Posted by: Staff | 02.08.2010

College Essay XXIV: Piers Turner ’10


Digging to China

In Second Grade, China, to me, was like another America.

It may be halfway across the planet, but if you dig straight though the middle of the earth, it’s right there. This is what my friend told me in second grade when we started to learn about China. I believed him, and it seemed very possible; however, my friend told me this journey was only possible to do under certain circumstances. First, I was supposed to dig in the shade, so God couldn’t see me. Second, I was not supposed to use any type of machine or else the earth would get upset. Lastly, I had to dig in the “right” spot. The first two rules seemed plausible, but I really wasn’t sure how to find the “right” spot.

“Are you sure this is going to work?” I asked him.

“Yeah- some guy did it in a book I read.” he replied.

“Have you ever tried?”

“No, I live in an apartment.”

I took my shovel and shoved it down into the earth’s crust, digging into the soft dirt. I slowly pulled the dirt up and out of the earth, fighting gravity and the weight. I then flung the dirt over my shoulder hitting the tree behind me. I flung shovelful after shovelful behind me, creating a mound of dirt on the front of the nearby tree.  Soon a rhythm was created. Dig, pull up, throw. Dig, pull up, throw.

After a hard day of work, I had dug the perimeter of my hole, and now the only direction I had to go was down. After a week of on-and-off digging, I realized I would probably never make it to China. I realized I would have to dig at least five times as much as I already had and would probably encounter more, bigger problems along the way. I took a break from digging.

Soon after this I was studying China in class, and it occurred to me that in China, there might be some other child like me trying to dig to America. That afternoon, I cleared the debris that has formed over my hole and continued to dig to China.

I continued to dig when I had time, but again was deterred from my work when I was informed that the second grade class was going to China!  I stopped digging, packed my bags, and waited a couple of weeks before we left for China. On the day of the trip, I came into school all set to travel on a plane, but did not expect that the plane we were traveling on was inside our classroom. After twenty minutes of sitting in our seats we finally arrived. The China we visited consisted of two shops: the Fortune Cookie and the Green Tea Shop. There was also customs. After showing my real passport at customs, I was free to wander around. I was angry because we had all packed clothes and food and we were greeted with a fake China. What was even worse was how there was absolutely nothing in China. I started to think maybe the real China wasn’t so great after all. We stayed in China for ten minutes and then got back on the plane to go home.

The hole itself was quite an accomplishment, but I didn’t dig any further. The class trip had ruined my motivation and momentum. I had moved onto other things. However, later that year, the class took another field trip, and this time we were going to Chinatown. At first I thought the trip would be boring and pointless, but when we arrived I completely changed my mind. Chinatown was a hundred times better than China. There were shops with dead animals hanging in store windows, shops which sold jeweled daggers and toy guns, plus everything was extremely inexpensive!  Best of all was the food.  I must have had visited the restaurant’s buffet table at least four times. The trip made me come to a realization in my second grade mind, that probably everyone in China had come to Chinatown; it was the best!

My realization left me satisfied for a while but I later learned the truth. I learned about the earth, its true diameter and its many layers of solid rock and its molten core. I also learned the “truth” about China. I learned how big China was after all, and that Chinatown was just a portal to what the real China was actually like.

As I have matured I have continued to learn the importance of “truth” which for me is being true to myself and making my own path. This has obviously been most influenced by my family in terms of the person I am today. My upbringing has been a study in contrasts due to my parents’ contrasting backgrounds. My father was raised outside of London in Surrey, which was then not much more than bucolic countryside with small villages. It was a homogenous, austere, Anglican, almost puritanical life. He was sent off to boarding school at the age of 12, seeing his parents and brother on term breaks. My mother’s urban life in Washington DC, with peace marches and public transportation, and a diverse Quaker school education (Sidwell Friends), had few similarities to that of my father.

The common ground my parents found amongst uncommon experiences and backgrounds has resulted in my exposure to many viewpoints about everything. I have had the benefit of not only their unique perspectives but also to those of their friends. As a child, the stark contrasts in my parents were absorbed without really realizing the contrasts were there, if as through osmosis. However, as I continue toward adulthood, I can see that at times I now objectively “pick and chose” to form myself, from the gamut of beliefs, traditions, opinions and values that they each have. I have not forgotten a passage from, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, which I read in 10th grade English: “No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”  I am on my own path; whether my hole takes me to the real China or not.



  1. Great description Piers! I’m imagining you at age 7 digging up your backyard.

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