Oct 252011
 

Traditional Chinese Tales with a Twist

The Buffalo Boy, the Weaver Girl, and the Magpie*

Buffalo boy and weaver girl

A long time ago there was a small village somewhere in the Middle Kingdom. On the border of the village, there lived two families. All the grownups of these families had suddenly died of an epidemic. But in one family, a girl had survived. Her name was Qi Qiao’er. In the other family only one boy was left. He was known by the nickname Buffalo Boy. Qiao’er was three years older than Buffalo Boy, so she addressed him as “younger brother”. She took care of him like a mother, cooked for him and made clothes for him. Buffalo Boy went about his life farming a little plot of land and grazing an old buffalo.

Over time, Qiao’er grew up to be a big girl. All those years she wished that some day a prince on a white horse would come and fall in love with her and take her away–far, far away. She wanted to fly off with her prince, like a bird. She liked Buffalo Boy too, but he was just so plain. He rode that old buffalo, on occasion, looking rather awkward. But even if he were to ride a white horse, he was still not a prince.

Qiao’er’s life was very poor. She yearned for pretty things. After the autumn harvest, she sold some of the plain cloth she had woven, got some money, and bought herself the prettiest printed fabric she could find. This was the kind of red fabric with large flowers on it that others often used for making bedding. Qiao’er made herself a jacket and a pair of pants.

“Buffalo brother, don’t I look good?”

Buffalo Boy looked at her and said, “Yes, that’s so pretty! Like a ladybug.” Qiao’er was worried: would a prince on a white horse be attracted to a ladybug?

There are many fairies in heaven. They are all daughters of the Jade Emperor. They often secretly come down to earth to have a look around. That’s because it’s really boring in heaven. Each day is as long as a year. There are no changes of seasons. Nobody works and there are no schools. Yes, it’s very boring.

Most fairies, when they come to earth, go window shopping, enjoying the busy street life. With so many people on earth there were so many interesting things to see. It was like not having enough eyes to take it all in.

But there was one fairy, called Weaver Girl Star, who was different. She was curious: she wanted to understand everything, learn everything. Every time she came to earth, she bought books, which she took her time reading in heaven. This fairy’s goal was to acquire all the knowledge that had been spread across earth.

The other fairies taunted her saying, “You bookworm, don’t be silly, this goal is impossible.

Weaver Girl would always reply, “Why? Don’t we have all the time there is up here in heaven?”

At some point, Weaver Girl came to earth but didn’t feel like walking in crowded places. So, she decided to explore the small mountain village where Buffalo Boy lived.

Buffalo Boy met her on a mountain road and said, “Who are you?”

Weaver Girl said, “I’m a fairy. I live in heaven. My name is Weaver Girl Star.”

Buffalo Boy said, “Really?”

“Of course.”

“What do you do in heaven?”

“I read books.”

“Really?”

“Of course.”

“Then you must really be learned?”

“Of course.”

Buffalo Boy had never met a girl like this: not a bit modest. So he felt he must test her with a difficult question, to find out if she had really learned a lot.

The magpie
The magpie

“Then let me ask you: which bird is the most skillful in building nests?”

Weaver Girl star answered immediately without thinking, “The Magpie.”

“Huh, you have magpie nests in heaven too?”

“No.”

“How do you know then?”

“I read it in the books.”

“Books write about this too?”

Weaver Girl thought this boy was quite cute. She smiled, two dimples appearing on her cheeks.

Buffalo Boy said, “Do you want to see a real magpie nest?”

“Sure. Where is it?”

Buffalo Boy pointed to a very tall poplar tree, “Up there. Unfortunately you can’t climb up.”

“Why can’t I climb up?”

“Because you are a girl. Girls can’t climb trees.”

“You just wait and see.”

“Well, let me go first, you follow underneath. When I tell you which branch to step on, that’s the one you step on. Got it?”

Weaver Girl, with a twinkle in her eye, replied coyly, “OK, but since you’re above me, don’t let one rip as I follow you.”

Buffalo wanted to show off his tree climbing skills, but at the same time he feared that his new friend might fall and hurt herself. He kept nagging her about what to do. The fairy had a light body, and although she had never climbed a tree before, it was as easy for her as for a monkey.

