The Missing Mountainside | Ep. 194

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

Have you ever taken more than you needed?

It happens to all of us. When we’re tempted by something, we sometimes end up going a little overboard.

But in today’s story, an entire town learns that when you bite off more than you can chew, it can leave a very bad taste in your mouth!

Our story is called “The Missing Mountainside.” Versions of this tale come from Taiwan, a mountainous island off the coast of China.

Voices in this episode include Feodor Chin, Hrishikesh Hirway, Chelly Li, Jessica Rau, Nick Sholley, Dawn Ursula, and Karen Huie.

Kids, listen for Karen in the animated series Abominable and the Invisible City on Hulu. And grown-ups, check out Karen in the Fox comedy Welcome to Flatch, now in its second season.

Special thanks to the science professors who helped with the technical details of this story: Will Ouimet at the University of Connecticut, and Dr. Tony Lee at National Taiwan Normal University.

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

Update: Episode 200 dropped in our feed on 3/14/23. We are no longer accepting submissions. Big thanks to all who sent their audio!

Our 200th Circle Round episode is coming up and we want you to be part of it!

Find a smartphone – or some other recording device – and ask a grownup to record you doing two things:

  1. A cheer (i.e. HOORAY! Or YAY!)
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Email your audio (as one file or two) to Please include the speaker’s first and last name. 

We look forward to hearing from you!

Musical Spotlight: Pipa

Eric Shimelonis plays the pipa: an ancient instrument that’s been described as elegant, playful, charming, and adaptable to traditional and modern sounds. (Courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
Eric Shimelonis plays the pipa: an ancient instrument that’s been described as elegant, playful, charming, and adaptable to traditional and modern sounds. (Courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

The pear-shaped, four-stringed wooden lute known as the pipa is one of the oldest and most popular Chinese musical instruments, potentially dating back 2,000 years! Very popular in Taiwan, the pipa belongs to the plucked category of instruments, and can be played in the horizontal or vertical position. Several related instruments in East and Southeast Asia are derived from the pipa – including the biwa (Japan), đàn tỳ bà (Vietnam), and bipa (Korea).


NARRATOR: If you visit the island of Taiwan, you’ll find many hills and mountains. And one of those mountains has a most intriguing history.

It’s known as Banping Mountain, or “Half-Screen” Mountain. And it has that name because when the mountain first formed, one side had a totally flat face – like a screen! It was as if someone had taken the biggest knife you've ever seen and sliced part of the mountain clear away.

Science says this unusually flat face was the result of tectonic plates and movement of the earth’s crust. But legend says it was the result of something else entirely. And it all began long, long ago, in a bustling town at the mountain’s base.

[SOT: marketplace]

NARRATOR: The town was home to a lively marketplace where people flocked from hither and yon to haggle over flowers and fruits, silks and spices, rugs and rice.

One day, an old woman with long, silvery hair showed up at the marketplace. She was pushing a rickety cart with a bright silver pot on top.

OLD WOMAN: Dumplings! Steaming dumplings here! Get ‘em while they’re hot!

NARRATOR: The dumplings in the woman’s pot sent a delicious aroma wafting through the marketplace. And before long, dozens of market goers were jostling for a place in line.

MARKET GOER 1: I must get my hands on those dumplings!

MARKET GOER 2: They smell amazing!

MARKET GOER 3: Tell us, old woman! How much do they cost????

NARRATOR: The old woman tapped a wrinkled finger to her chin.

OLD WOMAN: Hmmmmm… How much do my dumplings cost, you ask? What a marvelous question! I was thinking I would sell one dumpling for one copper piece, two dumplings for two copper pieces, and three dumplings for free!

NARRATOR: The market goers were taken aback.

MARKET GOER 1: Ummm… you aren’t serious, are you?

MARKET GOER 2: Surely you must be joking!

MARKET GOER 3: Are you actually telling us that you’d sell one dumpling for one copper piece…

MARKET GOER 4: …and two dumplings for two copper pieces…

MARKET GOER 5: …but you’d give away three dumplings for free?!?

MARKET GOER 6: Is that correct?

