Vietnamese Culture - A 1970's Perspective
                     copyright 1996, Vn-families

Issue #9. The secret housewife, George F. Schultz, Vietnam Bulletin 
March 1, 1971.

This is a set of reprints from the Vietnam Bulletin, a weekly 
publication by the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, DC, during the 
period from 1967 to 1975. The original articles were not copyrighted. 

We will run this column weekly until we run out of interesting cultural 
articles. 
Please direct all questions to trant@teleport.com
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Here is the proposed schedule of this column.

Issue #1:  Tet 1971 in Vietnam! by Phu Si, VB710118 - Jan 17, 1996
Issue #2:  The Unicorn dance at Tet, by Minh Tam, VB710118.
Issue #3:  The origin of Tao Quan, the three kitchen gods, by
           George F. Schultz, VB710118.
Issue #4:  1971 - The year of the Pig, by Van Ngan, VB710118.
Issue #5   The Joy of "first writing of the new year", by Thuy Ngoc,
           VB710208.
Issue #6:  Traditional Vietnamese male attire, by Van Ngan, VB710208 -
Issue #7:  The legend of Princess Lieu Hanh, George F. Schultz, VB710215 
Issue #8:  The dialogue on Mount Na-Son, George F. Schultz, VB710222 -
Issue #9:  The secret housewife, George F. Schultz, VB710301 -
           March 13, 1996.
Issue #10: The golden axe, George F. Schultz, VB710308 - March 20, 1996.
           
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                         THE SECRET HOUSEWIFE
                     Adapted by George F. Schultz

There was once a young man who had lost both his parents and was left 
entirely alone in the world. There was no one to keep house for him. 
When he returned home in the evening, tired and hungry, he had to 
prepare his own meal and wash his own dishes.

It was distasteful to continue living in this manner, and the young man 
often thought how pleasant it would be to have a helpmate. He earned so 
little, however, that no father would ever have considered him seriously 
as a prospective son-in-law.

One evening, the young man returned home to find a five meal on the 
table and his house in perfect order. He sat down at the table, ate the 
food, and went to bed wholly satisfied; still he was unable to imagine 
who might be taking such good care of him. In the morning, when he 
arose, breakfast had been prepared and was already on the table. It was 
all very unusual because the house had been locked during the night and 
he had not heard the slightest noise.

The matter continued in the same way for several days. It was evident 
that some unknown person was looking out for his welfare. Although 
grateful for the service he was receiving the young man was plagued by 
curiosity and greatly desired to make acquaintance of his unknown 
benefactor.

One morning, he pretended to depart as usual but slipped back into the 
house through an open window. Then he saw a wonderfully beautiful  young 
woman step out of a picture that was hanging on the wall. She 
immediately set about cleaning and polishing the furniture. With a leap 
he locked the door and ran to the center of the room, where he grasped 
the young woman by the arms and held her firmly.

"Are you the one who has been preparing my meals and doing my 
housework?" he asked. "I was sorry for you," she replied. "That's why I 
did it."

"I want you to take care of me for the rest of my life," said the young 
man then. "Will you marry me?"

"That would not be possible," replied the young woman. "You are a real 
man and I am only a portrait on the wall. We are not of the same mold."

Thereupon, the young man removed the picture from the wall and locked it 
in a trunk.

"You can no longer go back to the picture," he said triumphantly. "Now, 
will you be my wife?"

The young woman had to give her consent. They were married, lived 
happily together, and became the parents of three handsome sons. The man 
grew older with time, but his wife did not age. She always appeared just 
as young as the day on which she had stepped forth from the portrait.

People then began to wonder about the woman's perennial youthfulness and 
even her three sons showed their concern. One day, the eldest asked his 
father about it. At first, the father refused to answer his son's 
questions; but the latter persisted until told that his mother was a 
living picture and would never change. He refused to believe it, 
however, and the father became angry at his son's lack of respect.

"If you will not believe me," he said, "take a look at the frame from 
which your mother stepped forth."

Then he gave his son the key to the trunk in which the picture frame was 
kept.

Even when he had seen the frame for himself, the son refused to believe 
that his mother had once been a part of it. But as he did not wish to 
anger his father further, he waited until he had left the house before 
questioning his mother.

"Mother," he asked then, "Is it true that you originated from a 
picture?"

"Who ever told you that?" she asked in turn.

"I have seen the frame," replied the son, "but I do not believe that you 
were ever in it."

"Where is the frame?" asked the mother excitedly.

The son produced the key, opened the trunk, took out the frame, and 
handed it to his mother. She accepted it without a word and then hung it 
on the wall in its old place.

"Call your brothers!"  she ordered.

When the mother's three sons were there with her, she spoke to them in 
heartrending words.

"I can no longer remain with you, my sons," she said. "I no longer 
belong to the world of mankind. Say farewell for me to your father, 
thank him for the good life he has given me, and love each other."

Having said these words, she dried her tears and stepped into the frame.

"Mother," cried the three sons, "come back!"

But the mother looked at them motionlessly from the portrait and paid no 
attention to their pleas.

That evening, when the husband returned home and learned of the 
misfortune that had befallen his family, he wanted to hang himself from 
grief. But then, thinking of his sons, he reconsidered. He placed a 
cloth over the picture, removed it from the wall, carried it from the 
house, and sold it to an art dealer.

Several years later, the man married again. His second wife was of this 
world and cared for his children as if they were her own. She grew old 
naturally and finally died.
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Note: The theme of "the secret housewife" is a recurrent one in Oriental 
folklore. In the story presented here, the young woman is obviously a 
"fairy" or immortal (tien) and comes to earth through the medium of a 
picture. Sometimes, she is a shape-changing fox (a fallen deity)  or a 
celestial maiden who loses her special garment and is bound to earth 
until it is returned to her.

There is a long poem in Vietnamese, written by an anonymous author, 
entitled "Bich-Cau Ky-Ngo  (The Strange Meeting at Bich-Cau)" that also 
makes use of  this theme. The young man's name is Tu Uyen and the tien 
who steps out of the picture to do his housework and then to become his 
wife is named Giang Kieu. The poem is much elaborate than the rather 
simple version given here. I have given an adaptation of it entitled 
"The Fairy's Portrait" in Vietnamese Legends, pages 60-66.