As they approached the magpie nest, Buffalo Boy whispered to Weaver Girl, “Shhh, don’t make a sound and scare the magpie or else he might summon a whole bunch of magpies to come over and peck at us.” Weaver Girl nodded her head.

Once they had climbed to the branch next to the nest, both sat down. Weaver Girl suddenly shouted, “Magpie, magpie! Someone has come to steal your eggs!”

Buffalo Boy was so shaken, if it hadn’t been for Weaver Girl grabbing his collar, he would have fallen off the tree.

“What are you doing?! The magpie will come and peck at you!”

Weaver Girl laughed, “They’re not at home! Take a look. If he’d been here he would have discovered us a long time ago.”

“This magpie nest isn’t big. But it’s got walls, a roof, and is lined with feathers inside. Don’t you think it looks really comfortable.”

“That’s true! Let’s turn into magpies and live here.”

Buffalo Boy said, “They say magpies collect treasures. Let’s see if there are treasures here. I can take some back to my older sister.”

Let's turn into magpies and live here
Let’s turn into magpies and live here

“Shame on you, wanting to take the magpie’s treasure. I doubt there’s anything here, anyway. But I do know that magpies like shiny things, so I’m going to give him a small present.” As she said this, she took off a golden butterfly hair-pin from her hair and put it inside the magpie nest.

Buffalo Boy thought again that this girl was really interesting. What she thought and what she said were totally outside his experience.

As he came down the tree, Buffalo Boy’s pants got torn. He said, “Damn, my pants are torn. This will create extra work for big sister Qiao’er.”

As is known, qiao means dexterous in Chinese.

Weaver Girl asked, “Who is big sister Qiao’er? Is she dexterous?”

“Of course. Qiao’er is my neighbor. We were both orphaned when young. Big sister Qiao’er has taken care of me all these years. She can do everything: make clothes, make shoes, cook; she can also embroider and make lanterns!”

Weaver Girl got really excited and said, “Take me to your big sister Qiao’er! This place is really fun!”

Qiao’er liked the guest Buffalo Boy had brought to visit. The girl was so lively and outspoken. More importantly she was interested in everything. She even wanted to look at and ask about such crude chores as feeding pigs, fetching water, and heating the earthenware bed, or kang. She made Qiao’er feel like an expert, doing important work.

Buffalo Boy said, “Sister Qiao’er, Weaver Girl has read all kinds of books. She is really smart.”

Weaver Girl give Buffalo Boy a short lecture, “Reading about things in books is not as good as seeing with one’s own eyes and doing with one’s own hands. This has really been an eye-opener for me today.”

They chatted until dark. Suddenly Weaver Girl exclaimed, “Oh, it’s so late. I must hurry back to heaven. Otherwise if the Heavenly Mother finds one of her star’s missing, she’ll come looking for me.”

Buffalo Boy sighed, “Are you coming back? I still want to, to… I want to learn how to read and write from you.”

a large lantern
a large lantern

Weaver Girl lowered her head and looked worried, “I have to think how to hide this from Heavenly Mother. If she discovers I’m playing hooky and accuses me of violating heavenly laws, she will lock me up in a crystal bottle and we will never be able to see each other again.”

Qiao’er gave it a thought and said, “When you get back to heaven, make a large lantern and hang it up. When Heavenly Mother finds that it’s at basically the same location and has the same size all the time, she will think it’s the Weaver Girl Star. Then she will not ask any more about you.”

Weaver Girl clasped her hands, “That’s it! You are SO smart! I will come back tomorrow, and learn how to make lanterns from you. Then I will go back and make a large lantern and find a suitable place to hang it.”

With the knowledge Qiao’er gave her, just like that, Weaver Girl Star wove together some satin, made a lantern frame, covered it with the satin, and, voilà, a round lantern was born. She hung this lantern in the place of her usual heavenly orbit. Whenever the Heavenly Mother checked the stars, Weaver Girl Star was always where she should be.

As Weaver Girl continued to return to earth, she more and more felt quit enamored with Buffalo Boy. With Qiao’er acting as go-between, Weaver Girl was finally able to marry Buffalo Boy. From then on, she stayed in his village.

Within the next two years, Buffalo Boy and Weaver Girl gave birth to two babies, one boy and one girl. During this time, Buffalo Boy had learned his Chinese characters and had started reading. He then began to apply what he had learned to farming. Weaver Girl delighted in mastering the household chores Qiao’er taught her. Meanwhile, Qiao’er helped take care of the babies and together with Weaver Girl wove cloth. They were all very busy and very happy.

