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This volume contains folk stories from many different peoples and culture of China, including tales of Tibetan, Han and Uighur origin. The character Nasrdin Avanti may be of particular interest, as some of his adventures are quite familiar to us in the West.
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(A Tibetan Story)
Once upon a time, there lived a poor couple on a far-away high mountain. They grew chingko and potatoes on an arid terrace on the mountain-side. They led a hard life.
They were growing old and gradually losing their strength; both longed for a child. They said to each other: “How wonderful it would be if we had a child. Then when we grow old we will have someone to plough our land, to do our allotted task for the Chungpon* and to chop our firewood so that when we are very old, we two may rest our bent backs a little while sitting at our own grora.”**
* A local district official, with magisterial powers, responsible for the collection of taxes and administration of civil affairs.
** Tibetan homes, both skin tents and stone houses, have a round fire pit in the middle of the floor; an iron grid is placed across it for cooking.
So they both prayed piously to the God of Mountains and Rivers. And soon the wife knew she was going to have a child. Seven months later, she gave birth. But she had a frog, with two big bulging eyes, not a human baby.
The old man said: “What an astonishing thing! This is no baby, but a frog with two bulging eyes. Let us throw him out.”
The wife did not have the heart to do such a thing, and replied: “God was not benevolent to us. He gave us a frog instead of a human baby. But anyway this frog was born to us, so don't let us throw him out. Frogs make their home in muddy pools. Put him in the one behind our house, and let him live there.”
The old man picked up the Frog, but just as he was carrying him away, the Frog spoke: “Oh Father and Mother! Please don't put me into the pool. I was born to a human being, so let me grow up with human beings. When I grow up I will change the face of our land and change the life of the poor.”
The old man was startled and exclaimed: “Wife, what queer happenings! He speaks like a human!”
“But what he said would be good,” replied his wife. “It's high time things were changed for us poor people; we just can't go on like this. He cannot be an ordinary frog, if he can speak. Let him stay with us.”
They were a kind-hearted couple and the Frog lived with them as though he were really their human child.
Three years went by, when one day the Frog, who had seen how hard and industriously the two old people worked every day, said to the old woman: “Mother, make me a loaf of steamed bread with coarse flour, and put it in a bag for me tomorrow. I am going to the Chungpon who lives at the mouth of the valley in the castle with stone towers to ask for the hand of one of his daughters. He has three lovely daughters. I will marry the one who is kind-hearted and capable and bring her home to help you with your daily toil.”
“My dear son, don't make such jokes,” said the old woman. “As if anyone would give his daughter in marriage to such a small and ugly thing like you! A mere frog, who could be trampled on without a thought!”
“Make me the steamed bread, Mother,” said the Frog. “He will consent.”
The old woman finally agreed. “Very well, I'll make one for you,” she said. “But supposing his household just pour ash on your head when they see you, as people do with monsters?”
“Nay, Mother,” said the Frog. “They will not dare to do that.”
So the old woman made a big steamed loaf with coarse flour the next morning and put it in a bag.
The Frog hung the bag on his back, and hopped to the Chungpon's towered castle at the mouth of the valley.
When he got to the gate, the Frog called out, “Oh, Chungpon, Chungpon, open the door.”
The Chungpon heard someone calling and sent his servant to see who was there.
The servant returned, a surprised look on his face. “How strange! It is nothing but a frog, Master, a very small frog, calling at the gate.”
The Chungpon's steward said, in the voice of one who always knows what to do, “Chungpon, it must be a monster. Let us throw ash on him.”
The Chungpon disagreed. “No, wait a bit. It may not be a monster,” he said. “Frogs usually stay in water. Maybe this one comes on some mission from the Dragon King's palace. Sprinkle milk on him as you would do to a god, and then I will see him for myself.”
His servants did as they were bid and gave the Frog a reception as if he were a god. They sprinkled milk on him and cast some into the air.
Then the Chungpon went himself to the gate and asked, “Froggy, do you come from the Dragon King's palace? What do you want?”
“I do not come from the Dragon King,” answered the Frog. “I have come of my own accord, because your three daughters have all reached marriageable age and I want one for a wife. I come as a suitor. Please give your consent for me to marry one of them.”
