Tag Archives: liminal

Funeral Headbands


H is a pre-med Biology major at USC who grew up in Vancouver, Washington. His parents immigrated to the US from Vietnam.


H: “For funerals, you have to visit every day for the first week after the funeral and then once a week for seven weeks. And then, on the hundredth day since the funeral, everybody comes back to the temple. It’s like, the biggest day for them (the dead). You pray for them, wish them well at the temple. The hundredth day is when you have everybody together and you have a big feast. You have these white headbands that you wear and on the hundredth day, they chop off the headband.”


Since H was raised in a Viet-American household, he and his family’s celebration of weddings is similar to an Irish wake funeral, but also adds cultural specificity to Viet customs. For example, it is common in Irish funerals to throw a party on the deceased’s behalf, not only as a celebration of the deceased when they were alive but as a re-engineering of the domineering sorrow of a funeral. H’s feast on the hundredth day pays homage to the one who died without inviting negative emotions into the celebration of the individual.

Funerals are a liminal space, as Von Gennup puts it, lingering between the stages of life and death in a person’s existence on Earth. Rather than using funerals as a chance to mourn, H and Irish funeral traditions connect with members of their community and pray for safety into the next part of existing for the dead. This acceptance of death, the massive respect and commitment to the dead after the funeral, seems cultural, as does the white headbands and time. There is an acceptance of death as time marches on, not a denying of it. Rather, H’s family seems to come to terms that nothing can get in the way of death but glimmers for an appreciation of life and the one the once dead led.

Just throw everything in: The Platoon Stew

Main Piece:

The 부대찌개 (read: Buddae-jjigae) takes the words 부대 (Buddae) meaning army unit and 찌개 (jjigae) meaning stew/soup together. It is a prime example of the melding of Korean traditional cooking with an American influence. Korea before the technological and cultural factory it has become now was once an incredibly poor country and before and during the Korean War in the 1950’s. U.S military troops that arrived and fought there were supplied with many canned foods.

When the war ended, the troops left with the preservable food still around and post-war Koreans decided to utilize these provisions to good use. Using an old Korean vegetable stew and ramen noodles as a base, a myriad of other foreign ingredients such as hot-dog sausages, baked beans, cheese, and canned spam were added to the pot which resulted in the Army/Platoon Stew. Some people say that the stew was cooked and being eaten out of the left-over helmets. While it has a set recipe that acts as the foundation, many other elements and toppings can be added or removed by the preferences of the audience, adding more American style toppings or more traditional Korean ones.


The informant is my father, a proud Korean native born just after the Korean War’s end and a veritable library of knowledge on the country’s history and folkways. His lineage unites the two divided Koreas as his family hailed from the northern territories following his father’s escape to the South. His passion led him to previously be at the head of government funded Korean-American tourism business based in the Midwest during the early 2000s, promoting America to Koreans and Korea to Americans. As per South Korean law, he had also experienced mandatory military service where the stew’s relatively simple recipe makes it a favorite among the others serving their time. He often brings up it to the family when anything Korean ever makes it on the news such as movie stars or someone famous saying something positive about Korea.


I asked about the naming convention of one of my favorite Korean dishes many years ago and received an answer from both my mother and father who provided the recipe and its history, respectively. I asked once more when I had to help make one for the family.

My Thoughts:

While it carries no commemorative experiences by itself, the Buddae-jjigae to my mind perfectly symbolizes the start of the westernization of Korean culture, for better or for worse, while also standing at a liminal point between America and Korean cuisine cultures as well as traditional cooking and “modern” cooking. My grandparents and parents are often critical of the younger Korean generations for being rather dismissive of the traditional foods and forgetting many of the cultural ceremonies and rituals but the Buddae-jjigae serves as a proper bridge that generations both old and new can enjoy. Its recipe can also involve as many ingredients as one chooses, the tougher and traditional means creating homemade stock while the simpler methods are using prepackaged beef or chicken broths. It brings back fond memories of my hometown in South Korea where my and my family would talk to one of the famous restaurants that only served this stew but could only house four parties which meant that there were lines outside constantly. It brings a smile to my face every time I see some American celebrities and T.V Food Critics such as Anthony Bourdain and Andersoon Cooper talk about how much they loved the dish. Apparently even Lyndon B. Johnson loved it.

High School Senior Prank

Main Piece:

Me: So at your high school, senior year, some of the kids made a slip and slide?