One day Buffalo Boy went out to graze his old buffalo while Weaver Girl and Qiao’er stayed at home to mind the babies. Suddenly, the weather turned bad and a sandstorm started coming their way. Weaver Girl was worried.

Qiao’er asked, “What’s up?”

Weaver Girl said, “That sandstorm means Heavenly Mother is angry. Maybe she has discovered that I am missing. Maybe she will send someone to catch me.”

Qiao’er said, pensively, “We are in a very secluded place, surely she won’t find you.”

“I am not sure of that. They have many spies. If they find out where I am, I won’t be able to run. It could be that Buffalo Boy and I are not destined to be together.”

As she said this, Weaver Girl’s tears fell like rainfall.

Just then the color of the sky darkened. She took off a turquoise bracelet and handed it to Qiao’er and sobbed, “This is my locket of life. It has the power to give its wearer eternal life. It’s yours now. If they seize me and put me in a crystal bottle, this bracelet won’t help me out. But with you still alive, you’ll be able to help Buffalo Boy and the two kids. Now, put it on! And don’t ever take it off.”

In a bit, the sky turned bright again and Weaver Girl stopped sobbing. Qiao’er said, “It’s OK now. perhaps Heavenly Mother was angry for some other reason. I am going out to sell cloth.”

Weaver Girl gave a weak smile and said, “Good. Perhaps I have been overreacting. But, please beware of strangers.”

One day, Heavenly Mother had wanted a piece of colored satin made into a jacket, and she sent for the Weaver Girl Star. You can imagine her fury when she found out that this fairy had been missing for at least two years. On top of it, that Weaver Girl Star had fooled her by using a homemade lantern to substitute for her place in heaven.

a handsome man
a handsome man

The order in heaven had been upset and had to be corrected. Heavenly Mother summoned White Tiger Star, and ordered him to earth to buy some satin cloth and look for Weaver Girl. If he brought her back, he could have her for his wife. White Tiger Star got on his favorite white horse, and went to earth to scour the markets selling cloth. White Tiger knew it wouldn’t’ be long before he found her. Weaver Girl, he knew, just had to weave cloth and would certainly sell it somewhere.

Meanwhile, Qiao’er went to sell some cloth at the market. There were both ordinary people buying cloth to make clothes for themselves and silk stores from the cities buying fabric.

Towards the end of the market day, a handsome man on horseback rode into town. His horse was white and his garments were silver and striped white. He was tall and strong, with bright eyes. His attire and manners stood out among the teeming mass of everyday shoppers. Qiao’er couldn’t take her eyes off him as he rode his horse down the lane of fabric shop sellers. She thought to herself, “Finally, my prince on a white horse, has come.”

When he came to Qiao’er’s stall, the prince, riding his white horse in a relaxed and casual manner, asked Qiao’er what cloth she was selling–satin or silk, maybe?

White Tiger noticed the turquoise bracelet on Qiao’er’s wrist. In a second, he jumped off his horse and began looking at Qiao’er with an intense gaze. Qiao’er blushed.

“What a beautiful and dexterous maiden! Did you weave all this cloth by yourself?” The White Tiger Star’s silky question was overwhelming to Qiao’er.

Forgetting the advice about talking to strangers given earlier to her by Weaver Girl, Qiao’er gushed out her reply, “This cloth is woven by me and my sister, Weaver Girl. Weaver Girl is Buffalo Boy’s wife. He’s a neighbor of mine.”

At this point White Tiger knew his quest was just about over. He honed in on his target, “Oh, fair maiden, do you have more samples of this wonderful weaving at home? If your cloth is consistently this good, my kingdom will pay a high price to buy it all year round.”

Qiao’er was overpowered by this “prince” and his slick tongue, “There’s still more superior satin at home that’s woven by my sister. If you want to look it over, I can take you there.”

White Tiger completed his maneuver to overwhelm this simple country girl–he stretched out his powerful arm, grasped Qiao’er in one swoop and simultaneously mounted his horse. He settled Qiao’er in front of him, with one arm wrapped around her waist. Qiao’er’s heart pounded.

And so it was, Qiao’er brought White Tiger Star to Weaver Girl.

