02/13/2010

An Tiêm and the Watermelon

Centuries ago, Vietnam was ruled by King Hung Vuong the Third, a king greatly loved by the people for his kindness and generosity. Having only one daughter, he decided to adopt a boy. His devotion to his people made him decide to adopt the child of a very poor family from a distant island, and named him An Tiêm. Loved, cherished and raised as if his own, An Tiêm grew to become a wise and skilful young man. His wisdom earned him the respect of everyone in the kingdom, and the king himself.

Having decided they’re both at the right age, the king arranged for An Tiêm to marry his daughter as he truly believed in the young man’s intelligence and capability to rule the land soon after he dies. He gave them an extravagant wedding and allowed them to live in his most beautiful castles. The king’s daughter deeply loved the young man, just as he loved her. Their marriage was greatly blessed by the heavens and soon they had two wonderful children.

But the king’s kindness to An Tiêm made some of his men grew envious. After a long time their envy turned to hatred. Desperate in finding ways to get rid of prince An Tiêm, they started to make up stories of which would make the young man look bad in the eyes of the king. The stories started to spread within the kingdom, telling how An Tiêm is plotting to overthrow the king and rule the kingdom himself. No matter how untrue the stories were, they soon reached the king. Although he loved An Tiêm a lot, he decided he needs to protect his kingdom from possible betrayals and exiled An Tiêm’s whole family to a far, desolate island.

Far from the comforts and luxuries of the kingdom they used to live, An Tiêm and his wife worked together to survive. They built their own shelter, fished for food and did everything to make life bearable for their children. One hot morning, as An Tiêm was hunting for food, he noticed a group of birds which were pecking on some strange-looking black seeds. Curious to know what they are, he got himself a handful and brought them home. Hopeful they would grow into something good for the family, he scattered the seeds on the ground around their hut.

Months passed, tender shoots started to sprout from the earth and crept along the ground. Fruits started to bud under the leaves, which to their surprise kept on growing until it was about the size of a head. The fruit had a smooth skin and delightful smell, and when cut open, they discovered a sweet-tasting beautiful red pulp within. An Tiêm named the fruit “dua do”, or red melon. But its sweetness may have invited the birds to come, and as they were eating the fresh, tasty fruit, his wife could hear them crying “Tay qua”, “Water melon”, and since then, that’s how they called it.

The family picked the fruits and stored enough they could eat. Every time they eat watermelon, they would keep the seeds so they have more to plant around their house. Months and years passed, they have grown enough watermelons to feed their growing family. They trade some of it to passing sailors for food, clothing, spices and toys for the children.

Meanwhile, back in the palace, the king deeply missed An Tiêm and his daughter and knows nothing of what has become of them. Unknowingly, An Tiêm was sitting upon the beach looking longingly toward his old land where the king is. He thought about how life could sometimes turn out for some people just as how it did to him and his family. But his resourcefulness had helped them survive. Idly, he carved his name on a watermelon and tossed it to the water, wondering where the waves would take it, just as how he wondered in the past where life would take them.

By fate, the current carried the watermelon back to the kingdom where the king’s servants found it and brought it back to him. When the king saw An Tiêm’s name carved on the fruit, his heart was filled with joy knowing they are still alive. Deep inside, the king thought how An Tiêm had once again proven his intelligence and resourcefulness and became prouder of him. He then sent his men to look for his long lost son, daughter and grandchildren and bring them back home.

When An Tiêm and his family were taken back to the kingdom, he brought his fruits with him to offer to his king. Having realized how worthy his son is in ruling the land, the king, in return, offered An Tiêm his crown. Since then, An Tiêm ruled the country wisely to the end of his days.