Daniel's 2020 Annual Letter

Dear Friends,

Last year, my letter began, “I greet you stuck in our Beijing apartment trying to avoid Coronavius.” Global spread of that disease has since brought massive suffering around the world, and disheartening unrest back home in the U.S. glued me to the news for too much of 2020. Nevertheless, the year also brought new joys and perspectives.


COVID-19 upended everyone’s daily routines, so my earlier lament about the difficulties of changing habits feels moot. What better time to make a change? I replaced mindless nighttime web surfing with playing guitar, writing a web application for my life planning system, and starting a podcast about mastery. These sound majestic, but I failed big-time. I can barely play an entire song, the web application won’t function, and The Craft podcast published just one episode so far. It’s okay. I don’t expect to rock like Kaki King or be a podcasting pro like Modupe Akinola. Using nights and weekends for creation--seeing even minor progress--is more valuable to me than knowing juicy details of the latest social media drama.


2020 strengthened my interest in apps and gaming. Technologies and practices from today’s video games are increasingly used in areas as diverse as training firefighters without putting them in harm’s way, building movie sets in the blink of an eye, or developing new ways to market businesses. I’m excited about the future of these technologies, and am lucky to express that passion in my work today. I was promoted last year and I aim to lead a gaming or apps analytical team by the end of 2021. Failure will surely greet me on the way, but each try offers new wisdom on the skills I need to build and how to play the interview game.

Beijing Life

The government response to COVID-19 has been effective, allowing offices, shopping malls, and restaurants to operate without much spread of the disease. Life is certainly different:  everyone wears masks on the street and you must scan a QR code that confirms you haven't been in any high risk areas whenever you enter a building. A few months ago, my mother-in-law was in a taxi that merely drove by an area with new cases. She received a phone call the next day and was told to get tested. As a result of such all-out efforts, Flora and I could live pretty normal lives for most of 2020.

While I oppose many Chinese government decisions--perhaps more so in 2020 than any other time--I am encouraged by China’s people. Whether it's world-class street dance battles or delicious innovations like cheese tea (made with milk from Flora's company’s cows!), inspiring works are coming from China today at a blistering pace. It's easy to forget this when most English news stories focus on political actions and acrimony.

My first visit to the Chinese capital was in 2008. I remember feeling culture shock because the only coffee I could find was instant and tasteless. Twelve years later, Flora and I are spoiled by hip cafes popping up each month and a blossoming foodie scene. Wherever life takes us in the future, we’ve made countless fond Beijing memories and those of 2020 were no exception. 


In 2021, we’re all likely to remain at home more than we’d like. Though things feel dire after reading the news, life is ultimately made of small moments--little habits--accumulated over many years. A walk around the block, a moment of delight after learning something new, a bite of good food. We can still enjoy all of these. I hope you savor one more small moment today and, if you'd like, reply and let me know what you did.



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