September 26, 2009

The Old Man in the Corner

Filed under: Story Collection — Tags: , , , , , , — Sheila @ 2:04 pm
Audio: The Old Man in the Corner

An Adaptation of a Nepali Folktale

Told by Sheila Wee

The old man lay in the corner and remembered.

Remembered a time when he was young and strong.

When he ran through the valleys tending his father’s goats.

But now he is here, old and weak, lying in a corner.

No more running – just a few stumbling steps.

Trembling hands, and a mind that remembers the past, better than it understands the present.

Yes, once he was young and strong and now he is old and weak.

But he has a family.

A son, son’s wife and a grandson – the light of his life.

The boy plays on the floor beside him.

Feeds him patiently with a spoon.

Makes him want to live.

Yes, once he was young and strong, able to dig and plant, to weed and harvest.

Able to take care of his family.

Life was good then and food was plentiful.

It is not so now.

Old and weak he lies on his bed and sees the weariness in his son’s eyes; working so hard for so little.

He sees despair in the eyes of the young woman, his son’s wife, as she tries to make the food feed all four of them.

He sees his grandson grow thinner, not taller.

The young wife looks at the old man lying in the corner – near the end of his life.

The old man who is eating the food that would help her son grow tall and strong.

She thinks of the lifting and carrying of that old body and how it takes her time and strength.

Time that could be spent helping her husband in the fields, growing the crops that could lift them out of poverty.

Late in the night the old man lies in the corner and listens.

Listens to fierce whispers, to tears and sighs between husband and wife.

He hears his name, then the word “temple” and he understands.

Morning comes. The old man lies in the corner and remembers. Remembers how he had placed the stones and shaped

the mud to build this house – this home. This home, which he must now leave.

His grandson laughs and chatters by his side. A sound he will hear no more.

And now comes his son carrying a basket.

The basket that his own dear wife had woven for him, years before. She had woven it strong, strong enough to carry

the heaviest of burdens, wood, rice, or even an old man.

Then came two arms gently lifting. Two eyes downcast, not meeting his. A mouth too ashamed to speak.

And he was now a burden, carried in a basket. A collection of old bones to be taken away.

But then came a voice, young and pure.

“What are you doing father?  Where are you taking grandfather?”

“To the temple my son, they will look after him there.”

“Is that a good place father?”

“Yes, my son.”

“Then bring back the basket, don’t forget. For one day I will need it to carry you to the temple too.”

A moment passed.

A glance went between husband and wife.

Then two arms again were  gently lifting and the basket was empty and the old man was once more in his rightful place.

In the corner of the house, but at the centre of the family.

© Sheila Wee 2007

Please feel free to tell this story, but if you want to publish it in any way please contact me for permission at

September 16, 2009

The Stonecutter’s Wishes

Filed under: Story Collection — Tags: , , , , , , — Sheila @ 7:44 am
Audio: The Stonecutter’s Wishes

A Japanese Folktale

Hack! Hack! Hack! The stonecutter was toiling under the burning sun driving his chisel into the stone with his heavy mallet. He led a simple life working as a stonecutter all day and returning to his wife and child in the evening.

On this sweltering day, the stonecutter was feeling particularly grumpy and his mood blackened when he saw his wealthy landlord pass by in a sheltered horse-drawn carriage.

“Oh to be a wealthy man in a cool carriage, never having to do a hard days toil in the hot sun…’ the stonecutter grumbled.

In a flash, the startled stonecutter found himself sitting in a small room. A small room that seemed to be moving! He was bouncing up and down, and up and down. Gripping his seat, he cautiously peered out the window and saw that he was indeed moving in a horse-drawn carriage.

Down below, he saw the stonecutters working in the quarry wearing their dusty grey uniforms. He looked at his own clothes and discovered that he was wearing a magnificent gown embroidered with gold thread. The stonecutter was speechless with wonder he couldn’t believe his luck!

After a while though, he began to feel uncomfortable, sweating under the heavy gown. The heat seemed even more oppressive in the enclosed carriage. The rocking became overwhelming as a sickening wave of nausea struck him.

“What’s the point of being a wealthy man with gold clothes when you can feel as terrible as this?” he asked himself as he yelled for the carriage to stop before tumbling out onto the ground.

As he lay on his back, breathing deeply, he squinted up at the blazing sun. “Oh to be the powerful sun… and not have any worries nor the weak constitution of a man.”

