"Tales from a Taiwan Kitchen"
How the Dragon Lost His Tail
Once long ago before the Jade Emperor put people on the earth, China was a great sleeping father dragon lying in the shape of a perfect circle with only the tip of his tail sticking out into the sea.
In the China Sea the young dragons played about, splashing the water into little storms, breathing wispy clouds, and fighting each other to make tiny typhoons for the annoyance of the world.
The young dragons finally tired of this sport.
"I want Father to wake up and make us a great storm," said the first little dragon.
"I want Father to wake up and breathe fearful black clouds," said the second little dragon.
"I want Father to wake up and make a fierce typhoon," said the third little dragon.
But the father dragon continued to sleep. The little dragons became more restless.
"Let's wake our father. He has been sleeping too long," said the little dragons.
So the first little dragon made a rush through the sea and nipped at the big dragon who was still coiled in a circle. He made a small dent in the circle.
Then the second little dragon took a bit, and third little dragon followed the example. The father dragon stirred but he did not awaken.
Nip, nip--the young dragons grew bolder, taking out great bits and pieces of their father's scaly back, eating into the perfect circle, spitting bites into the water.
Finally the father dragon woke up with a roar that made the earth tremble. He lashed his tail so hard that the tip, weakened by so many bites, broke off and fell into the sea with a crashing splash. A little dragon was trapped underneath.
The father dragon was so angry that he turned over to the south of China and stretched out with his head to the west and his cut-off tail to the east and went back to sleep.
On the map today you can see the lased-off tail tip. It is the Island of Taiwan. The mountain range down the middle of the island is the little dragon underneath. The ragged seacoast of China shows where the bites came out, and to the south of China lies the forbidding father dragon himself, sleeping away his anger. They call the
Himalayan Mountains on the map.
But not shown on the map are the naughty young dragons who play about in the Taiwan Straits and China Sea causing typhoons, storm, or just wispy clouds.
A New Year's Story
Long ago, before there was any New Year's celebration in Taiwan, there was an unhappy fishing village facing onto the Taiwan Straits.
Unhappy and unlucky, for there was a fearful menace that kept the village in perpetual sorrow and fear. Out in the sea someone had killed a dragon, a dreadfully unlucky thing to do , and the ghost of the dragon came back to terrify the town.
Once a year in the cold bitter moon of winter the ghostly dragon would steal up on the shore, and, in a bellow too terrible for this world, he would demand a first-born son for his lagging appetit.
If anyone resisted, the dragon would then come closer to the town and breathe his hot stinking breath on the humans who would fall sick, and then the dragon would threaten to destroy the entire town. Each time this happened, a crowd would gather at the temple and decide that it was best to sacrifice one person and save the town, hoping that the monster would never come back. But monster always did come, in the bitter cold month of mid winter, when the moon was dim and frozen and people shivered as they huddled around their charcoal post. Family after family was required to sacrifice its first-born son.
One year when it was time for the dragon to appear, the Widow Teng was next on the list to supply the human sacrifice. The old Taoist priest came around to tell her that in four days she must have her only son, a beautiful boy of five, ready for the hungry dragon ghost.
The people in the village were accustomed to the sounds of wild wailing when the unlucky person was told the ill tidings.
But to the surprise of her neighbors the Widow Teng did not wail.
"I have no time to wail," she said tersely. "I am going to think of a way to outwit the dragon. He shall not have my son."
Mrs. Teng had four days and nights to think. For three days and nights she paced the floor, prayed to her ancestors, prayed to Matsu and Kuan Yin and all the gods whose names she knew. Meantime her beautiful son played innocently under the banyan tree in the dooryard, never suspecting that he was soon to be fed to the dragon ghost. She consulted the fortune teller and priests but all in vain. Nobody knew how to avoid the death by the ghostly dragon. Dragon ghosts can't be killed or locked. What remained?
Finally, on the afternoon before the dragon ghost was due to arrive, the poor woman was so exhausted that she fell down on the floor before the family altar and dropped into a deep sleep. Her little son, tiptoeing into the room in order not to wake her, was careful not to walk between his and the altar, which was a lucky thing or he would have cut off her dreams.
For she was dreaming. Since she had stayed awake for the past three nights, all the dreams that should have come to her night by night crowded into her head in her deep sleep. There were dragons and ghosts and fright and fear and anger and innocent children and blood and great noises and joy and sorrow all mixed together in one great phantasmagoria of a dream.
When Mrs. Teng awoke at about three o'clock in the morning she was cold and stiff. She her head a great shake and the dream fell into a pattern.
Dragons, the dream told her, are afraid of two things. They are afraid of the sight of blood and they are afraid of loud noises. If a body is afraid of something, he is likely to run from it. So the widow, who had courage, determination , and wit, made a plan.
She would cover her door with blood, and she would make so much noise that she would frighten the dragon away.
But how? She was so poor that she did not even own a chicken that she could kill for its blood. But Mrs. Teng loved her child too much to hesitate. And she had courage. Taking her sharp knife, she cut her own vein and smeared a cloth with her own blood to terrify the dragon. This she hung over the door to her house.
Now the Widow Teng knew that firecrackers make the best noise of all, but how could she, as poor as she was, afford firecrackers? And if she could afford them, how would she find them at this hour? It was now four o'clock in the morning. She must think of something. In one more hour the dragon would be stalking to her door. But Mrs. Teng had wit.
Out into the biting, scary night she crept with her sharp knife. By the ghostly light of the dim bitter moon she hacked at the bamboo in her yard, choosing a dozen heavy joints. She knew that when bamboo is burned the joints split and give off a tremendous racked. If she could time the fire so that the bamboo would burst at just the right moment of dawn, her prayers might be answered and there was a chance that the dragon ghost would be scared away.
She stacked the bamboo just so into a pyramid that would burn quickly and powerfully and explode at precisely the right moment. Then, because she had determination, she crouched in the doorway, torch in hand shivering with cold and fright while waiting for the dragon ghost to return.
Thump, thump. The world was so quiet that nothing could be heard except the wild beating of her heart. Her little son slept without stirring. dawn was so slow to come that the sun seemed to be frozen below the horizon. The lighted faggot shook in her trembling fingers. Suppose the bamboo failed. Suppose, suppose.
And then she heard it, a rattling and a groan, a swishing with a hot evil smell. Her flesh crawled and her hair stood up. There was light in the sky, or was is the fire from the dragon ghost's foaming mouth? The earth floor shook as he drew nearer to her miserable little house with its fearful edging of blood on the door. Mrs. Teng lit her bamboo pyramid.
Every house in town was bolted tightly against the dragon, and all the occupants were deep in the family beds with cover piled over their heads. But they were awake. Who could sleep, knowing the agony of Widow Teng?
Widow Teng sat tight lipped an tense, watching her fire. Finally, with a bellow that shook the ancestor tablets on the family altar, the dragon ghost stopped at her door.
BANG! BANG! BANG! the burning bamboo exploded just as the first ray of dawn lit the sky, giving enough light for the dragon ghost to see the ghastly blood-smeared cloth over the door.
The Widow Teng held her breath for one long minute and let it out in a sigh that left her too weak to move.
The monster turned and ran from the town, terrified by the exploding bamboo and sight of human blood!
How the firecrackers did pop in the town that day! Bells rang, gongs bonged, people shouted. They had fond how to keep the dragon ghost away.
And that is why there is a New Year's celebration in Taiwan, a celebration with blood red papers on the doors and noisy firecrackers that crash in every house just as the light of day comes over the horizon.
For the people remember that the ghost of dragons run with fright at crashing noises and the sight of blood. And who know, the ghost of the dragon may come back if they forget to scare him away at dawn on the first of the Lunar New Year!
But the father dragon continued to sleep. The little dragons became more restless.
"Let's wake our father. He has been sleeping too long," said the little dragons.
So the first little dragon made a rush through the sea and nipped at the big dragon who was still coiled in a circle. He made a small dent in the circle.
Then the second little dragon took a bit, and third little dragon followed the example. The father dragon stirred but he did not awaken.
Nip, nip--the young dragons grew bolder, taking out great bits and pieces of their father's scaly back, eating into the perfect circle, spitting bites into the water.
Finally the father dragon woke up with a roar that made the earth tremble. He lashed his tail so hard that the tip, weakened by so many bites, broke off and fell into the sea with a crashing splash. A little dragon was trapped underneath.
The father dragon was so angry that he turned over to the south of China and stretched out with his head to the west and his cut-off tail to the east and went back to sleep.
On the map today you can see the lased-off tail tip. It is the Island of Taiwan. The mountain range down the middle of the island is the little dragon underneath. The ragged seacoast of China shows where the bites came out, and to the south of China lies the forbidding father dragon himself, sleeping away his anger. They call the Himalaya Mountains on the map.
But not shown on the map are the naughty young dragons who play about in the Taiwan Straits and China Sea causing typhoons, storm, or just wispy clouds.
The First Moon - LANTERN FESTIVAL
The Lantern Baby
There was once a poor duckherd named Koo who lived with his herd of ducks and his sweet, smiling wife near the shore at Tamsui where the ocean meets the river. He had beautiful mountains, plenty of fresh water, fat ducks, and a peaceful home dedicated to the goddess Kuan Yin, whose benighn statue smiled at him from the family altar, but he was not happy. Nor was his gentle wife, for they had no children. Mrs. Koo was always longing to carry a baby on her back like the other women when they went to the temple or to market.
But they loved the baby ducklings that filled the duck pens each spring. Koo watched over them as if they were his own children, herding them to the river for a swim, leading them back when night came, and protecting them from foxes and sea serpents and wicked men who would fancy stealing a fat duck.
"Come, my duckies," Koo would croon. "Let us march to the river.And the obedient birds would fall into line and march one two, one two, on their flat duck feet, quacking and squalling as they cheerfully obeyed the duckherd. And who not? They were going to the river, which was the best of all possible places to spend a day, for a duck.
But one spring there was a different kind of duckling. She wouldn't stay with the herd. Koo and his wife spent their days chasing the runaway duck. She was the fattest and the fittest of the entire flock, and she was so smart that the Koos loved her like a child. But they were often outdone by the naughty doings of the wandering duck.
In the mornings when Koo opened the pens to line up the ducks for the daily trip to the river, the other ducks preened their feathers and told their dreams. But the adventurous duck would whip away from the others and run to the kitchen door where Koo's wife would grab her and cuddle her in her arms, smoothing her feathers a bit before she sent the duck back to the herd with a small scolding.
Or the duckling would fly away and run to the front door of the house and in through the brick-edged doorway which was surrounded with red good luck papers. Once she was so bold that she jumped on the altar and nestled down under the skirt of Kuan Yin, hiding there until Koo's wife found her and returned her to the flock. They called her Runaway Duck.
As the duckling grew into a duck, it was harder to catch her. Day after day Koo chased Runaway Duck.
"Let her go," advised the neighbors. "You'll lose your entire herd chasing that one wandering duck."
The neighbors began to laugh at the Koos and call them the Koo-Koos.
But still Koo loved Runaway Duck more than all the rest.
Finally, Koo's wife moved her into the house to live with them so they could keep an eye on her. She slept in a basket beside the bed and rewarded the Koos by snapping at mosquitoes that tried to steal beneath the Koo's bed net. So close was she to the household that her quacking began to resemble human speech.
Latern-latern-latern-latern, temple,-temple-temple-temple, quacked Runaway Duck.
"I believe she wants to go to the next Lantern Festival at the temple," said Mrs. Koo.
But Koo, who was beginning to feel his neighbors' laughter, told Runaway Duck to be quiet, speaking sternly as a father does to a naughty daughter.
Runaway Duck pouted at this unexpected order, and that morning when the duck escaped from the flock at the seashore she ran harder than ever and dived into the ocean and swam away as fast as she could.
Koo dived in after her, grabbing for her from wave to wave. The other ducks waddled helplessly on the shore, quacking away their disapproval of the delinquent sister.
Finally a mighty wave swallowed both Koo and Runaway Duck, and when Koo got his head out of the water she was gone. Vainly Koo searched the sea bottom, but there was no duck. He found only a strange shell shaped rather like a duck egg.
Poor Koo hated to face his wife for he knew she would grieve her heart away. But he hoped the strange shell might divert her for a time, and he took it home with him in his pocket as he crept woefully up the road, leading the other ducks.
Mrs. Koo was indeed broken hearted, but she was sensitive to her husband's sorrow and consented to dry her tears long enough to look at the strange thing Koo had brought. It was not exactly an egg nor was it like any shell they had ever seen before. They laid it on the table and felt it and patted it. Mrs. Koo picked it up and shook it.
"Let me out, let me out," cried a voice from the egg, and Mrs. Koo in her fright dropped it onto the hard earthen floor where it broke.
Then the Koos stood and stared. A tiny creature, half girl, half dragon, lay curled within the broken egg.
Mrs. Koo picked up the little thing and held it in her hand. It was only about four inches long, and it was twitching about angrily as it snatched at the inch-long hair that fell into its pretty doll-like face.
"Why you funny little thing!" cried Mrs. Koo in delight.
"Is that my name then, Little Thing?" asked the creature, sitting up on its dragon tail and staring at Mrs. Koo.
"That's a good name," said Koo, reaching out his rough finger to touch the strange baby, who reached bravely for the giant finger.
From that moment on they called her Little Thing. Koo could hardly keep his mind on his ducks, and Mrs. Koo was so enchanted with her new plaything that she could hardly remember to cook the daily rice and brew the tea.
Koo held the tiny dragon in his hand while Mrs. Koo took the carefully hoarded skeins of silk fiber she had taken from the mulberry trees in the yard and fashioned a soft mattress. Then Mrs. Koo took toothpicks and cut them down to proper chopstick size for Little Thing, and she cooked one grain of rice for her breakfast.
Little Thing was delighted. The Koos did nothing but try to please her, and she was happy with each new deed. Koo, utterly neglecting the duck herd, ran to the seashore and found a perfect clam shell for a bathtub and swimming pool. Mrs. Koo fashioned a comb from the backbone of a goldfish, and Koo made a looking glass from an exceptionally bright fish scale.
With duck's down they made diminutive blankets and jackets. Nothing was too good for Little Thing. Of course she became spoiled.
Curious neighbors came in droves to see her. Little Thing would preen and smile, or pout and splash water. No matter what she did, Koo and Mrs. Koo smiled indulgently and let her have her way. But they never took her away from home lift her alone, and when it was necessary for the Koos to leave home they went one at a time for fear Little Thing would disappear as mysteriously as she arrived.
