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Studies In Hakka Folktales
Studies In Hakka Folktales
This is an excerpt of a Hakka folktale told by a 54-year old farmer
in Xin Zhu (or New Bamboo) city of Taiwan to Professor Wolfram Eberhard.
The Dragon Eggs and the Clay Pipe
A farmer went to the city to see city life. After a long time, he got
hungry. He entered a restaurant and looked at the menu. There was a dish
"Dragon Eggs", and he thought: "I never yet have seen a dragon. How come
they have dragon eggs?" And as he wanted to learn about modern manners,
he ordered this dish. How could he know about the tricks of city people,
who call taro "Dragon eggs" and sell them at a high price? When the dish
came, the farmer saw immediately that this was betel-taro. This kind of
taro has much starch and is fragrant; it is, therefore, also called
"Fragrant taro." The farmer thought: "This is what we normally eat. It is
probably very cheap. So let me eat and then ask." So he ate 4-5 servings.
How could he know that this was in the city regarded as a high-class
dish, the most expensive one, which only a few rich men, big boss, when
they were having a party, occasionally serve a few servings. (NOTE: Taro
and sweent potatoes are a poor man's food. Here, a special variety is
meant.) Ordinary people do not dare eat it. When the people in the
restaurant saw him eating so much of it, they assumed that he must be a
very rich man and they served him attentively.
When he had finished, the bill was 15 ounces of silver, and the farmer
got such a shock that sweat covered his whole body. Fifteen ounces of
silver is what a farmer needs for three full months. The farmer was
really terrified and he did not want to admit that he did not have so
much money with him. Even if he took off all his clothes and gave them as
pawn, it would not have been enough. So, what to do. He thought and
thought without result, so he decided to play it calmly and smoked his
pipe. At that time people in the villages used clay pipes, because they
were cheap and did not easily burn out. People who plow the fields cannot
use good things, so this is the most practical thing for them, and the
taste is also good. So our farmer took his pipe out, the one with the
clay cup, which he had been using for a long time, took it and smoked,
while he pondered. Drew in, and drew in and pondered.
He must have pondered for half an hour when he found a way out. He went
to the counter and talked with the boss, while he smoked, and after a few
puffs, he poured the ashes out on the floor. Then he took his yellow
tobacco out again, filled the big pipe well, held it up with both hands,
and said to the boss: " Boss, please take a puff." "Thanks. Thanks."
The boss took it, because he did not want to refuse a request of such a
big customer. He thought: "Such a pipe is used only by villagers," but as
he did not know what else to do, he took the pipe and drew on it. But the
tobacco was too tight. He gave the pipe a knock, but it still did not
draw. He did it again, with full strength, and the pipe broke. When the
boss saw the broken pipe on the floor, he looked at the farmer from the
side and said: "I am sorry that I broke the pipe just by knocking it."
"Oh, this pipe was a gift from Emperor Ch'ien-lung, a family heirloom for
generations. People once offered me a hundred ounces of silver for it,
but I did not sell it. Now it is broken--what can be done?"
The boss was shocked when he heard this, and thought: "All the inventory
of this shop is not as valuable as that pipe," then he said with a loud
voice: "Do not tell such jokes, that a pipe such as that one is worth a
hundred ounces." But the farmer said: "Don't say so. That pipe was given
to me by the emperor. How can one compare it with an ordinary thing?
What you are calling 'Dragon eggs' is what we farmers ordinarily eat,
taro. Is it not cheating when you ask fifteen ounces of silver for them?"
They disputed for a long time until the farmer did not pay for the dragon
eggs and the boss did not pay for the pipe. And if he did not receive the
fifteen ounces, the boss still saved eighty-five ounces.