The Ugly Boatman

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The Ugly Boatman and Story from Vietnam

Read by Natasha
Adapted and produced by Bertie
Image by Shutterstock

If you enjoy this haunting tale from Vietnam, dip into our archive and listen to the Watermelon Prince.And you might like to know that a flute made from bamboo is known as a sáo in Vietnamese.

The Ugly Boatman

There was once a lonely fisherman by the name of Troung Chi. Every evening, he sat in the back of his boat, and glided down the river. As he sailed, he played upon his flute that was made of bamboo, and all who heard his music agreed it was the most beautiful sound they had ever heard. Now you might think that such a master of beauty would easily find a girl who wished to marry him. But his face was ugly, and the girls in his village shunned him. And so he lived alone.

At this time there lived a young lady who was as rich and beautiful as the fisherman was poor and ugly. However, she too was lonely. Her father was a wealthy lord and he thought the world of his lovely daughter. But as he never wanted to lose her, he forbade her to leave his mansion. And so she spent her days sitting in her room, safe, but alone.

However, her day was not empty of distraction. Every evening she sat at her window, which overlooked the river, and waited for the fisherman to slip past. The sweet notes of his flute thrilled her heart and set her imagination on fire. She imagined that she was lying back in the boat and gazing up into the eyes of her strong and handsome fisherman as he played his serenade for her upon his flute. “I have never met him in except in my dreams,” she said to herself, “but his music tells me all I need to know about him. He is beautiful and kind, passionate and loving. And I detect something else in his music. Yes, I feel it so strongly - just like me, he is lonely. We are connected. We are meant to be together. I swear that I shall marry him one day.”

But time went by and life followed the same pattern. Her father showed no sign of willingness to release his daughter from her gilded prison. She pleaded with him to summon the boy to the house so that she could look him in the eyes, but he shook his head and said that a fisherman was far beneath the rank of a mandarin’s daughter. He ordered his servants to move her to the other side of the mansion, so that she could no longer be distracted by the cheeky flute-playing fisherman.

She lay in her new room and sobbed. She sobbed and sobbed until she became so ill that her father feared for her life. At last he relented. He sent for the fisherman and asked him to sit beside his daughter’s bed and play his flute. If his music proved to be strong enough medicine to cure her, he would be rewarded with a bag of gold.

Troung Chi sat by the bed and played. As he played, he felt a mysterious connection with this pour girl who was in a sleep so deep that it was almost like death. His sweet notes reached her inner soul, and the warmth of his love came over her body and revived her. At last she opened her eyes and looked up at him - the fisherman of her dreams.

But oh, he was ugly! How frightful! This was not at all as she had imagined.

“Take him away!” she screamed. “I don’t want to look at his ugly face!”

The boy was escorted from the room. On his way out of the mansion, he met her father’s secretary who offered him a bag of gold. The boy refused it. His heart was broken. He went to his boat, and as he sailed away, he tossed his flute into the water. He was never seen again.

After Troung Chi had been gone for some days, an old woman who lived in his village, went to look inside his hut. She found that his only possession was a beautiful cup. The old lady was wise, and she felt sure that the Mandarin's daughter would be regretting her behaviour. She took the cup to the mansion and asked for it to be given to the girl in remembrance of Troung Chi whose music had saved her from dying. She had been correct. The young girl was indeed sorely missing Troung Chi and his lovely flute music. Now that she held his cup in her hands, she raised it to her lips and drank cool water from it. Suddenly she was in a dream. His sweet music filled her heart and she could hear him just as if he was in the room with her. Oh how she knew that she loved him, even though he was ugly! Then suddenly the cup slipped from her hands and smashed on the floor. The music stopped. She opened her eyes and saw a bird flying out of her window and soaring over the river. Troung Chi’s soul was free and happy because he had finally won her love. The girl never married. For the rest of her life she remembered the boatman’s tender love and his haunting music.

And that was the story of the Ugly Boatman, read by me, Natasha, and adapted by Bertie, for Storynory.com.