On halfway-through-Kickstarter-feels, Maker Faire, and gratitude

We are now halfway through our Kickstarter campaign, with 14 days to go!

(This project update is going up on my personal blog, because let’s face it – this project means so much to Alex and I, there’s no way in hell things don’t get kinda personal and vulnerable and scary and delicate.)

At this halfway point, we’re at a little over 1/3 of our funding goal. If you do the math, this means that it’s not impossible, but that it’s definitely going to take a strong push for us to reach our funding goal. But I’m confident we will get there, we’re pushing so hard for it. And yes, hard work isn’t always rewarded, but surely it counts for something. And oh god, I want it so bad.

Over the past weekend, team sketchmi went to Maker Faire Bay Area! We were super lucky that the Stanford Design Program got a booth at Maker Faire and opened it up to student teams.

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sketchmi at Maker Faire!

With multiple teams under the same tentage, it wasn’t always easy to attract the crowd over. We were there all 3 days of Maker Faire pitching sketchmi to anyone and everyone who came by our booth, which as you can imagine (and might have heard) was incredibly tiring, socially draining, and mentally exhausting. (San Mateo was also unexpectedly super duper windy and cold) There might have been 1 or 2 of those nasty troll fellas. Alex and I lost our voices, and definitely had to spend Monday morning recovering. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get to see most of the Faire since we were manning our booth most of the time.

But! We got to talk to lots of people and see kids (adults too!) use our product to create really awesome things! Also, it’s always been one of my dreams to present a product at Maker Faire, and I’m really happy to be able to cross that off the bucket list :] All in all, I’m glad we did it.

This post comes late at night and after yet another round of emails to blogs and networks, so do forgive some of the sentimentality, but –

This is probably one of the hardest things I’ve done in my short life. Amidst the long, sleepless nights and against the enormity of the task at hard, it’s easy to feel discouraged at times. And so, some things to remind myself:

  • I am not my product design; my self-esteem and personal happiness shouldn’t depend on that status bar that tells me how many % we’re funded
  • The generosity of my networks does not in any way speak to the strength of these relationships
  • Support and help comes in many different forms / guises

And most importantly, we have come so far. I’m not saying that this is a good stopping point, that’s not what I mean at all. I’m saying that where we are right now with funding is nothing to sneeze at, and that has been largely due to the generosity of friends and family.

To all of you, thank you so very much. Throughout this entire journey, I have been overwhelmed again and again by the generosity of friends and family, filled to the brim with gratitude towards the people who have supported us. It is such an incredibly humbling feeling.

For backing us on Kickstarter, for spreading the word to your personal networks, for the Facebook Likes and Twitter Faves/RTs, for listening to me talk about sketchmi (yet again? ok), for encouraging me when I’m feeling down, for offering constructive & genuine feedback, for offering to grab late-night boba, for dragging me out of my cave to unwind (or joining me in my Kickstarter cave), for your care and concern… Thank you! All of you! You know who you are. This entire experience has certainly taught me the meaning of gratitude.

What’s more, I get to go through this crazy awesome journey with Alex, who is such an amazing and talented designer / design-thinking-across-cultures-facilitator / human being! Thank you so much for keeping me grounded, for the hthts, for awesome pep talks, for random humor… Ahhh. I couldn’t think of anyone better with whom to go through this journey with.

Yeah so, the next two weeks are going to be real rough, not much sleep will be had, but we’ll get through this. More importantly, we will get there.

Cheer us on – I won’t hold it against you if you decide to pun on my last name. Go sketchmi!

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On halfway-through-Kickstarter-feels, Maker Faire, and gratitude

On bungee jumping, swing dancing, workaholism… and preparing for a visit from the in-laws

Surprise! This blog is finally being updated. Silly me wrote up a blogpost last month but forgot to post it, heh. In the weeks since this post was written, I’ve been back home to Singapore (for a day!), then back out gallivanting with the fam to Tagaytay in the Philippines, back home to Singapore again (this time for longer), and as I type this I’m sitting at boarding gate 35 of Hong Kong Airport, about to fly back to California and Stanford for senior year. So, this is incredibly out of date, but at least it’s better than nothing?

