A Vietnamese man and an English man hit together on the road. This Vietnamese man has just learned English a little. He said: "I am sorry". The English man said: "I am sorry, too." The Vietnamese man said: "I am sorry three." The English man felt strange so he asked: "What are you sorry for?" The Vietnamese man answered without thinking: "I am sorry five". The English man was upset and said: "Oh, s-h-*-t”. The Vietnamese said: "Oh, seven"....
Dazzling star in Thanh Hoa Province - 40 tales about Trang Quynh
That night, the astrologer of the Court was kneeling before the Emperor:
- Sir, in seven consecutive nights, at this hour, I saw a lucky star twinkling in the South, lighting the whole region of Thanh Hoa. No doubt, a genial person is living hidden there; your Majesty should have an imperial edict promulgated to find out this man of talent.
A few days later, an order of the Court was conveyed to the whole province of Thanh Hoa, within one month, each village must offer to the throne a pregnant buffalo, Governors, mandarins, notabilities, frightened and demoralized, had no longer desire to eat, to drink and to sleep. Never, never in one's life, had one heard such a thing, a male buffalo with calf.
Quynh's father was a communal official. Quynh told him:
- Papa, give me one hundred tying of coins, I shall settle this matter without a hitch.
The father furnished him with the money. Quynh made his light luggage and went to the capital. Accommodated in a modest inn, he waited for the propitious opportunity to put his idea in practice. The chance came at last; the Emperor, escorted by his high dignitaries, was making a tour in the city. Quickly, he hid himself in a gully-hole on the way of the Monarch, then at the latter's approach, Quynh began to weep, to lament, to groan, to shout so noisily that his Majesty, quite surprised, stopped to find out the cause.
The guard brought to the Emperor a boy all in tears, his clothes soaking wet and dirty with the muddy water of the sewer. His Majesty deigned to ask him:
- Hey, Boy, why do you so pitifully weep and complain?
Quynh clamoured all the stronger, then he answered with repressed sobbing:
- Sire, I was going to commit suicide in that sewer when the guards caught me.
The Monarch showed increased astonishment:
- You are but a child, what incites you to put an end to your life?
Quynh sobbed all the louder, interrupting his sobs with hickups:
- Sire, my mother died years ago. I would like to have a younger brother or sister to carry in my arms, but my father has not accepted to give birth.
The Emperor was convulsed with laughter:
- You are a cracked boy. You will take this stick and complain to the stars in the sky. Your dad is a man, how can he get pregnant and give birth to a baby for you to carry in your arms?
At once, Quynh ceased weeping, stood upright, and grasped the Emperor's robe:
- Sire, is the Imperial Court also cracked when it ordered the villages to lead to the throne buffaloes, yes pregnant buffaloes?
The astrologer was at the side of his Majesty. he put some questions to Quynh on his native village, his larger family, his age.... Then quite happy, he told the Emperor that this boy corresponded exactly to the lucky star he had mentioned to him.
The Emperor, with great satisfaction, gave order to cancel immediately the edict about "pregnant buffaloes", to take measures to help "the boy of the star" in going sound and safe to his family and in achieving his study with greatest successes.
Peaches of Longevity
Two branches of peaches had been offered to the Emperor, each with so beautiful and so fresh fruits. His Majesty exhibited them, artistically arranged on a golden tray, to the Queen, favorites, princes, princesses, dignitaries, eunuch… and was proud of them: ‘these are inexpressibly precious peaches of longevity. The person who eats one of these fruits will live one hundred years’. Once the presentation finished, the tray of peaches returned to its place of honour designated by the Emperor himself on a pearl-encrusted sandal-wood low table. What imperative desire! Just a slice of it, as thin as paper though, suffices to prolong one’s life of one or two years! But the Dragon mouth had not deigned to taste it, who would dare to bite at it?
