READING ESL: every cloud has a silver lining

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

A Malaysian Story

I wrote this story last year as a text for an elementary school story-telling competition. The competition was canceled, and since then this story has been quietly filed away doing nothing.

I find the problem with ESL story-telling competitions is that the audience doesn’t understand a lot of the language in the story, so they just sit there, passively, and let the unfamiliar language wash over them. In this story, I tried to encourage the story teller to engage more directly with the audience by asking questions and soliciting opinions, and I also made use of a lot of local content and basic English vocabulary.

The theme for the story-telling competition was ‘Good Health’

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

 Do you know the English expression “every cloud has a silver lining”? It means that when bad things happen, good things can sometimes follow. For example, a rain storm is a bad thing. The rain can flood the drains and rivers, the lightning can strike trees and houses and the thunder can frighten animals and children. But after the storm there is a good thing because the air is fresh and cool, the plants and earth are watered and everything can grow again.

 Do you want to hear a story about a cloud and a silver lining?

Once upon a time there was a rich family living in a big house in Taman Fraser. There are lots of big houses in Taman Fraser. Every house has a large garden, air-con in every room and expensive cars in the garage. Some houses even have swimming pools! It is a lovely place to live.

Adam is a very lucky boy to live in such a luxurious house with his mother and father. Adam’s father has an import business and he sells car tyres. He imports tyres for every type of car and he has made a lot of money. Adam’s father sits in his office shouting in his telephone, and when he is hungry his driver drives him to a restaurant for his breakfast. Adam’s father also eats his lunch at restaurants and when he gets home their maid sets out a lovely big dinner that their cook has prepared for him. Adam’s mother is often out in the evenings and doesn’t get home until his father has finished eating.

Adam’s mother is very busy. She does not have time to cook Adam’s meals for him and the cook is too busy preparing food for Adam’s father, so Adam’s mother gives him money every day so he can buy his own lunch after school. Adam likes McDonald’s, and he goes to McDonald’s for his meals every day – sometimes twice a day! Adam is the only boy in his school who can eat McDonald’s every day. Adam is very happy about this.

Adam also likes ice cream. Lots of ice cream! He likes chocolate ice cream the most, but sometimes he will have vanilla and strawberry as well. Adam likes to order banana split at the café near his house, because it is served with his favourite chocolate ice cream, as well as vanilla ice cream, strawberry ice cream, fresh cream and chocolate sauce. Actually, Adam doesn’t like the banana; he just likes the ice cream, the cream and the sauce.

Sometimes Adam will invite some boys from his class to eat burgers with him. Adam always has lots of money and he will pay for burgers for other boys. Sometimes the boys tease Adam for being so fat, but if he buys them burgers and milkshakes they don’t tease him so much.

Once Adam invited his some of his classmates to his house and they swam in his pool, but Adam was so fat he burst his swimming shorts and everyone laughed at him. Adam was angry and embarrassed, so now he doesn’t invite his classmates to his house anymore. Adam doesn’t mind because his father bought him an X-box and a PlayStation and they both connect to the huge flat screen TV in Adam’s bedroom. Adam likes playing car races on his own.

Do you think Adam is happy?

Would you like to eat ice cream and McDonald’s every day?

Adam thought he was happy, but one day everything changed. The first strange thing was Adam’s mother was at home more often. She didn’t seem very happy, and Adam’s father was talking a lot on the telephone, but instead of telling people what to do, he was very worried and asking people to help him.

Adam’s father was very ill, and he had to go to hospital for treatment. His business was not doing so well, and nobody wanted to help. Adam’s mother explained that there was no more money. No money for the cook or the maid, no money for expensive cars or PlayStation games and no money for fast food. Adam’s parents moved out of the big house in Taman Fraser and moved into a small apartment near the hospital.

Adam’s mother explained that the small apartment near the hospital was not big enough for him as well. Adam was very fat, but that’s not what his mother meant. There was only one room and a small bathroom, so it would be very uncomfortable for two of them to share. Adam was going to stay with his father’s cousin.

Adam did not know that his father had a cousin. Adam’s mother told him that his father’s cousin had never come to visit because he was poor and couldn’t afford the journey. She also explained that they had never visited the cousins because their house was small and old. But Adam’s father’s cousin had been the only person who had offered to help, so Adam was going to live with his father’s cousin and all his family in Kampung Bawang.

Do you know where Kampung Bawang is?

It is very, very far up the ulu.

Adam cried at the train station. His mother bought him a burger and some fries to eat on the train. He ate them, but it didn’t cheer him up much. The train journey was seven hours long and Adam soon forgot about the burger, and started crying again.

Pak Mat was at the train station to pick up Adam. Pak Mat drove his van to the train station, and several of Adam’s new cousins had come with him. Pak Mat told Adam to get in the back of the van with the other children and they drove for a long time through plantations and jungle to get to Adam’s new home. The other children were excited, but Adam wanted to cry again.

Adam was hungry, and when they got home Mat Cik gave everyone some tea and chicken. Adam ate his food quickly; he enjoyed it, but there was only a little and he was too scared to ask for more. Adam was very tired and the other children showed him the room where they slept.

The next morning, Adam woke up hungry, and he asked Mat Cik for some more chicken. The other children laughed and pointed to one of the hens scratching around the back door. There was no fast food in Kampung Bawang, everything had to be grown, picked or caught before you could eat it. Mat Cik sent Adam and the other children out to look for some eggs to boil for their breakfast.

Life in Kampung Bawang was very different from life in Taman Fraser. The food was very fresh; the fish came directly from the river to the kitchen, and the chicken and eggs came from the yard. Kangkung grew everywhere and there were pumpkins and aubergines in the garden.

Adam had to help the other children with chores around the garden and the house; he didn’t know what to do, but the little children thought he was funny, and they liked to help him with the chores.

Adam was often tired and he was always hungry; he was very worried about his parents as well. He wanted to cry, but there was always something to do, and someone to do it with. Even when all the chores were done the children still wanted to play, and they always played Police and Thieves when there was nothing else to do. The youngest children always wanted to be ‘thieves’ with Adam so they could hide behind him when the ‘police’ came. Sometimes, Adam found, he was enjoying himself.

Adam’s body became a lot healthier. Being outside a lot exposed Adam’s skin to vitamin D from the sunlight, and this began to make him feel a little bit better. His healthy diet of local poultry, fish, vegetables and fruit made him feel a lot better. Adam began to think that maybe running around outside with his friends was as much fun as playing solo computer games. It was certainly a lot better for him.

Although Adam’s family situation was still uncertain, Adam was feeling a little bit happier, and a lot healthier. The combination of an active lifestyle and a healthy diet helped Adam to find his physical and mental balance.

Living happily ever after is what people always do when their story starts with ‘once upon a time’, and Adam is no exception. Before the year was over, Adam’s mother arranged for Adam to come home to a smaller house near Taman Fraser. Adam’s father was not making as much money these days, but his expensive operations had made him fit enough to work again.

Adam enjoyed being back in town, he missed his country cousins, but these days he was playing outside with his new friends. On rainy days they play computer games at the house of a boy from Adam’s class.

Adam eats at home and at school now. There’s still not enough money for burgers every day, but on Adam’s birthday his mother took him to the café for a banana split with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream. It was a delicious treat, and this time Adam even enjoyed eating the banana as well.

Living happily ever after is what we do when we keep up an active lifestyle and fill our plate with healthy food with a little bit of room left for sweets and fast food treats.

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