OLD WOMAN: That’s absolutely correct! I would never lie! But these dumplings aren’t going to sell themselves! So let’s start with you, sir!

NARRATOR: The woman turned to the first person in line.

OLD WOMAN: How many dumplings would you like?

MARKET GOER 1: Well, if you’re really giving three dumplings away for free, then I’ll take three dumplings!

OLD WOMAN: Alrighty then! Here you go! And you, ma’am? How many dumplings would you like?

MARKET GOER 2: I’d like three, of course! Why pay for just one or two when I can get three for free?

OLD WOMAN: Why, indeed? And how about you, sir? How many dumplings would you like?

MARKET GOER 3: Is there any question? I’ll take three! 

NARRATOR: All day long, people lined up at the old woman’s cart to buy her dumplings.

Though I shouldn’t say “buy” – because all they did was take!

Not a single person paid for one or two dumplings. They all took three for free, then gobbled them down with gusto.

MARKET GOER 4: Oh! These dumplings are delicious!

MARKET GOER 5: Absolutely scrumptious!

MARKET GOER 6: I could eat these all day!

MARKET GOER 1: What do you think the old woman puts in them?

MARKET GOER 2: I can’t really tell! Rice, I think?

MARKET GOER 3: And mushrooms, maybe?

MARKET GOER 4: Or some kind of meat?

MARKET GOER 5: I don't know!

MARKET GOER 6: I don’t know either! But what I do know is if that kooky old lady comes back tomorrow, I’m going to take all the free dumplings I can get!


MARKET GOER 2: Me too!

MARKET GOER 3: Me three!

NARRATOR: Much to everyone’s delight, the old dumpling seller did come back, and offered the same curious deal as yesterday.

OLD WOMAN: One dumpling for one copper piece, two dumplings for two copper pieces, and three dumplings for free!

NARRATOR: Once more, crowds of market goers swarmed to her cart, and can you guess how many dumplings each of them ordered?

That’s right!

MARKET GOER 1: I’ll take three dumplings!

MARKET GOER 2: Gimme three dumplings!

MARKET GOER 3: I want three delicious dumplings! Now!

NARRATOR: The old woman wasn’t earning a cent, but she didn’t seem to mind. She wore a big smile as she gave her dumplings away. And as her customers stuffed themselves silly, she had a twinkle in her eye.

OLD WOMAN: My, my, my! There seems to be no end to these people’s appetite – and no bottom to their stomachs! But if everything goes as I hope it will… they’ll need a very strong stomach to handle what I have in store!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think the dumpling seller is cooking up – other than dumplings?

We’ll find out what happens, 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 “The Missing Mountainside.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, in the marketplace at the foot of a mountain, a mysterious old woman was offering appetizing dumplings at an unusual price.

OLD WOMAN: One dumpling for one copper piece, two dumplings for two copper pieces, and three dumplings for free!

NARRATOR: The old woman attracted throngs of customers – all of them making the same demand.

MARKET GOER 1: Gimme three dumplings!

MARKET GOER 2: Three free dumplings!

MARKET GOER 3: And be quick about it!

NARRATOR: This happened over and over again. But then, at the end of the week, a young woman wearing worn-out shoes and a patched-up shirt got to the front of the dumpling seller's line.

YOUNG WOMAN: Excuse me, ma’am. But I’ve been hearing all week about your amazing dumplings and I’d love to have a taste. So, I’m wondering… may I please have just one?

NARRATOR: A hush fell over the crowd. The old woman cupped a weathered hand over one ear.

OLD WOMAN: I’m sorry, young lady. But I can’t always rely on these old ears of mine. Did I hear you correctly? Did you really order just one dumpling

YOUNG WOMAN: Well… yes. Just one dumpling.

NARRATOR: The other market goers stared at the young woman in disbelief.

MARKET GOER 4: You’re seriously ordering just one dumpling?!

MARKET GOER 5: Then you must have dumplings for brains!

MARKET GOER 6: Didn’t you hear the old woman’s offer? It’s one dumpling for one copper piece, two dumplings for two copper pieces, and...