When White Tiger entered the door of Buffalo Boy and Weaver Girl’s house, Weaver Girl was shocked.

“White Tiger Star!” Weaver Girl’s voiced seemed to rebound off the walls of her small room.

She ran to the inside bedroom, hoping to climb out the window and escape. The move was anticipated by White Tiger, who grabbed her before she had made three steps. He threw her over his shoulder and carried her outside in two big strides.

Qiao’er was stunned, “Holy stars above! That’s no prince on a white horse. Whatever happened to his charming face?! He’s probably nothing but a thief, kidnapper, or worse, a serial killer….”

Qiao’er chased White Tiger, caught up with him for a second, tried to bite him so he’d let Weaver Girl free, but was immediately dashed to the ground. She was no match. As she stood up, the “prince” brushed her away with one swing and she crashed onto the courtyard wall and slumped down, dazed. White Tiger Star took Weaver Girl, mounted his horse, and soared up into the sky, disappearing into the horizon.

Qiao’er sat up, covered in dirt. She heard the faint and final voice of Weaver Girl crying out from afar, “Qiao’er, please help Buffalo Boy take care of our kids!”

Qiao’er raced back into the house. The two kids were howling, as they cowered in a corner of the room, “Mommy, Mommy, where is Mommy? Don’t let her go away!”

Qiao’er picked them up and, holding one in each arm, she ran all the way to the fields to find Buffalo Boy.

“Buffalo Boy, Buffalo Boy,” she screeched, “Bad news! White Tiger Star has come down from heaven and seized Weaver Girl!”

Qiao’er started sobbing as she set the two screaming kids down and said, “It’s all my fault. White Tiger Star came to market on a white horse and silly me thought he was a prince. You know how I’ve always dreamt a prince on white horse would come for me. So I brought him home. But he tricked me and has taken Weaver Girl away.” Qiao’er’s sobbing became unbearable.

Buffalo Boy’s heart turned to fire, but he lowered his head and said nothing. After calming himself and doing some thinking, he said resolutely, “I will carry the two babies to heaven to find her! No matter what, even should my legs fail me, I will find her.”

“We are mortals and you don’t know the road to heaven. Since this disaster is my fault, I’ll come with you.”

I was Yellow Buffalo Star in heaven
I was Yellow Buffalo Star in heaven

Buffalo Boy’s heart once again became inflamed as he said, “It might be true that I don’t know the road, but I will seek it out. You must stay behind to look after our home. Besides, this old buffalo has worked his whole life for our family. When I leave, I think it’s time for him to rest in peace. Please put him out to pasture so that he doesn’t have to work anymore. Cut him some green grass from time to time and add some grain during the winter.”

As Buffalo Boy was saying this, a strange and wondrous thing happened. That old buffalo heard turned his head, looked at them directly, and said in as clear a human voice as you could find, “Finally! I have waited for this day all these years! You don’t know it, but originally I was Yellow Buffalo Star in heaven. One day, on a bet with some friends, I ate a mouthful of immortal grass. I was banished to the earth to work for your family. At the time, the Jade Emperor said that when the family I worked for said, ‘He has done enough, he can rest now, we will support him in his old age’ — at that point in time I could return to heaven.”

Yellow Buffalo Star continued, “You have always been kind to me. Even now, with such a disaster as losing your wife, you have still thought about taking care of me. You are truly a kind person. Look, there is no need for you to go out and find the way to heaven. I will take you up, including all of your family. When we get there, you all will automatically become immortal. Although the Heavenly Mother is involved with this, whatever her powers, she will have no reason to refuse your marriage to Weaver Girl Star.”

This astounding change of circumstances and the news it brought put strength into Buffalo Boy’s legs. He ran home to fetch the two bamboo baskets that he always used to carry produce and dirt on the back of the buffalo. He put his kids in them, one on each side. He then got on the buffalo and said to Qiao’er, “Sister Qiao’er, take care of yourself. I can no longer help you carry water, repair the house, or cut firewood. I hope you can find a real prince on a white horse.” Yellow Buffalo Star then carried the three family members on his back and rose into the sky, looking like a big balloon floating out of sight into the air.