J: Yeah… so basically, right by the cafeteria there’s this.. ramp? For some reason? And people would just (laughs) set up the slip and slide there and they got– I think they got like water, or maybe it was– no, I think it was water. And they just created this slip and slide and they all just went down it. And a lot of people recorded it on their snapchats but I did not partake, because I was a good student. And also, I did not run in those crowds, so I wouldn’t do something like that (laughs) so uh… I didn’t participate but I did see it happen. I think another thing people did was… I heard stories about people, like, setting like, baby chicks into the hallways (laughs) and letting them roam through the school, but I’m not even sure if that’s true. But I feel like I heard about that. 

Me: So the slip and slide thing, it wasn’t like a slip and slide that you could buy? People just set up water and went down the ramp?

J: No, I think they set up a tarp, or some sort of rubber or something– but then they ran– I don’t know if it was water or… it was some sort of liquid or some sort of substance and then they all like ran through– they all dived down the ramp (laughing). It was like all the popular kids at my school, like all the jocks and whatnot. 


My informant is a senior at USC as of the year 2021 and is from the same state as me (Iowa) in a city not too far from my hometown in the capital. He attended a public high school in a suburban neighborhood, where he witnessed this prank during his senior year. He expresses that he did not participate in the prank, as a certain “crowd” of students were the ones who initiated and participated in it. He explains that it was started by the “popular” kids at his school, who were mostly the student-athletes and other kids who were infamous throughout the school for pulling such pranks. He tells me that he recalls administrators bolting past him in the hallways, which he now realizes was in response to this prank. It is now a funny memory for him, though he was never one to participate in it.


This is a transcript of our conversation over zoom. My informant has been a mentor for me throughout the year, and this story came up during one of our bi-weekly meetings where we catch up with each other on life and school.


I like this story because it is something that I never got to experience. Unfortunately, my senior year of high school was cut short due to the pandemic, so the opportunity for a senior prank was slim. However, it’s nice to hear others’ stories because these pranks are almost always humorous and can get outrageous. I also feel that this senior prank is a good example of the liminal period. Because high school seniors, in their last stretch of high school, are in the process of transitioning from one identity to another, they are caught in a state of being identity-less. They are not quite high school students anymore, but they also have not assumed the identity of a college student, or have started a professional career yet. Being identity-less can bring great freedom, but also feelings of tension and stress. Pranks are thus a vehicle for relieving this stress. Creating a slip and slide in the middle of a hallway in the school is a clear example of a prank that can alleviate the stress of this transition while enjoying the rebellious freedom of finishing high school. Further, I also find the dichotomy of the participants and the observers in this story interesting. Rather than being a prank that all seniors partook in, the prank was mostly controlled by a group of students that are stereotypically thought of as more powerful than other students. This may suggest that the freedom to rebel may not be something that all students feel they possess. Despite this, all of the seniors enjoyed the prank whether they participated in it or observed it. 

Bay Area Ghost Story

Informant EB is 52 years old and recounted the story of a paranormal encounter he experienced last fall:

Have you ever experienced anything that you would consider to be of supernatural origins?

“As a matter of fact, I have. First some backstory. When my wife and I were purchasing our home we were told by the realtor that the prior owner, a contractor who had built the house himself,  had committed suicide along the side of the house due to financial difficulties and his wife leaving him. Early last November, a day or two after Halloween, I was walking my aging dog whose hips are starting to fail around the walkway surrounding our property in order to avoid her straining herself by climbing up the stairs inside. Upon rounding a corner, which due to tree cover and a lack of windows on that side of the house was submerged in near complete darkness,  I saw, for only a split-second, what could only be described as a face come rushing at me before passing right through sending a curdling chill down my spine. My dog started barking incessantly and I, obviously shake, continued on into the light of the front of the house and inside.”

Did your opinion regarding the existence of the paranormal changed after this experience?

“Yeah I’d say so. I wouldn’t say I didn’t believe in the paranormal prior to this experience but having never had any personal encounters I definitely had my fair share of doubts. I’definitely say this experience has solidified my belief in the existence of the supernatural to some extent.”

What context would you share your experience in?

“I have told several people in the month since. Whenever talk of ghosts has come up in conversation I’ve brought it up.”

How did people react to your experience?  

“A mixture of fear and skepticism. I would be skeptical too had I not been the one to experience it. ”


Analysis: The story took place “a day or two after Halloween” meaning it quite likely could have fallen on November 2nd, which is also All Souls Day. All Souls Day is a day on which the Catholic Church remembers those dead that are now in Purgatory being cleansed of their venial sins and carrying out the temporal punishments for their mortal sins. November 1st or 2nd is also a part of the three days of Day of the Dead festivities popular in Hispanic cultures during which the souls of ancestors are remembered and are believed to return from the dead to visit their living relatives. As such the soul of a man who had died via the mortal sin of suicide would, according to the catholic doctrine and Hispanic customs be more likely to appear during this time frame. A motif common to many ghost stories and which also appears in this story is its occurrence in a liminal location, the property line between the former homeowner’s property and that of his neighbors.

