The Beach Boy

Filed under culture -> myths-and-legends | Wed, 02 Dec 2009 | viewed (2045x)


Not all Vietnamese myths are about war and divorce and politics, however. In fact, many of the most beautiful Vietnamese myths are about love. A favorite among Vietnamese must no doubt be the story of the Beach Boy, a story set in the reign of Hung Vuon g III during the third millennium B.C. To him was born a princess by the name of Tien Dung ("Immortal Features").

When she reached eighteen she was very beautiful but she did not care to marry anyone, she only wanted to have fun and wander around the world. The king did not want to contradict her in any way. Each year, around the second or third lunar month, she wo uld have boats rigged up so that she could roam over the seas, forgetting even to come home.

At that time, in the village of Chu Xa near the river estuary there lived a person named Chu Vi Van who had a son called simply the Chu Boy. The father was a kind man and the son a filial person, but their home caught fire and they had nothing left excep t a loin-cloth that father and son had to take turns wearing when they went out. As he fell ill and was about to die, the father told the son: "I am going to die, you should bury me naked and keep the loincloth for yourself." The son, however, did not h ave the heart to obey, he used the loincloth to wrap the father's corpse.

After that, he had nothing to wear, and was constantly ravaged by hunger and cold. He would stay on the river bank and whenever he spotted a merchant boat going by, he would stand deep in the water to beg for food, or he would fish to find food for himse lf.

Little did he expect one day that Tien Dung's boat would come his way all of a sudden, in the midst of gongs and drums and beautiful music and with a huge attendance. The boy was terrified. on the sand bar there was a band of sedge and reed, hardly enoug h to hide him, but the Beach Boy still had to hide there. While there, he scraped up some sand to make a hole and used the sand to cover himself.

Soon after, Tien Dung's boat anchored right by and she came down to take a stroll on the sand. She then ordered her attendants to curtain off an area amidst the sedge and reed for her to take a bath. She stepped inside, took off her dress and started po uring water on her body. The sand went away with the water, revealing the Beach Boy. Tien Dung was totally taken aback for a while before she realized that he was a boy so she said: "I never had a mind to have a husband. Now I met you here with both of us naked in the same spot: this must be the doing of Heaven. Stand up, then, and wash yourself. I will give you clothing to wear, then let us go down into my boat to celebrate." Everyone in the boat agreed that this was an unprecedented miracle meetin g. The Beach Boy demurred: "How dare I?" But Tien Dung brushed away his protests and forced him to become her husband. The Beach Boy again refused, Tien Dung said: "This is an union decreed by Heaven, why do you refuse it?"

This conversation was at once reported to the king by the attendants. The king said: "Tien Dung does not care about her name and chastity, she does not care about her inheriting my wealth, she goes on wandering away from home and lowers herself to take a poor man for husband. How will she have the courage to face me?" When this was reported to her, Tien Dung got frightened and did not dare go home. She stayed on the spot to establish a river market and a small town with her husband to trade with other people. Gradually this became a large market-city.

"Rich merchants from abroad came to trade in great numbers, and they worshipped Tien Dung and her husband as their leaders," the story continues, relating Tien Dung and her husbands eventual conversion to Buddhism, which brought them miraculous powers. T he King, Tien Dung's father, seeing them become powerful, thought that Tien Dung was planning a rebellion. He sent troops against her, but Tien Dung only smiled: "Life and death are matters in the hands of Heaven. How dare I fight against my father? I only beg to follow the right path. Let the knives and swords kill as they will." However, night descended as she spoke and the attack by the king's army was delayed till the next day. "In the middle of the night, a great wind arose and created a sand s torm, uprooting even the trees, causing total confusion in the king's army. Tien Dung and her followers, together with their fortress, in no time flew up into the sky while the earth where they stood sank down to form a large pond. Later on, the people set up an altar to worship Tien Dung all year round, and they called the pond the 'Overnight Pond.'"

In some respects, this story sounds more like a legend than a myth since it is historically dated (in the reign of Hung Vuong III) and happens in historical times. Actually these historical references are merely the result of Chinese influence in the rec ording of the myth (Chinese naturally gave dates or pseudohistorical dates to myths to give them more credibility. The historical references contradict each other; Hung Vuong III is traditionally thought to have lived in the third millennium B.C., some 2 ,000 years before the birth of the historical Buddha, which would make it impossible for Tien Dung to convert to Buddhism. Putting aside the reference to Buddhism, what one is left with is a beautiful myth dealing with the traditional Vietnamese belief i n Heaven, whose power must transcend even the power of the King on Earth. Like the story of An Tiem, the story of Tien Dung and the Beach Boy is the story of an unshakable faith in a providential god named Heaven: "Troi sinh voi, Troi sinh co," says a Vi etnamese proverb. "Heaven creates the elephants, He creates also the grass" that serves as fodder for the elephants.


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