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Synopsis

Chen Shang-Li slept well but he was stiff when he woke. It wasn’t the damp; he was used to that. And now it was almost summer and the weather was warm. He was getting old; he knew it yesterday as he herded his ducks across the fields. He was tired long before the sun set. He had slept in the shadow of a large school building by the side of a rice field. He always recognized the big sign: Ho- Ping. You could see it from far off. He could not read very well but he know these characters meant “Harmony”. It was quiet and safe with no one to bother him provided he got on his way with the first light before the cooks were up to fix rice for the students. The mist was still heavy but he could see the shadowy wings of the great white cranes hovering over the rice field. His ducks were already awake, pecking here and there amid the stubble. It was still too dark to count them but he didn’t worry; in all the years he had been herding, he had never lost a single bird. That was why he could still get hired. They knew that even though he was an old man he could be trusted to know his business. He picked up his staff and clucked softly, softly, so he wouldn’t disturb anyone who might be awake. He should reach the market by late afternoon. It took him longer now, three days instead of two, but no matter, he would get there with his flock safe and sound. It was better to go slow, as he always explained; it gave the ducks more time to eat along the way so they would be fatter when they reached the market.

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