Tagshanghai

Day 5: Shanghai

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Note: These are the more personal, non-work related notes to complement this blog post.

At Taoyan Village we try to have breakfast. Somewhat overwhelmed by the long line behind us (you order as you go in) we randomly order everything kinda wrong, but still delicious. We end up with some sausages in rice and an enormous bowl of ice cream.

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We visit the 1933 Slaughterhouse. It’s a brutalist beauty, described by Atlas Obscura thus: “Built in 1933 in pre-Communist Shanghai, the four-story building was designed by British architects and built by Chinese developers with British concrete. Today the building is an eerie Gotham-Deco achievement in concrete, glass, and steel, and the last remaining of its design in the world.” It’s a fantastic building.

1933 Slaughterhouse 1933 Slaughterhouse

1933 Slaughterhouse 1933 Slaughterhouse

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On our way back to the French Concession we pass by Double Rainbow, a massage parlor where blind masseurs give the best massages. So good.

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An excellent espresso at French Concession (West) and a bit of window shopping. Beautiful neighborhood.

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approach At long last, touchdown in Shenzhen

Late at night and with a 2h delayed flight we arrive in Shenzhen. Driving into town by cab at 2am, with the neon signs and city lights look ominous in the night smog. It’s like a scene in a David Lynch movie.

Day 5: Shanghai

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This and the following blog posts aims to document a trip to Shenzhen, to the cradle of things. To read all blog posts in the series, click on the viewsource tag.

Please note: These are quick notes typed up while traveling. Apologies for any typos, missing links, etc.

Slowly but surely we’re upping our Wechat game. I make my first event QR code. No event is complete without this code as it allows for everyone to join a group chat and hence to connect with the other participants. None of that fussing around with Facebook groups, email lists, LinkedIn requests and business cards: Everyone is in one group before, during, and after the event. It’s super easy.

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The Great Firewall is a strange thing indeed. It doesn’t work in absolutes, it seems. Rather, sites and services are blocked sometimes, not at others. Mostly it makes accessing parts of the “Western” internet slow and unreliably. This leaves us in a strange situation while we’re traveling. As foreigners we cannot fully access the Western web, yet due to language and knowledge barriers (we don’t know the apps, and wouldn’t be able to make any transactions without a Chinese bank account anyway) we can’t really use the Chinese web either. At times we’re fully connected, at times we’re mostly offline. We learn to think of the internet like weather: There are good days and bad days, and either way there’s no point in working yourself up about it. Today was a good time day.

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Off to the airport, zipping back by maglev at 300 km/h. I could get used to this. Shenzhen here are we come!

Airport security works slightly differently in China. A big focus here is on explosives (bags get swiped for traces at least twice), as well as lithium-ion battery packs. My luggage gets scanned twice because it looks like there might be a power bank in there. (There isn’t.) Power banks also need to be taken out of the bag during security like liquids and laptops. Pudong International is a quite impressive airport, huge and super clean, and with a strangely hypnotic and cool ceiling.

Shanghai airport Shanghai Pudong Airport’s ceiling

Surprisingly tasty airport dinner, and the quickest boarding process I’ve ever seen. Within 5 minutes, every passenger is processed and on a bus out to the tarmac. Alas, we don’t get to leave: Due to high air traffic, the flight is delayed on short notice and the bus takes us back to the terminal. We end up leaving for our 3-hour flight two hours late, at 11:30 at night.

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Walking through the airports, seeing the batteries of trolleys, the scale starts together sink in. While hardly half of the population of Shanghai, Shenzhen has a population of just over 10 million. That’s 3x Berlin and just about 10x Amsterdam. For a city hardly 30 years old and famous not for being a city but almost more of a city-sized factory.

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Google Maps data isn’t great. Especially public transport data is somewhat lacking. We haven’t found the local alternative yet.

Days 3-4: Shanghai

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Note: These are the more personal, non-work related notes to complement this blog post.

Day 3 is mostly a tourist day. It’s my first time in Shanghai, so I have some boxes to tick.

First up, laundry service. Turns out the local laundry doesn’t just do service but also hotel delivery. Excellent.

A fantastic almond croissant from a street stall followed by a steam bun, and yet another visit to Aunn. I’m still adjusting to this time zone, and the incentive of a cup of specialty coffee is just the thing to lure my body into China Standard Time.

