January 15, 2005
Last year, I and a colleague met with two professors for lunch. We went to this Chinese-Vietnamese place across the street from the Carlson School. It was cheap, and they had a buffet. This indicates that the professors were buying. One of the professors astutely observed that most fortune cookies nowadays are not fortune cookies but rather "aphorism cookies." They provide no clairvoyance but rather sagely advice. I wonder which role the tiny messages are meant to provide, and if anything is really Chinese about them.
I remember seeing fortune cookies made through the window of a fortune cookie factory on a rare family trip to San Francisco when I was a child. A women wearing a hat peeled of round disks off a turret and expertly folded the cookies as they came around. She tossed them in a bucket, presumably to be wrapped.
Recently, I opened a fortune cookie containing the aphorism "Example is better than precept." This seems to capture one of the problems I appear to be having with graduate school. Theoretical work is all about precept, to the extent that some political theorists (like Habermas) avoid examples altogether in their published work (even though they may and often do advocate in the outside world) and empiricists are criticized for using case studies (wherein entire situations can be understood in terms of the interrelated workings of their components) by "quants" who contend that for a theory to be valid it must be falsifiable. To sum up my longstanding of this latter stance I answer that human behavior does not follow exogenous "rules" as does celestial or atomic behavior. To be human is to understand, and to be incapable of understanding everything. And that includes understanding the forces that lead us to act and think the way we do.
On the obverse of the aphorism was a "Learn Chinese" phrase "Mayor &mdash Shi-zhang." Roomie took this to mean that I was destined to become active once more in the political capacity in which I once served. I prefer to think of the omen as a mere confirmation that the aphorism was meant for me and no one else. Who the heck needs to say "Mayor" in Chinese?
Posted by webs0080 at January 15, 2005 12:53 PM
There are conflicing stories as to the origin of the fortune cookie but the most likely ones indicate that they were invented either in San Francisco for consumption in the newly constructed Japanese Tea Garden in 1915 or in Los Angeles by an employee of the Hong Kong Noodle Company in 1916. Here's a post from the grandson of one of the alleged inventors:
The fortune cookie is indeed a Japanese Tea Garden introduction. It was introduced as refreshment to be taken while strolling in the Japanese Tea Garden by my great, great Grandfather Makoto Hagiwara. This confection is a very old folk art long known in Japan as 'Tsuji ura sembei' and is associated with New Year festivities at Shinto Shrines. This idea was introduced here in San Francisco at the japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park. The confection, as it is known in Japan, is not sweet. The sweetening of it was done to suit American tastes. Our baker used to make it for consumption in the Garden. This novel idea of receiving a fortune in a light sembei cookie is known throughout Japan and has been known there for many generations. (It was/is a felicitous thing to receive a good luck fortune on the New Year from a local Shrine.) As my family was not business oriented, there was never a patent taken out on the fortune cookie in any form. (name, rights, cookie itself, or otherwise) During WWII, local Chinese usurped the idea and began to market it as their own. (The recipe is very simple.) I have met several individuals from Japan,researching the fortune cookie and they are bewildered as to why it is known as Chinese in the US. There was a tv (NHK) news crew once in the Tea Garden, and an individual from Japan researching the folk arts which I met personally. She broadened my knowledge of it considerably. I am still amazed that so may people have met and married over the fortunes received in a fortune cookie to this day. As it is no longer a purely 'Japanese' confection in its present modern day form, it is hoped that many more will continue to have much luck in meeting their own someone special."
Erik Sumiharu Hagiwara-Nagata
Thanks Mr.S.Hagiwara-Nagata for your informative response and Happy New Year to all from the blog shrine.
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Very, very good information Erik Sumiharu Hagiwara-Nagata. It is interesting to think that fortune cookies could have originated in the United States.
I'm like a goof when it comes to measurements. I'll tell you in which chicken bones I'm tossing at this moment, for whatever they discern regarding the future.