Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Last Run of Bus 375--Another Version of "The Midnight Bus"

Beijing . . . late one evening in 1995 . . .

Bus 375 is supposed to make its final run for the evening. On board are the driver and the ticket seller. Otherwise, the seats are empty.

The bus stops and an elderly woman and a young man, strangers to each other, board. They buy their tickets, and they both sit back for what will be a long journey into the night.

The bus drives on into the darkness for what seems a long while. Soon, the bus is on the outskirts of the city. It stops and three men in heavy military-style coats board.  They likewise purchase tickets and take their seats.

The bus continues on.

Soon, there is a ruckus on board.

"You thief! You put your hands into my purse!" The elderly woman stands up, clutching her purse and scowling at the young man who had boarded with her.

"No, I didn't! I didn't even touch your purse!" he replies.

"You did so! I saw you!" Then, to the driver, she shouts, "Stop the bus! I want to report this thief to the police! Something's missing from my purse!"

The bus slowly comes to a stop.

"Lady," says the young man accused of theft, "I didn't touch or take . . . "

"All right," says the old woman, "then get off with me and let's settle this at the nearest station or  with the first police car we see!"

She begins to pull the young man towards the exit.


"Come with me! We're going to take care of this!"

"Fine! Fine! Let's do that, then," says the young man.

The bus driver opens the door, and the two get off. The bus pulls away, leaving them both on the sidewalk in the middle of nowhere late at night.

The young man glares at the old woman for what has got to be the biggest pain in the neck imaginable, but she just smiles sadly.

After the bus is now totally out of sight, she says, "Young man, don't be angry. Did you see the three men in the heavy coats that got on a while back?"

"Yes!" he sighs. "What of them?"

"I guess you didn't see that none of them had feet. They were ghosts."

During the night, the bus disappears, never reaching the terminal. The terminal manager notifies the police. The police comb the area, finally locating Bus 375 lying overturned in a ditch. Inside, they find the bodies of the driver and the ticket seller. Both have apparently died from having their necks twisted and broken.

No traces of the three men in military jackets are found.


For my earlier version, see my posting for 8/6/12. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Cocoon Girl (Han)

Long, long ago in ancient times, there was a girl who lived with just her father and her horse far out in the countryside. This girl was alone with her horse a lot while her dad was out of the area working.

So, it was just this very young woman and her horse to watch over the house and to pass the time together. She doted on her horse and made sure the horse was well fed every day.

The girl missed her father a lot, so one day, feeling bored and a little cheeky, she said to the horse, "Tell you what. If you go and fetch my father for me, I shall marry you!"

Like an arrow, the horse slipped out of its reins and took off, leaving the girl behind in the dust, watching, stunned. Off the horse galloped until it was out of sight. It didn't stop until it found the father at work some distance from home.

Why, this is our horse! he thought. What in the world has happened to bring him here? I need to leave and return home . . . 

He got up on the horse and immediately road back home, worried something was amiss with his daughter. The father returned home soon enough and saw that nothing was out of order. His daughter didn't reveal her careless oath to the horse and just let on she had no clue why the horse had behaved that way. The father was perplexed but dropped the matter.

After the father's return, the horse began to act very strangely. Normally, the horse would eat hay with relish; now, however, the horse refused to eat. What's more, every time the girl appeared, the horse would neigh and kick up its hoofs as if possessed.

The father witnessed this and knew there was more to the story than he had been told.

"All right," he told his daughter, "I want the truth. Why is your horse acting like this?"

"I told him I'd marry him if he would bring you back home . . . It was just a joke . . ."

"Daughter, how could you have done something like this?" The father was livid. "No one should ever make an oath like that, joking or not! You have caused great shame to our family! For the time being, you are not to leave the house until I say otherwise!"

The father then grabbed his bow and quiver of arrows and stepped outside to the horse stall. He shot the unfortunate horse with an arrow, skinned it, and hung the horsehide to dry outside.

Days passed.

The father was once again hired to work away from home.

On this day, the girl was outside, playing with several other neighboring girls. In the midst of a game, the girl spied the horsehide still hanging on a hook. She walked over to it and gave it a good kick.

"Well, look at you!" she then said. "Just a farm animal, a working animal, that's all! You thought you were going to get married, but now look at you! Just a dead animal's hide drying, twisting in the wind! So much for your stupid dreams!"

And then, with a great whoosh, the hide lifted off from the hook, enveloped the girl from head to foot and flew off with her into the sky and across the horizon.

The neighborhood girls, frozen with fright, pulled themselves together and ran off to find the girl's father. They finally located him at another home a little distance away.

The father then ran off on a frantic search for his daughter. He scoured the surrounding areas, all to no avail. He didn't give up, though, and finally located something a few days later in the forest, growing on a tree--a giant cocoon that covered what looked like an animal hide. It was the same horsehide all right, and it was simply huge, the biggest cocoon ever, totally encased in silky strands.

In time, women of the area gently removed the cocoon from the branch and brought it to the ground, where they would feed it and watch over it.

