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17 Dec


Thanks and Happy Holidays: That was 2016

December 17, 2016 | By |

This is end-of-year post #9 (all prior ones here).

So what happened in 2016? Let’s have a look back: Part work, part personal. Enjoy.

I’m not going to lie: Globally and politically, 2016 was a messy year: Not cool. Political institutions and alliances have been crumbling, there’s been upheaval around the world, and populists have gained ground. I don’t see any big utopian visions, and any larger narratives with a positive angle. Yet, we need shared visions and utopian models more than ever. Also, this isn’t a time to stay quiet, or passive. We’re all needed to make sense of the world, and to improve it in the ways we can.

That said, for me it was personally a very good, interesting, engaged year. I learned a lot, met plenty of old & new friends, got to see many fantastic and fascinating places. Things were happening, lots of them, continuously. Looking back at it now it was a crazy-productive year. (So much so that I had to go through my monthnotes not to forget anything.)

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24 Nov


Days 12-15: Hong Kong

November 24, 2016 | By |

Note: These are the more personal, non-work related notes to complement the blog posts to this work trip to China which you can find using the Viewsource tag.

Day 12

We’re off to Hong Kong. The border crossing seems a little awkward – you leave the country, sort of, and fill in another immigration card – but then we’re in Hong Kong in less than an hour.

We stay in south Kowloon, near Tsim Sha Tsui station. I picked that neighborhood because I had stayed here once before, about a decade ago. I was a student then, staying at Mirador Mansion, a run-down, somewhat sketchy block of cheap accommodation and sister building to the (then) more (in)famous Chungking Mansion, and was curious to see how it had developed since.

Chungking Mansion (2016)
Chungking Mansion (2016) as seen from a Starbucks across the street

These days, this neighborhood seems properly gentrified with tons of high-end brand stores along Nathan Road, and very touristy.

The evening is just for walking around the extended neighborhood and food, plus a final stop at a dessert place.

Day 13

A long night’s sleep, then off to explore. Swing-by at Mirador Mansion. Not as creepy as I remember it. Maybe it’s been renovated a little, maybe it’s because it’s day time, maybe my take on it just has changed. We discover an absolutely lovely-looking and super popular bakery inside. I still wouldn’t want to stay though, so we head on out to Hong Kong Island.

We take the beautiful old Star Ferry, and head on up the Escalators. It’s a charming, rickety system of escalators that was built to bring commuters from Victoria Peak down into their office and back up. It’s a network of short connected escalator hops, and seems like straight out of a time capsule. It was built in 1993 but looks a lot older. Fun! We jump off a couple of times to have a look around or stop for a coffee.

Escalator signs

Going up the escalators

The escalators get commuters up and down the hill from and to Central

We stroll through the Botanical Garden, but when we arrive at the Peak Tram terminus the lines are too long. It’s Sunday, and all of Hong Kong is out and about.

Near Central, we see hundreds of Philippinas socializing in the long network of connected walkways: It’s their day off (see this article about Maid Day), and this is where you go to hang out. Out of cardboard each group has built a tidy little living room and people are laughing, eating, chatting.

Hong Kong has even more elevated walkways than I remember. All of them are protected from rain, you can get from pretty much anywhere to anywhere else without getting wet during rainy season. We’re lucky: It’s super sunny and nice out.

In the afternoon, off to Causeway Bay for some window shopping and a visit to the Cat Café.

Old school Hong Kong neon lights

Evening is for Temple Street night market, which has crappy stalls but decent street food, then on to Butler, an excellent Japanese whiskey bar.

Japanese bars are the best bars.
Butler is a beautiful Japanese whiskey bar

Day 14

The morning is for work at Starbucks, the only place I don’t feel bad about using up sitting space for longer periods of time.

Then off to Central for lunch and some window shopping. Lunch at Kuroko Ramen (so so), followed by espresso at Coco next door (excellent!).

We check out PMQ, a design/artist quarter in a former police quarter. There’s two buildings full of (often locally design, sometimes well-curated international) design to be had: clothes, jewelry, prints, knick-knacks.

The peak tram takes us up to the peak. It’s totally overrun by the masses. Instead of taking it back down, we take a long slow walk down Old Peak Road, which is much more enjoyable.

