Folk Tales used for a Student in High School
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The Lady Chang
When the Lady Chang arrived in the city of Canton, she possessed nothing in the world but the clothes she was wearing, the jewels on her fingers, and most precious of all, her little son, Ko. Everything else – her husband, her fine home and all her servants, even the village in which she lived – had been washed away and lost forever in the great flood that had swept down upon them so suddenly.
She found a house which costs very little, for it was in a poor part of the city, near the rubbish dumps. Every morning the carts rumbled by, taking all the city rubbish to be burned and buried.
“I am lucky to have this small house,” the Lady Chang told herself. “I can clean my house in the morning: I can play, with my dear son, Ko, each afternoon; and in the evening, when he is asleep, I can weave and embroider. The cloth I make will sell easily, and so I shall be able to feed and clothe both Ko and myself.”
“Little Ko grew fast and was a great joy to her.
“What are you doing, my son?” asked his mother one day, as she turned from her weaving to catch him at play.
“I am the butcher, Mother,” laughed Ko. “I am working in the market. See how cleverly I kill this goat, and how I cut it up for customers.” And he raised his voice and shouted harshly as he had heard the butcher shouting each day in the market place.
The Lady Chang sighed. “Indeed, my son learns quickly. He should not be here to copy the ways of rough men. He should be learning to be a scholar as his father was.” She searched the city and found a house near the university.
“To live here will cost a great deal,” she thought. But she did not hesitate for long. She left their house near the market and sold her last ring of pearl and silver, and soon she and her son were living in their new house.
Now indeed, life was hard for the Lady Chang. In order to live and pay for Ko’s
schooling, she had to rise at dawn each day. She would clean her house, do the cooking, wash the clothes, and then work hard at her weaving until far into the night.
Ko learned quickly, and the Lady Chang often smiled as she wove the bright
threads and watched the cloth growing beneath her busy fingers.
“Ko will be a learned man,” she told herself proudly. “Already his teachers speak highly of him. He works so well that I care not that I must sit here weaving all day long.”
She threaded her loom with fine threads and began to weave a lovely pattern of gold and silver and scarlet.
Each day when Ko returned from his studies, he admired his mother’s work. “This is the most beautiful piece of cloth you have ever woven, Mother, he said one day. “Surely you will strain your eyes with such fine work.”
“Ah, my son,” she laughed, “this is to pay for you to be a wise and great man. My eyes are a poor price to pay for that.”
By this time Ko had grown to be a fine, tall lad. So easily and so well had he
learned his lessons that he began to grow proud and vain. “I know as much as any of the professors who try to teach me,” he said scornfully.
“That is boastful talk,” the Lady Chang reproved him. “You should learn
humility as well as knowledge from books, my son. You still have much to learn, I fear.”
A little later, however, Ko came home one day and threw his books on the table. “I have finished with schooling,” he said defiantly. “I am tired of learning. I know quite enough to earn my living.”
“Do not stop!” cried the Lady Chang. “You will be a wise and great man like your father, if you would only complete your studies.
“No, Mother,” declared Ko. “I mean what I say. I have finished with Learning.”
The Lady Chang did not argue with him. She reached across the table and got a sharp knife that lay there. Then, without a word, she slashed her weaving from the loom. The cloth fell, its gold and silver and scarlet in a tangled unfinished heap at her feet.
“Mother!” cried Ko in horror, “what have you done? All your hard work is wasted! If you had worked a little longer, this would have been a perfect piece of cloth. Now it is nothing but a half-finished rag.”
The Lady Chang looked at her son with grave eyes. “Son, you could have been a wise and great man,” she told him. “Now you will be little more than a peasant who toils in the fields or labors in the market place.”
Ko’s cheeks grew red as he looked again at his mother’s lovely work, ruined and unfinished. Then, he picked up his books. “I have learned a lesson, Mother,” he said in a low voice. “I will finish my studies. They’ll not be wasted. I may never be a great man, but I will try to be a wise one.”
The Lady Chang’s heart was filled with joy as she watched Ko return to his studies. She drew her seat close to the loom and began to pick up the threads once more. Many, many hours of hard work lay before her, but that which she had already done would not be wasted.
Ko indeed became a wise man, and great one. He was famous through all the land of China.
And now, when Chinese children are told tales of brave people in their country’s history, they listen to the story of the Lady Chang, who was not afraid to ruin her most perfect work in order to teach a lesson to her son.
THE SPIDER’S THREAD
The Buddha Shakyamuni is meandering around Paradise one morning, when he stops at a lotus-filled pond. Between the lilies, he can see, through the crystal-clear waters, the depths of Hell. His eyes come to rest on one sinner in particular, by the name of Kandata. Kandata was a cold-hearted criminal, but had one good deed to his name: while walking through the forest one day, he decided not to kill a spider he was about to crush with his foot. Moved by this single act of compassion, the Buddha takes the silvery thread of a spider in Paradise and lowers it down into Hell.
