Once upon a time, there lived a wealthy couple with three stupid sons. The old man worried. Who would take care of the family fortune when he was gone?
He summoned the village matchmaker and said: ?My wife is pleased with the two dutiful daughters-in-law you introduced to us. Please find an intelligent wife for our third son.?
The matchmaker went away scratching her head. ?Crazy old man,? she thought. ?Why put a viper in a son?s bed?? She looked and looked, but couldn?t find any candidate because nobody would admit to having an intelligent daughter. In those days, that was worse than admitting your daughter was a lazy bone. Women felt threatened by an intelligent daughter-in-law. A lazy or stupid one, you could scold, beat, or replace with a concubine. An intelligent girl was harder to handle.
The old man thought: ?My two daughters-in-law seem less stupid than my sons. I?ll test them, and then train the smarter one to handle business.? He called the two young women to him and said, ?You have worked hard and earned yourselves a reward. Go visit your own parents and bring them a few gifts.?
He told the eldest, ?You can stay three five days.? He turned to the second daughter-in-law. ?And you, seven eight days should be enough. You can both leave tomorrow and return on the same day.?
The next morning, the two women said goodbye to their husbands and parents-in-law: ?On behalf of our parents, we thank you for these bolts of silk. Please do not spurn the presents they will certainly ask us to bring back.?
The old man said, ?No need to bring me anything, unless it?s a fire wrapped in paper.?
The two women bowed their way out of the house and soon burst into tears. Suddenly they heard a voice, ?What?s wrong?? They looked up and saw the butcher?s teenage daughter, who said, ?You know I?m not a gossip or busybody. I just want to help.? The two women poured out their troubles.
The butcher?s daughter said, ?Your father-in-law must like you a lot, to entertain you with his riddles. Three five days, seven eight days, they both mean fifteen days. Three times five, seven plus eight.?
?We get to rest for fifteen days!? the eldest daughter-in-law clapped her hands. But the second one asked, ?How can we bring back fire wrapped in paper?? ?Easy,? said the butcher?s daughter, ?all you need is a candle burning inside a paper lantern.?
When the women returned in fifteen days and presented their father-in-law with two peach-shaped lanterns to symbolize long life, the old man shouted, ?Such intelligence under our roof!?
The women became greatly alarmed: ?Oh no, Venerable Father, please do not misunderstand. We didn?t solve your riddles. The butcher?s daughter did.?
The old man chuckled. ?Right under our noses the whole time!?
The next day, he went to the butcher?s shop. He ordered the usual, a couple of pigs? feet, a slab of pork loin, and two racks of ribs. Then he slyly asked the butcher?s daughter: ?Do you have anything less meaty, say, a piece of skin attached to skin??
Without missing a beat, the butcher?s daughter chopped down a pig?s ear and dropped it on the metal scale hanging beside her. ?Here ? no bone, no meat, just a piece of cartilage ? or skin attached to skin, some would say.?
You can guess what comes next. The matchmaker, the wedding, the happy families. The business prospered under the intelligent girl?s management. To celebrate his good fortune, the old man wrote a poetic couplet on his front door: ?My family is beyond compare. Never shall we need outside favors.?
A local magistrate saw it and thought: ?Vain fool. I must teach him to be more humble.? He summoned the old man to the prefect office and said, ?I face three problems. One, I need a calf born of a bull. Two, I need a bolt of cloth to cover the sky. Three, I need enough peanut oil to fill up the ocean. You have one week to find solutions. If you can?t, you ? and your whole incomparable family ? will be punished.?
The old man blurted out his problem to his daughter-in-law, who offered to take care of everything. The next morning, she went to the prefect office armed with a ruler and a ladle. She told the magistrate, ?Your Honor, I came on behalf of my father-in-law, to finish the three tasks you assigned him. Please forgive him ? he cannot come because he is in the last stages of his pregnancy and about to give birth to a baby.?
The magistrate slammed his fist onto his desk. ?How dare you lie to me? How can a man deliver a baby??
The girl exclaimed, ?Precisely, Your Honor. How can a bull deliver a calf??
The magistrate grunted, half in defeat, half in admiration. ?All right,? he said, ?when will your father-in-law deliver the cloth??
The girl held out her ruler with both hands and said respectfully, ?Your Honor, the cloth you need is in my father-in-law?s storeroom. Could you please measure the sky, and tell us how much cloth to cut??
The magistrate knew he had found his match. ?What about the third task?? he asked.
?Oh, Your Honor,? she said sweetly, ?we have the peanut oil ready, but we cannot pour it in yet because the ocean is full of water. Could you please ask your assistants to scoop out the water? I shall be glad to help them with this ladle and my own two hands. Once the ocean is empty, my father-in-law will fill it with peanut oil as Your Honor commanded.?
The magistrate laughed. ?That old man is indeed lucky, blessed with such an intelligent daughter-in-law.?
The butcher?s daughter bowed gracefully and thanked him for his big heart and big mind.
Popular Folk Tale,
Hok San, China