August 22, 2014

I was just struck by the horrifying realization: I have less than 2 weeks left in Beijing! I can’t believe the summer has gone by so fast. Without realizing it, I’ve settled into a comfortable sort of life in Beijing. I have most conveniences I need such as a clean decent apartment with WiFi, Stanford VPN, phone, and bike. I have a sort-of weekly routine: Mondays is swing dancing at CD Jazz Cafe, Tuesdays is dinner with the crew, Wednesdays is stand-up comedy at the Hot Cat Club, Thursdays is stay-in-and-cook-and-watch-GoT, Friday is (usually) movie night at Galina’s place. Time flies fast when you have a weekly routine. Weekends do see a bit of variation: usually we make some effort to sight-see and explore Beijing and the surrounding areas.

Take for example last weekend — on Saturday, I went to the visa office to collect my passport and extended visa. Yay to finally being over with the highly bureaucratic process, and much thanks to the HR staff at Lenovo for helping me out with it 🙂 At some point, I actually held in my hand Lenovo’s original business license, as it was required for the paperwork. 0__0 After my visit to the visa office, Brady and I met up at Olympic Park an hour before sundown for dinner, and then to see the Bird’s Nest (鸟巢) and the Water Cube (水立方). After putting it off for weeks, we finally made our way out there to see it! Another item to check off the Beijing bucket list. They’re both fantastic works of architecture, and it was great to witness the transition from day to night, and to see them both light up. There were many vendors selling lights and toys, and it was just as entertaining to watch people play with the lights. From a distance, they looked like stars falling from the sky.

The Water Cube (水立方)
The Water Cube (水立方)
The Bird's Nest (鸟巢)
The Bird’s Nest (鸟巢)

Then, on Sunday the Beijing 7 sans Roger went to Longqing Gorge! At first, we naively thought that we could take the S2 train to Yanqing County, but forgot to factor in the crucial detail that the same S2 train also goes to Badaling Great Wall. Needless to say, at 8am in the morning the line for the train was already spilling out of the station, and to get on the next train we would have to wait close to 3 hours. Luckily, we found a driver who would take us there, wait for us, and take us back… for a price of course. And so we hopped into his van, and started the 1.5 hour drive to Longqing Gorge. A lot of crazy driving and illegal passing of huge cargo trucks ensued.

The main attraction for us at Longqing Gorge was in fact neither the beautiful landscape which we had heard about, nor the stunning “Dragon Escalator” that hugged the side of the gorge, but bungee jumping, and at a very reasonable price of 200 RMB. Not going to lie, I was terrified. But since we had made the trek out of Beijing, and since I wanted to be able to say that, in my life, I had bungee jumped at least one, I decided… Carpe Diem! Carrrrrrpe Diem! (Re-watched Dead Poets Society recently, that movie gets me every single time.) It’s been a summer (and spring) of trying new things, and I wanted to keep with the spirit.

Dragon Escalator
Dragon Escalator
Bungee Jumping
Bungee Jumping

The bungee jump operator got us to read a safety disclaimer, weighed us, and sent us up the tower to get geared up and everything. Brady jumped first. While getting geared up for the <65kg bungee cord, I was of course nervously asking the operators how I would go about jumping off the platform — both feet first, one foot and then the other, swan dive?

Don’t worry about it, they said. Just stand on the edge of the platform first.

Okay, and so I did.

Let go of the railing. Raise both of your hands, they said.

Okay, I did that too.

AND THEN THEY FREAKIN’ PUSHED ME OFF THE EDGE!

Anyway, that’s how I got over the “jumping” part of bungee jumping.

The first few seconds were pure terror and screaming, and then I opened my eyes and saw the blue-green water of the gorge rushing up to meet me… Took a moment to appreciate the scenery (!) and the fact that I was in fact falling towards the ground with a bungee cord tied around my feet. Then, the bungee cord kicked in and yanked me up again. We were quite worried about whiplash, after seeing other people being jerked around like a rag doll, but it wasn’t too bad. Bounced up and down a couple more times, before I lost height and momentum. Then, I basically swung around on the end of the bungee cord waiting for a person operating a motor boat below in the gorge to come and retrieve me.

