By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
How do you describe someone who is a muse, teacher, explorer, doctor, translator, scientist, detective, travel guide, map reader, consultant, problem-solver, and everything I need for survival?
I hate to admit it — I can’t live without Google. As a journalist, Google is irreplaceable in my daily life. I am not unique, but Google is a global encyclopedia and multi-faceted connector to the world. I happened to visit Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. on Oct. 27.
A high school reunion held in San Francisco led me to northern California. Part of the itinerary included a bus tour, which swung by some high tech companies. But it didn’t have access to any of those companies.
To make my trip more meaningful (and sharing my perspective with readers), my former University of Washington classmate offered to help. You could tell I didn’t use my media credentials. The Northwest Asian Weekly? Who? A small paper doesn’t have any clout as a media company. Nor did I want to spend much time to go through the vetting process. Its website said it doesn’t offer public tours. The only public access areas are the green spaces and its gift shop. Don’t waste your time looking for the shop. The merchandise wasn’t that interesting.
If you have a friend who works for Google, that’s your trump card. My friend’s son, Ken, works for the giant’s subsidiary company, YouTube. Google’s pretty and huge campus is impressive.
It took one-and-a-half hours to drive from San Francisco to Mountain View, which is close to San Jose.
Once you arrive, you see a street called Google Drive. The four bright Google colors — blue, green, yellow, red signs loom everywhere. It’s so big with 60 or more buildings (I can’t confirm the number as Google doesn’t post that information) that you can’t possibly visit all the buildings in one day.
Ken said his colleague tried to dine in a different Google cafeteria every day, and hoped to visit all the buildings in a month, and he couldn’t accomplish his goal. That brings me to Google’s most generous gesture.
Yes, all family members of Google employees are treated to free meals. Employees never need to pay for food out of their own pocket — breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Ken said Google’s philosophy is to provide food within 100 feet.
The amount of free benefits for Google employees are beyond your imagination. There was a time when the company gave dry cleaning service and free haircuts on campus. Now, it costs a small fee.
On the surface, Google is generous. Since I am a business owner, I understand the ultimate motive.
Remove all distractions so your people can be focused 100 percent and be productive. Hunger is a distraction. Searching for good food takes time. As does cooking. Also, there aren’t many restaurants close by.
We wandered around the campus. It’s nice to walk around its green, open space, and the air is fresh because there are no cars. Volleyball courts and exercise equipment are installed in key locations. Free colorful bikes and helmets are available. If you want to have fun, you can play the piano or go down a slide, which are located inside some buildings. The whole setting encourages fun during work or provides tools to de-stress, depending on how you see it. Like all high tech companies, the pay is good, but the work is very demanding at Google. I would be surprised if employees don’t work more than 40 hours a week.
Before noon, we arrived in a cafeteria at Building 43, and people started lining up. The food was amazing in its variety, including Japanese, Chinese, Italian (pizzas), American, and Indian, of course. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is Indian. The ingredients were fresh and tasty, and the presentation looked appealing.
Several kinds of desserts were on display, which were hard to resist.
A sea of diversity prevailed. People of color outnumbered whites. Wow! The energy, youth, and vitality were evident in the room. They were in their 20s and 30s. Mandarin and a few kinds of Indian dialects were spoken frequently.
My friend pointed out, “Not many Black folks are here.”
It would be a worthwhile challenge for Google to strategize how to help the Black community enter the tech field.
Don’t just slam dunk, practice math, too. I know people would accuse me for stereotyping. But I am being honest. What’s wrong with leveling the playing field?
It was a fun moment to search for the Asian Weekly’s office and the International District. Inside the visitor’s center, you can play with Google Maps. But you can’t get in without someone carrying a badge.
It only takes a minute or two to locate the Northwest Asian Weekly building on Maynard Avenue South, and the whole downtown Seattle and International District map. The guy before us was looking for Chong Shan Road, in a remote city in China. He found it, too. What an investment for Google to put the whole world on the internet!
That’s how the protagonist in the movie “Lion,” (based on a true story), found his home, which was long lost in his memory when he was barely 5 years old — through Google. I can imagine all the hard work and brains of many Google software engineers figuring out how to gather and organize this data. We all take it for granted now. What will happen if we don’t have Google Maps? What if Google decides to start charging us to use the service?
Four-day trip to California
The main part of the California trip was to see my former high school classmates, 29 of them including some with their spouses, but I actually accomplished much more with an unexpected visit to Google.
One friend asked, “You went to school in Hong Kong? So why did the reunion take place in San Francisco?” My alma mater was Sacred Heart Canossian College, a Catholic girls school in Hong Kong.
Many of my high school friends have immigrated to North America. It’s a convenient spot for Americans and Canadians to meet. To our delight, a few of them joined us from Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand.
A couple of them, I haven’t seen since our high school graduation. I wouldn’t be able to recognize them on the street. One was our class president, attorney Terry Wong of Florida, who played the King in my high school play, and I was the Queen. The King and Queen finally reunited after more than 40 years in a beautiful land called America, and amazingly from the farthest opposite corners of the U.S. If someone told me that would be the story when we were in high school, I would say, “Impossible.” No words could express my joyful astonishment, warmth, and gratitude, seeing so many childhood friends after four decades of separation.
The trip also served other purposes. It was a perfect getaway after months of planning the Asian Weekly’s 35th anniversary gala.
We were also able to attend the annual fundraising dinner of a multi-million-dollar agency, Self-Help for the Elderly, of which our high school classmate, Anni Chung, is the executive director. We were treated to a singing performance by Margaret Cheung, the daughter of classmate Agnes. A rising star in Hong Kong arts and entertainment, Cheung performed English, Cantonese, and Mandarin songs flawlessly.
All of us are looking forward to our next reunion. It will be in 2019, in Toronto.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.