Tale 1: Three Choices for a Princess Once upon a time there lived a weird old man who liked to spend his time telling fairy tales to the children in his village. He had been living in the village for a long time but nobody knew his real name. The children in the village called him "Agong", a Chinese term of respect for an old man or a grandfather. On this day as usual, he sat on a rock under a tree outside his house with a group of children gathering around him eager to listen to his stories. "In a distant country lived an emperor with many daughters," began the old man. "On the 17th birthday of his second youngest daughter, the emperor announced to the whole kingdom that he would select three suitable men on her 20th birthday for her to choose as her future husband. It was customary for a princess in that country to throw a ball of silk ribbons from her palace window to the crowd of suitors below. The lucky man who could catch the silk ball would be her husband. As the second youngest princess was the most beautiful girl in the kingdom, she attracted a lot of attention and admiration from her humble subjects whenever she rode in her gilded coach through the capital's royal route. Many men had been dreaming all this while to be her future husband one day. Even the street beggars, 13-year-old boys and 70-year-old men dreamed of marrying the princess. They were upset and disappointed at the emperor's announcement. Hence it was not surprising that the streets of the capital were filled with men, young and old, rich and poor, protesting against the emperor's decision. The only people who were caught off guard by the sheer size of the protest were the emperor and his ministers." "If I was there, I would also take part in the protest because I want to marry a beautiful princess," a 12-year-old boy interrupted Agong. All the other children broke into laughter at the cheeky remark. Agong glanced at him with a smile, "Small boy, study hard before dreaming of marriage." All the children laughed again. Agong continued his story: "There is an old African saying, 'When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.' There is an equivalent saying in Chinese, 'When the city gates are on fire, it is the fish in the moat that suffer.' Hence, not everybody supported the protest. There was almost anarchy in the streets. The capital was almost paralyzed by the protest. Business and all other activities in the city almost came to a standstill. Many shops, inns, banks, markets, pawn shops and other places of business were closed during the street protest. Businessmen, especially the small shop owners, were the first to feel the pinch. Most workers could not go to work. Many housewives were swearing and cursing as they could not go to the markets to buy food for their families. Babies were crying because their mothers could not buy milk from the groceries. There were a lot of anger and resentment in the business community against the protesters because many companies could go bankrupt if the protest dragged on for a long time. Sedan chair carriers were angry at the protesters because they could not transport their passengers down the congested, winding passageways to their destinations. Even the beggars were grumbling as all the people were busy protesting without taking a look at their empty bowls. At night, the crowd grew in number as more people from the surrounding countryside joined in the protest after returning from work. The protest became some sort of street party and celebration at night as the crowd sang and danced with candles in their hands. The sea of people stretched all the way from one end of the city to the other end. As the echoes of 'freedom to choose' reverberated throughout the capital, the emperor and his ministers had to cover their ears with their pillows while sleeping. There was an incident in which a horse carriage almost ploughed into some protesters who were sleeping in their tents on a street in the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately, nobody was injured. The driver was arrested by the police. He explained to the police that he was furious at the protesters for blocking the roads as he was rushing his wife in labour to the hospital." At this point, Agong stopped and told the children, "Sorry, I have to rush to the toilet. Wait here for a short while for the rest of the story." I have forgotten to inform the readers that the weird old man had a very weak stomach. Hence he often stopped halfway in the story to rush to the toilet. To him, "wait here for a short while" meant waiting for a long time, because he usually spent many hours in the toilet!