Tag Archives: illness

“Bless You”

The Main Piece
“I always was told to say bless you after every sneeze, I came from a very religious family and even though I didn’t totally get why I had to say it every time I would get yelled at if I didn’t.” Some folk practices are intensely practiced as in this case. The practice of saying bless you is instilled at a young age so it became a social norm for certain groups or communities. It was believed that when one sneezed the devil could come inside you so everyone would give you their blessings, at least that is what my informant was told. She later learned about the history behind the belief in high school when she learned about the bubonic plague. People would say “bless you” because if you sneezed, then there was the chance that you had the plague, which evidently meant death.
Background Information
My informant is Elizabeth Kim, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. She and her parents are Catholic, attending church every week. Her parents constantly attempt to instill in her religious values and while she does deem herself as Catholic, she is far less intense or strictly abiding to Catholic customs or practices. She found the saying interesting because it is so common among a variety of groups and communities, yet not many people know of or have different variations of why people say “bless you” when one sneezes.
I was interviewing Elizabeth towards the second semester of our freshman year outside of Parkside Apartment at USC. The setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
Personal Thoughts
It was interesting to hear about the overlap in education and religion. The commonalities between the two reveal that there can be these similarities bringing together the two. It was also interesting to hear about Elizabeth’s difference in values from her parents yet their common belief or practice.

Don’t go to bed with your hair wet

“My mom used to tell me, growing up, to never go to bed with my hair wet. Because that is the cause of you getting sick. But I’ve never gotten sick after going to bed with wet hair. In fact, I do it a lot.”


My informant immigrated from Shanghai with her mother when she was five years old. The idea that going to bed with your hair wet could make you sick seems to be a common one among immigrants, as most children of especially Asian immigrants that I interviewed told me the same thing.

Many Asians still rely on traditional medicines, and so it makes sense that they would have traditional folk beliefs about getting sick to accompany this reliance. Especially before industrialization, a cold could turn deadly; any methods of prevention were likely taken, even if they didn’t necessarily make sense. The belief that wet hair makes you sick is likely a holdover from those days; the belief has been passed down through the generations so that, even though we now know that wet hair is unlikely to make one sick, it is still a persistent belief in many cultures.

Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine

This folklore was collected from my friend who practices acupuncture and uses herbal medicine instead of drugs. It has to do with her culture as a Taiwanese-American. She learned the practice from her father. The practice is important to her because not only is it a large part of her culture as an alternative medicine that originated from Asia, but it is also important because it is a way that she can help other people develop good health. To her, it is a way of embracing her individuality and her culture while being utilitarian. We were talking about the concept of balance within the body one day after learning about how the body balances its own changes to ensure that the body will be able to survive. She brought up how acupuncture uses another standard to determine the state of illness and uses less unnatural means of treating disease.

According to her, disease is not specifically caused by the diseases that people normally suffer from. Instead they suffer from an imbalance of qi in their body, which is wreaking havoc on the internal balance that is usually present. People are a balance of yin, yang, and the five traditional elements of fire, water, wood, metal, and earth. When there is a buildup of one that affects the body, the qi loses its effectiveness in flowing throughout the body. That then causes the illnesses which people identify through the symptoms of the patient and their pulse. When qi is stagnant and is not flowing readily through the body, which poses a serious risk. As a result, acupuncturists will use needles in order to stimulate the acupuncture points. Qi is said to flow in channels along the body with a large number of accompanying and interconnected acupuncture points. In stimulating specific acupuncture points, a specific area of the body will be affected and allow the qi to flow properly. The proper points must be stimulated, however. According to the speaker, by stimulating the wrong points at the same time, there could be much more massive harm done to the ill person. This is why during headaches, it is recommended to not rub the center of your forehead. There is a pressure point there, but that is along a meridian that is very influential on your health. Stimulating that specific pressure point by rubbing it or tapping on it will only make it worse. Stimulating the acupuncture points on the side of the head are usually more effective because they help to relieve the stagnating qi flow and balance out the elements within the body.

