Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A story Lee Kuan Yew told

I cannot recall for sure; but I think he told this story to a bunch of foreign correspondents at an event in Helsinki. Anyway, this story is based on a Chinese idiom; 塞翁失马,安知非福*. This story can be found in The Straits Times Bilingual Collection, Vol 1, page 86, under the title, Fortunes and misfortunes.  

But when I was telling this story to my children when they were young, I titled it, The Story of Sai Weng.

* Sometimes written as 塞翁失马,焉知非福
Long ago, there was an old man who lived at the border. His wife had died more than 10 years ago, leaving him with a son, whom he brought up. The old man had a mare which he took good care of. When the mare became pregnant, he became very busy and happy. He planned to sell the colt when it had grown so he could use the money to get a wife for his son.
               Unfortunately, when the mare was about to deliver, it suddenly disappeared. The old man and his son searched everywhere, but could not find it. The old man was very sad. After some time, however, he was himself again and behaved as if nothing had happened. His neighbours came to comfort him. The old man, moved by their concern, said: “I do appreciate your concern. However, do not vex yourselves over my problem. Although I have lost my horse and cannot afford to have a daughter-in-law now, no one can say for sure if this is good or bad.”
               Several months passed; and on one clear and windy night, the old man heard the familiar neighing of a horse from his bedroom. He hurried out and saw 3 horses coming towards him. When he realized that one of the horses was his very own mare, he shouted for joy. There was also a small horse which apparently was the mare’s offspring. He hastily brought them to his stable. When the neighbours, who had been awakened by the noise, learned what had happened, they came to congratulate him. The old man was extremely happy. After some time, however, his face darkened briefly and sighing, he said calmly; “Let’s not be too happy. This could be a misfortune.” His words caused laughter, and everyone said he was over-suspicious.
               The old man’s son loved the young colt and rode it often. One day, while galloping along a mountain track, he fell and broke his leg. Many surgeons were consulted, but he could not be cured, and eventually became a cripple. The neighbours came to comfort him. After thanking them for their concern, the old man said: “Though my son has become a cripple, there is no need to grieve, for who knows what good may come out of this incident.” The neighbours were puzzled  by what he said.
               One year later, the imperial court decided to wage war against a neighbouring state. All the able-bodied young men were conscripted into the army and most of them never returned from the battle field. The village became deserted and quiet. Only the old man’s son who had been disqualified because of his disability escaped conscription. Thus even in the midst of the chaos of war, he got married and soon had a son. The old man and his family lived in peace and happiness.
            Many people who witnessed this admired and said of the old man: “When the old man of the frontier loses his horse, it may be good fortune; when he gains another horse, it may be a misfortune.”

The End

At the end of every story, there’s a language tip like this. I learned my hanyu pinyi partly from here.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)