Archive for the 'Tradition' Category

04
Mar
09

Forget the stork…

So my mother and I were chatting the other day and somehow the subject of where babies come from came up…

I was telling her about my long-held belief as a child that I was really a fairy princess and they were just weird people who were posing as my parents (this was generally rumination resulting from a certain sulky line of thought probably due to being denied the chance to watch more TV or forced to *gasp* do homework) until my REAL parents would whisk me off in a breeze of sparkly fairy dust and grandeur once I came of age.  (I may have read a bit too much imaginative literature in my impressionable youth.)

There was a (slim) amount of logic behind this supposition.   I’d never seen any baby pictures of me around though there were certainly photos of my baby brother in his cutting-teeth phases.   (Years later while cleaning out the basement and opening boxes, I did discover my baby pictures… complete with hair that defied gravity much more fetchingly than Don King’s.)  My mother thought that I’d have been able to see the resemblance between my father and myself (I had much better hair– for the record.)  Oh, and the fairy princess part was just because I figured my particular variety of weirdness necessitated a  supernatural basis…

Anyway, instead of the stork or cabbage patch as a diversionary tactic of squirrelly parents who don’t really want to answer the ever-present childhood question of  “where did I come from?” my mother insists that Taiwanese parents would generally say that they picked up the kid from the train tracks.

Sneaky parents–I mean, instead of some bird coming and dropping off the bundle of joy, they cast themselves as heroic saviors of babies left between the train tracks (obviously by poor parents who just knew someone would be along at some point…)  My mom said that this was generally said with laughter and then would be used by siblings to insult each other (i.e.  “Hah– you’re not even really mom and dad’s!  You were just left on the train tracks!”)

My mother said her parents never tried this with her or her siblings and she had no idea where the tradition of telling children this white lie came from.  After all, it must have been around the Japanese occupation, I’d guess, considering they did a lot of railroad building.  I wonder what people evaded their kids with before that…

15
Feb
09

Valentine’s Day

Taiwan celebrates the idea of love three times a year by including the Valentine’s Day of February 14th and the Japanese White Day in addition to the traditional seventh day of the seventh month when singletons go to temples to burn incense and pray to meet a lovely significant other.   On the February 14th Valentine’s Day, Taipei 101 lights up a heart and malls everywhere are dotted with sales for your sweetie (Really, the US should be so inclusive– we could have tried stimulating the economy with Lunar New Year withdrawals to give each other money in red envelopes).  Taiwan has also adopted White Day from Japan.

The traditional 7-7 day is the once-a-year meeting of the weaving maid and the cowherd across a bridge of magpies.  It always rains on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, since the couple are said to be crying at their reunion.  This past summer I got to visit a temple to observe the dances and sniff the incense celebrating 7-7 day.

In spite of all these modern celebrations of love, traditional Chinese love stories as far as my limited knowledge allows are rather grim.  My aunt and I spent a good chunk of the summer watching old period movies from Hong Kong that my mom and her sisters watched long ago.  The love stories all end unhappily.   An emperor falls for a mistress-spy from one of his conquered kingdoms, who costs him the empire.  A fairy falls for a human and ends up forced to return to heaven alone.  The one happy story was based on a real-life artist-poet who infiltrated a household so he could woo one of the daughters and make her his wife (in real life she was his ninth wife.)  My aunt said the abundance of  sad stories is because people there love to cry at a good tragedy.

So people in Taiwan have three days to either feel bitter, depressed, and lonely, or nervous, warm and fuzzy.

Whether you’re in a cosy couple or single and free, I hope you had a lovely Valentine’s Day with chocolate on top.

7-7 day Chinese poem (scroll down for the English translation).

