Think about a time you lost something – maybe a favorite toy, or a library book. We all lose things from time to time. The trick is figuring out how to find them again.

In today’s story, when a humble baker loses something precious, a brand new judge finds a very creative way to get it back!

Our story is called “Like Oil and Water.” It’s inspired by tales from China, in East Asia.

Voices in this episode include Alexia Trainor, Astrid WS, Michael Zsoldos, and Michelle Ang. Michelle stars in the Disney+ Star Wars series The Bad Batch. You grown-ups can see her in Fear the Walking Dead and The Twilight Zone. Michelle has also directed and produced her own animated series, Riddle Me This, along with documentary and narrative projects, including Hair Now: a web-series on YouTube.

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

You can do your own experiment to compare the densities of oil and water. A really fun one to try is called “Fireworks in a Jar.”

To do this experiment you will need:

– water
– vegetable oil
– a bowl
– a clear jar
– a whisk
– two or three different colors of food coloring
– a tablespoon measure

1. Rill your jar three-quarters full with water.

2. Add some oil into the bowl – at least four or five tablespoons.

3. Add food coloring to your oil; drop in four to five drops of the two or three different colors you wish to use.

4. Whisk the food coloring into the oil.

5. As soon as you mix the coloring in, add the oil into the water!

Now wait and see all of the little colored drops start to come down from the oil.
Thanks to the difference in density between oil and water, you’ll have your very own fireworks!

Musical Spotlight:  The Erhu

Eric Shimelonis plays the erhu: an Asian instrument that many say sounds similar to the human voice, and can even imitate natural sounds like birds and horses! (Courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
Eric Shimelonis plays the erhu: an Asian instrument that many say sounds similar to the human voice, and can even imitate natural sounds like birds and horses! (Courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

The fiddle known as the erhu originated in Central Asia and was introduced to China more than 1,000 years ago. The erhu’s body is typically made of wood: ebony, sandalwood, or rosewood. The bow is traditionally made from bamboo and horse hair. The erhu’s strings used to be made from silk, but the modern erhu has steel strings.

To play the erhu, you hold it on your lap and place the bow between the instrument’s two strings (which are tuned to a fifth). Unlike other string instruments, the erhu has no fingerboard; you use different degrees of pressure as you place your fingers on the strings without pressing them against the wood neck.

The erhu often plays an important role in Asian orchestras – much like the role of the violin in western orchestras. Smaller orchestras usually have two to six erhu players; larger ensembles can feature up to a dozen!


NARRATOR: There once was a baker. Every morning the baker woke with the sun and whipped up batches of pastries. Flaky tarts, fluffy cakes, and her specialty, sweet fritters: long strands of dough which she twisted like a rope, before deep-frying them in a bubbling vat of oil.

Once everything was ready, the baker loaded her pastries into a big basket lined with wax paper. Then she journeyed from her cottage in the countryside to the bustling, buzzing city, where she sold her treats at the market.

[SOT: market hubbub]

BAKER: Pastries! Get your fresh pastries here! One silver coin apiece!

NARRATOR: The baker’s pockets grew heavy with coins as customers flocked to her side.

CUSTOMER 1: I’ll have half-a-dozen tarts, please!

[SOT: coins clink]

CUSTOMER 2: I’ll take one-dozen cakes!

[SOT: coins clink]

CUSTOMER 3: And I’ll buy two-dozen of those fabulous deep-fried fritters!

[SOT: coins clink]

NARRATOR: By the time the market closed, the baker’s basket was always empty… and her pockets were always full. She wasn’t a rich woman, but she made enough money to get by, and that was alright by her.

One day, however, business was unusually slow. Come closing time, the baker was left with a dozen unsold fried fritters in her basket.

BAKER: Well, this is odd! My fritters are usually so popular! But no use complaining. I made decent money today, and I can give the leftover fritters to the birds. Better head home.

NARRATOR: So the baker set out on the long road back to her cottage in the countryside. But just as the road wound its way into a dense pine forest…

[SOT: thunder/rain]

BAKER: Oh dear! Look at this rain! And I didn’t bring my umbrella! (beat) But that’s okay. I’ll take shelter beneath the pine trees until it clears up.

NARRATOR: The baker waited one hour, then two… and before long, she was having trouble keeping her eyes open.