YOUNG WOMAN: …and three dumplings for free. Yes. I know; I’ve heard all about it. But this old woman of whom you speak… All week long, she has carted her heavy load of dumplings to this marketplace. And from what I hear, all week long she has fed everyone – everyone – for free. Is that true, madam? 

NARRATOR: The old woman nodded.

OLD WOMAN: Yes, my dear. It is true.

YOUNG WOMAN: So people near and far have been raving about your dumplings… yet no one has seen fit to pay you a cent! Am I the only one who sees how wrong that is? You deserve to make a living! Just like the rest of us! What you don’t deserve is to be taken advantage of. So here.

NARRATOR: The young woman reached into her pocket and pulled out one copper piece.

YOUNG WOMAN: Times have been hard for me lately and I have just enough money to pay for one dumpling. But it’s better than nothing.

NARRATOR: The old woman gazed at the copper piece. Then she gazed at the young woman… and grinned.

OLD WOMAN: Good lady. Good good lady! I wish to thank you. You see, I was hoping this day would come. And thanks to you… it has!

YOUNG WOMAN: Well, it’s only one copper piece. I wish I could afford more, but –

OLD WOMAN: No! It’s plenty! Your one copper piece is more than enough to show me that you have passed my test!

NARRATOR: The market goers exchanged a confused look. The young woman was pretty mystified herself.

YOUNG WOMAN: “Test”!? I don’t understand! What kind of “test” are you talking about?

OLD WOMAN: Well, the truth of the matter is… I am not a “kooky old dumpling seller,” as many people have come to call me. I am actually the spirit of the mountain that looms over this village! A powerful deity who has been seeking a trustworthy and true-hearted soul to reward for their goodness! And you, my dear – …you are that trustworthy and true-hearted soul. You are the one I have been waiting for. And as such, you shall receive a well-deserved reward.

NARRATOR: The mountain spirit lifted the dumpling pot and placed it in the young woman’s hands.

OLD WOMAN: This dumpling pot is for you. Keep it in your possession, and whenever you are hungry, just reach inside and a fresh-made dumpling will be waiting. The pot’s magic will only work if you just take what you need… but something tells me you won’t have a problem with that.

YOUNG WOMAN: Wow! Mountain Spirit… I thank you! Truly!

OLD WOMAN: And I thank you! Truly! But as for everyone else…

NARRATOR: She shot the rest of the crowd a withering glance.

OLD WOMAN: I want all of you to look up! Lift your heads and take a peek at the mountain towering above you! Tell me what you see!

NARRATOR: The market goers did as they were told and craned their necks upward.

And what they saw made their jaws drop!

MARKET GOER 1: (GASP!) The side of the mountain!

MARKET GOER 2: It’s no longer there!

MARKET GOER 3: It’s like somebody sliced it clear off!

MARKET GOER 4: Or chopped it clear away!

MARKET GOER 5: But where has it gone?

MARKET GOER 6: What have you done with it?

OLD WOMAN: The question is not ‘what have I done with it.’ The question is, ‘what have you done with it?’

NARRATOR: The market goers were too stunned to speak. The mountain spirit fixed them with a steely stare.

OLD WOMAN: Ladies and gentlemen. The dumplings you’ve been eating all week long were not real dumplings. They were made from the stones of the mountain! And now, thanks to your self-serving actions and gluttonous greed, half of the mountain is gone, never to return. So let this be a lesson to you all that sometimes, what is taken away… cannot ever be replaced.

NARRATOR: And with that, she raised her head, waved her arms…and disappeared.

The market goers felt their hearts throb with remorse… and their stomachs ache with pain. Because all of a sudden they could feel the heavy, rocky pieces of the missing mountainside churning in their bellies.

I wish I could say that’s the end of the story. But years and years later, humans began eating away at the mountain again. Some time in the 20th century, Banping Mountain became a quarry – with miners chipping away at the mountain’s precious limestone, and carting it off to sell.

So these days, Half-Screen Mountain no longer has that sheer cliff drop, like someone sliced one side clear away. Instead, it has sloping sides all around.

But even though it looks much like many other mountains, it can still serve as a towering reminder to take only what we need… and never bite off more than we can chew.

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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