Surrounded by fields of bamboo, lived a prosperous bamboo cutter and his wife. Despite all of their wealth, they still longed for children of their own, which they were unable to have. One day, while the bamboo cutter was in the field, he saw a bright light shining from inside a bamboo stalk. The closer he got, the brighter it shone. He opened up the stalk to see what was causing this light. When he opened it up the light unfolded like a blooming flower and, sitting right in the middle, was a tiny girl.
The bamboo cutter had heard of Thumbelina being born from a flower, but he’d never seen or heard of bamboo babies. He took the girl out, held her in his palm and admired her radiance. He then took her home and showed her to his wife. They looked after and loved her as their own. They named her Bamboo Princess and gave her the bamboo stalk she was born from as a reminder that one doesn’t have to look far to find happiness.
Bamboo Princess grew up into a sweet princess. Her relationship with her father grew stronger than the bamboo that surrounded them. This was as a result of the amount of time they spent together. Their working days were dedicated to the bamboo fields. Her free time was split between walking her pet panda, playing Kendo, a martial arts game, and – in secret - reading. Bamboo Princess grew more and more talented in each of these areas.
However, it was not her talent that was spoken of throughout the village. It was the fame and fortune she came with as a result of being the daughter of a successful bamboo cutter. Any prince, who was charming enough to woo Bamboo Princess, would inherit the comfort of a good life.
When Bamboo Princess turned 15, the Bamboo Cutter sent out a letter to five of the wealthiest princes, inviting them individually to a banquet on five consecutive evenings. The princes knew this was their chance to charm the princess, but more importantly it was the chance to get her Father’s approval. Ultimately, it was the father who would make the decision to match her with the most eligible prince.
Bamboo Princess knew from her family tradition that she would be a bride from a young age, which would end her chance to study and go further in school. The older she became, the more anxious she grew about this inescapable tradition.
Marriage was meant to be a choice:
a choice of timing and a choice of a life partner. She felt too young. She dreamed about travelling somewhere new and educating herself. More specifically, she dreamed of becoming a scientist or a computer engineer. She loved to develop apps and hang out on social media. Her father on the other hand, was suspicious of everything modern and in particular what he called ‘unsafe forms of communications’, such as the Internet. In his house, televisions, mobile phones and computers were forbidden … until the day his wife pointed out that their neighbours seemed to be much better off than them now that they had a TV and mobile phone. Bamboo Princess finally got the phone she wished for, but without money or a decent data package to use it. She relied on public Wi-Fi and this was hard to find.
The first evening of the 5-day gala banquet had arrived. Snow Prince made an entrance as he rode in on his white tandem bicycle, the back seat empty. Bamboo Princess expected Snow Prince to have a snow-white complexion just like his great grandmother, Snow White, but she was pleasantly surprised to see he didn’t.
Over dinner, Snow Prince asked what Bamboo Princess’ interests were. She revealed her enquiring mind for how the universe was formed, leading to her desire to study physics and become a scientist. She also told him that she was also interested in coding and engineering. Snow Prince was mortified.
He told her that ladies’ skills should lie in the kitchen, not in the classroom. As he understood, this is how ladies proved their womanhood: By serving and looking after their man.
Bamboo Princess took a deep breath to try stay calm, while Snow Prince explained what he thought about the roles of women. Snow Prince continued. “It was my Great grandmother, Snow White, who stumbled upon a home in the woods where seven dwarves lived.
It was her safe haven from the Snow Queen who wanted her life to …”
“Become the fairest of all...” interrupted Bamboo Princess impatiently.
“To earn her right in the home, Snow White washed the floors, made the beds, sewed the clothes they wore and cooked the food they ate. She was a great example to all women.” Snow Prince didn’t notice Bamboo Princess looking out of the window and rapping her fingers on the table. “Because of this, I would like to honour my greatgrandmother by having seven children and name them after the dwarfs she was so fond of.” Bamboo Princess stood up from the table and clutched onto her bamboo stalk until her knuckles went white.
Her father was quietly looking in on the situation. He sensed this date wasn’t going well, so before she could embarrass Snow Prince any more, Father bid the Prince goodnight before dessert was served. Snow Prince thanked Bamboo Princess for the dinner and rode off on his tandem with the back seat still empty.
The second evening could only go better than the first. Loman, the much talked about son of the emperor was on his way. Both the Emperor and his great-grandson, Loman, were known across the land for their spectacular sense of fashion. Bamboo’s father figured that Loman and Bamboo Princess could talk about silk patterns and fashion trends. In the dressing room, Bamboo’s servant pinned in the Princess’ last twist of hair when the doorbell rang. He was not a minute before or after the arranged time.