The tree on which the cocoon originally grew became known as the sangshu [桑树], what we call the mulberry tree.

Azoth Translation and Editing Team, ed., 經典中國童話 [Classic Chinese Fairy Tales]; Taipei: Azoth Books, 2012; pp. 48-49;  蚕女 - 维基百科,自由的百科全书蚕神姑娘_民间故事_中国历史故事网

The earliest version of this story is from Records of the Search for the Gods [搜神記] by Gan Bao (fl. 315-336 A.D.).  For an excellent academic analysis of this story, including a different variant of this tale and its psychoanalytical significance, see a1075.pdf by Professor Alan Miller. 

The version translated and adapted above reveals the cruelty of the girl just before her abduction by the horsehide. 

Azoth titled this story as "The Horsehide Maiden" [馬皮姑娘] rather than the more traditional title by which this story is known, the title I used for this translated and adapted version. Other versions are titled "The Horsehead Girl" [馬頭女], alluding to the ideal shape of a silk cocoon--a soft long body with a "head" faintly resembling that of a horse, also alluding to the eventual disposition of the girl in the story herself.  

The Chinese name for "Mulberry" is a play on words: "Mulberry," sang [桑], versus "mourning"  [喪], also pronounced sang. Both are pronounced with the first tone. The idea is perhaps conflating plant protein from the mulberry leaves and excreted by larvae with the process of mourning to signify the daughter's transition and her inability to be seen again. Various commentators on this story suggest the cult of the Horsehide Maiden eventually led to the spawning of the silk industry. 

Motifs: A2811, "Origin of silk"; cB611.3, "Horse paramour"; cC16, "Tabu: Offending animal husband"; D264, "Transformation of man (woman) to skein of silk; cS215.1, "Girl promises herself to animal suitor." 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Yellow Werewolf (Han)

Note: This is a rather grisly folktale that is perhaps best not shared with very young children. As it is, it is a bizarre juggling of humor, fairy tale, and Grand Guignol.

Here we go:

There once was a farming family made up of two old folks and their two children--a boy and his younger sister. They were happy, the four of them, and enjoyed a peaceful life together.

Now, it came to the attention of the boy that the sheep herd was dwindling daily when he gathered up the sheep to take them out to the meadow. It was not lost on him that something was preying on the sheep between their being returned to the pen and when they were let out in the morning.

So, late one afternoon, after returning the sheep to the pen, he stealthily climbed over the walls of the pen and hid way in the back where he could enjoy a commanding view of the entire place.

He waited and waited . . . Then, he noticed the door of his sister's room opening. Out quietly came his sister. With a bound, she leaped over the walls of the pen and landed among the sheep. In an instant, he witnessed his sister transform herself into a yellow werewolf. With several savage bites, she devoured an entire sheep.

The brother observed all this and was shaken to his very core. He waited for her to finish her deed,  change back into human form, and leave. Only then did he, well after she had left, leave the pen.

As soon as he could, making sure his sister was out of earshot, he told his parents what he had witnessed.

"Mother, Father, only one thing can be true. Little Sister is a  werewolf!"

His parents not only did not believe him but scolded him to boot.

"How dare you say such hogwash!" they said. "How could your sister be a werewolf?"

No matter what he said or how much he pleaded with them, the young man could not convince them.
So, he just gave up. He packed some belongings and a little money, left the house, got on his horse, and rode out of the area.

He kept riding and riding, camping wherever he could.

One day he saw three hunters haggling with each other over four hawks. When the young man came closer to them, each of the hunters then agreed to take one of the hawks. As for the fourth hawk, they decided just to kill it. The young man intervened and asked if he could buy the fourth hawk. They gladly took his money for the hawk, and the young man, now with a hawk, rode off.

He rode on, stopping along the way to pick up a small stray dog.

After many days and nights of traveling on his horse with his hawk and dog, he reached a small village. Here, he decided to settle down for a while. He found himself a place to stay and a job. In his free time, he took care of his hawk and dog.

Several years passed. His two animal companions had grown to adult size. Both had turned into skillful hunting animals with keen instincts. He named the hawk Heiying; he named the dog Tianquan.

The time came when he started to miss his parents and his home and wondered how everyone was He decided to return home for a visit.

Before leaving, he asked a village girl for a favor.

"Do you see that basin of water over there in the corner of the courtyard?" he asked her.


"Well, after I leave, if you ever notice the water overflowing, unchain my hawk and dog and let them go."

Only when she had assured him that she understood, he packed his gear and rode away.

After a few days, he arrived back in his native village. He did not see a single person outside. Not only that but the buildings all looked dilapidated, with tall weeds growing everywhere. He galloped directly to his own family house. He secured his horse and quietly entered the house.

His sister was in the house, brushing her hair. She could see her brother in the mirror, some distance behind her, looking nervously around.

"Big Brother!" she shouted with joy. "You're finally back home!"

"Yes . . . "

She immediately rushed to his side and, taking his hand, led him back deeper into the house. He could now see bones strewn everywhere throughout the house. Then, he came to a door on which was hung a dried human head.

