True Donald Trump story

In 2012 I was traveling through China and had made my way to Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province.

In the Shaanxi province you have Mt. Hua (华山), one of the Five Great Mountains of China. It’s a 12-18 hour hike to the summit, which is typically done overnight because you don’t want to see what you’re climbing.

Across all five peaks there are very steep drops, narrow stairs, vertical passes up and down, and chain-lined walkways meant to deter 2,000 foot vertical slippage. But people from the region and around the world climb it as a kind of casual sport and pilgrimage.

I took a 2 hour bus ride from Xi’an to arrive at the little town at the base of the mountain around sunset. My bus was filled with college students on academic holiday. When the bus unloaded, we filed into some kind of briefing room with a very severe Chinese instructor in a blue tracksuit, rapping a wall-pinned map with a wooden cane. He seemed to be stressing the extreme danger and kept gesturing to a pictograph of a stick figure falling off the mountain, as well as a series of chalk notches that I surmised may have been the year’s death count.

I hadn’t the faintest idea what the instructor was saying, and this dismay must have shown on my face—some of the college students took notice.

It was now nighttime and I went for a cigarette. A short, bespectacled but super charismatic young kid approached me directly and in plain English said: “Hello! Where are you from?”

We struck up a conversation. His friends slowly accumulated, until his entire crew surrounded us, lighting up cigarettes under the dim light of paper lanterns and laughing charitably at everything I said—although I really wasn’t trying to be funny. I guess that in the interior what they say about strangers may still be true.

“Come with us!” said the charismatic young kid. “We have to get energy before we climb the mountain. You’ll come with us. Let’s get noodles first.” I couldn’t protest because the dramatic and incomprehensible pre-hike briefing had me thinking that traveling overnight without a crew would be a very bad idea. I didn’t even have any hiking gear yet.


They whisked me to a small restaurant and started ordering plates for me. As the guest, I couldn’t refuse to eat nor refuse to pay. I got absolutely stuffed on plate after plate of noodles and lots of booze (which I feared would make my step unsure at any altitude).

It was fully dark outside. When the plates stopped coming, we all sat bloated and the stilted conversation slowed. I realized I didn’t know anyone’s name, so I turned to the charismatic young kid. “What’s your name?” I asked.


“Oh? That’s your Western name?”

“Yeah, that’s what I chose.”

“Why Donald?”

“Because I want to be a super rich entrepreneur, just like Donald Trump.”

He said this with complete earnestness and without a hint of irony. I struggled to conceal a smirk. How could an 18 year old in the dead center of China view Donald J. Trump as his chief role model?

He went on throughout dinner, and throughout the subsequent hike, sharing all about his small business teaching English, his dreams of making it big and going international. There were six or eight of his friends traveling with us, but they didn’t understand our conversation and were mostly listening.

As the gradation of the hike increased and my legs started hurting, he told me with intense sincerity about the “three Apples.” The first: Adam and Eve, and the apple of knowledge. The second: Isaac Newton, and the apple of science. The third: Steve Jobs, and the Apple of the iPhone and of multinational business.

It struck me as funny then, and for the following 18 hours up and down the mountain, bloated, freezing, sweating, and laughing, that this kid couldn’t stop talking about Donald Trump, Steve Jobs, entrepreneurship, and greatness. But he meant every word.

Makes you think twice about Donald’s appeal, about his penchant for combining the truly charming with the truly tacky and the truly despicable, and just what the world will be thinking between now and November.  I lost a lot of sleep last night turning over in my mind what Donald means for America and the world. This is going to be a complicated election.

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