The Well of Lost Souls

“My second ghost story umm happened just only a few years back, maybe about three years ago. When my children and my sister decided to take a visit to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Umm it was around Halloween time and they do a umm haunted ship or a haunted Queen Mary tour. Umm I’m kind of a scaredy cat and a chicken, so I went ahead and I sent my sister, who loves to be frightened and scared, with a portion of my family and I went ahead and decided to take a tour of the ship by myself with my two younger children.
So as we went ahead, and we started walking up and down the different floors, we decided to catch the end of a tour on one of the upper decks. So, as we were walking through, I guess it was the main deck to the back side of the ship, or which I believe is called the stern. We saw the tour enter this back umm entrance of the ship, so I -we- happened to be held back, because I think one of my children, her shoe was untied, so I went ahead and tied that. In that lapse of time, we kind of lost the group that we were following, but we know what area that they were going to go ahead and tour.
So we started walking down these red steel steps and my daughters were first and I was following behind them and as I made it to the bottom of that landing, I look up to my left and I see a sailor dressed in, I guess, its nautical clothing or a sailor’s outfit, but very dated. And he looked like he was behind a boiler, so I kind of shook my head and continued to walk through this what looked like an empty office with a lot of windows, a panoramic view basically of the bay. As I was walking through this area, I had a very uneasy feeling and at the same time, my middle daughter, she turned to me and she said “we need to get out of here and we need to get out of here now.” So I asked her “what happened, what happened?” And she says” we just need to get out of this place right now.” So we left that area of the ship and we went back to the main deck to catch some air. And when we arrived up at that upper deck, I asked her what happened and she said while she was there and even though we were the only ones now that were touring that area, because we had lost the other group. She said that there was a hand that or this pressure that came across her neck and was squeezing her neck very tightly and making sure that she understood that there was a presence there with her, but not a good presence, a bad presence. So between my daughter’s incident and what I saw and the sickening in my stomach, I was convinced that I needed to go and either find a historian or talk to somebody who knew of the sightings of the Queen Mary.
In my head, I kept on hearing this… this… I don’t want to say a voice, but I kept on hearing “the well of lost souls.” It was repetitious in my head. And the more this was happening the more I was desperate to find somebody who had answers for the way I was feeling and the incident that happened to my daughter. So when I finally got to the entrance, mind you, of the Queen Mary, which is also on the main deck, but kind of I guess it’s the lobby, they directed me to a historian who was in the bookstore. And I had told him of my account and what I had seen and what my daughter had seen. They had confirmed that yes the sailor that I saw is a frequent spirit that is always there and is always seen. That the ill feeling I had in my stomach and this word of “the well of lost souls” umm because what happened in that area that we were touring happened to be behind the – in front- of the infirmary umm and below that was the morgue. They had told me also that their main offices was in that portioner that area of the ship, but because there was so many sightings and incidents they had to relocate all the Queen Mary corporation offices off of that area and actually on to the main land. So, that was a little strange.
They also told me that the ship in itself had actually 49 deaths that happened on the ship and it was also called the Grey Ghost. Because Not only was it a luxury liner, but in World War II, it was a transport ship, so that’s why it was called the Grey Ghost, because they had painted it grey. During that time that it was a transport ship, there was an incident in the atlantic as it was crossing the atlantic with a sister ship, where the sister ship was sinking and the Queen Mary was zigzagging through the debris of this fallen ship and they had left behind 300 survivors in the water, of shark infested waters. So here you have also a guilt I guess, of these 300 people -I’m sorry- ya 300 people that were suffering in freezing cold water with sharks that were left at sea and either got eaten by the sharks or drowned. So since then, I do not go back to the Queen Mary and will not go back to the Queen Mary even though it is a tourist attraction, because I will never want that experience or wish that experience on anybody. I hope you enjoyed my second story and thank you for listening.”


Firstly, this story shows a harmful and unfamiliar ghost. In the sighting and incident, the ghost appeals to the senses. In the case of the storyteller, she sees him. In the case of her daughter, she feels a pounding on her neck. It is important to notice that ghosts can be perceived in different ways and not solely through sight. Secondly, this story draws a line between official and unofficial history. Most people are not aware of thew massive and horrible 300 person death in the seas. The Queen Mary tries to bury this secret and the ship is haunted by its guilt in a sense, because the ship has frequent sightings. Lastly, it is important to notice the way in which the Queen Mary staff talk about these stories, because it shows that ghost storytelling is a business in which money can be made.