Father . . . he thought. He knew his parents were goners, having been eaten by this werewolf, his own sister. He was filled with sorrow.

"Brother, here!" said his sister, handing him his old two-stringed banjo. "Play while I cook you some food!"

She immediately disappeared into the kitchen, leaving him holding the musical instrument. He was truly confounded about what to do. He knew he must stay and somehow end the werewolf's reign of terror. He played the banjo; he knew if he stopped, his sister would certainly return, maybe this time as a werewolf. A weakness and inertia overcame him as he played music. Normally, he'd fight this evil with all he had, but now, realizing his parents were gone, he just lost whatever spirit was inside him and remained rooted at the spot, strumming the banjo, waiting for the return of his sister.

As it were, his sister was busy. In the kitchen, she sharpened a kitchen knife. Hungry, she went out and cut off one of the horse's legs and devoured it.

She reentered the house and approached her brother, who just stood stunned as he took in everything that had happened.

"Big Brother, guess what?" she asked."Your horse has only three legs!"

"Oh . . . so my horse has only three legs," he said, not moving.

She dashed out and returned shortly. "Guess what? Your horse has only two legs!"

"Oh . . . is that so? My horse has only two legs . . ."

She rushed out again, this time finishing off the entire rest of the poor horse. She went back into the kitchen and continued to sharpen her knife on the whetstone, taking her time, knowing her brother was in no mood to fight back or even simply to leave.

Out from a hole in the wall came two white mice, scampering right up to the young man.

"Hey," said one of the mice, "snap out of it! It's your chance to escape. We'll strum the banjo for you. Now, get out of here!"

He indeed came to his senses. He put the banjo down and let the mice make sounds on the strings. He quickly ran out a back door. He ran and ran until he came to a small reservoir, in the center of which grew a tree. He jumped into the water, swam to the tree, and climbed it all the way to the top.

Not far behind him was the werewolf, which soon enough arrived at the reservoir.

Hmm . . . she thought, he should be here . . . Where is he? She looked at the water and saw his reflection. Aha! There he is . . . in the water. 

She knelt down by the embankment and proceeded to drink up all the water.

After a while, she grunted. "Huh . . . He is not here . . . "

The brother heard this and could not refrain from laughing despite his precarious situation. The werewolf heard this and leaped toward the tree and proceeded to gnaw at the trunk.

Miles away, the village girl who had promised to check the basin of water went over to observe the basin and witnessed the water violently spilling out. She immediately turned the hawk and dog loose. The hawk flew off towards the young man's location with the dog bounding after it on the ground.

By the time Heiying and Tianquan arrived at the reservoir, the tree was tottering in the wind as the werewolf was close to gnawing completely through the trunk.

Heiying swooped down from the sky and plucked out the werewolf's eyeballs. Tianquan next dashed over and ripped out the werewolf's heart and devoured it on the spot.

The werewolf's reign had finally come to an end.

静宁民间神话传说故事 [Myths and Folk Legends of Jingning], Wang Zhisan, ed.; Beijing: Zhongwen Zaixian [Kindle Paperwhite].

This story is from a county in Gansu Province, inhabited by both Han and Hui people. The storyteller's ethnic identity is not mentioned, leading me to believe he is a Han, as Hui and other minority people are normally identified as such. 

The actual title in Chinese is "The Yellow Werewolf" ( "The Yellow Wolf Shapeshifter" 黄狼精, to be exact). "Yellow" can have a plethora of meanings, some positive and others, not so much. On the positive side, yellow was an imperial color reserved for the emperor. The legendary Yellow Emperor (d. 2598 BC) is still revered as a bringer of culture. Buddhist monks were allowed to wear yellow robes. In classical Chinese, "yellow" could also mean "gold" and "young" or "youthful." However, it can also mean "sallow," as in the insult "yellow-faced" (黄脸). By extension, this can also imply "weak," "spent." Of course, today "yellow color" (黄色) is synonymous with "prurience" and "pornography."

"Heiying" means "black eagle, ""falcon," or "hawk" (黑鹰), as "eagle," "falcon," and "hawk" are not always precisely differentiated in Chinese. "Tianquan" (天犬 ) means "heavenly hound."

In this interesting tale which is cluttered with motifs, the storyteller omits whether or not the yellow werewolf consumed the sheep bones as well as their flesh. Of course, the appearance of a telltale clue such as bones should have alerted the parents that something was seriously amiss. 

The storyteller also neglects to state if he sister metamorphizes into a werewolf after the brother returns home and when he dodges her at the reservoir. Also lost is what caused her to become a werewolf in the first place. 

Motifs: cB524.1.2. 1, "Dog breaks bonds and kills master's attacker"; B524.1.9, "Grateful hawk attacks hero's enemy"; D113.1.1, "Werewolf"; D1171.12, "Magic basin"; E541.2, "Eating humans"; H142, "Drinking enormous amount"; J1791, "Reflection in water thought to be the original of thing reflected"; K515, "Escape by hiding"; R311, "Tree refuge."

