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Thursday, April 11, 2013

'Shen of the Sea'

A few weeks ago, I picked up a (reprint of a) little book called 'Shen of the Sea' by Arthur Bowie Chrisman (writen in 1925), a collection of Chinese folk and wonder tales.

Here is the beginning of the first story, 'Ah Mee's Invention' --
"A shamelessly rainy day, my honorable Brother Chi."

"That is truth, esteemed Brother Cha. It rains perfectly hard. There will be plenty of leisure in which to beat the children."

Ching Chi was merely quoting an old Swa Tou saying. Everyone knows that on rainy days old and young are crowded, arm against elbow, in the house; often to get in each the other's way -- and misunderstandings are likely to arise. Then the bamboo is brought into play -- and there are wailings. That is how the Swa Tou saying originated. When Ching Chi used it, he did so in fun, and, no doubt, to make talk.

But Ching Cha thought that his brother was speaking with earnestness. His face, made glum by the rain and by secret troubles, brightened at such a pleasing prospect. "Ho. Leisure to beat the children? What an utterly excellent idea! I myself will cut bamboos for your hand. Ah Mee is the one to beat. He played at being a mad wild elephant -- oh, so perfectly wild, and with such trampling -- in the midst of my huang ya tsai patch."

Ching Chi seemed altogether astonished. His face showed that the thought Ching Cha must be overstepping the truth. "What? What do you say to me, honorable Brother Cha? Ah Mee playing wild elephant in your cabbage patch? But I thought I told him, emphatically, to break no more of your cabbages."

"It is no blemish upon my lips. It is the truth," said Ching Cha, sullen ahd hurt because Chi disbelieved. "He played elephant in my cabbages. Come and I will show you."

"Oh, no." Ching Chi shook his head. "It is raining far too hard. I'll speak of the matter again to my son."

Ching Cha adjusted his wei li (ran hat) the straighter and shuffled off through the downpour. As he went he muttered something that sonded like "Wong tou meng." If that is what he really said, he called Ching Chi a stupid old noddy.

But Ching Chi merely laughed. He had no intention of beating Ah Me, his "pearl in the palm," his son.

Now, whether Ching Chi was right or wrong is a pretty question. Some persons answer one way, and some, another. But there is no question about this ... Ah Mee was terrible. If anything, he was as bad as that lazy Ah Fun, son of Dr. Chu Ping. Here is there only difference: Ah Fun never did what he was told to do. Ah Mee always did what he was told not to do. But he did it in such manner as to leave a loophole. Take the matter of his uncle Ching Cha's cabbage patch ...

Only a day or so before, Ah Mee had pretended that he was a fierce and furious dragon -- a loong. As a fierce and furious dragon, he threshed this way and that through Uncle Ching Cha's very delectable cabbages -- causing much hurt. Ching Chi, the parent, told Ah Mee never again to play dragon in Uncle Cha's cabbages. "Ah Mee, you must never again play dragon in your honorable uncle's cabbage patch. If you do, I shall speak to you most sharply." And Ah Mee said, "Yes, sir," and obeyed. He pretended to be a ferocious wild elephant. He didn't play dragon again. Oh, no. Not at all. He was very careful not even to think of a dragon. He was a weighty elephant -- amid the cabbages.
Isn't that fun? There's more ... do see if you can find a copy.