All That Glitters
From his earliest days, Genzai never had any ambition. Qiusheng would always ask him what he wanted to do when he grew up, and Genzai would always say he wanted to be a woodcutter. Qiusheng would say, “So you’d just cut wood then, huh?” to which Genzai would add, “And marry a wife, of course.” Qiusheng would ask, “And after you get hitched, what’d you do then?” Genzai would say, “Have kids, ya know.” Then, Qiusheng would laugh at Genzai, saying he’d have zero prospects, and he’d tell Genzai, “When I grow up, I’m going to get out of here, travel overseas for a bit, do real business.”
When Qiusheng grew up, he actually left. When he was going, he called out to Genzai to join him. They’d grown up together, spent every day together, so Qiusheng really hoped that Genzai would go with him, so they’d continue to spend every day together. But Genzai didn’t want to leave and said, “You go. I don’t want to leave.”
So Qiusheng had no choice but to go by himself.
A few years later, Qiusheng came back — decked out in a spiffy suit and dazzling leather shoes, sharply polished. The entire village came out to see him, saying he has so much potential. Genzai looked pathetic in comparison. So people started saying, “Genzai, you’ve gotta get out there. Then you can wear fancy suits and leather shoes.” Qiusheng was close with Genzai, and he encouraged him to go out, saying, “Oh, the city is crazier than the countryside. You’ve gotta get out there!”
Genzai said he didn’t want to leave.
A few more years later, Qiusheng brought his wife back home. She was as beautiful as springtime blossoms and jade. In the eyes of the villagers, she was simply like the immortals from Daoist mythology. The whole village was envious. Now, though, people saw Genzai and said, “He’s calling to you to go too, but you’re not going. Leave and marry a woman of equal beauty and elegance. Genzai, you’ve gotta get out too.” Qiusheng kept trying to persuade Genzai, saying, “You should broaden your horizons. You can’t waste your life away in this valley.”
Genzai still said he wouldn’t go.
Some more years after, Qiusheng took up the office of a local leader: first a section chief, then the director-general, and later a government minister. During this time period, he’d return home a couple times per year, first on motorbike, then a Jeep, and later a limousine. All the townspeople took incredible pride in him. Whatever was discussed, people always found a way to quote Qiusheng, since it was Qiusheng of their village who was appointed as a minister. When Qiusheng returned, the face of every person in the entire village lit up, beaming ear-to-ear. This time, no one encouraged Genzai to leave as well, they’d only say, “Look at our Qiusheng, what a success.”
Genzai would also say, “Yes, what a great success.”
Qiusheng remembered Genzai, and when he came back he had to pay his old friend a visit.
One time while Genzai was chopping wood up in the mountains, Qiusheng came up to the summit as well, but he’d put on weight and now had a potbelly. Once he’d gotten to the top, he was out of breath. Qiusheng said to Genzai in staggered breaths, “How have you not thought about leaving? From my position, I don’t see…Why the hell do you want to stay here chopping wood? Leave with me, please, and then you can see that the opportunities ahead are greater than cutting wood.”
Genzai still wouldn’t go.
When Qiusheng was forty years old, due to years of overdrinking, he got cirrhosis of the liver. Within one month, he died. Genzai heard the news and went to the city to attend Qiusheng’s memorial service. Genzai and Qiusheng had grown up together, and Qiusheng’s passing rocked him with grief. Upon seeing him he said, “How did he end up drinking that much alcohol? Why on earth did he not care for his body and health? Had I known this sooner, he might still be chopping wood with me on that mountain.”
As he said this, tears welled up in his eyes.
After the funeral was over, Genzai returned to the mountains.
A few years passed. At first, people still would talk about Qiusheng and how he once was a minister. Several years later, people would bring him up on occasion just to talk about how this village once had one of its people appointed as a minister. And many years after, no one brought him up again. Qiusheng had been completely forgotten.
Yet, a good few years later, Genzai was still alive.
Genzai was one hundred years old, still alive, except by now he had silver hair and white teeth, the spitting image of the immortal and the Daoist. All the townspeople took incredible pride in him. They’d say, “Our town has Genzai, one hundred years old, and still with sharp sight and hearing; he comes and goes with incredible ease.” So many people knew about this one-hundred-year-old Genzai, and people would drive up in lines to come see him and ask him the secret to his longevity. Genzai had read volumes of books, and still he’d come to this phrase: “eliminating covetousness.” He said that ceasing the chase for wealth can lead to longevity. Some people understood this concept, but then would still ask, “Well, how do you actually stop striving after fame and fortune?” He’d say, “Don’t think about earning money or becoming a government official, don’t pursue titles and tokens. Just plainly live out your days, worriless, without anxieties. If you can do that, then you will be able to live a long and healthy life.” Those who heard would ask no further questions, just leave in the same line they came.
This same time, Genzai’s great-grandson and Qiusheng’s great-grandson both were in school. The kids were even in the same class. One day, Genzai’s great-grandson brought Qiusheng’s great-grandson into the village for a playdate. Upon seeing Genzai, Genzai’s great-grandson cried out, “Great-granddad, I’m back!”
Qiusheng’s great-grandson said, “How do you have a great-grandpa?”
Genzai’s great-grandson said, “You don’t have a great-granddad? Huh?”
The response: “I don’t have a great-grandpa.”