Strong Mind and Kind Heart | Ep. 190

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

Have you ever made a pact?

A pact is an agreement that you make with somebody. And ideally, you both follow through on your ends of the bargain.

We’re about to meet a character who does not hold up his end of the bargain. And as a result, he ends up getting way less than he bargained for!

Our story is called “Strong Mind and Kind Heart.” Versions of this folktale come from the Southeast Asian country of Vietnam.

Voices in this episode include Feodor Chin, Chelly Li, Jessica Rau, Jefferson A. Russell, and Christopher Sean.

Christopher Sean stars on Star Wars Resistance on Disney Plus, as well as the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Check him out as Batman’s first sidekick, Nightwing, in the new action role-playing game, Gotham Knights.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

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

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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

Think about a time you were a good friend.

Maybe you made an extra-special birthday card for a classmate. Perhaps you helped a buddy put up fliers to find their lost cat. Or maybe you lent an ear as one of your pals told you about their tough day.

Find some paper and draw a picture of you being a good friend. After that, share your drawing with your friend! And if you’d like, share it with us. Grown-ups, you can snap a photo of your kiddo and their artwork and email it to us at

Musical Spotlight: Guzheng

Scholars debate about the guzheng’s origins; some say it was based on a zither made from a single board or bamboo, while others believe it developed independently. (Courtesy of Eric Shimelonis)
Scholars debate about the guzheng’s origins; some say it was based on a zither made from a single board or bamboo, while others believe it developed independently. (Courtesy of Eric Shimelonis)

The guzheng (a.k.a. zheng) is an ancient instrument from China. And when we say “ancient,” we mean “ancient”! The earliest models date back some 2,500 years! The guzheng’s creation led to the development of several other Asian zithers, such as the Japanese koto, the Korean gayageum, the Mongolian yatga, and the Vietnamese đàn tranh.

The guzheng is a type of zither: an instrument consisting of many strings stretched across a thin, flat body. It’s made from a long plank of wood with 21-26 strings (originally made from silk), and it’s played with the fingers or, in some cases, fingerpicks.


NARRATOR: Once upon a time, there were two friends. One of the friends was especially clever, so everyone called him “Strong Mind.” The other friend was especially caring, so everyone called him “Kind Heart.”

Strong Mind and Kind Heart had known each other since the day they were born.

[SOT: Baby cry, then a different baby cry]

NARRATOR: They had played together as children…

KIND HEART: (Younger voice.) Let’s go swimming in the river, Strong Mind!

STRONG MIND: (Younger voice.) I’ll bet I can beat you in a race across!

NARRATOR: …and when they were all grown up, they worked together – watering, weeding, plowing, and planting the fields of a wealthy landlord.

Not only that, but they lived together too, in the only abode they could afford: a leaky, thatched-roof hut with cold, creaky floors and cracked, peeling walls.

One morning, before the friends went off to work, Kind Heart turned to Strong Mind with a smile.

KIND HEART: Strong Mind... you know how we’re always talking about pursuing our studies and becoming great scholars?

NARRATOR: Strong Mind heaved a wistful sigh.

STRONG MIND: (Sigh) I sure do, Kind Heart! Ever since we were little, our greatest dream has been to study hard and become advisors to the king! (beat) But come on. We both know we could never afford to go to school. Our dream will never come true.

KIND HEART: I wouldn’t be so sure about that!

NARRATOR: Kind Heart laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

KIND HEART: Listen, Strong Mind. I haven’t told you this, but I’ve been saving up my wages... and I’ve got just enough money to pay for your first year of school.

STRONG MIND: My first year of school?!? What about your first year of school?!? It’s your money, after all!

KIND HEART: I know… but I want to help you! You’re my best friend, and I want you to live your dream. I’ve got enough money for your first year of school, so you can go to classes and study. After that, I’ll keep working to support you, until you graduate!

STRONG MIND: And after I graduate? What then?