BAKER: (Yawns.) It’s so late! It must be hours past my bedtime! I can’t walk home in this weather, so I might as well take a nap. But first, I’d better put my silver coins somewhere safe!

NARRATOR: The baker emptied the coins from her pockets into her basket. She tucked the coins beneath the leftover fritters. Then she wiped the oil and grease from her fingers and placed the basket on a big flat rock. After that, she lay down on a soft bed of dried pine needles…

BAKER: (Snores.)

NARRATOR: … and fell asleep.

Hours later, the baker was awoken by the sound of morning birds bursting into song. The rain was gone, the sun was rising, but to the baker’s great dismay…

BAKER: (Gasps.) My basket!!! It’s empty! The fritters are gone – and so are my silver coins!

NARRATOR: Indeed, all that remained in the basket was the wax paper lining the bottom. The paper was coated with oil and grease the fried fritters had left behind.

BAKER: Well… I don’t really care about the fritters… but I can’t afford to lose a whole day’s income! How will I get my silver coins back?

NARRATOR: The baker thought and thought. Then suddenly, she had an idea.

BAKER: The judge! I’ll go to the courthouse in the city and talk with the judge! She’s new to the job, but I’ve heard she’s smart as a whip and sharp as a tack. Surely she can help!

NARRATOR: So the baker snatched her basket off the big, flat rock and raced to the courthouse. The new judge was in her chambers, flipping through some papers as she started her workday.

JUDGE: Good morning, miss! May I help you?

BAKER: I hope you can, Your Honor! You see… I’ve been robbed!

NARRATOR: The baker sat down and told the judge the entire story. How she’d worked all day at the market. How she’d taken shelter in the pine forest when the rains came in. How she had tucked her coins beneath her leftover fritters, before placing the basket on a big, flat rock and falling fast asleep…

BAKER: …And when I woke up, Your Honor, the basket was empty! All that remained was the greasy wax paper at the bottom. Someone had crept over in the night and made off with my fritters – and my coins!

JUDGE: I see…

NARRATOR: The judge gazed into the baker’s eyes.

JUDGE: Tell me, miss… Was anyone else around when you discovered this theft? Any travelers, any wanderers, any passers-by?

BAKER: Not a soul, Your Honor! I was all alone in the forest. It was just me and the trees and the big flat rock.

NARRATOR: The judge was quiet for a moment. Then she leaned forward in her chair… and smiled.

JUDGE: Alright, miss. I know just what to do. Leave everything to me, and by the time the sun goes down tonight, you’ll have your silver coins – and we’ll have our culprit!

[Theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think the judge is planning?

What would you do if you were the judge?

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 “Like Oil and Water.”

[Theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break… while heading home from the market, a baker waited out the rain by spending the night in a pine forest. She hid her silver coins beneath the deep-fried fritters in her basket. Then she laid the basket on a big flat rock, and went to sleep. When she woke up, the basket was empty: the coins, and the fritters, were gone.

The new judge promised the baker she would help. The justice snapped her fingers and two attendants came bustling into her chambers.

JUDGE: Attendants, I want you to go to the pine forest, and bring me… the big, flat rock!

NARRATOR: The baker’s jaw dropped open.

BAKER: Uhhh, I’m sorry, Your Honor. But did you just order your attendants to bring you the big flat rock?!? The one I left my basket on in the forest?!? Before I fell asleep?!?

JUDGE: Yes! I did! Since you laid your basket down on the rock, it is our only witness! We must bring it in for questioning!

NARRATOR: The baker couldn’t believe her ears. Nor, apparently, could anyone else! As word spread that the judge had summoned a rock to her courthouse, curious crowds came hurrying from all directions. Cityfolk, countryfolk – they all followed the attendants to the forest, and watched in disbelief as the big rock was loaded onto a cart, and driven back to the city.

[SOT: hubbub, horse-drawn cart rolling along]

NARRATOR: A parade of people trailed the cart as it headed to the courthouse. Everyone was convinced that this new judge must be playing some sort of a joke. But when they squeezed into the courtroom, they could tell from the stern look on her face that she was gravely serious.

JUDGE: Ladies and gentlemen! I’m glad so many of you have assembled here today, as we determine who stole the baker’s silver coins – and deep-fried fritters. We will begin by questioning our primary witness… The rock!

