June 27, 2006

the farmer’s donkey

Posted in proverb at 10:01 am by Feng

Here is the brief summary of the story. A donkey falls into an abandoned well. Not able to pull the donkey, the farmer decides to bury it. With each shovel of dirt put on its back, the donkey shakes it off and steps on a new layer of dirt. Finally, it is able to jump out of the well, jovial and alive. The moral of the story: life constantly adds a shovel of dirt on your back; shake it off and take a step up.

This story reminds me of something remotely familiar in my childhood. When I was six years old, my father took me to attend an entry test of a kindergarten, one of the best in my town. Every child was interviewed and asked this question: If a duck fell into a pit, how could the other duck save its friend with only a bucket? To make the question easier, the teacher even added more explicit hints that a river was nearby and that the duck couldn’t be drowned. I had seen the same question on a TV program before and been aware of the answer.

However, I chose to give an “unorthodox” solution: use the bucket to shovel the dirt into the pit. Very shocked, the teacher exclaimed that would bury the duck alive. I tried hard to explain that wouldn’t happen if it was done slowly. At that age, I couldn’t express myself very well but I think the teacher understood me. Later, I was told that I got the highest score on that question.

In retrospect, I don’t know why I didn’t choose the safe way to answer the question. Maybe deep in my mind, I didn’t believed believe the “water” method could work since the water would quickly sink into the underground. So the “dirt” method is actually much more feasible and efficient. I almost forgot that test and never thought of any significance on my growing-up. But today it strikes me that is it possible that the answer I chose at that moment over twenty years ago made me who I am today, being an engineer favoring simple and practical solutions over fancy and complex ones?

I shared this story with a friend. He interpreted the moral of the story differently. “From the farmer’s perspective,” he said, “he should find a better way to kill the donkey next time.” That was hilarious.



  1. Brennan Vincent said,

    Correcting your English, as requested:

    We say “didn’t believe”, not “didn’t believed”.

    This is a very common mistake among people whose native language is not English, and as it was the only mistake I could find, I’d like to compliment you on your very good grasp of the written language.

    As for the content of your post, I agree with the moral of the donkey story, and I also think that there is a moral to your story about the kindergarten entrance exam: There is almost always more than one way to answer a question, and sometimes the least-obvious solution is the best!

    It reminds me of the following question: How many squares are on a chessboard?

    Many people will say 64, of course.
    Many people will realize that a group of four squares is itself a square, as is a group of nine squares, etc. After a bit of calculation, they arrive at the answer 204.

    The best answer, however, is that there are infinite squares on a chessboard! One need not be hindered by the dark-and-light colors, but can draw squares on the chessboard that ignore their boundaries.

  2. Feng said,

    Thanks for the correction. 🙂

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