Saturday, March 14, 2009




- A Story for Children -

By Kai Chen 陈凯 April, 1993

A long, long time ago, three baby turtles were born in a swamp.

Each of the three little turtles had a shiny green shell, a pair of bright eyes on his soft tiny head, four feet layered with scales and a pointy tail attached to his behind. Their parents loved them very much and played with them often. Sometimes the little turtles took a swim under their parents’ bellies. Sometimes they crawled on their parents’ backs for a ride. Every day their parents brought them food, protected them from outside peril and taught them to understand things in their world. The little turtles never had to worry about anything.

One of the little turtles had a dark spot on his shell, so the parents named him Spotty. One of them liked to wriggle his tail a lot, so the parents named him Wriggly. The third on had an extremely hard shell. Once he fell from a cliff, he bit his lips and didn’t even shed a tear. The parents’ named him Toughie.

Unfortunately, the swamp where they lived was full of things they didn’t like. There were rotten branches and leaves and poisonous mushrooms everywhere. There were hordes upon hordes of irritating insects. There were infectious diseases. There were parasitic worms crawling in the mud. There were dangerous predators like snakes and crocodiles. There weren’t too many things to eat. Their food was almost always green algae. They were tired of it. There was no clean water to drink either. They could only drink from moldy ponds and even then they had to first make sure that the water was not poisonous. The swamp was damp and muddy. Mildew started to grow everywhere inside their shells, behind their necks, between their toes.

Not long after they were born, their parents died. Their mother was eaten by a crocodile. Their father died of an infectious disease of the swamp.

The three little turtles were very sad, very uncertain, and very afraid. From then on they had to look for their own food, for security, for comfort and for happiness. They struggled hard in the beginning just to survive. But after a while they got used to it and managed to get by on their own in the cheerless and precarious environment.

As time passed, the three little turtles gradually grew up. But they still lived in the moldy swamp. They still ate the bland algae and drank the dirty water. They still tiptoed among the dangerous predators and worried that they might catch the disease that had killed their father. They grew more and more dissatisfied and bored with what they ate and drank, more and more tired with the way they lived, more and more anxious about their own future.

Every spring, birds came from the ocean. They all had long necks and long beaks. They danced around the ponds and whooped through the bushes, looking for insects and small fish to eat. They built their nests to hatch their eggs. They sang with their high-pitched voices.

The little turtles were more and more curious about the birds. They were drawn closer to the birds and asked questions about their lives, seeking information about the outside world.

The birds mostly told them about the ocean where they came from. They told them that the ocean was so big that no one could reach the edge of it. They told them that the waves were so high that even the tallest trees in the swamp couldn’t compare. They told them that there were whales and sharks in the ocean. They were so big that one of them could fill up an entire pond. They told them about the colorful shells and pearls lying on the beaches and on the bottom of the ocean. They told them about the huge boats sailing on the ocean.

Spotty listened to the stories. He laughed through his nose:

“These birds are just bragging about the ocean to make us jealous and to belittle us. Turtles don’t have wings and cannot fly so there is no way for us to prove if what they said is true. Mother and Father told me long time ago that this swampland was the only place for us turtles to live. Our grandparents lived their lives here. I don’t believe these long-necked, lone-beaked, feathered devils. Besides, this is our land. This is the land of turtles. Without it, I wouldn’t be here. I am going to live and die just like my parents. This is the turtles’ way of life. Life is same everywhere. Life is about learning how to survive, how to endure misery and how to pass time. Mother and Father always told us so.”

Wriggly listened to the stories. He was confused. He became unsure of himself:

“Father and Mother always told us not to believe any creatures except turtles. But it seems that birds do live a better life than us turtles. They can fly afar, eat better meals, drink cleaner water, even dance and sing to enjoy themselves. It must be the ocean that gives them the strength to do what they are doing. We turtles can’t fly like the birds. It must be this dirty swamp that has disabled us turtles. I am sick and tired of the muddy, moldy, poisonous swamp. I’ve got to get out of here.”

Toughie listened to the stories. His eyes sparkled. His thoughts flew far away to those strange and fascinating places. He dreamed that one day he would be just like the birds, carefree, swimming in the vast ocean, exploring countless treasures, understanding and communicating with those strange creatures he had never seen before.