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Island of Women (Taiwan; Amis)

Shalawan was a young fisherman who lived in an Amis village on the eastern coast of Taiwan.

On one very ordinary day like so many thousands of others, Shalawan said goodbye to his wife and took to the sea in his dugout canoe to catch fish. On this particular day, he had been able to catch more than his usual share of fish within a short period of time.

He was heading out a little farther when he spotted ahead a small island he had never seen before. He was already hungry, so he decided to head for the island and cook some of the fish for his lunch. He beached the canoe, walked onto the shore with some of his catch, and looked around for some firewood. He saw some driftwood, gathered it, and started a nice little fire.

The fire had not been burning for long when suddenly Shalawan sensed the need to turn around.

To his shock, he saw his canoe, the canoe he thought had been safely secured, floating far out to sea, too far now for him to go out and retrieve. He next felt movement below his feet and looked all around. He discovered that it was not the canoe that had left the island but rather the island had left the canoe.

The island was on the move. Only that it wasn't really an island upon which Shalawan stood--it was some kind of huge whale.

I'm in for it now, he thought. If only I hadn't started that fire and burned the whale's back! He quickly put out the fire and looked down at the whale, saying, "Sorry, Whale! Sorry!"

He thought about his predicament. There was no way he could swim out to his canoe, which, in any case, had now disappeared below the horizon. No, he decided, he'd stay put. He would ride along with the whale because that was all he could do.

Squatting down on the immense back of the whale, he watched and turned his head to look in all directions as the whale glided across the sea.

Soon, the whale stopped alongside a huge island--or was it only an island once again?

Island or not, Shalawan decided to hop off the whale and take his chances on this larger mass in the middle of the ocean. He wiped his brow and was ready to celebrate being still alive when he suddenly heard loud whoops. He turned and looked all around to find himself completely surrounded by bamboo rifle-bearing women all clad in grass skirts, whooping and hollering but otherwise displaying no obvious emotions on their faces.

From out of the encirclement stepped several of these armed women warriors. They grabbed Shalawan by the arms and shoulders and frog-marched him towards a grove of low trees near the shore. Into the grove they went and then stopped before a large grass hut, the home of their chief.
They pulled and shoved him inside. The chief and these female warriors next treated Shalawan to a bounteous array of seafood delicacies and fruits. Shalawan ate these foods up, while the chief and her warriors just had soup.

After eating, Shalawan was given a grass mat and told to rest, which is exactly what he did.

He had a wonderful sleep in this warm, dry hut, but then he was awakened at the break of day and hauled off to a pen where hogs were kept. He was then fed the same slop given to the hogs.

They're fattening me up like a pig, thought Shalawan. Do they intend to slaughter me like one as well?

He became very sad and anxious about what would happen next; he also began to think of his wife, his home, and his native land. Would he ever see them again?

Night and day he was kept in this pen and fed the same food as the hogs. His fearsome and worrisome thoughts continued to plague him, and he began to lose hope . . . until something happened

It was a few days later, early in the morning. While still in the pen, he found a knife. In the dying darkness, he had seen something gleaming on the ground just beyond the bamboo poles that made up the pen.

It was a knife, all right; not some stout, thick-bladed weapon or farm tool, but a knife, nonetheless. Had the ancestors heard his silent cries, witnessed his distress, and delivered the knife?

He leaned as close to the bamboo poles as he could until his flesh practically encircled the poles painfully,  and he stretched out his arm as he had never done before.

He grabbed the knife!

He looked around. No one was about. He immediately went to a corner of the pen and cut some of the fiber cords that bound the bamboo poles. He was soon able to push the poles apart wide enough for him to make his escape. He slipped through the opening, ran into the woods, and then back towards the same stretch of shore from which he had landed on this strange island of fierce women.

Something was waiting for him by the shore--the whale, the same whale that had brought him here. It seemed to be waiting to take him back home to his coastal village.

There was only one way to find out if he would be going home.

He got on his knees, faced the whale, and thanked the creature.

Then, he said, "Whale, please, let's go back home!"

He jumped upon its back, and in his mind he could somehow hear the whale speak to him.

"If you become too wet, " the whale seemed to say, "tug on my ears, and I shall swim higher above the surface . . ."

"That's fine," replied Shalawan. "I'm ready to go if you are!"

And off they went.

During the course of the journey, Shalawan had to tug on the whale's ears five times; otherwise, he would have drowned. The whale, each time its ears were gently pulled, would then raise itself higher in the water to make sure Shalawan was safe and comfortable.

By and by, they finally reached the coast where Shalawan had made his home. He thanked the whale again and climbed down from its back. Once Shalawan was on the shore, the whale turned around and disappeared into the sea.

Shalawan looked around at the landscape, the village, the people. He recognized nothing or anyone.  Had he arrived back at the right place? Yes, he had; however, no one recognized him. No family member or friend came out to greet him; everyone he encountered was a stranger. He sought out the oldest village elder he could find to recount his story to this very old man. Maybe he--this elder--had heard of a Shalawan who had been lost at sea.