"I want to go to the Lantern Festival at the temple," said Little Thing one morning as the last firecracker for Lunar New Year blew up in smoke.
"Oh, Little Thing, I think that is very unwise," Said Mrs. Koo. "There will be such crowds there with all the children and their lanterns, and the First Moon is so dim. Someone might grab you or you might get lost. You know how hard it is to protect you from curious people even right here in our house.
Little Thing stuck her tiny lips out in a pout. It was most unbecoming.
When Koo came home from the beach, Little Thing flipped her dragon tail and combed her inch-long hair and asked for the heart of a japonica blossom to pin in it. Then she turned to Koo and said sweetly, "I want to go to the temple for Lantern Festival".
"Whatever you say, Little Thing", said Koo, although Mrs. Koo held up a warning finger. He remembered the naughty duck's quacking about the temple-temple-temple and he was afraid.
Little Thing was delighted. Nothing could be talked about except the coming trip to the lantern-lit temple.
"Tell me about it," Little Thing would demand, and Mrs. Koo would sit down on the doorstep in the middle of her morning chores with Little Thing on her silk bed in her hand and tell her over and over how the children would be abroad all night with gay, glowing lanterns.
"Why?" asked Little Thing, who never hesitated to ask questions.
"Because the heavenly spirits can be seen flying in the light of the first moon if there is enough light on earth. The first moon is so weak it cannot give enough light by itself, so the children light the earth."
"I want a lantern," said Little Thing imperiously. So Koo said he would make two lanterns, one not over an inch high, the other bigger than Mrs. Koo's head.
Little Thing watched excitedly while Koo took tender straws and mulberry paper, a snip of gauzy silk, a snake scale, and a drop of amber resin and cleverly put them together into a dragon-shaped lantern with the tiniest candle inside that anyone had ever seen. Little Thing flipped over with delight, slashing her dragon tail to show her appreciation.
Koo fashioned a larger version of the same lantern for Mrs. Koo, for no one could come to the temple on Festival night without a lantern to light the celestial spirits. She told how the children would parade through the temple for the monks to bless their lanterns.
"How shall I be carried?" asked Little Thing on the day before Lantern Festival. "I want to be in the Lantern Parade, too."
"Your father, Koo, will carry you in his hand, and I will carry the lanterns," said Mrs. Koo.
"No," said Little Thing. "I want Father to carry the big lantern and I want you to carry the small lantern, and I want to ride on your back in a carry-baby like all other Taiwanese children."
Mrs. Koo thought of the times she had yearned to have a baby on her back like the other women, but she had been so happy lately, first with Runaway Duck and then with Little Thing, that she had almost forgotten about a baby on her back. But still she was uneasy.
"Little Thing," she said, "you are so tiny, I'm afraid you might slip through the cracks and fall off my back."
Little Thing, being spoiled, always became furious when she was crossed.
"I want to ride on your back," she demanded and began to stamp her five-toed dragon feet and to cry girl tears the size of grains of sea sand.
"Very well, then," agreed Mrs. Koo soothingly. " will make a small carry-baby and take you on my back."
So with long, long strips of cloth to tie around her own body and a tiny, tiny center to hold Little Thing in place, Mrs. Koo constructed a carry-baby to tie Little Thing onto her back.
Lantern Festival fell on a cold clear night with a dim winter moon hanging over the sea. Everywhere there were lanterns lighting the earth so the celestial spirits could be seen flying high in the sky. There were puppet shows and dragon dances, and the sounds of fire-crackers, gongs, and horns filled the air.
Little Thing bounced with joy and excitement on Mrs. Koo's back. Everyone, including Little Thing, was eating round sweet dumplings for good luck.
At last it was time to go into the temple for the Lantern Parade.
Mrs. Koo carried Little Thing's diminutive lantern in her hand while Little Thing wiggled excitedly on her shoulder. Koo, a little embarrassed by the curious stares of his neighbors, carried the big dragon-shaped lantern in front of himself. Since it was the year of the dragon, many of the lanterns were in dragon shapes.
There were also lanterns in the shapes of stars, and turtles, and pigs, and flowers, and butterflies. Little Thing was more excited than she had ever been in her life, slapping her tail around and curling up her dragon toes in delight at each new sight. Mrs. Koo kept up a constant flow of chatter over her shoulder.
An old priest sat in a chair inspecting the lanterns as the parade filed by. Little Thing grew so quiet and still that Mrs. Koo tried to look over her shoulder and see, but she couldn't turn her head that far. She reached her hand behind her to feel it Little Thing were still in place.
But there was nothing there. Mrs. Koo's wail of despair was drowned out in the wail of a new-born baby and resulting hub-bub of Koo's dropping his lantern. There was a great commotion, and old priest tucked his arms inside his black robe and frowned because grown-ups were not supposed to be in the parade except to lead little children. Mrs. Koo was spinning about on the floor looking for Little Thing. What a commotion!
But that was all forgotten when Koo picked up his lantern and found that there was a full-sized baby inside with a face rather like Little Thing's but with a real baby-girl's body.
They never found Little Thing. The old priest said she had been turned into a real baby by special magic. Then he said more magic over the new baby so she would never turn into a Runaway Duck or a Little Thing again.
Koo and his wife were forever happy with their daughter. Later they had a flock of sons, too. Some the girl whom they called Ako would run, run, run on the beach and dash away from her flock of brothers, and Koo would smile, recalling Runaway Duck. At other times Ako would sit and comb her long black hair and behave rather imperiously, and Mrs. Koo would be reminded of Little Thing.
For there is nothing as good as a real, live, baby, not even cleaver ducks or tiny half-dragons.
The Third Moon - MATSU'S BIRTHDAY
A fisherman named Jingi from the west coast of Taiwan became lost in a fierce
storm. Hour after hour, the killing winds and tides hurled him about in the
water of the Taiwan Straits. He prayed to the Goddess Matsu, the merciful mother
of distressed seamen.
"Please, Matsu, save me and my humble boat. Calm the dragons so that the
storm may abate. Take me to safe harbor and bring me good fortune, undeserving
as I am."
Matsu took pity on the fisherman, for he was a good man, filial to his
ancestors, generous to his relatives, and fair to his neighbors. She entreated
the dragons that were causing the disturbance in the Straits to cease their
fighting and let the waters be calm again.
Jingi held onto the mast of his boat until it came to safe haven. He stepped
ashore expecting to be at home in his native village, but instead he found
himself in a large port on the Mainland of China.
On, cried Jingi to himself, beating his chest in self-punishment. I forgot to
ask Matsu to take me home. I only asked for a safe harbor. Oh, well, he consoled
himself; now that I am here I shall see the king's palace.
Jingi tied up his boat and fastened onto the bow a pair of baqua eyes,
painted symbols that made the boat itself appear to have eyes that could detect
and scare away thieves and evil spirits. He took out the last pieces of dried
fish from his watertight box under the bow, wrapped them inside a banana leaf,
stuffed the bundle in his shirt, and set out for the palace.
Being only a simple villager, Jingi walked wide-eyed through the city looking
this way and that, not daring to speak to anyone. But he notices that the people
were all sad. Nowhere was there any laughter or light-hearted play as there was
Finally he came to the king's palace, where he found the guards with long faces
and silent voices.
Jingi walked three times around the palace walls to see what he could see of the
magnificent building. The palace and the grounds were as beautiful as the hand
of man could make them, but there was no sound of joy. Jingi began to feel his
face grow long and sorrowful too, like those of the people around him.
With a deep sigh he sat down beneath a mulberry tree near a guard post and,
reaching inside his shirt, pulled out his dried fish.
The minute he spread his fish on the ground before him, a voice shouted in his
ears, "Fish, fish, DRIED fish," cried the guard. "Give it to
"Why should I give you my fish?" asked Jingi, protecting his food from
the greedy guard who was snatching and pulling to get it.
"Because the king wants it," said the guard. "We have had no
dried fish for many month, and king has declared that he will not speak until he
has a plateful of dried fish to season his rice."
"Very well than," said Jingi. " Take me to the king and I will
give him the fish.
"Oh, no," replied the guard. "Just give the fish to me. I will
take it to the king for you."
"No, thank you," said Jingi, protecting the fish from the grasping
hands that continued to grab.
"Then I shall buy it from you," said the exasperated guard. "
will give you a good price."
"No, I think not," said Jingi coolly. "I am beginning to suspect
that there might be a reward for my fish since the king is so eager for it. Take
me to the king."
"Do you think the king would let a simple fellow like you come into his
presence? Give me the fish and I will bring you the reward it there is
one," said the guard. "Otherwise you cannot see the king."
Jingi thought for a moment. "Take me to the king." he said, "and
I will divide the reward with you."
"Give me half of it," demanded the greedy guard.
"Oh, more than half," said Jingi generously.
"You are a good fellow," said the guard jubilantly as he led Jingi
through the palace grounds.
They found the king in his inner courtyard, sitting sadly under a willow tree.
Jingi knelt before the ruler and presented the dried fish in both hands.
The king was overjoyed. He opened his mouth and spoke for the first time in
weeks as he ordered his servants to prepare him a dish of dried fish and rice.
"Now," said the king, "name your reward."
"Oh, Honorable Ruler, I would like to have a thousand lashes with a
whip," said Jingi modestly.
"What?" cried the ruler laughing. "Is this man an idiot?"
"Perhaps," said Jingi, "but I still want that for my reward.
Please give me the first 499 with a velvet ribbon and the last 501 with a
Jingi took off his shirt and knelt before the laughing ruler while a servant
tickled his back with a velvet ribbon. After 499 tickles, Jingi stood up.
"In order to bring this fish to your majesty I had to promise this guard
that I would give him over half of my reward. So the next 501 pieces of reward
are for him."
The king was so angry with the greedy and dishonest guard that he ordered the
leather lashes laid on heavily, after which he dismissed the guard form the
But the king was so amused with Jingi's cleverness that he rewarded him further
with 501 pieces of gold. Jingi took the money back to his poor family in Taiwan
where they lived happily ever after.
There was once a Japanese boy named Taro who lived near the sea in Southern
Taiwan where the waves licked the sand with green tongues. He had been washed
ashore from a foundered fishing boat when he was very young and became lost from
his own family. But he had been brought up by a kindly Taiwanese family named
Lin who taught him to fish and to enjoy life.
Taro had no family and no fortune but he had a kind heart and a curious mind, a
combination which his foster father said would be his undoing.
One day Taro, nearly a young man by now, was walking on the crescent-shaped
golden beach. He saw a crowd of boys ahead of him, squealing with laughter and
jumping about with sticks as though they were playing some game.
Taro, being curious, hurried up to see what was going on. There in the center of
the crowd lay a poor old sea turtle turned over on its back with it four feet
kicking helplessly in the air. The naughty boys were poking it with sticks.
"For shame," said Taro, reaching to rescue the creature. "The
poor turtle is helpless there on its back. What sport is there to poking
"It's our turtle," said the boys. "Keep your hand off. We are
going to sell it."
"Then I will buy it from you," said Taro generously.
The boys laughed. "How would you pay for it?"
Now Taro had a few coins saved from his work as a fisherman. He gave them to the
boys, who agreed to turn the turtle onto its feet and send it back to the sea.
Some days later when Taro was walking on the same beach where the sunbeams skip
on the water, he heard a voice calling, "Taro, Taro, kind-hearted
Taro looked up, over, under, and about, but he could see no one.
"Who is calling me?" he asked, his curiosity aroused again.
"Here I am," said a voice from the sea.
Taro looked again and saw a
turtle crawling out of a big wave onto the beach. "Remember me?" asked
Taro grinned and scratched his head. He really didn't remember ever having
talked to turtle before. "No, but hello," he said in a very friendly
tone in spite of not recognizing the stranger.
"Of course you know me," insisted the turtle. "You saved my life
the other day. I belong to the Sea Princess. When I went home and told her how
you had saved my life, she said nothing would do but that I bring you down to
her palace under the sea so she could thank you herself."
"There was no need of that," said Taro modestly, "but I have
always been curious about the bottom of the sea, and I am pleased to accept your
How do I get there without drowning?"
"Just climb on my back," said the turtle. "I will take you
So Taro climbed on the turtle's back and shut his eyes and held his breath, and
before he had time to think a thought he found himself inside a beautiful palace
made of coral and seashells. It was lit by captive sunbeams and decorated with
pearls. Taro was gawking at the magnificence when a voice as sweet as the echo
of a silver ship's bell on a quiet moonlight night spoke to him.
"Taro turned around to face the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She
moves like seaweed in gently flowing water, and her cloudy black hair floated
around her cameo pink face, the loveliest face Taro had ever seen.
Taro bowed deeply. "It was nothing," he said.
"You were very good to my turtle," she insisted. "I would like to
be your friend and have you stay here with me in the palace. You shall have
everything you ask for. What would you like?'
Taro, who was a happy fellow by nature, was out of the habit of asking for
things so he could think of nothing to say, but he nodded his head, meaning that
he would like to stay in the sea garden with the princess.
"How old are you?" he asked the princess curiously.
The princess smiled knowingly. " I am as old as time," she replied.
" Stay with me and you shall be so, too."
Life under the sea was enchanting. Taro and the princess danced with sea
urchins. They ate jellyfish hearts, and they slept on fresh algae. They made
beautiful designs with seaweed and sent them off to the surface of the sea to
delight children on the beach. They painted new colors on seashells and
rearranged the scales on baby fish, making them more beautiful.
Some days they polished new pearls or made growing sticks of coral pinker than
ever. All these things they shipped off to the beaches of Taiwan on the back of
the turtle, which liked to lurk on the edge of the sea from time to time.
Sometimes Taro thought of the Taiwan beach, the last bit of earth he had seen.
Perhaps he should go back and see what had happened to his foster family and
tell the boys who had tormented the turtle about the wonders of like under the
But the princess pouted and became downright sad when Taro told her he was
thinking of making a visit back to the earth.
"Why do you want to go back, Taro?" she teased. "What good things
does the earth have that we don't have here in our undersea kingdom?"
But Taro didn't know himself why he wanted to go back. "I won't stay
long," he promised.
"You will, you will," cried the princess, her tears turning into pink
pearls. "You'll never come back."
I promise to come back," said Taro. "I'm just curious to know how
things are on earth."
The next morning Taro ate a big breakfast of sea rice and kelp rootlets and,
waving to the princess, climbed onto the turtle's back.
The princess ran to the gate with a box in her hands.
"Here is a gift for you. This box has magic inside it. As long as you keep
the box you may come to see me any time you wish. But don't open it. If you open
the box you may never come back to me again."
