On the cusp of 2000, I made my first trip to New York City with my friend Alex. We wanted to be in the most exciting place when the ball dropped in Times Square. Some people gave us dire warnings of terrorist threats or Y2K mayhem, but we weren’t worried about that. There was something alluring about the year 2000, and we were two twenty-one-year-olds that would not be stuck in Tampa for it.
For part of our adventure in New York City, we stayed with my friend Dave, a crazy budding director I had befriended in Japan. Dave was a guy that was always excited about something, that loved the 80s, that was fascinated by new toys, and that infected you with his enthusiasm as he leapt from topic to unimaginable topic. He was just the kind of person Alex and I wanted to hang out with in New York.
Our actual New Year’s Eve was a wild ride, but one of the most memorable incidents for me happened well before December 31st, in Grand Central Terminal. Dave led Alex and me into the station during rush hour. The main lobby was magnificent, and it was swarming with commuters. It was at this point that Dave told us about his game.
“This is how you play,” he told us. “Just run, and don’t stop. Keep changing directions so that you don’t hit anyone. It’s a blast!”
“Wait, what?” I started. But Dave had already shot off straight into the crowd. Alex and I quickly followed suit.
We had no time to even notice the reactions of the people around us. There were so many, all melting into a blurry wall, and it was all we could do to avoid collisions as we dodged, weaved, reversed direction, and sidestepped ourselves into exhaustion. Finally we all ended up against a wall, panting and laughing. The masses continued their milling beside us.
This is the kind of thing kids do. Adults reason that it’s silly, that someone could get hurt, that it’s a waste of time. But presented with the idea in the right way, a kid will just try it. And damn, what a thrill.
The way I feel about China is much the same way. This country is like one big Grand Central Terminal. Society is milling about as it always does, but here there are a lot of people doing the chaos run. Some are natives, some are foreigners. Some of them just like the thrill, but many are out for big profits. There is no question that on this scale, the game is very dangerous. Innocent people get knocked down and bowled over. Others run themselves headfirst into walls. And yet, China’s powers of seduction remain unshaken. There’s something about this place that keeps me in a near-perpetual state of excitement. I know there are risks and sacrifices I must face for living in China long-term, and maybe I can’t do it forever, but damn, what a thrill!