Nancy and I split responsibilities in Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Beijing. Tokyo was a free-for-all.
City visits (9): NYC, Seattle, Taipei, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Detroit
University visits (3): Tsinghua University (Taipei), China Academy of Art (Hangzhou), Tshinghua University (Beijing)
Touristy vists (14): Night market, Long San Temple, Gondola, Maokong, Taipei 101, West Lake, Lingyin Temple, Chen Huang Temple, CMoDA New Media Museum, Great Wall, Ming Tombs, Summer Palace, Akiabhara, Shibuya, Asakusa
Company tours (3): Advantech, ZyXEL, Seeed Studio
Production line tours (10): Asia Optical (lens/prisms, scanner head, laser rangefinder, picoprojector, camera, molding), GTBF, Failong, Colibri, Great Wall
Hackerspace visits (6): Chaihuo, OnionCapsule, Xinchejian, SkyWorks, Beijing Maxpace, Tokyo Hackerspace
What and Why
Whereever we went, people welcomed us with open arms, but we had a bit of trouble at first answering the question “what is the purpose of your trip?” We came for a variety of reasons. We came for fun (it’s winter break, after all), we came to learn about manufacturing, we came to check out the makerspace movement, we came to visit relatives (well, just me), we came to grow up a bit (Nancy and me), we came to emmerse ourselves in a different culture, we came to eat good food, and we came to make friends and felt the world become a smaller place.
Seeing all the manufacturing has given me a new perspective on how the everyday items we use come to be. We saw factory workers putting together cameras that are the same make and model as Julian’s. We saw boards that dictate how many units the operators need to produce each hour. We learned about their wages and the overtime they need to work in order to make a living, and how social mobility is dictated almost solely by test scores. And then we learn about how little profit each unit makes for the plant, and yet, we saw the rising labor costs. We saw how cheap everything was sold locally; life is hard both domestically and abroad. Profit margins in the manufacturing sector are ridiculously low, and any and all inefficiencies must be engineered out.
Honestly, it was mostly the others who were interested in the makerspace movement in China as we were planning the trip, but I found our visits to be entirely worthwhile throughout. As a sort of outsider from makerspaces, I found it inspirational, seeing actual active communities, how much makerspaces could be, and seeing how fast China can make change.
I was so glad to have the opportunity to visit a good portion of my extended family and my entire immediate family this holiday season. It was far more than I bargained for. It was wonderful to see my grandparents and aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews. The last time I saw most of them was 7.5 years ago, which is sort of baffling in my mind.
For Nancy and myself, this was our first time traveling abroad that didn’t simply consist of following our parents and extended family around the entire time. Instead, our family and friends kept a watchful eye on us from a distance nearly every step of the way, which I wanted to avoid at first, but later on realized that our trip would not have been possible without all of their help. Our trip began with our hands held as tightly as they could thousands of miles away, and it definitely made our transition from the States quite smooth. The intensity of our trip gradually increased, and towards the end of our trip, we were finding our own accomodations, doing our own research, and finding our own means of getting around. Everything we managed on our own and every mistake we made was a learning experience. With the last two weeks of experience, perhaps next time, we won’t need any hand-holding.
Length of trip: 16 days
Approximate total mileage: 19,390 miles (31,203 km; for perspective, the Earth has a circumference of 24,900 mi / 40100 km)
Travel by plane: 92.8%
Travel by train: 4.6%
Travel by car: 1.3%
Travel by bus: 1.2%
Photo count: 1416
Times we were taken out for a meal: 21 (+ 5 provided by flights)
Times we handled our own meals: 16 (+ 4 that we skipped)
Time spent traveling: 97 hours (6 hours / day)
Time spent sleeping: 96 hours (6 hours / day)
Estimated cost: $1.8K (did not account for HangZhou)
Actual cost: $2.0K (see the breakdown)
Suggestions for travellers going on similar trips
Things to bring, some of which I forgot, others of which I found useful:
Portable router: hotels often come with a single ethernet jack, so a router is essential for sharing internet between multiple travelers.
Ear plugs: traveling means non-ideal sleeping situations, but sleeping is all the more important.
Long beanie: doubles as a hat during the day and a light/noise blocker during the night.
Toilet paper and toiletries for the first few days: otherwise, you’ll waste valuable time looking for these things while getting used to a new country.
Cold/flu medication: you may get sick.
Anti-diahhrea meds: the food may not agree with your stomach.
Hand sanitizer: no need to waste precious time looking for soap and water whereever you go.
Moisture cream and chapstick: hand sanitizer will dry out your hands; also, hotel rooms will sometimes be very dry.
Underarmor: space efficient for keeping warm.
Cash: withdraw lots of cash before leaving the country, or you’ll risk incurring a lot of fees on your ATM card.
Plan in advance: if you can help it, you don’t want to be spending precious journey time planning the trip.
Plan in downtime: travelling is tiring, and time to relax a bit and take in what you’ve learned thus far is very meaningful.