Contributed by:
Southern Ellis

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About 3 years ago: Lorie H.

Looks like it was time well spent...and a lot of fun! Thanks for sharing!

The Associate Architect, the China Adventure, and the Family

Caution: if you don’t enjoy epic adventure you may want to search for an alternate blog post.

Now, if you are still with me, it appears you have a little “YOLO” running through your veins. I like it. Welcome aboard the “epic-train,” as I attempt to narrate a little story about an unnamed associate architect who finds himself in a foreign land on an unbelievable quest for truth, far outside the certainty of the Revit families and LEED codes he once swam through at his comfortable drafting table in downtown Dallas. If you sleep at night, or have ever woken up from a power nap with a smile on your face, then there is a chance that this story will sound familiar. You see, the journey unfolding below is the type of adventure usually reserved for dreams. Lucky for you, this dreamer bought a GoPro before he went to sleep.

The story begins. Turbulence awakes the sleeping associate architect. He glances up at the flight attendant a little startled. “More coffee sir?” she asks. He accepts, for the associate architect knows he will need the caffeine to achieve the mission set before him by his colleagues in Dallas. The task was simple - travel to a distant land and deliver a message to a designated group of people on behalf of his HKS family. The associate architect was clueless to what the message could be, he simply carried a roll of tracepaper covered in ancient markings. The associate architect’s brethren in Dallas informed him that the tribe of people who could decipher the tracepaper would be the people for which he was looking. Easy enough.

As the plane landed and the associate architect disembarked the plane, Ray-Bans and tracepaper in tow, the weight of the task for which he had been sent suddenly felt heavy. The land was China. The population - 7 trillion…plus or minus a couple trillion. Things were crowded. The fog was thick. The structures soaring above his head…slightly taller than Reunion tower. What would he do? How would he find the tracepaper decipherers? Where would he go?

About this time, a huge gust of wind blew the roll of tracepaper out of the associate architect’s hand and against a street sign along a busy Shanghai street. As the associate architect knelt down to recover the only connection he had to discovering the purpose of his mission, he noticed something on the trace. One of the symbols was identical to the sign directly above him. It was a map! The associate architect did what any logical person would do. He rented a motorbike. The open road was soon in his face. The symbols on the map were soon crossed off one by one as the associate architect rode through the streets, hills, mountains, rivers, and bridges across China to see where the map would take him. It looked something like this.

After 3 months on the road, the associate architect came to the end of his roll of trace. With delight on his face, but uncertainty still bubbling in the core of his heart, he approached a door with a familiar marking on it. The marking was that of the Harwood K. Smith family crest. Perplexed, the associate architect entered the cave behind the crest. There, he was met by something very unexpected. Smiles. Instantly it was apparent he wasn’t supposed to tell this tribe anything. If this were a scene from a cartoon, a light bulb would have been shining above the associate architect’s head. He now understood.

The point of the 3 month journey was to come to the realization that this tribe living halfway across the globe, actually wasn’t that different than him. Their drafting tables were similar, and their tracepaper just as transparent. Yes here, halfway across the world, the associate architect learned that he had family in this foreign land of China. Not family in the “weird step-uncle that we don’t claim” sense of the term, though. The family living here, in the land of the Great Wall and kung pao chicken, is a group of incredible and valuable brothers and sisters. Sure his newly discovered Chinese kenfolk lived on a different continent, ate mysterious food, and designed projects 4 times the size of his family back in Big D; nonetheless they were born out of the same bloodline. They are Harwood K. Smith’s children too. Together, they are one family.

Here is a video of some of the fun that ensued from these most unlikely of family members.

Although the adventurous associate architect has since returned home, he is forever thankful for this opportunity to climb the reaches of his family tree to the hang from the far extending branches across the pacific.

Note: If you are completely confused by this post, allow me to explain. It was a metaphor for my true adventure as the HKS Xchange Fellow. The HKS Xchange Fellowship is a vehicle to broaden the work/life experiences of the employees at HKS by relocating them to a different office for three-months. I spent the months of January-March of 2014 working in the HKS Shanghai office alongside an incredible group of people whom I now consider family.