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Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Princess Who Carried a House. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Princess. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Princess. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
Today’s story was sent in by a listener, Pannason Ritta. She is from Thailand and this is a traditional Thai story. She told me in her email that she wants to promote Thainess and Thai culture to the world, and I was more than happy to do so.
Unfortunately, I have never been to Thailand, but I have a close from university who is from Bangkok, and now I would really love to visit Thailand.
The culture sounds really interesting, obviously it’s got beautiful nature and the food is delicious. Thai is on the long list of languages I want to learn, as well, but it’s quite a challenging one from what I’ve heard, especially the writing system. But I always like a challenge! So maybe one day, I’ll go to Thailand and study Thai.
There’s also a specific school for teaching Thai in Bangkok that uses a very innovative teaching method, and the nerdy teacher part of me wants to find out how well this method works and really experience it for myself.
Anyway, I just need to explain two Thai cultural concepts that appear in this story.
The first one is krathong.
So krathong is a type of decoration made from bamboo leaves and flowers. So, during a particular festival called Loi Krathong, people make these decorations themselves. They collect bamboo leaves and fold them and decorate them with flowers, and they basically create a kind of basket that they then float on the river, and it’s very beautiful. However, if your basket doesn’t float and it turns over, then it’s very bad luck!
Anyway, this festival is really beautiful and the krathong baskets look really lovely, so go over to the transcript at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Princess and I’ll post some pictures and videos.
A mongkol is a type of rope made of white cotton that has two circles on either end, and the mongkol is a traditional part of the Thai wedding ceremony. So it symbolises the joining of the couple, it symbolises the two people being tied together. So the circle parts are put on the heads of the couple.
Again, I’ll put some pictures over at the transcript at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Princess.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
When someone rules over a country, they are the leader, king, president and so on. For example, the Queen rules over the United Kingdom, although really the Prime Minister has more power. In the past, empires ruled over many parts of the world.
A limb is a part of the body that sticks out. Arms and legs are limbs. Some people lose or damage a limb, for example by fighting in a war.
An astrologer is someone who practises astrology. Astrology is the study of how the movement of the stars and planets affects human behaviour. Basically, astrology is the zodiac, or star signs. For example, my star sign is Taurus, so an astrologer might tell me that I have a stubborn personality because of the month I was born. These days, people often don’t believe in astrology, although it is still very popular.
A monk is a man who dedicates his life to a religion. In Christianity, monks wear black or brown clothes, and they spend all day praying. In Buddhism, monks wear orange clothes, and they spend lots of time meditating and chanting sutras. These days, few people become monks, because you have to live in a monastery and have a very different life to other people.
A potion is a magic drink. Witches and wizards make potions, and they can have positive or negative effects. In Harry Potter, Snape is the potions teacher, and Harry is quite bad at potions.
Instincts are those feelings that help you make decisions or figure out a situation. For example, when I’m teaching, I sometimes feel that students don’t understand me. I know this just through instinct. It’s hard to explain how I know, but I just do. Athletes and musicians often rely on instinct for their performances. They don’t think about what they’re doing. They just do it.
When you hurt yourself, you wound yourself, that is, you have a wound on your body. If the wound is very bad, blood will come out of it and you will have to go to hospital. Wounds can take weeks or months to heal. It’s better to not get wounded at all.
Dye means to change the colour of something, by using chemicals. In the past, dyeing fabrics to make clothes was a complicated process. People had to find certain insects and animals to produce certain dyes. Now, we can use artificial dyes to dye fabric any colours we want. More people dye their hair these days, although some people think dyed hair looks unnatural and ugly.
The bow is the front end of a ship. Ships have special names for the different sides: bow for the front, port for the left side, starboard for the right side, and stern for the back. The bow of the ship is important, and sometimes a carving or statue is placed there.
Superstitions are beliefs that are not based in reality, but are very popular in all cultures. For example, in the UK we have a superstition that you shouldn’t step on a crack in the road. Another superstition is that if you break a mirror, you’ll have seven years of bad luck. Or if you see a black cat, you’ll have bad luck. These days, people believe less in superstitions than in the past, because there’s no scientific proof for them.
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OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Princess Who Carried a House
Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a small country called Rome Visai. It was hidden from other lands, and ruled over by a kind king and queen.
