The Scholar and the Boatsman


The following informant is a 60-year-old Thai immigrant who heard the following story growing up as a kid. This interview was carried out in a mix of Thai and English. In this I will be denoted as C and the informant will be denoted as S


S: This story is uh, this story is about a student and a person who is a boats man for hire. Like a boat driver but they use an oar. The boat driver and the student. In Thailand there are rivers, big rivers that you need to pay to get across. You pay them money and they will ferry you across the river. From one shore to the next shore, because the river is very wide. When they row the boat on the river there is a very strong current, and the person who rows the boat, the boat driver, has to be very careful. So, the student is sitting on the boat reading and studying, he’s studying on the boat. And, the student asks the boat driver if he’s ever read any history books.

“You ever read the history book at all?”

The boat driver responds, never.

The student responses, “So you missed a lot of opportunities because the history books have a lot of history about rituals and war, to let us know how people in the past lived their lives, how they dressed.”

So the student asks, “Why you never read history book?”

And the boat driver responds, “I never… uh I never went to school.”

So the student goes on as he listens to the sound the water being paddled, “Have you ever about geography before?”

The boat man replies, “No never.”

The student explains “Geography is a subject that lets us know about the world and different countries from mountains, rivers, and so on. Geography is a very interesting subject. You’ve never heard about this subject?”

The boat driver goes “Never.”

The student shakes his head and says. “If you don’t know about this stuff, your life, it means nothing.”

So he goes, “How about science? You ever read a science book?” The boat man replies, “No, Never.”

The student says, “What happen to you? Science book help explain the why things happen in our everyday life. Everything has to do with science. Scientist are the most important people in the world. If you don’t know about science your life is very low valuable.”

At this point there are clouds come over the sky, big clouds come over the sky, because it is about to rain. The wind is also getting rougher. There is a thunderstorm in the distance which shows a storm is coming. And the boat still has a long way to go, it is not even across half the river. Now the boat man looks at the sky and is surprised. He says “You, look, look at the clouds the storm is going to coming very soon. And you, do you know how to swim?”

The student is completely surprised and says, “Swimming? I don’t know how to swim.”

The boat man then looks at the student with a bemused face and says “Why, you don’t know how to swim? You have so much knowledge. You know about history, geography, and science. Why didn’t you also learn how to swim? Soon you know that you life means nothing.”

C: Damn.

S: So. the winds are getting rougher and the waves are getting higher. The boat is only a small boat so it is blow left and right by the wind. And, so the boat capsizes. The boat capsizes, and only the boat man manages to swim ashore. And the student, the one who was pitying the boat man got drowned in the water.

C: And what is the importance or meaning of this story?

S: The meaning is … if you have only knowledge you won’t make it. Meaning even if you know everything you need to know how to survive. You see?

Analysis: I think the analysis that the informant comes up with sums up the main message of the story. What I find very interesting is that the boat man never bothers to try and save the scholar and instead lets him drown. Either the currents were too strong or maybe he found the scholar that annoying.