Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hotel Ghosts: Protocols (Taiwan)

First, a story . . .

This story was related to me by a student's mother a number of years ago. She insisted the details of the story really happened as she related them.

There is a hotel in a major city in Taiwan, and this hotel is reputed to be haunted. (I myself stayed there once, but nothing out of the ordinary occurred.)

This woman, her husband, and her then very small children had traveled back to Taiwan to see family members. After visiting all the relatives, the family of four took off on a brief private tour of the island. They arrived in the city where this particular hotel is located. Exhausted, they checked into the hotel, went up to their room, washed up, and went to bed.

Around midnight, the wife kept being woken up when her pillow was snatched from underneath her head. Assuming her husband was playing some kind of childish prank on her, she gave him a good jab in the ribs the third or fourth time the pillow was yanked away. He woke up and asked her why she had done that. She told him that she was annoyed he had picked that time to play a joke on her with the pillow. He denied he had been doing that. His protests convinced her he had been indeed sleeping. They both got dressed and then woke and dressed the children. They went downstairs to the front desk.

"What's going on in that room you gave us?" she told the clerk. "My pillow keeps getting pulled away from under my head!"

The clerk looked around and then told her quietly, "Sorry. In that room . . . a . . . dancehall girl committed suicide . . . "

The family was given a refund, and they checked out and found a different hotel.

Someone I know from Taiwan who wishes to remain unidentified told me that "there are some rituals to employ before entering a hotel room so as not to disturb or disrespect the ghost or ghosts that might still be inside."

The following are the reported protocols:

1. First, before entering the room for the first time, one needs to knock to let the ghost know a visitor
    is about to enter. It is said some hotel guests will go as far as to announce verbally in a polite tone
    that they are preparing to enter as they knock on the door.

2. Once inside, one is to turn on all the lights--ceiling and bathroom lights as well as bedside lamps--
     to allow the yin (陰 or 阴; i.e., the dark, passive, negative, occult, hidden) to become the yang
     (陽 or 阳; i.e., the bright, active, positive, open, unhidden).

3. One is advised not to hang up clothes in the closet lest a ghost lurking there enters them.

4. Shoes, once taken off, should be placed on the floor side by side so that one of the shoes points
    in the opposite direction (e.g., the heel of one shoe is placed next to the front of the other shoe).
    Doing so confuses any ghost who would put his/her feet into the shoes.

5. The comforter should be patted down and then pulled back before lying on the bed. Why? This is
    done to warn the ghost to leave the bed and blankets before the guest lies down.

6. One light should be left on all night, presumably to maintain some yang in the midst of the yin.

7. Finally, it is advised never to take the last room at the end of the hall or the one way in the back of
    the building. If ghosts are skulking, they are likely to take such a room.


A disclaimer: The above represents popular folk beliefs among only some and not all of the residents of Taiwan.

I might be wrong, but I seem to remember the lady who told me of her experience in the haunted hotel room also mentioned that ceiling lights flashed on and off after she had woken up her husband with a jab to the ribs. 

Not hanging clothes in the closet is likely based on the same belief that it is not a good idea to leave clothes hanging on the clothesline overnight for fear ghosts could occupy the garments. Rearranging the direction of the shoes is reminiscent of those worldwide customs that involve counting rituals to flummox malevolent supernatural beings; for example, one can drop beans, which then forces the ghost or other entity to count them rather than do any harm. This reflects the notion that, while ghosts are highly dangerous because they are the antithesis of the living and jealous because they cannot be alive again, they are essentially stupid and easy to bamboozle. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Some Taiwanese Proverbs About Roosters and Chickens

Happy New Year--the Year of the Rooster! I hope you enjoy the following sampling of Taiwanese proverbs about hens, roosters, chicks, and chickens in general selected for the new year.

1. 雞嘴變鴨嘴 The mouth of the chicken turns into the mouth of a duck. (Said of someone who first       speaks forcefully, determinedly, even stubbornly but who then ends up being unable to speak at 

2. 雞母帶子輕鬆, 雞公帶子拖帆 The hen is relaxed taking care of the chick, while the rooster
    finds doing so tough going. (Said of an individual who takes on a task for which he/she is 
    unqualified. Think of the Norwegian folktale "The Husband Who was to Mind the House.")