Taro laughed. "I told you I would come back." But he took the box and
It was indeed a beautiful box, inlaid with pink coral and decorated with crusty
pearls and shining fish scales. The box was small enough to fit into Taro's
pocket, but it was large enough to poke him in the ribs and remind him that it
The turtle whisked Taro to the Taiwan beach where it had picked him up.
Taro climbed off the turtle's back and looked around. The beach was the same
curving crescent filled with golden sand and the waves still licked it with
green tongues, but he saw no familiar faces. He wandered into the village with
his gift box digging into his side.
He sauntered up and down the once familiar streets. The temple was there, only a
little dingier and more worn than before, the houses looked the same, with here
and there a new fence or a new room. But the people! They were all strangers.
A white-bearded old man leaning on his can as he drowsed on the temple steps
looked up when he saw Taro staring in a puzzled manner at the people in the
market across the way.
"Are you seeking someone?" asked the old man.
"I am looking for the friends of Taro, the foster son of Lin," said
The old man lost his drowsy look. "Why, that was long ago," he said.
"My grandfather told me that story. Taro saved a sea turtle from some bad
boys and a week later Taro was drowned. We never touch turtles here now."
The old man shook his head in wonder at the stranger.
Taro shook his head, too, trying to clear it of the astonishing thoughts that
were tearing through his head. Everywhere he went it was the same story.
"Yes, I have heard of Taro. Yes, he was drowned many years ago."
Taro wondered back to the beach, curious as to how time could stand still under
the water but move ahead here on earth.
There was timelessness about the way the green waves licked the golden sand,
about the way then sunbeams skipped on the water, about the way the bamboo bent
back and forth under the wind. Only the people had changed.
Taro felt the box poke his ribs. Idly he took it out and examined the intricate
cover with its pearls and pink coral. The box was as immortal as the sea
Instinctively he knew the answer would be in the box. That was why the princess
had told him not to open it, because she did not want him to know the answer. If
he did not follow his mortal impulse of curiosity to open the box, he could call
the turtle and go back under the water to be an immortal. If he opened it, he
would satisfy his mortal curiosity. Who am I? thought Taro dizzily. Am I mortal
His hand reached for the box. "I must discover the truth," said Taro
As he lifted the lid of the box a thick white cloud enveloped him and mysterious
"You are mortal, Taro. You have asked the question and you must take the
consequences. Time never stands still for mortals. You may never go back to your
beautiful timeless princess. You have chosen life and time, which means old
Taro looked down at himself. Hanging from his chin was a long white beard. His
hands were wrinkled and gnarled as an old banyan root. From far away heard a
sound like the echo of a silver ship's bell on a quiet moonlight night. Time had
caught up with him.
A bent old Taro reached for a stick and hobbled up the beach toward the temple.
He was curious to find out what had happened in the town while he was gone.
How to Become a Dragon
Under the Taiwan Straits, the corridor that divides Taiwan from Mainland
China, there is a mythical gate guarded by five-toed dragons.
Day and night the dragons patrol this gate, swishing their tails and cavorting
in the water to make waves, snorting out clouds to make rain, and roaring
thunder to scare the fish.
And no wonder, because if a fish slips through the Dragon Gate, he becomes a
dragon, too. If all the fish become dragons, then what is the distinction in
being a dragon?
The fish come in schools, and in groups, in scores, and in pairs to try to jump
over, run around, or slide through the Dragon Gate. But the dragons are ready,
lying in wait to stop ambitious fish.
After a few tries most of the fish go away, fearful of the five-toed dragons.
"Suppose you do get through," said one carp fish mother discouragingly
one day to her children. "What would you know about being a dragon?"
"Yes, Mother," said one little carp respectfully. But his brother
"Leave me here," he said to his family. "I am going to stay and
try very hard to get through the gate. I want to be a five-toed dragon more than
anything in the world."
The other carp swam away, more interested in finding a fine morsel to eat than
in the fate of the ambitious little fish.
"Think of that! That little carp wants to be one of us," laughed the
dragons, causing a heavy rain on Taiwan.
But the little carp, undaunted, stayed by the Dragon Gate and tried his best to
swim through. He failed. He tried to swim around it. He failed.
"Go away," said the proud dragon guard. "You are just an ordinary
little fish. What makes you think you can ever be a dragon?"
"Because I'm ambitious and persistent," said the fish. "I can
wait. I have lots of time."
The dragon laughed haughtily, but he kept one eye open. No fish was going to
steal through his gate while he was guarding it!
Days and weeks went by. Schools of fish came and went. Dragons fought and played
and held contests to see which one could cause the greatest rainstorms. The
little carp fish watched and waited. What was a dragon's weak spot? Dragons, he
decided, are vain.
"I thought dragons could fly," said the little carp one day when he
was lurking around the gate as usual. "Why don't you?"
"I can fly," said the dragon disdainfully, "Better than birds, I
"I don't believe you can," said the clever little fish, and swam away
swishing his tail.
The next day the little fish came again. "I never saw you fly," he
said. "I'm sorry you can't."
"Of course I can," said the dragon hotly. He was very proud of being a
five-toed dragon that could soar in the air.
"I don't believe you," said the wily fish. "Perhaps you aren't a
real dragon after all."
"I'll show you I can," bellowed the dragon to the sly little fish. And
with a swish of rage he rushed up to the surface, making a double circle through
The little carp flashed through the unguarded Dragon Gate. Seconds later the
dragon guard was back at his post.
"So you can fly after all," said the little carp admiringly. He began
to feel himself growing larger as he watched his fish scales turning into dragon
The dragon gave a bellow that upset a fishing boat near Tamsui.
But he stopped and let a smile of admiration come over his fierce dragon face.
"I wanted you to be a dragon all the time," he said. "You have
the ambition and the persistence and the wit to be a dragon. So I just let you
through because I wanted to."
And the little carp, which by now had miraculously turned into a haughty dragon
himself, gave the dragon guard a cuff with his new five-toed foot.
That's why it rained in Taiwan that day. The dragons were fighting in the Taiwan
The Clam Girl
Aho stood in the prow of his fishing boat and peered into the calm sea ahead.
Nothing, not even a tiny minnow, stirred in the water.
"Help me, baqua," he said to the two eyes painted on either side of
the bow of the boat. But the two painted eyes kept staring at the sea. Their job
was to scare away fishing ghosts, not to provide special help to a penniless,
He had to catch fist. It he had no luck again this day, he would be forced to
sell his boat. If only he could make the sea help him.
Day after day and year after year, fishermen take from the sea whatever they can
get, he thought as he poled along in the shallow water. Perhaps I should give
something to the sea. "But what I to give?" he said aloud, as though
the sea had spoken to him.
Then he felt his small, lucky clamshell in his pocket. He loved this little pink
shell that he had found on the beach one day. It was as pink as the inside of a
maiden's ear and as rough as an old man's wrinkles. He liked to look at it and
run his fingers over its rides.
It was his only treasure. He took it from his pocket, fingered it lovingly,
kissed it good-bye, and tossed it over the side into the sea.
The little lam shell skipped over the smooth water and dropped out of sight. Aho
sat down in his boat, tilted his pointed straw hat over his face, and fell
asleep. When he awoke the sun was on the horizon. Listlessly he pulled in his
net, which seemed to be as empty as ever.
But when he gave a final hoist, he found that the net would not leave the bottom
of the sea. Aho braced himself and pulled until his muscles stood out like
banyan roots. Finally, panting, he was able to lift the net into the boat. There
is the bottom sat a giant clam.
Aho took the heavy clam directly to his house and put it, net and all, into a
basket in his yard. He would open the clam after he ate his meager supper of the
few grains of rice left in his cupboard. He washed himself, cooked the rice, and
ate it slowly. Then he returned to his yard in the cool of the evening to open
his big clam.
He reached into the basket and stared in dismay. The clamshell was open and
empty! Some wretched thief had slipped into the yard and robbed him of his day's
Sadly he looked at the empty shell as he left the house next morning. All day he
fished without luck, and at night he started home prepared to go to bed with an
empty stomach, for there was no food left.
Tomorrow he would have to sell his
boat to pay his debts. As he approached the house, his shoulders sagged with
When he opened the door, he drew back in amazement. His house was clean and
tidy, and there was a dinner of sweet soup and bean curd, as well as rice and
pork and noodles and fried vegetables on his table!
Aho backed out of the house and ran around it three times to clear his head.
Hunger must have made him see visions! Softly, he opened the door again. No, he
was not dreaming. There was food on the table. He must be in the wrong house! He
backed out again and ran around the house three more times, to be sure it was
It was indeed his house. There was the basket with the empty clamshell. There
was his banana tree, and there was his water jug. There was no doubt about it,
the house was his. Once again he opened his door. The food was still on the
table, and for an instant he caught a glimpse of a beautiful girl sitting in a
chair by the table. By the time he could get inside, the girl was gone.
Aho gratefully ate the delicious supper and went to bed. In his dreams an old
man with a face as rough as his little lucky clam shell came to him and told him
he could marry the girl he had seen at the table if he would ask no questions
and promise to return her to him after ten years. But first he must put the big
clamshell back in the net and not disturb it.
Aho did as he was told, and when he returned home that night a beautiful girl
who was waiting at the door told him that she would be his wife. The joy in
Aho's heart was like the flood tide on the beach. He knew that in some
mysterious way his gift to the sea of his only treasure, the small pink
clamshell, had brought the large clam to his net. He suspected that the girl had
come in the large clamshell, but he remembered his promise not to ask questions.
Instead, he looked at the inside of his new wife's ears.
They were as pink as
In a year he had a fine son to be proud of, and another year later his wife gave
him a beautiful daughter to cherish.
The ten years passed as quickly as a running tide. Then one night the old man
came again in a dream to the fisherman.
"Your wife must leave you now," he said. "Because you were
faithful to your promise and asked no questions, who stayed her full ten years
with you. I can tell you now that your wife was once a real child who was
drowned in the sea and became the adopted daughter of the King of the Sea
"When she was twenty years old she wanted to be married to a human young
man," he continued. "Although she was a ghost, her adopted father said
she could marry the first young man who gave a gift to the sea and spend ten
years as his wife. Do not grieve, for she was very happy all her time on
The next morning, the clamshell was gone and the net was torn. Aho, who was now
very rich, took his children to the edge of the sea, but they found no trace of
the mother. They never found her, but Aho told the children not grieve, for he
had been promised her for only ten years.
"When a bargain is made," he explained, "you must not cry for
more than you bargained for."
The Second Moon
The Man Who Loved Tiny Creatures
"Dofu, Dofu," sang Wang Takan, balancing his trays of bean curd on his shoulder. "Who'll buy my dofu?"
"Dofu, dofu," echoed the blackbird swooping down to beg a bite of Takan's wares.
"Dofu, dofu, who's buy my dofu?" sang Takan again.
"Stupid Takan," cried the children playing on the temple steps. "He lets the birds bite his bean curd. Who wants to buy bird-bitten bean curd?"
But Takan only laughed and gave a finger full of dofu to the rat playing at the temple gate, and he kept singing his dofu song while a swarm of bees buzzed on the bean curd and butterflies balanced on his tray.
Every day it was the same. Nobody would buy his bird-bitten, bee-eaten dofu. Takan's stomach rumbled with emptiness.
Two ants crawled up to Takan's ear opening and shouted into it. "May we taste your dofu?"
"Of course, tiny ones", said Takan. "It takes so little to stuff your stomachs. Eat your fill."
"Ants are in you bean curd, Takan," Called Bunjen, the son of the magistrate and leader of the boys. "Nobody will buy your dofu now, you friend of the rats," he added scornfully.
"I know," said Takan. Once more he would have only the leftover bean curd to eat for his dinner, and he would have to gather firewood from the forest to the dofu-maker.
Takan turned toward the forest where some wood chips and rotten sticks might be found.
As he walked along the path he met an old man sitting beneath a tree and groaning with hunger. Takan lowered his trays of bean curd. "You are hungry, old man," he said. "Would you care to share some of my bird-bitten, bee-eaten dofu? I am on my way to the woods to eat it myself. Since two at the table make a meal a feast, let us feast together along with any ants or birds or bees or butterflies who care to come."
When they finished the feast, the old man thanked Takan. "I have no money to pay you, but I can reward you with wise advice." He said. "I see that you are a man who loves tiny creatures. Do you know the stone lions which guard the gates of the temple?"
"I know those lions," said Takan.
"One day soon the mouths of those lions will spout blood," said the old man.
"How can that be?" asked Takan gently, not wanting to let the old know that he could hardly believe that stone lions could spit blood.
"I won't say how it may be, but when the day comes that there is blood in the mouths of the lions, then that day a great flood is coming. You must run quickly to the mountaintop. Do not save any person, for men will not believe you, but save all the tiny creatures, for they are your loyal friends."
Taken thanked the old man for his advice and stood up to go.
"I have one more gift for you, Takan," said the old man. "Because you did not scoff at my story, I shall give you my magic dagger. I know you are a man to use it wisely, for you have a kind heart. This is a deadly sword. When you stand three feet from an enemy and call out, 'Kill, sword,' the sword will cut off the head of your
Before Takan could say a word of thanks, the old man disappeared, leaving only a ripple on wind on the leaves of the camphor tree.
Takan tucked the magic dagger inside his tunic, gathered his bundle of wood, and went back to the temple. He laid his bundle on the temple steps and looked deep into the mouths of the scowling stone temple lions.
"What are you doing, Takan?" asked the old black-robed priest.
"I am looking to see where the blood will come from when the stone lions spout
blood" said Taken.
The old priest turned his back on such a foolish answer and went back into the temple.
"A stone lion spouting blood!" jeered Bunjen and the children who loitered by the lions. They poked their fingers at Takan and doubled over with laughter. "Oh, Takan, you get crazier every day."
"Never mind," smiled Takan good-naturedly. Out of respect to the old man, he would watch the lions every day. "When the blood spouts, I will warn you for there will be a great flood."
At this the children laughed harder then ever. Silly, silly, Takan.
Every day Takan stopped by the temple to look at the lions, and every day the children gathered there to tease him. And not only the children, but the fathers and mothers and elder sisters and youngest uncles would lie in wait to mock Takan.
"Let us play a joke on Takan," whispered Bunjen to the others. "When Uncle Lin butchers his pig tomorrow we will catch the blood in a cup and put it in the mouths of the stone lions. Oh, what will silly Takan do then?"
The children rolled down the temple steps in their delight.