Strengthened, it’s time to catch some art. We head on up to the M50 art district, a former industrial area that has been turned into a large art and design complex full of galleries and studios. My favorite by far is Island6, the gallery of artist collective Liu Dao, a Shanghai-based “art collective of tech-geeks and creative talents driven by innovation and interaction.” It’s hardly an insider tipp—the space is huge, the collective just celebrated its 10th anniversary—but oh boy is it fun. Lots of hybrid painting-LED combos full of humor and playful interaction. Love it. Would buy some art right away if I could afford it.

We discover a photographer focused on scenes of everyday travel. As our recent Kickstarter for Zephyr Berlin had a reward level that included a postcard, we stock up on lovely local cards with travel scenes.

As a counterpoint, we head on over to Jade Buddha Temple, a beautiful and significant temple complex where we wander and eat a light late lunch.

In People’s Square, we walked by the groups of old smoking men playing cards before crossing right back into the French Concession. A tiny box of a sneaker store sold sneakers that were hand-drawn with dragon motifs: Lovely, but made for significantly smaller feet than mine. At Szechuan Citizen (West Concession) we ate delicious Szechuan dinner and walked home, via a quick mall detour to buy some stationary supplies.

**Day 4 – day of Asia’s first ThingsCon Salon **

Another dumpling breakfast, and we’re good to go. We want to visit Yuyuan Garden, the main attraction in Old Town. We snack frequently. We find a post office and mail the postcards we procured yesterday. We stop when we notice a papar cut artist with a paper cut Snowden portrait on his wall. Rather than buying the Snowden, we ask him to make our portraits. Free hand, in about 3 minutes per person, he does. It’s fun to watch him. On the way to the garden, we stop by the historic tea house, one of the most famous in China, to have delicious (and gorgeous) tea.

Yuyuan Garden & Bazaar Beautiful tea in the even more beautiful traditional tea house in Yuyuan Garden

I see an ice cream that looks like Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs ice cream Steve Jobs ice cream

Shanghai’s metro is almost ridiculously well signposted and usable. You’ll find street signs pointing to certain metro lines. Inside, every platform shows the end-of-line station as well as the next station, and indicates via lights where any train is headed. Even with the language barrier it seems impossible to ever get lost.

In the evening, the ThingsCon Salon with Simone. It’s fantastic. I keep a poster as a souvenir.

Afterwards we head to Blackbird for dinner with automato.farm, some Frog folks and many others for a merry night.

Days 3-4: Shanghai

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This and the following blog posts aims to document a trip to Shenzhen, to the cradle of things. To read all blog posts in the series, click on the viewsource tag.

Please note: These are quick notes typed up while traveling. Apologies for any typos, missing links, etc.

Day 3 starts with early calls with Europe and the US. Time zones dictate that the times are somewhat awkward, but it’s good to get on the local time and have an early start.

Today it feels like connecting to with Western Internet is like shooting for a moving target. It’s usually doable, but it might take more effort. Calls with the US and Europe are tricky that way.

Day 4 is a big day: Tonight’s our ThingsCon Salon, the first ever in Asia.

The morning is for errands. Our wifi hotspot seems to have ceased service. So back to Aunn Café for an email sprint. Is our hotspot issue due to the device, the VPN, or did we just run out of data on our prepaid sim card? We have no way of finding out. We track down a small phone store for a top-up, and end up replacing our sim card with a new one. Passport required, but we didn’t carry ours. Ah well, no prob. Local business people don’t let bureaucracy get in the way of sales.

The first ThingsCon event in Asia

Our event is hosted by no other than Simone Rebaudengo, inventor of Addicted Toasters and Teacher of Algorithms ThingsCon Salon Shanghai was the very first ThingsCon event in Asia ever and a resounding success!

ThingsCon Salon Shanghai Simone kicks off ThingsCon Shanghai

ThingsCon Salon Shanghai was the very first ThingsCon event in Asia ever and a resounding success!

Around 50 people joined for the event at Naked Hub, one of Shanghai’s hottest coworking spaces. Thanks to Simone and Shine as well as the Naked Hub gang, we had a blast. After a short intro by Simone about dilemmas in IoT and his work in the field, Michelle and I both talked about responsible and open IoT as well as how we advocate for both, and our mission for this visit to China—namely to listen and learn how Shenzhen and the European independent IoT ecosystem can learn from one another and collaborate, and how the Shenzhen approach to open source hardware might be applicable in the European IoT ecosystem for innovation as well.