The Chungpon and his servants were all horrified, and the Chungpon said, “You are talking nonsense, Frog. You, so small and ugly! How can you be matched with my daughter? Why, many highly-placed Chungpons have asked for my daughters' hands and I refused them. Why, then, should I give a daughter of mine to a frog? You are being absurd.”
“Oho! That means you don't agree, then,” said the Frog. “Very well. If you don't give your consent, I'll laugh.”
The Chungpon was furious when he heard this. “Frog, you are crazy. If you want to laugh, go ahead.”
So the Frog began to laugh. The noise of his laughter was ten times, even a hundred times, louder than a pondful of frogs at night. When he laughed the earth quivered. The high towers of the Chungpon's castle shook as though they would collapse. Cracks appeared in the walls. Pebbles and dust danced in the air, and the sky and sun were darkened. The Chungpon's family and servants ran round and round in the great house, bumping into one another, not knowing what they were doing. Some even carried pieces of furniture over their heads as if that would ward off the calamity.
In desperation, the Chungpon put his head out of a window and besought the Frog: “Please do not laugh any more, Froggy, otherwise we shall all be killed. I'll tell my eldest daughter to go with you and be your wife.”
The Frog stopped his laughter. Gradually the earth ceased to quiver and the house became stable again.
It was fear which forced the Chungpon to give his eldest daughter to the Frog. He ordered his servants to bring out two horses: one for her to ride, and the other to carry her dowry.
The eldest daughter was very unwilling to be married to a frog. She spied two millstones under the eaves as she mounted the horse and secretly took the upper millstone and concealed it in her breast.
The Frog hopped ahead to lead the way and the eldest daughter followed on horseback. All the time she urged her horse to go faster, hoping she would catch up with the Frog and kill him with her horse's hoofs. But the Frog hopped now to the left and now to the right, so that she could not do this. In the end she got so impatient that once when she was very close to the Frog she snatched the millstone out of her breast, threw it at the leaping Frog, and turned to gallop back home.
She had hardly gone any distance when the Frog called out to her, “Stop, Maiden! I have something to say to you.” She turned her head and saw the Frog who she hoped had been crushed. He had escaped through the hole in the middle of the millstone.
She was startled and pulled her horse up short. The Frog said to her: “We are not destined for each other. Go home, since that is what you want.” And he took the horse's bridle, and led her back home.
When they arrived at her father's castle, the Frog said to the Chungpon, “We are not suited to each other, so I have brought her back. Give me another one of your daughters, who may be destined for me.”
“What a conceited frog you are—you do not know your place!” cried the Chungpon in a fury. “Since you bring my daughter back, I'll not give you another. What, should I, a Chungpon, let you pick and choose among my daughters?” He was trembling with rage.
“I suppose you mean you don't agree, then,” said the Frog. “Very well, if you don't agree I'll cry.”
The Chungpon thought to himself that it wouldn't matter if he did cry. It wouldn't be as dangerous as his laughter. So he said, ill-humouredly, “Cry then. Nobody will be afraid because you cry.”
So the Frog cried. His wailing sounded like the rain in a summer night. As soon as he started to cry, the sky became black. Thunder rolled all around, and floods poured down the mountain-sides. The land was swiftly turned into seas; the waters kept rising, and flooded the castle and the stone towers. The Chungpon and his household climbed up on to the flat roof and huddled there. The water was rising right up to the parapet. The Chungpon had to stretch out his neck over the edge as he cried out to the Frog. “Stop crying, Frog, otherwise we shall all be dead. I'll give my second daughter to you.”
The Frog stopped crying immediately and the waters ebbed slowly away.
The Chungpon gave orders again to bring out two horses—one to carry his second daughter and the other to carry her dowry, and he bade his second daughter go with the Frog.
The second daughter was also unwilling to go. She took the other millstone when she mounted the horse, and hid it in her breast. On the way, she also tried to make her horse trample on the Frog. And she also hurled the millstone at the Frog and turned to go.
But the Frog called her back. “Maiden, we are not destined for each other,” he said. “You may go home.” And he took the horse's bridle and led her back.
The Frog gave the second daughter back to the Chungpon and asked for the youngest daughter.
