Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Dragon in the Sky

Well, I’ve been traveling … which explains the dearth of blogs for the last couple of weeks. It has been a ridiculously busy time. I would love to tell you that I have been busy because I am a spy for the United States government, but that information is classified, of course. So I won’t. Rather, I will tell a story that I heard during my travels, one that was recounted to me over dinner, to be specific. The dinner was at a delightful restaurant in Geneva, La Brasserie des Halles de I’île, an attractive place with a superior view of the inception of the western half of the Rhône, the lovely river that feeds and is fed by Lake Léman (known as Lake Geneva to much of the Anglo-speaking world).

Ah, how delicious was the dinner there, opening with a few glasses of prosecco and exquisite hors d’oeuvres including bits of Neufchâtel with tasty biscuits and various salami-like products typical of the region, then a remarkable salad—which is more or less difficult, I think, for a salad to be—followed by the piece de resistance, the plat (a succinct yet decorous word for main course). For me, le plat consisted of a succulent steak and scalloped potatoes made with gruyère cheese. I’m not a person inclined to take photographs of food or I would have included one for you here. Rather, let me simply say that it was delicious, as was the view of the gushing, even rapacious Rhône, greedily rolling along and grabbing at both sides of the tiny islet that the two principal portions of Geneva bestraddle.

Rhone river at dusk in Geneva

And that’s when he told me the story of his name, which in Korean means “Dragon in the Sky.” The Korean word for dragon is Yong, and the phrase Dragon in the Sky, when transliterated, is something like Yong-ui Haneul-e. That is his name in Korean. But, of course, being a writer, I had to know more. How did he get this name? (Paradoxically, with a name like Homer, I became a writer. I say paradoxically, because like Jesus and Socrates, Homer was a quite extravagant storyteller not a writer per se.)

Fortunately Yong was willing to tell me a bit of his story. He received the name because his mother had had a dream when she was pregnant with him about a dragon riding on the clouds. This was perceived by her as a significant story, one that might well have bearing upon his life. And thus she named her son for the principal character in that dream. And how did that affect him? I queried. Indeed, it seemed to him that the name had had some influence on his life.

Yong had become a Hapkido master (one of the more prevalent martial arts in Korea), learning the art from an early age because he was in a difficult environment as a child. As he mastered the art, he used it entirely for self-defense, only when several young men tried to threaten him. Like a karate master one might see in a movie, Yong managed to take on several youths at once and teach them a serious lesson about picking on smaller lads like him a school.

But his real challenge came when he had recently married. He and his new bride, on their honeymoon I believe, happened upon a cow pasture. Now I didn’t think to ask why, precisely, he was in a cow pasture with his new bride (his second marriage, as his first wife had passed away). I simply thought, “That seems odd,” but left it at that.

Indeed, it was odder than merely odd. For whatever reason they happened to be there, Yong and his new bride, Brenda, mistakenly thought that they were in a cow pasture. They imagined that the “cows” they saw in the distance were steer—neutered, gentle steer—grazing as they ambled along. But within a few minutes of their cutting through the field, Brenda and Yong noticed that at least one of the “cows” was neither a cow nor a steer, but a bull. Yong continued to call it an angry cow through the rest of the conversation; I corrected him at least twice, explaining that a cow with testicles is not an angry cow—it is a bull. And an angry bull is a very, very dangerous proposition. This much I recall very well from Elaine Jakes’ farming years (the second bit of chapter 9 in The Curious Autobiography).

And then the worst thing that could happen happened: the bull came romping toward them across the pasture, even as they were still a long way away from the other side of the field. Yong told Brenda to continue on and that he would distract the “angry cow.”

As she hurried toward the gate, Yong turned to face the bull. He assumed the proper Hapkido pose (if there is a Hapkido pose proper for addressing a raging bull). Perched on one foot, with one leg slightly extended forward and hands in strike position, he awaited the animal, which was now pawing the ground before him, preparing to charge. And that’s when it must have happened. The bull must have seen Yong not as Yong but as a dragon, indeed a dragon in the sky. He must have, for as he charged, just 10 feet or so away from Yong, who was ready to deliver a powerful roundhouse kick to the bull’s head just below the left horn, the bull stopped. He stopped on a dime, planting his front hoofs firmly in the dirt of the pasture, casting up a small cloud of dust, and shockingly, amazingly, and quickly coming to a dead stop. The bull just looked at Yong and then began to look slightly over his head, higher and higher until it seemed that he was looking at the clouds above. Was it an angel that he saw, preventing Yong from meeting his Maker right then and there? Or was it a Dragon in the Sky?

I don’t know, but I leave it for you to ponder. If it seems incredible to you, consider this: What are the chances of hearing that story in a restaurant know as La Brasserie des Halles de I’ile when eating a delicious dinner on the banks of the Rhône in Geneva, Switzerland? I think they are relatively small. Small, yes, but perhaps no smaller than a bull coming full stop because it thought it saw a dragon in the sky.

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