The journey that led me to China started a long time ago. The year was 1988 and I had just graduated from Tufts University with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Many of my classmates thought I should have taken a job with one of the defense contractors along the Route 128 high tech corridor in the Boston area. That’s what they were all doing, but somehow that didn’t appeal to me. Maybe it was because I had spent my junior year abroad that I felt sure the world had more to offer me than a cubicle in some big corporate entity.
One day, a few months before graduation, I was on my way to class. As I entered the lobby of Anderson Hall – the old semi-stately red brick building where most of my engineering classes were held, the answer to the question of what to do next with my life was written out on a poster in bold letters:
Work in Scandinavia!
I had managed to travel considerably both during my junior year abroad and in years prior, but had never made it to any of the Scandinavian countries. This wasn’t due to lack of interest. In fact, I had been keeping a list of places I wanted to visit, and the more I traveled, the more the list grew. Scandinavia had been on the list ever since I started backpacking my way across Europe from my base as an exchange student in England. But it wasn’t until my backpacking tour reached the far flung destinations of New Zealand, Australia and a variety of Pacific islands that Scandinavia managed to climb to the pinnacle of my list. Scandinavia does not have a large population, with the three primary countries of Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway and Denmark) today having fewer people combined than Shanghai, but I bumped into Scandinavians everywhere. There was that incident in Australia that made my mind up for sure that I needed to visit these people on their own turf.
It was a warm sunny morning and I was staying at a youth hostel in Sydney, the kind where you sleep in a large dormitory type room with as many as 20 beds. The accommodations weren’t luxurious, but I was a poor student and for $10 a night I wasn’t complaining. This hostel was unique in that it had a swimming pool, a rare and welcome amenity for a traveling student.
My plan was to take a quick swim, then go out and explore the city. When I got to the pool, there were four people there, three of whom were stunning and blonde and sun-tanning topless on the pool deck. And they were women, I should add, if that wasn’t already apparent from the ‘e’ at the end of blonde. (Blonde is one of very few adjectives in English that conveys gender, but I’m getting off track by discussing grammar.) I got to talking to these ladies, and not only were they beautiful, half-naked and my age, but they were also friendly! Where I was from, even fully dressed women were nowhere near this friendly. And they were all from Sweden (at least the three topless ones were, I now have very little recollection of the fourth).
That was it! I had to get to Sweden, or at least somewhere in Scandinavia. Like Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk, I had found my special purpose in life.
While not all of the Scandinavians that I bumped into on my travels were as ideal (or as naked) as the sun-tanned blondes in Sydney, nearly all, both male and female, were friendly, intelligent, easy going and good looking.
“You’re doing what?” said Sternberg, one of the guys in my engineering classes. “I’ve got this great offer here from General Dynamics. I’ll be making more than 30K a year.”
That seemed like a lot to me at the time, but it didn’t sway me. The poster in Anderson Hall that day sealed my fate. The defense industry would have to wait.