ThingsCon Salon Shanghai Full house at ThingsCon Shanghai, kindly hosted by Naked Hub

Alvin Chang, founder of smart bottle startup Gululu spoke about his vision for a kids product that solves a real issue.

Design Technologist Saurabh Satta (Frog, automato farm) explored the history of networks, and how speculative design can help navigate the questions posed by technology.

Rocky Liu introduced his project OSG (Open Source Glasses), an open source build of smart glasses that he’s involved in making.

It was fascinating all around, and the conversations continued long after the presentations ended, deep into the night.

China day 2: Shanghai

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Note: These are the more personal, non-work related notes to complement this blog post.

We kickstart the day with a late breakfast dumplings. There’s no better way. It’s truly a breakfast for champions. Ready to go!

We chase down the dumplings with excellent coffee and some email catchup time at Aunn Café. Above, the find of the day: Wondfullful, a gorgeous concept store that curates a truly beautiful selection of everyday things from around the globe. Most of it is arranged by material or color, which makes for a meszmerizing experiences. Wonderful indeed.

Wondfullful concept store The lovely Wondfullful store in Jing’An

After som visiting a NYU Shanghai lecture by our Shenzhen host David in the afternoon, a stroll through Pudong. Once relatively barren, this part of Shanghai—across the river from the Bund—is where you find Shanghai’s world famous skyline. Rather than looking at this skyline, we explore it from the inside by catching the sunset from the Park Hyatt bar.

Pudong Park Hyatt Pudong sunset, as seen from the Park Hyatt bar

In the evening, we have dinner with Simone at Lotus Eatery and follow it up with a visit to one of the neighborhood’s hidden gems, the Beer Lady. This extremely low-key shop has one of the largest beer lineups on sale I’ve ever seen, from local brews to Norwegian ales.

That night we also learned about de-gentrification in Shanghai. As hyper local neighborhoods or sometimes even streets gentrify extremely quickly—say, 30 bars open up in one street within two months, replacing greengrocers and the like—they might just as well disappear as quickly as they have. But unlike many Western cities where this might lead to shuttered windows and an overall downward spiral, here small shops move right back in: The same greengrocers might open up shop again. It’s a very fluid approach, which seems to make a lot of sense.

View Source day 2: Shanghai

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This and the following blog posts aims to document a trip to Shenzhen, to the cradle of things. To read all blog posts in the series, click on the viewsource tag.

Please note: These are quick notes typed up while traveling. Apologies for any typos, missing links, etc.

At NYU Shanghai, we join David Li for a lecture on the role of Shenzhen for global manufacturing and design, and how it’s changing. David is the founder of the Szenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL) as well as of China’s first maker space. He’s also our kind host for this trip, and our main guide to the Shenzhen ecosystem.

NYU Shanghai Visiting NYU Shanghai for a lecture by David Li.

David researches the role of open hardware and open source for innovation, and how the Shenzhen ecosystem is evolving. Having lived both in the US and China, and with a strong technical background as well as entrepreneurial experience, plus cred in the maker scene, we couldn’t ask for a better guide.

He speaks about how Shenzhen can innovate in the hardware sector at a greater speed than any other region of the world. How Shenzhen is the largest, most integrated ecosystem in this space. How openness and knowledge exchange is baked into the system. How this all allows for an almost Darwinian approach, a Cambrian explosion of new products in endless permutations: A truly evolutionary approach to product design.

Because of quick turnaround and low costs, it’s possible to make products for niches (in China, even a niche can be quite large in absolute numbers). An example he shows is a couple of years old, but no less astounding today: a combination of phone, flashlight, speaker, battery pack and camera. The purpose? Camping. It could have been a hit product. Likely, it never was.

What about the internet?

We get asked by friends and colleagues abroad about the internet situation. Two days in, this is how we experience it: Our VPN—a service that encrypts our internet connection and in theory should allow us to access websites around the globe—works, to a degree. The connection to this VPN service often takes a long time to set up, and once it’s running it can be slow and sometimes cut out. But overall, we can access our emails, and make all the relevant Skype calls. We’ll keep an eye on how it evolves.