This week’s post from Viet Nguyen is about the age old question: “Where did I come from,” but from an Asian perspective. There is a tremendous amount of truth to this post, as my name is actually “fourth” in a two-person family (go figure). At any rate, Enjoy!
From Wikipedia: In Western culture the White Stork is a symbol of childbirth. In Victorian times the details of human reproduction were difficult to approach, especially in reply to a younger child’s query of “Where did I come from?”; “The stork brought you to us” was the tactic used to avoid discussion of sex. The image of a stork bearing an infant wrapped in a sling held in its beak is common in popular culture.
Asian Cultures have similar childbirth myths. Asians also have similar difficulty explaining the concept of the “Birds and the Bees” to their children (please refer to #102 Being Modest about ***). In lieu of the stork myth, asians have come up with other kinds of lies they tell their kids when the dreaded “Where did I come from?” question gets popped.
1) One common story that gets told is that the child was found in the garbage and the parents happened to be in the vicinity so they could adopt the kid. Nevermind that this doesn’t really ANSWER the question of “where did I come from?” All it really does is give the false impression that the child was previously abandoned and left in the garbage to die. But it usually satisfied the child’s queries and most of the time, they are not traumatized.
2) Another common story that gets told is that the child was found beneath a bridge and the parents happened to be in the vicinity so they could adopt the kid. Again, this just gives the child the false impression that they were previously abandoned and left under that bridge to die. Again, the child’s query is satisfied, and after many hours of crying, he accepts that he really isn’t part of the family and is only living in the household because of the sympathy his parents had for him when he was a baby.
HOWEVER, this is actually a clever play on words. In Korean, the word for Bridge, 다리, also happens to be a homonym for the word “legs.” So when the child finally learns the truth about ***, then the parents have some wiggle room. “Well yeah Johnny, we TOLD you that you came from under 다리. What do you think it meant? A bridge? LOL you must have thought you were abandoned.”
People from Western Cultures are often entitled to a sense of identity and uniqueness when they come into this world. In fact, in addition to a surname and a personal name, all Americans as assigned a unique number; a social security number, that stays with them for their entire lives, even after they die.
Asians, however, have held this number assigning concept for centuries and in fact, commonly use their numbers to identify themselves. Like the American social security number, an asian’s number also stays with them for their entire life, even after he/she dies.
If you are asian, you are assigned your number from birth. If you happen to be the oldest of your siblings, you will be referred to as brother (or sister) #2. All your younger siblings will refer to you as “#2″ and you will often times refer them by their numbers as well, be it #4 or #6. Why isn’t there a #1? No one knows. (no really, I kid you not; no one, and I mean NO ONE KNOWS)
As you get older and your generation has kids, then your nieces and nephews will also refer to you by your number. Whether you be uncle #2 or auntie #4.
Eventually, your family will get larger and larger and you will start having grandkids and grandnieces and nephews. However, they will always respect you and will never forget the love and generosity you displayed to your family as they grew from children and eventually to adults. And as a gesture of respect, they will lovingly refer to you as “Old Man #7,” even after you have left this world.
Viet Nguyen from PDX
Thanks Viet for your wonderful insight! Stay tuned for our next post around Christmas Time.
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