Day One

I’m nothing out of the ordinary:  just a risk-guzzling, dare-delighting, testosterone-pumped 18 year-old who laps up the thrill of danger for breakfast. I’ve been in this country for less than 24 hours, and I’m hooked.

On my first day, for instance, I haggled airport officials over my lost luggage, leapfrogged around Beijing with three motormouth taxi drivers, scoured the city for a seemingly phantom hotel, inhaled a kingly dinner for a dollar, walked to the same hotel whose address I forgot, hitched another cab, blitzkrieged the driver with my brassy Chinese, walked, bartered for a map, hitched, walked, hitched, and finally got out in front of what the cabby proudly called “Your jolly Holiday Inn.”

I stared up at a gutted edifice that looked about as sanitary as I did, after all those hours. An English sign read “Sequoia Hotel: under construction.” I turned back to the cabby. “Hey wait, this isn’t it!” But he had already zipped off into the Beijing darkness. Wonderful. I gazed at Chinese signs I couldn’t read that splattered this unfamiliar city, and I somehow had to find a hotel that nobody thought existed. I broke down. The only time I had felt this abandoned was when my baby-sitter forgot to pick me up from the playground in third grade.

And that’s when I realized that I was free.

I was free because I had no shelter, no promises to keep and no belongings to weigh me down. I was free because I didn’t have my mom on speed dial. Ousted from the cold geometry of my old world, from societal molds to fit into, obligations to fulfill, possessions to safeguard, I now had to stitch together my own future with a motley of practical skills I had never really bothered to cultivate.

China forces me to burst the chaperoned bubble of home-sweet-home. I love the freedom, the risk, the challenge: it’s my own kind of oxygen.  This freedom intoxicates and, dare I say it: China, bring on the adventure.

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About gregkristof

Professional troublemaker
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8 Responses to Day One

  1. Dan says:

    This makes me wish I had taken a gap year.

  2. SamE says:

    Great story…get used to that feeling of freedom! It is scary and exhilarating all at the same time!

  3. jennifer says:

    i’ve been here for six years and it is still so.very.chinese. your favorite jiao zi place down the lu will suddenly become yet another mom and pop store, you’ll wait patiently as twenty chinese commuters wrestle through one bus door and you will always, always start a conversation with someone that you haven’t met before with either, ‘do you like chinese food?’ or ‘do you have a qq number?’. it’s almost impossible to describe it to westerners that haven’t done a year or more here and i thank you for doing it so well. xie xie ni! zai jian.

  4. JoeBorn says:

    This is great. As I posted to your dad’s FB page:

    “This is vitally important, not just for your son, but for our country. The US has a great many crucial assets that we tend to underestimate ourselves. We’ve spent generations developing our creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, etc, we’re no slouches. Yet, there is one great threat that can undermine all that, “big self” as the Chinese call it (arrogance). We need more folks like your son delving into China to humbly understand how our two cultures fit. Promote this as much as you can. As we focus our attention on our sagging conventional education system and how we’re falling behind in math and science, few seem to pay attention to the absolutely crucial (I would argue more so even that math and science) role that humbly understanding other cultures brings. Not flying over as a middle aged business person, staying in a 5 star hotel and shielded from understanding through a translator, but doing what your son is doing which is best reserved for the young and fearless.”

    I’m a middle aged business person, and while I basically travel to China the way you do (I know enough Chinese that I don’t need a translator to get around) virtually no business people do. By that point in your life, its typically too late. What you are doing is crucial, it may not seem that way, but trust me, its vital, promote it as best you can, and I will try to do the same.

  5. Pingback: Go Go Go to China! « Inventocracy – From Idea to Mass Production

  6. The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed. ~ Buddha

    I’m glad you’re having a great time – I took my gap year(s) in Europe and nearly didn’t come back. Drop me a line if you are ever in Qingdao. I have a lady friend there that may appreciate lunch with a couple of English teachers 🙂

  7. Hamsphire alumn says:

    Seems to me you should be going to Hampshire and not Amherst. They would certainly appreciate you and your skills more than anyone in the conventional world.
    Like Ken Burns says: Hampshire is about a special sauce. If you go there, we’ll give you the recipe. You’re already in the kitchen cooking anyway, think about it.

  8. John says:

    you’re ready kid, start reading Henry Miller !

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