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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

The Story of Lazy Man

The story of lazy man as told by P Oshie

There once was a lazy man who refused to work extra for the king. The greedy king vowed to punish lazy man, but he just shrugged.

True to his title, lazy man fed his buffalo by tying it to a 100m rope, then relaxed while the hungry animal walked itself to the grassy fields. When he wanted it to return, he simply pulled on the rope and the buffalo would walk back. One day, when lazy man pulled on the rope, he felt slack on the line. He found only the severed head of his buffalo on the other end. The king had killed his buffalo.

Lazy man figured that he could sell the head of the buffalo in a nearby town and recover some of the loss. On the way there, he became tired and climbed a tree to take a nap. As he slept, two rich foreigners wandered under his tree to do business. Just as they were coming to an agreement, a buffalo head fell from the sky and landed directly between the foreigners. Frightened, they both ran away and were too terrified to come back. When lazy man woke up, he found a pile of money and gems abandoned underneath his tree. He went back home and used the wealth to buy a new herd of buffalo. Lazy man relaxed once more.
The king went to lazy man and said, “lazy man, how did you gain all this wealth?” Lazy man responds, “go home and slaughter all your buffalo and you too will be wealthy.” And so the king does. He returns to his palace and kills all 100 of his buffalo. The king soon realizes he has no way to eat all the meat nor use all the skin and most of it goes to waste. In anger, the King goes to lazy man’s house and burns it down. Lazy man returns home and finds only ashes where his house once stood. He gathers up the charcoal and loads it all into a boat in hopes of selling it downriver. On the way there, lazy man becomes hungry and ties his boat close to shore before walking off to find food. While he’s away, some kids begin playing in the river close to his boat. They splash water all over the boat and the clean black charcoal becomes white. When lazy man returns he starts yelling at the kids to take him to their parents to pay him back for all the charcoal. Each of the large group of kids ends up paying him back for the whole boat. Lazy man returned home.

Once home, he uses all of his newfound wealth to buy a whole new grand palace. The king goes to lazy man and asks, “lazy man how did you afford all these new things?” Lazy man responds, “it’s simple, just burn down all your palaces.” The king does so. He burns down his many buildings and is left with nothing.
When the people see the ruined king and lazy man’s grand palace and buffalo, the people turn to lazy man and make him their new king. Long live Lazy Man.

P Oshie told us this story on our first day arriving at the Karen village. He spoke as all good story tellers do: gently, deliberately, clearly. A childhood memory peeks its way into my consciousness, called forth by P Oshie’s familiar style and the group of attentive students. I recalled the annual Folk Festival staged in a park near my house. There were performances ranging from music workshops, to a bubble artist, to a weaving group (not to mention the good food), but the seats that invariably attracted my brother and I was in the audience at the tent of the storytellers. Although I can’t completely remember any one tale, those many hours spent sitting under the spell of dozens of speakers made me acutely accustomed to the storyteller’s repertoire.

First, the three act structure.
Part 1: Establish main character and have them face a problem to see how they respond. Lazy man faces the problem of his buffalo dying and responds by trying to sell the head.
Part 2: Escalate the problem. Lazy man loses his house and goes to sell the charcoal.
Part 3: Throw in the twist on the third event. Lazy man becomes king after the old king burns his palaces.

Second, language.
English may have not been P Oshie’s first language, but he wielded it with as much expertise as a veteran. The repeated use of the main character’s full name weaves a common thread which holds the story together. His pauses were numerous but never excessive. An elderly storyteller once told me that the difference between a good story and a great story is found in the usage of not the words, but the silences. Most importantly, P Oshie’s body language, the genuine smiles at lazy man’s good fortune, the subtle smirk when he mentions the rich foreigners, and his animated hands that speak what his words cannot, brings the listeners deeper into the story.

Third, the moral.
To find the moral of the story, one must consider P Oshie’s life journey. After growing up within a minority culture in rural Thailand, P Oshie decided to continue his education in the urban sprawl of Chaing Mai. This was his first opportunity to sample the city life many of his generation prefer over staying home. He learned many things, including English, but most importantly learned more about himself. With this knowledge, he eventually decided to return home to continue village life and become a farmer. When asked about lost opportunity, P Oshie recalls the many youth he encountered who were ignorant of their culture, and didn’t care about their family’s complex history. P Oshie instead chose to return home to learn the stories of his elders and practices of his ancestors, and with this considered he asks us to reevaluate the true loss of opportunity. The word “lazy” to Americans has a decidedly negative connotation, but as used in P Oshie’s story, the lazy man is the hero. Laziness, through the storyteller’s eyes, is a welcomed opportunity that only comes about through good fortune and efficient work. Lazy man is the hero of the story because he had the luck and intelligence to become king. To P Oshie, the lazy man is the one who uses their youth to go out and see the world, but always, eventually, returns home. The lazy man is the one who takes the time to sit down with their elders and listen to the many stories. Finally, the lazy man is the one who, when asked about what it’s like to be a part of a minority culture in an increasingly homogenous world, smiles and says, “let me tell you a story.”

Across the globe, developed independently in completely different times and cultures, story telling as a medium stays consistent. It is ingrained in our humanity the oral traditions that allow us to retain knowledge through generations. Not always accurate and not always positive, the art of the story is undeniably powerful.

It’s clear that this particular story resonates with P Oshie. When he returned home to his village, he helped organize a coffee company as a supplementary form of income. Multiple families contribute to the growing of beans and it brings the small community together. The name that sits on the logo of every bag is, “Lazy Man Coffee.”