Tag Archives: fortune

FengShui: Don’t Put Your Stairs in Line with the Door

Clarification:

Chinese (Simplified): 风水
Chinese (Traditional): 風水
Romanization/Pingyin: fēngshuǐ
Literal Translation: wind water
Free Translation: “Chinese geomancy” (Wikipedia), essentially harmonizing with the natural world

Text:

Q: Did your parents believe in FengShui?

A: Yeah, they believe it. But even like our house, our people say, like the stairway? If the stairway directly point to front door, that mean all your money is gone. That mean

That’s why when you go to Chinese family you don’t see stairway pointing directly to front door.

Q: So is it just the way things are positioned?

A: Well, I mean they basically you directly point front door that mean all your your your wealth going out the door.

Context:

Q: How did you learn about FengShui?

Informant: I mean, the thing is I, I didn’t get as much knowledge as I should because when I, when the high school already away from my parents grandparents. […] Yeah, but, even then they aren’t experts. They always found somebody pointing a certain thing to them.

Q: Did a lot of people believe in FengShui?

Informant: Well… more and more now. I think the, in China, when Cultural Revolution came, they kinda destroyed a lot of those believes. But like, people in HongKong, Taiwan, they believe a lot more than mainland China. But in mainland China now, they have more and more people believe. Especially uh in my side of the area, those people.

Q: As in like in the country side or in your province?

Informant: Well in the province, but well I think now more and more people believe. In the whole China. Because they they, I mean, this is traditional culture so. So even though Cultural Revolution interrupt for a period of time, they those things coming back. Yeah, they have all kind of stuff, but as I say I don’t do a lot of study for this kind of stuff. 

Q: Do you know when it originated? Like what Dynasty? 

Informant: I’m not quite sure, I, I obviously I mean, follow the tradition I don’t know when it started. I’m not quite sure.

Q: How did the Cultural Revolution affect FengShui?

Informant: Well cultural revolution, Chairman Mao basically want to break all of the traditions, right. This this fengshui is tradition, I mean they they go through all this Well basically Chairman Mao break everything that is tradition. basically want a brand new culture, everything brand new. So it last for 10 years, obviously affect uhhh some people. I mean when I came to U.S., I found out a lot Taiwanese family, HongKong family, a lot more tradition. I mean they you go to their house, or even I work for a restaurant they always have some food put aside to to try to what you call, to feed your ancestors that kind of stuff. But in my time, in China, Cultural Revolution those things stopped. So we haven’t practiced for until a little bit later on, when Chairman Mao died, Cultural Revolution end. So maybe another 10 years people slowly slowly bring back the practice.

Personal Thoughts:

This one was really weird to me, because whenever I visited the homes of my non-Chinese friends, having the staircase lined up with the front door was a point of pride. On the other hand, I’ve always found it weird that the staircase in my home was slightly to the side of the front door.

In addition, I’ve always felt that my family has had less traditions than my friend’s family (who was Chinese-Malaysian). Then, coming to USC, I also saw a lot of Taiwanese and Hong Kong families with many more traditions than my own. It was interesting to learn that a lot of it is due to the Cultural Revolution trying to tamp down prior traditions. In addition, the Cultural Revolution essentially happened during my parents teen years, so even if they were told stuff when they were a kid they wouldn’t quite understand it, and they wouldn’t have been exposed to it in their teen years when they could understand.

Additional Notes:

For a similar discussion of the oppression of culture under Communism and Post-Communist revival, read:
Valk, Ulo. 2006. Ghostly Possession and Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore. Journal of Folklore Research 43: 31-51

FengShui: Two Houses Facing the Same Direction

Clarification:

Chinese (Simplified): 风水
Chinese (Traditional): 風水
Romanization/Pingyin: fēngshuǐ
Literal Translation: wind water
Free Translation: “Chinese geomancy” (Wikipedia), essentially harmonizing with the natural world

Text:

Informant: Yeah you have anything, when I grew up I obviously my parents my grandparents talk a lot that stuff. But I don’t quite understand you know. They say a certain thing make a lot of sense like saying if you you have a house in front of your house, basically facing the same direction, generally you don’t want the front of the house taller than your back your your your house. Because that way all the fortune, block all the fortune you’re going to have. If we face the same direction, generally you don’t want the house in front of you taller than you are. 

Context:

Q: How did you learn about FengShui?

Informant: I mean, the thing is I, I didn’t get as much knowledge as I should because when I, when the high school already away from my parents grandparents. […] Yeah, but, even then they aren’t experts. They always found somebody pointing a certain thing to them.

