Tag Archives: lunar calendar

Vietnamese Mid-Autumn Festival

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 25
Occupation: PhD Candidate
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/15/2020
Primary Language: Vietnamese
Other Language(s): english

Transcribed from my friend telling me about an event from his childhood memories. 

There is a festival that happens in Vietnam in the autumn, or mid-fall. It goes according to the lunar calendar, it is on the 15th day of the 8th month, which is usually somewhere between september and october according to the western gregorian calendar. I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty lit. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures, it has the mooncakes and the fun red lanterns. It seems to mean something different for many people, but what i have always gleaned from it and what my family and surrounding area focused on was the simplicity of it. A lot of people are poor, so these lanterns are made out of paper and it is just a fun thing for kids to run around and play with. It was never a super fancy thing, but the moon cakes are great. As kids we would literally just run around with our friends and our lanterns. Sometimes you could use this as an opportunity to flex on the people around you by bringing a cooler or more complex lantern than your friends. People could make lanterns there. There was this giant dragon that people would get inside of and dance in. It was just a really lovely time to be a kid and hang out and families were all cool with each other for the most part then and outside things didn’t matter, just the quality time with the people around you. 

Background:

The informant grew up in south Vietnam. While he hasn’t been back to Vietnam since he moved here for school nine years ago, he still has found memories of moments like this. He really appreciates the more family-focused and genuine interactions the culture there can promote versus the often isolationist  and heavily commercialized culture he experiences in the states. 

Context: 

I asked my friend about his favorite memories growing up at home. We were just eating dinner before quarantine was in place in Los Angeles and reminiscing about our childhood and simpler times in the world. 

My thoughts: 

Growing up in Southern California in the U.S. I often feel I did not necessarily get wholesome family experiences as they are not as attainable in the culture here. The closest thing I can think of would be going to Disneyland with my family, but that was more or less a financial burden on my parents for my sibling and I to have fun. Nothing ever really joy filled for us all to come together and just vibe, outside of maybe 4th of July. 

Veganism for Buddhism according to Lunar Calendar

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 25
Occupation: PhD Candidate
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/2020
Primary Language: Vietnamese
Other Language(s): English

Main Story: 

The following is transcribed between myself and the informant, from this point forward the informant will be known as TT and I will be MH. 

MH: Are there any food specific traditions you and your family or area would partake in? 

TT: Well, I really am not sure if this is outside of where I grew up or not, but according to  the lunar calendar on the 15th and 30th of each month we would go vegan.

MH: Every month? Is there religious value to that or just something that is done?

TT: Well my family is Buddhist and a lot of Vietnam is Buddhist so I feel it is something most connected to those values. The families my family was friends with would also partake in that. I’m confident it has something to do with being “pure” in the eyes of Buddhism. Even though I no longer live at home with my family and do not align with any religion, I instinctually find myself wanting to eat vegan a couple times a month out of habit. 

Background: 

My friend grew up in South Vietnam and often thinks about the more rigidly held traditions he and his family would partake in back home. He sometimes misses that familial, communal and regional duty to tradition experienced there versus the lack of heavily structured traditions that exist on the grand scale here in the states. 

Context: 

I often find myself eating vegan and I find I feel better, and I was asking my friend – who mainly seems to be extremely meat focused- if he could go vegan and then it launched us into this conversation. 

My Thoughts:

I think there is something to be said about cycling through being vegan. Many people who are not even apart of Buddhist cultures believe that being vegan cleans your body and can also in turn help you mind.

Chinese New Year

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese American
Age: 23
Occupation: Part time Tutor
Residence: Hong Kong
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This is a transcription of an interview with a friend from high school, identified as A. In this piece, I am identified as IC.

IC: So, tell me about Chinese New Year. Where does it come from?

A: Lunar New Year is something that happens at the beginning of every calendar year and so it’s also often referred to as the spring festival. There are 12 animals that represent each year and how this myth came to be is that there were these animals who were basically told to engage in a race to determine who would be symbols for each year. The twelve animals in order are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. The rat is first because it rode on the ox’s back and cheated.

I heard about a variation that the cat was tricked out of the race by the mouse which is why they hate each other. I forget exactly how the cat was tricked out, but this supposedly also explains why cat chases the mouse so much.

IC: What does your family does to celebrate? Like what do you eat and what activities do you do?

A: And so one of the things that we eat every year is this thing called 年糕 (nin gou) which translates to new year cake and so it’s this It’s like not really a cake it’s like a slice of it’s like glutinous. We also eat 蘿蔔糕 (lo baak guo) which is like a radish cake and it’s my personal favourite. Then there are traditions associated with it and the most popular with children at the very least is the giving of the red package.