One morning, Trang Quynh came to the Court to present his homage to the Emperor, passing by the hall of the throne; he saw the tray of peaches. A lie, a deception, he thought, nothing can give a centennial life. And quite at ease, Trang Quynh took two peaches and ate them. All those who were present were terror-stricken and had their hairs on end. The same day, the eminent doctor was brought to the imperial tribunal, accused of the great crime of lese-majesty, and condemned to being beheaded. When the sentence was announced, he cried out.
Sire, the verdict is equitable, I have nothing to say. However, I beg your Majesty to allow me to say a last few words. And I will die satisfied.
The Emperor agreed.
Sire, Trang Quynh spoke calmly, staidly, I am not a greedy man. I do not stick to life. I do not fear death. I have heard that the ingestion of only one of these peaches will permit one to live one hundred years. I reckon: Your Majesty absorbs five peaches, you will live five hundred years. I am your faithful servant. I do wish to serve you two hundred years more. That is why I have eaten two peaches. Yet, the fruits have been no sooner eaten than my head is about to fall. There are therefore peaches of short life, or transiency. How can we call them peaches or longevity? He who offers you the so- called peaches of longevity is undoubtedly a swindler, a trickster. Would he hatch the criminal scheme of making your Majesty eat these peaches of short life?
Should he deserve the capital punishment? Sire, I shudder with fear at the gloomy idea that the lordship, the Queen, and their highnesses should take delight in consuming these damned fruits’
Unexpectedly, the Emperor also trembled with fright. He found Trang Quynh’s idea judicious; he cancelled the verdict and released the doctor. And at the same time, title, promotion and function were bestowed on him.
The Money-lending Goddess
According to Vietnamese popular beliefs, Princess Lieu Hanh was one of the four most important divinities, one of the four immortal ladies of the country. Near the Silvery Waves Lake in the West of Thang Long, presently Hanoi, there was a temple devoted to the cult of Lieu Hanh, also called the Fairy Mother. By miracles she responded to the wishes of human beings and chastised every profanation. It was rumoured that for this reason, this place had become the most sacred spot of the capital.
Our doctor did not believe all that gossip. One day, on his way to the supreme competition presided by the Emperor, he stopped at the temple of Lieu Hanh for a visit. He saw on the altar a tray full of money. An idea crossed his mind. Making his way through the faithful, he stood before the altar, he took out his towel-amulet and invoked the fairy Mother in pray:
- Hundred and thousand prosternations, o immortal divinity! I am Quynh, a starving poor student while you are quite rich, fundamentally good, and excessively generous. Allow me to borrow some money from you to meet the modest expenses during my stay in the capital. When I succeed at the imperial competition, promoted doctor and governor, I shall pay my debt, capital and interest. You can take the highest rate of interest; I express before hand my gratefulness. I’m awaiting your view.
He took a plate and two coins and implore the Ying and Yang. Ying corresponds to the tail side, Yang to the head side. The coins are tossed up on the plate, when they halt and fall, the view of the supernatural spirit can be known. One tail and one head mean agreement. Two heads mean blank vote, neither yes nor no. Here is Quynh proposal:
- Out of the sum on the tray, if you agree to lend me one fourth of it, please give to tails. If you lend me only one third, give two heads. If it is one half, give Ying and Yang, one tail and one head.
Quynh threw the coins in the plate to consult the oracle. They turn round incessantly. The assistants concluded that it was a flat refusal.
Quynh shouted out joyfully:
- The coins dance, so the divinity is smiling to give full consent. You have pity of me, a poor wretch; you acquiesce to lend me the whole tray. I thank you very much, my great sister.
He made three prosternations, heaped the whole sum in his towel, tied it, flung it on his shoulder, and greeted the believers. How would he pay his debt to the Fairy Mother, his Great Sister?
Paying his debt, Quynh gets rich
With the money borrowed from Fairy Lieu Hanh, Quynh could live comfortably in the capital. He presented himself to the supreme competition and obtained the diploma of First doctor. He thought at once about paying his debt.