KIND HEART: After you graduate and land your dream job and become an advisor to the king, you can support me while I follow my dream! What do you say? Can we make a pact?

NARRATOR: Strong Mind gazed into Kind Heart’s eyes. Then he wrapped him in a hug.

STRONG MIND: Of course we can make a pact! Thank you, Kind Heart! I’ll never forget your kindness!

NARRATOR: So… thanks to Kind Heart… Strong Mind went off to school in the capital city.

Kind Heart, meanwhile, stayed home and worked in the landlord’s fields. In the blistering sun, in the pouring rain, in the bone-chilling wind, Kind Heart watered, weeded, plowed, and planted – sending all the money he made to his oldest and dearest friend in the world.

He also sent letters.

KIND HEART: (Writing letter.) “Dear Strong Mind… I hope all is well with you in the capital city. I am thrilled that you’re finally pursuing your dream…”

KIND HEART: (Writing letter.) “Dear Strong Mind… I can’t believe you’ve been gone for a whole year now! Your brain must be bursting with knowledge…”

KIND HEART: (Writing letter) “Dear Strong Mind… Has it been two years already? You must be having the most incredible time…”

NARRATOR: With every letter Kind Heart sent, Strong Mind promptly wrote back.

STRONG MIND: (Writing letter.) “Dear Kind Heart… So good to hear from you! I’m doing great here at school, though I sure do miss my best friend…”

STRONG MIND: (Writing letter.) “Dear Kind Heart… Indeed, it’s been a whole year. I’ve learned so much and can’t wait to tell you about it…”

STRONG MIND: (Writing letter.) “Dear Kind Heart… Year number two is through! All thanks to you!”

NARRATOR: But after some time...

KIND HEART: (Writing letter.) “Dear Strong Mind…”

NARRATOR: ...Kind Heart’s letters…

KIND HEART: (Writing letter.) “…It’s been a while since I last heard from you…”

NARRATOR: ...began to go unanswered.

KIND HEART: (Writing letter.) “Perhaps you’re just super-busy at school...?”

NARRATOR: The longer Kind Heart went without hearing from his friend, the more he began to worry. Was Strong Mind alright? Had something terrible happened to him?

But then, while Kind Heart was out doing errands in the village one day, he overheard two villagers chatting in the square.

VILLAGER 1: My goodness! Have you heard the news? Strong Mind finished his studies in the capital city! And graduated top of his class!

VILLAGER 2: Well, no surprise there! We’ve always known how brilliant that fellow is!

VILLAGER 1: And now the king knows it, too! His Royal Majesty just hired Strong Mind to be his chief advisor!

VILLAGER 2: His chief advisor? What an honor!

VILLAGER 1: And what a paycheck! Word has it Strong Mind bought himself a brand new house! A big, beautiful house, with his own guards and cooks and everything!

VILLAGER 2: How wonderful! Good for Strong Mind!

NARRATOR: As Kind Heart listened to the villagers chat, it pained him that Strong Mind hadn’t delivered this exciting news himself. But it thrilled him that his best friend’s dream had finally come true.

KIND HEART: ...And now Strong Mind can make good on his promise and support me as I follow my dream! Tomorrow I’ll journey to the capital city and pay my oldest and dearest friend a visit.

NARRATOR: But when Kind Heart reached his friend’s big, beautiful house in the capital city, he was stopped at the gate by a stern guard in uniform.

GUARD: Hold it right there, sir. Who are you, and what business do you have here?

KIND HEART: Oh! Well… My name is Kind Heart. I’m Strong Mind’s oldest and dearest friend. I wonder if he’s at home?

GUARD: (Repeating the name to see if it rings any bells.) “Kind Heart”... Hmmm… The name doesn’t ring any bells, but alright. One moment, please.

NARRATOR: The guard spun around and marched into the house. He found Strong Mind in the lavish library, poring through a pile of thick books.

GUARD: Sir… a “Kind Heart” is here to see you?

NARRATOR: Strong Mind scowled.

STRONG MIND: Tell him to go away.

