Monday, June 12, 2006

Why I Still Have To End Up In The Bay Area

I've been trying for a while now to identify and articulate what it is that is so different for me between the Bay Area and Seattle. I can make a long list of very close parallels between the areas, so it's surprising that they should occupy almost exactly opposite ends of some important spectrum in my mind. The short answer to what it is that makes Seattle fall short: no magic.

I grew up rather removed from the real world. We were far out in the country, on an island thousands of miles from the mainland US, and my parents wanted very little to do with the normal ways people go about their lives. So my only contact with the normal world (especially the mainland) was hearing about it in stories. As a kid, you make no distinction between good stories and bad stories (ever go back and watch a movie you loved as a kid? Wasn't it sickeningly bad?), so they are all endowed with a magical character, something mythical and decidedly removed from the world you actually live in, some conviction that no such stories are real or even possible. At least this is what I realized I have.

As such, stories my parents told me about Berkeley were just as mystical to me growing up as those about Camelot, so Berkeley occupied about the same place in my mind, at least in this myth-value space. The other thing I realized I picked up from hearing these stories starting so young is a deep personal connection to them. Those stories, true or not, are rooted deep in my mind and have a lot of meaning to me, an emotional depth that can't be matched by any sort of day-to-day contact with something these days.

This is the sense I have a hard time expressing clearly in words: to me, going to Berkeley, or San Francisco, or Silicon Valley is just as magical as if Merlin stepped out from nowhere and started waving his wand and turning people into frogs. Silicon Valley somehow got a special extension to this - maybe because the internet seemed so far away and mysterious when I was in high school (the first time I went online was in 10th grade in 97 or 98), and then it picked up a bit of myth value of its own through hearing professors talk about all these things in a far-removed sense, and my dad did have a few stories about being at IBM in the 60's. However it happened, the feeling I get being in the valley is almost too much: almost too magical, too much to take in, too much to believe is actually real. And it's an overload of the deepest and best kind of good.

And this, alas, is what Seattle lacks most. I'm sure things happened here, and mattered to the people who lived through them, but I have no connection to any of it. It has no story with me, no myth that I heard as a far away romanticised story that, despite my disbelief, became real.

There are other things I don't like as much here, but that's really the one that matters, and it is inseparable from all the other problems - but that is a topic for another time, when I should not have already gone to bed long ago....


Blogger Piaw Na said...

That's interesting. I remember wanting to come to the USA for the same reason, and getting my dream (and ending up in Berkeley) was incredible. I didn't mind that Berkeley had lots of homeless people, and that I was poor when I arrived and had to live on chicken soup. Just breathing the air made it all worth while.

Of course, being a computer science major and being in Silicon Valley for me, became synonymous. When I lived in New Jersey for an internship, I enjoyed it, but the fact that many of the researchers moved to California eventually didn't hurt my impression that this was the place to be.

(And of course, I hated Seattle weather with a passion, though with global warming, maybe it's gotten better)

6/24/2006 6:24 PM  

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