Qiao’er was left behind, feeling lonely and desolate. She took the farm tools home, and felt nothing. She cooked, and felt nothing. She ate her meals, and felt nothing. Tears ran down Qiao’er’s face as she looked around her empty home. She climbed onto a cliff and sat by its edge. She thought about Buffalo Boy, Weaver Girl, and the kids. Her heart felt as if someone had sliced it with a knife. The world seemed to be crashing around her. Qiao’er blamed herself for this disaster. She thought, “They’re all gone. I’m so useless. So much suffering… so much suffering… I might as well be dead.” With those dark and desperate thoughts, Qiao’er ended her own suffering by jumping off the cliff.

White Tiger Star entered the palace of Heavenly Mother to find her standing before her fairy stars. Heavenly Mother was ranting and raving, scolding everyone. “You fairies are totally undisciplined. You’re useless…” and blah, blah, blah. White Tiger Star carried Weaver Girl into the hall on his shoulder, a sack of flour on his burly shoulder. Weaver Girl was fighting him all the way, pounding, scratching, and biting. To White Tiger, her gyrations were like a soothing massage, merely a tickle to him. White Tiger put Weaver Girl down in front of Heavenly Mother.

At this point, White Tiger Star got cocky and swatted Weaver Girl on the face. His claws left five bloody lines etched across her pale face. Wouldn’t Heavenly Mother think him to be so strong and capable!? To his surprise, just when he thought Heavenly Mother would vent her spleen towards Weaver Girl, suddenly she turned on White Tiger Star and shouted. “Great! Just Great! How dare you hit one of my Stars right here in front of me. Is there no law and order left in this place?! You idiot, don’t you see what you’ve done to this girl!”

To add to the drama of the moment, Buffalo Star walking in carrying Buffalo Boy and his two babies on his back. Buffalo Boy dismounted and rushed over to comfort Weaver Girl.

Buffalo Star walked to a safe distance in front of Heavenly Mother and said, “My greetings to Heavenly Mother. Long ago the Jade Emperor banished me to earth until my earthly master allowed me to retire to pasture. This has happened and I am now back to heaven to report to your highness. Buffalo Boy and Weaver Girl Star have been husband and wife for several years now. If it pleases your majesty, perhaps a heavenly wedding could be arranged for them?”

When Heavenly Mother saw how calm and happy Buffalo Star looked, she was a bit taken aback and at a loss for words. But Heavenly Mother was no simple queen, so she took a long look at Buffalo Boy and then Weaver Girl Star. You could see the resolve harden on her face: this fairy had cheated her for two years, using a simple lantern to dupe her. Her ire sprang forth in the form of a thunderous voice. She fumed, “Ha, you think you can do as you wish, little star?! You think I am stupid, little star?! We have rules here and heavenly rules cannot be bent or broken. You may be husband and wife down on earth, but up here things are different.”

At this point Heavenly Mother demanded silence in her presence, as she contemplated what might be a fair outcome for this problem. After what seemed like an eternity but was only a matter of minutes, she said, “I sentence you both to the following: You are both banished to the two sides of the Milky Way, separated for life-eternal. You silly couple will now and forevermore understand the importance of rules in heaven!”

Buffalo Star was shocked and stepped forward to speak, “Your Majesty, do you not think that the heavenly rules should include a little space for love? Heavenly Mother, Buffalo Boy and Weaver Girl should be able to live together, and to that end I offer my own life as forfeit for their crimes.”

Heavenly Mother was again taken aback and fell silent at this last request. After a short period, she said, “You old piece of beef. What is the value of your life? I can just as easily snuff out your star as blink. But, your words have merit, you old piece of shoe leather, and for that reason I will indeed accept your wish: death for you in exchange for a love reunion of this couple!”

As she said this, Heavenly Mother took out a Starbane hairpin from her hair and thrust it into Buffalo Star’s heart. He fell to the floor of the palace, erupted into a brilliant flash of light, and disappeared. On earth, people all over the world looked up in wonder to see one of the brightest shooting stars they had seen in decades.

Buffalo Boy was beside himself and threw himself before the queen, weeping for the loss of Buffalo Star, his companion for so many years on earth. Heavenly Mother showed no sympathy and pronounce icily, “Stop this wailing, you insignificant earthling! Here is my decree: one day each year, on the 7th of the 7th lunar month, you are both allowed to reunite. How, on that day, you might cross that colossal river, the Milky Way, is your problem. You two pretend to be skillful? I can’t wait to see how you figure it out.”

