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Lesson Three


Message of the Land Pira Sudham

Pre-class Work I

Read the text once for the main idea. Do not refer to the notes dictionaries or the glossary yet.

Yes, these are our rice fields. They belonged to my parents and forefathers. The land is more than three centuries old. I'm the only daughter in our family and it was I who stayed with my parents till they died. My three brothers moved out to their wives' houses when they got married. My husband moved into our house as is the way with us in Esarn. I was then eighteen and he was nineteen. He gave me six children. Two died in infancy from sickness. The rest, two boys and two girls, went away as soon as we could afford to buy jeans for them. Our oldest son got a job as a gardener in a rich man's home in Bangkok but later an employment agency sent him to a foreign land to work. My other son also went far away.
One of our daughters is working in a textile factory in Bangkok, and the other has a job in a store. They come home to see us now and then, stay a few days, and then they are off again. Often they send some money to us and tell us that they are doing well. I know this is not always true. Sometimes, they get bullied and insulted, and it is like a knife piercing my heart. It's easier for my husband. He has ears which don't hear, a mouth which doesn't speak, and eyes that don't see. He has always been patient and silent, minding his own life.
All of them remain my children in spite of their long absence. Maybe it's fate that sent them away from us. Our piece of land is small, and it is no longer fertile, bleeding year after year and, like us, getting old and exhausted. Still my husband and I work on this land. The soil is not difficult to till when there is a lot of rain, but in a bad year, it's not only the ploughs that break but our hearts, too.
No, we two haven't changed much, but the village has. In what way? Only ten years ago, you could barter for things, but now it's all cash. Years ago, you could ask your neighbors to help build your house, reap the rice or dig a well. Now they'll do it only if you have money to pay them. Plastic things replace village crafts. Men used to make things with fine bamboo pieces, but no longer. Plastic bags litter the village. Shops have sprung up, filled with colorful plastic things and goods we have no use for. The young go away to towns and cities leaving us old people to work on the land. They think differently, I know, saying that the old are old-fashioned. All my life, I have never had to go to a hairdresser, or to paint my lips or nails. These rough fingers and toes are for working in the mud of our rice fields, not for looking pretty. Now young girls put on jeans, and look like boys and they think it is fashionable. Why, they are willing to sell their pig or water buffalo just to be able to buy a pair of jeans. In my day, if I were to put on a pair of trousers like they do now, lightning would strike me.
I know, times have changed, but certain things should not change. We should offer food to the monks every day, go to the temple regularly. Young people tend to leave these things to old people now, and that's a shame.
Why, only the other day I heard a boy shout and scream at his mother. If that kind of thing had happened when I was young, the whole village would have condemned such an ungrateful son, and his father would surely have given him a good beating.
As for me, I wouldn't change, couldn't change even if I wanted to. Am I happy or unhappy? This question has never occurred to me. Life simply goes on. Yes, this bag of bones dressed in rags can still plant and reap rice from morning till dusk. Disease, wounds, hardship and scarcity have always been part of my life. I don't complain.
The farmer: My wife is wrong. My eyes do see—they see more than they should. My ears do hear—they hear more than is good for me. I don't talk about what I know because I know too much. I know for example, greed, anger, and lust are the root of all evils.
I am at peace with the land and the conditions of my life. But I feel a great pity for my wife. I have been forcing silence upon her all these years, yet she has not once complained of anything.
I wanted to have a lot of children and grandchildren around me but now cities and foreign lands have attracted my children away and it seems that none of them will ever come back to live here again. To whom shall I give these rice fields when I die? For hundreds of years this strip of land has belonged to our family. I know every inch of it. My children grew up on it, catching frogs and mud crabs and gathering flowers. Still the land could not tie them down or call them back. When each of them has a pair of jeans, they are off like birds on the wing.
Fortunately, my wife is still with me, and both of us are still strong. Wounds heal over time. Sickness comes and goes, and we get back on our feet again. I never want to leave this land. It's nice to feel the wet earth as my fingers dig into the soil, planting rice, to hear my wife sighing, "Old man, if I die first, I shall become a cloud to protect you from the sun." It's good to smell the scent of ripening rice in November. The soft cool breeze moves the sheaves, which ripple and shimmer like waves of gold. Yes, I love this land and I hope one of my children comes back one day to live, and gives me grandchildren so that I can pass on the land's secret messages to them.

