A recent Planet Money podcast described how many Chinese believe a ginseng root is good for your arm if it looks like an arm, and good for your whole body if it looks like a person’s body. In general, the more any particular food looks like a body part, the more many Chinese believe it is good for that particular body part.
Recently one of my Chinese students brought me a gift, a pair of walnuts, shown below. But these walnuts are not for eating. They are a collector’s item. Just as some Americans collect stamps, some Chinese enjoy collecting pairs of walnuts that are particularly beautiful and similar to one another. As you can see, it came in a special box.
The student told me that people who collect walnuts like these do not eat them, but instead fiddle with them both in one hand, believing that–because the walnuts look like a brain–doing so makes them smarter. Fiddle with them in your left hand, and the left side of your brain gets smarter. Fiddle with them in your right hand, and the right side of your brain gets smarter.
Now, do I believe this to be true? Of course not, but I hear it works whether you believe in it or not.