GUARD: But with all due respect, sir... he says he’s your oldest and dearest friend!

NARRATOR: Strong Mind rolled his eyes.

STRONG MIND: Listen. He may have been a friend once, but that was before I became so successful! With a fabulous job and a fabulous house! I don’t have time for little people like Kind Heart anymore. Tell him to go away.

NARRATOR: So that’s exactly what the guard did.

KIND HEART: But wait! Why would Strong Mind want me to go away? I’m his oldest and dearest – (Gets interrupted.)

GUARD: (Finishing his sentence.) “His oldest and dearest friend.” So you say, buddy. But I’d suggest you move along. Strong Mind wants nothing to do with you.

NARRATOR: Stinging with hurt, and reeling with confusion, Kind Heart staggered away from the house and out of the city. He found himself beside a rushing river, where he collapsed on the bank with a sob.

KIND HEART: (Sobbing.) How could my oldest and dearest friend in the world claim that he doesn’t know me?!? I mean, here he is, living the dream – the dream that I helped him achieve – and suddenly I’m a complete stranger?!? After I worked so hard for him? Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after – (Gets interrupted.)

[SOT: splashing]

FAIRY: Heeeellllp!!!! Someone! Please! Heeeellllllp!

NARRATOR: Kind Heart looked out across the water. And what should he see flailing and thrashing around in the swift current, but a woman!

FAIRY: (Calling out as she struggles.) Sir! Can you help me?!???? Please?!?

KIND HEART: Of course I can! Don’t you worry!

NARRATOR: Without hesitating, Kind Heart plunged into the river. By the time he swam the woman back to shore, her body was still and her eyelids were closed.

KIND HEART: Oh dear me! Are you alright, miss? Can you hear me? Can you – (Gets interrupted.)

FAIRY: (Interrupting.) Clear as a bell!

NARRATOR: To Kind Heart’s surprise, the woman popped open her eyes and sprang to her feet.

FAIRY: Well done, Kind Heart! You passed the test!

NARRATOR: Kind Heart was dumbstruck.

KIND HEART: “Test”?!? What “test”?!? And how do you know my name?

FAIRY: Oh! We fairies know everything!

NARRATOR: Kind Heart’s jaw dropped.

KIND HEART: Fairies, you say?!?

FAIRY: Yes! We’ve had our eye on you for some time now, Kind Heart. Some of the other fairies wanted to see just how “kind” your heart truly is. So they sent me to pretend I was drowning in the river! And you saved me! You dove right into that ice-cold water without a second thought! (Beat.) So… you passed the test! (mysterious, slowly) And now, you shall get your reward.

[Theme music in]

NARRATOR: What reward do you think the fairy is talking about?

We’ll find out what it is, 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 “Strong Mind and Kind Heart.”

[Theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, Kind Heart was devastated after being turned away from the big, beautiful house of his oldest friend, Strong Mind.

On the way home, Kind Heart saved a woman who seemed to be drowning in the river. But she was actually a fairy, testing his kindness! And now, she said, she would give him his reward.

FAIRY: Here, Kind Heart. Take my hand!

NARRATOR: Kind Heart took the fairy’s hand, and before he knew what was happening, the two of them were lifting up into the air! They went whizzing through the sky, and within minutes they were back on the ground, right in front of Kind Heart’s leaky, thatched-roof hut.

FAIRY: So, Kind Heart… This hut… This is the place you once shared with Strong Mind...? Your oldest and dearest friend...?

KIND HEART: “Oldest” friend, maybe. But definitely not “dearest”! Would you believe he turned me away from his fancy new house in the capital city?! A fancy new house that he wouldn’t even have, by the way, if it weren’t for me?! Years ago, we made a pact. I toiled for years to support Strong Mind, helping him follow his dream of going to school and becoming a royal advisor. After that, he was supposed to support me! Help me follow my dream! Yet he claims he doesn’t even know me?! It isn’t right.

NARRATOR: The fairy fixed Kind Heart with a twinkling gaze.