Instantly, the man was no longer a man, but an immaculate orb of light. Being the sun itself, he felt neither hot nor cold. Just powerful. He blazed as hard as he could over the land way below him.

Just as he was beginning to have fun watching streams dry up and the parched ground crack, a large cloud blocked his way.  No matter how hard he shined, the cloud was impenetrable. He felt useless.

“I see now that clouds are more powerful than the sun. I want to be a cloud,” the man commanded becoming used to this strange magic.

A cool, vaporous, spreading feeling washed over him. He was closer to the earth now covering every inch of it in shadow. This pleased him as he thought of the helpless sun above.  He looked at the parched land below and decided to have a bit of fun. A thunderstorm! He started to drizzle, then rain, then launched into a fabulous downpour. For a touch of theatrics, he flashed with lightning and boomed with thunder. He aimed his bolts at trees, which split dramatically down the middle.

Then he aimed at the rock on which he had toiled as a man but the effect was disappointing. A few tiny pieces broke off the surface, but the rock was otherwise unscathed.

“Obviously rock is more powerful than cloud,” he said laughing to himself. He couldn’t believe that he had thought that he’d be most powerful as a soft fluffy cloud.

“Time to become rock!” he ordered.

Suddenly he felt very still and solid. He tried to move, but he was absolutely stuck. A sharp stinging sensation, chipped away at him.

Hack! Hack! Hack! It was a stonecutter driving his chisel into him with his heavy mallet!

It suddenly dawned on him; he didn’t want to be a landlord in a carriage, nor the sun or cloud or rock. He didn’t need such power. He just wanted to be himself, the humble stonecutter, to go home every evening to his wife and child.

“Please… I’d like to be myself again.”

And in a flash, he was old self, with his chisel in one hand and his mallet in the other.

September 13, 2009

How to Catch a Thief

Filed under: Story Collection — Tags: , , , — Sheila @ 1:39 pm
Audio: How to Catch a Thief

There once was an isolated village tucked away high up in the hills.

One morning, there was a bubbling of commotion from each of the small houses.

“Have you seen my gold bracelet?”

“My grandmother’s ring is gone!”

“My money’s been stolen!”

The angry villagers crowded in the square complaining and lamenting their stolen treasures. Everyone clamored to see the village chief.

Eventually, the head of the village called for order. He examined each villager in turn and solemnly asked them to line up. He announced, “This village is so isolated, that we have had no sign of outsiders for months. Furthermore, all the valuables were stolen from secret places within each house that only an insider who has entered each home and observed the daily lives of our people could know where they were hidden. I regret to conclude that the thief is one of us”

A wave of surprise flowed through the crowd.

“Chief, how do you plan to root out the thief? I have lost over ninety gold coins!” exclaimed one of the village men.

“Be patient my friend, we will find out in due course.”

The village chief then carried out a roll call to make sure that all the villagers were accounted for.

The chief then brought out a palm-sized statue of an ancient god. Over the head of the statue, he sprinkled soot from an old fire. He showed it to the villagers and instructed, “Each villager is to go inside my home. They are to squeeze this statue with all their might. If they are innocent, the statue will remain silent. If the person is guilty, the statue will scream a deafening cry.”

The people were skeptical about black magic and surprised that the levelheaded village chief would suggest such a foolish act, but desperate to have their valuables returned, they agreed.

One by one, the villagers silently entered the house to squeeze the little statue. Everyone outside listened, waiting for an earsplitting shriek, but none came.

When the last person had entered, squeezed the statue and emerged without so much as a peep, the square burst into an angry racket.

The chief was calm and again called for order. He invited all the villagers to stand in a large circle and hold out their hands in front of them.

As he made his way round the circle, he spoke,

“The statue was squeezed, but it did not make a sound. This is because statues do not and cannot scream or shriek.

People who are innocent, have nothing to lose by squeezing an inanimate object. But the guilty are wary and careful. They don’t want to get caught. So the guilty party did not squeeze the statue for fear that it would scream.

But in doing so, he gave himself away for he is the only person in this village circle who has clean hands. And that is you my friend.”

The man who had complained about the loss of his ninety gold coins looked down at his hands in horror, then up at the wise chief. He had no choice but to confess to being the thief.

September 10, 2009

The Farmer’s Lazy Son

Filed under: Story Collection — Tags: , , , , , , , — Sheila @ 4:47 pm
Audio: The Farmer’s Lazy Son

An Italian Folktale

“Giorgio! Can you please help me with these baskets, I need to get them to market before the sun rises.”