Q: Did a lot of people believe in FengShui?

Informant: Well… more and more now. I think the, in China, when Cultural Revolution came, they kinda destroyed a lot of those believes. But like, people in HongKong, Taiwan, they believe a lot more than mainland China. But in mainland China now, they have more and more people believe. Especially uh in my side of the area, those people.

Q: As in like in the country side or in your province?

Informant: Well in the province, but well I think now more and more people believe. In the whole China. Because they they, I mean, this is traditional culture so. So even though Cultural Revolution interrupt for a period of time, they those things coming back. Yeah, they have all kind of stuff, but as I say I don’t do a lot of study for this kind of stuff. 

Q: Do you know when it originated? Like what Dynasty? 

Informant: I’m not quite sure, I, I obviously I mean follow the tradition I don’t know when it started. I’m not quite sure.

Q: How did the Cultural Revolution affect FengShui?

Informant: Well cultural revolution, Chairman Mao basically want to break all of the traditions, right. This this fengshui is tradition, I mean they they go through all this Well basically Chairman Mao break everything that is tradition. basically want a brand new culture, everything brand new. So it last for 10 years, obviously affect uhhh some people. I mean when I came to U.S., I found out a lot Taiwanese family, HongKong family, a lot more tradition. I mean they you go to their house, or even I work for a restaurant they always have some food put aside to to try to what you call, to feed your ancestors that kind of stuff. But in my time, in China, Cultural Revolution those things stopped. So we haven’t practiced for until a little bit later on, when Chairman Mao died, Cultural Revolution end. So maybe another 10 years people slowly slowly bring back the practice.

Personal Thoughts:

With this particular piece of folklore, I find an interesting combination between practical logic and folk belief. If two houses are facing the same direction (the front of one house faces the back of another), it makes sense to not want the house in front of you to be taller. That would not only make your house difficult to find/see, but also block out sunlight, wind, etc. Perhaps people wouldn’t be able to find your house. What I find interesting is how these blocking of natural things has been equated with the blocking out of fortune. Perhaps having an accessible house or having your house be exposed to sunlight/wind are important things in Chinese culture.

Additional Notes:

For a similar discussion of the oppression of culture under Communism and Post-Communist revival, read:
Valk, Ulo. 2006. Ghostly Possession and Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore. Journal of Folklore Research 43: 31-51

No Bananas on Board

Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my friend/informant (LW).

HS: You have a very particular superstition regarding bananas on your sailboat is that true?

LW: Yeah. Ever since I started sailing when I was young my instructors have told me to never bring a banana with me when I sail.

HS: And why is that?

LW: They would always say that it was bad luck. Like for instance one time I remember my mom packed a banana in my lunch as a snack at one of my regattas and I took it out to eat. My instructor, although somewhat jokingly, told me to make sure I didn’t take it on my sabot because it was bad luck. Just small situations like that.

Background:

My informant is a friend from high school. He has been sailing sabots and CFJs since his childhood and is a member of one of the local yacht clubs in his area. He sailed for both his high school and his local yacht club.

Context:

My informant’s little brother had his coach and team over for a team dinner. The team coach told me about the superstition and my informant elaborated upon it.

Thoughts:

My immediate question to the superstition of bananas in boats was, why does this superstition exist? I found that there are a variety of proposed explanations for the superstition surround bananas. For instance, bananas give off a certain gas that causes other fruits to ripen and thus spoil faster. Perhaps these negative traits of bananas are what caused this superstition of bad luck to become commonplace amongst sailors. There are other explanations also, such as the fact that boats had to travel a lot faster in order to get their banana-filled payloads to their destinations before they spoiled, which prevented fishermen from being able to land the catches they were waiting for. I think that this superstition goes to show how reasonable grievances towards bananas that are now outdated have evolved into the superstitions that we still carry to this day.

Fortune Telling From a Cup of Turkish Coffee

When my friend first read my fortune out of a cooled cup of Turkish coffee, I was told that he saw angels, tigers and trails in my future. He’d been using a Wikipedia article to help him read our fortunes, but he seemed excite to be sharing this experience with me and my other friend, who had never had our fortunes read in this way before.

Turkish coffee is very dense. It’s more like espresso than coffee, and because of this one only consumes a shot-glass or specialized tiny coffee mug. The person drinking Turkish coffee leaves a small layer of coffee grounds in the bottom of the cup and turns the cup over on a saucer to cool. The grounds may slide down the sides of the cup as they cool and solidify, which the reader then uses to tell the drinker’s fortune.

