Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is the Journey the Destination? My Decision to Move to China

A little over 30 years ago, I met a visiting scholar from China who would change my life. He was one of the kindest men I have ever met, one who would go on to become a prominent scholar and chair of a department at one of the top universities in China. He stirred and intensified my embryonic interest in China and the Mandarin Chinese language. Thirty years of wishful thinking about living in China one day has come to fruition now as my wife and I embark on the adventure of living in Shanghai, the hometown of my dear friend from China.

I met him just after returning from my mission in Switzerland, and shortly after pondering President Kimball’s comments that “the spirit of God appears to be brooding over China,” urging us to prepare for a day when we could help the people of China more fully. I determined that I should be interested in China, and resolved to sign up for a Chinese course when I began school in the summer term at BYU. But before starting at BYU again, I worked for a couple of months in a chemistry lab at the University of Utah, where my late uncle Daniel Miles had kindly arranged for me to have a temporary job. Meeting my new friend from China and working with him in the same lab greatly strengthened my interest in China. His lab space happened to be in the same room where my uncle had some of his lab space. This University of Utah Department of Chemistry was also where my uncle would introduce me to the world-famous chemist and Latter-day Saint, Henry Eyring, who treated me with kindness and recalled that my great grandmother, Victoria Josephine Jarvis Miles, had taught him as a child.

The chance to chat frequently with a friend from China made my rather mundane lab work much more exciting. He graciously invited me and my highschool sweetheart (soon to become my fiance and now my wife) to dine at the apartment he shared with a group of other Chinese men studying at the University of Utah. These men knew how to cook, and it was some of the best Chinese food we’ve ever had in the States. Once I began studying at BYU, some of them even came up to visit my Chinese class and cook for us there for a Saturday class party. What ambassadors they were!

Years later, after I had my Ph.D. in chemical engineering and had begun work as a young professor at the Institute of Paper Chemistry (now IPST), I had a chance to present some research work at a heat transfer conference in China. My friend from China and some of the other men I had met would go all out to arrange my trip for me and treat me with kindness far beyond anything I deserved. They would pack amazing events into my short 10 days in China, including visits to three of their family homes, a rarity for foreigners at that time and perhaps also today. There I would meet an elderly scholar of the Tibetan language who showed me precious books of scripture that he could translate. I would taste rare and exotic foods and be given kindness and love that made me yearn to come back. That yearning, though, has been unfilled for several decades as the demands of work and family made China seem like mere wishful thinking, a backburner dream that I would still talk about, but my career path into academia, corporate R&D, and then intellectual property became a US-centric career. Though I would have many international trips to technical conferences and work-related events, getting back to China always seemed out of reach. Now all that has changed. As I write, I’m on a plane to Shanghai where I start work on Monday.

In life, sometimes the journey is the destination. I don’t know what lies ahead in China, but the path that has led me there has been very instructive. If my plane fails to land and I never make it to China, this recent journey will still be an experience I will be grateful for. I can look back with much gratitude to the Lord and see what I believe to be His kind hand at many points in leading me away from other things I may have wanted to do and preparing me to make this transition swiftly and boldly, and in a way that turned out far better than expected.

These past few weeks and months have been a time of more frequent prayer and pondering than normal, often turning to the scriptures for guidance and finding some surprising answers and help at just the right time. The decision to leave the comfort of a good job was difficult–it’s been four wonderful years of learning and adventure at Innovationedge, working with great people and some of the coolest large and small companies around. But several things occurred with fascinating timing that opened my mind to new possibilities, including a very recent phone call our of the blue from my now-retired friend in China who fueled my interest in China 30 years ago. Before the China opportunity came, while fasting about what to do right after receiving a wonderful Priesthood blessing my oldest son in a delightful reversal of roles, I felt strongly that I needed to focus on wrapping up a couple of big projects at work and that I should not engage in the tedious and time-consuming approach of applying for dozens of positions online or the normal painful process of seeking academic positions. I felt that when I had done my best for one our large and impressive clients (and for some of our promising and brilliant small clients), the path forward would then be more clear. I recorded that impression in my journal and lived by it for the most part, though my faith wavered as a large project was nearing completion and I did waste some time and money with a well-known job search service that resulted in absolutely nothing, not even a nibble. Several fascinating opportunities did arise, though, and they all came through old-fashioned word-of-mouth and networking and virtually all at once in a strange feast-or-famine scenario. The outlier, the one that I almost dismissed out of hand for a number of logical reasons, was a chance to interview with a company in China.