IC: Yeah, I remember those.

A: Yeah, so it’s married couples, and only married couples, give away red packets to the younger generation.

IC: Why is it red?

A: It’s a symbolism of colour because red a lucky colour in Chinese culture and that’s why you see in Chinese brides wear red during weddings, simply because it’s a very lucky colour. So, by giving red package, the deal here is that you’re helping give them luck for that year.

IC: How much money is in the envelope?

A:  That depends on the person giving the envelope. So usually newlyweds give less because they won’t have as much money and also, they don’t want to build high expectations. But the tradition is called拜年 (bai nian) and first you go to your father’s grandparents place to pay respects for the new year and then you go to your other grandparent’s place. I think that’s the order but I’m not really particularly sure about that because my dad’s parents live in LA, so I usually just go to my mom’s side of the family for that. It’s just going there spending time with your grandparents and like wishing them well for the new year.

IC: Are there any specific things that you’re supposed to do to pay respects or is it just like talking to them and spending time with them?

A: Well, this applies to the whole festival in general actually but there are a lot of four-word sayings that you say.  They are blessings that you say to people. Some examples are 年年有餘 (nin nin yau yu) which means “may you be prosperous every year” and 快高長大 (fai gou zheung dai) which means “grow up well”. The main one is 恭喜發財 (gong hei faat choi) which means “happy new year”.

IC: Yeah, I remember that phrase. Are there any other foods that you eat? Like aren’t you supposed to eat fish or something? That’s what I remember from Chinese class in high school.

A: Are we? I don’t know… I don’t think we do that.

IC: Oh, okay. I mean, I guess it’s different for everyone. Like you don’t have to eat everything you’re supposed to.

A: Oh, there is this one thing where Chinese households have a candy box during New Year. I don’t know why but there’s a box of candy and sweet stuff in every household.

Background:

My informant is 23 years old and she is my friend from high school, which was in Hong Kong. Though she is American, she went She went to New York for college and graduated last year. She is currently working in Hong Kong. She knows about this tradition because her family is from Hong Kong and celebrates Lunar New Year.

Context:

I asked her about this tradition because I vaguely remember learning about Chinese traditions for Lunar New Year during Chinese class in high school. I thought it would be interesting to ask someone who comes from a Chinese/Hong Kong background to ask about the specifics since I don’t know much about it. All I knew was from textbooks designed for speakers learning it as a second language.

Thoughts:

Hearing my friend talk about how her family celebrates it and the traditions that she knows about was interesting to hear as different countries celebrate it differently. It was informative to learn about some foods that she eats and sayings other than the popular phrase that means happy new year.

Wear red in the year of fate

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 48
Occupation: Senior manager
Residence: China
Date of Performance/Collection: 2020.4.27
Primary Language: Chinese
Other Language(s):

Main piece:

In Chinese lunar calender, there is the twelve-year cycle represented by twelve animals as zodiac. When it is the same zodiac as the year you are born, you are supposed to wear red. No matter it is underwear, socks, or any clothes, you should always have a piece of red on your body. It would bless you a smooth year of fate.

Background information:

2020 is the year of mouse, which is my mother’s zodiac. One day we are changing cloth in the room, I saw her wearing a red underwear which is not her style. So I asked her about it and she told me this custom of wearing red in the year of fate. She also said she heard it from her parents and apprantly it is a wide spread agreement in Chinese society. She said I also wore red when I was 12 but I don’t remember.

Context:

This piece was collected quickly through a daily talk with my mother when we are in the middle of doing something else.

Thoughts:

Chinese people have a positive belief of the color red. It represents good luck and can protect us from bad things. I think there may not be any scientific proof behind this color belief today, but there might be some relation in the past. For example, maybe red helps people to discover each other in dangerous situation. Or maybe red makes people feel warm. Anyway, I am always glad to see my mom wear something colorful.

Haircut in the First Lunar Month Kills Your Uncle??

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: Mar 13, 2019
Primary Language: Chinese
Other Language(s): English

正月剪头死舅舅

Zhèng Yuè Jǐan Tóu Sǐ Jìu Jìu

This is a Chinese saying that literally means “If you get hair cut in the first month of Chinese lunar calendar, your uncle (your mother’s brother) will die”.

 

Context: The collector and the informant were talking about weird Chinese sayings and customs heard from parents. The informant is a USC student from Beijing.

The informant heard this saying from his mother. Once he planned to get a haircut in the first month of Chinese lunar calendar. His mother stopped him by telling him this saying. However, he forgot his mother’s word and went to get a haircut anyway. Then his mother asked him to text his uncle new year greetings and whish his uncle a year of great health. The informant found it funny and that is why he always remember this saying.

