Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: March 25th, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin
Informant Background: The informant was born in Los Angeles. His family is originally from Taiwan. He grew up with his parents and grandparents who still speak Chinese, he does too. Many of his relatives are in Los Angeles so they all still practice a lot of Taiwanese/Chinese traditions and celebrate all the Chinese holiday such as: Chinese New Year, Ancestry day, Chinese Ghost day, etc. He said his family still hold many Chinese folk-beliefs and superstitions. He also travels back once in a while to visit his other relatives who are still back in Taiwan.
A farmer grows a garden of this very puffy vegetable. He would harvest and give to his wife for cooking. After his wife cooked the vegetable he observed that when he gets to eat the vegetable, it is much smaller after cooked than when harvested. The farmer realized every time he brings his wife the vegetable, he sees less at the dinner table. He thought his wife was stealing from him and beat her for not cooking what he harvested.
In actuality this particular kind of vegetable shrinks once cooked. So the wife did not steal, the vegetable got smaller just because it shrunk down under hot water.
This kind of vegetable has a proper name but also called “the wife-beater vegetable” as a nickname.
The informant stated that the name “wife-beater-vegetable” is a common name for this particular kind of vegetable in China among Mandarin speaker. He said that his parents told the story when they were eating this particular kind of vegetable. It is unknown if the legend is true. According to the informant the name has spread around enough that the name is common and known by many.
I think this particular story shows a lot of principles and beliefs in Chinese culture, whether it exists today or not. First, the husband farming and the wife cooking show how male is the dominant gender in that culture. It also shows how women are associated to household chores and the kitchen through cooking. The husband beating the wife because of the misunderstood disloyalty clearly reflects the female submissive role in the culture. It also shows how the kitchen space is a separate female space.
The story also has a dark humor element to it. The misunderstanding made me laugh a little but to think about a small misunderstanding leading to beating is quite harsh.