*APAC Heritage Month* A Mile in Your Shoes
Let's walk a mile in the shoes of our co-workers. Tell us the story of your family's migration, your childhood pets, your education and unique experiences, and better understand the lives of our colleagues.
Hi everyone, my name is Matthew and I am a Customer Success Manager here at Cloudflare and today I am super excited to welcome you all to a segment called A Mile In Your Shoes as part of our APAC Heritage Month.
And in the event that you guys have any questions or concerns, feel free to call it in.
Jade will be holding up a little flag shortly.
We would love to hear from you guys and have you guys ask Jade some awesome questions.
And without further ado, I'm super excited to introduce you guys to our special guest here, the one, the only, Jade Wang.
Hi everyone, I'm Jade and I run the startup program at Cloudflare.
Awesome, thank you so much Jade.
And so to kick things off, we'd love to kind of get to know you a little bit better.
And so the first question I'd love to ask you is talk about where you grew up and how that shaped you into the person you are today.
Yeah, so a very brief overview.
I was born in Shanghai. I lived there for about four and a half years.
My mother and I took a long circuitous route through Europe and we were in varying stages stuck in Europe for about six months.
After that, we lived in the US.
I grew up, we moved around a lot. We landed in Southern Illinois where my father was doing the Herculean task of doing two master's degrees in two years.
And then we lived in Decatur, Illinois, which is like, which is the best way I can describe it is, you know, there's corn and soy as far as the eye can see, and your local grocery store will not carry tofu or soy milk or any soy products.
Because no, regardless of the distance that you have to the nearest soybean, it's really close.
And then we, and then when I was about nine, we lived in different parts of the Chicago suburban areas, Skokie, Illinois and Morton Grove, and then moved out to California, Stanford for undergrad, went back to Chicago to do my PhD and then back to the Bay Area to do my postdoc, left academia to do startups.
And then in January of 2020, we moved to Austin.
Right on. I love that so much. And I kind of want to bring the story back to Illinois too.
And kind of like just your time there and how, what was that like growing up in the Midwest?
Yeah. So, you know, people have this image of the Midwest that is often consistent with a place like Decatur where it's corn and soy, as far as the eye can see.
And, you know, and by land area that would be an accurate representation, but not by population count.
But the majority of people by population count live near big cities, live in or near big cities.
And I grew up in a neighborhood called Skokie in Skokie, Illinois. Skokie and Morton Grove are kind of continuous with each other anyway.
And it was very much a first-generation kind of neighborhood.
Skokie is known for having the largest number of Holocaust survivors anywhere in the world.
It's got a huge Jewish population, especially like even before World War II and especially after.
And in the time that I was growing up as a kid, we were largely former USSR folks and a lot of East Asian and a lot of South Asian descent.
Like probably by sheer numbers, like the most common last name in the student directory was probably like Patel or Singh.
There were probably fewer East Asians, but like generally that was like our demographics.
We were very heavy in the first and second generation immigrant population.
And so we were incredibly diverse in terms of, you know, where people came from and our native languages spoken.
But we were also very homogenous in that we all had very similar experiences and that we were very, we were some of the first in our families to come to the U.S.
That's wonderful. And so you got to talk about the food.
What was the food like out there? You know, Skokie has, I mean, Chicago is incredibly diverse as large cities go.
The Skokie itself, it like, you know, the home cooking is great.
And also like there's just a lot of, well, I think like you can find a lot of great restaurants, like not very far away from wherever you are in the Chicago area.
I mean, yeah, like the best bagels I've ever had were from Skokie.
The best Middle Eastern food I've had was also, was Evanston, which is like close to Skokie.
It's, it is definitely like very, very vibrant in terms of the food scene.
It's also emblematic of Chicago as a whole. Right.
Absolutely. And I mean, I mean like grocery stores is like, that's, that's the thing that I really, one of the things I really miss actually the, like, you know, in, in California, you know, you have like Ranch 99 and there's a Ranch 99 in Austin too.
