Smelling Essays is my adaptation of a story from the Tales of A Chinese Studio (聊齋) since I don’t remember the exact details but the general storyline. So if mine deviates from the original, please excuse me. I remembered this story as I was replying to an email to an Italki friend.
There were three scholar candidates went visiting the sights as they headed towards the capital for their Imperial examinations. There they heard of a blind monk living in a mountain temple, who was able to ascertain how good an essay was when it was burnt in front of him just by smelling the smoke. So they decided to see it for themselves after each having written an essay.
The first one was burnt.
“Not bad. Shows promise!”
The second was burnt.
“Excellent! Never have I smelt one so fragrant for a long time now.”
The last one was burnt. Immediately the blind monk rushed towards the bushes and started retching away in violence, ejecting what he had for lunch.
He came back in great anger,
“Why dost play such a cruel joke on a poor blind monk? Just when you gave me something of great pleasure, you suddenly take it away and dishing such gutter filth to me. Be off with you scoundrels before I forget that I am an avowed monk!”
The young scholars were afraid and left the temple grounds. Months later, they took their Imperial examination. Alas, the one with the most fragrance did not even make it onto the list! Even the one showed promise had an honourable mention. The top scholar of the land belonged to the one who cause such great grief to the monk.
As with tradition, the top scholar returned home to pay respect before taking up his faraway post, he passed by the temple again. The more he thought of the prior incident, the angrier he became. At last he could bear no longer and decided to test the monk again.
Once more another essay was burnt. The monk vehemently cried out,
“Take this filth away. Not fit for human consumption! I remember you know. Weren’t you the one of a few months back who caused such me such violent stomach convulsions? Why are you back again?”
When told that the essay was from the First Candidate of the Land, the monk cried out angrily,
“My eyes may be hollow without sight but my nose knows what is of worth. Those examiners are truly blind. Besides, I am talking about their essays. Not their destinies!”
Monday, May 20, 2013