The Fall of 2000: San Francisco

(2021-10-12 14:31:35) 下一個

Bill first came to the SF Bay Area in Aug 2000 to witness the last stage of the

dotcom bubble. Acclimatized for only one year in the west, he knew nothing about

IPOs or stocks, however, and had no get-rich-quick plans. Amy, his wife, was 

admitted to the bachelor program in the department of economics at the same

Canadian university where Bill was a first-year graduate student. As his

scholarship covered only his own tuition, money had to come from elsewhere. He

was lucky to secure through his professor a summer intern job at a telecom lab

in Burlingame, California.


The next task was, with his offer letter, to obtain a stamp on his Chinese

passport. Used to the red tape in his native country, Bill followed the steps.

The private SWAP (Student Work Abroad Program), however, rarely dealt with a

Chinese national applying to work in the US through a Canadian school. After

three months and a ton of paper work, when everyone lost hope as summer almost

ended, it felt like a miracle that he received a J-1 visa. The employer extended 

the offer, the university adjusted for his leave, and he was good to go. Years 

later, he couldn't find the SWAP on the Web anymore, which made the whole deal

felt even more like a mission-impossible.


Having lived only in the temperate and polar zones of the northern hemisphere,

Bill found the Bay Area exotic. The air was dry and the day sunny and hot.

Wind started to blow in the afternoon and it cooled down fast in the

evening. Tall palm trees stood shoulder to shoulder with cedars and pines,

claiming equal rights to be here. Birch trees, which in his mind should cluster

over hilly acres, happily lived next to desert cacti in people's backyards.

This was also the first time he saw giant eucalyptus trees, gracefully lining

along the El Camino Real. They were from Australia, food to the koala, and a

fire hazard when warmed up, he would learn later. Things were so different.


Every morning, he would walk on the overpass across the Millbrae CalTrain station

to his workplace, a modest one-story brick building facing freeway 101 and the

SFO on the other side. The air smelled chocolate from a factory nearby. The freeway,

four lanes in either direction, was always packed during the week. In commute

hours, it resembled a giant parking lot. Something big was going on. Bill felt

it but knew nothing on how to profit more from the boom. This did not bother

him, however. In four months, he would return to Amy and the northern tundra to

continue his study. Whatever the craziness was about here would have nothing to

do with him.


There had to be more to his life than financial gains, he often thought. His

education in the Chinese classics denounced material things. He had never

scoffed at that idea but reality seemed to insist on the contrary. From early

on, he had been a good student, not necessarily the smartest, but always

hard-working. His wins gave him the illusion that he could out-work

competitions. But where would his labor lead to besides the material? In his

late 20s, he sometimes asked that question and had no concrete answers.


Meanwhile, the salary of an intern was great. Four months' earning would pay for

Amy's tuition and a second-hand car. Of course, he would try to save every

penny. That was his life style anyway. Brought up in the rural northern China in

the 70's and 80's, he was extremely frugal. An apartment on the peninsula was

way out of his budget. For the first two weeks, he stayed on the company's dime

in a Travelodge near his job and lived on fast noodles and Wendy's burgers. In

the weekends, he rode SamTrans up to SF to hunt for cheap housing.


It was a typical sunny morning. The bus meandered north at its own leisurely and

unperturbed pace through San Bruno's hilly neighborhoods. Bill had never heard

of micro climates by then but somewhere along the route, maybe in Daly City, the

fog took over, visibility was reduced to a couple of blocks, and everything

in sight was rendered grey. The stop-and-gos suddenly felt monotonous and after

another half an hour, the bus arrived at a shopping mall next to the SFSU

southwest of the city.


The campus looked cramped, a deserted concrete jungle, and nothing like any

university he had been to. Bill was trying to find something like a Chinese

student association or at least a bulletin. The place was empty on a Saturday,

however, and there was no one to talk to. After walking around for an hour, all

he could find was a slip of paper pasted on a light pole. The handwriting looked

Chinese and it could take more than two hours commute to work. It gave a phone

number for a shared room in the Sunset district for $250 a month and that was

all he needed.

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閱讀 ()評論 (6)
暖冬cool夏 回複 悄悄話 回複 '7grizzly' 的評論 : Somehow I have an impression that Amy earns more than Bill does, and thus take it for granted that she must be a tech person too. Plus we are inclined to assume that 9 out of 10 Chinese in Silicon Valley work for a high tech company:))
My husband did not go to school here in the states. He came here on a working visa, but our green card process was long and painful. We had to live frugally:))
7grizzly 回複 悄悄話 回複 '暖冬cool夏' 的評論 : I don't recall indicating anywhere Amy is a programmer. But that's not important.

After learning all the great things about economists, your daughter might want to read what Taleb has to say about them and the subject of economy in general ;-)
7grizzly 回複 悄悄話 回複 '暖冬cool夏' 的評論 : Thank you, 暖冬, for liking and encouraging as always. Really appreciate it.

Your husband must have gone through even more difficult times. It's not
surprising he did the same thing. Frugality was second nature to most people our

Yes. I read that the eucalyptus gave out inflammable gas when heated. It might
be a simple mistake to import them here without the koalas. I never noticed
their flowers, though, and will pay attention.

Amy has been smart all her life and achieved good success in her career. She has
blind spots just like Bill does. But over all, the two complements each other to
keep the boat floating.
暖冬cool夏 回複 悄悄話 I think Amy is lucky and smart too, from being an economics student to a programmer..
== I might be wrong upon a second thought. Amy could be an economist -- a Ph.D graduate working for a big tech company. My daughter has been talking about the economists in her team these days:)))
暖冬cool夏 回複 悄悄話 Its pink flowers are in full bloom right now, and I can every day through a second floor window---
Its pink flowers are in full bloom, right in front of my second floor window.
暖冬cool夏 回複 悄悄話 A very well-written story! You are the best.
Though I read a little bit about Bill's first trip to SF, I enjoy more this time, as the story unfolds further with more details.
Before my daughter and I came to join him, my husband also rented a room in a Taiwanese family, and it cost him $270. Upon our arrival, we moved to an apartment and it was around $970 monthly. And that was December 1997.
There is a giant eucalyptus tree in front of our current home (common area though). During one Santa Ana wind, branches were snapped to the ground, and floating in the air was its pungent aroma. Its pink flowers are in full bloom right now, and I can every day through a second floor window.
Thanks for sharing Bill's story. I think Amy is lucky and smart too, from being an economics student to a programmer..:)))