This story is written by Bi Shu-Min.
Tao Ying, the main protagonist of the story, is a blue collar worker working at a bakery. She always strives to save every penny she can. She prefers to not buy a bus ticket whenever the opportunity comes. But when she is traveling with her son, she always buys a ticket because she wants to make good impression in front of her son. She wants to give all the teachings to her son to make him a cultured and refined person.
One day, she gets a complimentary ticket to visit a Buddha Temple. As her son is less than 110 cm in height, there is no need to buy a ticket for him. But at the entrance of the temple, her son Xiao Ye appears to be well above the mark on the wall which is made to mark the minimum height requirement.
Irritated by the public humiliation at the entrance, she decides against going inside the temple and asks her son to play in the area outside the temple. At one of the shops, a lady offers weight and measurement service for the visitors. When the lady measures the boy, his height comes out to be more than 110 cm. Tao Ying is astonished and confused. The lady of the shop says that her machines are calibrated in order to show people lighter and taller than they are because that is what most of the people want to hear.
Back home, Tao Ying measures the height of her son with a measuring tape. The tape shows that Xiao Ye is less than 110 cm in height. Tao Ying decides to write a complaint letter and send that to editor of some newspaper. She is doing it in the hope of some sort of redress of her grievance as she feels cheated by the guard at the temple gate.
After a long and agonizing weight of over a month, two staffs from the Buddha Temple come visiting her home. They measure the height of Xiao Ye and accept the mistake of temple administration. They offer to give a note of five as compensation. They also make an alternate offer of two tickets for free so that Tao Ying could take her son for a visit to the Buddha Temple.
But Tao Ying refuses both the offers. Instead, she tells the temple staffs to forgive the guard who was on duty at the temple gate on that particular day.
All the effort and pain she took was to make the impression of a righteous mother who wants to instill good behaviour in her son.
Stop and Think
Question 1: What made Tao Ying decide whether to buy a ticket or not when she rode a bus alone?
Answer: Whenever Tao Ying observed that the bus conductor was lazy and careless, she avoided buying a ticket. She thought it was a just punishment for the lazy conductor. She was also of the opinion that even without her, the bus would consume same amount of fuel so there was no need to buy a ticket. Moreover, she always loved to save money whenever possible.
Question 2: Why did she insist on buying tickets both for herself and her son that day?
Answer: Riding with a proper ticket instilled a sense of entitlement, confidence and being grown up for her son. She thought is apt to spend the required amount of money in order to buy a sense of pride for her son. That is why, she insisted on buying tickets both for herself and her son that day.
Question 3: Did Tao Ying really intend to the cheat at the temple?
Answer: She was sure that her son was shorter than the required height to buy a ticket. She never intended to cheat at the temple.
Question 4: Why did Tao Ying change her intention to buy another ticket?
Answer: Tao Ying felt offended and cheated by the temple guard. She wanted her child to be happy but did not want to create a scene. Moreover, she was not in a mood to spend a princely sum for another ticket. So, Tao Ying changed her intention to buy another ticket.
Question 5: Were the old lady’s scales a reliable measure of height and weight? What convoluted logic were her measurements based on?
Answer: The old lady’s scales were faulty as they were calibrated to show people that they were lighter and taller than they were. The convoluted logic she gave was that people want to be lighter and taller. Everyone wants to be lean and tall, and she was merely catering to that need.
Question 6: What was the conflict between the mother and son?
Answer: The mother and son had different opinions about the height of the son. Every child wants to grow up quickly, and wants to become an adult as soon as possible. Mothers too want their children to grow up but they always look at their children as if they are always a baby. Tao Ying also wants her son to remain a little shorter than 110 cm as long as possible so that she need not buy a ticket for him.
Understanding the Text
Question 1: How do Tao Ying’s son influence the way she led her life?
Answer: Tao Ying is a blue collar worker and normally behaves according to the norms of working class people. But she wants her son to grow up to become a cultured and refined person. So, she tries to be as cultured and refined as possible whenever her son is around.
Question 2: Pick out instances from the story to show that official rules are often arbitrary.
Answer: The first instance is when she asks for two tickets from the bus conductor but the conductor tells her that there is no need to buy a ticket for her son. The second instance is when the guard at the Buddha Temple confronts her because the guard thinks that her son is taller than 110 cm.
Question 3: Tao Ying was very careful about spending money. What were her reasons for refusing the compensation offered by the temple officials?
Answer: After the unpleasant incident at the Buddha Temple, she wanted to prove to her son that she never intended to cheat. When she wrote the letter to a newspaper, she was not interested for compensation. Her only aim was to prove to her that she was not wrong. So, she refused the compensation offered by the temple officials.
Question 4: Why was her final vindication important to Tao Ying?
Answer: For any righteous father or mother, setting an example to his/her child is very important. Tao Ying shares the same conviction. So, her final vindication was important to Tao Ying.
Talking About the Text
Question 1: The way a child looks at the world is very different from that of an adult.
Answer: An adult scrutinizes everything he looks at because he has to constantly struggle for survival in all sorts of day to day battles. But a child can afford to be carefree because he need not bother about from where the next square of meal will come from. When she is traveling by a bus, she is thinking about saving money so that she can buy some useful stuff from that money. But Tao Ying’s son is too young to think about these things. Even at the temple premises, Tao Ying needs to think about paying to the old lady who measured the height of Xiao Ye. On the other hand, Xiao Ye can afford to focus on instant pleasure.
Question 2: There is always a gap between what we really are and what we wish to appear to be to others.
Answer: All of us need to be different in our personal and professional lives. There is a saying, “try to be as natural as possible but do not be a nudist”. This saying shows the importance of maintaining a gap between what we really are and what we wish to appear to be.
To understand it even better, you may take the example of a scene from the famous movie Mera Naam Joker. Soon after the last rites of his mother, the joker has to perform at the circus. He hides all his emotions of sorrow so that he could perform to make the public laugh. After all, he needs to justify his job that is to entertain.
Question 1: Comment on the significance of the first sentence of the story to its theme.
Answer: The first sentence of the story is, “When Tao Ying rides on the bus alone, quite often she does not bother to buy a ticket.”
This sentence aptly sums up the spendthrift that Tao Ying is. The whole story is about various struggles that Tao Ying has to undergo in order to save money.
Question 2: Would you describe the author’s portrayal of Tao Ying’s character in the story as sympathetic, critical or realistic?
Answer: I think author is sympathetic to Tao Ying. The author has always argued in favour of Tao Ying and has never criticized her. The author has tried to portray the problems which working class people face in their day to day life.
Question 3: Identify the episodes that bring out the ambivalent attitude to ethics commonly seen in human life?
Answer: The beginning of the story tells about how and why Tao Ying avoids to buy a ticket. After that, she buys a bus ticket for her son which she does not need to in the first place. These two episodes show her ambivalent attitude.
Next example is when Tao Ying has to confront the guard at the temple gate. Nobody knows about her or her son but people quickly make assumptions that she may not be his biological mother.
At the end of the story, she shows ambivalence when a spendthrift, like her refuses to accept compensation and asks to forgive the guard instead.
Question 4: How effectively does the narrative technique adopted in this story illustrate the unity of thought?
Answer: The main theme of this story is about a lady who tries to save money but will go to any extent to please her son and to inculcate good behaviour in her son. This theme is portrayed in every instance of this story. The same thought has been repeated, for example when she buys a bust ticket for her son, when she writes a complain letter and when she refuses to accept the compensation from temple officials.