Old Peak Road
Old Peak Road

Old Peak Road
Halfway down Old Peak Road, a view across the skyline opens up

By then, with excellent timing, Alper points out that the most excellent Tokyo-based Omotesando coffee has opened a Hong Kong branch: We head there right away.

Omotesando Koffee
Omotesando Tokyo, a few years ago

Omotesando Hong Kong <3
Omotesando Hong Kong

At so-called “toy street” next door, where there supposedly used to be a lot of old school toy stores from back in the day when Hong Kong did manufacturing, we find only one tiny (!) toy store left, next to a lovely (and equally tiny) barber shop. I can’t resist an early 1980s metal wind-up dinosaur.

Toy road
Tiny toy store is tiny

A viewing platform is on the way, so we head on up there before hunting some more Szechuan food, then on a whim decide to go for rooftop drinks at Wooloomooloo rooftop bar. Hong Kong does skylines and rooftop bars really well.

Wan Chai night view
Hong Kong does skyline really well

Day 15

We follow the same morning routine: Work from Starbucks office in the morning, then delicious dumpling lunch.

We buy small gifts, then head on over to the site of the former Kowloon Walled City. Today Kowloon Walled City Park is just a beautiful park. The history of the walled city is super interesting, though, a story about living in interstitial zones, bottom-up organization, and historic anomalies. (There’s a fascinating interactive online project that gives a glimpse into Kowloon Walled City.)

Kowloon Walled City Park
A model of Kowloon Walled City inside the park. Estimates vary wildly, but inside Kowloon Walled City there lived somewhere around 30-50K people. According to the plaque, this model is based on a (Japanese?) research team that went in and did in-depth research about the place just before it was torn down.

On the way back through Kowloon, we pop into a game arcade (m88). As arcades go, this one isn’t in great shape, but we do play a few fun games at about a million decibels.

At Sino Centre we discover a proper nerd mall. Only after we leave Hong Kong do I learn that the NES Classic consoles I saw there were real and that they’re sold out all over the world. Ah well, missed that one.

We look at 1950s Mido Cafe, but opt for bubble tea in the park. Beat from the day, we opt for a massage, dinner, some last minute shopping, then head to the airport with time to spare.

Airport tipp: At terminal 1, “Goods of Desire” is a local design brand that has some cute (and small, hence easy-to-transport) last minute gifts.

08 Nov


Days 6-7: Shenzhen

November 8, 2016 | By |

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

Excellent, extensive Szechuan lunch with the Over a dozen dishes and an intense conversation we don’t notice how two hours pass. This is good.

Shenzhen Industrial Design Fair. Long discussions happen over shared Szechuan lunch.


At night, we relax by visiting one of the more obscure and baffling attractions, the theme park Window of the World.

It’s a thing of beauty (if a bit on the bizarre side of things) where significant buildings from countries around the world are replicated side by side. Think Egypt’s pyramids next to the Tower of Pisa next to a Peruvian vulcano.

Here are some photos of our night time excursion:

Window of the World Egypt’s pyramids

Window of the World The metro entrance double as Louvre

Window of the World A model of Manhattan (not updated after 9/11)

Window of the World Eiffel tower plus x

08 Nov


Day 5: Shanghai

November 8, 2016 | By |

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.


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


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.


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


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.

08 Nov


Days 3-4: Shanghai

November 8, 2016 | By |

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, some Frog folks and many others for a merry night.

07 Nov


China day 2: Shanghai

November 7, 2016 | By |

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.

07 Nov


China, day 1: Arriving in Shanghai

November 7, 2016 | By |

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

We arrived in Shanghai. We even made it to the hotel, against all odds, and unlike Michelle’s luggage.

Time for emergency food. We poke our head into the Jing’An shopping mall food court because it’s the first thing we see, and we turn out to be lucky.

We take a longer walk through the French Concession, strolling randomly along the beautiful tree-lined streets. First impressions: Shanghai is extremely clean, and surprisingly quiet. There’s not a whole lot of traffic, and almost all scooters as well as many cars are electric and zip by silently. We discover a beautiful, 1930s style cocktail bar and celebrate having arrived.