Wrong-Way Dragon

Cheng Han-sin awakened with a feeling of great happiness, but it took him a few seconds to remember why he felt the way he did.

Stretching out on the mat helped him to recollect. He had given his bed to his aged grandparents who had come to Hsinchu to join in the New Year’s Eve celebration.

This was the very day! There would be fun and feasting all over Taiwan, with fireworks and a parade in the evening. Best of all, he was to march in the head of a dragon. He had been chosen because of his good grades at school and because he happened to be just the right size.

Oh, it was good to be alive this day in Hsinchu, to have grandparents, and to be just the right size to stand inside the head of a dragon and guide it in the parade! He jumped up from the mat, slipped on his clothes, and went out to the kitchen where his mother was preparing a breakfast of rice and fried vegetables. The feasting would come later.

After breakfast his father said, “Now all of you scatter and do your chores. Then I have a surprise for you.” From the smile on his father’s face Han-sin knew that it was a good surprise.

He hurried out to weed the small garden. When he came back into the house his sister Mei-ling had just finished wiping off the floor mats. His brother Shih-kai was watering the house plants. The two younger children were listening to their grandfather tell how he and their grandmother had come all the way from the farm on the train.

Waiting impatiently for his father to come in from his work in the garden, Han-sin asked, “Is it time now for the surprise?”

“Now is the time, my son,” said his father. “Come. We will all go down to the park.”

Han-sin asked, “Grandfather, will you not come with us to the park?”

“No, my son. I cannot walk so far. My old knees do not hold up for more than a few steps.”

It was the first cloud on Han-sin’s happy day.

The children followed their father from the house. He was carrying a large package. When they reached the park he brought out a large kite. “This is for you, Han-sin,” he said, “because you have brought honor to the house of Cheng.”

Han-sin unwound the string and ran along the grass. The kite was lifted upward. It was in the shape of a carp, and as it filled with the wind, the mouth of the fish kite opened as though it were searching for food.

The children all laughed and cheered. “It is the finest kite in all the world,” said Mei-ling.

After many flights Father said, “Come, it is time to go home. We will have our dinner, and then it will be the hour to go to the parade.”

As they reached the house they took off their shoes and put on the clean slippers that were lined up outside the door. The house was filled with delicious odors of food. Mother said, “Come. The New Year’s feast is ready.”

There was fish, steamed rice and vegetables, bits of pork in sweet and sour sauce, bananas and melons, and a sweetmeat for an extra treat.

Before long it was time for Han-sin to leave to take his place in the parade.

“We will all be there to watch you,” said his father. “Will you be able to see us?”

“Oh, yes, indeed! I can look out through the huge mouth as long as I am careful not to stick my head out too far. Behind me is Lin Ting-fang. It is he who blows the smoke through the dragon’s nostrils.”

Han-sin turned to his grandfather. “I hope that you will like the parade.”

“I’m sorry, son, but I cannot walk even that far or stand that long. Your grandmother and I will sit outdoors here and imagine the dragon writhing down the street.”

“And I shall stay here with them,” his mother added. “I will have many more chances to see parades.”

“There will be music that you could hear,” said Han-sin. “There will be flutes and banjos and oboes. And there will be fireworks along the way that may be high enough for you to see.”

“That will be fine, my son. We will watch and listen.”

Han-sin left. He was troubled that his grandparents would not be able to see the parade.

Chang Tso-lin, the parade director, explained, “The big dragon is in the lead. Next come the musicians and the acrobats. And you, Han-sin, will be the last in the little dragon. All you have to do is follow and weave from side to side as you march along. At the third fountain the parade will turn right and return on the other street.”

The boys took their places inside the dragon. The sides came down and hid all but their feet. It was a gorgeous green, trimmed with tinsel and make-believe jewels.

As they started to weave down the street, Han-sin thought again of his grandparents. If only they could see the parade! They have had little in life but hard work on the farm.

The boys fell in line behind the acrobats, who were tumbling and performing other stunts along the way. Just behind Han-sin was Lin Ting-fang, blowing smoke through the dragon’s nostrils. He blew some in Han-sin’s face. The boy almost stumbled as he began to choke.

“Please don’t do that again,” said Han-sin. “I might fall.”

“A fine dragon you’d make if you can’t stand a little smoke,” responded Ting-fang, blowing more smoke around Han-sin’s head.

Han-sin started to cough and his eyes were blinded for a moment. “If I fall, it will ruin the parade,” he warned.

“So it would,” agreed Ting-fang, almost with glee.

Han-sin remembered now. Ting-fang had wanted to be the leader. He was a year older and thought that he should have been chosen.

Han-sin said no more. He thought that if he paid no attention, Ting-fang might stop bothering him. But it was not so. Almost every time the dragon came to an extra large crowd or was making a wide curve, Ting-fang blew more smoke around Han-sin’s head.

At times he could hardly see where they were going because of the smoke. But still he counted the fountains as they passed. Ahead was the third one, Yu Shann, named in honor of the high mountain.

The big dragon in the lead had already turned, followed by the musicians. Now the acrobats were turning. If I turn left instead of right, Han-sin suddenly had a thought, I can go down our street. Then my grandparents can see the dragon.

Disregarding the consequences, Han-sin left the main body of the parade and turned to the left. Behind him Ting-fang hissed, “You numbskull! You have made the wrong turn. Go back before it is too late!”

“It is too late now,” said Han-sin. “We will go down this street.”

People came running out of their houses to see the dragon. Han-sin’s grandparents and his mother were already seated before the house. Their faces lighted up with surprise and joy as the dragon swerved in their direction and bowed its head.

When they returned to the starting place Chang Tso-lin was waiting. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked.

“I told him!” shouted Ting-fang. “I told him to turn back.”

“Anyone can make a mistake,” said Tso-lin. “It is not too serious.”

Han-sin swallowed hard. He could have let it go at that. But instead he softly said, “It was not a mistake, sir. I went the wrong way because I wanted my grandparents to see the dragon.”

“Then you disobeyed. You must tell your father. He will give the proper punishment.”

Han-sin bowed and started to walk home. He arrived soon after his father and the younger children.

“It was such a beautiful parade!” Mei-ling was saying. “We wish that you could have seen it.”

“But we did,” said Grandfather. “At least we saw the best part—Han-sin’s dragon.”

“How was that possible?” asked Father. “The parade turned to the right.”

“All but the last dragon,” explained Han-sin. “I turned it down this street. But it was the wrong thing to do. Chang Tso-lin says I must be punished.”

“He is right,” agreed Father. “You will bring me the new kite.”

“Yes, Father,” said Han-sin. He went inside and brought out the beautiful new kite that swam in the sky like a fish.

His father took the kite and handed it to Shih-kai. “It is now yours,” he said.

Shih-kai turned to his older brother. “Will you help me fly the kite?” he asked.

Han-sin nodded with a smile.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney