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English Corner Podcast 107 - Good Luck, Bad Luck (好運, 壞運) ?

by Rhett, Herng-Yow Chen, MM_NEWS REPORTER
2009-02-10 08:48:40   4279 views

Rhett: Hello again everyone, welcome to Chi Nan University's English Corner Podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Herng-Yow Chen, here in the studio with my assistants Carol and Les. Thanks for joining us. Today's podcast is number 107 - "Good Luck, Bad Luck"… Ah, luck….Webster's Dictionary explains luck as "the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual". Everyone wants good luck, and no one wants bad luck. So what can we do to bring good luck or keep away bad luck? Well, different cultures have different ways of doing this. For example, we Chinese, number 8, sounds like "發", is considered by many Chinese as lucky, while the number 4, sounds like "死", is unlucky. In the West, the number 7 is lucky, but number 13 is not lucky. These kind of beliefs are often called traditions, customs, or superstitions. Even if you don't believe in them, they can give us a interesting look into the ideas of different cultures. So, with Lunar New Year coming, we thought we'd share some traditional beliefs. Les, why don't we start with you? Would you like to share some ways that people in your country try to bring good luck or avoid bad luck?

Les: Sure, Rhett. I think I can start with things we do to bring good luck… Well, I think perhaps one of the most well known is that you should eat an apple every day to stay healthy…

Carol: I've heard of that one – a saying goes, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"…

L: Also, maybe another one. If you spill salt...

R: Salt?

L: Yeah, we put the salt on the table and if it falls over - that's considered bad luck. But if you take the salt, and you throw it over your shoulder behind your back - that's good luck.

R: Where is the origin?

L: This goes way back to the Roman times, where salt was actually money for them. And um... but spilling salt would be of course like losing money. But then to throw the salt over your shoulder was to have bad luck follow the salt, and it would go awayn from you. So it's sort of developed from that one.

R: Okay. So only salt, what about sugar?

L: No, just salt. There's another one we have - there's knocking on wood. Knocking on wood...that's usually good.

R: You mean... (knocking the wooden table). That's usually good?

L: Hmm. It's sort of like in Taiwan. Maybe people will say something that they hope and can say, "Oh, oh, oh", or "呸,呸,呸". That's...well, same sort of idea or we'll say, "Oh, oh, oh, knock on wood." If I'm lucky, it won't happen or maybe it will happen. So knock on wood comes from... people in England, used to believe that there were some spirits in wood that could help them if they were gonna ask them for help, so they would ask the spirits for help to give you luck.

R: Okay. When we say, "呸,呸,呸", we don't want that happen.

L: That's like keep away bad luck.

R: Okay.

L:Yeah. Also, if you find a penny (or any coin) on the ground, you will have good luck all day. We have a saying for this too, Carol. It's "find the penny, (which is a coin, one cent), pick it up and all the day you'll have good luck." So that's kind of a good one. Let me see if I can think of another one here...a horseshoe. This is quite popular in America and Europe. If you put it above your door, it will catch you good luck... that seems really strange, doesn't it? In America, we hold it like a "U" shape, so that the luck will fall in and it will keep you good luck. Do you do anything like that in Taiwan?

C: We'll hang Chinese knots.

L: You do 春聯, and they will have a symbol for spring, and you will hang it upside down to collect good luck.

R: It's because of the sound "倒". We put upside down, the sound "倒" is in association with something coming, "到".

L: That's really funny because I thought it was like "倒", as it "poured". So it poured out. I thought it was the same idea.

R: Yeah, but in this case, it sounds like something is coming, like "春到了", "福到了", fortune is coming. So we use the...

L: So you put it upside down for good luck too.

R: Yeah.

L: A little bit similar. OK. It might be a good luck. If I think of some more, I'll let you know. Oh, I know, there's "a rabbit's foot". Yeah, if you have a foot of a rabbit, and you carry it with you - that's good luck.

R: Really?

L: Yeah, it's really true. Yes. When I was a child, you could buy the kitchen, for the kids. It was very common to see a real foot of the rabbit.

C: Real foot?!

L: It's the real foot on your kitchen to carry around for good luck. That's a very old one too. The rabbits can run very quick and they can outrun bad luck. So if you have a rabbit's foot, it will help you stay away from the bad luck, which does you good.