12
Aug
08

A quick post…

I’m much busier than I thought I would be here in Tainan.  Apparently my Chinese has improved to the point where my aunt can tell me Chinese mythological stories about the gods and goddesses and after a very long time of her explaining every other word to me, I can understand why the lovers are separated by higher powers…

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen the celebrations for the children turning 16, and the lunar 7/7 day which always rains at night because the weaver and the cowherd are reuniting on a bridge of birds, and raining tears of joy and sadness.

I also picked (and nibbled) longyen (a fruit directly translated as dragon-eye), gave myself a mini-shower in my first attempt to pump the flooding from the typhoon out of the basement (oh, right, attaching the hose–an excellent idea, and I didn’t actually electrocute myself!), and got a mini-lesson in shufa or Chinese calligraphy from my aunt (well, it’s more like beautiful Chinese printing for my very elementary skills at writing words).

Tainan is hot, but there is oftentimes a small (if also at times warm) breeze floating through the air. 

Oh, and I printed out some of the photos I’ve taken over the years for the very first time, and they turned out well!  It was rather exciting, since they usually sit in my hard drive…

I’ve gotten myself (slightly) lost walking past temples, and through back alleyways which are so narrow one can hear the voices behind the doors chatting in Taiwanese.

My aunt and I stopped by Chikan towers, where there was a quartet of musicians playing traditional Taiwanese songs and children’s music (the theme to Doraemon was one of the ending pieces), in front of a backdrop of beautiful Chinese buildings that I’ll have to go back to shoot photographs of during the day at some point.

My Chinese has improved to the point that people now ask if I’m from Singapore, instead of Japan when they meet me and realize I speak English and Chinese that has possibly progressed from tot to pre-school level.

25
Jun
08

Taiwanese Manners

Since Yanni needed some advice on meeting a Taiwanese mother-in-law, I figured I’d list things that got me into trouble with more traditional family members.

1.  Do not leave chopsticks sticking up in your bowl.  It’s the way food is presented to dead ancestors, so a definite no-no at the dinner table.  (I got into trouble with my grandma over this…  This, and thinking that it would be cool to make the faces she did without her dentures in when she happened to be upset with me because I was a smart-alecky kid who didn’t have proper manners…)

2.  Hold the rice bowl with your thumb at the side and your fingers beneath the bottom.

3.  Do not wear red to a funeral or at all when a relative dies.  Dark colors or muted light colors are fine.  (I was prepared for the funeral, just not the everyday no-red rule.  This resulted in an emergency visit to a boutique for a plain white shirt.)

Other things I’ve heard/observed include:

4.  Give and receive gifts with both hands to show respect.

5.  Gifts are generally opened by the receiver later when the giver isn’t present.

6.  Don’t write names in red pen (this one I first ran into in Korea and then in Taiwan–  apparently it’s either how names of the condemned are written or names of the dead are written, I’m not sure which.)

7.  Apparently giving a gift of a tie to a guy is a very personal thing and would mean you want to “tie” them to you… (the female equivalent is presently escaping me)

8.  Don’t give a gift of a knife– it can “cut” the relationship… Or you can take a coin as a token payment.

Of course, this is hardly exhaustive and I do encourage visitors to add in comments for the gaps I’m sure I’ve missed.

Sometimes in Taiwan, I feel like people seem to expect me to know what I’m supposed to do automatically because I look Taiwanese or my parents grew up here.  However, growing up, considering the only Taiwanese people I knew were related to me and we only saw them on long weekends, there were significant gaps in my education.  Since I have the social grace of an elephant with its foot stuck in its mouth pretty much anywhere, yeah, I wouldn’t rely on me to be a proper Miss Taiwanese Manners.  Most awkward situations are bettered by a sheepish grin.

Good luck Yanni!!!

15
Jun
08

By Anping

Puppets and lions for sale…

Pigeons. Racing pigeons by setting them free far from home and seeing whose pigeon returns to the coop fastest is a fond pastime in the countryside.

Chickens…

Pottery– there was a make-your-own pottery shop which I found tempting.

Pottery wheels!

