Category Archives: Life cycle

Ghost Story in Primary School

Background: The interviewer and the informant went to the same primary school together in Qingdao, China. Interview asks the informant to retell a horror story that was very popular in their primary school. 

Informant: So next to the gate there was this statue of a woman, she’s playing a harp. And a long time ago there was this girl who stayed in school for longer than usual, cuz you know, she was on duty to clean the common areas in the hall. She was about to leave and she’s the only one left, and when she passed by that statue, she saw the statue woman blink. Then all of a sudden she really wanted to pee, so she went back into the building, to pee of course. Ok she didn’t go into the building, she went to that small restroom near the playground, you know where that is. She got in there, saw a janitor, and that person was wearing a hat and cleaning the floor. She didn’t bother and went in to pee. Then when she’s finished, she couldn’t get out! There was an air wall that blocked her way. Then… she never got out.

Context: This story was really popular in this particular primary school. Almost every student who went there has heard of the story. The interviewer and the informant first heard of the story when they were in second or third grade. Some people heard it from their classmates, and a few heard it from the older fifth and sixth graders. 

Analysis: The statue mentioned in the story was situated near the school gate and near a small school garden. There is a very shallow pool in the garden, and first and second graders are usually prohibited from going into the garden. I think this story serves as a cautionary tale masked with a mysterious, horror element. The physical location of the statue is at a liminal point—beyond the statue is prohibited and possibly dangerous. The girl in the story is in danger when she sees the statue, and when the impact of this terror is translated into real life, young school kids may be deterred by the statue and areas around it. This explains why the story was popular especially among younger kids. For the fifth and sixth graders, the garden and the school gate are no longer dangerous to them. The mystery and threats in the garden lose their attractions, and subsequently the tale is no longer scary. 

Scissors on the bed during pregnancy

HK: When I was pregnant my mother in law said that I shouldn’t have scissors on the bed because then that will make you have a miscarriage. So don’t cut anything on the bed, don’t put anything that can cut on the bed. Related but not the same, it also means no remodeling, no hammering, no knocking down walls or anything. 

MW: And what did you think of this?

HK: Well…you don’t wanna believe it but when they tell you stupid shit like that…it’s like walking under a ladder. You know nothing’s gonna happen probably, but now you wonder about it. And then it leaves this little scab in your heart when you do do it, because now you’re like, ah, well, what’s gonna happen to me? It just always makes you wonder, you know? So annoying.

Context:

The informant, HK, was born in New York but has parents who are from China. She married and has three children. This story was collected over a Zoom call when she was talking to my mom.

Thoughts:

The “little scab on your heart” that the informant mentioned is interesting because it makes me think that that must be how superstitions get perpetuated. While people might not believe on an intellectual level that it will happen, if you do it it will still stick with you, like a residual fear that clings to your mind; so because of that, it’s easier to just not do it in the first place. I think that’s important to realize, because sometimes the negative effect of the superstition might just come from your own guilt (or at least be related to it).

Indian Custom: Hair Cutting on First Birthday

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: Indian people will shave the head of their baby when they turn 1, on their first birthday, because it’s believed that that means that their hair will come back stronger. My mom didn’t do it to me, but almost all my cousins and my dad did. 

SW: So is there greater significance to that or it’s more aesthetic? 

NS: It’s tradition. Thicker hair makes you beautiful, especially like, long, thick hair on girls. There are hair rituals, like before you go to bed your mom will oil your hair.  It’s like the longer your hair is, the more beautiful you are because it’s associated with wealth. So like if you have super long well-kept hair that’s a sign that you can afford it. I remember when I cut my hair short my grandpa was like devastated and I didn’t understand why until my dad told me about it.

Thoughts:

I think it’s super interesting how we as humans can come to associate different things with beauty for reasons other than pure aesthetics. Sure, long and thick hair looks nice, but the fact that it can be associated with wealth and status as a subconscious trait of beauty or attractiveness is interesting. It reminds of the way that the “ideal” body shape for women has changed over time. Centuries ago, it was not trendy to be thin, as thinner bodies were associated with not being able to afford food. Consequently, people who were a bit more curvy were considered more desirable, such a body type implied a certain level of wealth and status that could afford more than the bare minimum amount of food required to stay alive. 

