When I was young I used to stay at my
granddad’s in a small village by a river. My best
friend was Khanh, a boy who took care of
Granddad’s water buffaloes. I liked to go with
Khanh to the pasture, especially when his
large khaki shirt pockets were filled with mud
pellets and a catapult hung from his belt.
When the buffaloes were grazing or wallowing
in the mud by the river bank, Khanh and I
played games. Our favorite was “Tarzan.” We
covered our bodies with banana leaves and
wild flowers. Knanh was Tarzan, and I was
Jane. He went hunting with his catapult or
fished with a bamboo basket while I collected
wild fruit and flowers. At lunch time we spread
out everything we had gathered and had a
Sometimes there were wars, because Khanh
was not the only Tarzan in the neighborhood.
The other Tarzans were much bigger than him,
so we usually had to achieve peace by
When the rice was harvested and then dried in
the yard, birds came to pick at the grains or
make off with pieces of straw, flying over the
thatched roofs, or singing gay songs in the
bushes. Then we children knew that the Tet
holiday was coming. Students were on
vacation, and hunters were everywhere.
Roasted wild bird was a great treat, and baked
bird eggs were wonderful too. We buried them
in hot ash. The eggs might get slightly burnt,
but we eagerly broke the shells and stuffed
them into our mouths. Nothing tasted better.
Khanh sometimes would find bird eggs when
he was climbing trees looking for fruit. Once
he ran shouting to me that he had discovered a
dong-doc’s nest. I became excited and ran
after him to the highest coconut tree by the
riverside. There near the top of the tree hung a
beautiful straw nest. We stood on the river
bank looking up at it.
Suddenly a new, giant Tarzan appeared. He
grabbed our ears and said, “Get out of here.
That dong-doc is mine.” We could do nothing
but run off and nurse our stinging ears.
Disappointed, we watched the great hunter aim
his gun arrogantly at the nest. But the mother
bird was not in the nest. He waited for a while,
then walked over to us and said, “You see
mother bird, you call me, understand?”
After a few minutes khanh decided that the
alien Tarzan only wanted the mother bird and
that the nest was ours if we could get to it. He
glanced around to make sure no one was
watching, then quickly climbed to the top of
the coconut tree. He found two lovely eggs in
the next, but just as he was showing them to
me, the mother bird returned home, Khanh
hurriedly hid the nest in a bush.
Both of us started shouting and waving our
arms to drive the mother bird away. I didn’t
want the bird shot by the hunter. But she kept
flying around and around the coconut tree,
crying out desperately. “She’s looking for her
children,” Khanh said.
The shot startled both of us, but I saw the bird
flying safely in the sky above us.
The second shot made the bird dart away like
an arrow. But she soon returned, still flying
around in circles and crying out for her stolen
I shut my eyes and nearly burst into tears. But
when I opened them, magically the bird was
still flying unharmed. Khanh shouted: “Fly
away, mother bird, or you will be killed!” I
shouted too. Both of us shouted and danced
around like mad. The hunter got angry, gave
each of us a kick, then went away.
©1998 Ly Lan
Ly Lan is a teacher and translator and has been published in some of the leading magazines. A few years ago, she was instrumental in getting one of my stories published in a Vietnamese family magazine. This is a link to her web site, where you will find more about Ly Lan and also the story of TET on her web page. http://vietnamlit.org/lylan/index.html