One day, the King and Queen had a beautiful daughter. Her birth was easy, but still, the room filled with shocked cries when she came out. Why? She had no scars, extra limbs or unusual marks, but in her tiny hand she held a wooden house, in the traditional Thai style.
Once the parents realised she was safe, they cried with happiness, and they named their daughter Sanonoi Ruen Nam, which means ‘Sanonoi, who carries a beautiful house’.
Sanonoi grew quick and strong, and spent much of her time playing with her house. She would sit with it, examining the walls and doors with her fingers, dreaming of a future where she could live inside it.
One day, she dreamed so hard, that when she opened her eyes, the house had grown before her. She walked up to the door and opened it, and inside she found a small table. On the table was a rope made of white cotton, with a circle on either side. She left, closed her eyes again, and when she opened them, the house was back to its usual size.
Sanonoi did not understand what the rope was, but when nobody was looking, she would make the house grow and visit it again. She held the soft cotton between her hands, and knew that, one day, it would be important.
But not all could remain peaceful in the palace. On Sanonoi’s sixteenth birthday, the royal astrologer came to the King and Queen with terrible news.
‘I have seen it in the stars,’ he said. ‘If Sanonoi remains in this house, she will be in danger. In order for the child to be safe, she must go on a journey for a year.’
The King did not want to believe it, but the astrologer’s predictions had always come true in the past. So with a heavy heart, he and his wife told Sanonoi she must leave.
‘You must hide your royal blood unless it is truly necessary,’ said the King to his daughter. ‘Wear the clothes of a normal person, but keep your royal dress, and if you need help, go to one of the other royal families.’
Sanonoi nodded. ‘I will always be safe with my little house,’ she said.
The Queen shook her head. ‘I’m afraid not, my dear. You must leave it here. The astrologer said it is dangerous.’
Sanonoi’s eyes filled with tears, but she did as she was told. Just as she was leaving, a strange monk walked into the palace. He was dressed all in white, and held a large bottle in his hand.
‘Who let this man in?!’ said the Queen. ‘Arrest him!’
‘No!’ said the astrologer. ‘I saw him in the stars, too. Let him speak.’
The monk, however, said nothing. He simply knelt before Sanonoi and held the bottle up to her. Inside, there was a thick green liquid, and it danced strangely in the light.
‘It is a gift,’ said Sanonoi quietly. ‘A potion of some kind. But what for?’
The monk did not speak, and the astrologer said, ‘When the time is right, you will know.’
So Sanonoi took the potion from the monk, said goodbye to her mother and father, and left the palace.
What Sanonoi didn’t know was that the monk was no ordinary man, but in fact, the great god Indra. Indra had seen Sanonoi crying from heaven, and his heart was moved to help her.
Sanonoi travelled onwards, and soon came to a forest. Inside, she found a dead woman lying on the ground. Her body was covered in blood and bruises, and Sanonoi thought she had been killed by thieves. The girl put down her belongings and cried, not used to seeing such violence. Then she noticed that the potion was shining strangely in the light.
Following her instinct, she opened the bottle and poured a bit of the liquid on the woman’s wounds. Slowly, the blood and bruises disappeared, and the woman opened her eyes.
‘Who are you?’ said the woman, looking at Sanonoi suspiciously.
‘I am Sanonoi. I believe I have saved your life.’
‘What a shame,’ said the woman, stretching. ‘I never did enjoy being alive much. Well, I’m Kula.’ The woman stopped moving and looked at Sanonoi more closely. ‘Say, where are you from?’
Sanonoi panicked and named a village from Rome Visai. But it was obvious she was not from there, as her accent was far too pure.
Kula looked at her funny. ‘You’re an odd one. But I have nowhere else to go, and you did save my life, so I suppose I’ll be your servant. Where are you travelling?’
Sanonoi was relieved, and very happy to have someone to travel with. So they continued on together, although Kula complained most of the way.
Finally, they came to the country of Nope Pa Rat. There, the prince, Vichit Chinda, had been bitten by a poisonous snake. All the people were whispering darkly in the streets. If the prince died, there would be nobody to rule over the country after the King died. Everyone was praying for the prince to recover.
Again, following her instinct, Sanonoi put on her royal dress, went to the palace and said that she was a royal doctor, and that she wished to see the prince.