Read the text a second time. Learn the new words and expressions listed below.


n. 机构;代理处;这里指职业介绍所

n. 竹

n. 曼谷(泰国首都)

v. to exchange goods for other goods 以货易货

n. a light gentle wind

n. 美洲野牛;water ~ : 水牛

v. to threaten to hurt sb. who is smaller or weaker 欺负(弱小)

v. to express strong disapproval 谴责

n. 蟹

n. handmade items 手工艺术(这里指手工产品)

n. the time before it gets dark 黄昏

n. a village in Thailand

n. bad or harmful influence or effect 邪恶

adj. tired out

adj. popular 合时尚的;时髦的

n. 命运

adj. ~ land is land able to produce good crops 肥沃的;富饶的

n. people (especially men) who were part of your family a long time ago 祖先

n. 蛙

n. a person who takes care of a garden

n. a strong desire for more money, power etc. than you need 贪婪

n. a person who cuts and shapes your hair in a particular style 理发师

n. difficult condition of life, such as lack of money to become healthy again, to recover from a wound, especially to grow new skin 愈合

n. early childhood; babyhood

v. to say or do sth. that is rude or act offensively to someone 侮辱

n. (常用复数)牛仔裤

v. to leave (plastic bags, bits of waste paper etc.) on the ground in a public place 扔得到处都是

n. very strong desire for sex, money or power 淫欲;金钱欲;权力欲

adj. not fashionable 老式的,过时的

n. 和尚,僧人

n. 指甲

v. to make a hole through something; to ~ one's heart: to make one feet very sad

v. to cut and gather a crop such as rice or wheat 收割

v. to take the place of 替代

adj. mature 成熟的

v. to move in very small waves 在微风中摆动

n. a lack; not having enough, especially food

n. a pleasant smell

n. (sheaf 的复数), measure of quantity in farming 捆,束

v. to shine with a soft trembling light 发微光,闪烁

n. illness

v. 叹息

n. a narrow piece of 细长片

n. a place for the worship of a god or gods 寺庙,庙宇

v. If sth. ~ s to happen, it means that it is likely to happen quite often, especially sth. bad or unpleasant

n. any material made by weaving 纺织品

adj. not showing thanks

n. injury 伤口;(感情上的)痛苦


The Son from America lsaac Bashevis Singer

Lsaac Bashevis Singer (1904—1991) was born in a Jewish village in Poland. In 1935 he immigrated to New York.
Singer wrote many stories and novels, as well as books for juveniles and four autobiographies (including Lost in America, 1981). In 1978 his work received world attention when he was awarded the Noble Prize in Literature.

