A little bit of background on this tale:
We were on rafts floating peacefully down the river near Yangshuo, and we found a snake in the water. The boat polers promptly began to beat the water where the creature was with large bamboo rafting poles. The boat poler of Cait and my raft, fished it out of the water, put it in a bag, and kept it. We don’t even want to know why.
The Reason for writing this story:
In China, you must wear your winter clothes until the first of May no matter how hot it gets and how uncomfortable you are. Except for the ladies who wear high heels and higher skirts — they always remain cool to a certain degree…hmmm! So children especially do not wear summer clothes for a long time. Poor little kids cooking away in their marshmallow-resembling suits. So you do not wear your summer clothes and you do not go swimming until the first of May, the Labour Day holiday.
Note from Author:
I have omitted some violence that the true story of the snake would have had, but knowing the story of Ping the duck, it’s not too bad…
And it might interest you to know that mai mai is Chinese for “little sister”.
The Snake Who Went Swimming Before the First of May
Once upon a time there was a little snake named Snakey who lived by the river in Yangshuo. There was nothing Snakey liked more than to swim in the nice, cool river.
Then winter came, and Snakey wasn’t allowed swim anymore.
“Snakey,” warned Grandmother, “if you go swimming before the first of May, you will catch cold and die, or worse!”
Now Snakey did not know what worse could be, so he did not go swimming to find out. Winter passed quickly in the bamboo thicket where Snakey lived, but it felt like the first of May would never come!
“Grandmother, it is very hot in the bamboo thicket where we live. Might I go swimming in the river?” Snakey asked.
“No, Snakey, you must not go swimming before the first of May, or you will catch cold and die, or worse!” Grandmother insisted.
“I am sweating big drops of water from my face, Grandmother!” cried Snakey. “Surely I will not catch cold and die, or worse.”
“Now, Snakey, you must sweat, or you’ll die,” wise Grandmother said, and told Snakey to go play with Mai Mai, Snakey’s little sister.
Snakey played with Mai Mai by the river until it was lunch time, and Grandmother had made sweet potato steamed buns. Snakey loved steamed buns.
“Snakey, you must sleep until two-thirty, and you must not make a noise,” Grandmother said.
“Yes, Grandmother,” Snakey obediently went to his little bed, but it was so hot that he could not sleep, so he crept out to the river, past Grandmother, who was sound asleep.
“I will not catch cold and die, or even worse, in this hot weather!” said Snakey. So he slithered into the water. Ah, but it was cool! Snakey was very happy, and swam down stream a fair way, much farther than he was allowed, even after the first of May. He was having too much fun to notice.
“Aha!” he cried, “I have found a snake! I will take him home for dinner.” And he reached out his bamboo pole and smacked Snakey so hard that he forgot to swim away. The poler man picked him up and threw him into a sack.
“Oh, no!” wailed Snakey. “I should not have gone swimming before the first of May! Now I will be taken far from home, never to see Grandmother and Mai Mai again, and I will be eaten for the poler’s dinner!” Snakey hurt where the poler had smacked him.
“Ah,” said the poler. “Here is my snake.” He pulled Snakey from his sack. “I am going to eat you.”
“No, no, do not eat me, good poler,” said Snakey.
“My Grandmother told me that I must not go swimming before the first of May, or I would catch cold and die, or worse. I’m not sure if getting eaten is the worse, but I think it would not be nice,” said Snakey. “I must go home for dinner. I have been away a long time. My Grandmother will worry, I was wrong to go swimming before the first of May. I am sorry!” And Snakey began to cry.
“Oh, snake-that-I-was-going-to-eat, I will let you go home, because you are such a nice snake, and you must tell your Grandmother how sorry you are!” and the poler let Snakey go home.
Snakey finally slithered home to his bamboo thicket and it was after dinner!
“Oh, naughty Snakey!” cried Grandmother. “Where have you been?”
“I am sorry!” said Snakey sadly. “I went swimming before the first of May, and I think worse happened!”
“Oh Snakey, what happened?” asked Mai Mai.
And Snakey told them what happened.
“Naughty Snakey, I will paddle you now!” And Grandmother smacked Snakey. “Now you may have your taro and rice.”
“I will never go swimming before the first of May again!” said Snakey.
And he never did.