I am not a superstitious person by nature, however if I see a ladder I will walk around it just to be safe. I steer clear of black cats because I am deathly allergic, and I don’t open umbrellas inside my apartment because I prefer to let them dry outside my door. During my time in China, I am quickly learning how superstitious many folks can be.
Last Wednesday, I modeled how to complete a writing assignment to my fifth graders with the help of a document camera. My script was not projecting well, so I grabbed a red pen and started to write my name at the top of the paper. About 10 of my students screamed,
“AAAAAUUUUUUGGGHHHH!!! MS. ANNE!!! STOP!!!!!” Completely startled, I sputtered,
“What? What’s wrong?”
“MS. ANNE YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!!!!” they screamed.
“How in the world am I going to die?” I asked.
“YOU ARE WRITING YOUR NAME IN RED PEN!!! IF YOU WRITE YOUR NAME IN RED YOU WILL DIE!!!”
After 3 seconds of insanity, my students calmed down, handed me a black pen, and explained this superstition to me. If someone writes their name in red in China, they will soon die. Even more, if you write someone else’s name in red, you want them dead. We then continued the lesson as usual.
On my cab ride home, I wondered how many times I had either unintentionally offended or hexed others or myself by breaking Chinese superstitions. When I got home, I opened my laptop, researched superstitions, and verified these tales with my local people. According to many Chinese old wives tales, I am looking for a death wish. Here are some of the superstitions that say why:
1) Don’t sign your name or write any name in red ink. If you do, the person whose name you write will die.
This may be because prisoners had to sign their names in red before they were executed. It may also be because people wrote the names of the deceased on plaques or stones in red in the middle of towns. I can’t count the number of times I have done this. Oh, and don’t put a square around your name either. That means you are dead.
|I never knew such a simple act would make so many people scream.|
2) Don’t clip your finger or toenails at night.
Ghosts will visit you. That would explain the long pinkie nails on many a cab driver.
3) Beating someone with a broom will bring bad luck for years.
I wonder if this bad luck will stem from retaliation or prison.
4) Four is an extremely unlucky number.
If mispronounced it sounds like death.
|Like many others like it, my apartment building doesn't have a 4th, 14th or 24th floor. It was constructed for Western tenants so there is no 13th floor too!|
5) Never put chopsticks vertically in your rice bowl.
Apparently vertical chopsticks in rice look like incense and disrespect the Chinese departed.
|I can't tell you the number of times I have done this…especially in the States. I really am not trying to disrespect the dead. I just need a place to rest my chopsticks.|
6) Don’t whistle at night.
Apparently They Might Be Giants had it wrong. Evil spirits will find you and follow you into your home.
7) Don’t have any mirrors facing your bed.
Apparently the mirrors can steal your soul when you are sleeping. Maybe our landlords have it out for us.
|After showing this picture to my Chinese teacher, she said the mirror would not capture my soul because it isn't at the foot of our bed. That's a relief!|
8) Don’t ever give someone a clock as a gift.
The words for clock and funeral sound alike. Watches are okay, but clocks mean you want to off someone.
|I would love this clock, however my Chinese friends would think I was trying to kill them if I gave this as a gift.|
9) When visiting someone in the hospital, don’t bring any red roses or red apples.
Some folks believe there is enough red with all the blood in the hospital. If you bring someone red roses or apples, you are wishing them death.
|While many Bachelors/ Bachelorettes want these roses, Chinese patients do not!|
10) If a dog howls at night it means death is on the way.
I really hope this little girl isn’t trying to kill me.
|I'm not trying to kill you. I just want a treat.|
The good news is one CAN undo this bad luck. All you have to do is step in dog poop.
I think I will take my chances and avoid piles.
Good luck, dear readers!