Episode 1: Interview with Vivian’s cousin, Brian
Episode 2: Interview with Brian’s wife, Maryam
Episode 3: Interview with Vivian’s mother

Teochew Lullaby Lyrics for Episode 3: 

Ong ong hei 

Ta chui buo lo lei

Lin xun ho suen qua

Lang yo ho suen hey 

Ai lee ko un che

Umm ong tao ne ne 

English Translation of Lullaby Lyrics for Episode 3:

You carry water falls down to the river

Big pot to steam cakes

Small pot to steam shrimp

If you listen to me, I will let you eat 

If you don’t listen to me, I will tell your mom


Have you ever wondered why everyone, everywhere, sings lullabies? We decided to take a closer look at this phenomenon, and found a myriad of connections that intertwine the practice with other aspects of human life. For Vivian, the link between her culture and lullabies helped her to deepen and strengthen bonds with loved ones in a unique way and to reconnect with her Chinese heritage. For Yufan, the phenomenon of lullabies led him to look for various points of connection with our interviewees and to self-reflect on his own cultural identity as a Chinese International student. Below are two short vignettes to tell you more!

Rediscovering My Heritage Through a Lullaby

By Vivian Wong 

In many different cultures and societies, parents use lullabies to pass cultural knowledge and language/s down to their children hoping that in the future, they will understand and incorporate the same knowledge and language/s into their own lives. However, incorporating cultural knowledge and language into one’s life can be difficult due to vague memories of what was taught in the past or what was never taught in the first place. For myself, the Chinese dialect of Teochew (pronounced dee-ju) is a language that my family members speak fluently but was never taught to me. Because of this, I felt disconnected to my Chinese heritage since I was missing out on a huge part of me and my family’s cultural identity. In my effort to discover more about the Teochew language and rediscover my Chinese heritage, I decided to interview my cousin, Brian and my mother on the topic of a Teochew lullaby. Brian is fluent in the Teochew language because he was raised by our grandparents who spoke the language to him while I was raised by my parents who only spoke English to me. 

When I asked Brian if he sang lullabies to his daughter in the Teochew language, he said “no” because he doesn’t know any Teochew lullabies since he has no recollection of his mother or his grandmother singing lullabies to him as a baby. Later, he tells me that he only knew one short lullaby that he remembered his mom singing to his niece and nephew as infants. In addition, he remembered the lullaby because of memories of our grandmother singing it to our other cousins, Stephanie and Christina when she was watching them as babies. Like Brian, I don’t remember much from my infancy and have no recollection of the lullaby being sung to me as an infant. The only reason why I remembered the song throughout the years is because my mother would sing it for me to invoke a sense of nostalgia. Whenever, my mother would bring up the lullaby, she would always sing it and then ask me, “do you remember when I sang this to you when you were a baby? ”. To which, I would tell her “no” because I don’t remember anything from infancy. Then, she would ask me, “do you remember when your aunt sang this to you and your second cousins (Brian’s niece and nephew) when you guys were little? ”. I would answer, “yes” because I do have vivid memories of my aunt singing the lullaby to me when I was a little bit older and her singing it to my second cousins when she would put them to sleep. 

During Brian’s interview, I was surprised to learn that despite being fluent in the Teochew language, he did not know the words to a Teochew lullaby because his mother never taught the words to him. I can relate to Brian’s sentiment because like him, I also do not know the words to the same lullaby because my mother did not teach me the words as well. In our discussion, I brought up the fact that I knew what the lullaby sounded like, but I didn’t know what the lyrics were which, Brian agreed with. Growing up, my mother would always sing this particular lullaby to me but, for so many years, I never asked what the lyrics were or bothered to learn them. When my mom put me in school, my main language of communication became English because the people that I interacted with only spoke English. Therefore, my main language of communication from childhood to adulthood is English and only English. After doing some self-reflecting, I realized that the reason why my mother never taught me the Teochew language or lullaby was because she thought that I wasn’t interested in learning both. In addition, she decided that I didn’t need to learn both because I would never use them in my life. In other words, my interest in learning English and not Teochew left me somewhat detached from my Chinese heritage. 

Later in the interview, I told Brian what my mom told me the lullaby was about and discussed how the Teochew lullaby has nothing to do with babies but is a reflection on what life was/is like in rural China. For example, the English translation of the lyrics, “You carry water falls down to the river” narrates the life of a Chinese villager going up a mountain to fetch water and then bringing buckets of water back home. In addition, the line “If you listen to me, I will let you eat” highlights the Chinese villager’s kindness in sharing food with others due to a scarcity of resources. Our conversation about the lyrics reminds me of an article called, “Musicking” by Christopher Small in which he discusses how songs and music in general, are artifacts that transcend time and can be used to study different cultures, lifestyles, and societies from past eras. 