Bamboo Princess shuffled right behind the butler towards the front door. Her servant was walking closely behind Bamboo, fluffing up her puffed-out dress. Father noticed her eyes were already dazzling, but then realized it was just her heavy-laden glittery eye shadow. The door opened. Bamboo Princess jumped back with horror, gasping for breath at what was in front of her. She started choking on her surprise. Loman quickly stepped in, and in his attempt to help the situation, he started patting her back. This made it worse for Bamboo Princess. She turned away, averting her gaze.
Loman didn’t understand her reaction. Does she not like my new suit, he wondered? Again, the bamboo cutter and his wife were, unbeknown to Bamboo Princess, crouching at the top of the staircase, spying down on the date. It took a moment for them to realize what they were looking at before they both gasped, “He’s naked!”
Bamboo’s father darted down the stairs with a spare royal robe and covered the inappropriate sight from his precious daughter’s eyes. Loman kept resisting the robe, but Father insisted he wear it if he wanted to stay.
Two courses into the evening and three more to go, Bamboo Princess was still feeling flustered from the rude awakening. Her father had taught her that first impressions matter the most, and
now she believed it more than ever before. Loman’s naked entrance was by far the most exciting thing that happened that evening. In fact, his strong stance on the beauty of his new ‘suit’ was the only opinion she got from him all night. When she asked about his favourite books, he shrugged. When she asked about his favourite movies, actor, bands, and what his dream holiday would be. All he did was shrug, shrug, and shrug. The last she saw of him was when he shrugged Father’s robe off before bidding goodnight. Again, she looked away but she could not un-see what she had already seen. When he asked if he would see her again, she shrugged back.
It was the third evening and opposite her was Frog Prince and his frog. He didn’t look like a prince. His neck skin was hanging loose on him and, from the front, Bamboo Princess could only see two tufts of grey hair on the sides of his head, while the top of his head shone brighter than the sun. His frog was no more handsome and Bamboo’s cat, Puss in Boots, made his instant disapproval known. Puss in Boots jumped onto the table, hissing at the frog on the Prince’s shoulder. The prince swept the cat off the table, maybe a little too forcefully and said, “I don’t really like cats. I know this is your second cat, but it would also be your last cat once you marry me.”
Bamboo didn’t recall telling him that this was her second cat after her first lost his ninth life. The only place she made that common knowledge was on her social networking profile page, but her account was made private to her accepted friend list.
So, how had he viewed it? Bamboo Princess was certain that he had hacked into her social media account and stalked her. Not long after dessert, he was out. Out of the house and out of the question.
Later that evening in the dressing room, Bamboo’s servant was wiping the make-up and tears from her face. She was exhausted and fed up. “I can barely manage five consecutive days of entertaining these ‘charming’ princes, how will I last the rest of life with just one?”
The next morning, Bamboo Princess had errands to do in town. She used the trip as a way to access public Wi-Fi on her mobile phone. The previous night with Frog Prince, had given her the idea to learn about the fourth prince that would be joining her that evening. The only difference is, she wouldn’t hack into his account. She would only view what was made public news by the prince. And she certainly would be more discreet about it when talking to the prince.
At her favourite cat café, Bamboo searched for Prince Dreamy on a social networking site and was happy to find his photo albums were made public. She worked her way through each album photo by photo and was surprisingly impressed. He looked good, he loved his family, and he even helped at a cat rescue facility. This was the one! This was the prince in shining armour.
The evening announced itself and so did Prince Dreamy. Between mouthfuls of the of soup, Prince Dreamy unraveled each family story into excruciating detail, accompanied by albums of photos, all of which she had already seen on his social media profile. Each story about himself bled into another and the evening continued to play out in slow motion. His voice became a distant sound and the mocha ice cream she was eating was brought to the forefront of her mind. It was good. She reminded herself to thank the chefs later for another exceptional meal.
“That’s me in a nutshell. What about you, Boo?” said Prince Dreamy.
Bamboo, who was lost in her dream world, took a couple seconds to register that he was one, asking her a question, and two, addressing her by a disturbing nickname. She opened her mouth to speak only to be interrupted.
“Ah, look at the time. Time for my beauty sleep; I’m not called Prince Dreamy for nothing. Goodbye and goodnight my Sleeping Beauty.”
Strike four. She lagged up the stairs, her legs too heavy to lift. Her father trying to be upbeat asked how it had gone but she responded by slamming her bedroom door on his toes.
Night five. Prince Number Five. Bamboo Princess was quite disappointed at this point and tired from dressing up for each evening, so she dressed down. Her mother was mortified to see Bamboo wearing pants and told her that ladies don’t wear pants. She was walking behind Bamboo Princess from room to room, tearing a brush through her tangled hair, applying blush and spritzing her neck with an overpriced perfume.
