There’s a Buddhist temple at the top of a mountain called Tiantong Temple. In this temple, there [are] more than 100 monks. A boy named Yuan was sent to this temple when he was 5 [years old]. When he was 8 years old, he started to learn to chant sutras [and to] pay respect for Buddha with the other monks.
The monks in this temple lived together just like brothers in a family. They had their own jobs. Some should clean the whole temple and some should carry water. Yuan’s duty was to help [the] older monks to prepare the meals. He enjoyed doing it and was good at it. He could make the best porridge in the temple. The [temple’s] wok was very big and deep because of the great population of [the] temple. The stove was too high for Yuan to use, but he never stopped his work and finally found fun in cooking.
One day, Yuan prepared the porridge as usual and [the] other older monks waited for the meal in the hall. A few hours later, Yuan [still hadn’t] come out. One of the monks went to the kitchen to find out what [had] happened. However, he found there was no one [there]. A wok of hot savory porridge [sat bubbling] on the stove. He thought Yuan [must have] gone out to play with [the] other children and forgotten the food. The older monk did not think much about it and tasted the porridge with a spoon. He found the flavor of the porridge was [the best he had ever tasted]. He was surprised by it and called [the] other monks [in] to have a taste. A few minutes later, there were all crazy about [the] amazing taste and scrambled to eat the porridge.
However, when they ate half of the porridge, a monk found a skull and some bones at the bottom of the wok. In fact, Yuan [had] not gone out. He climbed up the stove in order to cook the meal better, and he fell into the wok. The wok was so deep that Yuan drowned and did not have a chance to call for help. He was cooked with the porridge and was eaten by his dear brothers.
When the monks heard [the] news, a lot of them killed themselves. Local people carved this sad story on a stone and put it beside the wok [to] remember the story. Years later, this temple is still famous for the story in my hometown.
Like last year, I asked students to call the oldest person in their families and to ask that person to tell them a story that they had never heard before. They then translated and told the story in English. While we’re away traveling, I thought I’d let my students tell their stories. To preserve their privacy, I have not credited the authors, but I have gotten their permission to let you listen in. The stories vary—sometimes simple, sometimes Earth shattering, sometimes otherworldly. I have not edited their stories unless I needed to help the flow. My edits are in brackets. [ ]