The guy was attending a UI design bootcamp in Downtown San Francisco. He held an M. Arch degree from an Ivy League school. But as a Chinese international student, he couldn’t find a full-time position as an architect. He wanted to try his luck in Silicon Valley, well, pivot “a little” and become a UI designer.
The girl was an English-literature major in a public school in the East Bay. All her fellow classmates took computer science as their minors, and they were looking for summer internships in software companies around the bay. She didn’t like the popular idea that programming is the only real job in Silicon Valley. She wanted to become a published author. After graduating, she worked as an unpaid intern at a local publication in Oakland.
They two met in a Sichuan restaurant in San Francisco Chinatown on a Friday evening. It was packed.
The guy finished his class and went there for take-out. He suddenly realized it was Friday night, the usual pickup night of his white roommate. He didn’t want to go back at an awkward time and witness him practicing the same tricks to another girl, again. So he decided to stay.
The waiter arranged him to sit in her table. She didn’t mind. She didn’t even move her eyes away from Twitter.
He sat down, put his Mac on the narrow table. A weird logo sticker got her attention. It was from a hot new startup that every journalist in town was chasing after. She asked him if he worked there. He said no. Rather, he took it from the weekly job fair at a co-working space.
They started talking, over dinner, and even more along the walk to the Bart Station. They echoed in many issues, like how impossible it is to survive in the high-cost Silicon Valley, and the hardships a non-programmer experiences to find a job here. He couldn’t stop when talking about architecture school and told her stories about The Case Study Houses in California.
They took the train in opposite directions. On the train, they checked out each other’s portfolio site. They started the romantic relationship in texting.
She gave him a ticket to the hottest annual startup pitch event in Pier 48. Everyone went crazy for new ventures, and they too were immersed in the high spirit. The weird-logo startup won and received funding from top VCs. They two went to the after-party with that startup team and celebrated. Sneaking onto the roof, they kissed overlooking the bay.
Over the next several months, their romance blossomed. They were practically inseparable. Even when they were stuck in Route 101, they were happy, seizing every moment they could to make out.
He finished the UI design bootcamp and successfully got a job in the weird-logo startup. He worked as a designer in the marketing team with a 79k annual salary. She was thinking about going to a creative writing program in Iowa. But her parents, a Cantonese couple running a grocery store in Fremont, didn’t want her to be somewhere far away in the corn fields. She had been struggling to write meaningful pieces and felt like her career was in a slump.
In a bubble tea shop on their next date, he told her, “you don’t need another degree to write. You can get a 9–5 job here and write at night.” But his actual intention was to be with her.
She was browsing her Facebook and suddenly noticed a targeting ad pop-up in her timeline. It was his design that he complained about but made anyway. It was a bright color flat-UI banner with a huge call-to-action button. He argued with the marketing manager because he thought it was plainly ugly, but the manager insisted that a bigger button would lead to better returns.
She turned her back to him, bitterly. “So, what about your architecture dream? I don’t want to just survive and forget who I am!”
He saw her left on an Uber without looking back.
Two years later, she returned to NorCal with an MFA in literature. She lived with her parents and took a lecturer job teaching freshmen in her alma mater. She wrote press releases for startups every now and then, and she was able to know many high-energy tech insiders.
In the tech news, she read that the weird-logo company was preparing for an IPO. She thought about him for a second, mostly about how he’s probably really lucky and could soon buy a flat in the peninsula with his stocks.
She went to a huge party in downtown Los Angeles with a bunch of startup friends. They enjoyed a lot of premium liquor in an investor’s penthouse and stayed the night in Los Angeles.
She woke up to see the city in broad daylight. There were high-rises all around her, looking super modern compared to her shithole in the Bay Area. She was sitting on the stairs of the Disney Concert Hall while her friends were on a tour insideFrank Gehry’s magnificent creation. She remembered something he joked to her before: “all modern architectural buildings are leaking, no matter how majestic they look.”
“Well there’s no rain in Los Angeles anyway,” she thought to herself. Then, she immediately saw him.
After she left for Iowa, he left Silicon Valley too. He didn’t get an H1b visa, so he had to quit his job and return to China. He worked in Beijing for a starchitecture firm, as if the advertising creative job never made a dent in his life.
Architect is a slow job that needs many years to nurture. The good thing, however, is that in China, he has more opportunities since there are always new structures being erected everyday. During his time in Beijing, he translated an architectural masterpiece, written by a partner of his firm, into Chinese. He traveled with this Pritzker Architecture Prize winner on a book tour to major cities around the world.
He and she saw each other at the same time. They stared longingly into each other’s eyes but didn’t say a word. She put on sunglasses to beat the passionate sunshine in SoCal and turned away. He went to check on his parking meter. Walking away slowly, he looked back, only to find the back of her head.
They never met again.