A simple question with not a very simple answer.
NYC- I was taking my seven-year-old daughter out to New Jersey to spend the weekend with one of her friends. We were chatting on the bus and she told me that she looked up to me and explained that she didn’t understand the difference between Paris and France.
“Paris is a city in France,” I told her. “Kind of like how New York is a city in America.”
She nodded her head in understanding.
“Why did you ask that?” I queried.
“Because I want to go there.”
“To see the Eiffel Tower.”
I didn’t mention to her that I’d been to France and Paris numerous times but never bother to go see the Eiffel Tower, as I knew that she’d ask me why and I’d have to be like, “Because I thought I was too cool for it.”
But she looked up at me and asked another question:
“Where do you want to go, daddy?”
I immediately began responding, seeing this as a simple question to answer, but stopped short as nothing really came to my lips. I thought about it for a moment. I thought about all the places I’ve been and, especially, all the places I haven’t been but still couldn’t come up with a reply. “I’m not sure,” I eventually stammered.
I really wasn’t sure. Losing access to China really disrupted my travel patterns. That was the country that kind of anchored everything. I’d travel these massive circuits or do spokes of the wheel through Mongolia, SE Asia, South Asia but would always begin and end in China. That was the country that I gained recognized expertise, it was the primary country that I reported on for big media, it was the country that I’d go on Squawk Box, ABC, MSNBC, etc… talking about. It was the country where I established my career as a journalist and author. I knew a few things about the place, I could operate as well as anyone there, and, in a weird way, it’s where I became a man. Then suddenly it was gone.
You could say that I never really recovered. I don’t want to say that the rest of the world seems boring when compared to China, but, for me, the depth just isn’t there. There was just something about that place that got me — everyday was an exploration, everyday was an experience, everyday you’d see something that would make you go what the fuck? I would cherish my days when I had nothing to do there, as I would just take off walking … and I would come back at the end of the day with a half dozen stories to write about.
China was like an assembly line for the writer. The stories would just keep coming … Reporting in the rest of the world is like assembling a 5,000 piece scale model with your fingers.
But that’s all gone now, and it’s something I’ve never really acknowledged. I just figured I would begin reporting somewhere else but nowhere has struck me quite the same.
But I know I have to stop thinking about it like this. Nowhere will have the same pull for me as China, and I can’t expect it to.
I’ve always liked the post-Soviet realm, and its relevance has again peaked. I guess that should have been my answer.
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