The next day when Takan came by the temple as usual, he dropped his trays of bean curd just as the blackbird swooped down for a bite.
"Danger, danger!" he cried. "A flood is coming. Run to the highest point of the mountain before you are flung into a fearful flood."
Never in his heart had he really believed that the stone lions would spit blood, but here they were with red blood dripping from their rock tongues.
The people laughed harder than ever. Bunjen rushed from house to house, shouting for everyone to come and see Takan running
to the mountain because of the trick they had played on him.
But the minute Takan reached the top of the mountain, there was the mightiest roar of thunder that
Taiwan had ever heard, and the mountain split in two. A great wave spewed out the
hole and washed away the town and all the people in it except Benjen, who had run after Takan to make sport of him.
The bees and the birds and the butterflies had all flown as high as they could when the water gushed from the earth.
"Come to me," called Takan from his safe peak, stretching out a dry branch for them to light on.
"Save us, too," cried some little ants that were bravely swimming toward Takan. Takan reached out and saved the ants, as well as the temple rats floundering behind them.
"Save me, too," cried a boy's voice. Takan looked down and Bunjen swimming desperately in the mighty waves.
The magic dagger that Takan still carried inside his tunic seemed to press against him. He was reminded of the old man who had given him the wisdom to escape the flood, and he remembered the warning that came with it: Save the creatures, but do not save any people.
But Takan was a kind-hearted man and could not endure the sight of the struggling boy, even though Bunjen had treated him unkindly in the past. He swam through the torrent and rescued the undeserving boy.
When the flood went down, Takan moved to another village for there was nothing left of his old home.
The birds and the bees and the butterflies and the ants thanked Takan and promised that they would be his friends forever and would help him in time of need. The old temple rat that had settled down under Takan's new home promised the same. Takan thanked them for their good offers and smiled to himself. How could he ever use the help of these tiny creatures?"
Bunjen he took with him as his foster son, and together they started a new life in this new place in the little hut they had found on the edge of some woods.
One day Takan went into the forest to chop wood to build a fire to cook the rice. While he was chopping away at a hugh stick of wood, it seemed to move, and a great cloud came over the forest. When he could see again, he found that his axe was covered with blood.
Takan put the axe down, very troubled. He looked for the stick, but it had disappeared. As he stood there, frightened by these strange events, a white light spread over the forest. In the center of the light stood an old man, all white from his long hair to the hem of his glistening robe.
"Don't be afraid," said the old man. "You have just wounded a monster snake. He has escaped to his hole four miles from here where he is holding a beautiful maiden captive. Go to the town and find out how you can save her with your magic dagger. I am the guardian god of this part of Taiwan, so what I say is true."
"How can I find the town?" asked Takan. "I am a stranger here."
But the old man had disappeared.
Takan stood for a moment wondering what direction to take. Then he heard a sound in the tree above him. It was a bird.
"Hello, little bird," said Takan
"I'll show you the way, Takan," sang the bird, flitting ahead.
When Takan reached the town he thanked the bird and joined the crowd standing by a sign on the gate of the temple.
"Whoever rescues the beautiful maiden from the monster snake shall gain her for his wife and become a high official." He read. Takan reached over the heads of the people and tore down the sign.
"What are you doing?" cried the people. "You have insulted our ruler."
"I will rescue the maiden myself," he said, taking courage from the magic sword lying inside his tunic. "I want to see the ruler."
But no one would show the poor woodcutter where the ruler lived. Finally Takan saw his friend the bird motioning with his wing to follow him.
The guards at the ruler's house scoffed at the simple woodcutter who demanded an audience, but a swarm of bees arrived and so confused the guards that Takan was able to get into the courtyard.
"I have come to rescue your daughter," he told the ruler. "All I need is a few soldiers to help me."
The poor ruler lowered his sad eyes. He was so broken hearted over the loss of his beautiful daughter, Precious Jade that he was willing to listen to a simple peasant.
"How can you kill the monster snake when many stronger and more skilled have failed?" he asked.
"I have a secret plan," said Takan. "Please trust me."
The ruler agreed to lend Takan the soldiers. The little band set out under a cover of birds, bees, and butterflies. While an army of ants and rats came behind.
"Wait for me here," ordered Takan when they reached the monster's hole. "I shall get into this basket and you lower me into the hole alone. When I have slain the monster I will jerk the rope three times as a signal for you to pull me out."
Takan took his magic dagger from its case. He had never even used it against a man. What if it did not work against the monster?
"Courage, Takan," sang the birds.
"Courage, courage, courage," buzzed the bees.
"Shh," said the ants. "The monster snake is sleeping."
Down in the fearful, dark hole, Takan cautiously stepped from the basket. Holding the magic dagger three feet from the sleeping monster, he uttered the magic words, "Kill, sword." The head of the monster snake fell off with a rush of blood.
From a locked door Takan heard the sound of a girl sobbing. He knocked on the door.
"Open the door," he called. "The monster snake is dead, and I have come to rescue you."
The sobbing grew louder. " Cannot unlock the door," cried the girl. I am bound in chains in a dark hole."
Takan took his magic sword and unlocked the door and cut the chains. He carried Precious Jade to the basket and put her in it and jerked the rope three times.
After Precious Jade was carried to the top, Takan stood below awaiting the return of the basket. But instead of the basket, a great rock rolled over the side, followed by a deluge of dirt. Takan beat his way into another chamber of the den and cried out to the soldiers.
But his only answer was silence. The soldiers, jealous of the man who had saved Precious Jade, had decided to leave Takan to die in the monster snake's hole.
Takan clutched his magic dagger for courage. As he stood there, abandoned in the dark hold and pondering how to escape, he heard another voice crying. He stumbled in the direction of the sound, crawling over slimy rocks and muddy pools. At last he found a young sea dragon cruelly chained to a rock.
"Please help me," cried the beautiful young dragon. "My father rules the water in the Taiwan Straits. I was playing on the beach a few days ago when the monster snake kidnapped me."
Takan cut loose the chain with his magic sword and thoughtfully patted the head of the dragon. With the entrance logged with dirt, how would they ever escape?
The beautiful dragon looked beyond Takan and saw the predicament. "I think I know another way out," she said. "There is a tunnel from here to the bottom of the sea. Get on my back and we will go around this rock and look. Close your eyes and hold on."
When Takan opened his eyes, he was on the beach. From the receding waves he heard the dragon call, "Thank you."
Bunjen, meanwhile, had waited at the hut for Takan to return from the woods. When he did not come home, the boy roamed around the countryside until he stumbled onto the town, just as the soldiers were returning to ruler's house with Precious Jade.
Bunjen fell in step with the wicked soldiers and overheard how they had left Takan to die in the snake hole.
"I will tell the ruler that I am Takan who saved the girl," said Bunjen to the soldiers. "It was dark in the hole so she would never recognize her benefactor. Then I will marry her and become a rich official and divide the reward with you."
The soldiers agreed that this was a good plan, for they were beginning to realize that it would be hard to explain what had become of Takan. Bunjen dressed himself in men's clothing and pasted a few hairs on his chin and made his voice as deep as possible.
Precious Jade, riding along in her curtained sedan chair, believed that Bunjen was her rescuer. When she arrived at her home, her father, in his joy at seeing his daughter, did not realize he was being deceived.
So on the day that Takan returned wet and dirty from his exploits, he found the town decorated with banners and flowers for the wedding. He tried in vain to get into the house of the ruler. The guards rudely pushed him, and the crowds laughed as the dirty peasant was pulled away.
Suddenly Takan felts something nip his foot. It was his friend the rat.
"I will call my friends to come and dig a tunnel into the ruler's house," said the rat.
Two hours later, as if by magic, all the rats in Taiwan were digging their rat teeth into the hard earth, making a tunnel for Takan. At the moment that Takan pushed his head through the last crust of earth leading into the ruler's courtyard the ruler himself happened to be passing by busy with plans for his daughter's wedding feast.
"Oh, sir," cried Takan, bowing, "I am the one who saved your daughter from the monster snake, and I have come to claim the reward."
The ruler was so astonished at the sight of the dirty man rising out of the earth in his courtyard that he called his soldiers.
"Put this man in prison," he ordered. "We all know that the man who rescued Precious Jade is getting ready for his wedding tomorrow."
As he was hauled off to the dungeon, Takan caught sight of Bunjen, dressed in rich robes and with hairs pasted on his chin, sneering wickedly through a half shuttered window.
"On, sir, that man is an imposter. I am the real Takan," cried Takan.
"Take him away," ordered the ruler.
But that night the ruler slept badly. An ant bit his toe and, while the servant chased away that ant, another bit his other foot. And then the bees began buzzing until the noise drove the poor fellow half mad. As if that weren't enough, a rat gnawed at the base of the family altar all night. Finally the ruler dropped into an uneasy sleep, only to be awakened by the kiss of a butterfly on his eyelid.
During his wakeful hours, the ruler had had ample time to think about the man he had thrown into prison. The gods would not like to have a shadow of bad luck on the wedding day, so at daybreak he decided to give the prisoner a chance to prove himself. He sent for Takan.
"I have been thinking of your claim that you are the real Takan," said the ruler. "If you are telling me the truth I will give you a chance to prove it. I have here two hundred measures of salt and sugar mixed together. If you can separate the grains without a single mistake in two hours, then I will believe you are a truthful man. Otherwise, you will be executed."
Takan was led into the room where the salt and sugar was heaped in a great pile. How ever could he perform such a miracle? As he sat there, dejectedly staring at it, the room was suddenly filled with ants.
Takan, we are your friends. We have come to separate the salt and sugar," they said in their tiny ant voices.
Takan thanked them and watched as all the ants in Taiwan built a hill of sharp salt and another one of sweet sugar.
The ruler himself came to see if Takan had passed the test.
"You are indeed an honest man," he said in amazement. But the wicked soldiers and officials who were plotting with Bunjen took the ruler aside.
"Sir, how can you be sure that this man is not an imposter? True, he recognized sugar from salt, but can he recognize Precious Jade? Put her in the room with ninety-nine other beautiful girls and see if he can pick her from the rest."
Takan's heart fell. How would he ever recognize Precious Jade? He had seen her only once, and that time she was dirty and disheveled from her imprisonment. Besides, it had been dark in the monster snake's hole. Sadly, he followed his captors to the courtyard where one hundred beautiful girls were assembled in their richly embroidered robes, their glossy black hair piled high and their almond eyes demurely cast down.
He stared at the beautiful girls. He would never find the right one. A bee buzzed in his ear. "Takan" buzzed the bee. "Watch for your friend the butterfly. She will show you the right one."
The butterfly floated over the heads of the hundred beautiful girls and lit on the glossy black hair of the most beautiful girl in Taiwan, Precious Jade. Takan stepped forward and bowed to his future bride.
"Take away the imposter and execute him," cried the ruler. "This is the true Takan. Tomorrow we will prepare for the wedding."
"Long life, long life," shouted all the people.
But Takan was a kind-hearted man, and in the midst of his joy he was sad at the thought of chopping off the head of the misguided Bunjen.
"Do not kill Bunjen," said Takan. " It will spoil our wedding joy."
"But he must be punished," said the ruler. "Misdeeds must be punished or the harmony of nature will be disturbed." The ruler's eyes caught sight of some rats lurking outside the gates. "We will give him to the rats and bees for punishment," declared the ruler.
"Very well," said Takan. He whispered to the butterfly who was still on Precious Jade's hair, "ell them not to be too harsh with Bunjen."
The ruler clapped his hands for the servants, who came with beautifully embroidered wedding clothes for Takan. Fireworks rocked the island as the joyous bride and groom embarked on a long life of happiness.
Good Neighbors Come in All Sizes.
In a graceful willow tree beside a clear stream lived a proud wood pigeon and a humble ant. They watched each other warily, hesitating to be friends. After all, what would a proud wood pigeon have to say to a humble ant, or a humble ant to a proud wood pigeon?
When spring came, flecks of warm sunshine played in and out of the slender willow leaves. The pigeon flew joyfully back and forth, building his nest. The ant climbed busily up and down the trunk carrying bits of food to his children as he listened to the pigeon's lilting spring song.
One day the ant ventured farther up the tree and out onto a tender swaying limb, the better to hear the wood pigeon's love song. A sudden gust of wind whipped the limb against the tree trunk and caused the ant to lose his balance.
Down, down, down, he fell, struggling against the nothingness of air. With a tiny splash he hit the clear stream.
Straining vainly against the current, he splashed as hard as an ant can splash, which isn't much of a splash, and cried as loudly as an ant can cry, which isn't much of a cry.
But the wood pigeon swaying back and forth on the swinging limb saw the ant and, in a rush of compassion caused by the joy of the spring day, threw the struggling ant a leaf.
The ant labored onto the leaf, which finally landed on the edge of the stream. Gratefully and wearily he crawled home, where he thanked the pigeon with all his heart.
"I shall do the same for you," he promised. "I shall save your life."
The pigeon laughed indulgently. "Thank you, little ant," he said, "but how could you who are so small saves the life of one who is so big?"
The next day a hunter came with a gun on his shoulder and stood under the tree. He looked up at the fat wood pigeon and aimed his gun. He smiled, for the proud wood pigeon was sleeping. But the humble ant was watching.
The ant experienced a chill of horror. How could he save his neighbor from certain death? Unhesitatingly, he braced his tiny body and dived, landing on the ear of the hunter. He dug his stinger deep into the tender center of the hunter's ear.
The hunter cried out with pain and dropped his gun, which went off with a bang that woke the pigeon.
The pigeon flew high into the sky while the ant jumped from the hunter's ear. While the hunter stamped angrily away, the ant crawled as fast as he could back to the willow tree.
The proud pigeon was waiting for him.
"Thank you, Neighbor Ant," he said humbly. "You have saved my life."
"Don't mention it, Neighbor Pigeon," replied the ant proudly.
Long ago in the south of Taiwan there lived a rich widow with many rice paddies around her house and bars of gold under her bed. Her life was lonely and difficult since she had no husband and no children.
One day a traveler from the Mainland came to her door looking for work. The widow invited him in, talked to him, and found him amusing. Before an hour had gone by she hired him to be the manager of her farm.
The man was a very efficient helper and by his wise decisions he made the land produce even more rice so that there was more gold to add to the treasure trove under the bed.
Then the widow fell in love with the man. Secretly she went to the fortune-teller to ask his advice.
The fortune-teller consulted her hand, touched her forehead, tossed the divining blocks, and gave her a direct answer.
"Do not marry that man," he advised. "If you do I see nothing but homeless ghosts and malevolent Na-Tao trees in your future."
