Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Chinese Parable: Sai Weng Shi Ma

A Chinese parable - A certain Mr. Sai, who lived on the northern frontier of China, lost a horse. His neighbors all came to console him, but he was not worried at all. “This may turn out to be a good thing,” he said. A day later, the horse came back with many wild horses following into his corral. His neighbors congratulated him, but he was not overjoyed at all. “This may turn out to be a bad thing,” he said.

One day, Mr. Sai’s son was out trying to break the wild horses when he fell and broke his legs instead. And his neighbors came to comfort him, but he responded with, “This may still turn out to be a good thing after all.” A few days later, a Chinese warlord came through the area, looking to draft young men into the army for a particularly brutal conflict, and he passed by Mr. Sai’s son because of his broken legs. “This is a good thing,” his neighbors said.

This parable, called Sai Weng Shi Ma conveys a truism: We are not always able to accurately assess what is ultimately good and what is ultimately bad in any given situation.

Sunday night we were disappointed when flying back from Cincinnati because we weren't upgraded to first class. Mindful of the parable I thought, this might turn out to be a bad thing. As we sat waiting for the flight, the agent called us back from the podium and offered us compensation, plus first class if we took a bump from the flight (to LA and then on to San Diego) and instead catch a later flight direct to San Diego. Now this may turn out to be a good thing. A direct flight and first class. But then, the agent called us again to say the situation had changed and they didn't need us to take a bump. Richard asked if we could still take the later flight. Yes, and we would be assured of first class. Flights arrived at the same time in San Diego. Instead of killing time in LA (almost the worst airport we travel through) we killed the time in Cincinnati and had the pleasure of meeting "Catfish" a waitress at the Wolfgang Puck cafe. Turned out to be a good thing.

   A middle aged woman, pleasant looking, Catfish showed us to our seats. Plunking the menus on the table, she asked where we were going. "San Diego." we replied. "Shut Up!" she said. "My brother lives in Ramona". We explained we too lived out in the sticks in Fallbrook. "Shut Up!" she  exclaimed again.

Catfish aka Catherine, went on to tell us all about her brother and his wife, one Mimi Kirk. Mimi recently has recently had a vegan raw cookbook published and posts cooking video clips on You Tube. Catfish regaled us with stories about Mimi - an enterprising woman, formerly a personal assistant to Mary Tyler Moore and a well-connected former Hollywoodite. She looks fabulous for 72....makes you want to run out and buy some wheat grass (well almost).

Catfish sat with us for most of our meal - it was slow in the Cinnci airport and she went on with stories about George Clooney who grew up near her in Kentucky.

 George was a real prankster, she said. He worked in the local shoe store while paying his way through college; Catfish wouldn't let him near her with shoes. "Throw them to me, Clooney." she'd say, rather than risk one of his practical jokes. She told us that nobody in the neighborhood thought he had a serious chance as an actor...yes, he was cute and all that, but to become an international heart throb and humanitarian? They wouldn't have guessed.

Finally, we finished our rotisserie chicken and had to tear ourselves away. Catfish, barely stopping for a breath, seemed to have a never-ending supply of narrative material and was clearly disappointed about losing her audience. 

Our flight was fine - landed on time in San Diego. As the wheels hit the ground we looked at each other and realized that our baggage was on the other flight which landed at a different terminal. Oh no! This might turn out to be a bad thing after all.  But Delta's champion baggage computer knew where the bags were and had them sent over to our terminal. We waited perhaps ten minutes longer for them than we might have. So after all, it turned out to be a good thing.

But then we were ten minutes later than we would have been and the 15 freeway had just closed three lanes for construction. This could be a bad thing. But we turned on the radio while creeping slowly along and heard a great radio interview. Now this could be a good thing............ and so it goes. 


  1. Must be tough to have to fly coach. Glad you didn't have to live through that. I am reading a great book right now, Unbroken by Laura Hildebrand about the runner and POW Louis Zamperini. I recommend it for your club. Tales of similar endurance.

  2. The whole post was "a good thing". Loved the parable and how you related to it. Loved "Catfish"!

    I read "Unbroken". I think the book club would probably like it. I liked it until the end when he, very uncharacteristicly ( is this a word?) got religion. But since it was a true story what can you say?

  3. uncharacteristically