Matrimonial, yet scatalogical… Amongst other things

I visited my zhongwen lao se (Chinese teacher) for dinner and to chat and crochet last night.  We had dinner at her in-laws, who have a lovely house and served gwa bao (at least, that’s what I think it was kind of called), cuttlefish, chicken, and chicken pineapple bitter melon soup (really neat, tasty bunch of flavors).  The gwa bao is kind of a wrap that is made out of manto– a steamed white bun, except the gwa bao is flatter and folded over.  You open it up and fill it with something like parsley, salty pickled vegetables, powdered peanuts, and pork.  It’s delectable.  Apparently, it’s a special dinner and only served once a year (though I was rather stymied as to what exactly the special occasion was supposed to be about, other than the upcoming new year).

After a nice supper, we headed over to her place and sipped fruit tea.  We’re both Anne of Green Gables fans and I need to get her and her husband to watch The Princess Bride (he likes swashbuckling).

We got on the subject of her wedding, and she told me that when Chinese people get married, their parents need to agree on the things they should buy.  The bride is supposed to buy her groom twelve particular things  (a suit, etc.), and he’s supposed to buy her six.

One of the things the bride is supposed to have to start their lives together is a chamber pot.  It’s a new red plastic pot with a symbolic sugar stick inside it, a handle, and a removable top with the double happiness characters stuck to it.  It’s supposed to ensure that her husband will have wealth.  The Chinese word for what goes into a chamber pot is hwang jin, which also means “yellow gold.”  Therefore, if they have a chamber pot, which the bride brings to the groom’s house, they will have wealth.  My zhongwen lao se isn’t really sure what to do with some of the things they had to get when they  were married– like the chamber pot, wash basins, etc., which people don’t really use anymore.  I suppose a chamber pot is easier to carry over to the groom’s house than a modern toilet, though…

On her wedding day, my zhongwen lao se had to step over fire– not an open fire– a little pot with holes in it and a cover.  In her long, flowing white dress and high heels, she had to step over the fire to keep bad spirits from following her.

Also, people are supposed to keep and feed chickens for a few months when they get a new house.  The Taiwanese word for “chicken,” “ge,” is a homonym for the word for “house” (if I recall correctly).  Therefore, people are supposed to have a pair of chickens when they get a new house for good luck.  A rooster and a hen, which would be rather difficult to accommodate in a modern apartment.  Therefore, my zhongwen lao se has a lovely little basket with tiny rooster and hen dolls.  They do have a lovely home, so the rooster and hen dolls must be working.


3 Responses to “Matrimonial, yet scatalogical… Amongst other things”

  1. 1 Rayshiang
    February 14, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    These are interesting customs that I had not heard of until now. Thank you for sharing! It is funny that you mentioned “a modern toilet”! A modern toilet would never “work”, because it flushes! No one wants to flush away any gold!

    Long skirt, nylon stockings, stepping over a fire! Isn’t that a formula for a disaster? Did she had a fire distinguisher near by? I think some of those traditions are no longer appropriate in today’s life style. Just a thought.

  2. 2 S.C. Goh
    January 9, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    Have just discovered your site, but have enjoyed the articles. A minor correction:

    The Taiwanese word for “chicken,” “ge,” is a homonym for the word for “house” (if I recall correctly). Therefore, people are supposed to have a pair of chickens when they get a new house for good luck.

    The Taiwanese word for chicken, /ke/, (the /k/ is voiceless so sounds like the [k] is the English word ‘sky’) is homophonous with another word /ke/ which means ‘to augment’ or make more’. Eg: ‘ke kha ze’ means “augment extra more” or “some more”. If a parent were pouring you some soda, but you wanted more, you would say ‘ke kha ze’.

    The Taiwanese word for house is /zhu/ (the /zh/ is an aspirated alveolar affricate). The word for chicken /ke/ takes a high tone, while the word for house /zhu/ takes a low tone.

    It’s common to bring a chicken to someone’s new home as a housewarming present, because since ‘chicken’ and ‘more’ are homophonous, the act of bringing a chicken is a symbolic wish that the occupants of the house will always have more (a cornucopia).

  3. January 22, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Thank you so much for the clarification! One of the perks to keeping this blog is learning more from my readers. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog.

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Free Rice

February 2007
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