Down in Hell, the myriad sinners are struggling in the Pool of Blood, in total darkness save for the light glinting off the Mountain of Spikes, and in total silence save for the sighs of the damned. Kandata, looking up by chance at the sky above the pool, sees the spider’s thread descending towards him and grabs hold with all the might of a seasoned criminal. The climb from Hell to Paradise is not a short one, however, and Kandata quickly tires. Dangling from the middle of the rope, he glances downward, and sees how far he has come. Realizing that he may actually escape from Hell, he is overcome by joy and laughs giddily. His elation is short-lived, however, as he realizes that others have started climbing the thread behind him, stretching down into the murky depths below. Fearing that the thread will break from the weight of the others, he shouts that the spider’s thread is his and his alone. It is at this moment that the thread breaks, and he and all the other sinners are cast back down into the Pool of Blood.
Shakyamuni witnesses this, knowing all but still with a slightly sad air. In the end, Kandata condemned himself by being concerned only with his own salvation and not that of others. But Paradise continues on as it has, and it is nearly noontime there. Thus the Buddha continues his meanderings.
The Two Brothers
A rich goldsmith and a poor broommaker were brothers. The broommaker had two identical twin sons. One day, the broommaker saw a golden bird in the woods, knocked off a feather, and sold it to his brother for a great sum. He pursued the bird again and found a golden egg. A third time, he brought back the bird itself, and his brother, who knew its powers — that whoever ate its heart and liver would find a gold coin beneath his pillow every night — had his wife cook it. But his nephews came to the kitchen to beg, and when two bits fell from the bird, they ate them, and the gold coins appeared beneath their pillows.
The goldsmith told his brother that his sons were in league with the devil, and persuaded him to abandon them. A huntsman took them in and taught them his trade. Once they were grown, they begged his permission to seek their fortune. He was pleased, because they talked like brave huntsmen, and let them go, giving them a knife with directions that if they ever parted, they should stick it into a tree, and when one returned, he could see how his brother fared, because the blade’s side would rust if it went ill with him.
On the way, they nearly shot a hare for hunger, but it begged for its life, offering to give them two young hares instead, so they let it go. The same happened with a fox, a wolf, a bear, and a lion. The young animals showed them a village where they could buy food. They parted ways, each one taking half the animals, and drove a knife into a tree where they parted.
The younger came to a town all hung in black, where a dragon had eaten every young maiden except the princess, who was to be given to it the next day. The huntsman climbed the dragon’s hill and found three cups and a sword. He was unable to wield the sword until he had drunk from the cups.
The next morning, the princess was brought to the hill, and the king’s marshal watched. The seven-headed dragon came and breathed fire, setting all the grass ablaze, but the animals trampled the flames out. The huntsman cut off six of its heads and its tail and had the animals tear it to bits. The princess distributed her necklace among the animals, and gave the huntsman her knife, with which he cut off the dragon’s tongues. He was exhausted and told the lion to keep watch while he slept, but the lion was also exhausted, and told the bear to keep watch, and so on down to the hare, who had no one to tell to keep watch. The marshal cut off the huntsman’s head and forced the princess to promise to say that he had rescued her.
The animals woke and would have killed the hare, but it said it knew of a root that would restore the huntsman, so they let it fetch it. The huntsman thought the princess must have killed him, to be rid of him, and wandered the world. A year later, he came back to the town and found it hung in red for the princess’s wedding to the marshal. The huntsman bet with the innkeeper that he could get bread from the king’s table, and sent the hare. The princess recognized it by the part of her necklace, and sent a loaf with it. The innkeeper would bet no more, but he sent the fox, wolf, bear, and lion for meat, vegetables, confectionery, and wine.
The king wondered at the animals, and the princess told him to send for their master. When he arrived at the castle, the seven dragon’s heads were displayed, and the huntsman opened their mouth and asked where their tongues were. He produced the tongues, and the princess confirmed his story. The marshal was executed, and the huntsman and princess married.
One day, he hunted a white stag and ended up alone in the woods. An old woman begged to come near the fire, and asked him to strike his animals with a wand so they would not harm her. This turned them to stone, and so she was able to turn him to stone.
His brother found the knife all rusted on one side, and went in search of his brother. He was welcomed as the young king in the town, but put a sword in the bed between him and the princess. Hearing what his brother had been doing, he set out to the same woods and found the same witch, but refused to strike his animals. When he shot his gun at her, she was proof to lead, but he tore off three silver buttons and shot her. He made her restore his brother, his brother’s animals, and many others.
The brothers went home, telling their tales. On hearing that his brother had been accepted as him and slept in his bed, the young king cut off his head, but repented of it. The hare brought the root again, and the brother was restored. They returned to the town, and the princess could recognize her husband by the necklace on his animals, and asked him why he had put the sword in the bed those night, revealing to him that his brother had been true.
