A bless in disguise – 새옹지마(塞翁之馬)
When I was a primary school student, my father subscribed to a monthly magazine called ‘Student Science’ for us and it came with a cartoon supplement.
This supplement was (more or less) a 100-page cartoon with which you could learn Chinese four-letter idioms. This was absolutely fantastic. It didn’t only introduce the idioms but also their background history in an interesting cartoon form. Each month I absorbed and digested at least 50 idioms while the supplement series lasted and always looked out (correct translation: actively fabricated) for the right opportunity to use them. If I ever sounded pretentiously erudite while I was growing up, this cartoony book should get the brownie points.
Even after decades, I still remember quite a few and use them sporadically. Now I need to explain a bit more to make people understood, but when it’s said it always brings out everybody’s profound nodding.
You see? They already knew everything. Everything we try to find an answer for, consult the dead!
The idiom I particularly liked was ‘새옹지마(塞翁之馬)‘. It is read ‘Say-Ong-Gi-Ma’ in Korean (read differently in Chinese, I believe) and it literally means ‘a suburban old man’s horse’. This is the story.
Long long time ago, there lived an old man in a suburban area. He had a great stallion and looked after him like his own son.
One day, this stallion escaped and didn’t return. All the neighbours symphasised with the old man over this bad luck but he said nonchalantly ‘Who knows it’s bad luck?’.
A few days later, his horse came back, not just himself, he came back with a stunning mare! The villagers were in awe and envied the old man over this good luck. However he didn’t show any delight and said ‘Who knows it’s good luck?’.
The old man has one son. One day he attempted to tame this wild mare and fell off badly. He saved his life but had to get his leg amputated. The village people came to the old man’s house and consoled him. However he didn’t look sad and angry with the horse either. He said to people ‘Who knows it’s bad luck?’
A couple of years later, a war broke out and all young men were drafted to go to the war and all died. But his son was spared due to the accident he had before.
That’s life isn’t it?
Sometimes a bless comes in disguise. A certain thing happens and it looks like a total disaster at that point. However an unfortunate event may bring about happiness which you never had before. Likewise, you don’t need to be overjoyed over a seemingly great event either. Because a not-so-great consequence may lurk.
What is shown to you is not everything. Sorrow follows happiness, and happiness follows sadness.
It sounds like a cliché but it is life. And life must go on.