The widow paid the fortune-teller and went home highly annoyed. Her new manager had brought nothing but good fortune to her. Why should she listen to a poor fortune-teller in a dirty coat and with one long chin whisker?
So she forgot the fortune-teller and married the man and they became even richer. She showed him the bars of gold under the bed.
"Let me have your bars of gold," he said. "I will invest them and double our money."
So she handed over the bars of gold her first husband had left for her, and her second husband took them away.
One morning she went out to walk around her rice fields and saw that small strange Na-Tao trees had been planted at each corner of the fields. The leaves were narrow and long and full of small hard needles, and they made her shudder and turn cold.
"Why have you planted Na-Tao trees in our fields?" she asked. "Don't you know that Na-Tao trees are only planted on hills where graves are found?"
"Oh, that is just a Taiwanese custom," said the new husband. In China we plant them in rice fields to give shade to the workers."
Now this was not true, but the widow had no way of knowing it.
Finally the new rice crop was harvested and sold, and the husband put on his best robes and bade his wife good-bye.
"I must go up to the city," he said, "and take care of financial matters. Do not worry if I am a long time coming for I have much business to attend to."
The poor woman was very lonely. She had no bars of gold under her bed for buying new clothes for herself. And now that the rice was harvested, there were no workers in the fields. Week after week went by with no husband. Time came and went for planting the new rice crop, but she had no money for buying seedlings. Finally she got into debt to sustain life.
Every night she would walk through her run down property and look, at the Na-Tao trees. Often she would weep with worry and with sadness that she had not listened to the fortune-teller.
Finally she went herself to the town. There she found out that her faithless husband had taken all her money and gone back to the Mainland where he had another wife and children as well.
She went home and in a rage hanged herself from the largest Na-Tao tree so that she could become a ghost and follow her husband and punish him.
She enjoyed being a ghost. She could float around and see without being seen, frighten people without being frightened, and make ghostly noises, which gave her a sense of power. But she was deeply disappointed in her ghostly state because she found out too late that a ghost cannot fly across water, and she had to get across the Taiwan Straits somehow if she were going to torment her faithless second husband.
So she consulted her fortune-teller friend again. He seemed not surprised to receive a ghost. In fact, he had been expecting her. "I shall call you Sister Na-Tao now," he said.
"I want you to help me fly across the Taiwan Straits," she said coming directly to the point. "I want to find my second husband and scare him to death, but I have discovered that ghosts can't fly across water."
"I could take you to the Mainland," he said. "The way to get a ghost across water is to keep an umbrella over the ghost's head and to carry its death paper in your pocket. But I have no money for the fare."
"I have a few coins," said Sister Na-Tao, "but they would not be enough to buy a ticket for the ship."
"Let me have your money, then" said the fortune-teller. "Perhaps I can gamble and enlarge the amount, if you'll come with me to the gambling house and frighten my opponents."
So that night the fortune-teller and the ghost went to the Mah Jong house. SCREEEEE, moaned Sister Na-Tao, blowing out the candle.
The first player grabbed his hat and ran, leaving his money on the table. The second player turned pale but held onto the table to calm his panic.
"What is the matter with our friend?" asked the fortune-tell coolly. "He thinks he is defeated. Let us divide his money between us."
They relit the lamp and began clacking the Mah Jong ivories again. Sister Na-Tao took her long icy fingers and ran them across the face of the other player.
The poor man was so frightened that he fainted.
"Well, well," said the fortune-teller. "I guess I have won by default." He scooped up the money, which was enough for a ticket, and together he and ghost boarded the next ship.
The fortune-teller carried his umbrella with him and, everywhere he went, he held the opened umbrella before him and said, "This way, Sister Na-Tao. Step that way please, Sister Na-Tao."
The people on the ship thought him quite mad and avoided him as much as possible, for to the eyes of the world there was no one under the umbrella.
The ghostly Sister Na-Tao had never had such a good time. She never been to the Mainland, but once they reached the shore she was able to see the sights quite easily by flying over the heads of others, going through closed doors, and frightening anyone who annoyed her, protected always by the umbrella.
But she had business to perform. She had to find her second husband and punish him.
Finally, she found him living in splendor on her money.
The night Sister Na-Tao put four Na-Tao trees in the four corners of his courtyard.
In the morning when the dishonest husband came into his rich new courtyard and saw the death trees, he ran back into the house and hid under his new bedcovers.
But Sister Na-Tao was ready for him. When he dashed into his bed Sister Na-Tao put her ghostly arms around him, ran her cold fingers over his face in a caress, and spoke in a moaning voice.
With an unearthly scream, the man died of fright.
"Would you like to have him for your ghostly husband?" asked the fortune-teller, who was waiting for her outside the gate with the umbrella.
"No, indeed," said Sister Na-Tao. "I think I will go to heaven, now. I am tired of being a ghost. But I think he will wander forever, which serves him right."
And now no one sees Sister Na-Tao except in the Na-Tao trees, which grow in cemeteries in Taiwan.
The Happy Ghost
One evening in spring a young man nervously paced back and forth in his house. His you young wife was about to give birth to a baby. While waiting for some word from the nurses, he glanced up and saw a strange, white-faced man climbing in his high window.
"What do you want?" inquired the young father angrily. "What right have you to climb in my window?"
The intruder was so ashamed that he stopped where he was and hung his head.
"I wasn't expecting to find you here under the window," he admitted. "But won't you please let me come in? I am very friendly."
"Not unless you tell me who you are," said the young man crossly. What an odd-looking creature the visitor was! Why, you could almost see through him. Yet, there was something likable about his manner, even though this was a peculiar way to pay a call. He didn't look like an ordinary robber.
The man in the window looked over his shoulder and finally spoke in a whisper.
"I will be truthful," he said. "I am a ghost. I have been so good that the king of hell said I could come to earth and try my luck at becoming human again. I heard that a baby was about to be born here tonight, and if I can get into the birthing room at the moment of birth I can become the soul of the new baby. If you will let me in I will do anything you ask of me."
The father was touched by the ghost's story, but he didn't want to have a ghost for a son. He needed a little time to think.
"Very well," said the father. "If you will do anything I say, then go and get me a boiled hen. I am hungry from pacing up and down and back and forth. If the hen is good, I will let you in the birthing room."
The ghost disappeared from the window and was back again almost at once with a succulent boiled hen, which he laid on the table.
The father sat down before it, surprised at the speed. He must delay the ghost further.
"How can I eat it without chopsticks?" he said crossly. "I must have special chopsticks for such a fine dish."
The ghost jumped out the window and was back again in a minute with a pair of inlaid ivory chopsticks.
The father fumbled with the chopsticks and finally pulled off a bite of the juicy chicken. He threw down his chopsticks in disgust.
"How can I eat chicken without salt?" he complained. "This chicken tastes terrible."
"I'm so sorry," said the ghost contritely. "I'll get you some at once."
The ghost was back quicker than ever with a dish of salt. Just as the father salted the hen and began to eat there was a cry from the next room, and his mother rushed in with the news that a fine son had been born.
The father ran for his firecracker. This was indeed a time for celebration. Suddenly he stopped. The poor ghost was crumpled on the floor crying.
"I have lost my chance to become human as your mother's grandson," he sobbed.
"Never mind," said the father in his joy over having a son. "I am convinced that you are a good ghost, and I am going to help you. Go get some paper money, and we will make a sacrifice to the gods."
The ghost dried his tears, and he and the father stepped outside the door where they built a fire and burned paper money to the gods and sacrificed pork and chicken and asked if the ghost might wait a few days until the father could find a family who needed a new baby.
Within a week the father found a family who said they would be happy to have the good ghost become their baby, and they were all friends ever after.
The Story of the weaving Maid
The Kitchen God had seven beautiful daughters with long black hair, and
the youngest was the most beautiful. Not
only was she beautiful but also she was enterprising and accomplished
as well, serving the gods as the Weaving Maid.
Day after day she sat industriously at her loom, weaving to keep the
celestial figures well clothed. She
took enormous pride in her work, planning ahead and working long hours.
“What an excellent maiden,” said the gods to each other. “She will always keep us exquisitely dressed.”
Meantime down on earth there was a young cowherd who lived on the family
farm with his elder brother and his wife. He
was a handsome boy, full of high spirits and good humor. Instead of being serious with the cows and the oxen, he
teased them and humored them, and the animals obeyed him cheerfully.
In fact, one of the oxen under his care loved the boy so much that it was
said the cowherd and the ox talked to each other and played pranks on each other
like two brothers.
But Elder Brother’s wife disapproved.
She was a tight-lipped woman with skimpy hair and a sharp, pointed nose
who lived her life grudgingly, and she hated her merry little brother-in-law.
There was nothing but trouble. She
nagged the cowherd. She complained
of his dirty feet. She begrudged
his food. She looked steely eyed
and disapprovingly at his deluges of laughter.
But most of all, she disliked the friendship between the cowherd and the
One day the ox became so angry with the cowherd’s sister-in-law that he
deliberately wrecked her kale garden.
“Now,” said the ox to the boy, “we will have to leave here. You and I will go out into the world and make our own
The ox was very wise, and the cowherd listened to him and followed his
advice. Soon they were rich, with
many cows and a fine house. The
cowherd and the ox had a jolly time keeping house together with nobody to
caution the, about wiping their fee.
“You need a wife,” said the ox to the cowherd.
“I can’t get a wife,” said the cowherd, laughing at the mere idea.
“No woman on earth would have me for a husband.
My own sister-in-law tried many times to turn me out.
I like you, Ox. We get along
“Trust me,” said the ox, unmoved.
“I will get you a wife.”
So the next day the ox led the cowherd to the Bridge of Fair Maiden.
“Hide behind the reeds,” instructed the ox.
“Soon you will see a sight that will astonish you.
Then I want you to choose a wife.”
Sure enough, soon there came seven beautiful maidens, the daughters of
the Kitchen God, and as the ox had predicted, the cowherd was astounded at the
sight of them, for they were more beautiful than any girls he had ever seen.
“Which one do you like the best?” whispered the ox, which was hiding
in the reeds, too (It was a remarkable thing for an ox to hide in reeds and to
whisper as well.)
“I like that one,” said the cowherd, pointing, and letting his voice
get out of hand with a little laugh of delight.
“Shh,” said the ox. “You’ll
wreck everything if they find us here.” He
looked more closely. “Ah, an excellent choice.
That one is the Weaving Maid.
“I’ll go catch her now,” said the cowherd.
“No, no, silly,” said the ox. “That’s
not the way to get a wife. Since
you have no family to arrange a match for you, you just do as I say.”
In a few minutes the maidens all undressed and jumped into the water, for
they had come down to take a bath in the river.
“Now,” said the ox, barely restraining a chuckle himself, “watch
And the ox slipped through the reeds and very deftly stole the clothes of
the Weaving Maid. Soon the six
older sisters climbed out and put on their clothes.
“Come on,” they called to their younger sister.
“I want to bathe a little longer,” she said.
“Then we’ll leave you,” said the sister.
“That’s all right,” said the Weaving Maid.
“I’ll come soon.”
When the Weaving Maid climbed out onto the bank, she dried herself on her
long black hair and looked about for her clothes.
They were nowhere in sight. The
cowherd was so overcome with laughter that he nearly choked.
“Go home and clean up the house for your bride”, said the ox, “and
take these clothes with you. I will
be along soon.”
The cowherd cleaned up the house and laid the clothes out for his bride,
and pretty soon here came the Weaving Maid covered only by her long black hair,
followed by the ox, who was saying, ”You may have your clothes back if you
will consent to become the wife of my master.”
The Weaving Maid looked into the window of the house and saw the handsome
cowherd and loved him on sight. So
the ox gave her clothes and the Weaving Maid became the wife of the cowherd.
It was the happiest marriage that the earth had ever known. The Weaving Maid forgot all about her responsibilities to the
gods. She didn’t care whether the
gods were clothed or not. She only
cared for her handsome, jolly husband.
Within a year they had a set of twins, a boy and girl. The wise old ox became their nursemaid. What a happy family they were!
The Weaving Maid wove clothes of flowers for her children, and the
cowherd grew just enough rice and fruits and vegetables for his family.
The rest of the time they played and laughed and sang and watched the
babies ride the back of the ox and tickle the ticklish spots behind his horns.
This lasted for three years.
Then the gods got angry. “Where
are my new clothes?” they grumbled. “What
has happened to that lazy Weaving Maid?
She must be made to attend to her business!”
The Weaving Maid paid no attention.
She was far too happy on earth.
One day the Jade Emperor in a fit of irritation at his ragged shirt
snatched the Weaving Maid back to heaven and told her to get back to her post
for she was an immortal and she had lived with mortals long enough.
How she cried! But there was
nothing to be done about it so she wove some new clothes for the gods who turned
her into a star.
Meantime the cowherd was so sad that not even the children and the ox
could cheer him up. Soon he died
and became a star, too, and the lovers were reunited as stars, side by side in
the sky. But once again the Weaving
Maid became lazy for she spent her time admiring her star husband.
“That’s enough of that,” said the Queen of Heaven crossly. And with that she took her hairpin and drew a long white gash
across the heaven and called it the Milky Way.
“You stay on this side of it and you stay on that side of it,” she
harshly to the Weaving Maid and the cowherd.
But the Weaving Maid and the cowherd cried so hard that she relented a
little. “All right then, once a
year you may meet if someone will build you a bridge over the Milky Way.”
The magpies heard the sad story and on the Seventh Day of the Seventh
Moon all the little magpies in the world went up to heaven and built a bridge of
twigs over the Milky Way so the lovers could meet.
“Let’s get the twins and the ox up here too,” said the cowherd.
“They’; make handsome stars. They’ll
stay with me while you weave.”
Nowadays we can see them in the stars, the cowherd and the Weaving Maid,
the twins, and the ox. And on the
Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon every year, the magpies go up to heaven and
lovingly build a flimsy bridge of twigs over the Milky Way so the lovers can
It there appears to be rain on that day it really isn’t rain.
It is the tears of the Weaving Maid and the cowherd who are crying if the
magpie bridge is not strong enough to hold them, making it impossible for them
Did you ever see a magpie on the Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon?
Of course not. They are all in heaven that day trying to build a good bridge
over the Milky Way for the cowherd and the Weaving Maid.
The Eighth Moon
The Wicked Stone Horse of Shilin
Many centuries ago boatloads of people came to Taiwan from the Mainland
Province of Fukien. Families with
grandfathers and sons and grandsons settled in the rich farmland in the north of
the island in a place called Shilin, now a suburb of the city of Taipei.