Elementary School Riddles

Background: 

My informant, NK, is 19 years old and of South Korean descent from both her mother and father’s sides of the family. Her grandparents live close to her, so she spends a lot of time with them. She is very passionate about cooking. Even though she is majoring in biochemical engineering at UC Berkeley, she has always been, and remains to be, extremely interested in conspiracy theories. While she may not necessarily believe them, she enjoys hearing lore from across the world. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

NK: I remember there used to be a lot of riddles from when I was a kid, like you describe a situation, what it looks like after something happened, and you have to guess what happened. There’s only one I remember, where you go into an empty room. It’s 4 walls blocked off and the only way in or out is like teleportation, and there’s a guy hanging in the middle of the room, like dead, and there’s a puddle of water below him on the floor, so what happened?

SW: Um..I’m not sure. What’s the answer?

NK: So, he stood on a block of ice with the rope around his neck, so as it melted he was hanged and he died. 

SW: Oh. Very dark.

NK: Yeah, I feel like I remember most of those were pretty messed up.

Thoughts: 

It was interesting to hear about these riddles that kids would tell, because as NK was describing them, I realized I remembered hearing similar riddles when I was in elementary schools. I think kids liked to one-up each other and prove how clever they were by stumping the other kids, or solving their riddles. I didn’t realize how dark these riddles were until now looking back and I wonder how we were so casual about topics like suicide at 8 or 9 years old.

How to Play The Game Slap Jack

Informant: So the goal of the game is to get the full deck in your hand. The game starts with the stack of 52 standard cards being split into equal piles for the number of players sitting around the table. No one is allowed to look at their cards. The dealer who split the stack, plays the first card. Then the play goes around clockwise for the rest of the game. When a Jack card is played all players must slap the deck as fast as possible. The first one to slap the deck gets all the played cards under the Jack. Because of the nature of the game, more players can ‘slap’ in and enter the game if it’s already started. (but that makes the whole thing go WAY longer)

The initial version I was taught had one extra rule: if you got a ‘sandwich’ you could slap. A sandwich consisted of two of the same numbers and one different number in between them. So like 2, 3, 2 is a sandwich.

The second version, has the ‘sandwich’ rule but also somethings called ‘doubles’ and ‘faces’. Doubles is self explanatory two of the same card played one after the other. So 2, 2. ‘Faces’ is if a face card – Queen, King, or Ace – is played the next person must play a face or the played-card pile goes to the first person. If they succeed in putting down a face card, the next person must play a face card or the second person gets the pile, and on and on and on.

Background: My informant used to bring to school a standard deck of cards and teach us how to play in our downtime between classes or over lunch. They learned these different games from their uncle who lived nearby.

Context: I remembered a few games back from middle school and looked for this informant specifically to get the rules as they tell it. I brought up the game with the informant over Discord, telling them about the collection project and my interest in documenting the games that we used to play with friends over lunch. They responded with a written record of the rules as they remember it.

Thoughts: I learned how to play this game while I was younger from the same person. However, they called it a different name from what I remember. They now call it ‘Egyptian Slap Rat’, however, all the rules the same. I wondered how a group of kids got ‘Slap Jack’ from ‘Egyptian Slap Rat’ and extra research showed that the games has many other names as well:
‘Slapjack’
‘Slaps’
‘Beggar-My-Neighbor’
‘Egyptian Ratscrew’
‘Heartattack’
‘Snap’

Pele: Volcano Goddess

Abstract: The goddess Pele also known as the Volcano goddess is a trickster since she favors testing the kindness of people by transforming into an old lady and seeing how she is treated on the Island of Hawaii. Depending on the response, Pele will either protect your home from a volcanic eruption or destroy it. Pele moves depending on the Volcanos active on Hawaii and she currently resides on the big island which explains the Eruption which occurred a few years ago on the island. A volcano is only active when Pele wakes from her slumber. 

Background: DM is a student at the University of Southern California who is a native Hawaiin and grown up with many Hawaiin tales to explain how her place of living came to be. She finds great interest in the history of her island She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and with that, has heard a lot of folklore. After reading about famous Hawaiin Folklore, I saught to ask her about what she knows about her Island and its origins.

DM: Ok there is another person which I’ve heard of named Pele and she’s the goddess of the volcanos around the islands. She’s typically asleep but when she wakes, a volcano will become active but she also moves around like right now she’s hanging out on the big island which is where the volcano erupted a year or two ago. I don’t remember exactly when it erupted but there was footage of people’s homes either being spared by the lava or being consumed but it and that’s because those people were either good or bad to Pele. She finds this out by turning into an old woman and walk among the people to test who will be nice to her and who will anger her. That’s why she either spills lava on people’s homes or leaves them alone. As you can she has like a short temper and is easily agitated and she’s very deceitful as well so good thing she’s not living on my island right now. 

P: So what does she look any different from other Hawaiin women or is she very blended in with those around her? 