The next day, I interviewed my mother and I was able to learn all the lyrics to the Teochew lullaby because she sang the whole lullaby and asked my uncle for the written version of the Teochew lyrics with an English translation. Being provided with both audio and visual forms of the lullaby helped me thoroughly understand and connect with the lyrics of the lullaby and helped me to rediscover a unique aspect of my Chinese heritage. Although I discovered more about the Teochew language through interviews, I still do not know much about it. However, knowing and possessing the lyrics of the Teochew lullaby allows me to pass down this vital part of my Chinese heritage to my own kids (if I choose to have any). 

My Struggle on Finding Connections

By Yufan Lu

Even before the interview begins, I am already quite anxious. Unlike my partner Vivian, who is the cousin of Brian, I have no previous connection with the interviewee. What is he like? What will he think of me? What if the interview becomes awkward? My mind is filled up with uncertainties and questions. However, I am certain of one thing, that I want this interview to be more than just reading the prepared questions. I desperately want to establish some form of connection with Brian.

It is the afternoon of American Independence day. In our zoom meeting, we anxiously await as time passes by. Finally, 5 minutes later than planned, Brian joins in. His camera is turned on. Judging from his appearance, he is a man of South-Eastern Asian descent and approaching 30 years of age. Brian is wearing a black T-shirt, making a sharp contrast with the white walls furnished in his room. He greets us with a friendly grin and apologizes profusely, explaining that he encountered some technical difficulties. I do not mind at all and am just grateful that he made time for this interview during a national holiday. After Vivian briefly introduces us to each other, we are ready to begin the interview.

Right before the interview, we inform Brian that the end product will be presented in the form of a podcast. Therefore, he can turn off the camera if he feels more comfortable that way. He decides that the camera will stay turned on. I am happy about it since it makes our interactions a lot more personal. The interview commences and I begin to ask him questions. 

In one of his answers, Brian mentions that the lullabies he sings to his daughter Roya are the generic ones: Rock a Bye Baby, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Wheels on The Bus. Yet, I have never heard of any of them previously. I can’t help but feel that I missed an opportunity to relate to him. Then, Brian demonstrates an example of singing lullabies by singing Rock a Bye Baby to us. He is not a particularly good singer, however, his voice is very soothing. He states that the major reason he feels compelled to sing these lullabies is due to the fact that Roya had colic and he had to find a way to ease her into sleep. After hearing that, I start to picture a new parent, singing lullabies to soothe his crying baby amidst the night. That moment really humanized Brian for me. 

As I proceed to ask more questions, I can’t help but notice the mannerism of his speech. He speaks articulately, slowly, clearly, and with few pauses in between sentences, making his answers easily understandable. In juxtaposition, I speak with a heavy Chinese accent and am pleasantly surprised that the interviewee is able to understand the questions with no major difficulties.

After my section, Vivian begins to ask questions. I immediately notice that Brian appears to be more intimate. He speaks with a softer tone as well as smiling more frequently. A large part of why I feel this way is because their section is a lot more conversational. After all, they have more common grounds to build up conversations upon. For example, they discussed their grandparents and how Brian is always close to them. I do not possess this kind of familial ties and struggled to find personal connections. This struggle largely results from our various differences. He is American while I am Chinese. He is a new parent while I am a young college student. On top of that, I have no recollection of hearing nor singing lullabies. 

During one of Brian’s answers, I learned that his family speaks Teochew, a Chinese dialect. As a Chinese international student, I am very excited about this particular aspect of Brian’s identity. I think a shared cultural heritage is the connection that I have been searching for. It is the common ground that helps me connect to my interviewee on a more human level. For me personally, it is always comforting to find familiarity in unexpected circumstances. I immediately begin to ask questions. Sadly, he answers that although he does speak Teochew, he is somewhat disconnected from his Chinese heritage. He also does not know any lullabies in Teochew. I am disappointed by this development as I feel that meaningful interaction is nipped in the bud.

Even as the interviews concluded, I still could not find the deep personal connections that I have been searching for. This results in an abundant amount of awkwardness in my sections of the podcast. Rather than meaningful and natural conversations, it sounds like I was reading straight from a script. Despite the struggles, I still learned a lot from the interview. One thing that particularly stands out to me was how prevalent singing lullabies are in different cultures. I am also glad that this interview gives me the opportunity to take a glance at the joy and the struggle of being a new parent. Overall, I am appreciative of this experience and if a similar opportunity on conducting interviews ever arises, I would be much more ready.