A friend of mine, who I’ll call Steven, lives in Shanghai. He may or may not be able to read this blog, depending on whether or not it’s a day when the Chinese government decides to block access to all blogs, YouTube, and foreign news media. I wonder what it must be like to get up each morning, and, as many of us casually look out the window to see what the weather might be, have to check how small the government has decided to make you that day.
Thankfully, we have skype. Steven and I chat at least once a week, using text. Neither of us has wondered whether those messages are being reviewed for future censorship by the Chinese government. Maybe we should.
Steven is an entrepreneur. He is tackling the daunting task of trying to identify a business idea, secure funding, and launch it in a country where every single interaction he has is brand new. He is so clearly a foreigner. He is learning the language, studying it each day, taking lessons with a private tutor, going to a speaking practice group of foreign-born students. It is frustrating! He says it has made him feel so humble and inadequate at times to be struggling with the kinds of words that any five-year-old in China is fluent in. It has whittled him down to the core to have to learn the basic building blocks of how to “get by” in a new language and culture.
He grew up with me in Libertyville, and frankly, he was someone I thought of as a “pretty boy” – he played tennis, had blond hair, wore pink Polo shirts, drove an Audi in high school, and just seemed to me to be on the other side of that invisible social line. He was one of the “cool” people. We really only became friends as adults, after I saw him at our tenth high school reunion and heard that he was living in San Francisco. I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s cool! He MADE it out there!” I wanted to know how he did it, what brought him there. It was that part of me longing for examples and stories of how people broke out of the known and followed a dream. All I remember him telling me that night in 2003 was that after college, he was working in Tennessee, hearing about all the cool stuff happening in Silicon Valley, and decided to pick up and move there to get in on the action. He got into a dot com, which was acquired, and rode the crest of the wave all the way to the bottom. And he looked happy, relaxed, still loving life. Read the rest of this entry »