'Dirt Into Gold' | Circle Round 105

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Think about a time you worked hard on something.

Maybe you spent hours practicing the piano, or you helped a grown-up clean a sink piled high with dirty dishes.

In today’s story, we’ll meet a character who works really hard - just so he can avoid working hard for the rest of his life!

Our story is called  “Dirt Into Gold.” Versions of this tale come from the Burmese people, in southeast Asia.

Voices in this episode include Gabriela Fernandez Coffey, Tzi Ma and Jimmy Wong. Grown-ups, you might recognize Tzi Ma from films like The Farewell and Tigertail. And kids, listen for Jimmy Wong’s voice in Sony’s upcoming animated feature, Wish Dragon. You can see Tzi and Jimmy in Disney’s live-action adaptation of Mulan. It’s available now in many countries on Disney+ with Premier Access, and will be available to all Disney+ subscribers in December.

Coloring Page

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

What’s one goal that you hope to work hard to achieve? Maybe you want to learn how to play guitar or tie your shoes. Perhaps you want to write and illustrate your own storybook.

Sometimes the best way to achieve a big goal is to break it into smaller goals: more manageable, short-term steps that will help us get there. So find a piece of paper, and draw a picture of your very own Goal Ladder. At the top of your Goal Ladder, write or draw your big goal. Then ask a grown-up to help you write down or draw the steps it’ll take to make your goal a reality.

You may not reach your long-term goal right away. So don’t be discouraged! As long as you’re making progress and achieving smaller goals, you’re still climbing that “ladder” to success.

Musical Spotlight: 

The arched harp has a distinctive shape: as the neck extends from the body, it forms a bow-shaped curve, which is why it’s sometimes called a “bow harp.” The arched harp’s roots are ancient, dating back to 3000 BC in Egypt! From there, the instrument made its way southward to Africa and eastward to Southeast Asia,  where it became known as the “Burmese harp” or saùng-gauk. You can see the saùng-gauk in action here.


NARRATOR: In a small village, there lived a husband and wife.

To earn a living, the wife spent her days picking fruit for the banana farmer down the road.

Her husband, on the other hand, spent his days doing something else entirely:

Trying to turn dirt… into gold!

Back when our story takes place, this kind of thing was called “alchemy.” Alchemists recited mystical spells and performed complicated experiments in hopes of transforming regular things — like copper, or lead, or, yes, dirt -- into precious gold!

But the more time the husband in our story spent on his spells and experiments, the less money he and his wife had in the bank!

And that made the wife worry.

WIFE: (frustrated, but trying to be gentle) My love… I know you’ve been working hard trying to take plain old soil from the earth and transform it into glittering, gleaming gold. (beat) But I’ve been working hard to pay our bills, and keep food in the cupboards, and I could use your help. Maybe it’s time for you to give up, and get a real job!

HUSBAND: (clearly obsessed) You don’t understand, my darling…. I am right on the verge of finding the secret of turning dirt into gold! And when I do, we won’t ever have to work to pay our bills again! We’ll be richer than your wildest dreams! (beat) I just need a few more days.

NARRATOR: But those “few more” days turned into a few more weeks... then a few more months... and before long, the cupboards in the cozy house were as empty as a bird’s nest in winter.

The desperate wife decided to consult the wisest person she knew: her father. Maybe the sage man could offer some advice! When she reached her father’s thatched-roof house by the forest, she explained everything that was happening back home.

FATHER: (once his daughter tells the story) My goodness, Daughter! I had no idea your husband was still seeking ways to turn dirt into gold! I thought for sure he’d given up on that wild goose chase by now. (beat) But don’t you worry; I have a plan. Tell your husband to come see me tomorrow for tea.

NARRATOR: So the next day, the husband visited the thatched-roof house by the forest and sat down at a table in the backyard garden, where his father-in-law was pouring two cups of tea from a clay pot.

FATHER: (hatching his plan) So, my boy... my daughter tells me you’re still working on your alchemy...? Trying to turn dirt into gold…?

HUSBAND: That’s right! And let me tell you, I’m getting closer and closer to a breakthrough. I can just feel it!