Shalawan told the elder his tale from beginning to end. The result? The old man just laughed and dismissed him with a wave of the hand.

"A nice children's fantasy story," the elder said.

"But all this really happened!" insisted Shalawan. "I really did use to live here! I was part of this village. Won't anyone please believe me?"

Then, Shalawan thought of something. He had once buried a millstone behind his own hut. He convinced some of the skeptical neighbors who had by now heard his tale to go with him to locate where his hut had once stood and the spot where the millstone had been buried. This would prove,
he reckoned, that he had once been a villager too.

With some effort, he located what appeared to be his own hut, so they went around the back. He and the men then dug and dug, and they hit something with their tools--a millstone.

Now the villagers believed that Shalawan was one of their long-lost sons. Everyone he had once known was now dead, gone--but not quite. A very old woman with a cane hobbled over. She took one look at him, held out her arms, and cried, "My Shalawan! My Shalawan!"

This was Shalawan's wife, his very own wife who had been very young the last time he had seen her. Now realizing that he too had become very old, Shalawan stepped forward and took his wife into his arms, crying along with her.

The entire village now celebrated his return. The villagers roasted a hog in honor of the whale that had brought their brother and son home.

This is why from that day forward, just after harvest, Amis people will mix pork and salt into sticky rice cakes and throw them into the stream that goes into the sea. In this way, they honor the whale that had rescued Shalawan and returned him back home.

Lin Daosheng, ed. 原住民神話故事全集 [Collected Myths and Stories of the Taiwanese Aboriginal Peoples]. Vol. 2. Taipei: Hann Colour, 2002; pp. 139-142. Jian Mingmei & Huang Aizhen, "女人島"  [Island of Women] in 質樸傻趣 [Unadorned Silly Pleasures], Sun Yiwang, ed; Taipei: WanJuanLou Books, 2014 [Kindle Paperwhite].

This story, like the Japanese "Urashima Taro," the Celtic "Oisin," countless other Celtic tales, and some UFO accounts, has the motif of missing time. Our concept of time keeps us bound to our earthly affairs; when we step out of these nature-imposed bounds (i.e. when we dare to venture into fairyland purposefully or accidentally or when we refuse to adhere to what "everybody else does"; for a modern spin on the latter, but not a time-lapse story, read Shirley Jackson's "The Summer People") there will be a dear price to pay, whether it means missing time or something else.

The image of a strong primeval woman comes across very strongly though fleetingly here. The Amazons in this story are glimpses of the indomitable, intimidating, dangerous female aspect lurking in the recesses of the unconscious and in fiction and folklore, manifesting itself due to compensation or repression. The Lin Daosheng version hints these women are cannibals. 

The image of the whale, in very ancient times, was conflated with the dragon and was regarded as a great, massive brute capable of gulping up and ingesting physical being itself (see "Whale" in The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images; Ami Ronnberg and Kathleen Martin,  eds.; Köln: Taschen, 2010; p. 204). Here, the whale is not malevolent, though its sheer size, bulk, and mere presence lead to Shalawan's misadventures and loss of time.  

A whale's "ear," so to speak, is internal, not external like our own outer ears. 

Motifs: B472, "Helpful whale"; D1890, "Magic aging"; F112, "Journey to the land (island) of women"; F377, "Supernatural lapse of time in fairyland"; F565.1, "Amazons: Women warriors"; J1761.1, "Whale thought to be an island. Sailor (Fisherman) lights fire on its back; R7, "Men (Man) held captive in the land of women"; R211, "Escape from prison"; R245, "Whale-boat: A man is carried across the water on a whale."

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Some Chinese Proverbs & Metaphors About Dogs

Happy New Year, the Year of the Dog! Below are some Chinese proverbs about dogs. Many of them are not complimentary, as the word "dog" can be an epithet (e.g., 狗头, "dog head, " a disreputable person, lackey, etc., and 狗腿子, "dog legs," also a lackey). A few, however, especially for those of us, very much including me, who love dogs, reflect exactly why we cherish dogs. The list below is far from being complete; it only represents a few of the many proverbs and folk sayings about dogs.

狗嘴吐不出象牙 Don't expect ivory to be spat out from the mouth of a dog. (Nothing from a disreputable source can ever be good; also, don't "expect blood from a stone." Chinese also say not "to look up a tree for a fish." Similarly, Japanese say not "to look for oysters [or clams] in a field.")

狗咬狗  Dog bites dog. (In the West, we might comment on "a dog-eat-dog world." The saying also has connations of there being "no honor among thieves.")

狗头军师  A dog-headed military advisor. (Said of incompetents who, ironically, love doling out advice.)

狗胆包天  A dog's bravery subsuming heaven itself. (Said of those who are overly brave and rash, such as "fools who rush in where angels are afraid to tread.")

狗惜鼻 A dog placing all of its confidence in its nose. (Said of those who are easily shaken, discouraged after a setback.)

