I love reading recaps — recaps of conferences, events, and especially of years. Year — and time in general — are one of the few instances where almost all 7 billion individuals on this planet we call home are in sync. The moments relived all happened some time in these past 366 days, and regardless of who you are and where you live, the time elapsed is something that we all share.
For me, 2012 has been a whirlwind of a year — personally and professionally, filled with friends old and new, journeys on this side of the Pacific and across, building relationships, discovering old family ties, saying hellos and good-byes, defining future aspirations, and simply growing. At the end of the year, there isn’t much more that one can ask for, except to look forward with excitement at what the next year will bring.
Professionally, it was a year that made me think how lucky it was to be able to do something that I loved (for the most part). That intersection of media, technology, and culture is always interesting and thought-provoking, but especially now, in the age of not just smartphones and apps, but tablets and general interactivity and connectivity.
Although I didn’t get to write about it as much (save for a bit at CES in January), I did get to actually live it more. In March, I went on StartupBus – Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas to be a part of SxSW – Interactive as a ‘buspreneur’. Over three days, you lived, breathed, and worked on an idea that became a business — on a bus — with a group of strangers who became fast friends in 72 hours. At the end of it, all ten buses worth of teams gathered in Austin to meet and pitch their ideas (our baby, Expensieve, made it to the semi-finals but not the finals, unfortunately). While hackathons are something that is pretty much unique to the software industry, this experience made me think how useful something like this would be across industries — giving you the creativity within a short period of time to re-think and re-engineer, or simply create something entirely new.
There was something special and unique about building a product, and that infectious enthusiasm of a group of willing individuals collaborating to build something different, something they believed in, or something just because they wondered ‘why not’ captured so much of that can-do spirit that I love about Silicon Valley and startups in general.
The conception and very rapid prototyping of OpenCoSF was a great opportunity to share that same spirit in a very personal setting with a larger group here in the Bay (the whole thing ended up being put together in six weeks!) in October. Instead of a convention, the idea was to have “open companies” (not unlike the houses you’d often find in Austin during Sx where companies like Spotify and MSN invited you to check out their latest integrations/products) where founders/senior leaders would share what “innovation” meant to them.
And of course, being able to end 2012 working in Shanghai, particularly in exploring the Chinese luxury market, added a very unique lens to it all. Even today, after following the China market for some years, it’s always mind-boggling to see the pace at which it changes. Beyond its economic growth, I’m always more amazed by the speed at which it changes socially. Fortune comes and goes, but the belief — the soul and identity of a society — is something you rarely, if ever, see. While it’s generally easier to write about the numbers and make sense of something based on its facts and figures, diving into the psyche and ambitions of a group of people who have seen so much change over a generation presents a much more nuanced picture with 50+ shades of grey.
Personally, it was a year that included xiao long baos in 4 different cities on 2 continents, lychee adventures, hikes in snow, rain, and blistering heat, weekend trips along the coast, a brief trip to Big Island, and a very key visit home to Shanghai. Being home in Shanghai, chatting with my cousins on Weixin, was a glimpse of an extended family that I never really knew growing up. The age gap that had seemed once seemed so daunting seemed to disappear in the face of time (my oldest cousin is 46).
The most profound event of the year, however, came at the very end of he year — on Christmas Eve — with the passing of my grandmother. Even though I didn’t know her very well and she’s slipped in and out of moments of clarity for a couple years now, she always represented that unifying figure in a family of 20+, including all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My mother is the youngest of seven and I feel very thankful to have been able to know her for the time that I did. I’ll always remember those pears she magically made appear after afternoon naps, telling me how Guanyin (she was a devout Buddhist) had granted them in reward for being such a good napper (I used to be a terrible sleeper). At 96, it really is a celebration of her life, especially for a woman who was repeatedly told that she wouldn’t live past 40. In the last week of the year, her life really made me think about what legacy and time meant, and the value of living out one’s personal legends.
As a wise friend shared his experiences with his grandfather’s death a few years ago, he vowed to do better. And I think that’s the best thing we can really do to honor the memories of those who’ve gone before us … is to do and live better. To live more consciously in acts both big and small.
Happy 2013 – to being better.