By Hong Tran
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The perception of the dragon is viewed differently in the Western culture and Asian culture. Many of us have heard about the legend of Saint George slaying the dragon. Its influence can be seen Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty film where Maleficent turns into a dragon and the prince fights it in order to rescue the princess. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarfs embark on an adventure to get the gold and confront the wicked dragon Smaug.
Unlike seeing the dragon as an evil mythical creature in many Western legends and fairy tales, it is seen as a symbol of power and masculinity in Asia. They are not seen as a threat to the society and the world. In Vietnamese folklore and fairy tales, there is a story of Lac Long Quan, son of a king and of a dragon, who falls in love with a fairy Au Co. After they married, Au Co hatched one hundred eggs and the babies matured into humans quickly. This created the birth of the Vietnamese population.
Statues of dragons can be seen outside temples or royal palaces to indicate power and strength. Or even outside restaurants.
Dragons can also been seen the groom’s ao dai during the wedding.
Just imagine if we saw dragons are wicked creatures. They probably would have destroyed Vietnam and other Asian countries by now!
What do you think of dragons? Do you like reading stories with dragons?
By Hong Tran
In Vietnamese families, it’s common for children to recite stories to their grandparents.
When I was a child, my parents would ask me to memorize one or two fairy tale stories I had learned in class or the ones they had told me and recite them to my grandparents whenever we traveled to California. I can’t recall the Vietnamese fairy tales I memorized, but one of my favorite ones was Aesop’s Fables The Tortoise and the Hare.
I memorized the stories as much as I could and recited them in French to my grandfather. Every time I finished, he always clapped and my grandmother gave me money. This helped me to establish a strong connection with my grandparents, even though I was too young to understand this.
It’s part of our culture for the young to respect the elder and do things for them, whether it’s through storytelling as a child or take care of them as an adult.
What about in your family? As a child, did you recite fairy tales to your grandparents? What about your children?
By Hong Tran
While I was figuring out which Vietnamese fairy tales to retell in my novel, I became curious of how the Vietnamese version of Cinderella, Tam and Cam, came about. I searched online and researched in the library to find out when it was first written. If the Chinese version of Cinderella was written at around 860 A.D., I thought the date could also be found for Tam and Cam. Nope. I couldn’t find the date.
At first, I thought the influence came from the French Jesuit Alexandre de Rhodes who had traveled to Vietnam in the 17th Century to convert the country into Christianity. As a result, he had changed the Vietnamese alphabet to the Portuguese-Latin alphabet. I discovered this wasn’t the case after my father helped with my research.
For those of you who haven’t read Tam and Cam, here’s a brief story of the version I know (you can read the longer version here):
When Tam (the Vietnamese Cinderella) loses her mother, her father marries a wicked woman and both give birth to Cam, Tam’s jealous stepsister. Tam doesn’t get along with them, and the Buddha shows up to help her when she cries. At a festival, Tam loses her slipper, and the king asks his messengers to find the woman who could try on this beautiful slipper. After going through all of the villages, the messengers discover that Tam’s foot fits the slipper perfectly, and she becomes the king’s wife. Tam’s stepmother and Cam became so jealous that they kill her. Tam faces their jealousy through several incarnations until she manages to convince Cam to jump into a boiling water, and her stepmother dies of grief when she hears about Cam’s death.
In the story of Tam and Cam, the word Bụt was written for Buddha in Vietnamese. According to my father, this word was used in the second or third century with the Sanskrit influence of Budh. This word was later changed Phật after the invasion of the Ming Dynasty in China in the 15th Century.
He also said that the words Tam (meaning broken rice) and Cam (rice powder) are Vietnamese, not Chinese. Therefore, there was no Chinese influence in the Vietnamese version of Cinderella. Also, the reason why there is no written date of this fairy tale is due to the Indian influence. They don’t keep track of dates, unlike the Chinese court/royal family who had kept record of the Chinese version of Cinderella in the ninth century.
This means the story of Tam and Cam could have been written any time between the second or third century and fifteenth century with no influence from the Europeans and Chinese.
If any of you find more information, please shout it out!
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