So, he bought a cow with her calf, lead them to the temple of Lieu Hanh. He knelt down in front of the altar and invoked:
- O Goddess my elder sister! You lent me a great deal of money; I could afford a comfortable life in the capital, pass my competition and succeeded. Please accept my heartfelt gratitude for all these benefactions unsparingly lavished to your indigent young brother. Now in payment of my debt, I am offering you this calf, as for the cow, please allow me to bring it to my house so that the villagers may wet my diploma. O elder sister, may you be celebrated and praised forever.
He attached the calf to the arm of the throne on the altar and took away the cow. Seeing its mother leaving the place her udders full of milk, the calf lowered noisily, vigorously pulled at the rope and broke it off. It bounded and rushed towards its mamma. Our doctor returned immediately to the temple, made reverences to the Fairy Mother and said:
- You have very great heart, o elder sister. You also love me very much. You do not want that I am indebted because of the purchase of these animals, you have given me both of them, the cow and the calf. Please accept my deep thanks and I am praying for your immortal glory.
So, on the national highway, the new First Doctor was seen walking leisurely with the cow trotting behind him and the dainty calf capering near the cow.
The champion buffalo, calf
To affirm his supremacy and his invincibility was a chronic disease of the northern Emperor, which sometimes becomes an obsession. This time, he dispatched a mandarin to the Court of Vietnam with the order to organise a buffalo combat. Yet, ‘the animal of the southern indocile and arrogant country must be gored by the celestial animal’. The mandarin brought to Vietnam a giant buffalo, gigantic legs like the columns of a temple, long and pointed horns like lances, hard and sharp hair like those of a hedgehog, flaming eyes like ardent coals.
With a forced smiled, the mandarin announced: "First, I accept that our buffalo will fight two buffaloes of the south at the same time. Second, the beaten buffalo shall be killed and third, a ceremony shall be organized to the glory of the winning buffalo".
This defiance aroused the anger of everyone and the stature of the northern animal inspired great anxiety. Two against one, it was shameful, but where to find an animal of such size?
The Emperor of the Viets urgently summoned doctor Quynh. Dignified and calm, the doctor addressed the throne:
- Sire, two against one, this harms our national honour and the imperial pride. Your Majesty should explicitly order the fight of one against one. The rest, I shall take care of. Surely this dignitary and his beast will bite the dust.
The Emperor always has solid confidence in his eminent doctor but he had vainly pondered and could not find the solution imagined by Quynh.
On the day of combat, the northern mastodon was flaunted before the arena. At the bewilderment and total surprise of the spectators, Trang Quynh introduced a small buffalo call visibly still at the breast. Separated for hours from its mother, the poor calf plaintively lowed, aspiring for the single thing of sucking milk. Goliath, amazed and confused, look at David. The latter ran straight to feverishly dig into the belly of the giant to find the nipples.
Unable to put up with the disagreeable sensations caused by the greedy lips and tongue of David, Goliath took flight away from the arena.
Ovations thundered in all directions as if to crack the firmament.
To save face to the northern monarch and to maintain good relations between the two countries, the ceremony for the winner was cancelled; the defeated buffalo was not killed. Moreover, the dignitary of the North received the permission of bringing back the allegedly invincible Goliath.
To return to the charge
Everyone knows the proverb ‘return to the charge after a failure’. So did the Ambassador of the Northern country following that buffalo combat in which northern Goliath scampered off with tail bent up before southern David. He wanted a striking revenge. So, he ordered a glassware factory to make a vase with a very small orifice, he filled it with water and hermetically closed the orifice with glass. Not the least aperture was left. Then he presented it to the Vietnamese Emperor’s Prime Minister with a note challenging: "How to take the water from the vase?" The dignitaries of the Court passed the vase from one man to another, scrutinised it, shook their heads. The Emperor made a signal with his eyes to doctor Quynh. The doctor took the vase, went near the Ambassador of the northern country and politely asked:
- Excellency, you have written in the note: "How to make water from the vase?" without giving any other explanations?
