Friday, April 16, 2010

A Couple of Taboos

This morning at the junior high school it was not easy for the teacher and I to get the students to use English to talk about their field trip to a popular amusement/cultural park earlier in the week. So toward the end of the class when the word “point” came up naturally in the flow of conversation, I changed the topic to ask about something I heard yesterday from my Taiwanese teacher while studying a Taiwanese language textbook on popular folk culture (specific topic: The Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival).

Is it OK to point at the moon with your index finger? We do this all the time in western culture, so think nothing of it. With smiles on their faces the students informed me that,  in Taiwanese folk culture, it is taboo. If you point at the moon, Thai-im-niu-niu, the moon goddess, will come and cut your ears to punish you for your disrespect.


The students at the junior high gave me the same explanation as the teacher yesterday. Then they excitedly shared another taboo that is also forbidden in popular Taiwanese culture: It’s not OK to sit on a pillow, because if you sit on a pillow, [it] will rot away.

We also talked about a proverb I wrote about last year. A girl shared that twice her dad had gotten rid of dead dogs in this manner. When talking about the cats, one young man didn’t know how to say “hang” and said  “decorate” instead, prompting the teacher to break out laughing. He also didn’t know how to say “put” or “lay” with reference to dogs. These are not what you would want to put on (decorate) or put under your Christmas tree!

I’ve observed a couple of class periods now how enthusiastic the students suddenly get when we turn away from the magazine they use as a conversational starter and I ask them about Taiwanese culture instead. I’m really looking forward to what the teacher has asked them to share with me about Taiwanese culture for next week!


The reason I was reading about the Moon Festival yesterday is because I’m planning a truck announcement/blessing for the Mid-Autumn Festival later in the year:

“O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!  Your glory is higher than the heavens…  When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—  the moon and the stars you set in place— what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? … O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! ” 耶和華我們的主啊!你的名在全地是多麼威嚴,你把你的榮美彰顯在天上。。。 我觀看你手所造的天,和你所安放的月亮和星星。 啊!人算甚麼,你竟記念他?世人算甚麼,你竟眷顧他?。。。 耶和華我們的主啊!你的名在全地是多麼威嚴。