FAIRY: Don’t you worry, Kind Heart. We’ll make things right. Starting… now!

NARRATOR: She flicked her fingers and all at once, Kind Heart’s thatched-roof hut...

[SOT: magic sound]

NARRATOR: …vanished.

NARRATOR: Then she flicked her fingers once more…

[SOT: magic sound]

NARRATOR: …and where the hut once stood – with its cold, creaky floors and cracked, peeling walls – there now loomed a majestic, skyscraping palace made of sparkling green jade!

Kind Heart watched in wonder as the doors of the jade palace opened wide – and out streamed dozens upon dozens of guards and butlers, footmen and cooks!

FAIRY: Meet your new staff, Kind Heart! And welcome to your new home! (Beat.) I was thinking our first order of business should be throwing a housewarming party. I’ll organize everything… including the guest list. (Beat.) Just leave everything to me!

NARRATOR: True to her word, the fairy threw herself into preparing for the party. She used her magic to create scrumptious plates of food and dazzling decorations. And as for the guest list, she wrote out just one invitation to just one person.

FAIRY: (As if writing.) “Dear Strong Mind: [SOT: fade down and duck out beneath the following Narration] your presence is humbly requested at a housewarming banquet at the Jade Palace tomorrow…”

NARRATOR: When it came time to deliver the invitation, the fairy sent an entire fleet of footmen and horses to Strong Mind’s big, beautiful house in the capital city. When Strong Mind spotted the magnificent horses in their shiny leather bridles, he was immediately intrigued. He grabbed the invitation from one of the footmen and eagerly began to read.

STRONG MIND: (Eagerly reading.) “Dear Strong Mind: your presence is humbly requested at a housewarming banquet at the Jade Palace tomorrow. Come dine and meet the Palace’s new owner. Fancy dress only.” (Beat.) Hmmm. I’m not familiar with this “Jade Palace,” but it sounds downright luxurious! Right up my alley! Count me in!

NARRATOR: The next day, Strong Mind put on his poshest attire and journeyed to the Jade Palace. When he arrived, he was bowled over by its colossal size and glistening jade walls.

As a butler led Strong Mind through a maze of extravagant rooms, he found himself overcome with curiosity.

STRONG MIND: (As he walks.) Hmmm… This Jade Palace is so spectacular, it even rivals the king’s castle! I wonder who owns this amazing edifice?

NARRATOR: At long last, Strong Mind was ushered into a grand and glorious banquet hall, where he found a lengthy table set with plates of pure silver, cutlery of pure gold, and goblets of pure crystal.

Sitting at the head of the table, dressed in a long, flowing gown, was the fairy – though to Strong Mind she looked like a regular human. The fairy lifted her arm and waved a bejeweled hand.

FAIRY: Greetings! You must be Strong Mind! Welcome to the Jade Palace. I hope you didn’t get lost on your way in. With one-thousand rooms under one roof, the new owner and his two-hundred servants are always getting turned around!

NARRATOR: Strong Mind’s head was spinning. One-thousand rooms?! Two-hundred servants!? And look at that banquet table! It was long enough to seat an army!

STRONG MIND: I thank you, madam. It’s an honor to be here. Where might the owner be?

FAIRY: Oh! Right! Our host!

NARRATOR: The fairy smiled.

FAIRY: He’s been detained. But he said we should get started without him. Please. Sit down!

NARRATOR: The moment Strong Mind took a seat, a parade of butlers began carrying course after delectable course into the hall. With every platter of sumptuous, marvelous food… and every glass of strong, expensive wine… Strong Mind grew more and more impressed… and more and more envious.

After the dessert course – a platter of pastries piled so high it took two butlers to carry – Strong Mind wiped his lips with a silk napkin, and grinned.

STRONG MIND: Good madam. This meal has been exquisite! I must confess I feel quite envious of our host’s life!

NARRATOR: The fairy laughed. Her plan was working!

