May 21, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : A Moral Story from Grandmother

My grandmother Lien Tie was the best story teller I have ever known. She was articulate in her language and she never faltered or slowed down in her story telling. At the right points she would pause to drive the true meaning into our heads.. Her moral stories are still fondly remembered today by all of us grand children who listened well. We would often repeat the stories to each other when we meet up.

One of the most memorable stories was "The Poor Woman with a Hat " which taught us not to look down upon poor people.

Once in Fuzhou City there was an old lady who wanted to buy some materials to make a blouse for herself and her mother in law.

When she went into a textile shop in Fuzhou City, which was already a big cosmopolitan place even in those days, she was obviously not a priority customer. She was ragged, probably shoeless (as was common in those days), she had mud on her blouse and long cotton trousers. And  furthermore she was carrying an old tatty farmer's hat, which naturally gave away her economic background : she was from the villages and not from the city. It also indicated her social status.

The shop assistant  was actually quite reluctant to serve her but in the end he called her out and asked about her mission. Would she like to buy some material, in a tone that was very condescending to say the least.

Get Clothes Tailor-Made in Beijing
2lst Century Beijing - Fabrics at Daxin Textiles Company, Beijing. Photo: dzb.sg.com.cn
Yes she wanted to buy a good piece of material. What would he suggest?

Presuming that she was a poor woman who would come in to buy the cheapest of the shop's materials, he took her from the front of the shop to the back, rather darkened area. The cheapest materials were in a discount corner at the back. And he was very pleased with himself, and the arrogance which went with the job.

the Old Lady gave him a good look and said quietly that she had some cash enough to buy a very good piece.

to that he smoothly said, "What about this type? It should be good enough for you!" He showed her a rather coarse material for working people.

"It would not cost you more than a few yuan per 'dong'," stating that with a bit of snigger. (l dong is slightly less than a yard, it is a traditional Chinese measurement)

In those days 5 silver dollars could buy one baby girl aged 5!! A few yuan could be several dong of cheap material.

the old lady however chose her material and went straight to the manager to have it measured for her needs. She bought up several "dong" of the beautiful material , almost a whole bale in fact.

She paid with bank notes , taken out form the slits of her old ragged farmer's hat. She had hidden her money very well. This left the manager and the shop assistant fairly dumbfounded.

Before she left, she thanked the polite manager and told the shop assistant, "Little brother, never judge a person wearing poor clothes. You will never know what that person is really worth."

We would never know if the arrogant shop assistant did learn his lesson. But we know we learned a good moral lesson from our Grandmother.

(Note : Banknotes were issued in yuan denominations from the 1890s by several local and private banks, along with the Imperial Bank of China and the "Hu Pu Bank" (later the "Ta-Ch'ing Government Bank"), established by the Imperial government. During the Imperial period, banknotes were issued in denominations of 1, 2 and 5 jiao, 1, 2, 5, 10, 50 and 100 yuan, although notes below 1 yuan were uncommon. Wikipeadia)


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