One of the first things the people did was to build a temple to their
favorite god. The god was pleased
and he looked after the people, giving them an abundant harvest and plenty of
new sons to work in the rice fields.
But one night in the Harvest Moon, just before Moon Festival, disaster
struck. While people were snugly
wrapped their great family beds they pulled closely into their covers when they
heard a mighty—thump, thump, thumpity—go galloping by.
Loud were their wails and bitter were their tears next morning when they
found much of their rich rice crop destroyed.
Who did it?
The people stood in angry groups looking at the devastation before them.
“It must have been the jealous people in the next village,” said one
“But who in the next village has a horse?” asked another. It is for your eyes to see that a horse with mighty feet has
galloped through our fields.”
And the people shook their heads and did what they could to prop up the
bruised rice plants and then went to the Temple to burn incense to the gods for
protection from further evils.
That night the people locked their doors tightly and snuggled more
closely together in the family beds. Again
they quaked when they heard the sound of galloping—da, dady, da—in the
night. And again, as the day broke,
they opened their doors and shrieked at the damage that had been done to the
remaining rice crop.
“We must post guards with swords to fight them off if they return
tonight,” said the people among themselves.
That night in every field there was a man with sword. When the old men and the women and children, safe in their
beds, heard the terrible galloping—bump, tiddy, bump—they felt secure
knowing that the brave guards would beat off the marauders.
But the dauntless defender were struck dumb as doorposts and still as
stones with an uncontrollable fright when a giant horse with a rich flowing mane
and feet as big as banyan roots ran—plop, paddy, plop—through the rice
Not a one could move as they watched the invader tear down most of the
rest of the rice. Then they knew he
was a ghost horse.
This was far more serious than fighting off the neighboring village.
Was their god displeased? Had
they failed in some way to offer the right sacrifice?
The oldest and most venerated of the monks at the temple tossed the
divining blocks to see if they had the ears of the god.
And indeed they did. The
blocks showed that the god was pleased with the people.
What to do? There was
nothing in the wisdom of the monks or the old men of the village that could
guide them. A magic sword might
work, but who had a magic sword?
Now in the village was a young man named Chang whose family was far away
in Fukien Province. When he
had left his family altar to go adventuring, his grandfather had given him a
sword, which had been handed down for generations.
“Grandson,” the grandfather had said, “this is an ancient sword. Use it fairly and it will serve you well.
Use it for evil, and it will turn on you.”
The grandson now thought back on his grandfather’s words and decided
that, even if the sword were not magic, perhaps it would serve to defend the
farmers from the ghost horse, a fair use for any sword.
So that night Chang volunteered to stay alone in the field and fight the
horse if it returned.
Wind whispered through the remaining rice.
Night creatures crawled and called across the rice paddies.
Chang stood alone, stalwart and wide-awake, leaning on his sword.
At midnight he heard it coming—ta, titty, ta.
It seemed to be flying, the white horse with feet like leaden lotus
leaves and a mane like flowing silk. Chang
leaped up to meet it.
The sword flashed. The horse
stopped. The hour-long battle that
followed was like a dance, as the thrust and parry, lunge and dodge fight of a
man and a horse continued until the horse was dead.
Chang fell to the ground unconscious.
Now the god of the temple had listened to his people and finally had
decided to act. He himself was
curious as to what was ruining the rice crops.
So at the moment that Chang defeated the demon hors, the goad sent for
his own horse to take him on a tour of inspection.
In vain he waited for his horse. Finally
he decided to walk into the rice field on his own feet to look at the situation.
There in the field he saw his horse lying dead and brave Chang near death
“Get u, Chang,” said the god angrily.
“You have been a brave man to fight this demon horse.”
Chang stood up, terrified that he had killed the god’s hors.
But the god was not angry with Chang.
He was angry at his own wicked dead horse.
“I should have watched that demon horse more closely,” said the god.
“He has torn down the harvest of my people so I will turn his dead body
into a stone.”
Today in the town of Shilin you can still see the rock that was once the
demon horse of the local god.
The Tenth, Eleventh, and
Waiting for Rabbits
years ago there was a simple farmer who lived on the east coast of Taiwan.
Each morning he got up at dawn and worked in the rice paddy all day until
the shadows of the mountain became black and turned into night.
how weary I am on working forever in the wet rice field,” he said to himself
one morning as he trudged to work. “I
wish the gods would give me a gift so I would never have to go to the rice paddy
that very minute his foot struck a sleeping rabbit.
The rabbit jumped up in such a fright that he dashed headlong into a
banyan tree and killed itself.
jubilant farmer picked up the rabbit and skinned him and ate him.
shall never work again,” he said as he leaned back against the broad banyan
trunk. “From now on I shall just
sit here and wait for rabbits to kill themselves by running into this tree.
This way I can live without effort.”
after day the neighbors came and laughed at the fellow and called him a
will never catch a rabbit again,” they predicted.
“You had better get back to work in the wet rice fields.”
the farmer had had a taste of a different life, and while he sat under the tree
waiting for a rabbit to knock its brains out on the banyan trunk he began to use
his own head and think.
my neighbors are right and it won’t happen again, he admitted to himself.
Maybe I can think of a way to make rabbits want to come to the tree.
he thought for a few days and remembered that rabbits like carrots.
The next day he held a carrot in his hands all day, but no rabbits came
to taste it.
neighbors coming home from the rice fields laughed at the simple fellow.
you know that rabbits are afraid to come eat out of your hands?” they chided.
my neighbors are right, he told himself. If
I put the carrot on the ground and get into the tree myself then maybe a rabbit
will come and I can catch him.
next morning the man put the carrot of the ground and climbed the tree.
A rabbit came stealthily and grabbed the carrot and ran away before the
farmer could climb down from the tree and catch him.
night when the neighbors came back from the rice fields they laughed at the man.
“Don’t you know that you can never get down from the tree in time to
catch the rabbit?” they laughed.
my neighbors are right, he told himself. So
he sat in the tree and thought and thought.
If I put the carrot in a box and drop the lid on it when the rabbit comes
in to taste the carrot then perhaps I can get a rabbit, he decided.
next day he put a juicy carrot in a wicker basket and tied the lid of the basket
to a string. Then he hid in the
tree. When a rabbit came into the
basket under the tree the farmer dropped the lid and caught the rabbit.
as he had the rabbit securely tied in the basket his neighbors came home from
the rice fields.
time they did not laugh. Please divide the rabbit with us,” they begged.
farmer thought about this for a few minutes.
well,” he said, “when I have caught enough rabbits I will have a pai-pai and
invite you all. For the gods
directed me with the first rabbit and my neighbors kept me thinking when they
laughed at me for trying to catch rabbits.
So it is fitting for me to divide.”
this was how the first rabbit trap was made on Taiwan.
was once a poor mother and her son who lived alone in a small village.
The boy, who was called Meng Tsung, was a good son, attentive to his
mother’s wishes and needs. They
were happy, for the son was always obedient to his mother, thinking first of her
and second of himself.
cold winter day, the mother fell sick. The
boy sat by her bed day and night caring for her.
But in spite of the loving care she grew worse every day.
she ate seemed tasteless.
what can I cook for you to make you well?” asked the boy.
that you could find at this season, my son,” she answered.
wish I had a bowl of bamboo shoot soup,” she said sadly.
“But do not worry yourself about it.
We both know that bamboo shoots are not to be had at this time of year.
boy was deeply troubled. Perhaps, he thought, through some miracle the bamboo shoots
might grow out of season. Leaving
his mother with the neighbor, he went to the bamboo grove to look.
Alas, there were no bamboo shoots as it was cruel, cold winter and the
new bamboo would not appear until spring.
boy sat down and began to cry, for he feared that his mother would die before
spring if she had no nourishment. For
an hour he sat in the empty bamboo grove weeping into the frozen ground.
after day the boy came back and cried for his mother who grew worse each day for
lack of bamboo soup.
the god of bamboo took pity on the boy who was the most dutiful and filial son
the god had ever seen. As the boy
sat weeping again next day at the bamboo grove, he opened his eyes and saw tiny
green bamboo shoots growing out of the ground, which he had watered with his
Tsung joyfully cut the tender sprouts and took them home where he made dish of
savory soup for his mother. The
mother immediately began to improve.
that time on winter bamboo continued to grow in China and in Taiwan.
In memory of this loving son it has been called Meng Tsung bamboo from
that day to this.
The Baby Water Buffalo
old Taiwanese farmer named Lin promised his grandson Ho that he would take him
to market in Tamsui where he planned to sell his baby water buffalo.
grandfather was old and feeble, and the grandson was young and tender, but
together they thought they could make the long walk to the market.
set out from the family farm very early in the morning, after making a sacrifice
to the family gods to bless the trip. Driving
the little water buffalo before them. Ho
skipped happily along the road and Grandfather Lin walked with a spring in his
step, his white beard bouncing up and down against his blue blouse.
mile from home they met a neighbor, Mr. Wang.
morning, Mr. Lin,” said Mr. Wang. “I
can’t imagine why an old man and a young boy should walk when there’s a
beast to carry the, Why, you’ll both be worn out before you are half way
there, old man.”
right, I suppose,” said Grandfather, slowing down his brisk step.
He called to Ho to stop his skipping and come back.
“Mr. Wang thins we should ride,” said Grandfather.
Wang helped Grandfather climb onto the water buffalo and lifted the reluctant Ho
that’s better for you,” said Mr. Wang as he waved good-bye.
Grandfather and Ho rode meekly along for several miles until another
farmer on his way to market overtook them.
day,” said the farmer, looking critically at the grandfather and the grandson
clinging to the back of the baby water buffalo.
“It’s not my business, but I can’t understand why a man and a boy
would ride the back of such a young animal.
It seems to me it would be better if the boy walked.”
are probably right,” said Grandfather Lin.
man officiously lifted Ho from the back of the baby water buffalo and hurried
on, leaving Grandfather riding and Ho plodding along in the dust, keeping pace.
women soon fell into step with Grandfather Lin and Ho.
at that,” said one to the other. “What
a selfish old man he is. He rides
on the little water buffalo’s back and makes that poor, tired child walk in
the dust. My, my, whatever are we coming to? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, old man?”
that you’ve said it, I suppose I am,” said Grandfather.
“Come, Ho help me get off and you ride.”
Grandfather, Ho started to say. Whatever
it was, was left unsaid, for the two women chattered so loudly, helping
Grandfather get off and pushing Ho onto the beast’s back, that nothing could
women turned off the road, and Ho sat uncomfortably on the little water
buffalo’s back while Grandfather trudged along the dirt road.
they passed monastery where a Buddhist monk was standing beside the road,
shame,” said the monk. “Think of a healthy boy riding while this tired old
halted the water buffalo and obediently jumped off while the monk helped
Grandfather climb up onto the creature’s back.
Ho stalked along with a scowl on his face while his grandfather rode.
they passed a lazy man lying in the shade of a banyan.
must not be your water buffalo,” he called.
I’ll bet you stole it. If
you rally liked him, you’d not be riding him.
You’d be carrying him yourself. That
water buffalo looks young and tired.
never thought of that,” said Grandfather.
“Thank you for your suggestion. Come,
Ho. Let’s carry the water
they reached the out skirts of Tamsui, Grandfather and Ho were struggling so
hard to carry the animal that a crowd gathered and laughed and jeered until
Grandfather and Ho came to their senses.
now on, Ho,” said Grandfather, “we are going to pay no attention to the
advice of others. We are going to
do just as we please, what we started to do at the beginning.
We are going to walk together and let the little water buffalo walk in
And they preceded happily the rest of the way while Ho skipped ahead and
Grandfather walked with a spring in his step, his white beard bouncing up and
down against his blue blouse.
Wu-Feng (a true story)
in the Taiwan mountains live aborigine people who once were wild headhunters.
Because they thought they had to have human heads for sacrifice, and the
Chinese heads were easier to get then aborigine tribal heads, they often stole
into remote farms, attacking and beheading the unlucky farmers.
had to have the heads, they argued. How
else could they prove their manhood, win tribal wars, and appease the gods of
day long ago, a young Chinese man, Wu-Feng, was made Director of the Mount Ali
District by the Emperor in Peking. Wu-Feng
had lived in Taiwan all his life, having come there form Fukien Province as a
very small child with his father. Wu-Feng
was bright and noble, educated in the best of the Confucian classics. He yearned to be a good ruler, but first he had to put a stop
to the fearful menace of headhunting so that the Taiwanese farmers could tend
their rice fields in safety.
a child, Wu-Feng had often gone into the mountains with his father, who was a
magistrate himself. Wu-Feng had
played with the mountain children, and one of his friends, a boy his own age
from the Mount Ali tribe, became a chief the year that Wu-Feng took office as a
government official. Drawing on his
friendship, Wu-Feng tried to persuade the young chief that headhunting was
and serious were their conversations. The
chief in his own way was as eager for peace and good government among his people
as Wu-Feng was for the Taiwanese people. Peace,
Wu-Feng pointed out, was only possible if the headhunting stopped.
the people insist on heads,” said the chief.
“The custom cannot change overnight.”
being wise agreed to this, “Why
not use the heads you already have stored in your sacred places?”
He asked, knowing that the warriors saved the heads from past battles.
The chief agreed.
for forty years the Mount Ali mountain people drew on their supply of heads and
left the Taiwanese farmers with heads on their shoulders.
eventually, the head gave out. Furthermore,
a new generation had grown up in the more than forty years that Wu-Feng and the
chief had been in office. The new
generation of aborigines wanted to go back to the headhunting customs of their
chief cam to Wu-Feng and warned him that he could no longer control his young
warriors. Wu-Feng warned his
Taiwanese people to be alert. Trouble
morning when Wu-Feng went to his office, he was greeted by a group of young
aborigine warriors and their chief.
said the chief, “I have come for the sake of old friendship to warn you that
these young people will no longer obey me.
They are planning to go head hunting.
This is a declaration of war.”
you for your warning,” said Wu-Feng, bowing his head wearily.
He found the burdens of governing were very heavy.
nothing stop you?” he asked the impatient warriors.
they replied. “We want heads.”
Wu-Feng thought for a few minutes.
well, then if nothing can stop you, I stand warned.
But will you let me choose the person whose head you will take?”
The warriors looked at each other and frowned uneasily.
difference is it whose head you get?” said Wu-Feng.
right,” agreed the leader of the young men.
“But how will we know the head of your enemy whom you wish beheaded?”