But, you know, in, in Skokie, like there, there were these like neighborhood grocery stores that were, that just carried like every kind of like, like your typical, like there were these two main grocery stores that I went to, and they were like Greek and Lebanese respectively.
And they were huge. And they carried like everything that you could want.
That was, it's like, I would say it's like the inverse of a Safeway.
In that, you know, in, in a Safeway, you would see like an entire aisle of like nothing but breakfast cereals.
Right. Whereas like in one of these groceries, the, the like breakfast cereals and like the mayo and all that stuff is like compressed into half an aisle.
And everything else is like your, your challahs and your Asian veggies.
And you're like, everything that is like very multi-ethnic is like the entire rest of the store.
And that's kind of like how things are.
And I would say like, that's kind of emblematic of the neighborhood as a whole.
In terms of representation, right? Like your breakfast cereals and your mayo and your ketchup is like half of one grocery aisle and the international section or the ethnic section is the rest of the store.
Right. We got to bring some of those grocery stores from Illinois to California, to Texas, everywhere.
I mean, it's great that like, whether you're planning to make Indian food or like Middle Eastern or East Asian cuisine, you just like make one grocery stop.
Yeah. That's amazing.
I mean, like even out in the Bay Area, I, I think like, I go to like five grocery stores just to, just to make like, how to see you one day, you know, like that is incredible.
And, and living so close to Chicago and, and being a super big foodie, I got to ask.
So thoughts on Chicago pizza versus New York pizza, what are your thoughts?
I mean, I'm, I like Chicago style pizza, but my favorite but my favorite pizza place is Pequots, which is in there's a, there's one in the city in Chicago proper.
And there's the original location is in Morton Grove, which is pretty close to Skokie.
And it's a little bit different from Chicago style pizza, the way that most people understand it.
It's, it's not mostly a casserole soup thing.
It's a very good way of describing it. It's Pequots is like very bready.
It's like almost like, and the edges are like caramelized cheese. And so the caramelized cheese goes all the way like, the cheese goes all the way to the edge and it caramelizes against the pan.
And they bring out this like cast iron pan to serve it to you.
And so like, I would say it's like, it's halfway, it's like an interesting hybrid that that meets in the middle between a focaccia and a Detroit style pizza.
Ooh, okay. Like, because like, you know, it's, it's, it says it's as thick as a, as you know, your mental image of a Chicago style pizza, and it's the same form factor and size.
But it's caramelized all the way to the edge and the bread portion is much thicker and like the bread portion is also like full of flavor.
I love that as a big fan of bread, like definitely gonna try that. Got all the carbs.
That's awesome, Jade. And bringing it back to the beginning, when you mentioned that you grew up in Shanghai as well, you know, we'd love to, you know, hear kind of what that was like out there and really kind of like how it differed from Illinois in so many respects, whether it be like the social norms, or just really things that you learned there.
We'd love to hear kind of like how that was.
Yeah. So the time that I spent in Shanghai, like the first four years of my life, it, you know, I never felt like I didn't have any basis of comparison, right?
Like, that to me was like, defined as my normal. And I never felt like my parents were particularly high expectation.
When, you know, every other place, like in the Decatur years, and the Southern Illinois years, compared to the other parents of other kids around me, my parents were, like, by comparison, much more strict and much more high expectations.
But then in, you know, in Skokie, Illinois, where, like, no matter which ethnic group you look like you're from, your parents are probably kind of high expectations.
Because they're all like first, second generation parents.
And there's, there's very much this, like, I don't know whether it's, it's a pattern among first generation people, or the various places we were from.
But one, there's like this sense of like, I don't want to call it perfectionism, because it's not about being perfect.
It's about doing things correctly.
And there is a correct answer. And you will, like, there is a proper way to do this thing, that is well understood.
So you should do it that way.
Right? Like, in, which is kind of funny, like, you know, I've always, like, washed my hands the correct way.
Right? And then, like, and then people started, like, going, like, you know, at the beginning of the pandemic, like, this is the correct way to wash your hands.
