Yesterday I was on library duty – sorting books, sticking in loose pages and so on.
Whilst the English section is full of page-turners where Biff and Chip go to a car boot sale or spend the morning watching paint dry, the Khmer section was far more interesting for a barang like me.
The books seems to fall into three categories: firstly those which underline Buddhist beliefs, such as the story of the Tiger and the Parrot.
There is no softly-softly approach when describing wicked behaviour.
With a picture of the grilling parrot, just in case you didn’t quite clock the meaning.
But don’t worry – the tiger understands about karma and refuses to sully his own soul with violence.
And it all ends happily ever after … well, for the tiger and the parrot, at any rate.
Secondly there are traditional tales, such as this one –
or the tale of the doormat wife and her selfish husband –
Instead of berating him for buggering off and leaving her, she welcomes him back like the Prodigal Son.
But unlike the Prodigal son, husband gets a nasty shock in the middle of the night
when his wife starts decomposing in front of him.
I’m not quite sure what the message is here – other than ‘don’t hide your anger or you may find yourself decomposing and full of a thousand worms – hit your husband with a saucepan instead or poison the delicious food and you’ll feel so much better.’
The third category are cautionary tales, such as this story of a foolish boy who climbs over barbed wire and ignores the warning signs to retrieve his football
and steps on a landmine
with predictably disastrous consequences.
He ends up in hospital
with the other casualties of war. But it’s not all doom and gloom –
– he sets up an amputees football team and scores a goal.
The book ends with a message from the boy to the reader. I can’t understand the writing, but am in no doubt as to what he is saying.
And then this story is about the perils of superstition and ignorance.
The family believe the man is ill because he has made the spirits angry.
But city-dwelling son returns home and explains that holding a party for the spirits won’t help Dad as he actually has malaria.
Metrosexual son takes dad to hospital, and all is well.
One book I particularly liked was a variant of Aesop’s fables. This story is about a snail and a hare, and I love the illustration where they are both getting arsy with each other and the snail shouts ‘OK, so I’m legless!’
And I couldn’t quite work out which fable this is,
where the tortoise angers the lion by ’emitting three pieces of his excrement’ in front of him, but it sounds like a jolly good read and contains an excellent piece of advice … emitting excrement in front of people is likely to make them angry, so don’t do it.