FATHER: Is that so…?

NARRATOR: The father-in-law reached for the sugar.

FATHER: You know… back in my youth, I dabbled in a little alchemy myself!

HUSBAND: You did?!?

NARRATOR: The husband’s eyes grew wide.

HUSBAND: My wife never told me that!

FATHER: Well, I’ve never breathed a word about it to anyone… until now. And it just so happens that I was working on the exact same undertaking that you are.

HUSBAND: You mean, you were trying to turn dirt into gold?

FATHER: I was! I got so very close, time and time again… but then life got too busy and I had to set my experiments aside.

HUSBAND: Well, I’m never setting my experiments aside! I won’t rest until I find the answer!

FATHER: (a bit wry, but continuing his scheme) So my daughter tells me. (beat) But the reason I invited you here is because I think I can help you. You see, not long ago, I learned the secret ingredient you need to turn dirt into gold!

NARRATOR: The husband’s eyebrows shot up.

HUSBAND: “The secret ingredient”?!?? You know the secret ingredient?!?

FATHER: I do! (beat) But I’m afraid I’m too old and weary to get it. Only a very young, very spry person could put forth the effort.

NARRATOR: The husband’s eyebrows shot up even higher.

HUSBAND: Well, I’m young! I’m spry!

FATHER: (delighted his plan is working) So you are! (beat) In that case…

NARRATOR: He leaned forward.

FATHER: ...have you ever seen... a banana tree?

HUSBAND: I have! My wife spends all day picking bananas for the farmer down the road!

FATHER: (a bit wry, but continuing his scheme) So she does! (beat) Well then, as you know, on the banana tree you’ll find big, broad leaves. On the backs of those big, broad leaves you’ll find a filmy coating… a silvery powder that helps the plant hold in moisture. (beat) Your secret ingredient… is that silvery powder!

NARRATOR: The husband was so astonished, he nearly dropped his teacup.

HUSBAND: Wait a minute!! The silvery powder...?!? From banana leaves...?!? That’s the ingredient I need to turn dirt into gold?!?

FATHER: That’s what you need! When the plants grow tall and ripe, you brush the silvery powder off the backs of the leaves, you save it, then you’re on your way! (beat) There’s just one... catch.


FATHER: The powder has to come from banana trees that you grow yourself. (beat) Do you think you can do that?

NARRATOR: The husband thrust out his chin.

HUSBAND: (with confident swagger) Of course I can do that! I can grow banana trees! (beat) How much powder do I need?

NARRATOR: The father-in-law reached over and lifted up… the clay teapot.

FATHER: You need this much.

NARRATOR: The husband furrowed his brow.

HUSBAND: A teapot...?!? I need enough powder to fill an entire teapot...?!? (beat) To do that, I’d need to plant hundreds of banana trees! If not thousands!

FATHER: Indeed! That’s why I say I’m too old and weary to even try… (beat) But if you really think you’re up for it, I tell you what. I will give you money to buy land, and some banana seeds. Once you’ve grown your plants and collected your teapot’s worth of silvery powder, send for me, and I’ll show you how you can turn dirt into gold.

NARRATOR: The husband jumped up from his seat and gave his father-in-law a hug.

HUSBAND: Oh, thank you! Thank you so much! At long last, I’ll finally turn dirt into gold! It’s almost too good to be true!

NARRATOR: The father-in-law smiled.

FATHER: (mysterious) Almost… (beat) But enough dilly-dallying. If you wish to turn dirt into gold you have work to do, my boy! (a bit more slowly, dramatic) So get to it!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think will happen next?

Will the would-be alchemist turn dirt into gold?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “Dirt Into Gold.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, a hardworking wife worried about her husband’s attempts to turn dirt into gold. She sent him to her father, a wise man who said he knew the secret ingredient for turning dirt into gold: the silvery powder on the back of banana leaves! Enough to fill one whole teapot!

The father-in-law gave the husband money to buy land and banana seeds. The husband found a fertile field near the river, and labored day and night plowing and tilling the earth. Then he planted his banana seeds in the rich soil, and kept the ground watered and weeded.