Buffalo Boy and Weaver Girl were thereafter separated by the Milky Way. They could see each other, but not clearly. To express her love for Buffalo Boy, Weaver Girl would dance. To Buffalo Boy, her dancing was a twinkling star on the other side. When she got tired from dancing, she would weave by the river of stars flowing through the Milky Way.

Over the eons, Buffalo Boy would simply play with their kids on the bank opposite to Weaver Girl. During this time he would sometimes sit by the river, mulling over how to build a bridge. He had no clue as to what material to use. On top of it, he missed his earthly “big sister” Qiao’er desperately. He thought, “If Qiao’er had to make something, she would always come up with an idea how to go about it. It didn’t matter if she’d done it before. She would just take something at hand, anything, and place it just so or like that and she would nod her head and say, ‘Aha, I’ve got it.’ If she were here, she would have come up with a bridge-building plan a long time ago.”

But the fact of the matter was, Buffalo Boy just could not do it himself. He sobbed, “Sister Qiao’er, are you well? Please come and help, we are worried to death.”

the turquoise bracelet
the turquoise bracelet

Down on earth, Qiao’er had jumped off that cliff and fallen to the ground. Her soul had drifted out of her body. But the turquoise bracelet given to her by Weaver Girl was still on her wrist. A magpie with a disproportionate large beak flew down from a nearby tree and looked at this beautiful treasure, first with his left eye, then with his right eye. When he saw that Qiao’er was not moving, he took the bracelet into his beak and tried to yank it off Qiao’er’s wrist.

Then a wonderful thing happened. The energy used by the magpie went into Qiao’er’s body through the bracelet. Qiao’er, faster than you can caw, changed into a human-sized magpie.

The magpie, as you can imagine, was exhausted from so much energy being sucked out him. He squawked, “Holy magpie horse feathers! This must be magic of what kind I don’t?” Then he looked hard at Qiao’er and said, “Lady magpie, weren’t you just now a dead girl lying here! How did you suddenly turn into a gigantic magpie?”

Qiao’er said, “Is that true? Where am I?” She looked around her, and looked at her new body. “Did I fly here from somewhere?”

Large-Beak magpie said weakly, “I swear by all birds large and small that you didn’t fly here. As for me, I was just, ahem, ‘admiring’ your bracelet and you suddenly zapped the strength out of me and turned from a big dead girl into a big living magpie lady. Must have been magic, that’s all I can say.”

Qiao’er looked at the bracelet. It was now on her ankle, flipped there during the struggle the old magpie had put up trying to get it for himself. Qiao’er said, “Hmm, what a beautiful bracelet. I must have seen it somewhere. Perhaps a good friend gave it to me. I don’t remember.”

Large beak magpie said, “I also have something like that. It’s a golden butterfly pin that some fairy gave me. Do you want to see it? I have hidden it in my nest.”

Qiao’er suddenly felt a great urge to seek out glimmering things. She said, “Great, I just love shiny things. Where’s your nest? And, by the way, what’s your name?”

Large beak magpie exclaimed, “They call me ‘Big Beak’ because my beak is so large that I can peck out just about anything.”

Big Beak then led Qiao’er to the tree where his nest was. They admired the golden butterfly he had collected and Qiao’er admired his nest. His nest, although obviously quite strong, was too small for Qiao’er to spend any time in. Qiao’er said, “Let’s build a big nest together, one we can both live in.”

Big Beak was very happy. He really liked this turn of events and his new-found friend. So they made a new nest together. It was huge, but comfortable. Qiao’er and Big Beak swooped and soared around it, smug, happy and mighty proud of their accomplishment.

Qiao’er liked this feeling of flying. She exclaimed, “Let’s fly some more, but this time let’s see how high we can go?”

“Good! Let’s go fly together. Let’s fly very, very high.” Big Beak was exited.

the beanbag
the beanbag

Qiao’er and Big Beak soared ever higher. Finally, after egging each other on, they discovered that they had flown all the way to heaven. But they were so exhausted that they flew to a resting spot on one of the banks of the Milky Way. There they saw Buffalo Boy dangling his legs into the starry stream. His two kids sat by him playing with a small beanbag made of red cloth and embroidered with images of six flying magpies. Qiao’er watched the kids playing, thinking this game looked like a lot of fun. Then she noticed the magpies embroidered on the beanbag. She said, “Hmm, I’m sure I’ve seen this somewhere before.” But no matter how hard she thought it over, she couldn’t quite figure out that it was she who had made this red beanbag for Buffalo Boy and Weaver Girl’s kids. Qiao’er’s memories from the days when she was in human form were but faint sensations in her mind.