“Father, can’t you see I’m sleeping. I’ll help you when I wake up.”

“Giorgio, can you hold this ladder steady while I clean the roof?”

“Father, I’m having my breakfast, a young boy needs to build up his strength.”

“…Giorgio, can you help me now?”

“Sorry father, I can’t keep Matteo waiting, I have to go fishing now. Bye!”

Giorgio always had an excuse. He was either too tired, too hungry, too sociable, too sad, too happy, too busy.  Busy doing what?  His father could never figure that out.

Giorgio’s father was growing old. He had to  work hard on the farm to grow enough vegetables and herbs to sustain the family.  Without any help from Giorgio,  it was becoming too much for him.

One day, Antonio, a dear friend from the old father’s past came to stay. He was a large, cheerful man, who was always full of ideas, but most importantly he was perceptive.

After just a morning of observing Giorgio, he had seen how the father was at his wits end on how to get the boy to do even an ounce of work. Pleading, cajoling and even threats had no effect on the lazy Giorgio.

Antonio whispered to the father, “If you trust me, my friend, you will follow my lead.”

Antonio disappeared into his room for a while and when he came out, he held an old piece of leather in his hands.

“Giorgio, come here quick, I have the opportunity of a lifetime for you!”

“Antonio, I’m in the middle of sun tanning, why don’t you come over to me?”

“But Giorgio, this is a treasure map.”

Upon hearing the golden words, ‘treasure map’, Giorgio leapt from his deckchair and scrambled over to Antonio.  Antonio explained that he had just discovered this treasure map deep in the cupboard of his room. It was a map of one of the fields that Giorgio’s father owned, and it promised that 100 silver coins were to be found in that field. Giorgio snatched the map from Antonio, grabbed a spade and ran to the field eager to find the treasure.

Antonio and the boy’s father followed slowly behind. When they arrived at the field, they were amazed to see Giorgio digging with gusto. But he wasn’t really getting anywhere. The ground was too hard, too solid to dig up.

“Hey Giorgio!” shouted Antonio from across the field, “why don’t you water the field, then it’ll be easier for you to dig.”

Giorgio followed his advice with such haste that his father had to do a double take to check if this boy was really his son. He had never seen him working, let alone working so fast.

The next morning, despite it being a Sunday, Giorgio was up before dawn to continue his treasure hunt. When he saw the villagers passing by on their way to church, he grew protective over his field. He decided to scatter manure over the ground, to keep any busybodies away.

Later that afternoon, the two older men visited Giorgio at the treasure field. They followed behind Giorgio who was plowing hard. As they walked and talked, Antonio surreptitiously dropped what looked like tiny handfuls of dust along the way.

After Giorgio had plowed the entire field to no avail, he thrust the treasure map at Antonio and exclaimed with frustration that he had just wasted his time with this treasure-less hunt. The field was empty.

Soon Giorgio was back to his usual ways, busy doing nothing.

By this time, a few weeks had passed since Antonio’s visit, and the plan was ripe for the picking – quite literally.

“Giorgio, come look at this!”

“Father, I’m playing solitaire.”

“It’s your field, it’s full of treasure!”

In a flash, Giorgio was at his father’s side. The whole field was now covered in gleaming green leafy spinach!

“Those are vegetables father. Where’s the treasure?”

“Giorgio, Giorgio, Giorgio, you are looking at your treasure, it was in the field all the time. The spinach will earn you 100 silver coins at market.”

And so, the embarrassed Giorgio discovered the treasure of hard work rewarded.

From then on, he became a real farmer, not just a farmer’s son, busy growing his own produce and reaping the benefits of his labour.

September 6, 2009

The Gentleman on the Beam

Filed under: Story Collection — Tags: , , , , , — Sheila @ 12:51 pm

In old China, there lived a scholar named Chen Shi. Chen Shi was a well-respected man in his region. A region that had fallen on bad times after a terrible flood.

Late one night, a thief broke into Chen Shi’s house and stealthily crept around the sleeping household.  Suddenly, the thief heard a rustling sound. Someone was coming.  He looked around for a place to hide himself, but the room had little furniture in it – there was nowhere to hide.   In desperation he looked around again and this time he looked upwards, up to the roof beams.

With a running jump he scrambled up onto one of the roof beams He pressed his body along the length of the pole, and stayed as still and quiet as he could – hardly breathing , not moving a muscle.

The door below opened, and in walked an old man; Chen Shi.  Chen Shi took a few steps into the room and stopped. He seemed to be lost in thought.