The Ambassador replied with confidence:
- Yes, doctor, is my sentence not sufficiently clear?
- Yes, excellency, sufficiently clear.
Quynh had a jar put before him, requested a mallet and broke the vase with it; the water in the vase flowed into the jar.
The Ambassador protested vehemently against that act, Quynh smiled again with courtesy and stated:
- Is it true, excellency, you have written to take out the water, you did not write that it was not allowed to break the vase, did you?
What to retort, what to contest? The challenger grumbled with discontent: To the devil! Why not to impose conditions all necessary conditions, to bind the hands and feet of the doctor?
The adage did not specify "To return to the charge and to suffer another failure". Great consolation, indeed.
His Majesty's she-cat
Among the thousands of odalisques in his harem, the Emperor had particular affection for the favorite named Nang Huong (Dame of Perfume). Yet, the Empress was the most jealous woman in the world, always ready to kindle storms and hurricanes. Therefore, His Majesty could only discretely love his idol, not daring to frequent her daily.
For that delicate reason, Nang Huong offered a she-cat to the Emperor. Cajoling the animal always crouched near him, the Emperor must constantly think of Nang Huong. Moreover, it was a very fine pet: its pelage was silky, shining with multiple colors, its eyes were like glittering gems in the night, its miowing sounded softly like the ringing of a small golden bell. His Majesty named it Cau Vong (Rainbow), cherished it deeply and had it all the time under his caressing hands. And each caress reminded him of the velvety smoothness of Nang Huong's skin.
it immediately ran to him, hunched its back, rubbed its body against the feet or the hands of its patron, purring with pleasure.
After the loss of Cau Vong, his Majesty exploded with furor. A large and minute investigation was organized to fine the cat by any means and to capture the thief. At last, the eminent doctor, accused of theft, was brought before the Emperor, the cat in his arm, the Empress, dignitaries and ennuchs standing all around. His Majesty recognized at once his cat. To retake it and to severely punish the diabolical doctor was certain. The Emperor reproached him in a soft tone:
- I have treated you with great regard and is it in this way that you acquit your debt of gratefulness to your Emperor?
Quynh politely smiled:
- Sire, messieurs the eunuchs had grievances against me, would they fabricate this story? I have been mistakenly denounced!
The Emperor got angry:
- You have a glib tongue, you! It is undeniably my cat Cau Vdng. It is undeniably my cat Cau Vong. It is in your arm, if you have not stolen it, why is it in your arm? If you are not the thief, who else, eh?
Sire, it is truly mine. I have brought it up since a suckling. If you don't believe it, you can test it.
- Good, speak, what is the test?
- Your Majesty's cat has its proper name, mine too. If we call it, we'll see to which name it will respond. I live modestly and poorly. My cat does not know lobster, nor yellow shrimp, nor minced peacock, nor stuffed croustade. Let two dishes be brought her foodstuffs that I've just mentioned, the other with rice, vegetables, fish bones. We shall see of which class my cat is.
The Emperor agreed, being cocksure it was Cau Vong. Quynh put the cat on the floor. It passed near the dish with appetising food as if the dish was inexisting, ate rice, water morning-glory, and heads and tails of small fry. Deeply astonished, the Emperor as usual murmured: Cau Vong! Cau Vong! The cat did not budge. Irritated, he cried up Cau Vong! Cau Vong! No effect as expected! Quynh stooped, stretched his arms and called Ai Huong! Ai Huong! The cat jumped on his arms, licked his hands, growling contentedly. Caressing the animal, Quynh repeatedly said: Ai Huong! Hearing these words which meant 'to love the Dame of Perfume instinctively startled" truest jests sound worst in guilty ears, as the proverbs says. The Queen regarded her august espouse. The image of the Dame of Perfume Nang Huong loomed, the visage of Dragon reddened. He knew that he was the victim of a dirty trick of the cunning and fallacious doctor Quynh!