‘Draw seven curtains around his bed, so that nobody may see us. And prepare a bathtub as well.’
The King was desperate at this point, so he agreed, and Sanonoi was left alone with the prince. There, she took out the potion and poured it over the prince’s wounds. The poison left his body, burning bright and turning into steam. The steam quickly filled the space between the seven curtains, and Sanonoi sweated and coughed as the poison surrounded her.
‘I must take a bath,’ she said, ‘or the poison will affect me, too.’
So she pulled off her dress and went to find the bathtub.
Meanwhile, Kula, who had been watching from a distance, climbed under the curtains and stole Sanonoi’s dress. She quickly changed her hair to look like Sanonoi, and copied the way she stood.
A few minutes later, the prince woke up, and saw Kula standing there.
‘I’m alive!’ he cried. ‘Are you the doctor who saved me?’
‘Yes!’ said Kula, smiling widely. ‘I came here with my servant. You’re welcome, my prince.’
By then, Sanonoi had finished her bath. She came back through the curtains and was surprised to see Kula in her clothes.
‘Kula, what are you doing?’
‘Quiet, girl!’ Kula cried, slapping her across the face. ‘I apologise, my prince. My servant is quite rude. You see, I am a princess, but I was forced to leave my home for my safety. Oh, if only I had a safe place to stay…’
Sanonoi was so shocked she couldn’t say anything. Kula was pretending to be a princess, and asking the prince to let them stay there!
‘Of course, my princess,’ said the prince. He sat up in bed and kissed Kula’s hand. ‘We will do everything we can to make you comfortable.’
And so began a miserable few months for Sanonoi. Every day, Kula treated her like dirt, shouting at her and hitting her when she complained. She was forced to work with the other servants, and every night she cried as she thought about her parents. She wished she had her little wooden house, so she could hide inside it and never come out.
The prince, however, was not impressed by Kula. She seemed to lack all the manners a princess should have, and he had never heard of Rome Visai, the country she claimed to be from.
One day, he asked his father about Kula’s behaviour.
‘It really is unbelievable,’ he said. ‘In the morning, her hair is always a mess, as if she has not brushed it. In the afternoon, she loudly complains that she is bored, and is never satisfied with any ideas I suggest. And at dinner time, she eats before me, and she puts her elbows on the table!’
‘Hmm,’ said the King. ‘None of those things stop one from being a princess, although she is not a pleasant girl. But she has been forced to leave her family and country. She must be very sad about it. Let us give her a chance to show her skills.’
So the prince went to Kula and asked her to make a krathong. Kula said, ‘Of course!’ but in reality, she had never made a krathong before. After spending several hours folding banana leaves and failing, she gave up and threw all the leaves on the floor.
Sanonoi had secretly been watching, and she went and collected the leaves to make the krathong herself. Hers was elegant and beautiful, but as soon as she was finished, Kula ran in and said, ‘I’ll take that!’
When Kula presented the prince with the elegant krathong, he was shocked. Perhaps Kula would make a good wife, after all. But he still had to be sure.
In a few weeks’ time, he would be leaving on a sea journey. So he asked Kula to dye a three-coloured cloth to decorate the bow of the ship. Again, Kula said, ‘Of course!’ but in reality she had never dyed anything, and she didn’t even know which part the bow of the ship was.
Once more, she spent several hours trying to dye the cloth, before failing and throwing it on the floor. And once again, Sanonoi came out from hiding and completed the task, dyeing a beautiful cloth.
Sanonoi tried to hide the cloth from Kula, but the nasty girl beat her until she told her where it was. Then she presented the cloth to the prince.
The prince sighed and said, ‘Well, Princess Kula, when I return from my trip, I might just ask you to marry me.’
‘Why wait until then?’ said Kula. ‘Marry me now!’
‘Now now,’ said the prince. ‘There’s no need to rush into something this important.’
In truth, the prince did not want to marry Kula, but he knew it was important for him to have a queen when he ruled over the country. He was happy to have the sea trip as an excuse to get away from her for a while. This might be the last freedom he ever had.
But when the day of the voyage came, the prince’s ship would not move. It sat still by the harbour, as if something was holding it back.