And like, what the, what have the rest of you been doing this whole time?
Like, there are, like, there is a correct way to, like, you know, like, for instance, when my when my mom had opened her restaurant, she, she, you know, took all these exams and licensing on.
And she, so she got, she got her restaurant license.
And, and there is a correct number of hours that you can let food sit out and a correct number of hours that you can let food be refrigerated before it is officially expired.
And like, the vast majority of regular families don't follow those rules.
But we follow those at home. And like, to this day, it makes me super uncomfortable to, like, break any of those rules.
Yeah. Because like, from from her, like, yeah, if you know, nothing magically happens, like when, you know, a leftover, some leftover food is goes from 72 hours to 73 hours old, you know.
But, but like, because she needed to be strict at work, she needed to also be strict at home so that she doesn't slip up.
And so because I had to follow those rules, like I can't not, I can't unfollow them.
Absolutely. I definitely know what you mean. Because like, I remember like back in high school, I worked at the Taiwanese bakery.
And they were, like, one thing that was very ingrained in me from an early age was, was that food could only could only sit out for a couple hours.
And then after that, it would must be thrown away because it was no longer safe for consumption.
And, you know, to this day, I still, it feels weird to like leave something on the counter for longer than, you know, an hour or two hours, you know, depending on what the food is.
So definitely resonates with me. And yeah, like the vast majority of people are, you know, immune competent adults, right.
But like, but you never know if someone comes into your shop who is immune compromised, or, you know, like currently taking, like, has an organ replacement instead, or like, is elderly or very young or pregnant.
So like, so, you know, always the strict rules. Absolutely.
And when we first started on the segment, too, I kind of want to bring it back to your dad, too.
You mentioned that he was, if I heard you correctly, he was getting two master's degrees at the same time, which one master's degree alone is hard enough.
I would love to ask you, like, you know, what was he studying at the time?
And also, how did that shape your, you know, perception of education? Yeah, so he, so his major back when he was an undergrad was physics.
And so he could only apply for programs, like he had the qualifications and the best odds of getting into programs for physics.
He actually wanted to study computer science. And so he did physics and computer science at the same time, because he got funding for physics.
Oh, my goodness. So, and the origin of this is that, you know, to us, you can kind of choose your field of study.
Back in the day, back when he was a student in China, but you get to, like, list your preferences.
And there's sort of quotas for how many people are, how many spots there are for math, how many spots there are for computer science, how many spots there are for physics.
And, like, physics was, like, his second choice.
And computer science was his first choice. And he didn't get into his first choice.
So they gave him physics. So he didn't, like, he wanted to do computer science, but he didn't really have a choice.
Because, like, because, like, there was this very, like, command economy sort of thing where, like, we will produce this number of graduates in these following fields, right.
And so, so the only way he could study computer science is by going abroad and doing a study abroad program.
And actually, the, a lot of, like, students generally knew about the official programs.
And those were, and those were, like, state sponsored.
And there were, like, 20 spots a year. And he, he tested into that and passed, he got into the top 20 ranking three years in a row, but was denied a seat.
Oh, my gosh. And the reason is because, like, the first year, it was because, oh, only graduating seniors are eligible for this program.
You, you, you know, you're, if you are currently enrolled as a student, you are not eligible for studying in a master's degree program abroad.
Okay, that seems reasonable.
Okay. Right. So, so he decided that since he wanted to switch over into computer science, what he was going to do was he was going to quit his undergrad or put it on hold, get a, like, he got a job.
And then he tested again, and, like, he reapplied and, like, did the whole thing again.
And so he, he was at the top of the class again.
And this time, it was like, but you haven't finished your degree. So you can't give you the spot.
And the third time, like, the third time, it was, I forgot, it was something else.
But basically, he was just so pissed. And he was telling my mom, and they were like, just dating at the time.
No, I don't remember whether they were dating, or they were already married.
But my, my mom was like, you know, you don't have to go through the state sponsored program, you could just apply yourself.
It was like, what? I had never heard of anybody doing this.
