AX: “There’s this old story about something called the Monkey King, and how he goes from being… he goes through all these trials and training, like Hercules and the twelve trials. He goes from this little monkey who goes through all these problems, solving some and causing others, he ends up achieving godhood and he’s the savior. He has a trusty staff that can expand in size. It was very special that we had to remember that he has 72 transformations. It’s him, a pig, and like a sage, and there’s a monk that all of them follow. A journey to the West. If you go west enough, further west, you’ll hit mount Olympus, or the equivalent of that: enlightenment. So they try and go to the West and everything. It was important that the monkey king had 72 transformations, his little brother had 36, and then his youngest brother had 18, it was very important that we remember that. So this Monkey King has a band around his head, it’s gold and it’s enchanted, so his monk, his master can chant something whenever he’s misbehaving and it’ll tighten around his head in punishment. So like as they journey to the west, he always has this headband on him, so when they finally reach the west and everything, Buddha takes off the golden band and replaces it with a halo to represent how he’s gone from being imprisoned from his thoughts to him being enlightened, above that. When it was on his head, it was in contact with his skin, but when it was replaced, it hovered slightly above it.”
Context: AX is a freshman at USC studying English—she’s a fellow student in our folklore class and knows the material well. She grew up in Chino, a small suburb outside of Los Angeles. She’s of Asian descent.
AX: “My mom always called me her little monkey king, and would threaten me. Don’t make me put a red band around your head! Like, yes ma’am. I cannot misbehave!”
Analysis: The Monkey King is a common story, common enough for me, a white Californian, to have heard of it. Right off the bat, she compared her story to Hercules and the twelve trials. In Western society, Hercules is more commonly known, partially due to academic emphasis on Greek/Roman mythology and the popular Disney movie Hercules. AX’s childhood in California may have resulted in this association, almost a need to preface with a comparison to Western culture. I wonder if AX’s knowledge of the folklore class impacted her interpretation. The numerology of the story itself is interesting, especially since AX knew they were important but didn’t know what they mean. All of the numbers AX said are multiples of 2, 3, 6, and/or 8, which are all lucky numbers in China. And, of course, each is a multiple of the other. 18 times 2 is 36, and 36 times 2 is 72. 72 in particular is frequently used in Chinese folklore, occurring across a vast number of stories, and it’s the base of calculation in the ancient Chinese calendar.