Amazing Kids! Magazine

The Dragon Below

By Katie Lam, age 16, China


I opened the book, and out slipped a photograph. I closed my photo album and carefully placed the photograph on top, admiring the way the pillar decorated with gold dragons was illuminated in the midday sun. My mind drifted back to 1995 when I worked as a construction foreman, building the highway which now loops around our beautiful city of Shanghai.

It was like any other day. Long honks from the impatient drivers sitting in busy noontime traffic blocked by the construction of the Yan’an Highway rang in my ears. The taste of tobacco from my morning smoke still lingered in my mouth as my sweaty palms suffocated inside the heavy construction gloves.

Sitting on the curb of the road to take my lunch break, I had just pulled out my bowl of chicken and duck blood soup, the leftovers of my dinner the night before, when I was approached by my boss.

“Zhang Wei!” I heard the muffled call of my name through the shrill sound of the blasting machine. “Zhang Wei, I have a task for you. A pillar needs to go into the crossing point of Chengdu Road, and I need you and your team to finish it in a week.”

I walked in the direction he was pointing and patted the muddy soil with my hand. “Yes, boss. We’ll get right to work.”

It was the middle of the afternoon, and the sun was blazing on our bare backs. I lugged a jackhammer onto the muddy soil and switched it on. As I drilled, pieces of dirt and rock flew from the ground. Only half of the jackhammer was in the ground when it jolted itself to a stop.

Ai ya! What kind of useless piece of junk is this tool?” I exclaimed, lifting the jackhammer up and checking the bottom. It seemed to be working fine. I moved a few feet away and started drilling again. After a few seconds, the vibrating of the jackhammer stopped, as if I had hit something hard.

I grunted out loud in frustration at the jackhammer and the sweltering heat, ramming the tool into the ground.

“It’s mud! Why can’t I drill through mud?”

But the mud seemed to be relentless—it broke several jackhammers and tired out many workers. The days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months. In time, every construction worker had tried to drill through the mud—and failed.

Ni zhen shi mei yong! Without this pillar, the highway cannot be complete,” my boss uttered, each word flickering with rage. “You must find a way, Zhang Wei. I put you in charge of this, and I expect you to complete it.”

By June 2000, word had passed around the city that the construction of the Yan’an Highway had been stopped because of soft mud which seemed as hard as a rock. One evening as I sat on the curb, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Spinning around, I saw an elderly monk standing behind me. His head was dotted with sparse white hair, and he grinned with a toothless smile.

“You can’t be here. This is a construction site. There is no trespassing,” I grunted.

The monk didn’t leave but instead dusted the curb off with his hand and sat next to me. Wrinkle lines creased his forehead as he spoke.

“You are trying to drill through a dragon’s tail.”

“This is a construction site. You must leave now, or I will call the police,” I grumbled.

“The mud is soft and moist, yet you can’t drill through—that is because there is a dragon living underground.”

“Look, I don’t know what nonsense this is, but you must leave now,” I scolded, dusting my grimy pants as I stood up. The stubborn monk didn’t budge and instead scooped a handful of sand and let it slowly fall out of his hand, back onto the ground. As I gathered my stuff to walk away, the monk spoke again.

“During construction, your work was obnoxiously loud and woke the dragon up from his sleep. You disrespected the dragon, so now he won’t move.”

I let out a raucous laugh. As I shook my head, beads of sweat flew off my face.

“Dragons? Dragons? Our ancestors were foolish for believing in them, and you are, too.”

The monk had to look up to see my face. I stared back down at him, clenching my jaw.

“The only way to drill through the dragon’s tail is to dedicate the pillar to him. You must paint the pillar with nine golden dragons to honor the dragon you awoke,” he added.

The monk stood up, brushed the dust off his saffron robe, and walked away. Before he turned the corner, he looked back and said sternly, “Your adharma will only bring you grief.”

My boss, who had been within earshot of our conversation, came over to where I was standing.

“We should listen to the Venerable Seng. It’s been almost a year, and nothing has worked. Without us drilling through this mud, the highway will never be finished. Call in a designer to construct the pillar.”

I threw my hands up in the air and cried, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“I’m your boss. Do it!”

The morning air was musky, and small sunrays peeked through the skyline. A crowd of construction workers circled the newly sculpted pillar, embellished with nine golden dragons. Zhao Zhirong, the Deputy Director of the Shanghai Oil Painting and Sculpture Institute, stood proudly next to the sculpture he had designed as people praised him for his efforts. Hand-painted golden dragons twisting around the sculpture beamed in the morning light. My boss handed me a jackhammer, and I reluctantly dragged myself to the same stubborn spot.

“This is ridiculous,” I whispered under my breath.

My boss nodded, and I flicked the switch on the jackhammer. All eyes were on me. The air was thick with suspense. I pointed the jackhammer towards the ground and started drilling. The chisel glided through the mud like a knife through butter! Drilling deeper, I heard people starting to cheer.

“It worked! It worked!” the crowd roared. As I switched off the jackhammer, my boss ran towards me, his belly bouncing.

“I told you! There are such things as dragons!” he chuckled, patting me on the back.

I fell to my knees and felt the damp mud slowly cave in, carrying the impact of my fall. Smiles surrounded me as applause rose from the crowd.

I returned to the present and caught myself smiling, the same wide grin I had that day. Today, the Yan’an Elevated Highway is a beautiful nine-mile route which weaves through Shanghai. It couldn’t have been accomplished without the help of the wise monk. If only he lived to see its completion, it would have brought such joy to him. However, the monk never saw the grand highway, as he died the very day after the pillar was drilled in, some say as a punishment for exposing the secret of the dragon.

Āiyā: Oh, my

Nǐ zhēnshi méi yòng: You are so useless

Sēng: Monk

Adharma: Lack of dutifulness

Note: The story about the construction of the Yan’an Highway in Shanghai is based on a true incident. The only fictional characters in this story are Zhang Wei and the boss.