R: Speaking of the foot, my parents always told us when I was a kid, we don't eat 雞腳, because it is said that 雞腳 will tear the books. If you eat too much 雞腳, that means that you will not be good at studying.

L: Becasue chicken will tear up the page of the book? Okay.

R: So I don't know if Carol have the same taboo.

C: Well, my parents told me not to eat beef. No beef.

L: Why is that?

C: For one reason, in early ages, we lived on cows.

L: I think you lived on farms.

C: Farms. So cows helped us a lot. Right. So we had to appreciate its help. We must be grateful and we must not eat them.

L: Right.

C: For other reasons, I don't know why it's related to studying.

L: Yeah, why is it related to studying? On Confucius birthday, people try to take some hair of the cow...that's true...I have no idea why they're related to studying. But it is funny that you mention cow because it's the year of the cow coming up.

C: Yes.

R: So you dont' eat 牛肉麵 right now?

C: I eat 牛肉麵, so I no more study.

L: Do your parents eat beef now?

C: Yes.

L: I know still, though, I have a friend who doesn't eat any beef, either, for the same reason.

R: Not because of religion?

L: I think it's more like Carol said, that cows are friends. I feel the same way about dogs. Dogs are our friends. I don't want to eat them. But cows...cows are too delicious, we have to eat them.

R: In Korea, a lot of people eat dog.

L: I know. Well, not only Korea. Go to 澎湖!

R: So bad luck? You mentioned the bad luck?  

L: Oh, I just thought of one I know for Taiwan. When you're eating fish in Taiwan, you're not supposed to flip the fish over. You're only supposed to eat the fish from one side. If flip the fish over, that's considered bad luck.

R: Really, we flip the fish over all the time.

L: In Tainan and some coastal cities down south, you try not to do that - it's considered bad luck.

R: So you just take out the fish bone?

L: The first time, yeah. First time I was very 厲害, it's very impressive to watch people - they eat the fish, and then with the chopsticks, they just pick up all of the bones and peeling like banana. They're so good. I can't do that now and they could just eat the fish from one side.

R: Did you ask the reason?

L: It's just bad luck. I don't know why. Good question. I should've asked.

R: 翻魚? It sounds okay. I don't know.

L: Maybe one of our listeners can help us out with that one.

R: If you have any ideas, please write to us.

L: Sure. Oh, getting back to America then, some of the things that have bad luck there are...don't open your umbrellas inside the house.

R: OK.

L: That one I do. I won't. I try not to open the umbrella inside. I don't know why but I still try not to do that. And, see, another one could be - break the mirror. Do you have that in Taiwan? Is that bad luck?

C: Yes.

L: Oh, really.

R: A lot of things about the mirror related to 風水. So the location that you put the furniture is pretty important. And sometimes, especially the mirror in the bedroom, I think you shoud put the mirror in the right place. But sometimes you'll be scared by yourself. That's one of the thing I can think of right now.

L: 風水 has lots of traditional meanings. And in English, do you know what we call it?

R: Just Feng Shui?

L: It's just Feng Shui, or as they say "Feng Shui". Yeah, many Americans...

R: So in the States, you cannot have a lot of access to the Feng Shui books or go online?

L: It was very popular maybe two or three years ago. Yeah.

R: So do you believe in Feng Shui?

L: Not really. No, but most of these things I probably don't believe in. But we say, "Better save than sorry." So sure, why not? If it doesn't cost anything, okay, yes. Let's see, another one that we have is "black cat". They're considered quite unlucky, but we don't believe in that one anymore. Most people like black cats. But they're used to be quite unlucky. So I think that's all about bad luck.

R: A movie entitled "Matrix" - a black cat appeared in the movie scene. That indicates the bad luck.

L: There was a glitch in the program .

R: You remember that?

L: Yeah. Yeah.

R: At that time, I don't know why, but I think that's about the bad luck.

L: Yeah, something's not right.

R: It's a kind of virtual reality. There's a black cat appearing in the program.

L: That means something bad was happening, kind of like what I said. How about in Taiwan then? I heard many traditions about the luck around the new year. Carol, can yo tell me some? I'd love to learn.

