Tag Archives: folk practices

A Grave of Rice

It’s bad luck to stick chopsticks into a bowl of rice, burying the tip. Supposedly this is because the chopsticks resemble the headstone placed on a grave, and reminders death are extremely inauspicious in Chinese society.

The correct way to set a table, and to place chopsticks on a bowl of rice, is to lay them across the rim of the bowl with the tip pointing toward the center of the table. This is because it is also rude to point the tip at anyone sitting at the table, but usually the people across the table are too far away for the sign to take effect.

I was made aware of this taboo when I stuck a pair of chopsticks into a bowl of rice when I was young, and JL, my mother, caught me in the act. I was setting the table for my family at the age of 8, and was allowed to begin eating first. I stuck the chopsticks in the rice to see if it would stay secure, and my mother caught me before anyone else could see, and she said it would have been very rude for my grandparents to see, and that they would have been a lot harder on me than she was.

She had actually found out about the taboo the same way when she was a child. This is a fairly obscure taboo in Chinese dining etiquette, so most people don’t find out about it until they’ve broken it once. When etiquette is broken in a public setting, it is also rude to mention the offense except in private, between two parties who trust each other, usually parents to children.

Fire and water must never meet

A feng shui master once told my informant that when fire and water meet within a household, conflict would arise. By fire, he refers to stoves, fireplaces, and other sources of heat, while by water he refers to faucets and pot spouts.

A few years ago, my informant lived in a house with poorly laid out kitchen, as the sink and kitchen counter each faced the stove and fireplace. Since she had a rotating faucet, the master warned her to never directly face fire and water toward each other, because it would lead to conflict. My informant really took this to heart, but her husband always dismissed her insistence on doing things exactly the way she was told to. One of the worst fights that they had had actually sparked from my informant noticing that the faucet was pointed toward the stove, which she took it as proof that her husband didn’t care if there was conflict in the family, while her husband, who prided himself on being logical, resented how she wanted him to subscribe to superstitious rituals and actively rebelled against her wishes.

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it only reaffirmed my informant’s belief in feng shui.