Then he called out to a servant to wake his sons. He then walked over to a chair in the middle of the room, sat down, and waited.

Soon, Chen Shi’s three sleepy sons shuffled into the room.

“What’s wrong father?” asked the youngest son.

“I just wanted to ask you boys a question.” answered Chen Shi.

The oldest son was surprised, “You woke us all up in the middle of the night because you wanted to ask us a question? Couldn’t it have waited till the morning?”

“It is an important question. Now sit down all of you. My question is: If a person does bad things, is he a bad person?”

The room was silent for a while.

Then, the middle son spoke.  “I’ve heard of the phrase, ‘Hate the sin, but not the sinner’, I think that people can be good inside, but they get led astray or get driven to do bad things.”

Chen Shi nodded and replied, ”Yes, I do think that man is born good. But sometimes, people get lax, and conveniently forget what the right thing to do is, and slowly they turn bad. It’s easier to be bad and much, much harder to be good, and do what is right all the time. It takes work and perseverance not to give in.

The old man told his sons about how important working and honesty were. “You must always strive to be honest, to people you know and also people you don’t know. What do YOU think sir?” Chen Shi looked directly up at the unwelcome visitor in the beam.

The thief was so surprised, he almost fell off. Regaining his balance, he slowly climbed down, trembling. When the sons saw the loot in the thief’s bag, they closed in on him, ready to punish him, but Chen Shi stood in between the thief and his sons.

“Hate the sin and not the sinner”, he repeated, then turned to the thief and to everyone’s surprise ordered his servant to give the man a bolt of silk.

Full of shock, shame and gratitude, the thief apologised sincerely.

Chen Shi said, “I have faith in you to become good again. Use this cloth to start over, and live your life with dignity and a healthy amount of pride in yourself.” Then Chen Shi led the man out the front door.

The dismayed man sold the cloth and began a fresh by starting a small business, and never forgot about his night on the beam.

This story made its way around, with everyone amazed at Chen Shi’s wisdom and his ability to forgive. To this day in China, a thief is sometimes referred to as the ‘gentleman on the beam’

Hershel of Ostropol: I Will Do What My Father Did

Filed under: Story Collection — Tags: , , , , , — Sheila @ 10:27 am

Audio: Hershel of Ostropol: I Will Do What My Father Did

A Ukrainian Folktale

Way back in 19th century Ukraine lived a man who is now known as Hershel of Ostropol. Hershel of Ostropol was a poor man who spent his days wandering from village to village, meeting new people and finding adventure along the way.

At sunset, one exceptionally icy winter’s night, Hershel found himself wandering alone on a deserted dirt track. There were no houses or shelter in sight, just miles of darkening hills ahead.

Winter in the Ukraine is bitterly cold, and anyone unable to find shelter would run the risk of not surviving the night. Hershel looked at the path ahead of him, tightened his jacket around him and trudged on in the snow.

After wondering for several hours, Hershel’s heart leapt when he saw the glimmering light of a house in the distance with plumes of smoke escaping from the chimney. With the thought of warming his feet by the fire and having some food in his groaning belly, he widened his stride.

When Hershel reached the house, he realized it was an inn.

Inside, the innkeeper and his wife were packing up for the night when they heard a knock on the door.  The wife grumbled, “Who’s wondering around here at this time of night? You answer, and if he cant pay, don’t let him in!”

The innkeeper lumbered to open the door. The second he saw the shabby Hershel, he knew he wouldn’t have money to pay. “I’m sorry, but we’re closed.”

“Please sir, please help a poor man survive the night. I just ask for whatever you can spare, I will sleep in your barn with the sheep if I must.”

“Let me consult my wife,” said the innkeeper wearily.

But the wife would not hear of it, “If we give him shelter for the night, you know he will want food, and then soon enough we’ll be known throughout Ukraine as the charity inn and we’ll never see the end of old beggars like him. Get rid if him.”

The innkeeper stepped out into the cold and told Hershel, “I’m sorry, our barn is full. We cannot help.”

“Then would you be able to spare a morsel of food?” and observing the character of the innkeeper, added, “I will eat your stalest scrap of bread.”

The innkeeper pictured his wife’s reaction to this and said, “Sorry, there is no food.”

“No food? Who has ever heard of an inn with no food?” Hershel thought to himself.

Hershel contemplated the bitter night ahead of him if he wasn’t given shelter at this isolated inn, and his blood began to boil at the selfishness of the couple.

