Similar in meaning to the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” there is an old Chinese saying: “You can’t measure the sea with a pot.” Appearances can be very deceiving. The following story is about a young lady who made this foolish mistake.
Lady Li made a good living as a waitress at a high-end restaurant. The wealthy patrons were generous with tips, and it wasn’t unusual for her to receive tips of a few hundred yuan. She was proud of her work at the restaurant; Li enjoyed mixing with the rich. She thought very highly of herself — she was slim, fair, and pretty, and she thought there was a good chance of making a good life for herself.
One day, a scruffy looking old man in rather dowdy clothes walked into the restaurant. Li sneered at his rustic look, figuring that he had just come into town as a tourist and probably didn’t have much money. He didn’t look like he had enough for a meal, let alone a tip for her. Just as expected, the old man said: “Please bring me a glass of water.”
Li answered: “We don’t have water. We only serve wine and drinks. Please leave if you’re not going to order food.” She continued bluntly: “This isn’t the place for you. You don’t have the money! Don’t waste our time. Leave now.” The old man took his leave, saying on his way out: “Don’t be so cruel to others, you’ll be sure to regret it one day.”
The restaurant manager gathered his staff together the next morning, telling them: “The new director will be coming in today. Make sure you’re doing your best work.” Upon hearing the news, Li checked her looks, thinking to herself: “If I make a good impression, I’m sure to get a promotion!”
A luxury car pulled up outside. An older man led a group into the restaurant. Everyone bowed and smiled at the group, chanting in unison: “Welcome new director!” The old man nodded in acknowledgement. The manager seated the group himself, asking: “Would the new director like to say a few words?” Everyone began clapping in anticipation, but as Li caught sight of his face, she stopped in mid-clap.
“How could that be him?” It was none other than the old man she had been so cruel to the day before. She was fired almost straight away, and the tears she shed in self-pity at what she had done to herself offered no comfort.
Translated by Cecilia Kwan and edited by Kathy McWilliams.