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Because children live easily with myth and reality side-by-side, often overlapping.

With maturity, we lose the knack.

The China Hole

When I was a kid we lived in a two-story house with a partly-unfinished attic. In the unfinished portion there was a hole in the floor, about the size of a softball, at the foot of the southern outer wall. You could drop things down there and hear a distant thud of impact way below.

(I can’t explain how this could be. It implies an absence of floor and ceiling sills, but nonetheless the hole was there, drawing us to it in moments of boredom on rainy afternoons.)

By the time we moved, dozens of wrappers from Baby Ruth and Mars bars resided down there; two or three empty Mavis chocolate drink bottles crash landed there. My little sister’s left shoe died there (an accident on my part). In later years I learned that my mother had consigned a black leather whip to its depths – a child-rearing gift from my German grandfather on my baptismal day.

Back then it was common knowledge among us neighborhood kids that if you drilled a hole from our back yard in New Jersey through the center of the earth it would come out in China. So I thought of our attic hole as a China hole.

Mysterious China seemed an appropriate antipodean partner to enlightened New Jersey. Charley Chan, the Saturday movie matinee detective, and his Number-One-Son came from China. It was gloomy place, unbrightened by silk kimonos and beaded curtains, teeming with starving children who, our mothers reminded us, would love to have the vegetables that we mashed into muddy messes on our dinner plates.

We were wrong about the drilling of course. The United States is in the northern hemisphere, so is China. A hole from New Jersey through the earth’s core must emerge in the southern hemisphere - in the Indian Ocean southwest of Perth, Australia, in fact - certainly not in China.

Yet the China-preference persists. Try this on your adult friends. A surprising number will remember their childhood fascination with earth-drill holes and most of them will reflexively still pick China at the point of the emerging drill.

If the earth were cylindrical, like a can of tuna fish, they could be correct.

But the earth is spherical!

Pampas kids along Argentina’s Atlantic Coast below Mar Del Plata, have no problem.
Their China holes emerge in Beijing.

Selected antipodes:

From Newark, New Jersey –
Indian Ocean southwest of Perth, Australia.

From Los Angeles –
Indian Ocean way west of Australia.

From London –
Pacific Ocean south of Wellington, New Zealand

From southern Argentina –
Beijing (bingo!)