The activity described in this story is called ”抓周 “, commonly practiced by Chinese parents when their baby turned one year old. According to existing documents, this tradition can be traced back since the era of the Three Kingdoms (220-280). Of course, nowadays parents don’t really believe that their child’s life will be decided or influenced by this random choice. It’s just a family activity and a fun way to imagine the future. Yet at the same time, all the good will they put into the objects and the expectation they have for their child is deep and serious.

A few weeks ago, Facebook users got an unexpected bit of morbid advertising when they were targeted with ads hawking “funeral potatoes” from a Utah company known as Augason Farms. Many of them immediately took to Twitter, wondering a.) what on Earth funeral potatoes were and b.) why on Earth they would want any.

Mormons were not confused. They were limbering up in the social media wings, ready to explain their most delectable food invention to the world. You see, Mormons like me grew up eating funeral potatoes — not just at funerals, but at potlucks, Thanksgiving, and Sunday dinner. They are a combination of cubed potatoes, cream of chicken soup, cheese, and — the coup de grâce — a topping of butter-crisp Corn Flakes. This comfort food has pride of place next to other Mormon classics like cream cheese Jell-O, all manner of ice cream, and “dirty soda” — a virgin drink spiked with flavored syrup.

Funeral potatoes were memorialized as a collector pin during the 2002 Winter Olympics, held in Salt Lake. And just last year, a local food truck called Cook of Mormon started dispensing the indulgent dish around Salt Lake with a dash of Mormon nice. According to Jesse Ward — the erstwhile owner of the establishment, who doled out food dressed as a Latter Day Saint missionary — the lines were long.

Mormons, so the logic goes, are particularly obsessed with fatty, sugary foods because all other vices have been taken from them. The religion prohibits drinking or smoking, so they reserve their human frailty for carbohydrates.

Mormon Funeral Potatoes: The Carb-Heavy Meal For The End of The World

Photo: Lauren Sanders


When I was growing up in the early 2000s in Jersey City, N.J., I was, for the most part, ashamed of my family’s cultural heritage. I felt the heat of embarrassment when substitute teachers butchered my name during morning roll call and when my large, boisterous family piled into restaurants shouting at one another in foreign dialects. But my most vivid memories of my shame took place on a train.

My family immigrated to the U.S. from Nepal. We didn’t own a car, so when we attended Mustangi cultural gatherings in New York City, we would cross the Hudson River from Jersey City into Manhattan on the PATH train. My mom always forced me to wear a bakhu, the long Mustangi dress we reserve for special occasions like Tibetan New Year, prayer ceremonies and weddings. I would beg her to let me wear “normal clothes” on the train and then change into my floor-length bakhu, but she wouldn’t budge.

Wearing this elaborate garb in a public space where everything is still and subject to examination — and in my impressionable young mind, harsh criticism — was absolutely mortifying. Being trapped under the train’s bright fluorescent lights made me feel particularly exposed and out of place.

I eventually grew out of those feelings as I got older. I became more aware of my cultural identity, of the beauty and pain within the Mustangi diaspora, and of my people’s complex relationship to the Tibetan plight. Though the people of Mustang are ethnically Tibetan, the region of Mustang is located in Nepal. So when China’s violent occupation of Tibet began in 1950, Mustangis remained relatively unaffected because they happened to live on the opposite side of an arbitrary border. Even today, Mustangis in Mustang can exercise a fair amount of cultural and religious freedom while their Tibetan counterparts cannot. I can travel freely across borders and return to a place that my family calls “home” while many of my Tibetan friends cannot. That history is not lost on me.

Redefining The Bakhu—And The Great American Road Trip—Through Self-Portraiture

Photos: Tsering Bista


Up Helly Aa: The Viking fire festival you’ve never heard of.

What is it?

Up Helly Aa is a historic, lively festival observed on the Shetland Isles.  Shetlanders come together on the last Tuesday of January to celebrate their rich Norse heritage in a festival of fire, song, mead, longships and tradition. With only a small island population of 23,000, this still remains the largest festival of its kind in Europe.

The Shetland Isles? Where are they?

The Shetland Isles lie above Scotland, above the Orkney Isles, somewhere between the British Isles and Norway. 

Shetland has a long and rich history of Norse rule and settlers, having being ruled and owned by both Norway and Denmark. To this day, despite being Scottish and part of the UK on paper, the island maintains a very close connection with their Northernly neighbours in Norway. Shetlanders themselves generally don’t feel connected to the UK, referring to most not born on the Isles as ‘mainlanders’. In this way Shetland is unique; not Norwegian but not Scottish, they consider themselves simply Shetlandic (also used as a term to refer to the Shetland Dialect).

What happens during the event?

One thousand guizers (see below) carry firelight torches through the night in the streets of Lerwick, dressed head to toe as Vikings, chanting Norse rhymes and songs. Spectators line the streets to cheer the participants along their journey. The procession ends when the longship the men have been dragging along is placed in the centre of the city. The longship, called The Galley is set ablaze with the torches while songs and poems fly through the air, helping it on its way to Valhalla. This is a time to celebrate ancestors, both Norse and Shetlandic.

Then, of course, it’s time to drink. Most of the community comes out to the pubs to celebrate until the early hours with music, storytelling and dancing. These events also take place in community halls on the island.

The daytime of Up Helly Aa is structured around the Jarl making visits around the town and paying respect to the Nordic history of the isle. This involves meeting with various officials and members of the community to show respect to every aspect of the Island, old and new.

  • After an early morning march to the Lerwick branch of the British Legion, the Jarl and his Squad make their way to view the Bill and praise it through song. They stop for official photos to commemorate the event at the Bressay Ferry Terminal, as well as to entertain the groups of schoolchildren that are brought out of class to meet the Squad.
  • They then march through Fort Charlotte and receive a civic reception at the town hall. A toast is drunk and the Jarl is given the freedom of the town for 24 hours. 
  • Following this is the main community section of events. The Jarl Squad will visit the two primary schools, the hospital and even the homes of the elderly. 
  • There is a visit to the Shetland Museum which is regarded as the best opportunity to stop and speak with the procession as a member of the general public. It is after this event that all of the Jarly duties are fulfilled and preparation for the firelit procession in the evening begins.

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