怕狗无出门, 亲家你也来  To be afraid that the dog hasn't gone out yet when you and the [entire] family show up. (This Taiwanese saying hints at when the unthinkable or least desired outcome occurs.)

狗食落, 独肝腹内知 When a dog drops/misses its meal, the dog knows it in its gut. (To know something is true in your heart; the heart doesn't lie. [Actually, it does but you get the idea.])

狗咬人不露齿 A dog that bites doesn't bare its fangs. (Said of those quiet, unassuming individuals who turn out to be surprisingly formidable, dangerous, vicious, etc. Chinese also urge each other to "beware of silent dogs" for the same reason.)

狗咬狼, 两怕 A dog bites a wolf and both are afraid. (Said of two foes who bluster and huff at each other and when finally coming to blows discover both regret everything that led up to the fight. It suggests regretting starting something that has to be finished one way or another.)

狗上瓦坑, 有条路 The dog's on top of the tiles of the earthworks; so, there is a way (out). ("Where there's a will, there's a way." Also, an auspicious beginning suggests success.) 

狗无嫌主人穷 A dog is not ashamed of its master's poverty. (Dogs love us unconditionally. It's not a surprise why of all the animal species they remain the closest to us.)

Guan Meifen, ed. 台灣諺語集成 [Integrated Taiwanese Proverbs]; Tainan: Wenguo Shuju, 2002.
Wang Yongxing, ed. 俗言語智慧精華:閩南版 [The Essence of Wisdom From Popular Proverbs: Minnan (i.e., Taiwanese) Edition]; New Taipei: Junjia Wenhua Shiye, 2012. Shang Yingshi, ed. 中國人的俗話 [Popular Sayings of the Chinese People]; Taipei: Changchunshu Shufang, 1979. Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Linguistics, ed. 现代汉语词典[A Dictionary of Modern Chinese]; Beijing: Shangwu, 1997. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Tattooed Face (Taiwan; Atayal)

Long ago, over by what is now called Dabajian Mountain (straddling Hsin-chu and Miao-li Counties) there once was a huge boulder.

One day, with an earsplitting report, this boulder split into two halves. Out from the two halves came a very young man and a very young lady--a brother and a sister.

They were the only humans around; there was no one else. So they made a home for themselves and lived together harmoniously. They both had attributes that complemented their relationship. The young man was strong and hardworking, while the young woman was quick-witted and lively.

Then they reached the age when couples would later marry.

The sister was sad, knowing something was lacking in her life. She thought, I want to be with someone just as the beasts of the woods and of the skies, in the same way, find themselves together. I want to have babies of my own as they do, but what can I do? My brother is the only one of his kind around. 

She knew her brother would refuse to be in a couple's relationship with her in this manner, so she thought and thought and finally came up with a plan. When she saw him, she said, "Brother, you know you ought to find yourself someone with whom you can be a couple."

"Don't I know it!" he said sighing. "Tell me where I can find such a person."

"I'll tell you exactly where. There's a person with bodily details like mine who lives inside the hollow of the boulder at the foot of the mountain!"

"What? Is that possible? Well, take me to see her, then! Let's not waste any time!"

The sister smiled. "There's no need to hurry. I've already spoken to her and set it up for you so that she can be with you together. Tomorrow you can go to her yourself. Now, let me tell you what she looks like . . ."

The next day the young man went to the boulder at the foot of the mountain. Sure enough, there was a young lady living in a very large crevice. She greeted the young man with a big smile and a warm welcome. This young woman had black designs on her face, lines and geometric shapes that ran across her cheeks.

The young man didn't care about the black lines on her face; he fell in love with her and became what would later be called her "husband." In time, they had many babies together.

Of course, the young man's bride was none other than his own sister who had burnt sticks and applied the charcoal to her face as a disguise. That is why from that day on Atayal women, before marrying, would always have their cheeks actually tattooed.

Lin Daosheng, Vol. 2; pp. 26-28. See the bibliographic citation for 7/14/17.

The Atayal myth presupposes that the brother, at least consciously, didn't know that his own sister was underneath those black geometric designs. Like many myths involving the incestuous origins of humankind, this story deals in a very sober and prosaic manner with just what needed to be done to populate the world. 

Myths of brother-sister incest that result in the spawning of the human species are a worldwide phenomenon (see A.W. Johnson & D. Price-Williams; Oedipus Ubiquitous: The Family Complex in World Literature; Stanford University Press, 1996; 62). In some myths, the relationship is mother-son, with the mother's application of charcoal upon her face for her disguise (M. S. Day; The Many Meanings of Myth; University Press of America, 1984; 225). Myths from throughout Asia and the Pacific follow a similar pattern of the first couple, sometimes a brother and a sister, emanating from bamboo joints, a gourd, a rock, separate eggs, or from an egg (the man) and from a rock (the woman). From Taiwan alone come twenty-eight versions of the primal pair leaving a rock  to live as husband and wife and, later, to spread humanity (Ho Ting-jui; A Comparative Study of Myths and Legends of Formosan Aborigines; 2 vols.; Diss. Indiana University, 1967; 56-59; 62; 65; 69). 