A dragon on the Matzu temple, outside of which were many stalls selling things.

a quick shot of the temple interior, which was heavy with incense.

Neither of the horticulture students I was with could identify this flower, which makes me think of Lorca’s handkerchiefs… For some reason I also find myself thinking of all those old movies where ladies wave their handkerchiefs to trains of men moving on to wars. It’s just such a neat shape.

29
May
08

Visiting the temple

Proxy pilgrims are the dummies inside the cart– they are sent by people who can’t come themselves to tour the country and visit gods in different temples. They are wearing the shadows of the lanterns leading to the temple.

The market outside the temple.

Chatting in front of the temple by the fireworks cage.

Once we got inside, and asked if it was okay for me to be a shutterbug inside the temple, I kind of went a little nuts…

Continue reading ‘Visiting the temple’

24
Apr
08

Red

is the color of luck and happiness, weddings, and Chinese New Year.

So I was rather surprised when my tutee told me that it’s also the color for suicides. I discovered this because I was wearing all red one day and waiting to meet him by the dry well that would be a fountain if someone turned it on instead of just a little depression with rocks and lights in it. Sipping from my little boxed juice, I was accosted by a greying gentleman who began to flatter me and ask for my contact information. He does get the metaphorical points for the ability to try to pick me up in English. He was bespectacled and apparently lounging about during the afternoon at the park since he is a retiree with heart difficulties. When my tutee arrived, the poor fellow was interrogated as to whether he was my boyfriend (I’m sure my face was red to match the rest of me at that point), and I bid the farewell as we carefully casually made our way out of the park.

According to my tutee, perhaps a reason for the gentleman’s odd attempt at romance was due to the tradition that women who wanted to create strong vengeful ghosts would don red before their suicides. (An extensive google search found this interesting article which has a paragraph way down about red-dressed suicides). So in an odd logical leap, perhaps he was only chatting me up because he was worried about me dunking myself in the not deep, not watered well and doing some mean haunting.

Personally, I wear red as a pick-me up. I decided it was my favorite color after being undecided (evading the favorite color question in middle school with “iridescence”– why, yes, I’m a dork!) for a very long time.

But although it is the adopted color of Republicans (it is also the adopted color of Communists, so there’s always a flip-side), I love red.

Red roses stood for love triumphant in Victorian flower symbolism as Anne’s House of Dreams tells me. (This rose is from my grandmother’s garden).

I got into trouble for the predominance of red in my wardrobe (which isn’t really completely my fault, as a chunk of my clothes were thoughtful gifts from aunts with good taste who early on realized my cousin liked blue, so I got the red stuff) when I came to Taiwan for a brief visit once. We were headed to my uncle’s funeral, and I had a black dress for the funeral itself, but had no idea that there was mourning clothing involved outside of it for family visits that required pale or dark clothes. Traditional funeral wear is pure white, but I guess western influence having bleached brides white from the traditional red, has darkened mourners into black for funerals. So I ended up on an emergency visit to a boutique before visiting the rest of the family, after sending the bit of it I was staying with into slight shock when I trotted into breakfast with a red shirt on. Fortunately, this being Taiwan, I was able to get a white shirt off the rack that fit instead of tented on me in five minutes.

Anyway, I only mention red because I was once again wearing complete red trying to liven myself up after a mosquito-disturbed slumber the other night. My class was discussing a dream Buck the dog has in Call of the Wild, when one of the boys (teaching middle school age children has reminded me why I was so happy to grow out of middle school) started joking about it. I, in my over-tired trying-too-much state, said something like it was certainly NOT that sort of a dream, going into a literary comparison with the boy’s dream in The Giver. Then there was laughter all around because all the boys remembered that particular incident in the book, and none of the girls did. I ended up hiding behind a book laughing in spite of myself, and asking if I was red. One of my students said, “Yup, your shirt certainly is!”

This article has more info about red and Chinese culture.




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