The prince knew of an old superstition, that a ship wouldn’t leave if someone was being ignored at home. He had made a list of people to buy gifts for on his journey, as well as what they wanted, and he decided he must have forgotten someone. So, based on the superstition, he checked the list, and he realised he had missed Sanonoi, Kula’s quiet servant.
He ran back to the palace and found the girl sweeping the floor.
‘Dear Sanonoi,’ said the prince. ‘What gift would you like most, from the bottom of your heart?’
Sanonoi didn’t know what to say, so she answered truthfully.
‘What I really want is a small wooden house, in the traditional Thai style.’
But she knew it was hopeless. The prince was not going to visit Rome Visai, and there was no way she could get her little house back.
Still, the prince added her gift to his list, smiled at her, and left for his journey.
This whole time, the great god Indra had been watching over Sanonoi, and he wanted with all his heart for her to find happiness. So he sent powerful winds, pushing the prince’s ship so that finally it arrived in Rome Visai.
The prince was not happy about this. He had wanted an escape from Kula, and now he had been taken to her homeland. He went around finding the gifts on his list, but whenever he asked people about the small wooden house, they looked scared and told him to go to the palace.
‘What is this strange country?’ said the prince. ‘Why is it that nobody sells small wooden houses, and why should I go to the palace to find one?’
But he thought it made sense to visit his future parents-in-law, so he did as the people said.
But when the prince mentioned Kula, the King just said, ‘I have no idea who that is. Are you joking, young prince?’
‘No!’ said the prince.
Did that mean Kula had lied to him? He felt his face turn red. Now he wanted to go back and find out where she was really from.
But first, he had to find Sanonoi’s gift.
‘Never mind. I’m looking for a small wooden house in the traditional Thai style, and everyone told me to come here. It’s for a gift.’
The old man’s expression changed instantly.
‘Who are you asking for?’ said the King. ‘I’m warning you, if you wish my daughter any harm…’
The prince shook his head. ‘I don’t understand. The gift I’m looking for is for a servant girl, not a princess. Sanonoi can’t be your daughter.’
The King’s eyes widened at the mention of his daughter’s name.
‘Sanonoi… it can’t be. Tell me, what does this girl look like?’
So the prince explained Sanonoi’s appearance, and as he did so, he realised that the girl was quite beautiful, although he’d never noticed it before. In fact, she looked far more like a princess than Kula did.
‘It is her!’ cried the Queen, jumping out of her seat. ‘Sanonoi is no servant girl, she is our daughter!’
And she ran out of the room, only to return a moment later with the wooden house in hand.
‘Take this,’ she said, ‘and ask for my daughter’s hand in marriage.’
‘I still don’t understand,’ said the prince. ‘If Sanonoi is the one who saved me, why did she say nothing about it? And why did Kula tell me she was the princess?’
The King and Queen looked at each other.
‘We told her to keep it a secret that she is a royal,’ said the Queen, ‘for her own safety. But the time for the truth has come out.’
So the prince sailed home as fast as he could. He threw Kula in prison and took the small wooden house to Sanonoi. He knelt before her, put the house in her hand and said, ‘Sanonoi, will you show me the secrets of your heart?’
Sanonoi was scared, but she nodded. She placed the house on the floor, closed her eyes, and when she opened them, it was big enough to enter. She took the prince inside, and showed him the white rope.
Of course, it was no ordinary rope, but a mongkol! She looked at it, and then looked at the prince, and said, ‘Well then, my prince, I suppose we should get married.’
And so they did. They had a beautiful ceremony, and Sanonoi was finally tied to the prince by the mongkol. Kula had to sweep the floor and watch through her tears as Sanonoi got her happy ending.
The prince suggested they send Kula away from the country and into the forest, but Sanonoi refused.
‘I was sent away from my own country, and I suffered much misery until I met you. She was attacked and killed by thieves, and I imagine she has not had an easy life. Let her find her own path, and perhaps one day, she will find her home.’
If you enjoyed the story and want to say thank you, you can buy me a coffee on Ko-Fi. Just go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com and click the orange button that says Buy me a coffee! Then you’ll be able to send me $3 so that I can buy a coffee, but really, I’ll probably get a bubble tea. And I’ll think of you while I drink it! Thank you for listening, and until next week.