Like the guidance counselors don't tell you about this, like, but, you know, so, so they went and like, this was before the Internet.
So like, they just like, they went, you could go to a library and like, find a bunch of this information, if you knew, like how to look for it.
So she helped him out. And, and they got all, basically, they spent, and just to give you an idea of the currency conversion rates back then, they spent one month of both of their salaries put together on postage for my dad's grad, grad school applications.
Oh, my gosh. And he was just gonna like, apply to everywhere, spray and pray, like, here are my here's my academic record.
Let's see if I get it. So he, he applied to places in in the in the US programs in Europe, any place that had a any place that had both physics and physics and computer science together, because he wanted he knew he wanted to do both.
But he knew he was only going to get like, he was he was only going to be able to get funding for physics.
And at the same time, he also knew that we couldn't afford any place that had an application fee.
And like the vast majority of these programs, at least the best ones, the most prestigious ones, have an application processing fee.
And that would be like, you know, each one of those would be like a month of their salary.
That's, yeah. Oh, my goodness. So where did he end up going to school?
He ended up going to Southern Illinois. And so he did. So he got into a program in the Netherlands first.
And then the story that'll come later, then he and then he got his acceptance letter and fellowship letter for Southern Illinois and, and then went there to, to do two degrees in two years.
That is incredible. And you mentioned Netherlands, too.
You know, I'd love to hear that story. So like, when he was in the Netherlands, where were you?
And did you get a chance to visit him out there?
So our intention was to visit him. It didn't quite work out that way.
Like, basically, when I was three, my dad had left for the first time, and I didn't get to see him again until I was about four and a half.
And my mom had this idea that we were going to take the shoot, she and I were going to meet him in the Netherlands.
And the thing is, like, he had been applying to programs in the US, and reapplying over time, just to see if he could still get in.
And, but, you know, second choice for like, he was fine with a program in the Netherlands.
And so we, my, my mom decided she would just take me to the Netherlands with and meet him there.
What we didn't anticipate was that he would receive his, his fellowship letter.
And so it would take my mom and I quite a long time to take the train from Shanghai to the Netherlands, because we had to go through a lot of different countries in between.
And there were a lot of transfers. What we didn't count on was that in the, like, by the time we got there, he would have found out that he got a fellowship and also found out that he had to arrive in the US by a certain time in order to not lose his funding.
So by the time we got there, he had just left. Oh, my goodness, you just missed it, missing despite that long journey.
Yeah, I'm trying to do that.
And you know, if, like, if we were in an economic position at the time to, to just to go for a plane ticket, then we absolutely would have, we would have avoided this problem.
But, but plane tickets were a little bit out of reach, given that, you know, grad school application fees were out of reach.
And so yeah, that's, so that's, that's how we ended up missing each other.
But I mean, before we knew we were going to miss each other, my mom also thought it was like, going, going the train route was actually a pretty good opportunity because it was 1988, 1989.
It was still Soviet Russia at the time that we were going to pass through.
And she had heard through the grapevine through some friends, that it was a good smuggling opportunity.
And we could, you know, happen to have consumer goods with us from China, which had, you know, already started engaging in economic reforms, since like 79 at that point.
And, you know, and we could sell them on the train.
And we actually, we actually did. We got electronic watches, we, we had some other goods too, it was just like, just a couple suitcases.
And they, you know, these were cheap consumer goods that were very easily available and mass produced in China.
But they were hard to come by in Russia. And so we, out of that, and then converting the rubles into other current European currencies, we were able to make like six months of living expenses in the US, in US dollars.
So like, that was like, it was an insane amount of money for them at the time.
And it was, it was like, it was a life changing amount of money for us at the time.
And my mom had casually mentioned to me, like, if we didn't have to meet up with my dad, she would, she had already just done the research that, that pianos were produced in Russia for a really good price, relative to their availability in China.
And she could just go back, back and forth, right?
Like buy pianos in Russia, sell them in China. Buy consumer goods in China, sell them in Russia.