*

“This is very embedded in the Turkish culture. So it’s not something that you learn somewhere else, it’s around you all the time. You know, you grow up with your mom, your grandma, you know, the aunts and the ladies on the balconies, everyone does it. ” The speaker said as we sat in the Nuka Turkish Cafe in Westwood months after that initial reading in our home. He mentioned that shapes in a coffee mug might look like numbers or scenery.

“There are places in Turkey where you would go to visit like an actual medium. Well, those are self-proclaimed mediums. But the interesting thing is, I’ve been to certain mediums that would have incredibly accurate fortunetelling. Like, they will give you a lot of information about your past and your future. And very often, I’ve met people and I have had friends who have these professional medium fortune telling them, like their fortune telling actually becomes true in the future. And so it’s an interesting thing. And I really don’t know that side of it that well. It’s very supernatural. And I just feel like some people actually do have that supernatural talent to be able to use this. “

The speaker added that Turkish mediums also use tarot and palmistry to tell fortunes, and that this tradition is quite old. “The Turkish army that my father is, is a part of has an insignia on it that says before Christ, 200 something. It’s a 2200 years old army.” He added that before Christianity, many Turkish tribes practiced paganism. “

“We have a Turkish idiom that says, “Don’t believe in this fortune telling. But like, don’t live without it… it’s an integral and cultural part of our lives. But we also live in a society where, you know, we are aware that fortune telling is not a very scientific method… So it’s, it’s more of a fun sport at this point than actual people believing in it. It’s more it’s more fun than it’s taken like serious.”

*

The speaker was happy that we had come to visit him in the Nuka Cafe, and he pretended to be annoyed that I was recording his thoughts about fortune telling. When I asked him where he first saw fortune telling, he mentioned that much like a baby doesn’t remember their first steps, he doesn’t remember where he first encountered this tradition. Another friend mentioned that the speaker’s past fortune came true, and later that day he read another cup of Turkish coffee. He told our third friend that he saw a world map and a wedding.

This is important to me because much like the speaker, I enjoy fortune-telling tools but don’t really believe in them… unless something else changes my mind about their accuracy. I first came across the idea of fortune-telling from tea or coffee in the movie Coraline, and I showed the speaker the section of the film that includes fortune-telling after we had done the first reading in the house. I enjoyed having my fortune read and will not believe it while simultaneously “keeping it in mind.”

This seems to be a largely female craft. The speaker is interested in Turkish folklore and could not remember the meanings of symbols he described to us the first time he performed this tradition using Wikipedia notes.

Japanese New Year Feast

Piece
Every year, the informant cooks a Japanese New Year Feast for their family. It is an all-day affair where hundreds of guests, friends and family, can come and go to eat lunch and/or dinner and socialize with those present. The informant makes the following traditional dishes:
Ozoni (rice cake in vegetable soup) is the first thing eaten on New Year’s day and wishes good health and prosperity to the family
Gomame (dried sardines) to bless attendees with health
Kombu Maki (rolled kelp) to bring happiness and joy
Kuri Kinton (sweet potato or lima bean paste with chestnuts) to bring wealth
Renkon (lotus root) as a symbol for the wheel of life
Daikon (white raddish), carrots, and other root vegetables to promote deep family roots
Ise ebi (lobster) for the festive red color and to symbolize old age and longevity; note: the lobster must be served whole and cannot be broken lest the spine of the old ones break
Context
The informant learned to cook and serve these dishes from their mother and has trained their daughter in how to give the feast. To the informant, The New Year is the most important holiday of the year as it is when the entire extended family comes together. Food preparations begin weeks before the event and there are leftovers for days after as a result of the concern that the table could run out of food.
My Thoughts
Some of the foods look similar to an object such as the lotus root looking like a wheel or the lobster’s spine curving like the spine of an older person while others symbolize good things for their cost or how the word for the food sounds similar to the word for whatever it symbolizes. The feast was a time to celebrate and welcome the New Year and do things that would hopefully ensure prosperity. It was a time where social barriers could be crossed and family meant everything. The extensive amount of time taken to prepare the foods probably shows the care that the family and friends have for one another and the desire to serve each other. The pursuit of good fortune in the food symbolism is an acknowledgement of the lack of control that they have over many aspects of their lives, particularly for the peasants who depended so much on the rulers of their areas.