Short story: “The stele at Jorin – Ji temple”

Επιμέλεια Εύα Πετρόπουλου Λιανου

By Phung Van Khai (English vesion by Hoang Yen)

Tokyo’s street corner at midnight in late 1908

It was heavy rain and snow, wind cold night. The street block was dim light by street lights, covered with flying snow. The inky blackness of the puddles, sometimes the shadow of an old stinky rat poking out the sewer grid.

On the street full of rubbish, on the sidewalk, human shadow staggered toward the light ahead. Suddenly the shadow wobbled and then collapsed. The wind started blowing the snow up intermittenly.

At the corner of the street, an inky black hooded roof carriages clipcloping floating alone along the street. The driver strained on his eyes to look forward the ghost dim light at the end of the street.

Unconsciously, the wheel tripped up the rock, the carriges bounced up and down on the one side. Suddenly, the tone of a man’s voice from inside the carriage fitfully.

“Chen! It seems someone has just collapsed under the light. Let’s go there”

The stage – coachman quietly replied “yes”

The person who lying on the roadside was a thin young man, his face was pale and cold sweat. His breathing was so weak that the coachman had to put his hand to his nose twice to feel it.

The man in the carriage himself got down to check it out and then scooped

the young man up to his carriage. The carriage rattled back onto the road.

The warmth in the carriage made the young man gradually wake up.

Seemingly aware of his situation, he opened his eyes slightly to observe, then weakly asked:

“Where do you catch me?”

The man looked at him attentively, nodded and said:

“You’re awake. Please relief to rest more. I’m a doctor, not a cop. It’s raining and snow right now, there’s no police.”

The young man’s eyes are softened. He understood that he was lucky to meet a benefactor.


The large garden of doctor Asaba Sakitaro’s home was located close to the wall of the ancient Jorin – Ji temple with countless ancient pine trees. The land of Sizuoka was famous for its ancient history with more than ten thousand ancient pine trees of hundreds of years old and the ancient Jorin – Ji temple over a thousand years old.

 Legend has it that the imperial prince in the reign of King Kawa soon asked his father for his resignation, to build Jorin-Ji temple to live as a Buddhist monk. The king’s father got extremely angry and chased him away, who dared to give up the important position of the court. It was not until the king was old that he regretted calling his son to the audience, at this time the crown prince was already a famous grandmaster. The story like a thousand-year-old legend, associated with the ancient palm trees in Sizuoka.

On the rustic wooden table in the middle of the garden, two fragrant tea cups. After a snowy few days, the sun suddenly dawned, sunshine in the Asaba village’s garden which was bluish green of ancient palm tree’s shadow.

 The young man’s facial expressions were clearly different from the night when he just arrived. After four days of convalescence, under the special care of Dr. Asaba and housekeeper Chen, the young man has completely recovered.

Raising a cup of tea in the jade-green sunny garden, the young man’voice was full of emotion:

“Thank you, benefactor in time for saving me in strained circumstances. I hope I will recompense you for your mercy soon.”

The doctor leisurely put down his white glasses with yellow frames, took a sip of tea from the cup in his hand, and said:

“That’s how it has to be. You come from Viet Nam, don’t you? How long have you been here?”

The day before, when he came here, the young man gave his identity document to the butler Chen. Phung Dong – Yunnan – Thanh Quoc – foreign exchange students.

The young man frowned slightly and asked:

“Why do you know that I come from Vietnam?”

“Oh! Look, I know. Chinese exchange students often live in a separate Chinatown. They don’t have to go out when it’s raining and snow.

The young man gritted his teeth.

“It’s all because of the Emperor’s Government.”

The doctor solemnly asked:

“How old are you?”

“Sir, I’m twenty-two, I come from Viet Nam. I’ve been studying for three years.”

The doctor nodded again.

“So you belong to the first generation of Dong Du according to the policy of Master Phan. Personally, I admire Mr. Phan, admire you.”

The young man looked at Doctor Asaba. Myopia lenses rarely left his eyes. His hands were graceful as dancer’s hands. And especially, each of his sentences shared knowledge, connecting immense intimacy.

Thinking for a moment, the young man solemnly said:

“My country has lost its sovereignty, my people have no freedom, poverty and the obscurity. So we have to leave the ancient country to borrow the Chinese name to study abroad. Everyone tried their best to study well to return to the Fatherland soon to stand shoulder to shoulder, assume country’s responsibilities, helping the people to reduce poverty and miserable circumstance. The study was not successful, suddenly the Japanese Government listened to the insults of the French and deport us from Japan. In the Emperor country where it is still so crazy.”

