Monday, June 13, 2011

Superstitions and Old Wives Tales

    Since I have lived in Malaysia I am in constant amazement of the extremely numerous Chinese superstitions and old wives tales. To a Westerner it is somewhat incomprehensible how anyone can actually believe these notions. Today I heard about one that concerns moving in to a new house. A friend of mine had bought a condo unit and is almost finished with the renovation. He is Chinese. He is moving in on Saturday, because according to his beliefs if he doesn't move in then, he has to wait several months more to do so. He has to move in between 7 and 9 o'clock in the morning. His family is coming to perform the "moving in ceremony". This consists of draping the entrance in red cloth, putting salt on either side of the door, placing tea leaves in the entrance and having a kettle of boiling water on the stove while moving in. Also rice is strewn on the floor so that if any ghosts were there they would make noise walking.  After this 2 hour time limit, all electrical lights must be turned on for exactly 3 days. Upon hearing this I was speechless. This was not coming from an elderly person or an uneducated person. It was from a supposedly educated professional person, who firmly believed in the custom. I did ask other Chinese friends of mine about the custom, but they said they were unfamiliar with this one.

    The other day I was at my local food court having lunch and chatting with some of the Chinese  employees who work there. The subject of "gastric" was brought up. In Malaysia people call anything like, nausea, indigestion, heartburn, bloating and gas, gastric. You have to ask a few questions first to nail down what they are actually talking about. What they were talking about was "gas". They related a story of how one customer always has gas and bloating and has to drink only hot water. I asked why. They looked at me surprisingly and explained that everyone knows cold water causes gas. Since I am a retired medical professional I couldn't help but make a comment. I explained that the temperature of liquids has nothing to do with gas and that it is actually caused by bacteria. They looked at me like I was nuts. I tried to explain further the difference between good bacteria and bad bacteria. I was put in my place by one older lady who said "people don't have bacteria in their stomachs and if they did, they would be sick". I didn't say another word!

    I have many more stories, which I can relate in another post, but I will finish with one of my favorites. Many Chinese people I know say that one should never go to bed with wet hair. Some people believe going to bed with wet hair causes mental retardation, while others simply believe the act causes colds. I have given up explaining that colds are caused by viruses. I just listen, shake my head and smile. Superstitions have developed over many many years in many cultures and will probably always exist, regardless of every scientific fact to disprove them. I suppose the old saying, "don't fix what isn't broken" could be relevant here.

3 comments:

  1. And if you plan to settle down with a Chinese partner, never buy a condo that overlooks a graveyard. That rules out one or two 'aspects' of at least one up and coming development in Penang ;-)

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  2. I see you are well aware of the superstitions. I think there is one for every aspect of life.

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  3. Some at least, my favourite is clipping finger nails at night bringing evil spirits??? Still, no more bizarre than 'touch wood' I suppose.

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