3. 雞仔腸, 鳥仔肚 Chicken intestine (but) bird stomach. (Said of situations, problems that cannot
    be remedied.) 

4. 雞母屎, 半黑白 Chicken droppings are black and white. (Describing one who is irresolute, one
    who lacks a point of view.)
5. 有看雞, 沒看人 To see the chicken but not see the person. (Said of someone who is "a work in
     progress," someone with potential, like one who is still "a diamond in the rough.")

6. 大猴哄雞 The big monkey frightens the chicken. (Describing someone without forbearance or 

7. 偷掠雞也得了米 A poached chicken ending up with a grain of rice. (Said of someone 
    encountering a great stroke of luck.)

8. 曹操吃雞筋--食之無味, 棄之可惜 Cao Cao's eating chicken muscle--a flavorless thing to
    eat, yet throwing it away would be a pity. (Cao Cao, the archvillain from The Romance of the
    Three Kingdoms, is often encountered in proverbs. This proverb reflects the desire to 
    "have things both ways" but faced with the reality that this isn't possible, as well as wanting
     to hold onto things of little or no value.)


台灣歇後語 [Taiwanese Folk Similes], Wu Reixing, ed. Tainan: Duanbo, 2002; 最新俗成語智慧
[Wisdom From the Latest Common Proverbs], Wang Shuixing, ed. New Taipei City: Junjia, 2012;
台灣諺語集成 [Integrated Taiwanese Proverbs], Guan Meifen, ed. Tainan: Wenguo, 2002;

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Owl Seeks a Wife (Guangdong; Hakka)

The owl wanted to marry the partridge, so he enlisted the help of the pit snail for help, to serve as his marriage broker.

"All right, " said the pit snail to the owl, "listen very carefully. The partridge is very pretty; we all know that. As for you,  you are a fine, sturdy fellow, but there's one problem: your eyes are too large! Now, when you meet her, keep your eyes closed! Otherwise, you're liable to spoil the whole deal when we go to see her!"

"All right" was the owl's reply.

"And let me do the talking!"

"All right."

The day came when the pit snail arranged for the owl and the partridge to meet each other for the first time.

The owl kept his eyes closed as the pit snail built up the owl in front of the partridge, bragging how great, how wonderful the owl was. All was going splendidly according to the plan, with the partridge showing more and more interest in the owl as each minute passed.

Then the owl decided to take a tiny peek at the partridge. He had seen her from afar, of course, but couldn't resist the temptation of glimpsing the lovely partridge now that he was this close to her. What harm could a little peek do?

Well, there's no such thing as "a little peek" from an owl. When the partridge came face-to-face with the two huge saucer eyes staring at her inches away, she immediately flew off to a nearby hillock.

"Whew!" she squawked. "That was close! I was going to marry him!"

The pit snail was fuming. He turned to the owl and said, "I told you, I told you, I told you to keep your eyes shut! Why didn't you listen to me?"

All the owl could say was "Ku-hu! Ku-hu! Ku-hu!"

From far away, the pit snail and owl could hear the partridge say, "Sha-gua! Hao-ah! Hao-ah!"


广东民间故事全书:汕尾陆河卷 [The Complete Folktales of Guangdong: Shanwei & Luhe Volume]; Guangdong Union of Arts and Literature; Guangzhou: Lingnan Meishu; 2008; p. 159.

Shanwei and Luhe are districts of Guangdong where primarily the Hakka (AKA Kejia or Hakkanese 客家) dialect is spoken. 

This pourquoi tale purports to explain the origins behind the cries of, respectively, the owl and the partridge and what they actually mean. In the story, the owl's cry of "ku-hu" is written as 苦呼, suggesting something like "Oh, the pain!" or "The bitterness!" The partridge's "Sha-gua! Hao-ah!" 傻瓜! 好啊!can be translated as "Fool! Good!" or "Okay, idiot!" The "pit" snail 坑螺 had the character  attached, suggesting this tiny creature was a shape-shifter. 

Motifs: A2426.2.17, "Origin of owl's cries"; A2427.3, "Hooting explained"; A2462.2, "Cries of birds"; B623.2, "Owl as suitor."