Tag Archives: police

Heroism by a Police Officer in Minnesota

Main Piece

“They get a call that this guy, who had had some problems before, and he [Nick] had actually dealt with him before, was holding his family hostage in his house [the criminal]. The guy is holding his family at gunpoint, maybe he was holding them for money… I don’t know what it was for. He said he would shoot anyone who came in the house with a gun. My uncle wanted to go in…so he gave somebody his gun and went in. He knew the man and so he went in and convinced him to let the family go.”



Nationality: American

Location: Willmar, Minnesota

Language: English

The “cop” in the story is the informant’s great uncle Nick, but this and other stories were originally told to the informant by the his great uncle’s brother, the informant’s Grandfather. The informant didn’t fully believe the story until he attended Nick’s funeral. There, the informant heard the story told by other people, and now the informant completely believes the story. The story is one of the most important things that the informant remembers about his late great uncle and how great of a man he was.


The informant’s great uncle was a police officer from the 1950’s to the 1980’s in West Central Minnesota, and the story occurred somewhere in this time period.


Despite the informant’s great uncle making use of guns his whole life, his greatest act did not require one. I find the story interesting because although it happened not that long ago, the details are already fuzzy and Nick’s act, although heroic, could easily have been greatly exaggerated. It is also possible that the loss of details actually undersells Nick’s act.


Chinese Religious Folk Practice – Calling the Soul

This folk practice was collected from my Father. My father was born as a farmer’s son into a veteran’s family in Taipei, Taiwan. His father and mother ran away from China to Taipei during the Chinese Civil War. Many of his cultural practices and beliefs are taken from mainland Chinese culture. Because of his background, he is considered a “mainlander” in Taiwan (Chinese in Taiwan are divided into Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese or indigenous). My father graduated from Iowa University with an MBA. His B.A was obtained in Taiwan.

When we were having our regular telephone session, he told me the following recollection on the phone in Chinese when we were talking about a few strange police cases in the past:

(This is not a direct transcription or translation. It’s based off what I remember him saying)

” When a man dies or goes missing in the mountains or river, and the police can’t find his corpse, they’ll always resort to calling his spirit as part of the investigation, like a sort of last resort. The police will take a taoist sorcerer and the missing man’s family, along with some of his possessions such as clothes, into the mountains or river; anywhere, closest to where the man went missing. The Taoist sorcerer will then perform a ritual and ask the family to call out the man’s name while holding out his clothes;  this practice is called the “calling of the soul”…. The family usually continues this “calling of the soul” until the body is found. And usually, right after this ritual is performed, the missing man’s corpse will actually appear or the police will find the corpse somewhere in the next few days. You might think I’m joking, but I’m not. Many cases have been solved in this fashion! You see it on the news all the time.”

When I asked my father the significance of this practice, he said:

“There is a traditional Chinese belief that a person’s soul stays on earth for a week before it leaves. The police ask the taoist sorcerer and the family members of the deceased to perform this ritual because the police have faith in this belief.”

I believe my father is quite right in the significance of this practice. The police and the people involved truly believe in this folk practice and they actually perform the “calling of the soul” as a last resort, after all the help that modern science and technology can give, to find the body of the deceased/missing family member. While I am not in any place to judge whether or not the folk practice of calling the soul or this folk belief is true or not, the fact stands that it has worked before, which furthers the belief in this tradition. Moreover, the idea of this practice appearing on the news as something legitimate the police do reveals the deep-set beliefs in the supernatural and the particular idea about the afterlife that Chinese culture have. This item also shows that despite the modernization of China and Taiwan, there still remains a heavy belief in the supernatural superstitions, practices and beliefs that were passed down generation to generation.

Riddle – American

The informant learned the following riddle from his parents “years and years and years ago”:

“What’s black and white and red all over?” He gives several possible answers for the riddle, the first being the one his parents gave him (“A newspaper”). The others he mentioned were “a panda in a blender” and “a police car with a sunburn.” He claims to have “heard millions of variations on it, some of them more logical than others.”

The informant used to perform the riddle often as a child: “When I first learned it I told it to everybody I knew ’cause I thought it was hysterically funny at the time.” However, he almost never tells it any more.

The informant has great contempt for riddles in general: “I think it’s enormously stupid. I think most riddles are, especially the one that kids tell, are ultimately, uh, sort of the weakest form of humor possible.” He does make a distinction, however, between children’s riddles and adult riddles: “Riddles in my mind are either more pun-type riddles, in which case they’re usually, uh, they’re usually kid based in the sense of, uh, of they’re playing around with the idea that your brain thinks in one way and it’s actually being tricked; or they’re the more traditional riddles such as the one that the sphinx tells and stuff, that are much more about human condition, and those, I think, are riddles that adults, if they tell them at all, it will be adults telling each other because kids won’t understand them.”

The first answer to the riddle that the informant gives makes of it a “true riddle”—that is, there is an obvious answer to the question if the listener thinks about it in a different way, the pun being on the word “read” as a homophone for “red.” The police car answer seems like a deliberate attempt to be ridiculous, since it is obvious that a car cannot get a sunburn, but the panda answer is an obvious bid for shock value—since pandas are both “cute” and endangered, many listeners could be shocked and appalled at that answer. Clearly, from the informant’s assertion that he has heard many versions of the riddle, it has both multiplicity and variation. Archer Taylor recorded the riddle with the newspaper answer in his book English Riddles from Oral Tradition in 1951 (624).


Taylor, Archer. English Riddles from Oral Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951.