And that was it! All in all, an exhilarating awesome experience that I’m glad I signed myself up for. Couldn’t stop laughing and just riding on the adrenaline high afterwards. That night, I replayed the moment of free fall in my mind over and over, still unable to believe that I actually did it.

After all of us who wanted to took the plunge (heh) did, we went on two hikes (one short and another one significantly longer) around the gorge to get better views. I learned that I’m very out of shape, and that I should probably engage in some sort of sport — apparently walking and biking everywhere and swing dancing isn’t quite enough, no surprise there. The view was totally worth it, and these photos don’t even do it justice.

Longqing Gorge
Longqing Gorge

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After the hike, we made our way back to the boats, which took us through the gorge back to the entrance, and hopped back into the van for the ride back to Beijing. Unfortunately, we ran into quite a bit of traffic, which we dealt with by playing songs (Bryson DJ-ed), trading stories, and napping. There’s something about traveling by car/van on the road that’s very comfortable — the gentle rumbling of the vehicle, the company of friends, good music for the road, watching the scenery zip by. It’s slower than travel by train or plane, but it’s very genuine and enjoyable. All very good reasons for me to get my driver’s license, mm.

And that was our day trip to Longqing Gorge! Although the prices were not cheap at all (100RMB for the boat ride — mandatory to see most of the sights, and 40RMB for the entrance fee), it was still worth it, and I would recommend it as a day trip out of Beijing, especially if you want to get out of the city and away from the smog.

In the two weeks since I last posted, I have also gone back to the Hot Cat Club and done stand-up comedy two more times. Strangely, both times didn’t measure up to my ‘debut’, but I still managed to earn myself quite a few laughs. Round 2 was about Singapore and chewing gum, and Round 3 was about a couple of things, including:

  • How seeing your roommate’s poop in the toilet (because the flush isn’t working, not because someone forgot to flush the toilet) is bound to bring the two of you closer
  • Visits to The Company and seeing porn as the desktop background, and
  • Getting lost in translation

Round 3 was also the week we got outed as Stanford students and teased for it. All in good fun, though.

Brady and I also went swing dancing on Monday at the CD Jazz Cafe in Chaoyang district! It’d been a long, long time since the two of us had danced, and it was great to get back into the swing (heh) of things. It took a while to get used to the scene though, as the style of swing that most people in that club danced was kinda different from how we learned swing at Stanford. A couple of leads would also lead an underarm turn without warning, which took me by surprise quite a few times, and not in a pleasant way at all D:< Overall, though, there were quite a few dancers who really knew how to dance, and were an absolute pleasure to watch and dance with.

  • After dancing with a few leads and observing a few couples, I came to realize a few things:
    After a certain level of mastery in swing it seems like it becomes useless to count beats. I’m still at the stage where I’m really rigid with how and when I step, and get really confused when leads don’t follow the basic step to a tee
  • Of course, sometimes leads just do their own thing and expect follows to well, follow, without giving enough hints or direction, which is not cool.
  • Follows have a lot more freedom of movement and expression than I’m capable of exercising right now, and really,
  • The variations are really endless!

Probably the most enjoyable dance of the night (excluding dances with Brady, those don’t count) though, was with a beginner who didn’t know many variations, but made up with it with stellar musicality and very sensitive leading, making for a very comfortable, un-rushed, relaxed dance.

Brady and I have also gotten well-acquainted with the lady who sells corn at the subway station. For lack of a better name, we call her the “corn lady”, and her sweet, sweet corn has really nourished our souls and bellies.

Same goes for the guys who run the ma2 la4 tang4 (skewers in spicy soup) place right outside our apartment. Brady and I have eaten there a couple of times, and Brady always manages to charm the stall owners and fellow diners with his rudimentary but earnest command of Chinese. The last time we ate there, a fellow diner and his friends were  so tickled and charmed by his company that they offered to cover our meal! Yes please and thank you!

The past week at work has been hella stressful as the department had been preparing for a showcase of our research projects to Lenovo’s top dogs on Friday, but I’m also ecstatic to announce that the project Brady and I have been working on was presented at said showcase to Lenovo’s top dogs, CEO included. What a freakin’ ego boost. Besides the project that I just mentioned, Brady and I are also taking on 2 new projects, and while that certainly makes work more busy and stressful, it’s also made things very meaningful and interesting. Yay for workaholism.