As much as I wanted to visit China again, I didn’t think it could possibly work out and wasn’t sure if I should even send them my resume when I was asked to do so. Actually, they didn’t directly ask me to send in my resume. My wife was asked by one of her best friends, the wife of leader in the company, to have me send in my resume. Talk about guanxi. I felt that I should, mostly just to be nice, but didn’t think it could possibly work out. It did.

My first interview with them came the night before an interview with a cool organization, and the Chinese offer to me would come while I was in Shanghai shortly thereafter on the same day that I would receive another offer that was hard to resist. But I had fallen in love with Shanghai and was beginning to feel that I must come to China, though there were and still are many fears, and I would not entertain that thought unless my wife would also be enthusiastic about it. I didn’t expect that to happen. How surprised I was after going to the Temple with her to learn that she, too, was feeling that we should choose China. In fact, at the temple, both of us came away feeling that China might be the place, if a concern or two could be addressed–and the email addressing these concerns had come while we were at the Temple. It was shortly after leaving the Temple that I read their email to her, and she cheered: “We’re going to China!” Her enthusiasm surprised me–I think it was greater than mine. That was Saturday. We prayed about it more on Sunday and continued to feel and understand that it was the right thing for us.

Now came the really hard part: leaving. I was worried that my boss would be upset with my decision. I prayed about how to handle it, and felt that immediate, up-front action was needed. I asked to meet with my boss the next morning, even though it was Memorial Day, to share a surprising development. She was gracious and came to the office on Memorial Day. I explained that while I had been thinking about academia, a real surprise had just occurred with an opportunity in China that I just couldn’t resist. She was completely understanding, She knew that I had been wanting to work in China for years and could see that this was a terrific career opportunity. I was treated generously and kindly. Yesterday was a tremendous last day of work with much undeserved kindness and a great farewell luncheon and other fun. Plus I got several worthwhile things taken care off. I’ll remain a fan of Innovationedge for anybody looking to strengthen innovation, new product development, and IP strategy for their company.

The decision to move to China may seem crazy from many points of view. Why leave an exciting job, a comfortable home, and the presence of family for a journey into the unknown on the other side of the world? Why walk away from world-class health insurance, unlimited internet access, the joy of three grandchildren just two hours away, another son and daughter-in-law just moving into the state of Wisconsin to begin medical school, and from many other friends and relatives within a short journey? And did I mention I’ll be leaving my two beautiful apple trees that product about 1,000 pounds of delicious fruit every year?

I’m not sure. It looks crazy from some perspectives, but it also looks like the perfect career move for me in many ways, an opportunity to create and do the things I’ve been helping others to do as a consultant with a company now hungry to grow and do things right. It’s also an opportunity to develop international skills, language skills, leadership skills, IP skills and business skills, and to really make a difference with an exciting company that will make innovative products available to many people who couldn’t afford them before. But it’s not just about the career opportunity. It’s not about money. It’s not about the world’s greatest food and one of the world’s most beautiful and exciting cities (Shanghai, of course, is known as the Appleton of the East, though it has a little less snow, lower taxes, and a slightly larger population–about 23 million more people). The real reason might be the work my wife will be doing, rendering service to many as she helps a charitable foundation and other efforts in China. Or maybe the real reason is the food after all. I’m cool with that! And maybe the journey is the real destination. I’ll tell you when I get there and everything is clear at last. One thing is for sure: everything we have needed along this journey has been provided for us. We see the hand of the Lord, in spite of our mistakes and failures, helping us, opening our minds, touching our hearts, removing barriers, changing priorities, and pushing gently or sometimes forcibly to help us see what we to do. So many things have worked together to help us. We’re so grateful and in awe, regardless of what happens next.