DM: She’s untraceable like you can’t tell if she’s there or not so you have more reason to be nice to everyone around you because you might make a volcano goddess mad.

Interpretation: 

It seems fitting that a volcano goddess has a hot head and is easily ticked off by people’s actions or how she is treating when she is tricking the islanders. The Hawaiin people personified one of their most powerful threats which are the volcanoes, a looming threat that seeks to destroyer but also creates more land for the natives. Pele turning herself into a which seems like a very common trend in many stories such as snow white or Beauty and the best where old women represent treachery and seek to cause chaos toward a person or a group of people for their own personal benefit whether it be the enjoyment of others suffering or punishing those for their misdeeds. Pele is an example of a goddess who gives and takes to those depending on how she is treated. Pele seems to be more than a myth because her story also comes with a lesson. Treat those who are older and wiser than you with respect and goodwill come from it such as protection and learning of secrets that may guide your own path. 

Chinese Red Eggs

Piece
H: Because the infant death rate was so high, people used to celebrate the baby’s birth after one month, so one month is actually their birthday. If they can, there is a big party and everyone gets red eggs. Ah-ma’s family was too poor to have a big party, but they give red eggs to the neighbors instead.
J: Why red eggs?
H: They’re a symbol of good luck and fortune. Also chicken eggs and chicken are a special treat in Taiwan. So the eggs are chicken eggs and red is for good things. [pause] You give them to people for other birthdays too, particularly for older people. Grandparents. Parents. Like 50 or 60. You give them red eggs too. You make red rice cakes stuffed with red bean. Anything with red bean paste. Mold it and make it the shape of, umm, the word doesn’t come out, a, a turtle! The rice cake in the shape of a turtle to symbolize long life. And if the person is older than you, you bow to them. When it’s their birthday, you bow to them.

Context
The informant learned this traditon from their mother who was born in Taiwan where this was a practice in their village and aided in throwing the red egg party for their neice.
This story was shared upon request by the collector when asking about various cultural traditions.

My Thoughts
I vaguely remember a red egg party for one of my first cousins. We dressed in red, fancy clothes and brought gifts. We ate red eggs and many other delicious foods and treats. Everything was red from the paper banners to the tablecloths to the food.
While red being a good color in Chinese culture is nothing new to me, I was surprised to hear at least some of the reasoning behind the eggs. In America, chicken is pretty cheap and easily available. Yet, for the informant, having chicken or chicken eggs was special and for celebratory occasions only.

The spiritual meaning behind pinatas

The following is a transcribed interview conducted over a video chat between me and interviewee, hereby further referred to as LT.

Me: So what were some birthday rituals you used to have growing up?

LT: Well, I’m sure most people now are familiar with the classic pinata that a lot of mexican households have at their kids’ birthdays. I guess, since you’re asking about traditions, I remember my dad telling me that the tradition about pinatas is all about how the pinata represents, supposedly, the seven deadly sins – like temptation. So you having the stick and being blindfolded is supposed to represent like blind faith in god and your struggle not to give into those sins. And, I never did this, but my dad told me that they used to twirl people around to confuse them because that’s how you make it an extra struggle! And I remember my grandma used to even twirl people 30 times because that’s how many years Jesus Christ lived. Also, pinatas were never animals – they used to just be, according to my dad, just like spiky balls with lots of vibrant colors. I guess vibrant colors are supposed to represent sin and temptation.

Me: Ok, so what about the candy?

LT: Oh, and the candy, well he said and I guess it makes sense, that the candy is supposed to represent the reward from god and from faith that you get when you fight and defeat those temptations. 

Me: So, you used to always have a pinata at birthdays growing up?

LT: Oh, yes always.

Background:

Interviewee immigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles as a teenager, however, she still returns home near Mexico City frequently. Her entire family is from and lives in Mexico, apart from her younger siblings and stepmother. She works as a translator in both Spanish and Italian. She is my older sister, so we’re very comfortable around each other. 

Context:

This interview was conducted over a video chat between interviewee and I. Being that we are family, it was a very casual conversation just talking about some things we both did growing up, but her specifically in central Mexico. 

Thoughts:

Pinatas are seemingly well known at this point as a Latinx tradition, but it is interesting the variation by region and country. In her area of Mexico, the pinata is tied to religion and they teach kids very young that they must battle and conquer sins. While this is a very heavy message, they do it as a reminder of the emerging hardships of growing older each year that also seemingly give fruitful rewards, like candy. I, too, always had pinatas at birthday parties but ours were always characters and I never got to meet my grandma to learn her lessons about it. 