FAIRY: (Laughs.) ‘Envious’? You? But you’re the king’s chief advisor! You have everything you could possibly want!

STRONG MIND: Not everything! As a young man I had nothing but a pathetic, leaky, thatched-roof hut in the countryside, with peeling walls and creaky floors… It was miserable. Then I became the king’s chief advisor, and I got a big house, and a big staff of workers! But all of that pales in comparison with this splendor!

NARRATOR: Strong Mind leaned forward, his hands trembling with greed.

STRONG MIND: I tell you, I would trade everything I have to lead the life our host leads! I would give up my house, my job… everything!

KIND HEART: (Disguising his voice.) (Calling out as he enters the room.) You’d really give up everything?

NARRATOR: Strong Mind turned his head. Striding into the hall was a man with a dark mustache and long beard. A velvet cap was pulled over his eyes. Little did Strong Mind know, but the man was actually Kind Heart! In disguise!

KIND HEART: You truly would trade everything you have to lead my life…?

NARRATOR: Strong Mind jumped to his feet and bowed.

STRONG MIND: Good sir! You must be the owner of the Jade Palace! (Beat.) And yes! I would trade everything I have! In a heartbeat!


NARRATOR: Kind Heart stroked his fake beard, as if deep in thought.

KIND HEART: You know, Strong Mind… it just so happens that I’ve always dreamt of being an advisor to the king! Just like you! (Beat.) So I’ll tell you what.

NARRATOR: He threw a quick glance at the fairy.

KIND HEART: My friend here happens to know a bit of magic! So she will see to it that the trade is made!

STRONG MIND: Really?!?

NARRATOR: Strong Mind’s excited eyes danced between Kind Heart and the fairy.

STRONG MIND: When can we get started?!?

KIND HEART: Well… tonight you will sleep in one of my palace’s guest bedrooms. You may take your pick; there are dozens to choose from. Then tomorrow, you and I will trade lives! You will live the life I have been leading, and I will live the life you have been leading.

NARRATOR: Strong Mind could hardly believe his ears! He grabbed his host’s hand and pumped it up and down.

STRONG MIND: I thank you, sir! You are doing me a generous favor!

KIND HEART: And you’re doing me a generous favor too. (beat) Sleep well, Strong Mind!

NARRATOR: Strong Mind took one last sip of wine, then hustled out of the banquet hall to select his sleeping quarters. After traipsing from floor to floor and room to room, he finally settled on a spacious chamber with velvet tapestries on the walls and a crystal chandelier glittering high above a fluffy feather bed.

He had a big, smug smile on his face as he drifted off to sleep.

STRONG MIND: (Smiling as he falls asleep.) I can hardly wait! Tomorrow… all of this… will be mine! (Falls asleep.)

NARRATOR: But the next morning, when Strong Mind woke up again…

STRONG MIND: (Stretches, wakes up, yawns.)

NARRATOR: … something was decidedly different. For starters, he was not sleeping in a fluffy feather bed.


NARRATOR: And hanging above him there was no crystal chandelier.


NARRATOR: What’s more, the walls around him were not covered with velvet tapestries.


NARRATOR: As Strong Mind swiveled his head around, he discovered the entire Jade Palace… was gone! Instead, he was sitting on a cold, creaky floor. Above him was a leaky thatched roof. And around him were walls that were cracked and peeling.

STRONG MIND: (Gasp.) It can’t be! It can’t!

NARRATOR: And yet… it was! Strong Mind was back in the old thatched-roof hut. Because the fairy had granted his wish… and now Strong Mind was leading Kind Heart’s life – Kind Heart’s real life, before it had been touched with magic.

STRONG MIND: Ohhh nooooo!

NARRATOR: As for Kind Heart, well, he and Strong Mind traded places, right? So Kind Heart woke up in Strong Mind’s big, beautiful house in the capital city! And he went to work as the king’s chief advisor!

At long last, the good, faithful fellow was living the life he had always dreamed of… deep in his kind, kind heart.

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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