Stories from Ancient China: Tang Yuan from Yuan Zhi Mountain

Tang Yuan: Glutinous rice balls that can have fillings like bean paste, sugar, hawthorn, or all kinds of fruit. They can be steamed, boiled, baked or fried and are a must-have item for the Lantern Festival.

Tang Yuan are called yuan zhi in the Fukien dialect. There once was a smoothly round mountain that looked like a tang yuan. Therefore, the villagers near the mountain called it the Yuan Zhi Mountain. The villagers were all farmers and they were not well-to-do, but they never worried about not having enough to eat. They were quite happy and content with their lives. There were also many sheep and the children watched the sheep grazing in the field after school. Everyone worked hard and was happy.

One day, a white-bearded old man came with a cart full of freshly cooked tang yuan. He opened his mouth and shouted, "Tang yuan for sale. One dime a bowl and two dimes all you can eat!"

The villagers regardless of age all gathered around this tang yuan cart. Everyone took out two dimes and brought back what they could not eat in different sizes of containers.

The first day, all tang yuan were sold quickly. Many people who did not get a chance to buy surrounded the old man and asked, "Are you coming back tomorrow?"

The old man replied, "Of course, I'll be back with such good business!"

The second day, more people came.

The third day, many did not work in the fields and the children did not watch the sheep either just because they wanted to buy some more tang yuan.

On the fourth day, every household had a lot of leftover tang yuan. Even though, they could not eat all they bought and were actually quite tired of eating them, they still went and bought more tang yuan at the regular time.

However, no one noticed that a huge block of Yuan Zhi Mountain was missing. It turned out that the old man appeared in front of the mountain late at night and blew lightly toward the mountain. Within a minute, a huge piece of rock fell down and turned into numerous tang yuan.

After several days, a young man passed by the village from elsewhere. He pulled out a dime and bought one bowl of tang yuan. After he finished it, he was still not quite full. He pulled out another dime and bought another bowl. After the second bowl, he was still not quite satisfied so he pulled out one more dime to buy the third bowl. At that time, the old man asked, "Young man, why should you bother to do this? You spent three dimes and got three bowls. If you had paid two dimes the first time, you could have had as many tang yuan as you like. Isn't that a better deal?"

To the old man's surprise, the young man said, "I only buy what I can eat."

The old man stroked his beard and laughed loudly, "I have been here many days. I have finally found someone who is not greedy today. I am an immortal from Heaven and I came down here to find a disciple. Would you like to follow me and cultivate to be an immortal who is carefree and will live forever?"
The young man followed the immortal and left. Afterwards, the old man has never come back to sell tang yuan.

At that time, the villagers started to discover something: Lo and behold, the smoothly round Yuan Zhi Mountain had lost half of its rock.

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