The doorbell rang and so did Bamboo’s conscience thinking that maybe she should have put more effort into her appearance. But to not cave in to her mother’s pressure, she remained in her jeans and opened the door with her head held high. Maybe a little too high, because at eye level with her was not the face of a charming prince but an over sized jeep, that looked more like an open top military truck, than an ecofriendly people mover. The exhaust fumes were pumping out like a coal-burning factory. The prince wasn’t even in it! A sparkle from below her field of vision caught Bamboo Princess’ attention. Crouched on one knee, was the fifth prince cupping a slipper in his hands for her to try on.
Chiselled jaw. Glow-in-the-dark teeth. Giraffe-like eyelashes. She must have stood there paralyzed for some time as he interrupted the silence by clearing his throat, “Ahem!”
Bamboo Princess looked to the single slipper he held. It was made of snakeskin, just like the lace-up shoes he was wearing, with the laces made of whiskers from snow seal pups. She was trying to absorb it all and make sense of the rest of his attire. A harpoon was strapped on his back with a dangling fish speared through the eye. Slipper Prince’s flexed muscles bulged from his sleeveless vest made of mink fur. His narrow waist was drawn together by a crocodile-skinned belt with something attached to the front of the belt. A gun? This was no prince!
Slipper Prince believed he was what all of the girls wanted; after all, girls loved animals. Bamboo Princess on the other hand thought he was a nature hater, wearing clothes made from endangered animals. She slammed the front door on him and ran up to her room crying. This is pointless, she thought. I’ll never find anyone and my life will be always meaningless in my father’s eyes without a prince. I want to go back to where I stemmed from.
Bamboo Queen and Quelin had arrived in the bamboo fields. They hid in the moonlight shadows beneath the tall bamboo stalks, while they moved closer towards Bamboo’s home. Things looked just as they were when Bamboo Queen was a little girl. It was the same mansion with a pointed roof and the same stone bridge over the koi pond that she and her father built. The only difference was how much thicker the trees were that drooped over the trickling water feature. Bamboo Queen breathed in the memories of her earlier days, growing up there. Unfortunately, her memories did not end well for her.
When Bamboo Queen was younger, she had chosen education over marriage. In turn, her father released her back to the wild, where her view on life, according to him, would be accepted. He didn’t see any benefit in her desire to keep learning. He brutally as he cut bamboo for a living and, to her saddened heart, he never met the prince she ended up marrying after graduation. He also didn’t celebrate with her when her prince took his position as King in his land, and he didn’t support her through her pain when she lost him to a tropical disease. There were too many lost years where Bamboo Queen didn’t have a father. She didn’t want that for young Bamboo Princess. She wanted her to have the choice of her own path with her father’s consent.
Bamboo Queen snapped out of her daze when she heard rustling and movement from a close distance. They didn’t move. Just then Baba Yaga appeared. “Baba Yaga! You came! But my, oh my, you gave me a heart attack,” said Bamboo Queen. Baba Yaga anwsered, "I thought you could use a little magical help." She was right. They needed all the help they could get.
Quelin pointed and said, “There she is!” Bamboo Princess was sitting in front of a log fire. She was staring into the flames, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Quelin looked at Bamboo Princess and suggested that the ladies go speak with her. He was never good with emotions anyway so to make the best use of time, he began to build a raft before going ahead to Brujo Island.
Bamboo Princess was transfixed on the flickering flames of the fire. She wondered what it is about fire that could make people become mesmerized by it. Her thoughts trailed to her last conversation with her father after all the princes had left. “All of these five princes are perfectly suitable for you because your mother and I selected only the best. If you don’t choose one, we will”, he had said, while lighting the fire she was sitting at and tossing her acceptance letters from various schools into the flames. Bamboo Princess was considering the consequences of running away. It was dangerous, but the better of the two options, she thought.
“Ahem!” said Bamboo Queen, clearing her throat.
Bamboo Princess spun around to see who was there.
Bamboo Queen and Baba Yaga spent a long time talking to and comforting young Bamboo Princess. They then spent a long time talking to the Bamboo Cutter and his wife about what a young girl’s future should look like. The Bamboo Cutter was resistant to change his ways, so Baba Yaga waved her magic fingers over the parents. Sparks flew and smoke circled. Then Father turned to his daughter and said, “Bamboo Princess, it’s time for you to spread your wings. Go explore, go learn new things, there is so much opportunity for you!” Bamboo Princess squealed, clapped her hands and squeezed her father tight. Baba Yaga winked at Bamboo Princess.
At last something good had come from the old folks’ trip. Bamboo Princess knew exactly where she wanted to study first: The famous physics school in Old Town. She knew she would need to leave with Baba Yaga and Bamboo Queen who could take her there after their journey ended, as the school was only a short distance from the Old Home. The Bamboo Cutter thought this was a wonderful plan and offered his fishing boat for the three ladies to cross the seas. Unfortunately, they had to go via Brujo Island and pick up Quelin before their last stop in Aladdin’s hometown.