Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chinese Folk Heroine: Hua Mulan

This guest blog by Megan Cunningham sheds like on one of Chinese's most beloved women warriors.

Hua Mulan is a legendary Chinese female figure who risked her life and took her aging father’s place in the army. She disguised herself as a man and fought for 12 years. She is one of China’s greatest women with a sword.

The story of Mulan who legend says lived during the Northern Wei Dynasty (4-6th Century AD) was first found in a poem called The Battle of Mulan which has been passed down through popular culture and in 1998 was turned into a Disney movie, Mulan. The movie is not all factual; there is no such thing as a talking dragon and crickets who can communicate with humans. Even so, the Disney version made Mulan's name and story more widely known around the world and not just in China.

There are many speculations and debates about details of Hua Mulan’s life but both history and legends do at least agree on one thing- her accomplishments. China was being attacked by the Tujie who wanted to take control over China, so the emperor demanded that every family provide a soldier for the army. In China, people were trained to fight during times of peace so when their country was attacked, all they needed to do was recruit trained soldiers.

Mulan’s father had been a well-trained and skilled soldier in his prime. He passed down his abilities to his two children. In ancient Chinese culture, the role of women was largely restricted to their homes. They were taken as a liability until they reached the age of marriage when they were given to another family.

The story of Mulan begins with her father being enlisted in the Chinese army but he was becoming too old and incapable of going into battle. She didn’t want her father to jeopardize his life because she knew it would be hard for him to fight and her brother was too young to enlist. Because of her father’s sufferings she offered to fight in her father’s place because she knew her father was unable but both her parents rejected the idea. Chinese customs at that time forbid women from fighting in the army. Traditionally the family has been the most important unit of society so to disobey her father's orders were surprising; so she decided to fight on her own. She decided to dress as a man and fight for her father which was dangerous since women's roles in China were to be wives and stay in the home. Mulan didn't fit into these societal roles.

Mulan spent a total of twelve years fighting alongside other male soldiers without anyone discovering her true identity. She went on to distinguish herself in battle and was eventually promoted to General. Her bravery later caught the eye of the Chinese emperor who offered her a government position but all she asked for was a way to get back to her family. She later revealed her gender which shocked many. Although she hid her true identity, she was and still is respected her for bravery and extraordinary skills.

The story of Mulan is well known and has provided much inspiration for poetry, essays, operas and paintings. She has become an iconic heroine in Chinese and western cultures alike. Her story, like those of other popular folk heroines, still lives on today.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Raja and the Giant Donut

Raja and the Giant Donut, a Scrumptious Cream-filled Canine Adventure

Romantic, Spastic, Adventurous

Review by Alison Sutton (FolkHeart Press intern)

When a book involving a donut in the title comes up, one can only believe it to be geared strictly towards children, but not in this case. Raja and the Giant Donut, a Scrumptious Cream-filled Canine Adventure by Mumbi writer Prashant Pinge, gives a glimpse into the romantic, spastic, and adventurous life of canine’s that any age group can appreciate.

Raja and the Giant Donut is a delicious non-fiction adventure that follows Raja, a “golden brown mongrel” on the search for the world’s largest donut. Along with Raja are his two stray friends; Pakya, a white and black canine who is obsessed with a beautiful Golden Retriever Bianca and Gattu, a golden retriever who is always hungry. The three pals embark on an adventure from Shivaji Park in Mumbai to Sambhaji Park in Pune to find the giant donut.

Although they are faced with many challenges along the way, their friendship unites them, which is something all readers can relate to. Many lessons brought up in Raja and the Giant Donut can be linked to real life situations. While the story revolves mostly around the threesome’s pursuit for the giant donut, it also brings to light how canines and animals overcome their own limitations, encourage one another and never give up on their dreams. By the end of their journey, each canine has gained some knowledge about life which they apply once they are home.

At the beginning, I was not sure about reading over one hundred pages about a canine searching for a giant donut, but by the end it was an entertaining journey. I was taken on an adventure filled with descriptive language that brought me deep into the story. The descriptive words drew a perfect picture in which you could easily imagine this group of canines chowing down on a giant donut.