Wu-Feng would of course trick an enemy into being beheaded in this clever
smiled sadly. “When do you want
the head?” he asked.
three days,” they said. “We must make preparations for our sacrifice.”
early in the morning three days from now you will see man in a red cloak and
hood walking way from this office. This
is your man. You may have his head for your sacrifice.” said Wu-Feng.
warriors, satisfied with the victory, filed out of the office.
Wu-Feng laid a restraining had on the arm of his lifelong friend, the old
old friend,” said Wu-Feng. “We
may never meet again.”
days later, Wu-Feng arose in the morning and put on a red robe with a hood.
He reread a letter he had written to his elder son and placed it on the
family altar. He affectionately
told his wife and children good-bye. They
looked up in surprise. Wu-Feng was
only going to his office a few yards away.
morning was misty as mornings often are on the slopes Mount Ali.
Wu-Feng, tall and red clad, emerged from the fog, walking away from his
office. The warriors were waiting, hiding behind rocks.
a twang of bows, arrows shot at Wu-Feng from every direction.
Wu-Feng stumbled, dropped to the ground.
leader of the young mountain men dashed out with upraised blade and chopped off
the head of the man in the red cloak.
sun opened the mist just as the warrior turned back the cloak of their victim
and saw that it was Wu-Feng.
savages drew back with screams of fear. This
was not the head they wanted. Oh,
any head but this! Even the savages
had respected and feared this wise ruler.
great was the horror of everyone that Taiwan was not large enough for the grief.
The old chief died of a broken heart when he heard what his young people
had done. The rebellious warriors
were brought to their senses and they saw that no good could come of
headhunting. They made a vow that
they would never sacrifice heads again. And
they never did.
people built a temple in memory of Wu-Feng, the leader who loved his people so
mush that he gave his own life to bring peace between the mountain people and
descendants Wu-Feng still live near the temple which stands today on the spot
where Wu-Feng died, near the city of Chia-yi in Taiwan.
The Tiger Witch
Alishan in Taiwan, there was said to be a woman who was really a Tiger Witch.
Some said she lived in a house made of sugar cane and candied sweet
oranges, and that she lured little children inside it with gift of sweet
potatoes and such goodies.
inside, the children would be dipped in tempura batter and fried a crisp brown.
Then the Tiger Witch would eat them and save the bones, which she dropped
into her pocket for between meal snacks, crunching them like peanuts.
She was said to be especially fond of finger bones.
knew about her. Dreadful stories of
her wicked behavior sifted through the bamboo thicket that surrounded the
village where Ah-lee and Ah-bi lived with their mother and father and their baby
brother. For safety, every house
had a baqua eye painted on wood or paper hanging on the doorpost to keep witches
and demons from crossing the threshold, so the two sisters never worried about
the tales of the Tiger Witch.
day the father of the family went on a journey to the sea with the magistrate of
the district. He was gone for many
days, and finally the mother, in her concern, decided to go to the temple in the
next village to make a sacrifice of pork and chicken to the gods there, who were
noted for bringing travelers home safely.
the door tightly and don’t let anyone in the house until I come back,”
warned the mother. “I shall stay
overnight, for I must stop to visit my own mother while I am near my old home.
If anything bothers you, run tell the old priest in the temple across the
mother strapped the baby onto her back, put the pork and chicken into her bah,
and set out.
was a long and lonely day for Ah-bi and Ah-lee, for they lived in a remote house
in the middle of a rice paddy on the edge of the village near the old Taoist
in the afternoon the girls sat on the doorstep of the house, listening to the
temple bells while they ate their rice and drank their tea.
Ah-bi put down her chopsticks and pulled a bit of dried kumquat from the
pocked of her dress and offered to share it with her sister.
As the girls pulled at the sweetmeat to divide it equally, an old woman
came up the path to the house.
evening,” said the old woman. “Are
you Ah-bi and Ah-lee?”
mother asked me to come and stay the night with you,” said the woman, settling
down on the steps. “I am your old aunt, and I met your mother on the road as I
was coming this way. She said for
me to come and sleep with your to protect you from evil spirits and evil people
until she returned.
although she was younger, was responsible beyond her years.
mother told us not to let anyone come in,” she said, looking at the old woman
but I am your relative. Do you see how much I look like your mother?”
The two girls looked at the old woman, and indeed, she did look like
their mother. (Witches can look any
way they please.) “Besides,”
she added, reaching inside her dress, “I have brought you some plums from your
Ah-bi and Ah-lee were delighted with the fruit.
By the time they had sucked the sweet flesh from the plum seeds, they had
forgotten all about their mother’s warning.
They sat with their guest until the sun set over the rice paddy and the
moon rose behind the house. When
the moon fingers touched the ginger lilies, they rose to go to bed.
the guest stood up she brushed against the baqua sign, making it drop to the
ground where it rolled under a banana tree. Ah-bi and Ah-lee jumped up to run
after it, but the old aunt grabbed them in her strong fingers and stopped them.
no,” she said. “Wait until
morning. A snake might bite you if
you go chasing after that sign at night. It’s
only a painted picture of an eye.”
our baqua keeps evil spirits out of the house,” explained Ah-lee.
mind,” said the old woman, stepping over the threshold.
“I’m her to look after you so you won’t need the baqua tonight.”
time to time the old aunt gnawed on something she pulled from her pocket.
Soon they all got into bed with the old woman in the middle.
are you eating, Aunt?” asked Ah-lee as she snuggled down beside her relative
who continued to make loud crunching noises.
said the old lady. “Oh, how I love peanuts!”
She chuckled to herself as she pinched Ah-bi with one hand and Ah-lee
with the other.
I have one?” asked Ah-lee. “I love peanuts, too.”
the old lady only pulled Ah-lee closer to her with one arm.
She continued to pinch Ah-bi, who was taller and thinner, with her other
peanuts,” she chuckled in such a harsh cracked voice that chills like the
winter wind slid down Ah-lee’s spine. She
tried to pull away but the old woman only held her tighter, chuckling,
Ah-lee suddenly remembered the whispered tales she had heard about the
Tiger Witch who crunched the finger bones of the little children she caught like
the other side of the old woman, Ah-lee could hear the even, sleep sodden
breathing of Ah-bi. Ah-bi could
always fall asleep faster than anyone.
she whispered Ah-lee, but the old woman put her bony fingers across Ah-lee’s
mouth, and the little girl lay there with only her quick wits for company.
There was no doubt in her mind now that their bedfellow was the wicked
old Tiger Witch. She must run for
help before it was to late, but the old witch held her close.
She must think fast.
Ah-lee began to turn and twist and pitch about in the bed.
“Ohhh,” she moaned, “I need to go outside, Aunt.”
said the witch, “you must stay here.”
“If I don’t go outside you’ll be sorry,” warned Ah-lee.
said the witch again, munching on a seemingly endless supple of crunchy fingers.
squealed Ah-lee. “Oh, you’ll be sorry.”
won’t let you go.,” she said in her scratchy witch voice.
“I promised your dear mother to take care of you.
A snake or a scorpion might bite you when you go outside.”
I must go. I have to, I have to.”
cried Ah-lee, raising her voice in hopes of waking Ah-bi.
But Ah-bi slept peacefully. “Why
not tie a string to my ankle, Aunt? Then
you can hold the string and pull it to see if I’m safe.
I have to go. The plums
right,” grumbled the witch. “Hand
me the string.”
old witch tied the only string to Ah-lee’s ankle, and Ah-lee hobbled through
the door into the yard. Ah-bi was
still sleeping soundly.
outside, Ah-lee slipped the string from her foot and tied it to a tree.
Oh, she must hurry, hurry, before Ah-bi became a pocketful of crunchy
all right, Aunt,” Ah-lee called.
“You can feel the string, can’t you?”
She could see the string jerk. “Don’t
worry about me. I’ll pull the
string when I’m ready to come back to the house.”
looked at the moonlit path that led through the rice paddy to the temple.
Never had she left her own yard at night, but this was no time for fear.
She plunged through the field as fast as her feet would take her.
She knew that the old priest could drive the witch from the house, and
she beat on the temple door as brazenly a grown person.
priest!” she cried. “Come
quickly. The Tiger Witch is at our
house, and Ah-bi is in bed with her!”
old Taoist priest lit a lamp and came sleepily to the door.
the light,” he said. I must find my horn and my gong.
I can’t kill witches with them, but I can drive them away.”
lit the path as they hurried across the field.
At the edge of Ah-lee’s yard, they could hear the old witch calling in
her rasping voice.
a minute, Aunt. I’m coming.
I only want to stop by the well and get drink of water,” answered
you get into your house, fill a dish with egg, pork rice and bean curd and set
it on your doorstep,” whispered the old priest.
“I will slip inside the house. When
I begin to blow my horn and beat my gong, fling open the door.
The old witch will go outside to taste the food because she is a witch.
Then shut the door very fast.”
understand,” whispered Ah-lee. “I’m
coming, Aunt”, she called. She
knocked on the door and the old witch let her in.
back in bed now,” ordered the witch.
very hungry. First I must get
myself some food,” said Ah-lee, fumbling around the stove.
She grabbed up some egg and bean curd with some pork and rice and ran to
are you doing?” grumbled the witch. “Come
back here. You can’t go outside again.”
only want a moonbeam of light so I can see if my rice and bean curd have bugs in
them,” hedged Ah-lee, pushing the dish onto the doorstep.
From the corner of her eye, she could see the old priest slipping into
flung the door wide at the precise moment that the old priest began to beat his
sacred gong and blow his sacred horn with a noise so loud that Ah-bi woke up
with a scream and the old witch, attracted by the food, ran out of the house.
slammed the door shut and the old witch was gone.
priest made sure that the girls were settled back in bed and returned to his
as Ah-bi and Ah-lee were falling asleep, they heard a great knocking at the
up, it’s Mother”, cried the voice at the door.
It was undoubtedly Mother’s voice.
(Witches can take any kind of voice they please.)
flung open the door, and to her horror the old witch rushed into the room again.
“Ah, ha,” cried the witch “you forgot to put your baqua eye back on
gave a shriek and ran behind the stove while Ah-lee and the witch played a
fierce game of chase around the room. Ah-lee
finally got through the door and up to the top of the banyan tree.
down,” yelled the witch.
right,” said Ah-lee sweetly. “I’ll
come down after I rest a minute. I know you are planning to eat us, but first I
think I should tell you that I am very dirty from running in the muddy rice
paddy. If you will bring me a kettle of boiling peanut oil I will
clean myself with it and jump right
into your mouth. I will taste much
better that way.”
witch grumbled, but she agreed.
make a pot of very hot oil, “ called Ah-lee.
I’m going to fry somebody.”
understand sister,” call Ah-bi. “I’ll
put it on the boil.”
old Tiger Witch stood under the banyan tree looking up a Ah-lee.
“I’m not going to wait any longer.
I’m coming to get you. You’re
too slow,” she complained.
it faster. Blow up the fire,
Ah-bi” called Ah-lee.
blowing, sister,” called Ah-bi, huffing and puffing at the charcoal.
coming up,” snapped the old witch.
one minute,” cried Ah-bi. Here I come with the oil.
I’ll take it right up the tree to
Ah-lee, and I’ll wash in it, too, while you eat Ah-lee.”
climbed the banyan tree with the pot of boiling oil.
The girls mad believe that they were washing in the oil while the witch
your mouth Aunt,” called the girls. “Stand
right below us and open your mouth.”
getting ready to jump,” cried Ah-lee.
greedy old witch stood right below Ah-lee and opened her ugly mouth.
Ah-lee and Ah-bi tipped the kettle of smoking hot oil so that it fell
directly into the witch’s mouth. With
a tiger’s roar, she fell writing to the ground.
girls watched as her body wilted into a stack of wet banyan leaves.
At the same time, a ghostly tiger rose from the leaves and ran snarling
into the bamboo ticket on the hill.
last they knew that the old Tiger Witch was dead, but nevertheless they looked
under the banana tree until they found the baqua eye, which they hung back on
the doorpost, in case any other witches were prowling.
next day their mother cam e back with the baby brother on her back, and one day
later Father returned from his trip with magistrate.
was so happy that they had a huge pai-pai feast.
They had a parade and burned paper money to the gods and everyone ate all
he could hold.
no one ever saw the Tiger Witch again.
The Mud-Baked Hen
was a poor old wood gatherer in Taiwan who had nobody to love except his
scraggly old chicken, because his wife was mean nagger and they had no children.
day he and his chicken went to the woods to gather firewood, which he sold at
the market for so little money that they were all about to starve.
the village was going to have a pai=pai with a parade and jugglers and a big
feast, and the wife of the wood gatherer said that they must make a sacrifice in
the temple, a sacrifice of meat for the feast.
all we have to sacrifice is that hen of yours,” she said.
“Tomorrow morning you must slit its throat, and we will cook it and
sacrifice it for the pai-pai.”
poor wood gatherer felt his heart draw into a little knot of pain.
He was scared of his wife, and he was scared of the merchant in the
market who bought the twigs and branches he gathered each day, and he was scared
of the gods. The only thing in the
world or out of it that he wasn’t afraid of was his scrawny chicken.
he said bravely, “that chicken is too skinny and bony for a sacrifice.
I cannot kill her.”
bravely stuck out his undersized chin and his bony chest, but his wife said,
“Kill the chicken.
The poor fellow went to bed more wretched than he had ever been.
next morning the old woman was up early.
the chicken to the woods with you,” she ordered.
“When you have gathered half your wood, lay the chicken across a bamboo
joint and slit her throat.”
old man did all he could to discourage the chicken from accompanying him that
day. If the chicken was not along,
how could he kill her? But chicken,
who always went along on the daily trip to the woods stuck right by his feet,
clucking and encouraging him to hurry up.
the way to the woods, the man kicked at the chicken, shooing her and threatening
her, but the hen was not to be left behind.
he gathered half his wood and finally, since there was no way to get out it, he
took the chicken in his hands and stroked her and then laid her across a fat
strip of bamboo and raised his knife.
kill me, old man,” said the chicken.
old man was so astonished that he dropped his knife.
Never in his life had he heard a chicken speak.
He was terrified.
be afraid, old man. Just do as I say and everything will work out to your
old man was delighted to be obeying the hen rather then his wife so he agreed
to do as he was told.
get a bundle of bamboo sticks and tie them into a packaged the size and shaped
of a hen.”
old man complied quickly.
said the chicken, “I want you to dig a pile of earth from the nearest corner
of the bog over there and cover the bamboo bundle so that it will look like a
old man chucked for he could see what the chicken had in mind.
ancient way of cooking chicken in Taiwan was to wrap leaves around it, cover the
whole thing with mud, and then bake it for a long time.
