Once upon a time, at a small village in today’s Bac Ninh province, there was a beautiful and diligent girl born from a poor family. No matter how hard her parents worked, they could not get out of debt. The beleaguered parents had no choice but to give their daughter’s hand in marriage to a landlord’s son so as to clear their debts.
After the marriage the couple moved into a separate home and after a few years a small child was born. But every chore in the house was left for the wife as the husband was a good for nothing dolt of a man.
One day, when the child fell ill and the wife had to stay at home to take care of him, she told her husband to sell their dog at the market. Of course, the man was very reluctant as such responsibility was overwhelming for him. So, the wife repeated the instructions very clearly several times over: “Sell it at once, if someone offers eight dong or four dong now with four dong owed. If not, bring the dog home.”
At the market, the gormless husband met an old man and told him the deal for the dog. The old man thought it was sound offer and decided to pay him four dong but when he paid up left the husband with a riddle: “In three days, come to my house and I will pay you the rest. My house is situated at the north of this market. It is where there is water without fish and fish without water.”
The husband returned home mumbling the old man’s words to tell his wife.
Three days later, the child was still sick. The wife explained to her husband how to get the rest of their money: “Go north on the main road. If you see a watch-post (to monitor river flooding) with a fish-shaped bamboo bell at the head of the village, the man’s house must be there.”
Following the instructions, the husband found the old man, who pleasantly surprised the man had found him, invited his guest inside for a meal and poured him some rice wine. The husband explained that his wife had sent him and the old man immediately paid the debt. Then he gave the husband a gift to give to his wife.
Back at his house, the wife was very glad to receive both the money and was also intrigued by the gift. Inside the parcel she found a handful of delicious rice and some rotten egg-plant. It was a sign from the old man thought that her marriage had been a foolish one.
So that very night she carried her child away but reaching the river she could not cross as there was no ferry boat. She saw an old man wading in the mud on the river bank.
“What are you looking for?” she asked.
“I am busy finding a needle,” the man answered.
“Why do you waste so much time trying to find a needle?”
“When my wife passed away, she left this needle to me and told me not to lose it. It is small, yet priceless to me. She and I had shared both life and death together, so we will keep loyalty to the end of time.”
On hearing that the wife suddenly returned home and from that day on she tried to help her husband focus on his household duties and be more responsible. And so through good times and bad they remained together.