The village of Lentshin was tiny. It was surrounded by little huts with thatchad roofs. Between the huts there were fields, where the owners planted vegetables or pastured their goats.
In the smallest of these huts lived old Berl, a man in his eighties, and his wife Berlcha. Old Berl was one of the Jews driven from Russia who had settled in Poland. He was short, broad-shouldered, and had a small white beard, and in summer and winter he wore a sheepskin hat, a padded cotton jacket, and stout boots. He had a half acre of field, a cow, a goat, and chickens.
The couple had a son, Samuel, who had gone to America forty years ago. It was said in Lentshin that he became a millionaire there. Every month, the Lentshin letter carrier brought old Berl a money order and a letter that no one could read because many of the words were English. How much money Samuel sent his parents remained a secret. They never seemed to use the money. What for? The garden, the cow, and the goat provided most of their needs.
No one cared to know where Berl kept the money that his son sent him. The hut consisted of one room, which contained all their belongings: the table, the shelf for meat, the shelf for milk foods, the two beds, and the clay oven. Sometimes the chickens roosted in the woodshed and sometimes, when it was cold, in a coop near the oven. The goat, too, found shelter inside when the weather was bad. The more prosperous villagers had kerosene lamps, but Berl and his wife did not believe in new gadgets. Only for the Sabbath would Berlcha buy candles at the store. In summer, the couple got up at sunrise and retired with the chickens. In the long winter evenings, Berlcha spun flax and Berl sat beside her in the silence of those who enjoy their rest.
Once in a while when Berl came home from the synagogue, he brought news to his wife. In Warsaw there were strikers who demanded that the czar abdicate. Somebody by the name of Dr. Herzl* had come up with the idea that Jews should settle again in Palestine. Berlcha listened and shook her head. Her face was yellowish and wrinkled like a cabbage leaf. She was half deaf. Berl had to repeat each word he said to her.
Here in Lentshin nothing happened except usual events: a cow gave birth to a calf, a young couple got married. Actually, Lentshin had become a village with few young people. The young men left for Zakroczym, for Warsaw, and sometimes for the United States. Like Samuel, they sent letters and photographs in which the men wore top hats and the women fancy dresses.
Berl and Berlcha also received such photographs. But their eyes were failing and neither he nor she had glasses. They could barely make out the pictures. Samuel had sons and daughters—and grandchildren. Their names were so strange that Berl and Berlcha could never remember them. But what difference do names make? America was on the other side of the ocean, at the edge of the world. A talmud* teacher who came to Lentshin had said that Americans walked with their heads down and their feet up. Berl and Berlcha could not grasp this. How was it possible? But since the teacher said so it must be true.
One Friday morning, when Berlcha was kneading the dough for the Sabbath loaves, the door opened and a nobleman entered. He was so tall that he had to bend down to get through the door. He was followed by the coachman who carried two leather suitcases. In astonishment Berlcha raised her eyes.
The nobleman looked around and said to the coachman in Yiddish, "Here it is." He took out a silver ruble and paid him. Then he said, "You can go now."
When the coachman closed the door, the nobleman said, "Mother, it's me, your son Samuel-Sam."
Berlcha heard the words and her legs grew numb. The nobleman hugged her, kissed her forehead, both her cheeks, and Berlcha began to cackle like a hen, "My son!" At that moment Berl came in from the woodshed, his arms piled with logs. The goat followed him. When he saw a nobleman kissing his wife, Berl dropped the wood and exclaimed, "What is this?"
The nobleman let go of Berlcha and embraced Berl. "Father! "
For a long time Berl was unable to utter a sound. Then he asked, "Are you Samuel?"
"Yes, Father, I am Samuel. "
"Well, peace be with you. " Berl grasped his son's hand. He was still not sure that he was not being fooled. Samuel wasn't as tall and heavy as this man, but then Berl reminded himself that Samuel was only fifteen years old when he had left home. Berl asked, "Why didn't you let us know that you were coming?"
"Didn't you receive my cable?" Samuel asked.
Berl did not know what a cable was.
Berlcha had scraped the dough from her hands and enfolded her son.
"I never thought I could live to see this. Now, I am happy to die," Berlcha said. Berl was amazed. These were just the words he could have said earlier. After a while Berl came to himself and said, "Pescha, you will have to make a double Sabbath pudding in addition to the stew."
It was years since Berl had called Berlcha by her given name. Only now did Berlcha begin to cry. Yellow tears ran from her eyes, and everything became dim. Then she called out, "It's Friday—I have to prepare for the Sabbath." Yes, she had to knead the dough for the loaves. With such a guest, she had to make a larger Sabbath stew. The winter day is short and she must hurry.
Her son understood what was worrying her, because he said, "Mother, I will help you."
The nobleman took off his jacket and remained in his vest, on which hung a solidgold-watch chain. H rolled up his sleeves. "Mother, I was a baker for many years in New York," he said, and he began to knead the dough.
Berlcha wept for joy. Her strength left her, and she slumped onto the bed.
Berl said, "Women will always be women." And he went to the shed to get more wood. The goat sat down near the oven; she gazed with surprise at this strange man.
The neighbors had heard the good news that Berl's son had arrived from America and they came to greet him. The women began to help Berlcha prepare for the Sabbath. Some laughed, some cried. The room was full of people, as at a wedding. After Berlcha lit the candles, father and son went to the little synagogue across the street. A new snow had fallen. The son took large steps, but Berl warned him, "Slow down."
In the synagogue the Jews sang their prayers. All the time, the snow outside kept falling. When Berl and Samuel left the Holy Place, the village was unrecognizable. Everything was covered in snow. One could see only the contours of the roofs and the candles in the windows. Samuel said, "Nothing has changed here."
Berlcha had prepared fish, chicken soup with rice, meat, carrot stew. The family ate and drank, and when it grew quiet for a while one could hear the chirping of the house cricket.
After the final prayer Samuel asked, "Father, what did you do with all the money I sent you?"
Berl raised his white brows. "It's here."
"Didn't you put it in a bank?"
"There is no bank in Lentshin."
"Where do you keep it?"
Berl hesitated. "One is not allowed to touch money on the Sabbath, but I will show you. "He crouched beside the bed and began to shove something heavy. A boot appeared. Its top was stuffed with straw. Berl removed the straw and the son saw that the boot was full of gold coins. He lifted it.
"Father, this is a treasure!" he called out.
"Why didn't you spend it?"
"On what? Thank God, we have everything."
"Why didn't you travel somewhere?"
"Where to? This is our home."
The son asked one question after the other, but Berl's answer was always the same: They had everything. The garden, the cow, the goat, the chickens provided them with all they needed. The son said, "If thieves knew about this, your lives wouldn't be safe."
"There are no thieves here."
"What will happen to the money?"
"You take it."
Slowly, Berl and Berlcha grew accustomed to their son and his American Yiddish. Berlcha could hear him better now. She even recognized his voice. He was saying, "Perhaps we should build a larger synagogue."
"The synagogue is big enough," Berl replied.
"Perhaps a home for old people."
"No one sleeps in the street."
The next day after the Sabbath meal was eaten, Berl and Berlcha lay down for a nap. They soon began to snore. The goat, too, dozed off. The son put on his cloak and his hat and went for a walk. He strode with his long legs across the marketplace. He stretched out a hand and touched a roof. He had a desire to talk to someone, but it seemed that the whole of Lentshin was asleep.
Samuel returned home. Dusk had fallen. Berl went to the synagogue for the evening prayers and the son remained with his mother.
In the twilight Samuel put his hand into his jacket pocket and touched his checkbook, his letters of credit. He had come here with big plans. He had a suitcase filled with presents for his parents. He wanted to help the village. He brought not only his own money but funds from the Lentshin Society in New York. But this village needed nothing. From the synagogue one could hear people chanting. The cricket, silent all day, started again its chirping. Berlcha began to sway and utter holy rhymes inherited from mothers and grandmothers.

Dr. Herzl: Theordore Herzl (1860—1904), the founder of Zionism
Talmud: the collection of ancient rabbinic writings that constitute the basis of traditional Judaism