When the mud was removed, the succulent roast hen was ready to eat.
without further instructions he wrapped the bamboo in leaves and mud and built
fire then and there and roasted the mock chicken.
real chicken ran around and around the fire laughing as if her head would fall
off and flapping her wings to keep the fire hot.
The old man gathered branches for the fire and ran around and around
laughing with the chicken, for this was such a good joke on his nagging wife.
said the real hen when the false chicken had cooked until the mud was hard and
brown, “take this to the temple and have your pai-pai, but don’t take the
mud off until I tell you to.”
old man got home with his hot mud-baked chicken, and real hen hid near the
house. The old woman was satisfied
that her husband had obeyed her in killing the hen, but she was angry that he
had gone ahead and cooked it in mud. Her
plan had been to roast the hen in her stove at home.
She wanted to remove the mud and see the chicken.
said the old man in an unexpected burst of courage, “don’t cross me.
We will take the chicken to the temple in the mud wrapping, and then we
will open it for the feast.”
the old man and the old woman were in the temple kneeling before Kuan Yin, the
old wife looked up and saw the real hen walk by.
She had such a fright that she dropped her joss stick, and burned herself
on her incense rod. “Husband,”
she whispered wildly, “I see the ghost of our chicken at the temple door!”
said the old man, laughing inwardly. “Keep
your mouth shut, woman.”
old man finished his prayers and took the mud-baked hen off the altar and put it
into a basket. What to do now?
But the real chicken gave him his instructions.
your mud-baked hen home and remove the mud before your family altar.
Save the mud.” said the chicken quietly, so no one else could hear.
real chicken flopped and flew along the road beside them, and the old woman was
terror struck over what she thought was a chicken ghost.
When they got home the old man removed the mud as instructed.
He knew that his power over the old woman would end the minute she saw
the charred bamboo sticks inside the mud. And
he feared what the gods would do to him when they found out that they had been
deceived in the sacrifice.
when he took the mud off, out came a complete, baked chicken.
Now the old man was so scared that he barely stopped himself from falling
into a faint at this work of magic.
be afraid,” said the chicken, who was watching.
“Just save this mud and every day you can have a mud-baked chicken for
your dinner. But every third day you are to give your chicken away to the
monks the temple.”
I would do that anyhow,” said the old man.
“I would not live in luxury without dividing with the begging monks.”
thought so,” said the chicken. “But
you must keep on working as a wood gatherer ever though you have fine food to
eat every day.”
old woman was delighted to have chicken to eat every day.
And she was respectful to her husband and his chicken whom she thought
was a ghost. she did as she was told, and altogether a new way of life
came into the household.
she was greedy. Soon she tired of
her husband’s generosity in giving away every third chicken.
So she made a plan.
she said respectfully, “it is no longer necessary for you to gather sticks and
wrap them in mud each morning. Is
cooking not woman’s work? I will
make the mud-baked hen every day while you go to the woods.”
well,” agreed the husband. “But
don’t lose the mud.”
course I won’t,” said the woman. “I am no fool.
I will guard the magic mud with my life.”
that morning the old man and the chicken went to the woods and left the old
woman to make a new bamboo and mud chicken before nightfall.
She did her job very well and had fresh mud-baked hen ready when the old
man got home.
next day the old woman did the same thing and the third day as well.
But on the third day, while the husband was in the woods gathering sticks
with his hen friend, instead of taking the chicken to the monks as she had been
told to do, the woman called in a food merchant.
will you give me for this succulent mud-baked hen?” she asked, removing the
mud and placing it in a pile by the altar for us the next day.
merchant named a price and the greedy old woman agreed and gave him the chicken,
putting the money under the stove.
that moment, the old man and the chicken were talking typing bundles of twigs
in the forest. Suddenly the chicken
began to fly about and squawk and flap her wings in rage.
is the matter, friend chicken?” cried the old man.
the chicken no longer spoke. She
simply flipped and flopped and flew herself home.
The old man ran after her, deeply disturbed by the hen’s strange
behavior. when they reached the house, the chicken flew into the door
and dived onto the magic mud and began to blow it away with her wings.
old woman screamed and tried to catch the grains of magic dirt, which were
flying, all over her house. But the chicken spun like a whirlwind, with feathers flying,
until all the mud and all the chicken disappeared grain-by-grain and
vain the old man called and cried for his chicken whom he had loved.
In vain did the greedy wife look for the dust of the dry mud.
old man was so furious with his wife that he told her good-bye and went to join
the begging monks and never saw her again.
old woman began to look more and more like a chicken, with claw like hands and a
beak and a clucking voice. She spent the rest of her days scratching for food in the dry
A Story for Poets
on a mountain near the cit of Taipei there was once a graveyard with a superb
view. The breezes were cool, and
nowhere were the unsets so brilliant not the moonrises so splendid.
trees and willow sifted the sunshine by day and the moonlight my night.
Altogether it was a most fortunate place for one’s ancestors.
nowadays-young people want to forget filial piety.
Some people have even ceased to end the graves of their ancestors, and
some of the graves became neglected and shabby, rundown homes for lonesome
then the very worst happened. someone
bought the land and moved the tombs and built a college over the old cemetery.
old men on the neighboring farms had advised against moving the graves.
ghosts hovered over the land, anxious and watchful.
Who wants to harm students with their fresh faces and their bright minds,
but then who wants to disturb tired ghosts with their heavenly wisdom and their
night a young man student, a pot, was weary, yet unable to sleep or write.
He was trying to write a poem. Laying
aside his papers, he walked out into the cool night to breathe the fresh air.
was very late and no one was about. a
dim winter moonlight skimmed the campus. He
walked to the edge of the cliff to sit alone on the mountain slope, thinking
long sad thoughts of youth and poetry.
was sitting there when he first heard the singing.
It was a simple old-fashioned melody, a song he had heard at the moment
of birth, perhaps, and a song he had always known but had never known.
Who was singing? He looked behind him.
The dormitory windows were dark. He
stood up and looked around, but there was no one in sight. Could he be imagining things?
settled down again, and singing continued, soft as the breeze blowing a milkweed
pod, clear as the song of a baby bird at dawn.
are you? Who are you?” he whispered, staring tensely.
that , a slight girl in a white silk robe, an old style robe such as he had seen
on ancient scroll pictures, slipped from behind a Na-Tao tree and sat down
he met her before? It seemed he had
always known her but he had never known her.
are you?,” he asked, grasping her pale hands.
am Ah-Leah,” she whispered. “I have come to sing you to sleep.”
you a music student?” he asked.
you might call me that,” she laughed with laughter that sounded like wind on a
harp. “Shh,” she said.
“The night is too still and beautiful for talking,” and she put a
cool finger over his mouth to quiet his questions.
long he there he never knew. He
only knew that she was gone when he woke the next morning, a little stiff from
sleeping on the ground in the cool dew.
soon as he had washed and eaten his breakfast he went to the desk at the
would like to se Miss Ah-Leah--I’m sorry, I don’t know her family name.”
said the girl on duty. “I don’t
think we have a student with that name.”
you must,” insisted the boy. “She
is a music student.”
there is no one by that name enrolled here.”
boy rubbed his head and frowned. He
must see her again, the misty girl in white with the heavenly voice.
old man, the floor scrubber, paused and looked at the boy.
she white and slender with a voice like wind blowing through the string of a
yes,” said the boy. “Do you know her?”
know about her,” said the old man with a faraway smile.
“She died fifty years ago, and her grave was on the hillside before
they tore it up and moved her body. Sometimes
she walks here at night, singing for special people.
They say she likes poets, young poets.
Perhaps she died of love for a poet.
Did you see her? You are lucky if you did.”
said the young poet. “I wonder. I shall never feel lucky until I meet her
was once a young man named Lin Tachian whose father had recently died.
The father had been an enemy of the Emperor in China and had fled to
Taiwan to escape the imperial wrath. The
young man was looking for the most fortunate gravesite on the island as he could
not return to the Middle Kingdom to bury his father.
everyone knows that the gravesite of the father is of greatest importance
to a son.
Tachian did not spare any time or effort in finding the right place.
With a fortuneteller to advise him, he traveled to the south of the
island where they found a very lucky gravesite near the base of Mount Takeo.
Lin Tachian brought his sister Lin Kinrian with him to the place, and
there they reverently buried the bones of the old father.
Mount Takeo lived a magic golden rooster that greeted the sun each morning with
a loud crow that could be heard throughout the island.
Before crowing in the morning, every cock on Taiwan waited until the
golden cock crowed first, for only the magic cock knew the exact moment of dawn.
Then all the rest crowed together.
and Tachian asked the golden cock to come and live with them, which the rooster
consented to do as it soon developed that the brother and sister were building a
beautiful home near the grave of their father.
They were very rich, and Tachian had many bars of gold, which he kept
hidden under his bed.
day when Tachian was walking in the woods he nearly stumbled over an old man who
was lying unconscious in the path. Tachian
stooped to pick him up.
you hurt, sir?” Tachian asked as
he uncorked his water bottle to give the stranger some cool water.
old man opened his eyes and sat up.
think I was in a trance,” he said. “I
thought a young man whose father is buried near here has a chance to become
Emperor of China.”
that must be me!” said Tachian in great surprise.
“My father wanted to be Emperor of China. Do you think I should return and fight to gain the Dragon
old man thought a minute. “No, in my dream it said that I must give that young man my
three golden arrows and that at the exact moment of dawn in on week the young
man must shoot the arrows to the northwest in the direction Peking.
If the exact day and moment are observed, the old Emperor will be killed
and the one who kills him will become Emperor.”
old man than reached into his basket and handed Tachian three golden arrows.
Tachian, reeling with excitement, thanked him and offered to take him to
his own house for food and drink. But
the old man declined.
must go and gather yourself an army,” he said, and with that he disappeared in
a cloud of smoke.
could think of a thousand questions he wished he had asked the old man, who was
obviously a spirit of some sort, but even the smoke had vanished.
rushed home to tell Kinrian.
sue to watch over the golden cock very carefully”, he told her.
“The success of this all depends on his magic timing.”
people near Mount Takeo were impressed by the golden arrows and agreed to join
an army for overthrowing the Ching Dynasty in China.
But nobody, including Tachian, could understand how an arrow could fly
across the Taiwan Straits.
was everywhere. Kinrian sat before her small mirror and combed her hair and
imagined how she would look in a jeweled headdress befitting the sister of the
Emperor. Kinrian’s lazy maids
bestirred themselves for a change, thinking that they might become ladies in
waiting or royal concubines.
polished his best bow with great fervor and drilled his men--one, two, three,
four--and practiced walking with heavy weights on his head, for he would soon be
Emperor and he would have to be able to move with heavy head coverings.
most of all the excitement affected the golden cock.
Kinrian moved the cock into her own bedroom and made a silk pillow for
him to sleep on. And every day she
anxiously encouraged his to be alert and greet the dawn on time.
cock cared nothing about sleeping in Kinrian’s luxurious room, but as he had
accepted their hospitality it seemed rude to insist on sleeping in the courtyard
with the other chickens. So he
would wake many times during the night and light her candle.
Often the golden rooster would stir.
They were wakeful, exhausting nights.
the night before Tachian was to shoot the magic arrows into the Emperor’s
throne, Kinrian stayed awake all night, padding about her room, looking at the
golden cock to be sure his head was centered in the silken pillow, looking out
the window to be sure that dawn was not coming up at midnight.
himself could not sleep, and all night he sat by his door, his bow strung beside
him and the magic arrows in his lap.
Kinrian woke the cock. “Is it time?” she asked.
rooster looked at her, slightly annoyed. “Nobody
needs to wake the golden cock,” he said haughtily, and just to show his
independence he turned over and pretended to sleep.
And then, fearing that he had blundered, he flew to the window and crowed
irritably two minutes ahead of time, the only he had ever made an error in his
instant the cock crowed Tachian was on his feet, his face to the northwest.
Ping! Ping! went the magic arrows across the Taiwan Straits, directly to the
Dragon Throne where they hit the mark without error.
But the Emperor was not on his throne.
timing was off. One minute after
the three arrows his the throne, the Emperor walked into his throne chamber.
out my soldier,” he cried. “Summon
my boats. Lin Tachian from Taiwan is trying to kill me.
I will send my army to fight him.”
the rooster realized his mistake. He
yawned. “I crowed two minutes
early today,” he said idly. “It
never happened before.”
and Tachian looked at each other and shrieked with alarm.
They knew the Emperor would send armies to search them out and that
Tachian’s short dream of being Emperor was dead.
kill you, you undependable rooster,” shouted Tachian, and with that he chopped
off its head.
was a mighty roar louder than all the loud roars ever heard before in the world.
It sounded like a million firecrackers exploding at once, plus a million
crashes of thunder and a million shrill crows of giant roosters and the collapse
of a million tile roofs.
the golden rooster had split Mount Takeo in half.
was my fault,” sobbed Kinrian. “I
cared for the rooster too well.” And
she grabbed Tachian’s sword and plunged it into her heart.
was broken heated over his sister’s suicide, but he buried her tenderly near
her father’s grave. He would go now and seek the old man who had given him the
magic arrows; he might be able to save Tachian.
But first he would bury the bars of gold beside the family graves.
he buried the gold, Tachian took his sword and his bow and set out.
That night as he lay sleeping, a great tidal wave, caused by the split in
the mountain, overran the island and Tachian was drowned.
His house was washed away, and the soldiers who were coming from Peking
to get him were drowned in the Taiwan Straits.
the twin mountain peaks that guard the harbor of the city of Kaosiung remind the
people that the mountain once was split apart.
Then they recall that the bars of gold buried by Tachian might still be
in the hills near the town.
people have looked for them. Once a
woodcutter walking in the woods at evening met a beautiful maiden who took him
to her lavish house and fed him and gave him bars of gold.
But something happened. He
found himself next morning laying near a rock I the woods with only a stick of
wood in his hand, with no beautiful girl and no bars of gold to be found.
time a small girl met a beautiful lady in those woods. The lady filled the
child’s basket with gold, but when the child’s greedy mother took it away
form her, the gold turned to ordinary wood.
But the story must be true, for anyone can see the split mountain, and how else account for the fact that cocks crow at all hours in Taiwan today, not just precisely at the moment of dawn”. That’s because the golden cock is dead, and other roosters have no way of knowing the exact moment to crow in the morning.