Big Beak looked at Buffalo Boy. He was holding his head in his hands, and tears drip-dropped from his eyes. Big Beak walked over to Qiao’er and said, “Look, that boy is crying.”

Qiao’er cocked her magpie head and took a good look at Buffalo Boy. Then she said, “I sense that I have met this boy before and I get the feeling that he is a good person. But I just can’t remember. I wonder what he is so sad about.”

Qiao’er walked to Buffalo Boy’s side and lightly pecked his arm. She then tilted her head again and blurted out, “Squawk, squik?”

Buffalo Boy was shocked by this giant magpie sitting next to him. But there was something disarming about her and he relaxed. Then when the magpie, lightly using one of her wings, brushed at a tear rolling down his face, Buffalo Boy told Qiao’er his story. Qiao’er the magpie couldn’t understand human language anymore, so she once again tilted her head, “Squik, squawk, squat?”

Buffalo Boy, equally frustrated that verbal communication was going nowhere, pointed at Weaver Girl across the Milky Way. He acted out, as best he could, a bridge being built across the Milky Way, and using two fingers on each hand, motioned to himself and Weaver Girl walking together across the bridge. Then he drew seven large moons on the bank and below the seventh moons he scratched seven small suns.

At this point Qiao’er understood: it’s got something to do with a bridge and the seventh of the seventh month. She nodded her head and looked over to Big Beak and said, “This boy is like you, and that fairy-star across the river is like me. They want to be together like us. But they can’t fly, so we need to help them build a bridge over this river. It’s a huge engineering project, don’t you think. Let’s go back and give it some thought. ”

Big Beak gave a hearty laugh-squawk, “Right you are. You go back to design. And I’ll go back and call all the magpies together, get them to go build the bridge for that poor couple.”

Back on earth, Qiao’er collected all kinds of twigs and arranged them in various ways, looking for ways to build a bridge. For seven days and seven nights, she did not eat or sleep. She built bridges, and took them apart, built more bridges and took them apart. Finally she got it all figured out. She would weave two long cylinders made out of twigs. Each end would be fastened to a star-bush. Then she would join the two other ends together, forming a curved cylinder. It would be a tunnel in the sky, made of twigs!

a tunnel in the sky
a tunnel in the sky

During the seven days Qiao’er was peeing out her idea for the bridge, Big Beak took his golden butterfly air clasp and flew all over the world. When he would meet other magpies he would show them that golden butterfly. Waxing eloquent, he would say, “See? Isn’t this beautiful? On the 7th of the 7th month we will all take a twig up to heaven to build a bridge for a sad, isolated couple to meet on. After the bridge is built, a fairy will give each of us a treasure. This one was given to me by a fairy.”

Magpies everywhere agreed, eyeing the golden butterfly with envy, “Yes! It’s very beautiful. We will definitely join you!”

each with a twig in its beak
each with a twig in its beak

On the 7th of the 7th month, all the magpies of the world, each with a twig in its beak, flew up to heaven and on the banks of the Milky Way Qiao’er organized them into building the bridge. She found a bush on each bank, used them as the base for the bridge, and started weaving the two ends of the tunnel outward. By afternoon, both sides had met in the middle.

Linking the two sides together was tricky. By sunset and with the help of the other magpies, she had got the tunnel-bridged joined. But as Qiao’er went inside for a walk, although satisfied with it, she felt that the joint in the middle was weak. So she took off the bracelet on her ankle using it as a strong coupling, she secured the bridge.

Big Beak came along just then and said, “What? Aren’t you taking your treasure home?”

Qiao’er replied, “This is the most wonderful bridge in the world; it deserves to be the strongest bridge in the world, and it deserves to be adorned by the most beautiful treasure in the world. This bracelet stays for just those reasons. We still, after all, can share your golden butterfly.”