Quinceaneras

The following is a transcribed interview conducted over a video chat between me and interviewee, hereby further referred to as LT. 

Me: What’s been your experience with Quinceaneras?

LT: When I was growing up, quinceaneras were just like a cute little party you had because at age 15 you’re kind of becoming a young adult, but I never thought it was too serious. It was just a cute day to celebrate you becoming a woman and you also got jewelry. My grandma, though, told that back in the day the qu8ince was very much tied to spanish catholic culture where you’re supposed to get married when you become a woman. Back in the day, my grandma before her quince, was taught how to weave and taught how to cook so it was clearly a set up for her to become a homemaker. But like, as we know now, 15 is absolutely not an age where you can get married but back in the day you weren’t really the one making those decisions, your family was. With that said though, quinces are still very tied to that christian base. You dance with your mom and dad, you go to church, so it’s still very much tied christianity but now it’s not tied to marriage. 

Me: So what do you do at a quinceanera? 

LT: So, you get very dressed up in a fancy gown and you get a tiara as well. But on the way there, I had to wear flat shoes so that my dad could put on my heels at the party, it’s kind of a little tradition. And then there’s food, you get presents, and then you have to do a special dance with your dad. Me and my dad were really bad so it was nothing too complicated but some of them are very elaborate. And then you just have like a regular party and celebration. 

Background:

Interviewee immigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles as a teenager, however, she still returns home near Mexico City frequently. Her entire family is from and lives in Mexico, apart from her younger siblings and stepmother. She works as a translator in both Spanish and Italian. She is my older sister, so we’re very comfortable around each other. 

Context: 

This interview was conducted over a video chat between interviewee and I. Being that we are family, it was a very casual conversation just talking about some things we both did growing up, but her specifically in central Mexico. 

Thoughts:

The quinceanera is one of the biggest days in many young girl’s lives. The celebration varies culturally, but the Mexican version is typically very tied to religion and very ceremonial. Some of the ceremonies are spoken about here, the changing of the shoes and the father-daughter dance. However, depending on how religious families are, there is also usually a church ceremony and other aspects of the event that highlight the transition from young girl to woman. Originally, the purpose was to showcase the young woman as she became eligible for marriage. However, the purpose now is simply to celebrate a big coming-of-age and growing up.

Ukrainian Wedding Tradition

The following is transcribed from an interview between me and interviewee, referred to as MT. 

MT: In my country, when someone wants to get married to a girl, they have to first barter for her with her neighborhood, essentially. Usually the neighborhood people ask for booze and money and then in exchange they’ll let her go and give her to him. 

Me: So do potential grooms actually end up going and meeting the neighborhood people’s demands for their brides?

MT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, at this point it’s usually pretend, like, not serious but because it’s tradition we have to do it, you know? So usually the guy will just go and the neighborhood will play pretend like you have to give me stuff and at this point it’s just an excuse to get some booze and get excited for the wedding. Although, I have seen a neighborhood take it seriously one time and the guy had to actually go home and get money because the neighborhood wouldn’t let her go! 

Me: And why do they do the bartering before the wedding?

MT: Well, the neighborhood is losing a person so it’s like they should get something in return, you know? And it’s also a way to test and see how much the groom wants her like what she’s worth to him. 

Me: What if someone wants to marry her from the same neighborhood, though?

MT: Oh, no matter what they’ll make the guys barter for her. So even if they’re from the same neighborhood, they’ll then separate it by streets and he’ll barter with the people on her street. If they’re on the same street, he’ll have to barter with the family type of stuff. It’s just tradition. 

Background:

Interviewee, MT, is from LViv, Ukraine. His family is from a village called Rodatichi in Ukraine. He immigrated to America at age 13, but returns home for occasions. He has lived in Sherman Oaks, CA for the rest of his life thus far and has been happily married to my mom for 11 years. He has been to numerous weddings and seen this wedding tradition happen all growing up.

Context: 

This interview was conducted over lunch at our family home, so it was very casual. He has many stories about the customs of his country that he usually shares with me so it was just like any number of our usual conversations. 

Thoughts:

There are many versions of these wedding customs, but what I found interesting is that this specific tradition of bartering for the wife is unique to his region in Ukraine. Even in the Eastern part of the country, there are wildly different traditions but they all seem to center around the idea of testing the man of his dedication to the wife. I think this is interesting because in
America, we don’t have many of these traditions where a man has to truly win and earn his bride. It is also very interesting how much variation there is within this custom as far as what the neighborhood people ask for, whether or not the groom actually has to give it to them, and whether he is bartering with the whole neighborhood or just her family.