A: Bà cố nói là cái con đô không đem lại lucky. I don’t know the whole story, but bà cố said if they go on your house, you will have bad luck everything.
- “My great-grandma said that owls don’t bring luck. I don’t know the whole story, but she said if they go on your house, you will have bad luck everything.”
A: Yeah like money, family… will not be happy.
Me: When did she first tell you that?
A: Mommy thấy ở chên cái nóc nhà hồi xưa.
- “When I saw it on top of the roof back then.”
Me: Then she told you that?
Me: What do you do then? After you see one?
A: Đuổi nó đi. And pray that nothing bad will happen.
- “Shoo it away. And pray that nothing bad will happen.”
Me: Have you ever seen anything happen? Bad luck after seeing an owl?
A: Yeah I saw it. Cái chuyện đó không biết là đúng hay không, mà bà cố bị bịnh, bà cố– like
great-grandma– bà cố của mommy– bà bị bịnh. Xong rồi when con chim, nó tới, đậu trên nóc nhà nó kêu, rồi sau đó là bà cố chết.
- “Yeah I saw it. I don’t know if this story is right or not, but my great-grandma was sick, she– like great-grandma– my great-grandma– she was sick. Then when the owl, it came, perched on the roof and hooted, then after that my great-grandma died.”
Me: How soon?
A: Not long after.
My mother is the one telling me this story. The day before, an owl was perched on a tree in our backyard while she was away at work. My dad was the one to see the owl and gathered my sibling and me outside to look at it, hoot back at it, and take pictures of it. He then told us not to tell my mom, who believes the owl is a sign of bad luck. In Vietnamese culture, seeing or hearing an owl is believed to be an omen that death is coming. My mother worries that this superstition is true, as she feels her great-grandmother’s death was connected to the sighting of the owl in some way. She warned me to shoo the owl away if I see it again.
This is a transcript of our live conversation. My mother was in the process of making dinner (which was phở: Vietnamese rice noodle dish in beef broth) when I asked her about this story, being reminded of our visit from the owl the day before.
This was the first time I’d heard from either of my parents that an owl was a sign of bad luck, or that it is an omen of death. My mother is the person in our family with the most knowledge of superstitions, and the one who holds the most belief in them. Folk belief is contextual, not all-or-nothing, and not stagnant, thus, if my mother never had the personal experience of an owl visit being close to her great-grandmother’s death, she may not believe in this sign as much. Such is the case for my father, who rarely believes in superstitions. Thus, when he told us about the owl, he wasn’t fearful, and encouraged playful behavior when teasing the owl. However, the tone changed slightly when he shared an anecdote that he also saw a connection between an owl’s visit and the death of one of his neighbors when he lived in Vietnam. Being a paranoid person, a part of me is a bit fearful of the potential veracity of this story. However, I was reminded of how I’d heard this owl’s coo many times before knowing about the superstitions around owl visits, and nothing of bad luck had occurred then, influencing my belief in this superstition.