Ah! This doctor, one to be decapitated, exiled, cut to pieces one hundred, one thousand times. Secretly he startled: it might be that the author of all this contrivance was the
Queen herself. He did not dare to think further, fearing the breaking out of a tempest of jealousy. The Monarch stood up and grumbled:
- Well, it's your cat, I have been mistaken. Take it and get away with your cat!
The word 'your' was pronounced loudly, hardly concealing the restrained furor. Quynh made several bows, expressed his thanks and 'wished the Emperor and the Empress to live ten thousand years!' He stepped backwards and quickly took the cat away.
The eunuchs pitifully watched him out, crestfallen like cats having their ears cut off.
How Quynh travelled when penniless
That winter, Quynh had to go to the capital to settle some matters with one of his relatives. Traveling on foot, for long months and a lot of spending! And for everything, he had only one tying of coins. After three days of walking, his pockets were completely empty. It was pitch night, pouring rain and his stomach being gnawed at by hunger!
What to do? He met with a lad leading his buffalo to the village. An idea crossed his mind. He asked him the way to the hamlet chiefs house. The latter, rich and shrewd, observed attentively the unexpected guest. Modestly clothed but finely featured face, physiognomy reflecting a great intelligence, good manners, the young man must be of noble stock, he thought. As for our hero, he appeared polite, modest, of good education and high culture; he was therefore received as a distinguished guest. A few days passed, the hamlet chief began to suspect. His host went away nobody knew where, returned and lied down on the bed, then ate copious meal and drank good wine. He evasively answered questions regarding his occupations, his travel... The hamlet chief decided to watch him closely.
On that night, he was determined to spy him until dawn. Around midnight, he saw Quynh wake up, light a small candle, leave the bed, spread on the table some spathes of areca, put in it something indiscernible, wrap it in squares of red silk. Then he wetted his pen with his saliva, handled it on each of these packages while muttering words that the watcher could not hear clearly: poison for the Seigneur, poison for the Seigneur's great presumptive heir. Quynh arranged all these mortal things in his belt, turned down the light and went to sleep again. 0 High Sky and Thick Earth! 0 Devils and Genies! Monstrous murders! The hamlet chief leapt on his horse and galloper to warn superiors. Early in the morning, officers and soldiers arrived in numbers with shining swords and lances.
Quynh, with hands and feet tied up and a cangue on his neck, was thrown on four- horse- drawn char and carried at full speed straight to the capital, at the Seigneur's palace.
On the basis of the written report of the hamlet chief relating all that he had seen and heard with the guarantee of the communal authorities and the district governor, the seigneur gave order to take out immediately the exhibits from the criminal's belt. The packages of poison were put on the table. They were no words on the squares of red silk.
They were untied, the spathes of areca opened, where were the terrible inscriptions seen by the authorities? What was it inside? Nothing but a few handfuls of dry cooked rice! Were they all skunks, these servants of the Throne? Exasperated, the Seigneur gave a kick with his boot the heap of culpability evidence, he ironically told Quynh
- Eminent doctor, you also delect this deplorable foodstuff?
- Seigneur, certainly deplorable in your princely standards of living. But for us, small people, we live on rice. A small grain of rice is excessively precious to us. Rice is called celestial gems, a foodstuff given by Heavens.
Saying these words, Quynh gathered the grains scattered on the floor put them in his mouth and ate them.
- This boor, the Seigneur could not help saying, he has again given me a hook! He poured his fit of anger on the head of the hamlet chief: a blood- shedding flogging.
Quynh implored, laughing:
- May Your Seigneury's fire of irritation be extinguished! May Your Highness open his heart of gold! All these respectable gentlemen have proved to be faithful and loyal to you. And myself, thanks to them, I have been able to go to the capital in a four-horse-drawn char, only in a few days and, God bless it, spending only a tying of coins. Without these zealous servants, how could I have audience of Your Seigneury and, oh yes! I should have died of hunger and fatigue somewhere that nobody knows...
The Seigneur heavily sighs: "go away and wash yourself"