Once there was a sister and brother whose mama was very sick. The poor children couldn't sleep for worry, until a Chinese doctor told them about some medicinal herbs that may help her get better. "They grow on a mountainside near a smuggler's cave on Cheung Chau," he said.
Once, there was a Chinese woman who had a great shock when she gave birth. Because she didn't deliver a baby. She delivered an egg.
"Please don't steam me," said Eggy. "I'll be a good son, I promise."
This may be the craziest story you will read today. It takes place on Lantau Island, where people have farmed for centuries.
Once, a couple grew fruit and vegetables for their two children. On a diet of bananas, pak choi, breadfruit and peppers, the children became healthy and strong.
Do you know why chickens have combs? Let me tell you.
Once, a chicken was invited to a chicken party. She put on her favourite feathery dress and admired herself in some well water.
Fleas and lice used to live as one happy family, until one particular flea tried to trick a louse. The two of them lived together in a crowded flat with lots of humans and pets to feed off.
One cold winter's day, a farmer was carrying a bucket of rotten eggs, mouldy cabbage, and smelly fish bones to his pigs. He tripped up on an uneven pavement and the contents spilt all over the front of a tailor's shop.
Once a year, the flower queen held a festival in her garden where the most beautiful flower was awarded a prize.
"May I go with you?" the evening primrose asked the azalea.
Once, long ago on Lantau Island, an old couple lived near some woods. They were happy, gentle, contented people. Every morning the old woman loved to water the flowers in her garden. Every afternoon the old man loved to feed his goldfish.
One sunny day, the rice was sprouting and the birds were singing and a farmer’s daughter sat minding the ducks. When an egret landed on the pond, the ducks rose to the sky, flapping and honking. How lovely to have wings, thought the girl.
An old woman lived in an old shack near Shing Mun. She grew a kind of banana called plaintains, which the local monkeys loved. While she napped, they would jump over her fence and eat them. Their hooting usually woke her up.
Have you heard of Tiger Mountain near Tai O? The mountain got its name in the olden days when tigers still roamed Hong Kong.
An old lady lived with her grandson in a nearby fishing village. One day, she woke up with a fever. "Climb up the mountain and pick some bajiao for me,” she said.
If you ever travel to the high mountains of Sichuan or Tibet, you may meet Miss Chongcao the caterpillar. She used to stay on the plains. But there is a good reason why she now lives so high up.
Every spring she used to wriggle up from the earth and change into a jade-green silk dress. Then she would hide in the sprouting grass and enjoy the warm sunshine.
Once, there was a man who lived alone in a hut. Since losing all his money, he lived a quiet life growing vegetables. He dearly wanted a wife but couldn’t afford one.
Once, before the threat of bird flu, Hong Kong people could raise chickens, and there was a garden near Mui Wo where the Chan family kept some. Every morning, before school, Chan Junior rooted around the bushes looking for warm eggs. He had names for all the chickens and knew all the secret places where they laid. Chirp, for example, laid behind a honeysuckle bush. Pecker, in an old bucket. Fantail, in an old Tanka hat.
It was dusk in the country park and all the wild animals were eating and drinking before nightfall. The barking deer were drinking water. The wild hogs were nosing for roots. The monkeys were jumping from branch to branch, snatching fruit.
Once the laziest man in the world lived here in Hong Kong. He grew from a baby to a child to an adult, as we all do. The only difference was that he grew lazier and lazier the older he got.
Once upon a time, wild tigers roamed our mountains. So when a local villager fell into a tigers' pit, he thought he would die.
Three cubs played in the deep muddy hole. The man squeezed into a corner and said his prayers. The sky above darkened and an evening wind rustled the trees.
Once there was an old man and woman who were very rich but very stingy. Like many rich Hong Kong people, they had a domestic helper, who they worked to the bone. The helper would have to go to the market three times a day, as well as cook, wash, iron and clean. She even had to massage the old woman's feet for two hours after dinner.
Once, there was an old woman who lived on an outlying island. Like many boat people who were carried on their mother's backs as a child, she had very bandy legs. But still, every month, her landlord demanded she travel into the city to pay her rent in person.
There was once two egrets and a tortoise who were the best of friends. They lived by a lake and spent their days eating and swimming in the clear water.
There was once a fisherman who lived on the wetlands of Mai Po. While returning from fishing one day, he saw a plump goose with one wing spread awkwardly across the sand. It was injured.
The fisherman carried the goose home and nursed it back to health. On a beautiful summer morning, he released it back into the wild.
Once, a long time ago, a tiger was snuffling for food along a river bank. Birds clucked cries of danger. But one animal – a toad – didn’t hear them because he was underwater. Poking his head out for air, he came face to face with the tiger.
Once there was a woman who lived in a New Territories village. Every night the most delicious smells would float from her kitchen window. Every weekend all her sons and daughters would visit her and she would roast a whole pig on a spit. Her neighbour, a poor man, became curious about how she had enough money to eat so well.
Once, there were two young worms. The big brother was a do-er. The little brother was a thinker. One day, the big brother heard of an old worm who could turn them into dragons. “Let’s go to find her!” he said to his little brother.
Once, there were three orphaned brothers. When the eldest brother became a man he married a mean wife. The middle brother married a kind one. And the youngest brother, still a boy, married no one at all.
Once, a man bought a flat at a very good price. The flat was second-hand but smelt new. Its wooden floor was beautifully polished. The kitchen was sparkling white.
The very first night the man got the keys, he slept there. In the bedroom there was a double bed, a cupboard and a sofa. The sofa was pink and looked very soft. When the man sat on it to remove his socks, the fabric turned the colour of flesh, and moved.
One winter’s day, the sun shone brightly and a brown-nosed eel wriggled out from under a rock to dance in the sea. So happy was she that she didn’t notice a snake. Open-mouthed, it swam towards her. Just before it clamped its jaws for dinner, the eel looked up.
Here in the civilized world, strange events can occur before our very own eyes.
Once, a man drew up in his van near a small guest house on Lantau Island. It was a scorching day and there was no wind. “I need a room for the night, dinner, and somewhere to tie my dogs,” he called, to the owner of the guest house, an old Hakka lady.
Once, there was a goat and a sheep who would jump down from heaven to drink from fluffy white clouds where the water was crystal clear.
Once, there were two brothers who lived together. The elder brother was a mean man who wanted the house all to himself. “Build one of your own,” he said, “and here’s a bag of our best seeds.”