Even though the informant’s mother didn’t necessary believe that her brother would die because her son got a haircut, she didn’t think that was a good sign.

The informant doesn’t believe the saying.

The informant doesn’t know why there is this saying. He guesses it is only because it is in rhyme (“Tóu” and “Jìu”).

 

Collector’s thoughts:

I have also heard of this saying, but only with little impression. I thought it was a very weird saying or custom. Maybe it’s because Chinese people view renewable body parts such as hair and finger nails also as important part of body granted from parents, so it is an ominous sign to cut hair in the first month, a meaningful period of time that is supposed to pave the way for good luck of the entire year.

However, I did some research online and found an explanation: After the Manchus overthrown the Ming Dynasty and established the Qing Dynasty, the Manchu government enforced a policy on Han people that all Han men should shave their hair and have the required hairstyle like the Manchus. Han people valued hair very much. Hair being shaved was considered humiliating. Many Han men refused to follow the policy as well as other oppression, which led to some massacres. The result was Han people passive resisted by not getting haircut in the first month of the year to express their longing for the lost Ming dynasty as “思旧 (Sī Jìu [Literally: Longing for the past])”. However, as the saying was spread, “Sī Jìu” turned into “Sǐ Jìu Jìu (Literally: Uncle dies)”.

Reference: http://www.sohu.com/a/59020978_349043

中秋节 (Mid-Autumn Festival)

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/19/17
Primary Language: Chinese
Other Language(s): English

Informant: Hannah is an 18-year-old student, born and raised in China before moving to Los Angeles for college. Her parents now live in Japan, but they return to China to visit family during the summer.

Main Piece: “For the Mid-Autumn Festival, we all eat mooncakes and stare at the moon and think of our family. The circle, like the full circle, symbolizes wholeness. When you’re staring at the moon, you’re all thinking about the same moon, so you can send your love to each other.”

Background Information about the Performance: The informant still performs this tradition, even though she now lives in the US. She considers it important since she lives so far away from her family. She learned it from her parents and grandparents when living in China.

Context of Performance: The festival occurs in the middle of autumn on the lunar calendar, around late September to early October.

Thoughts: This festival reminds me of other harvest festivals around the world, such as Holi or Thanksgiving, in which the intent is to promote togetherness.

Full Moon Celebration

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 40
Occupation: Stay At Home Mom
Residence: Arcadia, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23, 2016
Primary Language: Vietnamese
Other Language(s): English

JT is a 40 year old Vietnamese woman who lives in Arcadia, California. She grew up in her home country and immigrated to the US as a teenager. Here is a Vietnamese tradition she remembers from her childhood:

“The Vietnamese have certain holidays that are, in some ways, like the Jewish tradition of Passover, were we don’t eat certain foods and eat others that are special to that holiday. One of the most important celebrations is the Full Moon. I was very young, but I remember that during the full moon, we would go to the Buddhist temple, where there would be tables and tables of vegetarian food- we didn’t eat meat during this time.

Who was usually cooking that food?

They didn’t always cook it there. You could have vegetarian foods from restaurants- during that time, every restaraunt will have the vegetarian dishes. It’s becoming more common now for restaurants in Vietnam to have vegetarian dishes all the time, too.

Do you know why you celebrated the full moon?

I remember that it wasn’t every full moon- some full moons were more special than the others. We used a lunar calendar, not like the American Calendar- it’s the Chinese version. The full moon of the “month of 7”, for example, was very significant. But the biggest one was the full moon of January- this is called Tet Nguyen Tieu– was the most important because it was the first full moon of the New Year. Everyone would go to temple then and pray for good luck in the New Year.

Is this something you still celebrate?

I usually do, but it’s inconvenient- we do it in our own way, buying more fruits and vegetables instead of eating meats around the full moon. We do it at home. Most Buddhist families we know do this too.

 

My thoughts: This piece is interesting because it shows how a Chinese tradition like the lunar calendar has spread to other parts of Asia as well were the festival changes to reflect that particular culture. This piece also shows that many different cultures have similar beliefs when it comes to the concept of the New Year, such as wishing for good luck in the year to come. This may imply that Vietnam is a future-oriented culture- the informant also told me that Vietnam has been ranked the most optimistic country in the world!

The informant noted that each Buddhist family havstheir “own way” of celebrating the full moon. If it’s inconvenient to go to an official celebration at a temple or to go to a Vietnamese restaurant, the family will alter their eating patterns at home. This shows how each family incorporates their own family folk customs with official religion as well.