“Look here, you have a nice home and warm shelter, and I can smell your leftovers from here. If you don’t help me, then I will do what my father did!”

He grabbed the innkeeper by the collar, and shook him. Now, this innkeeper was almost a foot taller than Hershel, but with the shock of his pounce and the desire for survival on his side, Hershel easily overpowered him.

“If you don’t help me, I will do what my father did!” he repeated.


The stunned innkeeper hurtled through the door and hastily pulled out a chair for Hershel. He delved into the cupboards and laid out all the food he could find. Dumplings, stew with hot bread, pickles, cabbage rolls, and Pampushky a delicious doughnut-like desert.

The innkeeper’s wife stormed into the room and was furious to see her best food for paying customers being served to a beggar who didn’t look as of he could pay for bath water. “What is the meaning of all this?”

The innkeeper didn’t even stop to explain, he kept laying out dish after dish. “If we don’t do this, he will do what his father did!”

The fear in his voice rang clear, silencing the woman.

The innkeeper and his wife watched as the hungry Hershel ate morsel after morsel of the scrumptious food. Hershel was hungry, but he didn’t stuff himself. When he was full, he got up from the table and thanked the couple. The innkeeper politely showed him to the best guestroom and ran a steaming bath for him.

Early the next morning, Hershel woke up refreshed. He gathered his belongings and made his way out of the house. The innkeeper, who was already up, offered him some curd cheese pancakes. Hershel thanked him for his kind hospitality, but said he would be on his way.

The innkeeper hovered around the door as Hershel prepared to leave, and just as Hershel was making his way out of the gate towards the road, the innkeeper asked in a meek voice, “Sir, I hope you don’t mind my asking, but what did your father do?”

Hershel turned around and answered, “On cold cold nights like last night, when my father was unable to find any food, my father… went to bed… hungry.

August 31, 2009

The Ungrateful Tiger

Filed under: Story Collection — Tags: , , , , , — Sheila @ 7:00 am

A Korean Folktale

Audio: The Ungrateful Tiger

There was once a small Korean village that was being plagued by a fearsome tiger. The attacks became so bad that the villagers were too scared to leave their houses, even in the daytime. The village elders got together to work out what to do, because something had to be done.

After a night of discussion, argument and disagreement, they finally came to a decision. They would set traps for the tiger by digging deep holes around the perimeter of the village, fill each hole with a bit of red meat, and cover them up with branches and leaves.

The whole village set to work, each family providing whatever red meat they could spare. Then they waited in their houses. Waited for the tiger to come lurking.

The next morning, the nephew of the village chief, who had come from the city, arrived on foot. As he approached the village he heard an almighty roar. Cautiously, he approached and at the bottom of a pit was a miserable tiger.

“Oh, please please help me get out of here. I’m trapped and I’ll die if you don’t help me. If you help me, I would be eternally in your debt. Forever…”

The young man was confused. “ You promise you wont eat me?”

“Promise, cross my heart!”

The young man looked around and found a long branch sturdy enough for the tiger to grip onto. He lowered it into the pit and the tiger hauled himself up.

The tiger breathed a sigh of relief, then licked his lips, “Why thank you little snack, you’re just in time for tea.”

“But, but, but, you said you’d be eternally grateful! Forever! You promised not to eat me!”

“Everyone knows that you can’t trust the promise of a hungry tiger. And tigers are ALWAYS hungry.”

Just as he was about to pounce, the young man yelled, “WAIT! Lets ask that cow over there if you should keep your promise and NOT eat me.”

The tiger liked games, it made his kill so much more interesting, so he agreed to ask the cow.

The glum looking cow yawned. “Man makes me work hard in the field, then, when I’m too old to work, they make food and shoes out of me. Tiger, go ahead and eat him.”

The tiger prepared to attack, “STOOOOP!” yelled the young man. “I think we need a second opinion, lets ask that little rabbit over there.”

“This is your last chance juicy young man…”

The young man anxiously explained the situation to the little brown rabbit.

The rabbit had a little think then said. “Before I make my decision, I need to see exactly what happened.”

When they arrived at the deep pit, the rabbit said, “Now, show me exactly where you were when this young man passed by.”

The hungry tiger, impatient for his meal, leapt into the pit. “Well, I was in this deep pit, and I started roaring because I was stuck. I was stuck….in this deep, deep pit. I’m stuck! Again!” The tiger began roaring with rage.

The little brown rabbit quickly told the young man to go on his way, and to think next time before he decided to rescue another hungry tiger.

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