Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas 2009

To all who visit this website and their loved ones, I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Cheers & All the best, FHL

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wisdom From the Heartland -- Proverbs From the Provinces of Hebei, Henan, Hubei & Hunan


One can become poor from being wealthy. (For some who are addicted to a lavish lifestyle, their all-too-short period of wealth leads to an even quicker slide into poverty.)

Only one "today"; only one "right now." (It's better for us to take each problem one day at a time; even more importantly, we should focus on the here and now, not the what was here or might not be here.)

For every household, there's one sky once the door's been opened. ("To each his own." Each person's life has its own necessities, problems, reality, and ways of doing things.)

The ingredients for noodles is the same; the kneading is different. (We're basically all the same; it's what we do with our lives that is different.)

A person who is told by another to "drop dead" won't do so unless heaven wills it so. (One's successes or failures are not dictated by the mere wishes of others.)

Those without smiling faces close up shop early. (A prosperous business at least partly depends on a friendly demeanor.)

Reputation is to people what bark is to trees. (Both reputation and bark protect and insulate their respective hosts.)

A person may be poor but not his/her aspirations. (A poverty in funds is least consequential, for a wealth of determination is what enables one to succeed.)

With ten monks come nine accents. ("Too many cooks spoil the broth.")

When one's careful, one can accomplish a hundred things; when one's reckless, even just one inch can be rough going. ("Haste makes waste." Mandarin speakers also say, "With preparations, there won't be any disasters.")

No matter how big the biggest mountain is, it can never crush the sun. (It's easy to be intimidated in a debate. However, if you argue on behalf of righteousness, stand your ground, no matter how bullying or blustering the opposition is, "the truth will out.")

Like a couple of mutes accusing each other of interrupting. (Who knows who started this?)

You lift your head, not lower it, to ask for help. (Those who need the help of other people ought to show a respectful, pleasant demeanor instead of just silently demanding a handout.)


Even a god won't stand listening to heartfelt words repeated three times. (With even the best intentioned message, if its repeated too much, it goes in one ear and out the other, if resentment doesn't set in first. In other words, don't nag!)

Like one who can give up a thousand sentences but not be able to part with one copper coin. (Said of those who enter a shop, look around, and chat all day but leave without buying anything.)

Pushing a wheelbarrow requires no education; all that is required here is for the gluteus maximus to move. (There are times just to roll up the sleeves and get to work and let good old-fashioned elbow grease get the job done.)

Good people are fooled just as a good horse is ridden. (Here, "fooled" and "ridden" rhyme and are somewhat homophonic. The naive end up, like a docile horse, being manipulated.)

There can be a once or a twice but never a third or a fourth. (An occasional honest mistake can be tolerated but not mistakes over and over, especially the same or similar errors.)

To hear of something a hundred times is not as worthwhile as seeing it once. ("One picture speaks a thousand words.")

To secure the front gate against tigers but to let a wolf in through the back gate. (To be shortsighted, unable to see the big picture, thus doomed to adversity.)


In sales, the goods make up thirty percent, while the shopkeeper's facial expression makes up seventy percent. (Similar to the Hebei proverb above; a merchant with a jolly face will always be able to sell his/her products. People tend to patronize a store with friendly, smiling and helpful staff.)

Beautiful flowers are not fragrant, while those that are fragrant are not particularly beautiful. ("Don't judge a book by its cover.")

As long as there's one person around, there is a world. ("Where there's life, there's hope.")

To lead an ox up a tree. (To engage in a foolish, absurd act, or to try to teach an unteachable person a skill. Mandarin speakers also say, "To play a stringed instrument before a cow.")

Not to blame the tether for being too short but rather to blame the well for being too deep. (To play the blame game--to blame everybody and everything, but not oneself, for one's shortcomings.)

If you fall down a well, don't expect your ears to latch onto something. (Said of people who are about to take a big, unwise risk, of those who are foolishly optimistic.)

To be a bandit while it's still in the middle of the day; to try to eat a duck's egg before it's all the way out of the duck's bottom. (Said of the impetuous and rash, those who cannot wait to plan properly and who, instead go off pell mell to do something foolish and doomed to failure.)

When one is lucky, not even the city walls can stop one; when one bears misfortune, even one's can of salt will contain maggots. (Luck and adversity--they are due to one's fate.)

Having a home with an old person living inside is like having a treasure. (Old people are founts of wisdom and experience and enrich the lives of younger people with whom they live.)


It takes much clay to build such a big oven. (Big, grand things are also the sums of their parts. "Rome wasn't built in a day," as we say in the West.)

