Monday, June 30, 2014

Sweet Dung, the Cake Tree, and the Bugle of Life

Another gem of a Korean folktale from a different book that I found at the bookstore:

Once upon a time there lived a poor man who had a little dog, a persimmon tree, and a bugle.

One day he went out into the mountains to cut wood, and chanced to find a bees' nest full of honey. He took the honey home and put it in a closet. That night, while he was asleep, the little dog found the honey and lapped it all up. When he discovered what had happened, the man was very angry, so [he] kicked the little dog with tremendous force. The dog became terrified and excreted a small amount of dung as a result. Surprisingly, the dung smelt remarkably sweet, so the man dipped his finger in it and tasted it. He was shocked when he realized that it also tasted very sweet. The man then took the little dog out into the street and shouted, "Sweet dung! Won't you come and buy some sweet dung? This little dog makes sweet dung. Come along and buy some! Very cheap!" People flocked around the poor man, tasting the dung before purchasing some. When a gentleman came by and offered to buy the little dog, its owner sold it for one thousand nyang.

The next day the gentleman invited a crowd of guests to a special feast of sweet dung. When they were all seated, he drew the little dog from his sleeve and served them all himself. He squeeze its belly with his fingers, so that it excreted dung into each dish. But when his guest started to eat it they all cried out angrily. The little dog had been fed on cooked rice and its dung smelt as unpleasant as usual. The gentleman realized that he had been swindled, and rushed off to find the poor man who had sold it to him.

The original owner had guessed that the gentleman would sooner or later come to complain, and so he told his wife to cook a lot of rice cakes and hang them high in the bare branches of the persimmon tree. Before long the gentleman came rushing into the house with the dog, intending to demand the return of his money. The husband received him affably and said to his wife, "The gentleman I told you about has arrived. We have nothing much to offer him, but you may as well go and pick some cakes from the cake tree. We haven't a very good crop this year, but you may find some on the lower branches.

The gentleman was very intrigued to hear of the cake tree, his anger assuaged momentarily. Overcome with curiosity, he went out and looked at the tree in the garden as the woman climbed up and picked some to eat. The tree was quite laden with cakes indeed. The gentleman had never seen anything so wonderful in his life, so he decided to say nothing of the little matter of the dog. When he had a chance to taste the delicious cakes, he proposed that he should by the cake tree. The husband agreed at once, and sold it to him for one thousand nyang, including the house. The gentleman went back home very pleased with himself, the proud owner of the remarkable tree. That very same day, the husband and wife moved to another village.

The gentleman told his wife of the cake tree and the wonderful bargain he had got, but she was most sceptical and would not believe that any such tree existed. The next day he took her to see it, only to find that it was just an ordinary tree with cakes hung on it. The gentleman was furious at being swindled a second time, and hastened to the village where the couple had gone.

They had, however, already planned another trick to play on him. The husband had killed a dog, and his wife hid its entrails near her breast. When the gentleman came and called the husband from the gate, the wife pretended to be angry, complaining loudly that his visit was inconvenient. Her husband abused her roundly and shouted, "This is my affair and nothing to do with you. I will not have you being rude to my guests." Then he picked up a mallet and pretended to beat her most cruelly. In a minute or two she threw the dog's entrails onto the ground and fell down, apparently dead. The gentleman was most alarmed by this violent onslaught and the woman's death, but her husband merely went and got his old bugle. He applied it to his wife's buttocks and blew. At once she appeared to revive and in a few moments sat up quite unharmed.

The gentleman was very relieved to see this awkward situation relieved so easily. The bugle seemed to him to be something infinitely precious, so he offered to buy the bugle. The husband readily sold it to him for another thousand nyang, so that he had made three thousand nyang an all by these transactions. He also extracted a pledge from the gentleman that he would not come and complain about his purchases any more.

The gentleman was very proud of his new bugle. Yet when he took it home, his wife was more displeased than ever by yet another foolish bargain and told him off in no uncertain terms. The gentleman got very angry and beat her to death as a result. Everyone in his family was terrified by his sudden nadness, but he merely smiled and poked the bugle under her skirt. When he blew, confidently expecting that she would be restored to life, nothing happened. However hard he blew she would not come back to life and in the end he too fell down in a faint and died.

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