Tag Archives: lesson

Bake Your Own Cookie

Background provided by NN : NN was born and raised in Southern California. They were raised in a Chinese-American household and experienced many different forms of folklore. 

Context: NN was approached about folklore, they conveyed it through a telephone call. NN says that her father tells this tale whenever they are lazy. They also revealed that this particular folklore had evolved to be a joke after they learned how to cook and bake. 

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information):

NN: “ So … like … my dad tells me this story … ALL the time. He usually tells me … when he thinks I am being … lazy, or whatever. The story kinda … always begins … with “There was once a rich man” (accompanied by air quotes) who had … like everything done for him. He never had to … umm … lifted a finger … like AT ALL. Servants … wiped his butt, like … fed him,  they did everything for him. (Pauses for effect) One, day, after he got married his, ummm … wife had to … like … uhh … visit her family for the … the … holiday. She baked her husband  a large cookie, and like put in on … a … string  and put it on around his neck. AND she left to visit her family … for … like a week. When she came back home,  she …  her husband was dead.  Like … he was in the same position … like when she left him … and like the cookie around his neck was not eaten. He was too lazy … to even lift the cookie … to like … eat … so he died. My dad would always say something, like … (deepens voice to imitate their father) “See … work won’t kill you, but being lazy will. Do you want to have someone bake your cookie for you … or what.” 

Analysis: This particular short story is has morbid humor. The laziness of the man is obviously dramatized to highlight the importance of hard work. It seems like the story is told orally and had even evolved into a joke amongst close family members. The moral of the story remains despite the context of the perfomance. It also acts as a representation of Chinese values. The lazy man can also be interpreted as subtle commentary on the partriarchal society. The wife had provided substance for her husband, but his choice led to his own demise. Another interesting layer to this tale is the financial component; the lazy man had never done anything for himself because he had the financial means to outsource all his tasks. This tale could have originated from the working-class as way of encouraging their chidren to embrace work instead of focusing on the scarcity of money.

Even Monkeys Can Fall from Trees

Original Phrase: 원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다
Translation: Even monkeys can fall from trees.

K is a Korean American whose parents are of Korean ancestry. He is currently in college. He says that he had heard this proverb from his parents. This piece is memorable to him because he tries to take this message to heart when it comes to doing anything.

Context: This proverb came up in a discussion about proverbs. There was a back and forth between interesting proverbs and what they meant before this piece came up.

This proverb is very similar to other childhood proverbs in that it uses animals to teach children an important lesson in life. This lesson is that even the best, most specialized people can still fail. So do not be over confident. This is because monkeys are typically seen as adapted to living in trees. They spend all their time swinging from tree to tree, often looking like there isn’t a care in the world. In reality, however, these monkeys will still miss and fall from the tree. This message is pretty important to children as it teaches them to be humble about their skills. If you become arrogant and comfortable with your skills without being sufficiently cautious, you can still fail.

“Iru di nma adiro nma itu mbo”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community.

  • “Iru di nma adiro nma itu mbo”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Iru: face
      • Di nma: is nice, beautiful
      • Adiro: is not
      • Nma: nice
      • Itu: to throw
      • Mbo: nail
    • Full Translation: A beautiful face is not good to be scratched, meaning do not ruin a good relationship or look for trouble where there is none.
      • Explanation: This proverb is especially important to my dad because it represents a warning against telling lies or spreading unsupported allegations about someone. My dad learned this from his own father. This expression presents a metaphorical scenario where an individual scratches[falsely accuses] a beautiful[innocent]person. It means that a person in power should not accuse someone without any valid evidence and that in doing so you are not only telling a lie about that person, but you are also ruining a possible relationship and starting unnecessary trouble.  

Thoughts: I have to agree with the premise of this proverb because I grew up in a household that always emphasized the importance of never telling lies and not starting trouble. The saying is indicative of many of the life experiences that my parents have amassed living here in the United States. My dad, in particular, suffered a lot of hardships from individuals that would take his kindness and trust for granted and would try to discredit his character. However, this proverb speaks to a profound belief that my dad possesses. He believes in the law of karma, or the idea that if you lead a good life and stand by truth as opposed to lies that your good nature will be rewarded. I grew up with the heavy rhetoric of telling the truth and I honestly believe that it is one of the reasons why I am not a good liar. This proverb really speaks a lot of truth into who I am as a person, and who my dad still is. While I still tell the occasional white lie here and there, I do my best, to tell the truth, and I hope to pass that on to everyone I interact with.

“Onitsha ji azu awu”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community.

  • “Onitsha ji azu awu”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Onitsha: Onitsha
      • Ji: uses
      • Azu: the back
      • Awu: urine
    • Full Translation: Instead of confronting troublesome people, you avoid conflict by making an excuse to leave[i.e. use the restroom] and leave that environment through the back door.
      • Explanation: According to my dad, this is a pinnacle saying among men in the village of Onitsha, where he grew up. This saying serves to represent the ability of an Onitsha man to assess a situation and leave when it is appropriate for him to do so, avoiding conflict and maintaining his dignity and pride as a man. My dad learned the village elders of Onitsha and it stands as a saying to exercise heightened awareness in regards to the safety of your environment and or surroundings.

Thoughts: While this appears to be a proverb directed towards men within my dad’s village, I believe that this proverb can be taken as a message for both men and women.  Growing up my parents would always tell me and my brother to always be aware of our surroundings and be observant so as to prevent walking into danger. When I left for college, the premise of the saying became very real for me because I heard a lot of tragic events and or stories in regard to people finding themselves in situations that they did not understand how to escape. Now as a young adult, I exercise the message of this proverb almost every time I leave the safety of my apartment or dorm room. There have been situations where I have had disagreements or conflict with people that I know and a lot of times I always ended up leaving the situation and returning later when things have cooled down. While I agree that some situations can prompt one to leave and never return, I do believe that this caution can still be exercised by staying in a risky but manageable situation. There is always a level of conflict associated with working with others, so I think it’s important to exercise caution but also do it in a way that is solution-oriented and non-escalating. In this context I wouldn’t just leave an instance of conflict unresolved, instead, I would try to deescalate the situation and find a solution but if the situation gets out of hand then I will figure out a way to leave.

“Nwata adi ebu orika”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community. 

  • “Nwata adi ebu orika”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Nwata: child
      • Adi: does not or should not
      • Ebu: carry
      • Orika: heavy
    • Full Translation: A child should not carry the responsibility of the entire house or the responsibility of taking care of themself, meaning that parents have a responsibility to make sure that their children do not carry a burden that they cannot yet carry.
      • Explanation: My dad grew up in Nigeria and learned this proverb from his father[my grandfather]as a child. He remembers it well because it’s an important aspect of the community when he was growing up. He talked about the fact that “It takes a village”, meaning that it was important for adults in the community to support and help a child develop and grow. This is why it was stressed heavily that children must not be burdened by responsibilities that cannot carry.

Thoughts: I found this proverb to be quite compelling and that it really speaks truth to how I was raised. I am Nigerian American so I grew up hearing proverbs like this from my parents. This proverb is one that I have heard often, and I understood its meaning to be that as a child I should not try to overload myself or overextend myself. After talking with my dad about this, the meaning became more clear. While I should not overburden myself as a child, it also puts the responsibility on my parents to make sure that they handle their responsibilities and give me what I can manage. Indirectly this proverb has influenced a lot of my decisions because I always consult with my parents when I plan on taking on a new responsibility. Every decision becomes a dialogue and I always make sure that I understand now, that some things I cannot do by myself and I am grateful that my parents are around to alleviate and take on some of my burdens.