The problem is not if the soil will yield crops but rather if the farmer will till the soil. ("Where there is a will, there's a way." Mother Nature will do her part; the rest is up to us. Perhaps we can also say as an analog to this proverb: "Heaven helps those who help themselves.")

A small stone can break a great tub. ("All it takes is a small spark to burn down a great forest." Sometimes, as it has been said, "the bigger they are, the harder they fall.")

The land needs irrigation just as an infant needs a wet nurse. (There is an order or system required by nature and nothing can change that.)

From time immemorial, crickets and ants have always cherished their own lives. (Life is precious to all living things, not to mention to human beings.)

When the tofu falls into the ashes, you can neither eat it nor wipe it clean. ("That's the way the cookie crumbles." "Don't cry over spilled milk.")


from Zhongguo rende suhua, Shang Yingshi, ed. (See 6/19/07 for full citation.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Demoness (Hmong)

Long ago Farmer and Mrs. Fuxiang lived deep in the mountains, where they spent many hours and much sweat to make something out of their farm. They also raised pigs, which brought in more money.

A roaming demoness came by their farm and noticed the many pigs in the secure wooden pen by the Fuxiang home.

She wanted those pigs, but breaking down the sturdy logs of the pen would be far from easy. So, she did this: she went back down the mountain to the abandoned campsite of some shepherds, took some dry grass, thrust it in the dying embers of the fire in which they had been roasting yams, blew her breath upon it to make the fire grow, and then took the slowly growing torch with her back up the mountain to the farm. There, waiting for the west wind, she stuck the torch into a crack and set the pen wall on fire.

The fire burned and burned well!

Now the Fuxiangs had been out in the field, but from far away they could see a column of smoke and heard the squeals of their pigs. They rushed back as fast as their legs could carry them.

The demoness was long gone.

Farmer and Mrs. Fuxiang put out the fire soon enough; however, there was now a large hole in the wall of pen, and the canopy over the pen had been burned to charcoal.

That night, the farmer and his wife, each holding a club, stood watch in the pen over their pigs.
They stood all night, watching and waiting for anyone or anything that might try to come in.

"Ai," said Farmer Fuxiang, "this is no way to protect our pigs! In the morning, I'm going to find a carpenter who can repair this hole and build a new canopy!"

"Well, I guess you'd better," said his wife. "You know these mountains are full of tigers and demons, and they'd like nothing better than to devour all our pigs."

The demoness herself was hiding in the bushes and heard what the husband and wife had just said. She smiled. She had a plan.

After daybreak, the demoness turned herself into a man and put on workman's clothes. She also picked up a saw and ax and headed out of the bushes.

The demoness came up the road just as Farmer Fuxiang was coming down it.

"I'm a carpenter at your service," the demoness said to the startled farmer. "Let me guess--you have a pen in need of repair!"

"Why . . . yes . . ."

"Well, then, you'd better take me to see it! Can't let it wait too long, you know, with all these tigers and demons roaming about."

The farmer stared at this "carpenter."

"Now isn't that odd?" asked Farmer Fuxiang.

"What? What's that?"

"Well, now," continued the farmer, "I don't mean to be rude. It's just that you're a grown, mature man without the slightest trace of facial hair! Not only that, but you have a woman's voice. Are you . . . are you a man or a woman pretending to be a carpenter?"

The demoness knew she'd revealed herself, so, without saying another word, she turned and fled back into the forest.

I fouled up that chance! the demoness said to herself, as she fled farther into the forest. That's all right, though. I'll try again, next time with the wife!

Once again, the demoness set out to transform herself. This time she pulled off the leaves and branches of some trees and rubbed the dripping resin onto her face to affect the look of one who works with wood. Next, she swallowed some grains of charcoal to give her voice a grainy, scratchy quality. Still carrying her ax and saw, she also pulled up some grapevines and headed for the Fuxiang farm.

Mrs. Fuxiang was outside her home.

"Good woman!" cried the demoness. "Have some grapes?"

Mrs. Fuxiang looked up at the stranger speaking to her. "Thank . . . you . . . " she said.

"I'm a carpenter, and I can fix that pigpen of yours!"


"Yes, and what's more, I won't charge you a cent."

"Why, thank you! Please step on over to the pen!" Can it be true, thought Mrs. Fuxiang, that I have found such a wonderful carpenter, one who will even fix the pen for free?

Farmer Fuxiang showed up and joined them.

"This carpenter is willing to fix the wall of the pen for free!" Mrs. Fuxiang told her husband.