C: Okay. On the stroke of midnight, every door and window in the house has to be opened to allow the old year to go out is one of the Chinese superstition they adhere to.

L: Really? But new year is cold.

R: I think that depends on the generation you're in. I think old generation may still hear this old superstition, but I don't think in the big cities, houses in big cities, they have back door or front door. No, they usually have one door and pretty cold.

L: It would be.

C: Have you heard of 守歲?

L: No, what's that?

C: That means you have to stay up on New Year's Eve.

L: Until when?

C: The later you stay up, the longer your parents will live.

L: Oh, that's a lot of pressure. I don't know that one. So you want to stay as late as possible so that they can live as long as possible. How long do you usually stay up?

C: If we have some activities like gambling or what, we'll stay up the whole night.

R: Watch a lot of movies...

L: To try to stay up. I always wonder why people try to stay up all night. I thought it was just to see the fireworks or to do something. I didn't know it was for such a strong reason.

R: I didn't know that. I thought people are so excited that they can't sleep.

L: They want to gamble more.

R: Okay, 守歲, that's good one.

L: That's good one. How about you? Can you think of anything for me?

R: Many people also abstain from eating meat on the first day of Chinese New Year because it is believed that this will ensure a long and happy life.

L: Okay, so if you don't eat meat. You'll have a happier life. So you go vegetarian for one day?

R: Yeah, some people. And if you have a fish, the meal on the last day of this whole year, we won't eat all the fish. We will leave a part of the fish uneaten.

L: Just for...do you know why that...

R: Yeah, we have an idiom or saying. We say "年年有餘". That means sometimes you can just taste some, or keep it untouched - you cook it but nobody touch it.

L: Okay. Alright, so you'll have prosperity for the coming years. Okay. That's a good one.

C: And you have noodles. It shouldbe left uncut.

L: Oh, don't cut noodles.

C: Yes, it's a sign of long life.

R: 長壽. Is that right?

C: Yeah.

L: That's a long one. I heard one about...is it true that people brush the...when you clean your house, but New Year some people will actually brush dirt into the house? That's an old one that I've heard and I've heard people in Taiwan but no one does this.

R: No, I don't. We use vacuum. Did you ask the reason?

L: Supposedly it will bring in good luck, bring in abundance or for the remaining of the new year. But you do clean.

R: Before the new year. But the first day I don't think we do.

L: Usually it's a couple of days before.

R: Yeah, a lot of chores. The whole year's of cleaning has to be done in one week.

L: When does it start because I need to prepare that?

R: Just one week before.

L: Usually we clean in spring. We call it spring cleaning. We do it after winter. It's very common too. It doesn't have any meaningful luck, does it?

R: We have a saying. We say "除舊佈新". "除" means get rid of something. "舊" is old stuff. "佈新" means you welcome the new thing.

L: Sure, welcoming the new. So out with the old and in with the new.

R: So I guess, actually my laboratory, this Friday afternoon, we'll have cleaning.

L: That's right. I have to go for that. I'll see you there for this. Oh, my favorite one - wear red underwear. Some people please tell me why people will wear red underwear on Chinese New Year?

R: I'm not good at answering this part.

L: You don't know how to wear underwear? What is the problem there?

R: No, I just don't know anything about this.

L: Why red?

C: Not only red underwear, red clothes. Red means good luck. In Chinese tradition, red lanterns, red envelopes...everything's red.

L: Okay.

R: In the spring, 春聯. How do you call 春聯?

L: I call it 春聯. Lucky scroll, maybe. Scroll is a kind of paper. I'll have to try to think of it more, better English words for it. Sorry my English is sleeping now.

R: Yeah, a lot of things you can see in the New Year's holidays. Actually right now in Puli you can see some tent, temporary tent, they sell 春聯 in 中山路. Every year, a lot of people sell the same things.

L: What are some of the things they say on the the 春聯,the scroll?

R: They write some good words.

L: What do they say? I hope you get rich?

R: No. 福.

L: Good fortune, OK.

R: 春 or 財.

L: OK.

R: What else?

C: We also have 對聯.

L: I don't know what that is.

C: It's like haiku in Japanese.

L: Ooh. What does it mean?