Once the banana trees grew tall and ripe, the husband brushed the silvery powder off their leaves and into a teapot. But at the end of the growing season...

HUSBAND: Ugh! I’ve grown an entire crop of banana trees, but this teapot is nowhere near full! And I’m supposed to fill it all the way before I can turn dirt into gold...?!? (beat) Well, I guess I have a lot more work to do.

NARRATOR: The husband threw himself even harder into tending his field of banana trees. He read all the farming books he could find, and found creative new ways to keep his plants healthy and thriving.

Then, at the end of each growing season, he brushed the powder off the plants’ leaves and swept it into his teapot. This went on year...

HUSBAND: (brushing powder into pot) ...getting fuller…

NARRATOR: ...after year...

HUSBAND: ...even fuller...

NARRATOR: …after year…

HUSBAND: ...even fuller…

NARRATOR: ...until, at last...

HUSBAND: Eureka!!!!

NARRATOR: ...the teapot was full!

HUSBAND: Woo-hoo!

NARRATOR: Glowing with pride, the husband sent for his father-in-law. The old man sized up the rows and rows of strong, healthy trees, then patted his son-in-law on the back.

FATHER: Well done, my boy! You’ve done mighty fine work! I’m so proud of you.

HUSBAND: (clueless about what’s actually happening) Thank you! I worked really hard to get the secret ingredient you told me about. In fact, I have it right here in this teapot! (beat) So... now what do we do? How do I start turning dirt into gold?

NARRATOR: The father-in-law tilted his head.

FATHER: Oh, you must not understand, my boy. (beat) (carefully) You’ve already turned dirt into gold!

NARRATOR: Now the husband tilted his head.

HUSBAND: I’ve what…?!? But I haven’t done anything! Except collect powder from the banana trees, and fill this teapot…

FATHER: Is that so…? (beat) (calling out) Daughter?

WIFE: (appearing, in on the scheme) Yes, Father?

NARRATOR: To the husband’s surprise… his wife appeared! He noticed she was carrying a big brown sack.

FATHER: Daughter, kindly tell me... These past few years, while your husband was saving all that silvery powder from the banana leaves, what became of all the fruit that grew in this field?

NARRATOR: The wife batted her eyelashes.

WIFE: (playing along) Oh, you mean the bananas...? Why, I sold them, Father! Years ago, I quit my job picking fruit for the farmer down the road, and started peddling our beautiful bananas at the market! That’s how we’ve been paying our bills all this time!

FATHER: I see…

NARRATOR: The father-in-law stroked his chin.

FATHER: And kindly tell me, Daughter... were you able to save any of the money you made peddling your bananas...?

WIFE: Of course!

NARRATOR: She gestured toward the banana field.

WIFE: As you can see, my husband grew hundreds of strong, healthy trees in this fertile earth, and they bore so much gorgeous fruit that I was able to save gobs of money! In fact...

NARRATOR: She undid the drawstring of the big brown sack.

WIFE: ...I have it right here!

NARRATOR: Then she turned the sack upside-down, and what should come tumbling out but hundreds of gold coins. The husband gawked at the coins as they plinked and clinked into a glittering, gleaming heap on the ground.

FATHER: So… now do you see, my boy...? (beat)

NARRATOR: The husband looked up. His father-in-law was gazing at him with eyes as bright as the coins on the ground.

HUSBAND: (still not getting it) Do I see… what…?!?

NARRATOR: The wise man motioned toward the banana trees.

FATHER: You’ve succeeded in taking the dirt from your banana fields

NARRATOR: He motioned toward the coins.

FATHER: ...and turning that dirt into…? (allowing his son-in-law to finish)

HUSBAND: (slowly, getting it)! (beat) Of course!

NARRATOR: That was the last time the husband bothered to collect the silvery powder from his banana trees.

But he and his wife did continue to grow bananas.

Because now they knew the true alchemy behind turning dirt into gold. And it didn’t involve mystical spells or complicated experiments. All it involved was a little water, a little sun, and a whole lot of hard — and rewarding — work.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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