This is an effort to explain how we ended up deciding to go to Beijing. It’s a story of ambition; a story of pursuit. And how we came to a pause just long enough to consider a way through. Bear with me and follow the threads.
There are certain fundamental assumptions that are perpetuated and accepted as part of modern life. Indeed many of them are even more primordial though their definition may have changed through time. They are not taught as much as they are latent assumptions that are accepted as part of the way life should be: To get an education. To marry. To raise a family. To get a job. To buy a home. While the order is debated these are sought after by the majority and I was no different. And I don’t deny my basic belief in them; we just found in our path of seeking them we came to a place where we were dissatisfied with some of the reality of our circumstances.
I think its important for me to note that while I accepted and pursued these goals, that I wasnt always as self conscious about each step and that life has a way of happening to you as much you make it happen. There is a serendipity to life that offer crossroads and our decisions at those key junctures shuffle you down one avenue or another. I look back at these key junctures with the perspective and advantage of 20/20 hind sight and I don’t recount these with regret at all; just as navel gazing analysis.
So let’s review the mileposts; some of their implications; some of what they meant at the time and how the perception of them changed over time. Again bear with me as I weave the junctures of my life that bring us to Beijing.
Lets not go all the way back to the beginning but lets start when my family moved when I was 12 to beautiful Cache Valley in northern Utah. I was a bit of a nerd, I read a lot and made my way through Jr High and High School. There is a whole lot I could recount but for this story the salient milestones are that in high school my circle of friends expanded to include Stacey Scott. We ran in the same crowd and while we only dated twice, we hung out and were friends. I remember once I traded her my Cure album for her Echo and the Bunnymen. In 1986 I went on a two year mission for my church and she went to college at Utah State. In 87 Stac and her circle of friends were wondering what to do for summer jobs; Kimi Simmard was dating Bob who’d been on his mission to Taiwan and he suggested they go teach English in Taiwan. Stac went, it changed her life; upon her return she resumed studies at university.
When I returned in Dec of 1988 , I started college at Brigham Young University, a bit lost in terms of what I should study, but in pursuit of getting an education. Stac and I started dating and we were married in the summer of 1989, we didn’t have much but we were starting out together. In 1990 we decided to travel to Taiwan for a bit of adventure and to earn some money by teaching English. We had a blast and I was enveloped by a fascination with China. When we returned we had enough cash to buy a car and get back into getting that education.
But as a result I changed my major to History, started studying Chinese and began the path of towards a PHD. At the end of my undergrad in 1993 we (now three with the advent of Kiah in 92) headed to Taiwan again. This time for me to study Chinese and teaching English as a means to support ourselves. We spent 10 months living in Taitung before returning where I applied for a masters programs. It was around this time I began butting up against the realities of a PHD. I began to see my options close down. Getting a PHD is not easy, its difficult to get into a good program and the good ones are expensive. Once in its a long haul, 6 years at least with at least another year over seas studying. I wasn’t brilliant enough at standardized tests to score high enough to get scholarships. And I didn’t have wealthy parents to pay and yet I was 4 years in already and I really loved history. So I applied as a back up to BYU again for a masters in Asian Studies. I was accepted and began in 1994.
I really loved graduate school, the camaraderie with my classmates, the in-depth classes. While thus engaged I was employed 10 hrs a week as a teachers assistant to Dr Bill Hamblin in the history department. This was right when the world wide web was emerging from gopher holes. I’d always had a computer through college and I was always a power user. Dr Hamblin wanted me to build him a website of ancient history maps so I started learning HTML. At the same time 10 hrs wasn’t enough to live on and I took a part time job at NuSkin as an order processor. While doing this I ended up being asked to build visio diagrams of the order flows for some consultants for an SAP implementation. Around this time I completed my year of course work for my masters and I got on full time job at NuSkin. Slowly I abandoned my formal education as my informal education in computer technology began. I started at NuSkin building their intranet; then defining requirements for an online ordering website; then supporting the site; then fixing bugs and then writing software for the site.
