“I’m bored,” I told my parents one day, when I was nine years old.
“Dig a hole to China,” my dad said.
So, I did.
It took a while—thirty years, in fact—but I finally finished. Most of the digging occurred on evenings and weekends because of school and chores. When I was 17 years old and needed to find an excuse for not going to the high school parties, I told everyone I was staying at home to watch “Star Trek.” No one would’ve believed me had I said, “I’m going to work on my hole.” Eventually, work and child rearing got in the way of excavation.
It was at some point around my 39th birthday when I emerged, dirty and weary, in the town of Wuhan, the Capital of the Hubei province. It was late in the evening when I popped out of the hole, like a groundhog you try to bop on the head in one of those carnival games.
Because of the late hour, I was absolutely starved and in desperate need of Chinese food—which I guess is just called “food” in China. It was time to satiate my pangs of hunger. I hadn’t thought about trying to exchange my American currency before arriving, so I therefore had no Chinese currency. That was poor planning on my part.
Walking around for what seemed like hours, I finally stumbled into a relatively empty restaurant and took a seat at the booth.
“Do you have any fish sticks?” I asked. “Or Pizza?”
“Wǒ bù huì shuō yīngyǔ,” he said.
I surmised that this was Chinese for “I don’t speak English,” based on his annoyed facial expression. I motioned towards a couple at a corner table and imitated their eating habits, bringing a pretend soup spoon to my mouth, followed by a “slurp,” embellishing with sad eyes for dramatic effect.
He must’ve taken pity on this poor, dirty, guy with a University of South Florida t-shirt on because, a few moments later, he emerged with hot and sour soup. In no position to be picky, I devoured it.
With a semi-full belly—because it has always been impossible to feel full from Chinese food—I thanked him and left in a hurry, in case he was expecting me to pay.
Now, digging a hole to China is not as glamorous as it sounds. It’s lonely and tiring work. When I started my Asian excavation project, I wasn’t sure if it was even possible to do this, from a logistical perspective. Fortunately, I came equipped with a strong shovel and a good sense of direction. Basically, when you hit the earth’s core, you make a sharp right. MapQuest wasn’t a thing in 1986, nor would they have had an underground option even if they had been.
Another often overlooked aspect of this endeavor is crawling thousands of miles. It’s impossible to remain clean, and no battery powered flashlight will last you the entire journey. Therefore, bring two flashlights. Long term hole diggers often fail to take into account that the further along they get in their project, the longer it is to turn back when the work is done for the day. It’s imperative that we plan accordingly.
It is recommended, if you undertake a project of this magnitude, that you please consider finding a suitable location. I chose a wooded area near my childhood home that I didn’t think, in three decades, would be developed. I lucked out. There have been stories of guys who have dug holes, only to realize upon making their return trip that a mall was erected over top of them in the intervening years. Yikes. Believe me, you don’t want all of your hard work and long crawls to result in the concrete of a Banana Republic.
Living a double life can be a very challenging juggling act as well. As a married father of two with a good job, there were days I just wanted to work on my hole. After all, to dig is to be free. On the opposite side of that pendulum, there were days spent in the cavernous pit where the only desire I had was to be at home with my family.
My wife didn’t believe me when I victoriously proclaimed to her that I had successfully dug a hole to China. In her defense, there was a slight chance I sounded a tad ridiculous.
So, I proved it to her. One night, when the both of us had a hankering for Chinese food, we hired a babysitter, drove past the local Chinese restaurant, parked the car on the outskirts of the woods, and descended into my hole. She was utterly flabbergasted at my accomplishment, despite the mud on her jeans and the fact that we would owe the babysitter about 1.2 million dollars (it takes a long time to crawl to China). We partook of one of the best meals of authentic Chinese food we’d ever had. Yes, this time I came equipped with Chinese cash.
“You are an amazing husband,” she said.
It was hard to argue with her.
We flew back home though. At our age, crawling for another 11,963 km towards home just doesn’t have the same appeal it once did.