We also cleaned the apartment up real good, since Brady’s parents and brother are in town to visit their darling boy. Vanquished spots on the floor that have been there for weeks. Do they approve of their new daughter-in-law? The verdict isn’t out yet, but things look good.

Peace out folks!

More travel updates to come!

On bungee jumping, swing dancing, workaholism… and preparing for a visit from the in-laws

Slices of Life: Design, Ethnicity, and Domesticity

It’s been the longest time since I last posted, in part because the days have become more routine and are fading into one another, and in part because life’s been busy, and a lot has happened. I shan’t pay too much attention to chronology, but here are some stories that I’ve collected over the past few weeks.

10th July: Today Brady and I presented our proposal for the design of the next version of our gadget to our project team and some other designers in our department. Did up a fancy Powerpoint presentation, with renderings of our designs to boot, as well. It was certainly a trial by fire — it was grueling, and we were quizzed on many of our design decisions. We received feedback, and then as a team we discussed and developed ideas. Most importantly, it was great to talk with full-fledged designers and learn from the way they approach a problem. “Go and look at how IKEA makes xx mechanisms,” “Use readily-available components, which are already being produced in bulk,” for example.

One designer was recounting an incident when he was designing a new phone, which his boss wanted to be made even thinner. He protested that there was no way to make it thinner, and so the boss took the phone prototype and threw it into a pail of water! Bubbles came out of the phone and rose to the surface. “See, there’s still space,” said the boss.

!!! 满脸黑线 x___x

Certainly a relevant story to our current work, as we’re trying to make our device even thinner and compact.

On Ethnicity: It’s been an interesting experience so far. This may be surprising to some, but I’ve gotten questions from locals such as, “Are you an ethnic minority?” and “Where are you from?” (implying that I’m from another country, not asking where in China my family’s from) Even though I’m ethnically Chinese, apparently I don’t look Han Chinese enough. I’m also mis-typed back home in Singapore, to be fair, so it’s probably more about how I look than the people who are looking at me, but it’s still interesting to encounter.

On the other hand, it’s also strange to meet expatriates in China (many of whom are English teachers) and have them automatically assume that I’m a local or that I don’t speak English well, when in reality I probably have more in common with them (especially Americans, by virtue of having spent 3 years studying in the US) than with Chinese locals, and when my English is actually better than my Chinese, and pretty damn good too. Hard to blame them, but it’s also hard to feel that I don’t have to disprove their initial assumptions. I also find myself accentuating my American accent when conversing in English with them (which I usually talk with when hanging out with other Stanford students, though I revert back to my roots and my Singlish tongue within a week when I’m back home and/or talking with other Singaporeans), which I know is ridiculous. However, short of telling a complete stranger my life story and experiences, it seems to be the best way to show, “Hey, it’s never that simple.”

I’ve been meaning to comment about this for a while: the origin of Baidu’s name is really, really cool. One of our colleagues mentioned it when we were all walking home together. From their corporate page:

“Our name was inspired by a poem written more than 800 years ago during the Song Dynasty. The poem compares the search for a retreating beauty amid chaotic glamour with the search for one’s dream while confronted by life’s many obstacles. “…hundreds and thousands of times, for her I searched in chaos, suddenly, I turned by chance, to where the lights were waning, and there she stood.” Baidu, whose literal meaning is “hundreds of times”, represents a persistent search for the ideal.”

Here’s the original text:

青玉案
东风夜放花千树。更吹落,星如雨。宝马雕车香满路。凤箫声动,玉壶光转,一夜鱼龙舞。
蛾儿雪柳黄金缕,笑语盈盈暗香去。众里寻她千百度,——蓦然回首,那人却在,灯火阑珊处。

What a beautiful poem!

Speaking of Baidu, the bunch of us Stanford interns were able to meet Kaiser Kuo, Director of International Communications for Baidu, through a seminar organized by the Stanford Center at PKU. Even after everyone was done with lunch, we still sat around the table and talked for a good hour or so, enjoying some really fascinating conversation.

