On Entrepreneurship, 3D Printing, and the Great Wall

Wednesday, July 9 2014

It’s been a long time since the last update, and I apologize! Things have become significantly more busy in work and life, and I’m really starting to venture out and explore Beijing, so free time to sit down and write has become a little more scarce. Today, the sky cleared up and we can finally see blue sky, finally distinguish clouds from smog, which is a blessing. The past week has been really, really smoggy, and while I’m more-or-less recovered from my cold and cough, the air quality certainly did not contribute to a quick recovery. My nose is finally cleared up, and the good thing is that I can smell now. The bad thing, however, is that I can smell the epoxy that we’re working with now. That stuff’s nasty.

Anyway, here goes:

Monday – When I got into the office Monday morning, I found two boxes of cold/flu medicine on my desk. Turns out senior intern Yan Wenlin had gone to his school’s infirmary, faked illness, and gotten them for me, which was… unexpected, but appreciated. Not long after we got into the office, we went with Wenlin to the manufacturing/tooling company that produces our prototypes. By some huge feat of miscommunication, we only learned when we arrived at the company that they still hadn’t finished the piece we needed, as there was a power outage over the weekend. Dejected, we trekked back to the office, heated up our take-out leftovers, took our lunch break siesta, and continued on with work. We had our weekly team meeting after lunch, where everyone goes round and updates the team on what they accomplished in the past week and what they hope to work on in the week ahead. It’s good to take stock of what we’ve accomplished over the past week and to share it with the team, and I daresay we’ve been rather productive every week so far, which feels good.

Tuesday – On Tuesday morning, Yan Wenlin and I went to The Company (as Brady and I like to call it) again (Brady stayed in the office, which we figured would be better for him since all the meetings with The Company are always in English), but this time we stayed for lunch and into the afternoon, only getting back to the office at 5. Not much work got done on my end, but I definitely learned a lot about how business operates in China, got to hang around the finishing workshop (and poke around the paint hood, CNC mills, and etc.), observe the employees finish the various pieces they’re working on, and ensure that our piece was manufactured to our specifications — fantastic, fantastic exposure for a Product Design major. I’m definitely learning the importance of manufacturability and costs/price point when designing products, and it’s great to see both manufacturing and design come together in this internship.

I was definitely also struck by the ambition of The Company’s CEO and senior intern Wenlin. The CEO’s only 28, the company’s already about 3 years old, he’s recovered his initial investment and is looking to invest his profits back into his business and expand it. Wenlin’s got a shrewd mind on him too; he suggested that the CEO take every opportunity to document the products his company’s manufactured, and to use the association with Lenovo to boost his company’s prestige. We lounged on the sofa set and talked about Wenlin’s career plans (that he hopes to get a return offer at Lenovo, and to start his own business in 3 years, and to marry his girlfriend by the end of the year), about investing in stocks, about the costs associated with starting The Company, and many more. When I first sat myself down on a sofa, I let out a gaps of surprise, because it sank much deeper than I thought I would – turns out that one of The Company’s clients was severely overweight, and ended up spoiling the sofa. Wenlin asked the CEO if he had at least recuperated the cost of the sofa from the business deal, and the CEO confirmed that he had, and that he always brings up the sofa incident to tease the client when they meet for a meal! Before we left, 胡总 asked us how passports and visas work and how to apply for a passport, with an eye towards doing business in the US. In the face of such hunger and ambition, I’d be damned if I let myself fall into complacency, or if I don’t give my all towards being the best person I can be.

An interesting artefact that we found displayed on the coffee table: an almost-identical iPhone 4S shell. I commented that it even felt like it was the same weight as the iPhone 4S, to which the CEO replied that that was because they had matched the weight of the counterfeit to the actual iPhone 4S itself. While I don’t support counterfeiting, that’s definitely attention to detail!

I’m getting more responsibilities at work now, and it’s proving to be a greater test of my Chinese skills. Since I had been out the whole day and hadn’t gotten much done, I decided to stay later and pulled my first 加班 to design and prototype two solutions for the problem we were working on. The next day, I found out that one of my solutions would be implemented in the next version of the product, which makes me ridiculously happy.

