Life has a way of happening. Sometimes, you can make it happen, despite what the inertia of the world is hurdling you towards.
This is about the start of a personal journey. I am now married to a wonderful woman, Raquel, who is from Shenyang, China. We will be moving together to San Francisco next week. I do not want to dwell on personal details, especially given that Raquel is even more private than I am.
But it’s a great adventure all the same. And there are some aspects of it that I think the world might be interested in.
The first question you may ask is, “Why San Francisco?” The answer to that is simple. If you want to live a half Chinese life because you are a half Chinese couple, there’s no better place for it. The population is about 40% “White” and 40% “Asian,” meaning that we have successful achieved majority status between us in a city where no one is in the “majority.”
There is another answer, which is often better for the second question which came to your mind. “Isn’t that awfully expensive?” The short answer is, “Yes” but the long answer is “Oh my freaking sense of the eternal is this place expensive!” But this is still an exasperated outburst and not an actual answer.
The most correct answer is that there is a tremendous amount of opportunity there. Money? Easy come, easy go – if you have the skills that pay the bills.
This is important, because the life I am about to lead is at the core of what Barataria has been saying for the last year. And make no mistake, it’s taken months to engineer this move.
Apartment rents in San Francisco start at around $3k per month, have a median around $4k, and top out at $(youdonwannaknow). Salaries for skilled people, such as content strategists and writers, are set in a way that makes this rent possible. I do not know how people in the hospitality industry make it yet, but I will let you know. But what’s important here is that highly skilled people who can deliver quality work quickly are in high demand.
There are two key centers in the area. San Francisco proper is home to a tremendous number of advertising and marketing firms, and San Jose is a center for internet and software. The latter has reached a point where it is maturing, and the competitive edge is defined not as much by the product but by it’s perceived usefulness and connection to people’s lives. It takes writers to show how something solves problems, is fun, or just makes you look kewl.
That doesn’t mean you can just hop into it, however. I’ve been working on this for months.
Many companies will not consider a candidate for a posted job if they do not live there. The major recruiting firms will not respond to emails or phone calls. They have had too many people lured by the ability to make more than six figures, only to back out when they saw how expensive it is to live there. The net result is that jobs which required skilled workers go unfilled for months and the pay being offered only goes up year by year.
You can’t get an apartment in the area without a job offer in hand, however. So that’s the catch which is ultimately going to stifle everything:
You can’t get a job without an apartment.
You can’t get an apartment without a job.
Getting around this problem took the grace and understanding of a client I worked with remotely once before, and who needs me for a larger project. Sadly, the first rule of ghostwriting is that you never talk about ghostwriting, and as it stands today I’m not sure I will have an author credit. I wish I could tell you what my project is, since it goes to the heart of a solution to this particular problem with a bit of technology and a whole basket of changes to management, attitude, and lifestyle that are necessary to implement it.
But this classic example of market failure, a huge barrier to entry problem, is exactly what makes the area what it is. I call it “World 1A” given that rents and salaries are very similar in New York, London, Singapore, and other key economic and cultural capitols of the world. It’s as if the economy of San Francisco is in many ways more closely linked with Shanghai than it is with Sacramento, or maybe even Oakland.
Classic economics tells us that this will resolve itself, as San Francisco will eventually price itself out of the market. History tells us to not hold our breath. Capitols full of artisans and investors endure for centuries because there is a lot of value in collaboration. Attracting the skills to an area means having a labor pool of great skill to draw from, and they learn from each other. It’s much more than one factory in a mill town at the crossroads can provide. Great change comes from the combination of skills, working together, and not any lone operator or other variant on the “Great Man” theory.
The tab will remain high in the Bay Area because it is worth it. The barriers to entry will reinforce that.
There is another effect seen in history, of course. Venice had a centuries-long run as the capitol of Europe because la Serenissima leveraged its wealth to create more wealth. It’s doubtful they could have maintained it without the artisans and skilled mariners, but between the two it was an unstoppable force that ultimately created the Renaissance.
What is the lesson here? I will let you know what life is like in World 1A. I will try to see what it takes to duplicate it and spread it out over the whole world, too. But I come into this with a deeply conservative belief that history teaches us things never really change completely. Certainly, without a doubt, there is a lot to learn.
Starting with Mandarin, of course. Raquel is very skilled in English and Mandarin, so between us we have some interesting skills of great value to the area.
On Monday, we pack everything into a U-Haul and drive across this great nation to start a new life. It’s not like we will be the first. Following Interstate 80, we will will largely retrace the path of the first transcontinental railroad, finished 150 years ago by the strong arms of Irish and Chinese Americans. Our journey will be easier, I am sure.
And thus begins our new life.