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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dear Monkey!

I just finished reading the famous tale of the Monkey King. What a great story!

I first heard of this mischievous creature when I lived in Vietnam, where the story was played over & over again on Vietnamese TV. At the time, I didn't know what it was all about, but after I moved to China, I found out that it's a well-known Chinese tale. Everyone in the East knows who the Monkey King is, just as everyone in the West knows who Cinderella is. So I decided that since I'm living in China, I should try reading it.

However, the story was written in the 16th century, & is more than 1000 pages long in PDF form (!), so I was hesitant to get started on it. Luckily, one of the other teachers at my school came to work one day with a copy of the story in a 350-page novel. Now that I could handle.

The book is a 1942 abridged translation of the story by Arthur Waley, the most widely available version of the tale in English, & was a surprisingly quick read. The story is full of the adventures & misadventures of the Monkey King & his companions as they travel 108 leagues (a lucky number) from China to India to retrieve the holy scriptures of Buddhism. In the end, the Monkey King reaches enlightenment as a result of his efforts.

The story is entertaining, with lots of action (fighting off dragons & the like), along with some crazy magic (Monkey can pull out one of his hairs & turn it into anything he wants), as well as a little bit of humor (they hide some Taoist idols in the outhouse). But my favorite part, at least of this version of the story, is that Waley says "Dear Monkey!" every time Monkey is about to do something amazing. Ha!

Have you ever read this story before? What did you think of it?


Julie said...

You'd have no reason to remember this, but my minor was in East Asian studies. We were alllll up in the Monkey King's business. Isn't it interesting?

I read a great memoir this past summer, Cheeni Rao's In Hanuman's Hands. It's about the author's descent into drug addiction. What's interesting about it is that he considers his addiction in the context of his Indian family's spiritual history, and consigns his recovery to the Indian monkey god. "I'll be straight because that's what Hanuman wants," he tells a therapist. "He'll kick my ass if I fuck up again."

Monkeys! Who knew they were so mighty?

Nancy Lewis said...

I remember that you were studying Japanese with a fervor in college. Because of you I can say "Wotashiwo Nancy." (Is that right?)

Yeah, right? What's up with the monkey thing? It's not like he's all that. He only came in 9th in the race for the zodiac.