C: It means...

L: It's hard, I know. But it's good.

C: Yes. And it's written according to your personality or what you need, what you hope for. For business people, they want to get rich, they want to roll their money, so they'll write something in accordance with what they want.

L: Pretending to business or something like that for more money. OK. That's a good one. I never really...the calligraphy style's sometimes very difficult for me to try to read. I know the simple ones, the other is hard, so I'm never sure what they say.

C: Sometimes it's hard for us too.

L: Yeah, I understand.

C: We could read every word, we know what they mean in one single word, but when you put them together, you don't know what they mean. It's like poems.

L: Traditionally poems then. OK. Great, Chinese just got even harder for me.

R: OK. We usually put some new plants and flowers in the house because plants and the flowers play a very significant role in symbolizing rebirth or new growth.

L: That's a good one then. Sure, I could see that. So it's new and blossomy. Alright, that's good. How about washing your hair? Do people wash their hair in New Year's Eve? I heard that they don't. I'm sorry. When I first moved to Taiwan, I lived in Tainan. It's a very traditional city, so at the time I learned many of these, I don't know which ones are still being done but I remeember hearing a lot of these in Tainan.

R: Your question is that...

L: Washing your hair on New Year's Eve.

R: On New Year's Eve? Not to wash or...

L: I heard that people don't wash their hair.

R: Really?

C: On the first day of the new year. On New Year's Eve, we keep on cleaning our house until the last minute.

L: OK. And then the next day you won't wash your hair. What about if you break a plate?

C: It's considered as bad luck on the New Year's Day.

L: And you should say...?

C: 歲(碎)歲(碎)平安.

L: Yeah.

R: You know this one?

L: So what does that mean?

C: That means..."歲(碎)" is pieces.

R: They play the sounds. "碎", literally means pieces, but with different characters, it means "every year". This year, let's say, you're forty, next year you're forty one. So every year, you have one more 歲. So 歲歲平安 means the whole year you will have safe, very healthy...

L: Healthy, safe, peaceful...

R: For the whole year.

L: For the rest of your life I guess.

R: So by saying this, we turn the bad luck into the good one.

L: Oh, it's a little bit like spilling salt. Alright, that's a good one.

R: Speaking of washing the hair, I remember I washed my hair but I do remember my parents don't do the laundry the first day or something. Do you remember?

C: We won't hang our clothes outside and wait for it to get dry.

L: Oh, you won't dry your clothes then.

R: 不晾衣服.

L: Don't hang the clothes then.

C: I don't know why we don't do that.

L: That's okay. There are a lot good luck, bad luck things we have no idea. You just know, okay, don't do it.

R: So many things that we cannot do. So what should we do?

L: Well, you're allowed to gamble - that's one thing. You can eat a lot. You have to give out the money. If you're old like we are, you give out the money. If you're young like Carol, you get the money. So that's good.

R: That's 紅包, right?

L: I think we call it lucky money, or red envelope would be more appropriate.

R: So what else can we think of?

L: I heard that something about knives. Right, don't use a knife or a scissor on New Year's Day, don't cut anything. I think that's all a little like your noodles. And you know there are many of these things...we've done the "don't wash your hair", or "don't use a knife or scissors",or "don't cut anything" - that sounds a little bit like being pregnant. Do all of the things you have to do. Then too, these two of things,I think, show up in Chinese tradition quite a bit.

C: Yes.

L: You don't want to wash away bad things.

R: And 不要欠錢. How do you say that?

L: Is it " don't borrow money" or "don't lend money"?

R: It's "don't borrow money". Does that mean if you borrow, you'll have debt forever?

L: I don't know. How long?

R: I don't know. So people, before the New Year's really come, we will pay off the debts. If I owe you the money, it's time to pay you back.

L: That's a good tradition, though. That makes everyone happy. This year, though, everyone should have a little extra money, is that right?

R: Yeah.

L: So everyone should have extra money to spend on 紅包, I guess.

R: What else?

L: See if Ican remember anymore here...There's the cleaning, there's the breaking of the plate, I remember, of course the fish thing but I think that might not be up here. I don't know, Carol, do you have anymore?

