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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Strube

Evolving Dragons

Being a teacher reminds me that evolution is a real phenomenon. When you are standing in front of a room of five year olds and they are all staring at you with their fingers up their noses, xylophone mallets up their skirts, and tattletales on their lips, you become keenly aware of how close children are to animal kingdom.

They grunt. They snort. They kick when kicked. They fight. They fury. They crawl. They puff.

And they are keenly in touch with magic.

As I noticed yesterday, China is full of magic. I just don’t have a translator. Children, however, need no translation. They believe in fairy dust whole-heartedly and no foul educational system has yet come to take it away. Because children are magic-believers, this makes them a challenging audience. If they don’t like you, they have superpowers that can make you disappear. It’s hard to control them.

(It’s hard to control ANYONE who believes reality is only as real as you want it to be.)

(Perhaps that is the point.)

Thankfully, I have a few magical mammals up my own sleeve: cue Puff Daddy Dragon.

Puff was my savior today when bombarded with extended time kindergarten music class. Dragon in hand, I sang the children the woeful tale of of a depressed reptile. 

Yes, that’s right. Whoever told you fairytales have happy endings lied. I mean, if I had to sing Puff the Magic Dragon for the rest of my life, I might slit my wrists. It’s a massive downer. I had no idea that fairytales could be reason for Xanax. Teachers aren’t supposed to tear up in front of their students, especially when singing a song about a magical lizard named after a psychotropic drug.  But this is what happened one Shanghai Smog Grey afternoon in front of a room of 19 wiggly feet and fingers. There I was, singing a story about little Jackie Paper and his pet Puff. With ginger hair and twinkling eyes, Jackie saw the magic beyond his normal life. It was him and Puff against the world, boy and soulmate dragon forever. Together, they tasted all the glitz and glam that Hanalei had to offer. They fjorded rivers, ate cherry pies, and frolicked in the autumn mist (not be confused with the 47 shades of grey mist outside my bedroom each dusk).

But then, after many adventures, what does Jackie Paper do? 

He grows up and stops believing in magic. The story doesn’t tell you why, but it’s probably because he buys a suit and tie and started doing silly things everyday, like existing only for a paycheck. Either way, Jack goes AWOL and stops representing the human race over there in magic land. Surely the story couldn’t end like this. Isn’t there anyone who will help humanity? 

I turned the page and there on page 32, the exact number of my age, was Puff, depressed and desolate, head hung low. 

One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more, 

and Puff, that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain. 

Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.  

Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave. 

So Puff, that mighty dragon, sadly slipped into his cave.

I tried to salvage the story, but the illustrations all turn south. Even the magical dolphins and billy goats on page 33 needed a hug. Puff, no longer green but Eeyore blue, had moved in with Plato himself, slipping into a cave, content with staring at shadows on the cavern wall. Not even 8 Treasure Tribute Chrysanthemum Tea could help lure him from his slumber. Without children to help humans believe in the magic, Hanalei had turned into an existentialist’s nightmare. Everything was slothful. It was more pathetic than I was, there singing in front of Korean children, tears gaping out my eyes. 

In that moment, a tissue in my right hand and Puff in my left, I decided I needed to marry a very rich man. There was no other option. I can’t sing about dragon depression the rest of my life. (Hence the need for Future Husband Makes-Enough-To-Support-Me-A-Lot).  Because I, like these children, will not stop believing in magic. 

Dragons have often been creatures of myth and legend, as well as a symbol of power. Yet in the West, power is gained by slaying the Puff man. Our heroes cross the moat, kill the beast, and get the golden glory. Little Jackie Paper betrays his dragon friend, and we praise him for “growing up.” There is no time for imaginary dragons in the real world, son.  Now get thee to thy greyscale cubicle.

The East does things a little differently. Here, we honor our dragons. Dragons are not animals to slaughter but divine beasts ready to deliver good fortune. No longer malicious monsters, dragons are signs one has mastered authority and true inner prowess.

2012 is the year of the dragon — the year of the freest spirit of the Zodiac. Irrepressible and uninhibited, colorful and flamboyant, the dragon spirit is unrepeatable. It’s infectious. The sign of the dragon is the fire-breathed mark that fearless life has arrived and the impossibles are about to begin. People born under the sign of the dragon are said to be passionate and brave, innovative and enthusiastic. The year of the dragon is THE year to marry, have a child, or start a new business venture. It’s the moment to seize your dragoness honor.

I don’t know about you but let’s do a quick comparison.

Western dragon = you get to grow up into a depressed non-magic believer who has a tiny glory moment of slaying his inner child

Eastern dragon = the life you embrace is as great as your imagination, and you may even get your very own luck dragon (whom you can name Falcor)

Hmm… I’ll let you decide. But here’s wishing us all will have the power to “de-evolve” into children and enter the kingdom of Hanalei again. After all, we all know the song. Cue xylophones now please.

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