  King Kamehameha veered people off the cliff with ease when he was angry at them.  Because of his great power over the island, the Hawaiians always obey his commands and never question the curses that are believed.

Although the Hawaiians have several gods that they believe in, this story is a legend because King Kamehameha actually did exist, but this story is not necessarily true.  A legend is a narrative set in real time that make it realistic.  It is possible for him to actually force people off the cliff, and the Hawaiians believe it as a true story.  The islands are also very tempestuous in that any kind of weather can happen if their ancestors are angry.  Thus, making the King happy is a vital part of their everyday lives.  The Hawaiians also seem to value unity, so much that keeping the islands together is a reason for them to praise King Kamehameha.  In addition, their superstitious attitudes towards keeping him happy are widely accepted.  The people simply follow the rules, do not question them, and do not stray away from them, hoping that they will not upset the King.

Myth – Korean

Korean: ??? ??? ?? ??? ?? ??? ???. ??? ??? ??? ??? ?? ???? ?? ???? ?? ???? ??? ? ? ???? ??? ???. ??? 100??? ??? ?? ?? ????? ?? ???? ?? ??? ??? ?????, ???? ??? ??? ??? ?? ???. ? ??? ?? ?? ??? ???, ?? ??? ? ??? ???? ??? ???. ? ??? ?? ??? ?? ????.

Translation: Korea’s creation myth came from a bear and a tiger who wished to become humans.  They went to the heavenly prince for help, who told them to stay in the cave and eat garlic and mugworts for a hundred days.  The tiger could not stand being in the cave on a restricted diet, but the bear prevailed and turned into a human woman.  She had one more wish to marry someone, so she married the heavenly prince and established the Korean nation.

This myth was first heard from her grandmother around the age of seven.  Janet says that this myth was how the population of Korea started.  The moral of the story is to teach the importance of being patient, especially if a certain goal is desired.  In order for the bear and the tiger to achieve their dream of becoming humans, they need to follow the words of the wise.  Janet interprets this myth as a way to teach children to behave, following the footsteps of their ancestors.  Being from Korea, she grew up with these myths, but never realized the importance of learning these virtues from her grandmother.

Every culture has a creation myth to explain where the people came from.  In Korea, it involves mythological creatures who turn from animals to humans.  Mugworts, which is a plant used as a flavoring addition in Korean foods, especially to create a green color in rice cakes.  Only being able to eat garlic and mugworts is a symbol of perseverance, since only eating these two items is torturous.  The Koreans are very unwavering in all their endeavors, and this myth shows the origins of their personality.

The creation myth is an example of a polygenesis approach towards a story.  There is one beginning from which all the Korean people believe they came from, but this is similar to the Western myth of Adam and Eve, a story in which all humankind comes from.  There are multiple stories about beginnings all around the world to explain the origin of man, and this creation myth is just one explanation of human existence.

Superstition – Hawaii

Never take any lava rocks or black sand away from the island.

Jillian learned this superstition as she was growing up in Hawaii from the other children at school.  Though she is not of Hawaiian “blood” herself, she was born and raised in its culture, so she identifies herself as Hawaiian.  She said that it is known that lava rocks or black sand should not be taken away from the island, or else bad things will happen to that person.  Pele, the volcano goddess, will be angry because taking the lava is synonymous to taking part of her away from the island.  Jillian claims that when people take rocks away from the island, they ship it back to Hawaii because of the bad luck that comes with it.

The Hawaiian culture firmly believes in the island gods and goddesses who control the islands.  If a native or visitor does not please them, then it is understood that they will have bad luck.  Pele is the volcano goddess, so the lava rocks and black sand are considered part of her being.  Taking away any of the remnants of the volcano is taking her away from her home and terribly upsetting.  The Hawaiians always want to please the gods and make sure that they are always obeying them for good luck.  This superstition also shows the pride that Hawaiians have for their island.  Like Pele, the people of the islands do not want to be taken away from their homeland either.

The superstition that bad luck will happen through a certain action is very common in Hawaiian culture.  Hawaii has a very unique and tightly knit culture that believes in all of these myths.  These mythological figures are directly connected to the superstitions, which work because the people do not want to upset the gods.  They think that as long as the gods are happy, then the people are safe from harm.  The informant strongly believes that these beliefs are true and accepts it as a rule not take volcanic ruins away from the island.

Tradition – Chinese

After a mother has a baby, she is not allowed to shower or leave the house for a month.  After the baby has survived the first month, there is a welcoming party.

Karena does not believe in this tradition because she finds that it is extremely difficult to stay at home for an entire month with a baby.  She limits her outgoings to a bare minimum, letting other people do her grocery shopping and errands.  However, she thinks that this tradition was started in the early days when there it was not safe for women to leave the house during the first month of birth.  In fact, she learned from her mother-in-law that they were not even supposed to shower because they did not have blow dryers.  Her mother-in-law, who is a first generation Chinese, said that leaving the house with the hair wet will cause the mother to get sick and not be able to take care of the baby.

Keeping a baby healthy is important in the Chinese culture, especially when technology was not advanced as it is now.  Before, they had to be extremely cautious with their newborns because they did not have any western medicine to cure diseases and colds.  So, the mother is protected by having this tradition of not showering or leaving the house.  In this day and age, this tradition is ignored by Chinese-Americans, yet is still common in undeveloped areas.  The lack of showering is out of the question for Americans, but staying in the house for a month is still frequently followed.  The mother should be resting and taking care of the baby; leaving the house would be deemed unnecessary.  After a month, the Chinese throw a party to celebrate the child’s birth.  This is often believed to be a tradition because in the olden days, the babies did not always survive the first month.  If it did survive, then it was believed that they were healthy enough to live a long and prosperous life, which is a reason enough to celebrate.  During this party, the baby is dressed up in its best clothes and presented to the parents’ family and friends.  This party is to remember a baby’s rite of passage into the real world after its birth.

By keeping the baby and the mother safe, the Chinese can ensure a safe life and then celebrate the baby’s birth.