A downside to the book is that the reader will find the translation of the story not fully aligned with American English, thus making the reader take a second to evaluate the words being used. While some language may be confusing, a glossary is provided at the end of the book. This glossary may have been more helpful at the beginning of the book so readers are aware that a glossary may be needed.

An adorable addition to the book is a donut recipe at the end. Making your own chocolate glazed donut with sprinkles gives a more personal connection with Raja and the overall adventure.

I enjoyed reading Raja and the Giant Donut and believe it would be a great book for parents to read along with their children. Both parent and child will enjoy the giant donut adventure as well as enjoy making their own giant donut to chow on while they read about Raja’s journey. I recommend this book to anyone who loves dogs, donuts, adventure, and taking away valuable lessons from stories.

Ali Sutton is a graduating Senior from Sonoma State University majoring in Communications studies with an emphasis in Journalism and Public Relations. She has written for her schools newspaper as well as kept up a blog focusing on relationships gone bad, called Relation-Shits which can be found at blogspot.com.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Asian New Year Do's and Don'ts

Beginnings are one of the most celebrated folklore motifs/themes. The start of something new, whether it’s a life, a job, a relationship or a year, is all about birth, renewal, and/or starting over. Until the Gregorian calendar, the new year was linked to spring and so many of the customs associated with it are also found in today’s spring observances (Passover, Easter, etc.).

When it comes to New Year’s, the Asian community has a plethora of traditions that are designed to invite in good luck, health, and prosperity. They are also believed to be ways of warding off evil, death, and darkness.

The first day of Chinese New Year 2012 (Chun Jie / 春节 2012) will be celebrated on Monday, 23 January 2012, and the festival will usually last for as long as 15 days. The celebration is one of the longest and most celebrated holidays in the world. As with many Chinese traditions, it began with a well known folk story:

According to the legend, there was a beast named Nian who would invade Chinese villages and eat all of their crops and people, especially children. One day when Nian came to destroy a village, he was scared away by a young girl wearing a red coat. The Chinese realized that Nian was frightened by the color red and from then on they made it a point to incorporate red into their every day lives until Nian was never seen again.

Today, the color red is still a staple of Chinese culture as well as their New Year's celebration. Although the Chinese calendar is different than the western calendar, their New Year's Day is still on the first day of the first month of the year. Due to the fact that the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, it is often referred to as “The Lunar New Year”.

Families usually gather for dinner on New Year's Eve for an annual reunion. It is also customary for the Chinese to clean their homes in order to wipe away evil spirits and begin the year with a fresh slate. Families come together while eating a feast consisting of pigs, ducks, chicken, and a selection of sweet treats. In the morning, children greet their parents with positive wishes for the new year and in return, receive red envelopes filled with money. One of the most common purposes of the Chinese New Year is to forget all the misfortune of the previous year and come together to genuinely wish the best to others in the coming year.

In Japan, the New Year celebration was originally linked to the Chinese New Year. However, in 1873, they adopted the Gregorian Calendar, making the first day of January the official New Year's Day. The Japanese have a variety of food lore traditions that they practice every year. The typical Japanese New Year dinner includes boiled seaweed, fish cakes, and mashed sweet potatoes with chestnuts, burdock root, and black soybeans. Most of the other foods that are eaten during this time are usually dried or non- perishable because when the holiday was first celebrated there were no refrigerators.

The menu, however, depends on the region that the holiday is celebrated because depending on the area, there are different foods that are encouraged or even frowned upon. Soups and sushi are also common menu items, depending on the region. The days leading up to the Japanese New Year often consist of massive food preparation efforts in order to feed the large number of guests that usually come together to celebrate the New Year. A few fun traditions of the Japanese New Year include:

TET, The Vietnamese New Year is similar to the Chinese New Year, however it differs slightly due to the time change. Most Vietnamese clean their homes to rid of negative energy as well as prepare a large feast in celebration. Common activities during this time are family returning home to visit graves of ancestors or deceased loved ones, and elders giving money in red envelopes to children. The Vietnamese also decorate their homes with peach flowers, and kumquat tree, depending on the region. Food that is usually prepared during this holiday includes watermelon, pickled onion and cabbage, leaks, dried candied fruits, and meat stewed in coconut juice. It is made clear that during the New Year celebration, there are certain activities that should and should not be participated in, for example there are “Do's and Don'ts” of a Vietnamese New Year:


· One should wish well on others

· One should give lucky presents to others

· One should scatter lime powder around the house to get rid of evil spirits


· One should not do or say bad things during the New Year celebration

· One should not kill or hurt animals or plants, but instead set them free

· One should not buy or wear white clothes because it resembles funerals in Vietnam

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happy Birthday to one of the most influential and inspirational figures of the 20th century! Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to the equal rights of African Americans which also meant he was fighting for basic rights for all humans. His tactics were peaceful yet powerful and got the attention of the world then and now.

He was born in 1929 in Atlanta Georgia at a time when African Americans had little rights in the white world. His father, Martin Luther King Sr., was a pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, stepping in for his grandfather after he stepped down in 1931. It is believed by many that the strong presence the Kings had in the community inevitably shaped Martin Luther King Jr. into the confident and driven man that he was.

Although it has also been debated whether or not King formally graduated from his segregated high school in Alabama, at the age of 15 he went on to Morehouse College. His father and grandfather had also attended this distinguished University for African Americans. Following his graduation in 1948, he attended Crozer Theological Seminary and obtained his second bachelors degree in Divinity. King married Coretta Scott in 1953 with whom he had four children. He continued his education throughout his work as a pastor and father and received his Doctorate of Philosophy from Boston University.

By 1954 King had become pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Alabama as well as a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was just starting to make major moves for African American rights. He organized the famous bus boycott for 382 days, which resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that segregation on buses was unconstitutional, changing public transportation as well as the lives of Americans forever. Throughout King's quest for equality, he faced extreme adversity including being arrested, having his house bombed, and personal abuse.

In 1957 as the civil rights movement was booming, King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From this time until 1968 King toured the country to speak on behalf of his vision of justice, liberation, and peace. His influences included Christianity as well as philosophies from Mahatma Ghandi of India. Throughout this time he:

  • wrote five books
  • spoke over twenty-five hundred times
  • wrote his inspiring “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
  • helped with voter registration drives in Alabama
  • directed the March on Washington (with an audience of 250,000 people)
  • worked with President John F. Kennedy
  • campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson

Martin Luther King Jr. lived his life in the belief that every human being deserves basic rights that are worth fighting for. He suffered a total of four assaults and was arrested upwards of twenty times. However he earned five honorary degrees, was named Man of the Year by Time Magazine, and was the youngest man to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize.

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on the balcony of his Memphis hotel room. Although his life was cut short, his memory and endeavors live on with the help of his loving wife who founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. He remains a hero in the eyes of his followers and those whose lives have been improved by his efforts.

It is a privilege to reflect on his life and celebrate him this month.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tomfoolery: No Fooling!

Trickery and foolery with words have long been the ideal folkloric mates of songs and nursery rhymes. Short and clever phrases have been used to discuss difficult topics in easy to hear/easy to listen to ways. Think of London Bridges Falling Down, for example. “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down” describes what happens to those who died from disease. Just that one line, set to a catchy, rhythmic melody, says so much! Its sing-song style remains a popular school yard song for jump rope and similar outdoor children’s games.

What happens when easy to listen to songwriter lyrics parody hot topics of the day, poking crazy fun at what some consider to be the darker threats of modern-day society?

You get Tomfoolery. This lively cabaret style musical revue pays tribute to the uncanny musical accomplishments of Tom Lehrer. Lehrer, known in the 1950’s and 60’s for witty and offbeat interpretations of social issues like religion, pollution, and threats of nuclear war wrote pieces that well-received the world over.

While brief, his musical career of 109 shows and 37 songs, developed a cult following both in the United States and abroad. And a fun show like this one could easily kindle the flames for new generations of cult followers because the themes he chose to create songs about are still very much alive.