One of the joys of life right now is introducing people to new things, and by that I mean introducing Brady to new things. So far, the list includes:

  • Yakult
  • Sam Smith
  • Golden Needle Mushrooms
  • Hotpot
  • Chinese Pears
  • Bibimbap
  • Nata de coco
  • Wang Lao Ji/Jia Duo Bao
  • etc.

Although some recommendations have bombed (why oh why would anyone not like century egg with silken tofu?), most have been well-received, and it is a great feeling facilitating new and good experiences for friends.

Something the bunch of us interning here in Beijing have started doing is Tuesday dinners at interesting restaurants. Last week, we went to 小呆梨汤 on my recommendation, and it was really, really good. THEY HAVE PUDDING IN THE SHAPE OF A CARP.

干酪鱼
干酪鱼

Especially loved the fried potatoes, and the pig liver 🙂 We got the waiter to take a photo for us, which led to an interesting situation where he took a couple of shots and shouted catchy phrases like, “茄子!” (Say Cheese!),“中国万岁!” (Long Live China!) and “钓鱼岛是中国的!” (The Diaoyu Islands belong to China!) It was all fun and giggles till the last one, where Matt and I were the first few to get it, and then we started laughing, maybe a bit uncomfortably. On a serious note, China’s acting like a big bully over this whole issue, which really isn’t cool.

So, Brady’s started doing stand-up comedy every week at this place called the Hot Cat Club, which has an open mic every Wednesday. It’s located in Fangjia Hutong in 安定门, a pretty lively neighborhood that has my definite favorite cafe in Beijing, a place called Twin Cities, which serves up awesome panna cotta and has a stellar collection of art and design magazines for you to browse and read.

双城 Twin Cities
Brady preparing his stand-up set

A bunch of us have also been coerced into doing stand-up at Hot Cat one of these weekends, and so I will have to prepare some material for a set, and… we’ll see how it goes. I’m not very funny, and I find really strange stuff funny. Some times with friends I’ll laugh about something that no one else laughs at, and… then we move on. Eh, we’ll see. Hopefully the awkwardness will be so overwhelming that people feel inclined to laugh.

More Sightseeing in Bejing: In the past few weekends we have also covered the Temple of Heaven (天坛公园), 南锣鼓巷,and the Forbidden City (故宫). Photos below:

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

IMG_8765

IMG_8768

Gardens of the Temple of Heaven
Gardens of the Temple of Heaven
Fence tiles at the Forbidden City
Fence tiles at the Forbidden City

IMG_8846 IMG_8844 IMG_8813

At the Temple of Heaven, we came across this huge choir of about 80 elderly people standing in a circle and singing their lungs out. Women stood on one side and men on the other; a lot of the songs involved some sort of call and response, or switching of lines between genders. I didn’t know the songs, but there was so much power generated by all these voices singing in unison. Later, I asked an old man what the song they were currently singing was called, to which he replied, “长征!”, referring to the Long March, the military retreat by the Red Army, which was being pursued by the KMT army. I’m not sure if all the songs they sang were songs of the revolution, though.

Something we also had to deal with a few weekends ago was not having electricity. What happened was that the account linked to our meter ran out of money, and so we had to top it up… but for some godawful reason, the machines just wouldn’t take our cards. We ended up sleeping over at a friend’s house and going straight to work the next day, where we then got our colleagues to help us figure it out. Machines still weren’t reading the card, but our colleague managed to call up the electricity company and figure out how to top it up by mobile phone payment. Finally, we headed back to the apartment, unlocked the door to the small closet in the lift landing with all the electricity meters, swiped our card at the meter to top it up, and… still no power. Finally, we tried lifting a lever, and it worked! Turns out that the electricity somehow also managed to trip, or perhaps that’s just what happens when you run out. It was a glorious, glorious moment when the lights flickered on, the fridge started humming, and the WiFi was back up.