“I don’t want to live a life like all the other turtles. I don’t want to end up like my parents - living in desperation and dying in misery and pain. I want to live a freer life, a more fulfilled life, a joyful life, a life of my own. One day I will die. But when I die, I want to be able to say to myself: ‘I have lived a good life. I have lived my life and haven’t let my life live me. I have nothing to regret about my life’. I’ve got to do something to find meaning in my life.”

So one day, Wriggly and Toughie decided to leave the swampland. Spotty remained.

They crawled with their feet, carrying their shiny green shells on their backs, their pointy tails dragging behind on the ground. They crawled. They crawled toward where the sun rises every day. They crawled toward where the birds came from. They crawled toward where the briny winds blew. They crawled. They crawled over the mountains and hills. They crawled over the deserts and grasslands. They crawled through treacherous rivers. They crawled day and night, through storm and heat wave. They crawled.

Their feet were full of blisters and their toes bled. Their shells were dusty, full of scratches from rocks and stones. Their soft heads were dotted with scars. Their tails had callous. Yet they kept going.

In Wriggly’s mind, he kept seeing the swampland he had lived in all those years. He hated the damp stagnant climate. He hated the dull tasteless food he had to eat. He hated the insects that bothered him all the time. He hated the predators from whom he had to constantly hide. He hoped to find a better place where he didn’t have to work so hard to survive, where he could eat better food whenever he wanted without much effort, where he could be safe, where he never had to look after himself, where he could be relieved the burden of life he had carried for so long. He wished this ordeal of traveling would end soon.

In Toughie’s mind, he kept seeing the rainbow of colors from the seashells the birds had told him about. He kept seeing the giant whales and walruses swimming in the ocean. He kept seeing himself swimming among the coral reefs and schools of colorful fish, sampling to the fullest extent the beauty and grandeur of nature, tasting many varieties delicious food. He was mesmerized when the birds told him about the immensity and mystery of the ocean. Yet, he knew he had to work hard to learn how to live in the ocean. He had confidence. He had a strong will. He was not afraid. He knew he had to chase after his own dreams and one day those dreams would come true. He was happy that he was finally doing something to make his dream a reality. Every time he thought about his dreams, he would forget about the scars on his body and he crawled even steadier and faster.

When the leaves on the trees started to drop, when the salty smell from the winds grew heavier, when the soil under their feet became sandier, Wriggly and Toughie finally heard the sound of the waves.

Wriggly was shocked. He had never heard anything like it. So loud and frightening and overwhelming! Not even the roar of crocodiles could compare.

Toughie was excited. He had finally reached his destination! The thunderous sound of roaring waves was like a giant bugle, calling him to crawl faster into the mysterious deep water and the violent embrace of the unknown.

When they finally reached the beach, they saw mountain-like waves coming layer upon layer from a body of water expanding endless toward the sky. The tide whirled and seethes, pounding the shore with tremendous force. The brothy foam, with the sand sandwiched between the waves, tossed an turned, like the clouds they had seen before in a storm.

Wriggly’s guts shuddered:

“The seabirds never told me that the ocean was like this, so violent, so inhospitable, so unfeeling.”

He then crawled gingerly by the water and dipped his toes in it. The water was freezing cold. He then extended his soft head toward the water and sipped a little. It was bitter and salty.

“The seabirds never told me that the ocean was like this, so very cold, so very bitter, so very salty.”

A giant tidal wave surged toward him. He wanted to run, but he was too late. He was immersed by the sand-tossing salty water. He felt the relentless power of nature. He panicked.

He shouted. He cried. He struggled to exert all his strength to get away from the water. He fled the ocean like a rabbit escaping from a coyote. He crawled fast back toward where he came from, toward the mountains and hills, toward the deserts and grasslands, toward the dirty moldy swamp where he was born.

“Come back! Wriggly. This is great!” Toughie was shouting.

Wriggly kept going, pretending that he didn’t hear.

But on his way back to the swamp, Wriggly suddenly realized that the swamp was not that enticing either. The mere thought of the mildew, the parasites, the diseases and the predators made him shiver. But where would he go?

