If you dig straight down, you’ll come out in China, as the saying goes. What a startling cultural disconnect. If you dig straight down, say, from Deering Oaks, the closest civilized spot (I use “civilized” in the lightest sense) on the extreme opposite side of the Earth is a few hundred shark attacks southwest of Perth, Australia, 524 miles into the blue.
Why, then, when Western Europeans and North Americans feel the need to dig, do “we” imagine China to be the most distant spot away from us on the marble, geography be damned?
That “we” again. The antipode of London is actually Christchurch, New Zealand (at least Lewis Carroll gets it right in Alice in Wonderland). Maybe it’s because “we” see the Chinese as our cultural “others.” From this neck of the woods, we’d have to take a major left turn to dig to China, because China’s in the Northern Hemisphere, too!
The web site tvtropes.org lists mistaken references to digging to China, led by The China Syndrome. My favorite: “In the Buster Keaton short film Hard Luck, Buster goes off a diving board at the end of the film and misses the pool, leaving a hole with no discernible bottom. An indeterminate amount of time later, he emerges in Chinese garb with a Chinese wife and their two small children.”
What’s the antipode of Beijing? It’s just a rainforest or two away from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Maybe Evita Peron started the (Keith) urban legend?
As for you, Joni Mitchell, maybe you can see the world from both sides now, but the rest of us just seem to want to conduct a sporting match on who’s the most “from away,” presumably so we can bully them, marginalize them, misunderstand them, exoticize them, or at least tell them they can’t park here.
In Lancaster, England, a person from away is an “offcomer.” In Hong Kong during the Opium Wars, they called Scottish East India trader William Jardine an “iron-headed rat” because he was so utterly exotic to them, from worlds away.
To look at all the “from aways,” visit www.antipodr.com. It’s a wonderful game! It helps us understand we’re all somebody’s “from away” and there’s room at the party for everyone.