So like, oh, a little bit of this, and then, and then we're set, it'll be fine.
She's just gonna go back and forth. But, but, but she didn't, because she needed to meet up with my dad.
And ultimately, when we got there, he wasn't there.
And so boom, we're stuck. And we ended up being stuck there.
When my dad, my dad actually did come back to, to the Netherlands to try to help us get US visas, because we were initially denied.
But it didn't work out.
They denied us again, because we were previously denied. Because our status in the Netherlands was because we were visiting an international student who wasn't there.
It's like, oh, man. So by stroke of luck, we so my mom and I decided to go back to, there's a longer version of this story, by the way, which, which we can talk about it in internal Asian flair.
But yeah, we ended up in Beijing in 1989.
And the, we were able to go to a US embassy at that particular time, May of 1989.
And my mom's job right before we left was university affiliated.
And my dad, you know, was a student. And they were just like stamping visas on anybody who's universities affiliated and a student.
And it was like the right time in history to, you know, not get no, it was the right time in history to get a US visa.
And that's how we ended up here. Absolutely. That is fantastic, Jade.
And you mentioned Asian flair too, you know, we'd love to ask you, you know, how that started here.
You know, I know a number of us probably watching today are a member of the Asian flair community here at Cloudflare.
You know, we'd love to ask you, you know, how did Asian flair start?
And, you know, how are you hoping to continue to amplify Asian voices as you go forward, even outside of APAC Heritage Month?
Yeah. So right at the beginning of the pandemic, it was right before lockdown began.
It was one of the last times we were physically in the office.
Our colleague Stanley and I were just hanging out at lunch and we were talking about some of our experiences growing up.
And there were, you know, we were talking about how just earlier that earlier that week, a family of four had gotten stabbed in a grocery store parking lot in Texas.
And to me, like that triggered all of the memories of what it was like growing up, especially in places like Decatur.
And, you know, and I was telling him about some of my childhood experiences there.
And he was telling me about some of his experiences.
And we're like, you know, we kind of need a place where we can kind of, we need a space where we can kind of, you know, I bet we're not the only ones who have these experiences.
And so that's why we ended up creating it as a chat.
And then just as initially just as a chat channel, and then Andrew came along and was like, hey, why don't we make it an official ERG?
And so we do all the other things that ERGs do. But yeah, like, I mean, I got bullied a lot in when we were living in Decatur, just because I was one of very, very few East Asian kids in the entire city.
And, you know, I was lucky that I didn't get hospitalized.
Like, I'm lucky that I had a mom who was like, that my mom is ex military badass sniper, who taught me just enough self defense skills to like, naturally pacifist me, that I was able to, you know, protect myself enough to not get hospitalized or worse.
Right. And, and it was like, during the middle of all that, that, you know, one day, we came home and like, one day, our vehicle in front of our home was vandalized with a brick thrown through one of the windows and scrawled on the dashboard, telling us to go go back where we came from.
And it was kind of, it's kind of, it was the same experience of, you know, knowing that school administrators don't do anything about bullying, and racist bullying, the same way that you also know that the police aren't doing anything about the hate crime.
And the main improvement that I feel like, you know, the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.
But Martin Luther King quote, there's, you know, at least it's a part of the conversation now.
Right? Like, these experiences existed before the news media started covering our experiences.
Like, the hate crime has always been there, it in differing amounts in different places.
But, but the, the prevalence of that during the pandemic has really made the media aware.
And now, and now these stories become a part of the national and international conversation around, like, why should anybody be othered?
Right? Like, why shouldn't we just treat everyone the same way?
Like, there's, as the, as I forget which modern Buddhist teacher, and we grew up culturally Buddhist, but like atheists, but culturally Buddhist, like, you know, we're, we're all made of the same stuff, we're, we're cookies coming out of this, out of the same oven, made of the same batter, even though we're individual cookies.
And so why shouldn't we all treat each other like we're made of the same batter?
Absolutely. Very well said, Jade.
We are very lucky to have you here. And we're so thankful for your time today and sharing your amazing story.