Tam and Cam

tam and camYou might be surprised to know that there are hundreds of folktales around the world that have the same central plot as the English children’s story “Cinderella”. This Vietnamese fairytale is longer and continues after the girl becomes Queen. The story after this could only happen in a folktale from a country where people believe that after we die we can be born again in non-human form.

English Learner Vocabulary Help

The words and expressions in our Simplified English story which are not in our Pre-Intermediate level 1200 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

There are also two words that are in our Pre-Intermediate word list but have a meaning in the story which is different to the one most commonly used:

  • One of Tam’s jobs was to collect water from the well near their house. As a , the word means a deep hole dug in the ground. You can see a water well in the picture at the top of this post.
  • When the KIng saw the way the “new” Tam had prepared betel he said: “It looks so much like the way it used to be prepared by my late much loved Queen.” Here the word is a used when talking about someone who is dead.

General Comments on the Story

This story illustrates a possible difference between modern day, Christian influenced Western fairytales and the original stories upon which they are based. In the version of Tam and Cam that we have simplified here the story ends with the comment:

“Tam lived longer than both of them (her stepmother and ), and lived happily ever after, for she certainly deserved it.”

In Western terms it is hard to see how it could be argued that Tam was so good as be worthy of life-long happiness. At the end of the story she caused her stepsister Cam to be boiled alive. Another version of the story has an even more horrible ending where Tam had Cam’s body cut up, cooked and turned into a sauce which she tricked her stepmother into eating with her meals. The sauce was so delicious that the stepmother ate it every day until she found Cam’s skull at the bottom of the jar and immediately fell down dead. I think that if we were able to look back at original versions of many English children’s favorites we might find examples of equally bad things happening to those who do wrong.

There is some disagreement about the moral of the the original Cinderella plot, which makes up the first part of the Tam and Cam story. The one that I like best is that “As long as you are kind and a truly good person, your dreams will come true.”

There is some interesting symbolism in the story which could explain a possible moral of the second part. Near the beginning of the story we see this description:

“The poor little Tam worked and worked all day. Her skin became dark and her hair messy. Sometimes when she went to get water, she looked at herself in it and was surprised to see how dark and ugly she was. She would then take up some water in her hand, wash her face and comb her long straight hair with her fingers. The soft white skin appeared again, and she looked pretty again. But when the stepmother saw how pretty Tam could look, she hated her more than ever and wished to make her life worse.”

And then at the end of the story Tam’s stepsister Cam asks her:

“Dearest sister, how could I become as white as you?”

As well as the obvious thought that Tam’s light skin and Cam’s dark skin may represent good and evil, skin color could have a uniquely Asian symbolism. In Asia there is a popular stereotype that dark-skinned people are of a lower social standing than light-skinned people. This seems to come from the idea that the family of dark-skinned people must be poor and uneducated and therefore have to earn a living by working in the sun. Because of this, one of the biggest selling personal care products in this part of the world is skin-whitening cream. In the West the opposite applies; many people like to have a “healthy” browning of the skin to show that they have the time and money to relax outdoors. Cam’s terrible end did not come from all the bad things she did, but from wanting to change the color of her skin. The possible moral of the second part? “Be happy with who you are.” This seems a very important teaching for a strongly class based society such as ancient Vietnam, where the last thing those in power would have wanted was for the masses to try to improve their position.

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betel(n: betel, noncount) 1. An Asian climbing plant. 2. An item traditionally chewed by the peoples of South East Asia, made from the leaves of the betel plant, seeds of the areca palm [often called betel nuts] and lime.

boil(v: boil, boils, boiled, boiling) 1. To heat a liquid (or a container with liquid in it) so that bubbles are formed and rise to the top. I'm boiling water to make coffee. 2. To cook by boiling. I've boiled some eggs.
(adj: boiled) Used to refer to things that have been cooked by boiling. boiled eggs 2000

bone(n: bone pl bones) The hard substance forming the skeleton of man, animals etc. 2000

bury(v: bury, buries, buried, burying) To place in the earth and cover with soil. 3000

cage(n: cage pl cages) A container or enclosure with wire or metal bars for holding birds or animals. 4000

(n: cluck pl clucks) A short low sound like the call of an adult female chicken (hen). 12000

(v: deserve, deserves, deserved, deserving) To have earned something as a right by one's actions or achievements. 3000

festival(n: festival pl festivals) A special time or event when people gather to celebrate something. 4000

fresh(adj: fresh, fresher, freshest) 1. [of food] Newly made, gathered, arrived; not frozen, canned, etc. 2. [of air] clean and pure, coming from the outdoors. 2. [of people etc] healthy; not tired. 3. [of weather etc] cool; refreshing. 4. [of water] without salt. 5. another; different; not already used, begun, worn, heard etc. a fresh piece of paper; fresh news 2000

hen(n: hen pl hens) An adult female chicken. 3000

jealous(adj: jealous) 1. Feeling or showing that you want to be like another person or have something that another person has; envy. 2. Feeling or showing unhappiness or anger because you think that someone you love [such as your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.] likes or is liked by someone else. 4000

mat(n: mat pl mats) A flat piece of material for wiping shoes on, covering a floor, sleeping on, protecting the surface of furniture, etc. 4000

palace(n: palace pl palaces) A very large and beautiful house, especially one lived in by a member of a royal family such as a king, queen, sultan, etc. 4000
The picture on the left shows Buckingham Palace in London where the Queen of England lives.

rubbing(v: rub, rubs, rubbed, rubbing) To move something [such as your hand or an object] back and forth along the surface of something else while pressing. 2000

slippers(n: slipper pl slippers) A light, soft shoe that is easily put on and taken off and is usually worn indoors. (รองเท้าแตะ) 5000

soul(n: soul pl souls) The spirit; the non-physical part of a person that is believed to give life to the body and in many religions is believed to live forever. (วิญญาณ) 3000

(n: stepmother pl stepmothers) A woman who has married your father after the death or divorce of your mother. (แม่เลี้ยง) 10000

wicked(adj: wicked) 1. Morally bad; evil; sinful. A wicked witch. (ชั่วร้าย) 2. (informal) Having or showing slightly bad thoughts in a way that is funny or not serious. She wore a wicked smile after beating me at tennis. 3. (informal) Very bad or unpleasant. She had a wicked case of food poisoning. 4. (informal) Very good. He is a wicked dancer. 3000

(n: noun pl nouns) A word or group of words that is used as the name of something, such as a person, animal, place, thing, quality, idea, or action.

(adj: well, better, best) 1. Healthy. I don't feel very well. (สุขภาพดี; หายดี) 2. In a satisfactory state or condition. All is well now. (เป็นที่พอใจ)
(adv: well) In a good, correct, successful, suitable etc way. She plays the piano well. (อย่างดี; อย่างมีทักษะ) 1000
(n: well pl wells) A deep hole made in the ground through which water, oil, natural gas etc. can be removed. (บ่อน้ำ; บ่อน้ำมัน) 4000

late(adj: late, later, latest) 1. Coming or happening after the usual, expected, or desired time. The train is late tonight.. 2. Existing or happening near the end of a period of time. Late at night. 3. Living until recently; now dead. The late king. 1000

(n: euphemism pl euphemisms) A mild or pleasant word or phrase that is used instead of one that is unpleasant or offensive and may upset the reader or listener. 7000
For example, when talking to family or friends of someone who has died, we might say that the person has 'passed away' instead of 'died' and refer to them as 'the late Mr/Mrs...' instead of 'the dead/deceased Mr/Mrs ...'.

(n: stepsister pl stepsisters) The daughter of your stepmother or stepfather; a sister who has only one parent in common with you. (น้องเลี้ยง) 10000

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