In the process of building Nuskin’s website we used software from a company know as WebLogic. At this early stage of the Internet Netscape was moving from the browser to the web server. They had an enterprise server that allowed you to build basic websites and an API that allowed you to extend those sites for dynamic page building. The guys who built the dynamic content on the website used java (version 1.0.2) to connect through Netscapes APIs. They needed to connect to an Oracle database and WebLogic provided the three tier JDBC (Java DataBase Connectivity) driver. I got to know one of the founders of WebLogic Bob Pasker and sales engineers Karl Augut. Karl encouraged me to apply for a job in San Francisco with WebLogic.
I did, got the job and we moved from our house in Payson to an apartment in Walnut Creek. Thus began my next level of informal graduate study in the university of WebLogic. I loved working with such smart talented engineers. I continued to learn and be given new opportunities and responsibilities. In the process, in large part due to the excellence in engineering, WebLogic became a hot technology and was acquired by BEA Systems. Further dominance in enterprise software by WebLogic resulted in BEA’s stock becoming quite valuable. And we were able to purchase a house in Pleasant Hill.
And I began to turn into a marshmallow. I was not active at all growing up and that had persisted through my mid 30s. I first bought a mountain bike. I still remember dry heaving over the handlebars as I began riding. I discovered Briones Park behind our house and I began biking before work. Then I met Curg Johnson and his daughter Becky, they introduced me to hiking in Briones. Curg at 70 could hike circles around me and he inspired me. I was hooked on the outdoors.
But there was a problem. We were dissatisfied with the way things were going in California: rising cost of living, schools in decline and a shrinking church. As part of my job I’d been traveling up to Seattle. I loved the area and we took a family vacation to Olympic National Park. When an opportunity arose to run program management in Seattle with BEA we decided to move. We sold at the height of the housing market in California and bought a house in Issaquah. Here in our desire for the American ideal of owning a home we got ahead of ourselves.
We bit off more house than we could chew. Brand new, big and nestled in a gorgeous set of local mountains. Even with our equity we were at the edge of our affordability, initially we were in an adjustable mortgage but we refinanced. However at our price we were in jumbo loan territory and we had a high payment but we managed.
Over the years in Issaquah my education continued: I changed jobs to Amazon.com and my experience in the outdoors continued. I learned backpacking, camping in the snow, mountaineering and rock climbing. I climbed Mt Olympus and Rainier and I drug my family into the wilderness : Shi Shi Beach, Ross Lake, Hole in The Wall and Vancouver Island. Slowly bit by bit the mortgage on our home became a millstone. With the crash of the housing market we ended up with no equity and no way to refinance out of the high interest and house payment.
And this brings us full circle to where I began. We’d spent so much time acquiring a house that we’d over acquired. That which we possessed ended up possessing us and so we made the difficult decision to be rid of the house to sell or otherwise. This was not without its difficulty especially for me because of the affront on my pride. In some ways we’d be starting over; going back to renting but we’d be free of a burden that had grown too much. And in the end does it really matter? I still had a great job, a beautiful wife and three fantastic kids. I was really struck by the words of Yvon Chouinard in the movie : 180 Degrees South about a dirt bag climber that retraces the journey to Patagonia in South America. “You need to simplify your life”.
This put us in the circumstances of deciding to move and I was at a crossroads at work. I’d been in the same job more or less for the past 5 years. I was seeking new responsibilities and opportunities. Suddenly as the mooring ties in our life were freer I began to see situations in new light as opportunities that I would not have considered before. Work was going to be expanding the team in China and I requested a transfer there to manage the dev teams.
Life’s previous choices put us in a place to consider this : my wife and I had already lived in Asia, I had graduated in modern Chinese history, my eldest was in college and the youngest were not yet in high school and with a desire for a restart and some adventure we look forward to Beijing. We know that it won’t be easy, I’ll be giving up my mountains in my backyard. But each unknown has it’s possibilities as well. I look forward to the new challenges at work and to camping on the plains of Mongolia with my family.