On their way over to the pen, Farmer Fuxiang took a good look at the "carpenter."

"Hmm, now isn't that a bit strange!" said the farmer.

"What? What's strange?"

"Your face is rather green."

"Oh, that," replied the demoness. "Last night I had too much wine and fell asleep in a dyeing vat. What's so strange about that?"

"And your ears--I just noticed them. They're pierced, like a lady's!"

"Oh, my ears! When I was small, I was once very sick. My mother prayed night and day at the earth god's shrine and was told to pierce my ears!"

"I see," said the farmer. "Why do you wish to repair my pen for free?"

"That's the way I am, I guess," replied the "carpenter," "full of heart! I like helping people whenever I can."

Mrs. Fuxiang leaned next to her husband and whispered into his ear. "Stop questioning him! He's already offered to help us for free. How rude can you be?"

Farmer Fuxiang deferred to his wife.

"Forgive my poor manners!" said the farmer. "Please go ahead and fix the wall of the pen."

They left the demoness alone to do the promised repairs. After several days of chopping and sawing, the hole in the pen wall was repaired. What's more, a new canopy protected the pigs from above.

"There you are!" said the demoness, still in her "carpenter" disguise. "Your pigs are now snug and safe! No tiger or demon or demoness could possibly get in there now!"

The Fuxiangs thanked the "carpenter," and "he" was on his way.

The next morning, out in the pen, Farmer Fuxiang noted that one pig seemed to be missing. He counted the pigs over and over again; sure enough, a pig was missing. He looked around the pen. Could it have gotten out somehow? No. The walls of the pigpen were tight, secure.

Oh, well, he thought, scratching his head.

Then, the next day and the next day after that, he noticed more pigs were missing, one for each day since the pen had been repaired.

The farmer and his wife looked at each other and had the same thought: the mountain god. Yes, they thought, the mountain god was taking their pigs. So, the farm couple raced over to the local mountain god shrine and prayed to the god not to take their pigs.

"Please spare us!" they prayed. "We need those pigs to sell to market!"

Not much happened after that, to their relief. Then, late one night about a month later, both husband and wife were awakened by the squeals of pigs.

The farmer tiptoed out the house and peered through a tiny opening. Inside the pen was the "carpenter"!

Aha, it was that impostor all along, thought the farmer.

Before the farmer could say or do a thing, the demoness, her feet like wings, had jumped or, more correctly, flown out of the pen with a pig under her arm.

The farmer told his wife. "You can now see why she didn't have a beard!" he said.

"What a fool I was! You were right to suspect her!" she said, slapping herself in the head.

The next day, the couple inspected the pen wall more carefully. They were not surprised to find a hidden door that permitted entry into the pen. With such a door, the demoness could enter fairly quietly. She could, if need be, make a sudden escape by leaping clear over the wall.

By sundown, the husband and wife were ready for the demoness's next visit. They both waited in the pen, the husband on one side of the door, the wife on the other. Both clutched sickles. There, they quietly waited and waited and waited . . .

Deep in the darkest part of that night, the demoness decided to make a return visit and steal yet another pig.

She crept up to the cleverly disguised secret door she herself had installed, oh so quietly opened it and gingerly stepped into the pigpen, unaware that just beyond the door stood the very angry Farmer and Mrs. Fuxiang.

Ah, the demoness thought to herself, the coast is clear yet again!

She then stuck her head and neck just a bit beyond the doorway when . . .

Whup! Whup!

The husband and wife cut her head off!

From that day on, Farmer and Mrs. Fuxiang never lost a pig again.


from Minhua ji, pp. 60-65. (Complete citation can be found on 1/13/09.)

Two other Hmong tales can be found at the postings for 1/13/09 and 2/12/09.

A hallmark of Indo-European folktales--characters being totally clueless--can be found in this story with the husband and wife not truly realizing the malevolent nature of the "carpenter" until the very end, after the trickster had had unfettered access to their pigpen. The original version in Chinese has the wife happily accepting grapes from the trickster, and both husband and wife are initially oblivious to a demoness in disguise. (Of course we're not supposed to recognize Superman is really Clark Kent without the hornrimmed glasses.)

The original version does not explain the relationship with a male child's having an illness, the parent's subsequent visit to the local earth god's shrine, and then having the child's ears pierced.

Motifs: F1071.2.1, "Enormous leap"; K521.2.5, "Disguise as a carpenter"; K1810, "Deception by disguise"; and K1832, "Disguise by changing voice."