The Golden Harvest
(A Thai Folktale)
Long ago in Old Ayudhya, there lived a man named Nai Hah Tong who dreamed of turning copper into gold. His wife, Nang Song Sai, had little faith in magic. She believed in the wealth of nature and richness of the earth. When her husband boasted, “Someday, we will be the richest people in Ayudhya”, she listened patiently; however, when all their tical had been used for experiments, she decided something would have to be done about her husband’s great expectation.
She said to her husband, “Nai Hah Tong, you have experimented with copper and a monkey spaw, copper and lizard’s tail. You have polished copper with the gold stripe of fur cut from the tigers skin, but the copper did not turn into gold. Why don’t you give up this dream and go to work like other men?”
Her husband said, “Mai chai”, that is not right. With each experiment my magic has grown stronger.”
“Mai pen rai , never mind, my husband, you must do what you must do,” she answered.
The next day, however, she went home to see her father and asked him what to do about NaiHah Tong”s unreasonable search for gold.
Her wise old father did not seem disturbed. He said, “Pai, go now, and say nothing of this meeting. I have a plan to help your husband.”
The next day Nai Hah Tong received an invitation to dine with his father-in-law. At ginukow, or meal time, Nai Hah Tong was there on the mat-covered floor beside the elderly gentleman.
The old man said, “My son, since you desired power and a long life, you sit facing east. I see honor and dignity, so I shall sit facing west.”
“Chai , yes, my father, I always follow the old relief. I never sit facing north when I eat, for I fear the bad luck such an action would cause, but sometimes, I eat facing south because I would like to have esteem and respect.”
The old man smiled and nodded in agreement.
A servant interrupted and conversation by placing a large tray bearing bowls of white rice, hot chicken curry, roasted turtle eggs, vegetables and namprick , a spicy sauce made from beetles and fish paste. Another tray held bowls of fresh water for washing, cloths for drying, and lime scent for perfuming the hands. The men ate from the same bowls, using only the fingers of their right hand. They did not speak very much while eating because the delicious food demanded their complete attention. The curry was spicy, yet sweet with the added milk of the coconut. The rice was fluffy and fresh from the top of the pot. The namprick bit the tongue, but it was good and made the mild milk drink more tasty by contrast.
When the meal was over, Nai Hah Tong felt as content as a baby gibbon sitting upon his mother’s lap.
“Ah, we are lucky for fish in the water and rice on the land,” he said.
“Chai , my son, but there is more to life than good food. I have asked you to come to see me thisevening because I need your help. Like you, my son, I have been looking for a way of turning copper intogold. Now, I know how to do it.”
Nai Hah Tong drew in his breath and made a long, long whistling sound. “Oh, it’s too good to be true! I can’t believe it!” he said.
“Listen carefully, Nai Hah Tong. I have all things I need for the miracle except one additional ingredient. Because I am an old man, I don’t think I can work hard enough and long enough to get it.”
“Mai pen rai , never mind, father, I will get whatever you nee,” Nai Hah Tong replied.
“That is not an easy as you might think, my son. I must have two kilos of soft fuzz gathered from t he underside of the banana leaf, and the fuzz must be plucked carefully from our very own banana trees. Furthermore, I know the fuzz will not perform the miracle, unless it comes from a tree planted when the magical words were spoken.”
“I can say the magic words, and I can raise the banana trees. I will collect the two kilos of banana fuzz for you,” said Nai Hah Tong.
The old man smiled and said, “I know you can do this, my son, because I have faith in you. I will loan you the money to buy the land you will need to raise banana trees.”
The young man bowed low to the older. In the hearts of each of them, there was a feeling of faith and trust.
Nai Hah Tong was determined to prepare his fields in a way which would be most pleasing to all the gods who might influence his crops. For this reason he went to his village wat and asked guidance from the priest who knew how to look at the gleaming stars and interpret the wisdom of the night sky. The priest’s saffron robe glowed in the moonlight. His bare feet made no sound as he walked from the wat to the open court. The glittering stars seemed to light the sky as the fireflies lit the darkness. The priest gazed at the stars as if they were the eyes of heaven.
Nai Hah Tong waited patiently for the priest. The only sound he heard was the lonely call of the gecko lizard hiding in a crack of the stucco wall of the wat. He counted the lizard’s croaks — nung, song,sam, see, ha, hok, jet.
“Ah, it is a rare sign of good fortune. The gecko calls seven times, bringing me good luck.”
The priest returned to his small, bare cell and opened a worn folding book. He said, “Since you were born in the year of the Ox, you must begin your plowing on Wednesday, the tenth day of the fourth lunar month. Now, do not forget to begin when the sun is midway between the horizon and the highpoint of noon.”
