Hsien and I pulled into the red zone just outside Nussbaum and Wu, a bagel shop at the base of the dingy 13 floor apartment building she'd call home for the next six months. The building, located at 113th and Broadway, just a few blocks from the Columbia University campus, was like the rows and rows of identical buildings in the area, a thick, oppressive concrete slab with a security door that opened into a foyer forest of tall, thin, locked mailboxes and a set of creaky elevators.

New York

Just inside the security door, our local long-haired, gaunt, smelly, insane guy named John, and a graduate of Columbia himself was reading one of the newspapers that had been dropped off that morning but which had not yet been collected by a tenant.

We said hello as I propped open the doors and began purging the car of all of Hsien's belongings. I tried to unpack quickly because we were parked in the red. I would have double-parked except for the fact that it was street cleaning day and there was already a solid wall of double-parked cars up and down the street. I would find out later that parking would be a complete nightmare if one could not move the car during the workday and that if you needed your car during street cleaning hours, you would have to drive up onto the sidewalk in order to get out of the double parked prison. It was particularly important to plan ahead of time if you had to get to the airport and the streets were too icy to get up over the curb! I speak from experience.

Statue of Liberty

After unloading the car, I went off on the parking space expedition and was back within 45 minutes. Together, Hsien and I moved everything to the elevator and then up to her room on the 10th floor.

The building was essentially a graduate dorm. Each floor was divided into four wings A,B,C, and D and each wing was a single hallway off of which sat 6 to 8 rooms, a shared bathroom, kitchen and shower. About half of the rooms had private toilets. Hsien's room, however, did not. Her room, or perhaps walk-in closet, was a 15'-15' room with high ceilings and some furniture.

We moved her things in and I left on my way to Maryland where I was going to be living and working with Gunther.

Twin Towers

Gunther had partially cleared out his second bedroom that would serve as my bedroom and the Extropia business offices for the next year. It was carpeted and I had with me two sleeping bags and a foam mattress that I stuck under the large computer table. That night Gunther and I stayed up late setting up the Extropia LAN and discussing web domination.

I must say that the weeks in Bethesda were extreme and wonderful. It had been a year since Silicon Valley and it felt great to pour myself into the project of Extropia fulltime. During the week I would work from 10AM to 5 or 6 in the morning, and Hsien would take the bus down from New York every weekend.

Tachibanas at the Wedding

Gunther and I would typically spend a few hours a day talking about strategy and design. He would come home from work at NHGRI and we'd walk large circles through the forest on biker paths. After discussion, we'd head over to Taipei-Tokyo for some Sesame Chicken and then go back to continue working.

Extropia grew quickly with the birth of the Developers network (DevNet), the redesign of the Extropia website, the legal incorporation of the company, and the initial design and implementation of WebWare 2.0. We also had great luck with the media and it looked like we were headed right for the large venture capital firms to get enough capital to eventually go IPO.

Yet the success did not come without any consequences. Unfortunately, the intense pressure of it all caused my body to give out after a few months. The combined stress, long hours, and poor sleeping condition led to a swollen disc in my upper back and left me winging in pain while walking, sitting, eating, and breathing. However, with the help of pain killers, chiropractic sessions, and time, things got somewhat better, though even to this day the fingers on my right hand remain sore and numb.


The other unpleasant thing about life in Maryland was life without Hsien. We saw each other on weekends but it was simply not enough. We both missed each other a lot and I also knew that when we were together, I worked like a mad man and not like a dead man. When my hours became unhealthy, she would always remind me to stop and give me lots of reason to do so.

So after only six months in Bethesda, I decided to move to New York and commute to Maryland on the weekends so that I could work more closely with Gunther and have those long, incredibly useful walks but maintain some semblance of health and happiness.

It was much nicer to live with Hsien. She would be gone for most of the day at classes and I plugged away at Extropia projects. At nights, she would do homework and I continued working on Extropia. But we were together and that made everything great.

Once or twice a week, we would go out swing dancing at Life or Swing 46, or we would go see a movie down on 76th and Broadway.

