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Climb a Mountain to Catch a Tiger

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Laohu the tiger, ran around on the kitchen counter and pounced on crumbs. Although the crumbs didn’t run away, there always seemed to be more to replace the ones he knocked off the counter onto the floor. At the other end of the counter, the Mother chopped vegetables, occasionally sending little specks flying into the air. Laohu wanted to chase those too (how dare they try to flee from the Mother!), but had been told not to bother her when she was working.

While Laohu amused himself, Boy perched himself on the top of a stool and started to chant:

一二三四五,(One two three four five)
上山打老虎,(Climbed a mountain to catch a tiger)
老虎打不到,(Couldn’t catch a tiger)
打到小松鼠; (Caught little squirrels)
松鼠有幾隻?(How many squirrels?)
讓我數一數。 (Let me count)
一二三四五, (One two three four five)
五隻小松鼠。 (There are five squirrels)

He repeated it again and again, trying to go faster and faster each time, until he got tongue tied. When the the Boy’s words finally tripped over themselves, and he dissolved into laughter, Laohu ran over to the Boy and nudged his elbow. “Rawrr-sa” he growled, trying to get the Boy’s attention, as if to say “I’m right here! No need to climb up a mountain for me!” However, before the Boy could respond, the front door creaked open, and the Boy raced out of the kitchen, yelling, “Daddy!” The Mother followed after him, leaving Laohu behind, alone, in the kitchen to listen to the happy voices drifting in through the door.

Laohu was lonely, and he didn’t even have any squirrel friends.

--

小老鼠, (Little mouse)
上燈臺。 (Climbed a lamp)

Shanyang nimbly made his way from the floor of the bedroom to the top of the desk like a true mountain goat. He clambered up the backpack, which the Boy had left slouching against the leg of the chair when he got back from school. Shanyang then jumped to the seat of the chair, paused, and made a running leap onto the edge of a half closed drawer. From there, he dropped down into the drawer, nudged some unsharpened pencils to lean against the side of the drawer, ran along his newly created ramp, and finally made it to the top.

Laohu, however, having seen this behaviour many times before, crept into the bedroom from the hallway, hiding behind the shadows of the wastepaper bin.

偷吃油, (Ate the oil)
下不來。 (Couldn’t get down)

Shanyang tried, as always, to nibble on the bits of paper poking out from inside a folder. Luckily for the book report, Shanyang could not rip off a corner, though he did succeed in yanking half of the page out from the folder. He hopped on top of a calculator and bounced from button to button. When bored of that, Shanyang butted his head into the pencil cup and nuzzled the pens that fell out so they rolled off. He stood on the edge of the desk, staring where they clinked against the ground.

Laohu watched Shanyang make a mess of the Boy’s desk and waited patiently.

喵喵喵, (Meow, meow, meow)
猫來啦, (A cat came)

Finally, Laohu slunk out of his hiding place. “Rawrrr”, he purred, and Shanyang startled, finally realizing Laohu was there. Laohu stood between the desk and the bedroom door and dared Shanyang to take the next step.

Shanyang’s head looked from one place to another, seeking an escape route. The Boy would be back from eating his after-school snack in the kitchen and would scold Shanyang if he caught him on the desk yet again.

嘰哩咕嚕滾下來。 (Somersaulted down)

Finding no other escape, Shanyang backed up to the center of the desk and took a running leap off the edge. He hoped to soar over Laohu’s head and scamper out of the open bedroom door, leaving his mess behind.

From a crouching position, Laohu jumped, knocking Shanyang out of the air. Laohu then pounced on Shanyang, who was temporarily stunned and on his side. Laohu flattened him out, pushing the air out, and stood on top of Shanyang proudly for a moment. Then, Laohu scampered off happily toward the kitchen. The Mother had been teaching the Boy another nursery rhyme, but at Laohu’s prompting, the Boy ran off to re-inflate Shanyang again.

--

The Boy came back from school and gathered Laohu, Shanyang, Lu the deer, and Shuiniu the water buffalo in his arms. He went to the backyard and set them carefully down around him. Shanyang and Lu immediately scampered off, eager to play in the wider world after being cooped up inside all day while the Boy was at school.

Shuiniu stayed close to the Boy, unsure of his footing on the slippery grass, though he eyed Shanyang and Lu’s frolicking longingly. The plastic wrap protected his feet from water, but when coupled with his limp, it could make running on uneven ground treacherous, and at any rate, he was too slow to keep up with his friends. Laohu, also, was not inclined to venture farther away from the Boy. He glanced over at the birds perched on the fence at the far corner of the garden and was convinced they were glaring at him. Between Laohu’s torn ear and Shuiniu’s limp, Laohu was convinced they made a sorry pair.

“Don’t you want to go play with them?” asked the Boy. Laohu nuzzled at his leg instead. So instead of running off to chase Shanyang and Lu, the Boy knelt and gathered Laohu and Shuiniu in his lap. He started to sing instead:

兩隻老虎, 兩隻老虎, (Two tigers, two tigers)
跑得快, 跑得快, (Run fast, run fast)

Laohu watched Shanyang and Lu play. They seemed unconcerned at Laohu and Shuiniu’s worries and were chasing the butterflies that hovered around the flower bushes. Part of Laohu yearned to run off to be with them, but another part of him shivered at the thought of the birds watching and wanted to stay around the safety of the Boy.

一隻沒有耳朵, 一隻沒有尾巴, (One has no ears, one has no tail)
真奇怪, 真奇怪。 (Very odd, very odd.)

Laohu looked at Shuiniu’s crooked legs and thought of his own torn ear, and for a moment, Laohu worried that the Boy was making fun of them. Yet the Boy was petting them, and stayed with them, and Laohu started to feel better. Perhaps Laohu would play in the backyard tomorrow.

--

Flattened in the storage box, Laohu dreamed. He dreamed of paper creatures darting like ribbons through the air and chasing mice as big as he was. He dreamed of a fragrant harbor and a beautiful country. He dreamed of the Boy chanting nursery rhymes and waited for the day he would hear them again.