The length of life

A northern Tokyo craft beer festival in front of Otsuka station, September 2023

Walking through Victoria Park I realize we are building something. Like all such internal acknowledgements it is both belated and overwrought. Of course we, in the sense of our partnership, are building something. We have been, for fifteen plus years. We have been, in some sense, our whole lives. For people who are in hardware, in startups, in software, in product, in ops, we are always building something. We spend almost every waking hour working on building things, with varying success. Our lives can be seen, looking backwards, as a series of things we were trying to build, and the current position determined from the way we failed or succeeded at each.

One of my favorite ways of interviewing is listening to people’s self narratives. One of my favorite ways of writing is considering the different ways to construct my own, our own narrative. In some tellings it is whimsical: I moved to Shanghai from Tokyo because of the novel Shanghai Baby and a friend’s hand-written letters from his year in Hefei, Anhui. I had never considered the Chinese language, or the country. In some tellings it’s calculated: We moved to San Francisco because, in the Financial Crisis, startups presented the greatest opportunity, especially in the sectors we care about (Renewables, Consumer goods). And yet those two can be easily reversed, because we are human, there are at least a half dozen reasons for every decision of magnitude. Our plans are far easier to discern in retrospect.

I moved to Shanghai because it looked poised to be the world’s most important city, and I wanted to know how things were made.

We moved to San Francisco because we had some friends there and neither of us had any job offers elsewhere.

We moved to Hong Kong because, as people in hardware, software, and supply chain, in startups and product management, it had been a hub for years and was an easy swap, SF for HK, the cross-border train weekly and trans-Pacific flights quarterly an easy change from Bart daily and irregularly scheduled trans-Pacific flights (usually urgently). There’s a reason I wrote this, years back.

This site, this record of how I felt in Incheon in 2015, is of course one of the blocks in what we are building. We are building something solid, with weight, out of the ephemeral weather of each day. We have been, of course. My partner laments, after a day spent speaking Chinese in a factory in Shijiazhuang My technical Chinese is not good enough for these 河北人.” I know exactly how she feels, and yet the feeling is new. Rather it is old, the pandemic having robbed me of my weekly excursions to Shenzhen, the dozen hours a week spent speaking Mandarin and feeling at home. It’s familiar from other avenues too.

The feeling is of the person we are trying to become, and the distance we have to go.

The past few months, lived at a hectic pace as we try to restore the pre-pandemic level of travel to our new larger family, have been exhausting. They have been wonderful. The past four months cover weeks in Tokyo, weeks in Colorado, weekends in Taiwan, weekends in Wisconsin, and long days on beaches in Hong Kong. They cover weeks at work, late nights, early mornings, and short supplies of sleep. These moments, or the gaps between them, like my walk across the park, are our lives, and are proof that we are working hard to grow in all directions. Like our Mandarin, which is worlds ahead of our Japanese, and of our Cantonese, all projects underway simultaneously. Yet in the long run, or when seen from a distance, we are building something. I hope we are building what we seek.

Today, and this week, and the last month, it feels like we are, and I work hard to hold on to that feeling, and to write it down.