Perhaps the motif of the rock spawning the first pair is a legacy of animist rock worship in which prominent boulders with suggestive shapes were believed to be endowed with procreative powers. More than one location in Southeastern China, for example, is known as "Waiting/Longing for the Husband Rock [望夫石], where local customs hold that a rock formation that resembles a woman holding a baby is actually a woman and an infant who were transformed into stone while waiting on a bluff overlooking the river for the first glimpse of a man who was destined never to return. Such spots, for instance, one in Guangdong Province and one nearby in Hong Kong's New Territories, are believed by some to be ancient centers of this rock-worshipping cult. The prevalence of such rock-worshipping sites on the Chinese mainland as well as in the Pacific suggests that Taiwan is in the middle of what was once a single cultural region (B. Riftin; 74; 82 [See the notes in the posting for 5/20/10]).

Motifs: A1273.1, "Incestuous first parents"; A1465.1, "Origing of tattooing"; A1595, "Origin of tattooing"; K1377, "Incestuous marriage arranged by trick"; T415, "Brother-sister incest"; cT415.5, "Brother-sister marriage."

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Wife From the Depths (Taiwan; Saisiyat)

For my friend, Gavin Whyte

A young hunter, an orphan, once went out to do a day's hunting. He came home alone, of course, to his hut in the village, tired and hungry. He was amazed to discover a fine hot meal awaiting him on his table.

The neighbors must have done this for me, he thought.

The next night, the night after that, and the night after that--for many nights in a row, actually--he would come home to find a wonderful hot dinner waiting just for him.

Before, he had just simply accepted that the first few of these mysterious meals had been the acts of kindness of his neighbors who all lived in a small village. Now, though, he was totally bewildered because the meals kept appearing nightly, seemingly out of nowhere, and no one in the village claimed to know anything about them.

So, one day he did this: he made sure his friends were hiding in the tall grass near his hut to spy on whoever it was who was coming over to his home and cooking the delicious meals. The young hunter then left to do that day's worth of hunting while the friends watched the hut.

He returned early that evening to discover his friends had surrounded a lovely but embarrassed young woman who insisted on keeping her head lowered. She had been observed entering the hut and leaving it once that night's dinner had been set on the table. Now she was enclosed in a circle of the young hunter and his friends, refusing to speak.

When one of the hunter's friends went over to the tall grass to urinate and did so rather openly, the young woman couldn't help but laugh. She began to talk but didn't reveal much about herself. That was of no consequence,  for whenever the young hunter and the maiden looked at each other, love shone in their eyes. The eyes spoke what the heart didn't say.

So, shortly afterward they became husband and wife.

Now that they had been married, one of the hunter's friends brought them a wedding cake. The hunter sliced a piece and gave it to his bride. Much to his surprise, she took it and carried it to the riverbank.
Before his very eyes, she took a mighty leap right into the river itself. The husband screamed for his wife in terror. He ran up to the bank and looked at the spot where she had jumped. She could still be seen below the water. She rose up to the surface.

"My home is in the river," she said. "Come on in and meet my mother."

The hunter was frightened and didn't dare jump in, no matter how much his wife beckoned to him. Finally, a middle-aged woman who bore a resemblance to his wife stuck her head out of the water right next to the young woman. She then waved hello and likewise beckoned him to jump in.

The hunter took in a deep breath, said some silent prayers, and dived in.

He soon found himself in the river abode of his wife. It was a regal mansion deep below the surface. The hunter discovered no reason to return to the surface, so he stayed below with his wife and parents-in-law. In time, the young married couple had a baby. A month after that happy event and the hunter began to pine for his old life back on the earth's surface. So he said goodbye to his wife, his child, and his parents-in-law.

He returned to his village and his hut. What's more, he then took another wife, what Han Taiwanese people today would call a "little wife."

Now one day the wife from the river came to the surface with their son to search for her husband. She returned to the hut, where she found the second wife. The two wives faced each other; soon they began to squabble about who was better, who was prettier, who was nicer, who was a better cook, and so on. Both defended their appearances and qualities to the other without either feeling that she had come off worse.

Then the quarrel took a new direction.

"All right," said the second wife, "we'll settle this. Let's see who has the nicer clothes. Bring out all your clothes, if you dare! Whoever has the nicer wardrobe shall be the winner. The loser leaves the village and leaves the man behind."

The first wife agreed and left for her river home to fetch her clothing. She returned and hung her clothes up for all to see. She needed at least ten bamboo poles on which to hang her richly made clothes fit for the goddess she was. The second wife, however, had enough clothing to accommodate only one pole. They weren't particularly impressive clothes, either. The first wife, the wife from the depths of the river, had clearly bested the second wife and had thus won the contest.

The second wife, "the little wife," was enraged. Refusing to give in, she rushed out the hut and came back in shortly after, this time, with a jar of ink. She then poured ink all over some of the first wife's clothes.

"Now, you," said the second wife, "get out of here and never come back! Do you hear me?"