“Then, whom can we trust? Where to find justice for Vietnamese people?”

The doctor listened silently. He was unable to believe it was the 22-year-old’s words.

Dr. Asaba’s voice was full of emotion:

“Mr. Phung! He is really a patriot. Master Phan has a knowledgeable generation daring to make sacrifices for the fatherland like you, no matter how big things don’t work out.”

The young man suddenly looked into the distance, his voice tinged with sadness and indignation:

“I have been away from my country for three years. My estate was wiped out completely. My close friend, Tran Dong Phong who hanged himself at the ancient palm tree of the Dong Van library two weeks ago. The newspapers reported that news he must have known. I myself had to go to the road to beg for each meal. I fortunately met him, Otherwise I did not know what to do if you didn’t help me. Master. Phan is in trouble currently due to being surrounded by authorities, and it is unknown when his mishap will be over…”

Doctor Asaba seemed to understand the young man’s heart, he stood up and put his elegant hands on young man’s shoulders named Phung:

“Mr. Phung! He is still young and had to undergo a lot of trouble like this. It was true that heaven soon tested the hearts of scholars. I have also read carefully Phan’s twenty-thousand-word letter to the Foreign Minister of the Imperial Government. My heart ached with every word, every sentence of Mr. Phan: “Why did the Imperial Government insult and banish the yellow-skinned people from here. the same race without reason, and bukle under European and American, obey, worship the people who are different races? Could it be the morality of Emperor’s government is so humble like that…”

Saying that, the doctor lump in his throat.

Two cups of bitter cold tea were almost intact.

Every few days, there were quite a lot of groups who came to big house of Dr. Asaba to carry his furniture. These were all things that if not old antiques, were also luxury items. Just looked into the old housekeeper Chen’s eyes. The old man was dumb and out of his wits when he looked at each precious picture, ceramic vase encrusted in silver, gilded wood heirloom furniture, even a number of medical examination and treatment machines.

Got nothing? The owner called someone to suddenly sell.

Only the small library full of books in his house where shopping groups did not set foot in.

Even though he plunged into the small library every day, where were full of all kinds of precious books, even dreaming, the young man Phung did not dare to think about it. Even the Dong Van Cac archives, where was gathering place of the Dong Du Association. It seemed that, their precious books inferior to his books in here.

When the precious furniture in the big house had been removed seven or eight parts, it was also time for Doctor Asaba to invite him to the living room.

The well-dressed doctor seemed to got underway.

“Mr. Phung! You should see this first.”

Letter from master Phan.

As if an electric charge ran through his bodies, he solemnly opened the letter and read it.

Face full of expression, the young man’s voice full of emotion to ask:

“So you have already known our council president. This petition letter has given you difficulties.”

Doctor Asaga took off his glasses:

“Sir Phan needs money to bring his brothers back home. I am also partly responsible for this. I will do my best to help master Phan.”

The young man suddenly woke up. The amount of money requested from the petition letter was much. No wonder how many precious things in his house had to be sold last days. Phung’s mind suddenly throbbed. When the first group of Dong Du arrived in Japan, there were many harsh opinions about a widely scattered whole range of profession instead of focusing on the armed forces. It was Mr. Phan who had spent many sleepless nights to temporarily agree. It was said that the theory from asking for weapons and combat equipment to grasp comprehensive technocratic foundation was that of a doctor who was a close friend of Earl Suky – a very powerful man in Tokyo. He was also a Dong Du Association’s guarantor. Only in a short time, hundreds of elite youths of the Dong Du Association, through their practical studies, they realized that the strategy of the doctor who did not know was rational.

The young man surnamed Phung looked directly at Dr. Asaga:

“It turns out that the Dong Du association’s policy of seeking to learn without asking for originated help from you. You are a true benefactor of our country.”

Dr Asaga humbly said:

“Mr. Phung! Just a small opinion according to my professional practice, it’s not worth it. The important thing is that Phan Tien Sing has caught up with the trend of the times which is towards civilization and prosperity. However, not everyone thinks like us.”

Mr Phung with shaky voice:

“Lord Asaba! He sold all his estate for us. Where is the machines for you to practice then?”

The doctor smiled softly.

“You know! I tried my best. All for nearly one thousand seven hundred yen. Today I will come and donate all to Mr. Phan. I only regret that I can’t try any more…”

When the carriage was far away from the dirt red road in the shadow of ancient cedars, the young man surnamed Phung was still in despair.


Four years later.