This time the Chungpon was beside himself with rage. He said, nearly choking, “You sent back my eldest daughter and I gave you my second. You then sent her back. Now you want my third daughter. You are really too exacting. There lives no Chungpon in the whole world who could stand this. You... you... you really have no regard for law and the order of things.” He was so carried away with fury that his words stuck in his throat, and he could say no more. No one had ever had to suffer, he felt, as he was suffering then.
The Frog replied calmly, “Why do you grow so angry, Chungpon! Your two elder daughters were unwilling to go with me, so I sent them back. But your third daughter is willing. Why, then, should she not come with me?”
“No, no, no!” said the Chungpon, hatred in his voice. “She is not willing. No girl is willing to marry a frog. I've let you have your way for the last time.”
“You refuse to consent, then?” said the Frog. “If you don't grant my request, I'll hop.”
The Chungpon was terrified really, but in his overwhelming rage, he shouted, “You may hop if you like. I'll no longer be a Chungpon if I'm afraid of your hopping.”
So the Frog hopped. When he hopped, the earth vibrated and bobbed up and down like a wave in a tempestuous sea. The mountains around shook so violently that they knocked against one another, until rocks and sand flew into the sky and blacked out the sun. Even the stones and the towers of the Chungpon's castle shook so much that it seemed they were going to topple over at any moment.
So the Chungpon had to stand up among the ashes and promise to give him the hand of his third daughter. The Frog ceased to hop. The earth and the mountains regained their tranquillity.
The Chungpon was forced to send his third daughter riding away with another horse carrying her dowry.
The third daughter, unlike her two sisters, was kind-hearted. She thought that the Frog must be a clever frog and she was willing to go with him.
So the Frog took her home. The mother was amazed when she received them at the door. “Fancy my small and ugly child getting such a beautiful wife,” she thought.
The girl was full of industry and used to go out working with the mother on the land. Therefore the old woman loved her, and was respected in return. The mother was very happy.
It became the season of autumn. In those parts it was customary to hold a great horse race every year. Rich and poor for hundreds of li around came in with their round skin tents and their newly harvested grain. They burned incense-bearing branches in honour of the gods, danced, drank wine and raced. The young people used to choose their lovers there. This year the mother wanted the Frog to come with her but he refused. “I won't go, Mother. There are endless mountains to climb. It is too far for me.” And he stayed at home, while the others went off.
There were seven days of the festival. The last three days were given over to the horse racing. At the end of each day the winners in the race were surrounded by dancing young girls, and invited to the tents of the girls' fathers, mothers, and brothers to drink the fermented chingko wine which the girls brewed in great earthenware jars.
On the third day of the horse races, when the last race was just going to start, a young man dressed all in green came riding in on a green horse, and entered the race course. He was strongly built and handsome. His clothes were made of the best brocades and silk. His saddle was inlaid with silver and gold and rubies. His gun, mounted with silver and coral, swung on his shoulder. Everyone there stared at him as he asked permission to take part in the last race. When the race began he seemed to be in no hurry, but only started to adjust his saddle, even when the other young riders had begun to gallop. But he immediately caught up with them.
All the other riders bent all their attention to the race, as they galloped across the vast meadow, but the young man, even as he rode, loaded his gun and shot down three fluttering eagles which were circling overhead, each one with one shot, from horseback. As he rode past the onlookers, he jumped down from the left of his horse, picked up the most beautiful golden flowers, tossed them to the people on his left, and then jumped down from the right, picked some silver flowers and tossed them to the people on the right. On he rode again. As his horse sped across the green meadow only his horse's hoofs could be seen churning up the turfs, so that it looked as though he were riding the very clouds. The people stood spellbound. He passed all the other riders and was the first at the winning post.
Everyone at the race course was fascinated—old men and women, the praying lamas and the young girls. A whisper ran round the crowd: “Where does he come from? What is his name?”
“He fired from horseback, and jumped down from the left for golden flowers and from the right for silver flowers. Never before has such a sight been seen!”
“What a strong, what a handsome young man! See how his splendid saddle, his horse, his silk and brocades match with him!”
“But where is the girl who can be matched with such a strong and handsome young man?”
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