It was too shameful to go back to the swamp, to go back to Spotty.

“Spotty will mock me all my life about the decision I made to go to the ocean. How am I ever going to face him?”

It was also too shameful to go back toward the ocean again.

“Toughie will look down on me and think I am a coward. How am I ever going to face him?”

Wriggly spent the rest of his life wandering between the ocean and the swamp, hesitating to go either way. He didn’t like the dry land either. The sun was too hot. The wind was too fierce. The ground was too rough. Food was too scarce. There wasn’t enough water anywhere.

The desert sand thickened his shell. The wind and sun dried his scales. The rocks and stones sharpened his claws. His neck stretched out before him because he had to constantly look for water. He became a dry land tortoise.

When Toughie saw the tidal wave pelting down from above like a mountain of transparent jade, his heart trembled with joy. He had finally stepped into the limitless ocean. He could finally enjoy exploring the infinite unknown. He could finally swim freely and roam through all the beauty that nature could possibly create.

He didn’t flee. He didn’t pull his neck back into his shell. He faced it - the ruthless force of the ocean. He praised it - the limitlessness of the treasures. He welcomed it - the joy and pleasure and the unprecedented challenge to un-tap them. He was proud of his own power over his fate. He was elated.

He dashed toward the deepest parts of the ocean, peddling frantically with his already tired feet, balancing himself with his delicate tail. The salt in the water hurt his eyes. His body was numbed by the cold. His motion grew precarious. But he kept going toward the deep.

He saw eels, sharks, whales. He heard seals, walruses, sea lions. He sampled seaweeds, shrimps and sea slugs. He kept going toward the infinite.

He swam in warm currents and rested on golden sandy beaches. He climbed icebergs. He explored underwater volcanoes. He took naps in the warm sun under the ocean breeze. He kept going toward the limitless.

His eyes gradually adjusted to the salty water. His shell became smooth and shiny. His feet grew flatter and larger. His toes grew smaller and duller. His tail became more agile. He could swim longer and smoother than other ocean creatures. He became a sea turtle.

He saw someone similar to himself in the ocean - a female turtle. They danced and played together and nested on the warm sand of the shore. They had many babies. They all spread around the enormous ocean.

Seabirds flew over the sea, above the dry land and into the swamp, year in and year out. The tree branches turned from green to yellow, and then green again.

Spotty heard many stories about Wriggly and Toughie. He heard they were uncomfortable with the different climate, disgusted with the change of diet, chased and hurt by formidable predators, discriminated against by other creatures.

Spotty sighed to his own children, scratching a mosquito bite on his head:

“Look. Wriggly and Toughie should have listened to our ancestors. They should not have left this swamp. See, how much hardship Wriggly has had to endure. He has become to ugly and unhappy because he made the wrong choice in the first place. But at least I can see him sometimes when he travels to the edge of the swamp. I don’t even know where Toughie is now. He may have already died, eaten by sharks, frozen or starved to death. Or perhaps he is too sick and to ashamed to return. Don’t you ever do what they did.”

After he spoke those words, he felt relieved, assured that the choice he had made to remain in the swamp was right. At least he knew who he was. He laughed, feeling a sense of pride and pleasure, even superiority.

A few months later, though, he died. He died of a disease he had always dreaded, caused by drinking rotten water, just like his father. His dead body sank in the mud. Insects, worms and mildew started to gather inside the shell. The shell gradually rotted and was eaten away. Nothing was left.

“What about Wriggly and Toughie? Where are they? How are they doing? Did they die like Spotty?” You may ask.

Sure. Like every turtle, like every creature in this world, they also died one day.

Wriggly was killed by a human. His shell was first made into a bowl by the humans to drink water from. Later, it was abandoned and crushed. It became dust floating in the air above the dry land.

Toughie was killed while he was climbing a giant motor-powered ocean liner. The ship’s powerful propeller smashed him. His shell was shattered into pieces, scattered around the ocean.

If you go to the beach sometimes and take a careful look around, you may still see the pieces of his shell - green, smooth, translucently shiny. They were sprinkled among colorful seashells all over the world, radiating under the golden sun, enriching the world with their deep mysteries and never-ending fairytales and folklores.

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