Once upon a time, there lived a merchant named Van Lich. One of the richest men of his generation, Van Lich owned nearly one hundred trading ships, all of which were laden with furniture crafted from solid silver and gold.
Despite, Van Lich’s wealth, he was unhappy. His business forced him to travel a feat deal and, during these trips, he suspected that his wife, the young and beautiful Mai Thi, was unfaithful.
One day Van Lich’s ship sast anchor in a lonely river. A fisherman approached Mai Thi, who was sitting on the prow, and asked her for a quid of betel. Feeling sorry for this poor fisherman, Mai Thi fladly gave him some betel.
Seeing this, Van Lich flew into a jealous rage. When the fisher man had gone, he ordered his wife to leave. Carrying the one bar of gold and one bar of silver given to her by her enraged husband, Mai Thi set off down the shore. She had not gone far when she met the fisherman. Mai Thi sobbed as she told her story to the astonished fisherman.
‘My husband thought that I was in love with you,’ cried Mai Thi. ‘Now he has thrown me out. I would like to become your wife, even though you are very poor. Please, we must try our best to get by.’ Given the circumstances, the fisherman felt that he could not refused Mai Thi’s proposal. He took her back to his tent on the riverside. Every day the man went fishing while Mai Thi stayed home, tending the chickens and ducks. Despite their hard life, the couple was very happy.
One day, it was raining too hard for the man to go fishing. Seeing that the chickens were pecking at the rice basket, the fisherman grabbed his wife’s gold bar to throw at them. Unfortunately, he threw the bar too far, so that it flew into the river.
‘Oh my god!’ screamed Mai Thi. ‘Do you know what you just threw?’
‘No,’ said her startled husband.
‘That was gold,’ said Mai Thi. ‘It’s the most valuable thing in the world.’
‘What?’ said her husband. ‘But I know a place where there are lots of bars like that. I didn’t bring them home because I could see no use for them.’
Mai Thi instructed her husband to retrieve the gold bars. Sure enough, the bars were real gold, and each of them bore Van Lich’s stamp.
In the three years since Van Lich had abandoned his wife, his business had faltered. The final blow came when most of his fleet was sunk in a storm. Although Van Lich’s ship survived, much of his gold was lost. As it happened, much of Van Lich’s vast treasure had somehow ended up near Mai Thi’ tent. With some of this money, the couple built a big house. Mai Thi ordered fine clothes for herself and her husband. While life was easier, Mai Thi felt dissatisfied. In this wealthy seeting, the realised that her husband was uneducated. She encouraged him to go and make friends and learn new skills, but none of the people her husband approached seemed to like him.
‘I don’t know why you’re so stupid that nobody wants to be your friend,’ complained Mai Thi. ‘I bet the only one able to stand your company is the clay statue of the giant guard.’
Upon hearing this, Mai Thi’s husband went to the local pagoda and started talking to the clay statue. When the statue didn’t answer, the became angry and toppled it. He then went home, where he told his wife of his failed attempt. Thereafter, Mai Thi lost all hope of educating her husband.
Shortly after the felling of the statue, the king fell ill. Despite the attention of the kingdom’s best herbalists, the king’s condition worsened. A seer was called in, who told the king that his illness stemmed from the toppling of the sacred statue. Soldiers were dispatched to set the statue upright, but no amount of pulling could cause the statue to budge.
Upon hearing this, the king grew very alarmed. He offered a reward to anyone who cold set the statue upright. Mai Thi approached her husband and asked if he could right the clay statue.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I think I can.’
Sure enough, the fisherman was able to raise the statue. Shortly thereafter, the king began to recover. The grateful king offered Mai Thi and her husband a lot of gold, but Mai Thi refused. ‘Please grant my husband a position in the Feudal Customs House,’ she begged.
So it was that, along with their wealth, the couple gained respect. They build an even bigger house and became very famous.
One day, Van Lich’s ship stopped at the Feudal Customs House to pay tax. Upon seeing his former wife and the fisherman, Van Lich felt terribly ashamed. Unable to bear the thought of seeing the couple every time he passed by this river, he wrote a will leaving all his remaining riches to Mai Thi. Then Van Lich killed himself.
With the King’s permission, Mai Thi transformed the gold left her by Van Lich into coins. These, she distributed to the poor. To this day, if you are very lucky, you might find some Van Lich’s coins.