“Chai, chai , yes, yes. I shall do as you say.”
The priest continued. “Before this auspicious hour, you must build a shrine to the guardian spirit of the field, Phra Phum. Give him an offering of the best rice. Lay it flat on a shining green banana leaf and serve him graciously. At the north corner of your field, you must place three triangular white flags. As you mount them on bamboo poles, ask the blessing of the goddess who makes the banana tree fertile with the yellow fruit. Do not forget to praise the earth goddess and do remember to ask Phra Phum’s blessing. Ask these gods to keep hungry locusts and nibbling worms far away from fields.”
”Is there anything else that I must do?”asked Nai Hah Tong.
“Chai, you will ask your village chieftain to guide your plow three times around the field. When this is done, again honor Phra Phum with the scent of incense and the beauty of flowers plucked by your own hands.”
“All shall be done exactly as you desire,” said Nai Hah Tong.
He followed the priest’s suggestions and added one more touch of magic. With the planting of each banana tree, he uttered the special secret words given to him by his father-in-law.
The gecko had predicted good luck, so Nai Hah Tong was not surprised when his banana trees grew tall, sturdy, and heavy with blossoms. Not very long after he had thousands of firm yellow bananas and myriads of shiny leaves with a soft layer of fluffy fuzz on the underside.
Each morning Nai Hah Tong gave Phra Phum an offering of rice from the top of the pot. Then he carefully collected the soft fuzz from the underside of the banana leaves and stored it in a pottery jar. Each morning his wife, Nang song Sai, gave Phra Phum flowers and incense. Then she collected the beautiful yellow bananas, took them to market, sold them and place her tical in a pottery jar.
After three lunar years had passed, Nai Hah tong had a half kilo of banana fuzz. His wife had three pottery jars full of tical. Strangely, Nai Hah Tong was so intent upon collecting and storing the fuzz that he paid no attention to his wife’s profitable labor.
One day Nang song Sai’s father came to ask if he would have to wait much longer for the two kilos of banana fuzz. When he saw the pottery jar partially full, he appeared worried. “I am an old man. If you don’t get more land, more banana trees, and more banana fuzz, I shall not live to see copper turned into gold.”
“Mai pen rai, never mind, father. I will borrow more money to buy more land. Then there shall be more banana trees and I can collect even more banana fuzz,” said Nai Hah Tong.
Now Nai Hah Tong and his faithful wife worked for many years. The moons rose, waxed, and waned, days ran after days until finally the time arrived when each had accomplished a goal. Nang Song Sai had collected many jars full of tical. Nai Hah Tong had two jars full of banana fuzz. As you can imagine, it was an especially happy day. Nai Hah Tong shouted to his wife, “Run and bring your father here. Today he can test his magic. If all goes well, we shall see red copper grow until it is as gold as the sun of Siam.”
When the old man arrived, Nai Hah Tong bowed very low before him and presented him with the treasured banana fuzz. The old man said: “Arise, my son; today you will be a rich man.”
Nai Hah Tong trembled nervously. Litter rivers of perspiration ran down his face. His fingers shook like banana leaves in the wind. The old man, on the other hand, was not in a hurry. He turned to his daughter and calmly asked, “Have you made any money from the sale of the bananas?”
“Oh, yes, chai, chai, my father,” she said.
Nai Hah Tong thought his father-in-law must be out of his mind. When the copper was waiting to be turned into gold, why worry about the sale of a few bananas?
Nang Song Sai brought a tray piled high with golden tical and placed it before her husband.
“Aha!”said her father. “Now, Nai Hah Tong, just look at all this money that has been made by following my directions. My son, I cannot turn copper into gold, but you and my daughter have harvested gold from the sale of your bananas. You cared for the young plants until they became trees producing delicious fruit. Is not that just as great a miracle as turning copper into gold?”
Nai Ha Tong did not answer because he felt like a fool, but he was a very rich fool.
His clever wife knelt before him to show her love and respect. When she arouse she said, “My husband, you are a master magician. With the help of the gods you cleared land. You cared for the banana trees with the same loving care we give our son. You made the gods happy, and they rewarded you with the golden fruit of the banana trees.”
“Mai chai, that is not right, my clever wife. Do not put a story under your arm and walk away with it. It is your father who is the master magician. he has made his honorable daughter and worth lesson-in-law the richest people in Ayudhya.”
Nai Hah Tong looked at the meaningless pile of banana fuzz mounted high on the table under the smiling face of his father-in-law. Right there and then it is said, Nai Hah Tong mixed the banana fuzz with a little water and carefully molded a statue of the old man.
“What are you doing?” asked his wife.
“I am making a statue of your father. I hope our sons and our son’s sons will treasure it as an heirloom. Each time they look upon it, they will be reminded of my foolishness and your father’s wisdom.”
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