NARRATOR: The crowd didn’t know whether to gasp or giggle as the judge turned toward the witness stand, where the rock was balanced on a wooden chair.

JUDGE: Rock. Last night, did you happen to see who stole the baker’s fritters? And silver coins?

NARRATOR: The onlookers exchanged confused glances. Was the judge really expecting the rock to answer?

JUDGE: Ohhh! So you’re playing coy, are you!? Refusing to respond to a justice of the law?! Then I will ask you one more time, rock. Last night, did you witness who stole the baker’s fritters? And silver coins?

NARRATOR: The judge fixed the rock with an icy stare. The onlookers shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

JUDGE: Alright then, rock. I’m afraid I have no other choice. Since you refuse to answer my questions, and are being disobedient and disrespectful in a court of law, I hereby declare you in contempt of court! And sentence you to ten years in prison! [SOT: gavel rap] Attendants! Take this rock away!

NARRATOR: As the attendants came striding forward, chains in hand, the onlookers couldn’t take it any more. One by one, they opened their mouths, and began…

[SOT: laughter]

NARRATOR: … to laugh!

And laugh!

And laugh!

[SOT: gavel raps]

JUDGE: Order in the court! Order in the court!

[SOT: laughter dies down]

JUDGE: Ladies and gentlemen! How dare you mock my official judgment and disrespect a justice of the law?!? I hereby declare you in contempt of court! And as punishment, you must all pay a fine! Attendants? Bring in the jar!

NARRATOR: The attendants rushed from the room and came back carrying a large jar. It was made of clear glass and stood as tall as a child. It was filled to the top with water.

JUDGE: Ladies and gentlemen, I am fining everyone in this room five silver coins. One at a time, you will pay your fine by dropping your coins into this jar of water. No one may leave the courtroom until everyone’s fine has been paid.

NARRATOR: The onlookers’ eyes went from the judge to the jar. Then their hands went into their pockets as they fished out their five silver coins.

Feeling ashamed – and perplexed – they lined up single-file. And then…

[SOT: plop!]

NARRATOR: … one by one…

[SOT: plop!]

NARRATOR: …they walked up to the jar and dropped in their coins.

[SOT: plop!]

[SOT: plop!]

[SOT: plop!]

[SOT: plop!]

[SOT: plop!]

NARRATOR: About half of the crowd had paid their fine when all of a sudden…

JUDGE: [SOT: gavel] You there! [SOT: gavel] The man who just dropped five silver coins into the jar!

NARRATOR: All eyes swiveled toward a stocky man in a blue coat.

JUDGE: Stay where you are, sir! Don’t move a muscle! (beat) You are the one who stole the baker’s coins!

NARRATOR: The man’s face went pale.

MAN: But Your Honor! I’ve never stolen a thing in my life! I’m not a thief!


NARRATOR: The judge gestured toward the jar.

JUDGE: Because the water says otherwise!

NARRATOR: The crowd turned their eyes toward the water in the jar. And what should they spy floating on the surface of the water… but a greasy, filmy layer of oil!

JUDGE: Ladies and gentlemen! What did we learn about oil and water in our science classes? That they don’t mix! That oil is less dense than water! And therefore it will rise up and float on the surface of the water! (beat) And the oil floating on the surface of this water comes from none other than…

BAKER: …my fritters!

[SOT: crowd gasp]

NARRATOR: The crowd gasped as the baker stood up and grinned.

BAKER: I deep-fry my fritters in a bubbling vat of oil each and every morning! So they’re covered in oil!

JUDGE: That’s right! So when our baker here tucked her silver coins beneath her leftover fritters last night, the oil from the fritters coated the coins – five of which this rascal just dropped into the jar! (beat) Attendants – search this man’s pockets! I believe you’ll find the stolen money there.

NARRATOR: The attendants seized the man. And indeed, what should they find deep within his pockets but the rest of the baker’s silver coins!

They couldn’t see it, but deep within the man’s belly were the rest of the baker’s deep-fried fritters.

From that day forward, everyone around – the cityfolk, the countryfolk – they all stayed on their best behavior. Because they knew that when it came to the clever judge – and any sort of deceit or dishonesty – they mixed just about as well as oil and water.


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