chinese fable

That Story about the Frog in the Well

Since finishing the linguistics textbook, I have embarked on a great hunt through the literature surrounding code-switching, bilingualism, language socialization, immigration studies, and oral histories. I’ve been ransacking libraries and combing through bibliographies to follow the trails of key readings and scholars. As I did this I come to the realization (again) that the more I read, the more I know what I don’t know and the more I understand the scope of how much more reading I will have to do. Every source I finish reading points to at least four more crucial texts I have to read that I didn’t even know about before. It reminds me of this Chinese fable my mother told me when I was small. I’d like to apologize ahead of time for any gross inaccuracies and invented details or plot points that occur in this retelling of the fable. To be fair, the last time I heard the story was a long time ago and it was in a different language. So here is the story:

Once upon a time, there was a frog who lived in a well. He had everything he ever wanted in his well. I guess for a frog, that would be flies to eat and water to swim in. I’m not too sure what else a frog might want. Anyhow he also knew everything about that well, knew which angle to sit at to bask in the sun and which rocks to jump on to climb up the sides of the well. He even learned to predict the weather based on looking at the clouds that he could see in the little slice of sky above his well. He was very happy and he thought he had the most fabulous lifestyle ever. He was pretty sure that he knew everything there was to know about the world.

One day, a sea turtle encountered his well. (I have no idea what a sea turtle was doing that could have led him to the frog’s well. Maybe the sea turtle was a traveling engineer who was investigating well construction in different areas of the world.) The frog told the sea turtle, “Yo, I know everything there is to know about the world. I know everything about water, and about walls, and about the sun and the sky.” The turtle was very wise and old and cool, as turtles tend to be (see Finding Nemo for evidence), and he had traveled around the whole world. The turtle took the frog out to see the ocean, the great wall of china, the desert, and the sunset on a beautiful beach. And the frog’s mind was blown by how much of the world he didn’t even know he didn’t know about.

I feel like that frog every time I read more.

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