Aren't all of our lives like this in some way, with the Lord always there, giving us opportunities that we may not recognize or take, but giving us help to bear with what we must bear and to sometimes find unexpected new routes to pursue when the time is right? This process of seeking, listening, doing our best, moving forward, often erring, hopefully recovering, and trying again is, in many ways, the destination. My little issue of where to live and what do professionally pales in comparison with the big issues of life, family, faith, and so forth that many of you are dealing with now, but it's been an instructive journey.

I've left out some of the most overwhelming and meaningful details that I can't share here, but this has been a memorable journey. I think by daily struggling more in prayer and pondering, we have more clearly seen and recognized the influence of God and the kind things that have been done to help us, even when those things initially seemed like setbacks and problems, even disasters. One example came when my wife noticed that something had gone wrong with her reservation and that it was on the wrong day. This proved to be a blessing, allowing us go from a problematic schedule (as initially planned) to a horrific one and then to an almost ideal one, with Delta kindly waiving the $150 change fee. Wow. But we also learned that some of the things that Lord does to help us don't do any good if we don't act promptly and proactively when the door is opened. I will spare you the details, but there have been lessons in many ways in our journey.

The timing has been remarkable. It turns out that it was very important that my notice of leaving was given on Memorial Day. A disappointment from one of our clients, dropping a big project I had looked forward to, also made it feasible for this transition to happen when it did. That news came two days before we would be faced with the surprise privilege of accepting the wonderful opportunity in China. Had that project gone forward, my guanxi with the client would have kept me from making the change now. So many things like that have occurred with almost surgical precision to move me along. All a delusion? Maybe. Is there a purpose to it all? If so, I don't know why, but it's been a fascinating journey. I hope this will continue and that we can make a difference.

We’ll be there for 1-2 years, and then back to the United States to create jobs and other things here. I’ll try to keep this blog up, but may need some guest writers to help out from time to time. Please let me know if you have some content you’d like to share. Meanwhile, wish us luck in one of the great nations of the world, China.

6 comments:

Faith said...

Wow. As a Chinese, I'm really touched by this post.

Thank you for working in China and thank your wife for all the charitable works she's going to do there.

Thank you! And I really mean it.

We'll pray for you. I'm sure the Lord would be with you and bless you in all your works there.

If you need to kill some time on the plane, I wrote something about the "LDS Gospel and Chinese Tradition, Bible and Chinese History." If you decide to read, please first excuse my poor English grammar and writing style.

http://jesussmilingface.blogspot.com/2011/04/lds-gospel-and-chinese-tradition-bible.html

God bless you! Your plane has to land in China safely!

Michemily said...

I was so glad to read this whole account. I feel like my story is like yours, without the great ending. I have been intrigued by China in a way that makes me feel like all Saints needs to gather together and focus on learning Chinese and opening our hearts to the people there. The second doors open, I want to be there with the language skills. Or maybe I will be there opening the doors. Whichever way, I hope I get the happy ending (well, it's more of a beginning, really) that you have found. Best of luck!

Redd Family said...

Best of luck to you and your wife while you live among the Chinese people in Shanghai. Your family will be missed. I enjoyed my two years in Hong Kong and I grew to love the people in a way that most people don't understand. Thanks for sharing your story about how you came to your decision. I, too, hope to someday be able to live in China--hopefully in a missionary capacity with my wife. Take care.

Anonymous said...

May the Lord bless you in this new chapter of your life. Thank you for your blog--you have helped me find ways to respond in a Christ-like way to a family member who emphatically tells me I am not a Christian in a most un-Christian way.

May luck and love and wonderful blessings be yours in your new home!

MarkS said...

Great news, God bless your journey and destination. Here's hoping for Mormanity instead of Lessmanity, though!

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Two weeks now, and it's better than ever. I just love China. We have much to learn from this great nation and its capable people. There is so much beauty here, such great food, such amazing accomplishments in architecture, culture, science, and the arts, and yet so much to do.

I love Shanghai. If you're in town, let me know. I love meeting new people and showing off my little town here. We're right above LaoXiMen station on Subway line 10, walking distance to work and to the Bund, right between XinTianDi and the amazing Yu Yuan Gardens, and have a nice view of the most beautiful skyline on earth. Come visit!