An Attempt At Exhausting A place in the Financial District

A truck pulls up, obscuring my view of the street. It says “Dynamic Pacific Enterprise” on the side in large and small caps. A man and a woman sit next to me at the bar looking out into the street. She tells him about her dream, which is to become a surf instructor. She tells him first she needs to learn how to surf. An old woman seems to be studying my face. She is looking at a menu taped on the window. I become an Asian mannequin. This guy has the most monotone voice in the world. I close my eyes and imagine Dilbert. I try to tune him out. A beautiful Asian woman walks by, I try to picture her naked. I can’t. Fake Paul Krugman strolls by. He has a double-breasted coat, camel colored. An old Asian lady wearing a hairnet drags along a huge tote bag. I can’t get this banal talk these two are having out of my head. Dilbert tells her about the time he tried to save himself, and how he was heartbroken in the process. I don’t know if I should laugh at him, or feel sorry for myself. I choose ridicule. Pigeons fly in and out of view.

This was scrawled into a notebook of mine over a year ago, transcribed for you today.

Never forget your beginner’s spirit.

It was both awkward and accurate to say that we didn’t have very much money when my family came to America. My father spent most of it buying a very used Oldsmobile and he worked double shifts until he made enough to send for my mother and I.

We ate a lot of rice porridge and vienna sausages. Sunday was the only day we ate meat unless it was payday.

If you were to look up my hometown, you’d realize that the median income for a household in the city was $26,704 (versus $48,259 for the rest of Texas), and the median income for a family was $34,543. The per capita income for the city was $13,993. About 17.3% of families and 22.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.3% of those under age 18 and 21.7% of those age 65 or over. A quarter of the city was living UNDER the poverty line! The funny thing is, we didn’t know we were poor. At least I didn’t.

Around the time we arrived in Texas, a group of retired teachers volunteered and were assigned immigrant families like ours to teach the basics of the English language. I remember when my father left to work in Taiwan for a few years, I had to sign the checks for the utility bills because my mother could not.

Eventually I’d go to college. When I graduated, I left Texas and moved out west with little money and almost no possessions. I smile when I think about how similar my beginnings were to my father’s. One of the few possessions I owned was a very small square photograph of my grandfather as a boy with his family that I kept pinned on a bare wall. It’s unclear how they afforded it, but I keep it to remind me where I came from.

Never forget your beginner’s spirit.

BATNA

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned in the past year is to always have leverage. The concept of leverage has been around since the dawn of time, but capitalism seems to have exported it on a grand scale. It scales so well because the principles are so fundamental.

Leverage eliminates the need for instruments like trust. No need for trust equals speed because things are binary. “In good faith” gets replaced by the next best alternative and life goes on.