On Domesticity: Something I’m really enjoying this summer is having an apartment of our own, with a kitchen, laundry machine, toilet, fridge, and TV (though we don’t use it much). Yes, life has had its ups and downs (such as not having running water one night, or not having power another night), but life’s also being incredibly exciting, new, independent, and challenging. Weekends, when we’re not out sightseeing in Beijing, are spent doing housekeeping chores like sweeping the floor, wiping down the tables, and doing laundry.

I’ve hung up postcards and photographs and paintings on the walls. I’ve also started growing green bean plants! When I was sick a few week back, I cooked a lot of green bean soup to try and cool my body down. Unfortunately, I soaked a batch of beans for a bit too long, and they started sprouting, so I grew them in a small plastic bag with a few pads of cotton wool. Later, I sliced two 1.5L water bottles into half and transplanted the sprouts there instead. Alas, our first batch has died out, but I’m germinating another batch; they bring life to the apartment.

More domesticity: I’ve also been cooking some. Food is incredibly cheap and good in Beijing, but some days it’s real good (and cheaper) to be able to cook for yourself too. Arguably the same amount of work as if I were to walk out the apartment complex and and get something to go, but eh, I like to think it’s more convenient. Some dishes that have come out of the kitchen:

– Stir-fried bok choy / cabbage / mushrooms
– Scrambled eggs
– Soft-boiled eggs (usually for breakfast)
– Brady makes oatmeal for breakfast, if that counts
– Green bean soup (also for breakfast, and for sick people)
– FRENCH TOAST (So incredibly simple to make, and so darn good)
– Sweet potatoes (perfect for afternoon tea)
– Vermicelli with (frozen) dumplings
– Glutinous Rice Balls / Tang Yuan (glutinous rice balls, also frozen)

Not too shabby for a kitchen that’s stocked with only a pot, pan, stove-top, soy sauce, oil, salt, sugar, and of course, the ingredients above. I like to think I’ve been a good study under my mum and grandma… 🙂

Till next time, and I’ll try not to make it too long between posts!

Slices of Life: Design, Ethnicity, and Domesticity

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 😀

On Entrepreneurship, 3D Printing, and the Great Wall

Water, WiFi, AND SolidWorks! :)

Friday, June 26 2014

When I turned on the tap on Wednesday, there was running water! So now we have both water AND WiFi, which is a winning combination.

Continuing the winning streak in life, in the office we now have our own desktop PCs and SolidWorks (as well as Adobe Creative Suite software), which is a great relief because we really needed them to be able to do our work, especially SolidWorks. We had tried to learn Rhino in the interim, but it’s still fantastic to have access to software that we’re familiar with.

Work-wise, things are heating up and getting more complex and exciting. Brady and I have started CADing up prototypes, and are now waiting on the 3D printer to get fixed so we can start testing them out, which will probably happen today morning. We’ve already been trained to use it, and I get the feeling that over this internship the two of us will become very familiar with it 🙂 On Wednesday, the entire engineering team walked through the entire user experience and listed out all the bugs we had to fix, organized by teams responsible (software, electronics, mechanism) and ranked them from most to least urgent. Brady was elsewhere user-testing a product, and so I sat in alone and tried to understand as best I could — the entire meeting was in Chinese, the discussion was technical, rapid, and heated, but I managed to catch the gist of it, I suppose. Earlier today, we went to the company that manufactures our prototypes to communicate our specifications, and it was great to be introduced to their engineers and shown around their factory.

As one of the senior interns says, 实践是检验真理的唯一标准 (Practice is the sole criterion of truth). He’s a cool guy, and has really taken care of us thus far. He likes to ask us about our learning points, and to deliver his soundbites. Other things he says:

  • It’s one thing to study theory, but it’s another to practice what you’ve learnt.
  • All the different aspects of a product have to fall in step with each other: software, electronics, design, mechanisms, and manufacturing (and it was pretty cool to see that in practice!)

Later, I met up for dinner with an old friend who’s studying and interning in Beijing, and figured out how to ride side-saddle on the back of a motorcycle 😀 Still, I remain really in awe of all these Beijingers who are able to ride side-saddle with no hands, or while texting on their phone! After really good Japanese food and 烤串, I headed back, began the long trek home from the subway station, and… should probably sleep now so I’m not exhausted at work.

Water, WiFi, AND SolidWorks! :)