Acupuncture is not the only way to healing illnesses. Usually, more often than not, food can also help heal the illnesses without requiring acupuncture. Along with poor qi flow within the body, are also external factors such as temperature and humidity. For example, when the body is too hot, which is indicated through fever, redness, swelling, and other such symptoms, the body must be cooled with a food item that has the innate property of coldness such as peony. In counter balancing the elements that are in disharmony, the body will eventually recover and will no longer be ill. In this way, bodies that are suffering from cold must be warmed with something hot. Something that is chill will be cured with something warm. There must be great caution not to be excess, or the body will again be imbalanced and a new illness will erupt. Perhaps the most common herb is ginseng. It is widely acknowledged as a powerful medicine. It has wide effects, and is known as a warm herb. It will cause an increase in energy, blood flow, and is widely good for health. The meridian it stimulates helps regulate qi flow as well. However, in excess, its medicinal properties are too strong, and it will be dangerous for the health to continue taking it. In most cases, acupuncture and traditional medicine will go together to work in unison to help cure the problem. Acupuncture places a burden on an ill person especially since it involves regulating qi flow. If the qi flow changes very suddenly, then it can be dangerous to the person’s health. As a result, by using food along with less intensive acupuncture, the person will more naturally adapt to the change and be much healthier. Adding yin to excess yang and adding yang to excess yin is one of the fundamentals. Balancing fire, water, earth, wood, and metal with their respective counter elements is also an essential part of this. When the cycle continues naturally, then the person will be at optimal health.

These are holistic forms of medicine and curing disease. Although they are not “proven” because they use Eastern ideas instead of western, they still provide means of providing aid for people. By balancing out their internal state, they will find true harmony within themselves and be at peace. They will no longer be ill through this curing of the body’s ills.

I find the concept of acupuncture very interesting. I do find that it is effective, having undergone it myself. It is also important as an Asian cultural practice. It reveals another way of looking at medicine instead of being limited to one way in particular. In doing so, it opens up the possibilities that a better cure will be found for diseases that are known and present. While listening to her explanation, it seemed to make sense. In a sense, it is a cultural legacy that is passed on from generation to generation. The Asian people are indicated to be very in touch with nature through this particularly because the concepts of the body and the natural occurrences of illness are all linked to natural elements of the earth. In maintaining harmony within the body with the elements and outside of it, then everything has met its equilibrium point. It is an indicator that people are constantly searching for harmony in their lives. Without it, people find that they are ill and need to regain that inner balance.

Beware of the Cold

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“So other things that my parents told me about like cold being bad for you is that when I get out of the shower, I should dry my hair otherwise the cold will give me like, headaches when I grow up. And I shouldn’t work out in like a really air conditioned or cold environment, because I’m going to get sick and not like cold sick but like lifelong illness and pains. So yeah, that’s what they told me.”

The informant’s parents are Taiwanese. My parents would tell me things similar to this all the time. It seems like Taiwanese people have a lot of problems with the cold. Since air conditioning is a relatively new invention, the fear of air conditioning is reflective of the suspicious attitude towards new things that many older Taiwanese people hold. Even in the United States, many parents tell their children to dress warmly to prevent them from catching a cold. However, it has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that cold temperatures have little to do with illness and colds. There is no causal relationship. So how did this association between cold and illness come about?

A professor at USC studying alternative health beliefs explained to me how, based on her research, the belief came to be. Long ago, before modern medicine and the advanced understanding of disease we have today, lower class citizens often lived in squalor, had poor nutrition, and did not have the resources to keep warm. Due to compromised immune systems from malnutrition coupled with poor sanitation, diseases spread quickly through these perpetually cold populations and eventually being cold became tied to illness.

Korean Superstition – The Ill at Funerals

“The physically ill in Korea do not attend funerals in fear that death will find them.”


My informant first heard about this superstition when about a decade ago, she was puzzled by her mother-in-law’s unwillingness to attend her (as in the mother-in-law’s) brother’s funeral.  When Gwi questioned her opposition to attending, her mother-in-law who is from the rural city of Daegu in Korea, explained that she was already ill.  Spirits at the funeral could sense an ill person’s presence and would follow her home.  She was afraid of the spirits following her after the funeral to take her with them, so she avoided going.  This kind of superstition is wide spread among the country folks in Korea.  They would never attend a funeral no matter how beloved the deceased was to them if they are ill because they believed the spirits would mark them as the next to die.

If I were battling a fatal disease, I would feel too vulnerable to go to such a gloomy and morbid ceremony.  Not necessarily that I believe spirits would follow me home, but I would be afraid to watch a funeral because death would just seem so real and closer to me.  However, I would still find the courage to attend a beloved’s funeral because perhaps I may find consolation in that death does not have to be so scary and remote as many people make it out to be.