Wednesday was a slow day at work, with its fair share of frustrations with the 3D printer. People think that 3D printers are going to revolutionize manufacturing, and while they are very cool, the truth is that they’re not always the best way to make something. We had to make a piece, the printing of which would have taken close to 2-hours, whereas it could have been done by a CNC, or even milled by hand, or even laser-cut and assembled, in 10 minutes. A pity we had no access to these tools. However, 3D printing’s still a very convenient prototyping tool, and it’s great to be able to CAD something up on my desktop and print it, all in less than 30 minutes.

After dinner, we went to Wudaokou to meet up with another Stanford student, Alex, whom Brady knew from social dance, and her friends, many of whom are studying abroad in the States. While the plan was to crash Lush’s trivia night, there wasn’t enough space for our group, and so we moved to a nearby club called Propaganda, which was a lot of fun as a big group of people. It’s funny when you first meet people on the dance floor (no euphemism) before you start talking in real-life, but the awkwardness passes soon enough.

Thursday passed in a blur; Brady and I took advantage of our lunch siesta to catch up on sleep, and headed straight back home for a chill night in.

Friday was July 4th! Work as pretty uneventful, but after work Brady and I headed to Wudaokou for dinner at this American restaurant called Grandma’s Kitchen. The Chinese couple next to us were speaking in (what I thought was) American-accented English, and I pointed this out to Brady. After a few minutes of hesitation, Brady reached out and started up a conversation:

B: Hey, happy Fourth of July!
Girl: We’re Canadian. But happy Fourth of July to you!

Ah, what a priceless moment. Later, when Brady and I were walking around in Sanlitun, we happened upon a group of dudes dressed in suits and generally being obnoxiously loud and bro-y. They’re definitely American, I thought to myself. They saw Brady’s garish American flag tank, and sure enough, all went and gave him a hi-five. “Fuck yeah America!” they shouted as they went on their merry way. The 4th of July’s not particularly significant for me, but the festive mood was very contagious, though there’re only so many “USA! USA!” chants you can take before it starts to grate on your nerves.

We met up with other Stanford interns in Beijing at a cosy cafe/bar called the Bookworm, and then adjourned to a rooftop bar to dance. All in all, definitely a good night out 🙂

Saturday started sleepy and slow and smogged in. I got up at about noon, cooked some dumplings and made a dipping sauce for lunch, did laundry, cleaned the house etc. And then Brady woke up. We decided to go get ourselves a massage, which was quite the experience. I’d quite forgotten, but the thing about Chinese massage is that it can really hurt. It’s not meant to feel good; it’s really meant to loosen the knots in your back. It hurt during and a little after, but my back feels so much better now, so it was definitely worth it. After, we had dinner (I tried to introduce Brady and Galina to tofu + century egg, which is a heavenly combination) and went to a stand-up comedy show, then headed back home.

The next day, a bunch of us went to climb the Great Wall (长城). We heeded the warnings of our co-workers and avoided the really touristy parts, opting instead for a more rugged hike. It was insanely tough, and a reminder to get more in shape! Unfortunately, the smog was pretty bad and obscured our view, which was a real shame. More photos next post! After the hike, we headed back home, showered, watched Game of Throne, cooked dinner, and rested.

Monday we were back to work. Not gonna lie, work can sometimes be very frustrating, because little amendments we make sometime result in other problems. It also does NOT help that whenever he discovers problems with the prototype senior intern Yan Wenlin will look at us with a grin on his face and a waggle in his brows, as if he’s somehow happy that things aren’t working out! Brady and I are in charge of the mechanics of our device, but there’s also a (pretty large) software team, and an electronics/circuitry team. This time, though, the mechanism was not screwing up; it was the software and electronics that were buggy, and so we waited around and worked on other tasks in the meantime.

Back to Wenlin — he’s a complex, sometimes nice, sometimes sadistic, often philosophical, slightly boastful person. He’s also a member of the CCP. This shouldn’t have been as surprising as it was, because about 6% of China’s population are CCP members, and apparently outstanding students are frequently invited to join the Party. But I definitely did not see that coming — I guess he now holds the honor of being the first person I know in the CCP. And I was just debating with him over Taiwan the other day…

Anyway, time for bed! More updates and photos next time 😀

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On Entrepreneurship, 3D Printing, and the Great Wall

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