Gunther - Jenga Master

Our diet consisted mainly of Chinese food from Ollies. Favorites included Taiwanese Beef-Noodle Soup and General Tso's Chicken. We also went down to China Town on weekends to eat at Nyonya, a great Malaysian/Singaporean restaurant with killer Chicken Rice and Roti Chanai.

However, I did not care for the city much. The subways were always breaking down around 96th street which meant that we always had to transfer to bus or walk from 96th to 113th. Further, it was really noisy around our apartment building. Construction began at 7AM every morning and the nightlife ended around 11. The night noise was no big deal, but morning noise was sooooooo annoying. I also found living on the upper West Side too distant from New York life. Going out for a decent diner or night out required too much of a commute.

It was also Fall/Winter when I was living there and I must say that when spring rolled around, the city became much nicer. There is only one thing I hate worse than cold and snow, and that is cold and scummy ice. Like Washington DC, New York had trouble generating real snow. Instead, the city was constantly covered in blackened mush and ice.

However, our suite was a source of enjoyment. Suite mates, including Shao, Michiyo, Igor, Co, Traci, Theresa, and Fu were all fun and kind. Hsien and I felt a bit like mom and dad because we were so much older, but that was okay. It was interesting to have a second chance to see what dorm life was like since I had missed the experience at both my undergraduate and graduate schools.

Hsien and Jackie at Catalina

And then, one day, came that fateful call from mike Cummins, the recruiter for Barclays Capital. Although things were going great with Extropia, Mike, on behalf of Barclays Capital made Gunther and I an offer that we could hardly pass up.

If we accepted the offer, Gunther and I would both work for Barclays, Gunther in New York and me in London. We would be contracted to work for a year or two doing web-based trading applications and would make enough money to really fund Extropia ourselves without the help of a VC. Combined, we'd make around 500,000 USD per year.

We thought that we could maintain both jobs, Extropia and Barclays, but that the rise of Extropia might be delayed. However, somewhat disillusioned by VCs in the US, we thought that the chance to fund the project ourselves would be worth the delay. Discussions with the DevNet members and some other people in the community convinced us that it was worth interviewing.

So Gunther and I went to interview at Barclays Capital.

The Lims

Truthfully, I was incredibly insecure. It was difficult for me to believe that I was a good enough developer to get such a cool position for so much money. I had no doubt that Gunther would do well in the interviews but I tended to think that they would consider me a fraud by the second hour.

Gunther and I both went out to buy new suits and prepared.

Unexpectedly, I made it through a series of interviews in New York and in London without hitch and before I knew it, I was working on Wall Street at the Barclays New York office. Visa issues meant that I would have to work in New York for some months.

The Lims in the Subway

Work was fantastic. I started out on a project called STRAX that was an equity finance application led by Peter Williams. Every other week, I'd fly to London to begin building my web development team there. Meanwhile Hsien finished her semester. STRAX was a cool application to work on and allowed me to use both Perl and Java. I developed a Java JDK 1.02 applet frontend using the Microline components I'd been working on in Silicon Valley. The Java plugged into a backend Perl CGI script that managed equity availability, user preferences, and order management. Peter was also a great person to work with and had lots of experience in the financial sector. Seeing orders of hundreds of millions of dollars pass through the interface was quite exciting as well.

I also started regular training sessions with the New York developers and slowly began to develop a sense of security in my own skill as a developer. When compared to other developers in New York, I did seem to be pretty okay and that was both amazing and exciting.

And then it happened.

I'd been thinking about it for several weeks. Going over it in my head. Exactly how to do it. When to do it. Where to do it. My intent was to make it one of the most memorable moments in both of our lives. I wanted to give it much thought, plan it just right, and do something brilliant.

Hsien, Theresa, Traci and Fu

However, one night at 3AM while Hsien and I were cuddled up against a particularly cold winter night watching TV and generally being insomniacs, she asked me what I was thinking. I did my utter best to not say anything and wait till the perfect plan finally gelled, and Hsien must have thought I fell asleep as I battled my impulsiveness unsuccessfully.

And so when I could no longer hold it in, I said, "will you marry me?"

And she said, "What!!!!!!!!!!!!!!".

And then, at some point later....she also said, "Yes".