 

Eastern Age

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 72
Occupation: Retired
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 14, 2013
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Eastern Age

This folklore was told to me by my father. He immigrated to America 40 years prior to this date. Having grown up in Korea and then having moved to the United States, he had experienced a slight culture shock. In living here for so long, he essentially gave up a part of his culture as a Korean-American because it was just so unused. I had asked him how I old I was in Korea because they had told me while I was there that I couldn’t drink yet because I was off by a couple of months. In America, I’m off by 3 years. So I asked him what system people used to measure age in Korea, and this was the answer he gave me. I just sat there and listened as he recounted the traditions that he used to follow in an older generation.

Eastern age is different from western age. It’s counted differently. Asian people actually count the 9 months in the womb as 1 year, so when a baby is born, it is already called 1 year old. After that, the birthday is no longer really important. It is still celebrated as a legal day of when your age increases, but that is not the traditional way of measuring age. Actually, you gain one year on the New Year’s Day every year starting from when you are born. As a result, ages can be quite varied. Children who were born on February 9th this year were considered one. However, as soon as it became February 10th, which was when Seollal was, they were considered 2. They are only a few days old legally, but in the Asian culture, they are two. As a result, two standards of measuring age are used. One is used in everyday life in terms of people interactions and fortune telling, which is a part of Asian life. It is rare that people will ask for your legal age, unless you are doing things that involve the government and whatnot. In terms of trivial matters, then it is only your eastern age that matters. The other method utilizes the Western way of measuring age, which is you turn one a full year after you leave your mother’s womb, and is used for legal purposes. This tradition is actually starting to die out in Asia when people no longer recognize the lunar calendar as well. Some people still do celebrate their age on the New Years, however, so it does have some people who still practice this. This tradition only really applies in Asia, however. In coming to the United States, everybody had to rethink about how old they were because non Asians don’t utilize the same system to count age as we do. All of a sudden, everybody’s age dropped by one to two years because they were no longer considered one at birth, and they gained age on their literal birthday rather than the coming of the new lunar year.

I thought that this system was very interesting. It uses a system ultimately very different from the Gregorian calendar that is currently in place. It is not so applicable to me because I live in America, where we use the western way of counting age. However, when I talk to fellow Asian students, they often ask for my Asian age rather than my real age. That is really the only chance that I have to embrace my Korean culture in terms of time. So in a sense, it is important to me because it is something that I can do. However, in the broadest sense, this is an interesting practice that seems to have stemmed from a different origin entirely in comparison to the system that non Asians use to measure time.

Chinese Zodiac

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/19/12
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Chinese

A long time ago, 13 animals lived in harmony. The 13 animals were the rat, cat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The king organized a race, telling the animals that they must compete in the race. In this race, the animals had to cross a fast flowing river and get to the other side to receive their prize, but there were only 12 prizes available. The rat and cat were really good friends, but were worried that they would not finish the race because they were both poor swimmers. The two came up with a plan. They went to the ox and admired the ox’s strength, asking if the ox would be kind enough to let them ride on its back across the river. The ox agreed. The race began and the ox quickly took the lead with the rat and cat sitting on his shoulders. When the ox neared the bank of the river, the rat pushed the cat into the river. The cat struggled to swim but was washed away by the currents. Then, the rat decided to jump off the shoulder of the ox, taking first place. The king gave the rat its reward, which was that the first year of the zodiac would be named after it. The ox received second place and got the second year of the zodiac named after him. Then the tiger crossed the bank and got the third year named after it. Then the rabbit appeared and got the fourth year named after it. Then the dragon appeared and got the fifth year named after it. Then the snake appeared and got the sixth year named after it. Then the horse appeared and got the seventh year named after it. Then the goat appeared and got the eighth year named after it. Then the monkey appeared and got the ninth year named after it. Then the rooster appeared and got the tenth year named after it. Then the dog appeared and got the eleventh year named after it. And then, in last place the pig appeared, slowly trudging along, and got the twelfth year named after it. Crawling out of the water, the cat appeared, but did not receive a prize. Since then, cats and rats have always been enemies. And that is how the animals of the Chinese Zodiac came to be.

My informant first heard this myth from his parents around Chinese New Year. That time of year lends itself to this story as it serves as an explanation for the ordering of the years in the Chinese Zodiac and is the basis for the personality profiles of people born in the different years.. This myth is fairly wide spread and has a number of different forms. Here I have included my informants favorite version, but there are others that include why the dragon. This myth emphasizes intelligence and cunning over brute strength, as the meek rat is ultimately triumphant. It also seems to condone betrayal, as the rat is rewarded despite his actions.