Qiao’er went out and flew over to Buffalo Boy. She pointed to the tunnel bridge with one of her wings and motioned Buffalo Boy to cross the Milky Way by that bridge. Then she flew to the opposite bank. There she saw Weaver Girl distributing shiny treasures to the magpies: round and transparent pebbles; gold and silver threads; colored glass beads; and glistening mica flakes. The magpies all chattered gleefully until Qiao’er shooed them off, saying it was time to go home. Qiao’er then motioned to Weaver Girl Star to enter the bridge.

Weaver Girl looked at this giant magpie curiously. She had no suitable present of trinkets left to give her, so she took off a dark blue sash from around her neck and tied it around Qiao’er’s neck. She stroked Qiao’er’s head for a moment and then hurried into the bridge.

Qiao’er flew high above the bridge, where she met Big Beak. She sighed, a bit exhausted, “Let’s go home, I want to have babies too.” On that, they made a plunging dive back to earth, each laughing and giggling about how well this had turned out.

Meanwhile, Weaver Girl Star, as she walked inside the tunnel, saw that it was very spacious and comfortable, just like the magpie’s nest she had seen on earth. When she got to the joint at the middle of the bridge, she saw the turquoise bracelet that she had given to Qiao’er. It now was fortifying the tunnel-bridge. Weaver Girl knew at that moment that the giant magpie must have been Qiao’er. She embraced Buffalo Boy as he came up to meet her and said, “Do you know who built this bridge?”

“Sure. The magpies.”

“Do you know who that large magpie was?”

“No.”

“That was Qiao’er!”

“No way? Qiao’er has turned into a magpie? How can this be?” Buffalo Boy then began to cry, feeling great pity for Qiao’er.

“O stop crying, silly. Don’t you understand she has found her prince on his white horse. She is very happy the way she is now!”

“What? You mean that small magpie with the large beak–the one she was always hanging around with–is her ‘prince’?! He’s been squawking and carrying on all day?”

“That’s right! He’s the one. She’s off home to lay eggs and with him hatch small magpies!”

“How do you know?” Buffalo Boy was miffed. “How do you know all this stuff”?

“She told me. Have you forgotten? I studied a lot of things on earth, including magpie speech.”

After awhile, this heavenly couple snuggled up inside the tunnel-bridge. Under them was a thick layer of dry hay and a woven blanket of magpie feathers lay on each side. Buffalo Boy sighed, “Unfortunately, today is the 7th of the 7th month and it’s almost over. Only one happy night like this each year for us to be together. How I wish it could be permanent!”

Weaver Girl smiled mischievously, “Your wish is granted! Heavenly Mother cannot dismantle this bridge because it is welded together with the immortal locket of life I had given Qiao’er. This is what we will do. When Heavenly Mother does her daily inspection of the stars, we’ll coordinate the time to be in our places. As long as we don’t draw attention to ourselves or the bridge, she’ll head back to her palace for other pressing matters. Let’s each hang up a lantern to fool her again and then we’ll be free to be together in this cozy place forever!”

This is the story of Buffalo Boy, Weaver Girl Star, and Qiao’er, the magpie. Friends who like to get to the bottom of things might ask, “Why is it that, when we gaze at stars in heaven, Buffalo Boy and Weaver Girl Star are always on the two banks of the Milky Way?” Ah, that’s because what you see are the lanterns they have hung up to fool the Heavenly Mother–and you.

 

*Background link:

Source of picture: http://www.huanxidi.net/archives/zhuxianzhen-mubannianhua-niulangzhinv/
Starting quite early, the Chinese have celebrated the 7th day of the 7th lunar month as a festival, similar to the 2nd day of the 2nd month, the 5th day of the 5th month, the 9th day of the 9th month, and so on. Seven sounds like “wife” in Chinese, hence this festival is also called the Girl’s Festival, or Qiqiaojie (Festival of Begging for Dexterity). The theme of that day is whether a girl is dexterous. In an agricultural society, the women’s job includes cooking, making clothes, weaving, and other daily affairs. Dexterity was a vital virtue. Begging for dexterity is done through some ceremonies, such as observing spider webs; floating a needle on water; and threading 7 needles.

Because summer nights are good for observing the stars, the later love legend concerning the Buffalo Boy Star (Altair) and the Weaver Girl Star (Vega) got incorporated into the festival. It is said that girls should be able to hear the conversation between Buffalo Boy and Weaver Girl when the night is quiet.

In recent years, the Chinese have started to consider this day as China’s Valentine Day.