C: Don't cry. If you cry, you cry all through theyear.Therefore, children are tolerated and are not spanked, even though they are mischievous.

L: So I can't hit my children? That's no fun, I'm kidding. Don't tell them then, I don't want them to notice. So don't cry, that's an interesting one.

R: And probably don't say some unlucky words.

L: Like what?

R: Like 4 and bad words.

L: That's kind of all the time, though. Oh, we forgot the number one most famous thing - firecrackers. Firecrackers, what are they for?

C: For celebration.

L: For celebration, why do you have them? Do they bring good luck?

R: Hmmm...

C: They keep away the bad luck.

L: Very good, yeah. And do you know how?

C: How?

L: Yeah, how do they keep away bad luck?

C: The sound, with the sound.

L: Scare away the bad luck.

R: You know a lot, Les.

L: So if you really want good luck, you can go to 鹽水 and have fun there. That's famous.

R: 鹽水蜂炮. Famous crazy.

C: Have you been there?

L: Yeah yeah. That's the most fun I think I ever had in Taiwan. That was great.

R: Everybody was just in front of the firecrackers.

L: Yeah, you have the raincoat and motorcycle helmet on, and firecrackers will come in right at you. Super fun!

R: OK.

L: Oh, when does Chinese New Year end?

C: On the fifteenth day of the New Year, I believe it's the last one.

L: Is it a holiday or it's...

C: It's the Lantern Festival.

L: What are some of the things you do on lantern Festival then?

C: We eat 元宵.

L: What is 元宵?

C: 元宵 is made from glutinous rice, like 湯圓.

L: Good job, like 湯圓.

R: Have some different stuff inside.

L: Does your daughter do anything on Lantern Festival?

R: We do the lantern.

L: You walk around with the lantern. Where do they go? Do they walk...?

R: With their friends.

L: Do they go to the temple or do they just stay in the neighborhood?

R: Stay sometimes in the neighborhood and we'll also prepare some torch. We will cut the bamboo, and we prepare the torch.

L: Really, you play the fire?

R: No. We do it secretly.

L: I know sometimes they as children riddles on this day. They'll do something like that.

R: That would be the government holding the event.

L: Yeah, some events. OK, alright. So I think we've covered the whole new year here. Alright, so we know the things that are good luck and bad luck then.

R: Our today's podcats number is 107.

L: ...which is a lucky number.

R: Why 7 is a luck number?

L: I don't know. I have no idea.

R: Just lucky 7?

L: Just lucky 7, that's right, just lucky 7. This is one thing I'm not sure of, but it's always been very lucky.

C: Is it associated with Christianity?

L: Not that I know. I really...

C: 7 days?

L: I know in 7 days, or even in the Bible, they say, "Seventh son of the seventh son" - that means you're especially lucky. The Bible takes in many traditions, and so it was probably before that that they got this too. I'm just not sure.

R: In Taiwan, we mentin that 8 is lucky number and 6 also is a lucky number.

L: 6 is slightly unlucky in America. In the West it's not such a good number.

R: We have a phrase - 六六大順. "順" means everything will go smoothly, everything will go fine. So 8 and 6, what else? i guess if you buy a new car, you'll need to have a driver's license plate. If you want to have some lucky number specific number, you have to pay more. Some people don't want to have 4 on that.

L: I'll have to check my car then. OK.

R: OK, that's going to do it for us here at the podcast today. Tell us what you think – Do you believe you can bring good luck? How do you do it? Let us know by writing to us at our website. We'd love to hear from you! On behalf of myself, Carol and Les, this has been Dr. Herng you Chen wishing you happiness and lots of good luck in the new year!

L: Good luck, bye bye!

C: Happy new year!

R: 新年快樂!


1 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/luck

2 http://www.chinatownconnection.com/chinese-superstitions.htm

3 http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080311201212AABWwmq

4 http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=1006042417441

5 http://library.thinkquest.org/5877/goodluck.htm

6 http://www.curiosityshoppeonline.com/luckyhorseshoe.html

7 http://www.csicop.org/superstition/library/rabbit.html

8 http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20061017060341AAxuj6K

9 http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/10420

10 http://www.wisegeek.com/why-is-it-considered-bad-luck-to-see-a-black-cat.htm


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