Universal truths such as justice just don’t die and our human foibles like putting aside racial and religious prejudices for one Brotherhood week each year seem not to, either. But at least in this production we can laugh at ourselves and others; especially those we might not otherwise respect, appreciate or understand. After all, if Tom Lehrer is right in his song We Will All Go Together, in the end any country’s ability to blow the planet up puts us all in the same boat.

The Cinnabar Theater cast was outstanding. Actors Eric Morris, Krista Wigle, Elly Lichenstein and Michael Fontaine had an infectious enthusiasm that moved easily through the audience. Even my 17-year-old daughter Kiana who knew nothing about Tom Lehrer but agreed to “give him a try” was delighted with the show.

This performance, directed by Michael Fontaine (musical direction by Stuart Rabinowitsch) was very well done. The small, intimate café-like setting worked nicely and the band did a superb job of reminding the audience that Lehrer really knew how to write clever and catchy melodies and lyrics about topics that to this day continue to be rife with personal and universal tensions. And continue to help us laugh at how seriously we take ourselves!

The show runs through January 22.

TICKETS: $25 to $35
$35 General; $32 Seniors; $25 Age 22 and under.

LOCATION: Cinnabar Theater
3333 Petaluma, Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA 94952
PHONE: 707-763-8920
WEB SITE: www.cinnabartheater.org

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Folk Heroine Writes Short Story Collection

For centuries people have been creating, sharing and enjoying folktales and other stories. That’s because they capture for us what is remarkable about every day life. These hold heroic and non-heroic moments up to the light for all to see. In this way they celebrate and affirm the values beliefs that a particular person or specific society holds dear. Here honesty and hard work are important and love and justice do matter.

Writer Mary Hitchcock Cone has done just that in this collection of stories. Moose Mash and Other Stories chronicles the everyday events and heroes who move among us often unnoticed. It takes the keen insights and literary talents of someone like Mary to bring these people, animals and special occasions to the forefront where we the readers get to say “Yes, there’s someone like that in my life.” or “I remember that period in our history.”

Without knowing it we find ourselves connected to one another because the topics Mary has chosen to write about, while very personal to her, are universal. Has anyone not known about an animal on the loose or not been touched in some way by war?

A long-time member of a writer’s group that was formed originally by students of Anne Lamott, Mary is considered to be a short story master with a close lens on human nature, perfect pitch, and a many octave range. Her colleagues note, “She can write about anything from any point of view — be it ghosts, moose, or men. When it was her turn to read, often protesting that she had nothing much to bring in, she amazed us week after week, year after year, with yet another gem she just happened to ‘find in a drawer’ .”

A particular favorite of mine is Home Front, a straight-forward narrative about being a Red Cross volunteer serving refreshments to young soldiers being shipped out from various San Francisco Bay Area ports to serve their country during World War II. Here is an excerpt:

Outside an unmarked truck pulled in quickly, and carts carrying spigoted canisters of hot cocoa and cold lemonade (no coffee this time), paper cups, and huge supplies of the ubiquitous doughnut.

Our supervisor appeared and gathered us together in a tight circle to hear her speak.

“These boys are going overseas. They are nervous, don’t know where they are going, concerned about what lies ahead for them, and wishing they were somewhere else. This makes some of them talkative, and others morose. There is a lot of tension.

“So keep your smiles coming. Be sweet, be friendly. Chat if you have time, but pretty much keep moving down the lines. Time is short and we want to reach all of them. Remember, you are the last females and the last bit of home they are going to see for a long time. But hear this. Ladies, don’t make promises.”

Mary’s vision and wit have served her well on her own journey as a writer’s folk heroine. During the course of her life which now spans more than 80 years, she had held onto her gift as a writer and has never given up pen and paper. She has persevered and her journey as a writer brings us all to this time and to this place.

What a remarkable way for she and her daughters to begin the new year!

The book is available on Amazon. More information about Moose Mash and Other Stories (release date: January 2012) and the author are available at www.moosemash.com.