“Aiyo! Ben dan over there! No one wants to buy fresh wood. You ain’t getting any money today!” jeered the other merchants. An lowered his head in shame, tugging his cloak tightly around his scrawny shoulders. As time passed, people began to return home. Realizing that it was another day without money, An packed his things up. As he was carrying his load with heavy footsteps back home he heard a cry.
“Aiyo! You, little boy over there!”
An turned around, startled. An old man came hobbling towards him.
An bowed his head respectfully. The old man said, “You look very sad… Money issues, isn’t it?”
“Well, what if I told you there is a chance for you to become as rich as the emperor?” the old man questioned.
An’s ears perked up at these words.
The old man continued, “There is a rumor that a peach garden is hidden near a beautiful palace owned by the goddess Queen Mother of the West, Xi Wangmu, herself. Once a mortal eats the nectar in the peach, he will instantly become immortal. Not only would you become immortal, you could also become the richest man on earth by selling those peaches!”
The old man tipped his straw hat and hobbled away, leaving. After that day, all day and all night, the old man’s words stuck in An’s head, constantly nagging him making his head throb and ache. Finally, he knew that he had to climb Kunlun Mountain no matter what.
So, off he set. The more he climbed, the more the mountain seemed to receed farther away from him and closer towards the sky instead. Minutes felt like hours, hours felt like days, and days felt like an eternity. An didn’t believe that his body could hold his weight much longer.
Panting heavily, he finally approached the last rock ahead of him. He clung on tightly and hoisted his weight up the cliff, causing all the energy he had left to drain out of him. What he saw there made him gasp in shock! Just as he had been told, the palace ahead of him was truly breathtaking. Surrounding it were towering cliffs of jade and emerald, and the palace itself was covered in exotic jewels. Monstrous trees with Phoenix- egg-like dangling peaches hovered over An’s head. An subconsciously found himself gulping, as streaks of saliva began to flow out of his mouth. He looked around cautiously and seeing no one, flung his bag over his shoulders, thrusted his hands on the tree trunk, and prepared to climb.
His gaze did not leave sight of the peaches. Thorns pricked his bare hands but the pain did not bother him one bit. He stretched his arms as far as he could reach, plucking the plump peaches one after another and putting them into his worn out bag.
Just then, An heard a shriek,
“You wanpi little boy! Ni zheng zai gan shen me? Come down this instant!”
An turned around with a jolt. In front of him was Xi Wangmu herself. Her eyes flared with flames of anger, sharp claws were visible on the tip of her fingers, and her skin was bright orange with black stripes. An lept out of the tree, wincing in pain as he crashed to the ground in a great plummet. He knelt down, not daring to look up at Xi Wangmu.
Inhaling deeply, he stammered,“Dear prepossessing, captivating, enthralling, exquisite…”
He was about to go on, but Xi Wangmu bluntly interrupted, “Bai tuo ni! Just get to the point and tell me why you are here holding my fruits!”
An summarized his whole life as quickly as he could and then bowed deeply, waiting for her response nervously.
“My dear boy,” Xi Wangmu said, lifting the boy’s chin so that his eyes made contact with hers. “Everyone makes mistakes once in awhile. You just have to learn from them.”
An’s eye bulged out in surprise. He quickly bowed before the Queen Mother and got up, clenching his teeth as he felt the pain in his ankle.
With that, the Queen Mother of West walked away.
An took a quick last look at the palace. The periwinkle sky was tinted with shades of pink and purple, and the palace coated with jewels glistened in the last rays of sunshine. He took a plump peach out of his bag, examining it. The thought of becoming immortal made him breathless with exhilaration. His teeth eagerly plunged deeply into the peach, as an explosion of sweet juice flooded his mouth. He swallowed and immediately examined his skin expecting to see a shiny glow appear, indicating that he had become immortal. Much to his dismay, his skin remained the same. Doubt and bewilderment filled his mind. He bit again but still nothing. He then recalled what Xi Wangmu had said, “Everyone makes mistakes once in awhile. You just have to learn from them.” He sighed deeply, realizing after all his effort, he had received nothing but a bag of peaches and an important lesson.
Even today, people enjoy the sweet, juicy peaches but the magic in them has vanished. It’s almost as if it never existed.
• Ben dan: idiotic, dumb, stupid.
• Hai zi: child.
• Wanpi: mischievous, silly.
• Aiyo: oh, used when someone is
calling the other person.
• Bai tuo ni: please, but used in a sarcastic, annoyed tone.
• Ni zheng zai gan shen me: What are you doing right now?
—E. Choi, 12, U.S.-born Korean living in Hong Kong.