The first wife was enraged beyond belief. If he really wants this shrew, he can have her! she thought. She and their son left and returned to the depths of the river.

She later returned to her husband's hut with the small son. Right before the husband's eyes, she took their son and tore him into two living halves.

"Now, husband of mine, here is your half of our son; I shall keep the other half," she said. "I shall return in two years to see how the other half is, whether he is thriving or not. We'll then see who is the better wife and mother."

With that, she and her half of the son were gone.

Now the hunter and his second wife were responsible for taking care of their half of the son. Barely a day later, while under the hunter and second wife's care, the half-son decayed and died.

Two years passed. The first wife and her half of the son returned to the hunter's hut. Her half of the boy was now a healthy and whole young lad. The hunter, now alone, saw clearly who had been the superior wife and mother.

The hunter told his first wife how sorry he was, that he was no longer with the second wife, and that he wanted her, the first wife, back. However, she would have no part of it; she was no longer interested. She and the boy returned to their home in the river.

How the hunter had begged her not to leave! But leave she did.

The hunter never saw either his first wife or his son ever again.

Taiwanese Folktales [台湾民间故事], Shi Cuifeng, ed. N.P.: Hebei Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1987; pp. 210-213. 

The Saisiyat territory is a small wedge between Taoka and Atayal lands in northern central Taiwan in a section of Miaoli and Hsinchu counties. 

Damiana L. Eugenio relates a similar myth from the Ifugao of the Philippines. In this Ifugao version, a poor man, too impoverished to even clothe himself, is pitied by a goddess from the sky, not from the river, as in our story. The young man takes her home to meet his mother before they are wed. Once married, they conceive a child. The goddess, subjected to intense dislike and suspicion by the small-minded villagers, wishes to return to her sky home with their son, but the husband, terrified of heights, refuses to leave, despite all assurances that she would protect him in the ascent. He still refuses and she splits their son, not down the middle but crosswise at the waist, leaving the top half for her husband. She returns to the sky with her half of their son, with the expectations that her husband's half of the child should do well under his care. When she returns to the earth for a visit, she is shocked her husband's half of the child has withered and died. Various parts of the dead child, then, through the goddess's magic, become animals: the head becomes an owl; the nose, a mollusk; the excrement, a type of bird, etc. (Philippine Folk Literature: The Myths; Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1993; pp. 33-37). Missing from the Ifugao story are the motifs of a second wife and the husband's being an orphan.

Might the literal splitting of the child be a figurative reflection of just what could result from such a miraculous, supernatural, but ultimately unstable marriage that really should have never been allowed? The end result of such a union is an incomplete child yearning for complete development, coming, as he does, from two basically incompatible parents or parts. In folktales, it takes two totally dedicated and involved parents, not one, to raise successfully a "whole" child (Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment; New York: Knopf, 1976, p. 70). Not coincidentally, in the Taiwanese tale, the mortal half of the split child perishes, while the immortal half thrives. 

This story, like many preceding it and many to follow, comes from a cycle of tales popular in East Asia and around the world: the supernatural wife/animal bride, in which a shapeshifting animal becomes a bride. Here, it is a river goddess. Other tales like this include "The Swan Maiden" and "The Snail Shell Girl."  In the case of goddess brides, the essence of these tales is as follows: a poor man is pitied by the gods and rewarded for his industriousness, filial piety, honesty, etc., with a princess/goddess from the other realm, usually from the sky or from below the water. They marry. In time he is either persecuted by an evil, corrupt local authority who covets such a beautiful, marvelous wife, or he simply loses his wife for violating a taboo. Ancient Han Chinese versions include one particular tale that goes by different names: "The Snail Shell Girl," "The Snail Wife," "The Waif of White Water, " and so on. (See my postings for 3/19/08 and 7/8/10.) The Greek folktale "The Animal Wife" (Stith Thompson, One Hundred Favorite Folktales; Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1974; pp. 143-146) closely parallels Chinese versions. 

Whether she is an exquisite goddess from the river, ocean, or sky; an enticing representation of elusive, wild animal nature; or, a beautiful incarnation of death itself (e.g., Yuki Onna; see any edition of Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan for the tale "Yuki Onna," or the haunting and stunning 1964 movie version of Kwaidan from director Masaki  Kobayashi), the supernatural wife is foolish to take a chance on love with a mortal man. Perhaps she represents a human longing in supernatural form for an impossible life, for the world that once was, an epoch of innocence, a time when animals could speak to humans, a connection lost forever. (For more discussion on this, see Boria Sax's The Serpent and the Swan: The Animal Bride in Folklore and Literature; Blacksburg, Va.: McDonald & Woodward, 1998.) These stories frequently end tragically and are reminders of the permanent gap between idealized nature and us humans. 

Motifs: C31, "Taboo: offending the supernatural wife"; F525, "Person with half a body"; F725.3, "Submarine castle (palace)"; *T299.3, "Separating couple divide child upon separation"; cT589.2, "Boy cut in two; each half becomes a boy."