When he wrote the last sentence in the national script from Dr. Asaba’s translation, he carefully matched each word from the two ancient texts written on the imperial paper of the Ming Dynasty more than 400 years ago. Phung Dong respectfully placed it on the rustic wooden table in the living room, which has become vast since the day when the Japanese government accused the doctor of secretly sponsoring the Dong Du association. Doctor Asaba had been very weak lately. His old disease recurred, adding to the shortage of medical equipment, medicine, even some nurses who had followed him in the past had left under the Government’s ban. There are only three hard-working men in the large house now. Fortunately, there is totally absorbed by their work.

After going to Tokyo to meet Mr. Phan, He returned from being strictly prohibited by the government from practicing his profession, and then held under house arrest. Dr. Asaba did not protest but immediately found a new joy for himself by writing archeology. At that time, the doctor re-searched the genealogy, carefully read and looked up countless titles and works of the famous Asaba family for hundreds of years to serve the king to build the country. It was true that was the lucky fate, before Dong Du had been nearly twenty years old, the patriarch Phung Gia of Doai allowed him to follow pen-master. The whole area of Sai Son, Thach That, and Cau Lau, more than a hundred miles away, that was famous doctor Phung Hoat who was the grandfather of an international student named Phung Dong in Phu Tang.

It was true that “every cloud has a silver lining”. An old man joined at the hip with one young regardless of day and night for nearly four years, had spent all their time on learning and writing skills to re-compile ancient letters, texts, poems, extempore poems, lines, and chants of Japanese and Dai Viet emissaries, of which the most remarkable was the reciprocal writings of two great ancestors Asaba Zebo and poinsettia Khoan Khac Phung.

Many times, Doctor Asaba said to Phung:

“Mr. Phung! This is a match ordained by heaven of our ancestors who nurtured you and me.”

Frustrated Phung Dong said:

“Lord Asaba! Truly a union made in heaven. Unexpectedly, from ancient times, the elders saw through the great story early, sincerely connected, promoted culture, loved peace, and respected neighbors so much. It is also for children and grandchildren try to follow in the future.”

The doctor hugged a young man surnamed Phung in his arms. His white hair fluttered slightly.

Compiling and translating the number of ancient books was also the time when Doctor Asaba’s illness became severe.

He knew that he would not be able to survive, the doctor called young man surname Phung and the housekeeper Chen:

“Chen! I sent my will to Attorney Beto. When I die, half the house, half the garden will belong to you.”

The faithful butler stood as still as a statue. A couple of old tears flowed involuntarily.

“Mr Phung! I still owe you a trip back to the ancient country to visit the poinsettia Phung’s temple. I don’t have enough time, please sympathize for me.”

The young man, surnamed Phung, tried to hold back his tears and his voice with emotion:

“He will get well soon. Master Phan still has an appointment with him.”

“OH! Mr Phan? It’s a pity that I can’t be witness at the day when he restored his country. Please give my love and say good bye to him for me.”

The young man surnamed Phung could not hold back his tears.

“For now, you stay here. My will has dedicated you half the house and the entire Asaba library. Please wait for Mr Phan return on my behalf.”

The young man nodded silently.


Ten years later…

On the way to revolution, comrade Phan had overcome thousands of obstacles and faced countless enemies, but God also gave him many good friends. When reviewing the souls of confidants in Japan, the magistrate surnamed Phan was most tormented and pathetic by the intellectual work and sincerity of Dr. Asaba. When in danger, deported by the Japanese Government, hundreds of Dong Du youths faced the turning point of exile, unrecognized, it was thanks to money from Doctor Asaba’s estate that saved the Dong Du Association and the philanthropist surnamed Phan.

Fearing that his age would not be able to cross sea, through the forest anymore, after leaving Japan more than ten years, the scholar Phan himself went to Asaba village to express his wish to erect a stele expressing the of the Dong Du Association’s tribute to the Doctor Asaba in Jorin-Ji Temple, where throughout his life – Doctor Asaba came to read Buddhist scriptures.

The stele was built with the money of Phan and the wholehearted support of the villagers in Asaba and the abbot of Jorin-Ji Temple. In particular, what Phan did not expect, the most enthusiastic person was a Vietnamese with the Phung bloodline. This young man, surnamed Phung, was the first Dong Du youth group by Phan and Ho Bat Tang nearly twenty years ago. The Dong Du young man’s hair which used to be black but half-white now, made Mr. Phan even more grieved.

The stele had been erected for a hundred year.

Now I don’t know where well – researched and translated ancient manuscripts of the Mr Phung and Mr. Asaba’s? are.