We thought that since we were scheduled to go to Los Angeles to attend the Catalina Swing Camp, and since we could not arrange anything in Singapore any time soon, we decided to hold a wedding in Los Angeles. Wedding plans commenced for the date of June 1st that would be several months off.

As it turned out, my VISA finally came through and we agreed to go straight from LA to Singapore and then to London where we would both live. Hsien would do her third semester in London and then return for a final semester in 2000 and I would work at Barclays for one year. Hsien would work for Extropia, running the company while Gunther and I completed a term at Barclays.

Street Dancers

At the same time, Barclays decided to move Gunther to London so we would all show up in the London office right after Catalina. Gunther, Hsien, and I decided that we'd get a large place and share it for the 3/4 of a year in London.

The wedding was fantastic. I flew in from London and met Hsien who had been in the Bay Area for the weekend having left our New York apartment with Shao who would be subletting for the year.

My mom, Stan, and Grandma had done a monumental job organizing the event, redoing the house and getting everyone together. Hsien's parents, brother, and one of her friends, Bernie, who'd been with her in San Francisco arrived and stayed in Eagle Rock, just fifteen minutes from the house.

Because we were off to Catalina Swing Camp for the weekend, the wedding was held on June 1, which was a Tuesday night. The actual ceremony was fairly unceremonial. A freelance judge came by to fill out the paperwork and swear us in, then witness the signing of the papers.

After the papers were signed, Hsien and I exchanged our own vows. Hsien's mom gave me my vows and my mom gave Hsien's hers.

Fu, Traci, and Igor

After vows, we ate from a buffet of japanese and Jewish food.

Our vows....

Bobbi: Do you, Li Hsien, promise to be a wife and also a best friend to Eric? Will you communicate with each other at all times, sharing the big things in life and also the little day to day things? To take all the good things with the bad? His snoring, his paranoias, and his occasional insanity? Do you promise to take care of him, to give him massages and lots of tender loving care when he is ill or feeling down?

Hsien: I do

Cheong Hoh: Do you, Eric, promise to be a husband to Li Hsien, and also her best friend? Do you promise to keep talking to each other always, sharing the big things in life as well as the little day to day things? To take all the good things with the bad? Her burps, her periodic grouchiness and her occasional insanity? Will you promise to be romantic, to remember birthdays and anniversaries and to buy her flowers?

Eric: I do

About 40 friends and family showed up. I think it was the perfect size as I did not want it to be too big. It was great that the families got along so well together and everyone seemed to have a great time. Hsien looked absolutely gorgeous wearing a 50s style dress with bright red flowers.

And then, before I knew it, we were on the boat to Catalina for our second swing camp. It was not lost on us that it had been just after Catalina, the year before, that Hsien and I had started dating.

Catalina was fantastic as ever though the year of hardcore programming had sapped much of the endurance from my dancing feet. I could no longer keep up the pace of 12 hour dance days and we tended to leave after the normal ballroom dance rather than going to the after hours dances. We even ditched several classes during the days. However, we still loved the camp and were very happy to meet the new generations of Swingaporeans who'd come out for the camp with Sing and Andrew.

And then after a whirlwind tour of Singapore, I was back in London to meet Gunther who had already moved into our new flat.

Lian Pei in the 10-A hall

The flat was great. It was a four story/four bedroom townhouse which sat on the banks of the Thames on the northeastern shores of the isle of Dogs across from the famed Millenium dome and about a 12 minute walk to work.

Hsien and I took the top floor, Gunther the next one down, and we shared the bottom two floors which consisted of a living room, kitchen, dining area, laundry room and large office. There was an incredible amount of space. In fact, the flat could have housed four couples easily.

Since we shared all expenses like furniture, rent, utilities, and car, the flat worked out to be incredibly reasonable given the incredible expensiveness of London.

Our neighbor Derek was also quite friendly even driving us around town before we got ourselves a car. We did eventually get a car because it helped with the drive to Central London on swing nights and gave Hsien more mobility to get around town as she needed. It was also nice to have a car to go to Cambridge and Bath in later months.

There was even a local climbing wall so that we could prepare for our next expedition to Krabi in Thailand.

Finally, there was an active swing scene with live bands and several good swing clubs including Jitterbugs and the 100 Club.

So life seemed like it would be fine in London.

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