This story is excerpted from The Treasury of Vietnamese Fairytales
Illustration: Van Hai Van
About the illustrator: Van Hai Van is a children’s book illustrator. She hopes her illustrations bring fond memories to readers, as well as a love for life and arts.
“What has taken you so long?” he asked. “I will not let you go!”
During the reign of Hong Duc, there was an impoverished, orphaned student who went by the name Tu Uyen. He resided in Bich Cau District to the south of Thang Long. Despite not having aced the imperial examination, he was a fine scholar.
One spring day, Ngoc Ho Pagoda hosted a festival that drew crowds of believers and men and women from the capital and neighboring provinces. Tu Uyen took the opportunity to meet some pretty ladies. In a jovial mood, he wandered around until late afternoon when he rested under a banyan tree near the pagoda.
When a leaf fell in front of him, he picked it up and found a poem full of teasing verses written on one side. Guessing it must have been thrown from upstairs, he looked up but saw no one. Bewildered, Tu Uyen saw a crowd exit the pagoda. Among them was a good-looking lady. After their eyes met, he approached her and chatted her up. They had so much fun conversing as they strolled. He soon had a crush on her. But when they reached Quang Van Peak, she vanished into thin air. Tu Uyen stood dumbfounded until darkness fell, then headed home.
After this encounter, he was so obsessed that he didn’t care to eat or study. Learning that Bach Ma Temple was sacred, he went there for a fortune-telling card and to pray, but fell asleep in the temple of dreams. That night, a deity appeared in his dream and told him: “Hey loverboy, visit Dong Bridge tomorrow morning, and I will tell you some good news.”
He went to Dong Bridge the next morning as instructed, but no one turned up but an old man who tried to sell him a painting of a beautiful lady. He uncovered the painting and realized it depicted the lady he had been longing for. He bought it without hesitation and hung it next to where he sat at home. At meals, he prepared two pairs of chopsticks and two bowls, and asked the lady in the painting to join him as if she were real. He was surprised to see her cheeks blush. She seemed shy.
One day, Tu Uyen came home to find some delicious-looking dishes, different from the mundane, veggie-heavy ones he normally ate, laid out on his bed. Famished, he devoured them without knowing where they came from. The same thing happened again and again, which made him happy and confused at the same time.
Some days later, he pretended he was going to school, but turned back halfway. He peeked through his window, and saw a lady stepping out of the painting. She tidied his home, and prepared his meal. He barged in, held her hands tightly, and said: “What has taken you so long? I will not let you go!”
Tu Uyen then took down the painting and tore it apart.
With a blush, she quietly replied: “Why are you so brutal? Now that we have lived under the same roof, I will do what you say.”
She told him her name was Giang Kieu and that they were indebted to each other in their previous lives. For this reason, she’d been sent from heaven to earth to be his wife. After their long conversation, Tu Uyen could not have felt happier. He swore his love for her. When Tu Uyen proposed, Giang Kieu said: “Let me throw a party and invite my fairy friends to come and witness our marriage.”
She took a magical hairpin from her hair and turned his home into a wedding hall with brocade and beaded curtains, busy servants, and a fancy feast. In no time the party kicked off. Musical instruments were played, and her fairy friends all came to enjoy great food, music, and company.
After their marriage, Tu Uyen stopped caring about his studies. He never left his wife’s side, and indulged in drinking and fine food. Giang Kieu tried to turn him around, but he would not change. Three years later, he dropped out of school and became an alcoholic. He was so drunk that he lost his sanity and shouted at his wife time and time again. Giang Kieu was so angry that she flew back to heaven after carrying her drunk husband to bed and waiting for him to fall asleep.
When Tu Uyen awoke, sober, he could not find his wife anywhere and was overcome with remorse. One month after she left, he could not eat, could not sleep, and kept crying. Although his friends tried their best to comfort him, the pain did not go away. Full of self-hatred, he tried to commit suicide by hanging himself. Suddenly, there was a scented gust of wind that brought Giang Kieu home before him. Overjoyed and ashamed, he promised to give up drinking, and the couple made up.
Not long after, Giang Kieu gave birth to a boy, who grew up to be a brilliant scholar. One evening, two cranes came to pick up Tu Uyen and Giang Kieu. They gave their son some final words of advice and returned to heaven.