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A nice letter (and photos) from MAKE reader Evan -

Hi Phil – We’ve met a few times at MAKE meetings and at the FIRST competition at the Javits center – I taught at NYC public schools for seven years and mentored robotics teams around the city during that time. My wife and I decided to make a big lifestyle change and have been living for the past month in Hangzhou, China, where we are both teaching at an international school for two years.

Given the difficult task of moving across oceans (and the increased difficulty of shipping things TO China), I made the decision to bring primarily clothes, laptop computers, and whatever books and documents we thought might be necessary over here. This meant that I had to go through the very painful process of putting my electronics parts, tools, and projects into deep storage in a facility in the Bronx. While this will mean a lot of fun in a couple years when I get into those boxes again after forgetting what is inside, it was initially frustrating to think I would have to start my collection from scratch. I knew that I would probably find replacements for the tools while over here, but assumed that “browsing” to find parts would be difficult, and finding people that could help me even more so.

During an outing at a computer market (another story to share later), I met a guy that is good at building computers from scratch but that spoke only Chinese. I can count and tell people my name in Chinese, and am learning more daily, but it wasn’t even close to the point where we could communicate verbally. In a moment of brilliance, he set up adjacent windows with Google translate loaded, his translating into English and mine into Chinese – instantly the communication barrier was gone – and we were able to chat and joke. After a while of this, I thought to ask him about a local place to buy wires, LEDs, transistors, and circuit boards. He quickly looked something up and printed out an address in Chinese for me to show to a taxi driver. Last weekend I decided to take the trip to see what was there.

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When a friend and I stepped out of the cab at 428 Dengyun Road, my maker senses started buzzing. Two buildings on opposite sides of the road, each (roughly) about the size of FAO Schwarz in New York with three floors each of electronics booths.

It was incredible – LED displays, development boards, wires, cables, test equipment, tools for through-hole and surface mount circuit soldering, speakers, motors, breadboards – you name it, there were (and are on a daily basis) multiple places to find it. This, together with an impressive supply of boxes and raw materials for building mechanical parts, truly made it a dream come true to have this place nearby to feed a building and tinkering obsession. I was completely overwhelmed, and made the prudent decision after walking about 30 feet inside that I should probably come up with more of a plan or list for what I needed so I didn’t go overboard – otherwise it would have been like shopping hungry. I ended up buying a development board (see the pictures below) with plans to return for more later on. From the beginning it was a challenge because the documentation is all in , but with Google and a lot of patience, I’ve been able to get it up and running.

I can see some great maker adventures ahead, especially as I continue to explore the area and meet people in the community. I’m not sure if there’s a better venue than the MAKE blog in which to share these pictures and this information, especially to bring awareness to those living here (and elsewhere) that it is available. I’ve spent time thinking back at home that places like this would be just the thing needed to spark student interest in electronics and building. I’m really looking forward to finding ways to make this process happen here for the youngsters living here in Hangzhou.

Have a great day, Evan

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. mikeiver says:

    I read his little story with a deep sense of lament for the America we were but are no more. I live in the upstate area of New York and there is literally no electronics shops except RS. There are no surplus shops either. Nothing! Coming from Southern California where there were a number of great places…. Well, I lack the words.

    Americans are becoming more and more lazy and the Heathkit generation of yesteryear is all but gone. It is really sad to have watched the decline. Enjoy your time there and immerse your self in it, you will miss it when you return. The Chinese are were we were 40-50 years ago, only they have access to tech we could not have even imagined. Please do write some follow on posts to what you experience there. Maybe it will light a fire under the A$$es of some and foster a new generation of truly inventive makers.

    Mike

  2. BigBertha says:

    Loved the story. Hope you enjoy your time in China Evan.

  3. Ian says:

    It is nice to find the photo of electronics mall of my hometown.

    For Evan: There are another mall named Great Wall Electromechanical (in Chinese 长城机电)selling electromechanical products and parts in Hangzhou. Its address is 272 shiqiao road,Hangzhou(in chinese石桥路272号). and a tool mall nearby. Have fun!

  4. kibodwin says:

    that development board looks interesting, do you have any
    more info on it? Great article, keep us informed.
    K.

  5. cdreid says:

    but this IS what america was like 50 years ago (or more). Now? Do your hobby outside theres a 50/50 chance someone will call the police or fd. And you probably need a permit. And god forbid you buys supplies.. you go on a terrorist watch list.

    It isnt that americans dont want to do this stuff. Its just that our corporate society has reduced humans for cogs. And cogs that dont fit in their nice little holes are rejected. It must be amazing to be chinese in one of the megacities now. They are going to dazzle the world over the next couple decades.

  6. jpersonna says:

    This isn’t something I see makers discuss, but I’ve always seen a bit of a tension between an American maker movement and cheap Asian parts. Let’s be honest, we are bringing back American innovation with those parts.

    I hope we see more internationalization, and more years abroad by American makers.

    If someone were to draw a system diagram of the maker system, China would be a big part of it, so why not play to that strength.

  7. Marcel says:

    Have you considered setting up some kind of trading link to get that wealth back home?

  8. mikeiver says:

    No tension, just a simple lament for the golden past of the kit makers and tinkerers that came before in this country but are no more. The Chinese are some of the most motivated learners taking advantage of the American schools out there. If only the students here were so dedicated to world domination through technology it would not be such a worry for allot of people, me included. The thing that made America great was our total domination of technology and inventiveness. I fear that we are loosing our way. The balance is rapidly moving toward the center and if we are not careful, we will be on the receiving end of it. I am jealous of him for having that available to him.

    Mike

  9. Alan Parekh says:

    Wow, I am very jealous! What I would give to have a candy store like that in my city.

  10. eweinberg says:

    Hi everyone,

    Thanks for your kind words and for the interesting comments. It is quite sad that the opportunities made available by having these resources nearby isn’t commonplace back home. The explanation I use goes back to something Dean Kamen says frequently when talking about FIRST – a culture gets what it celebrates. As things stand now, society as a whole (particularly within the US) doesn’t celebrate ingenuity or creativity – unless it also tends to have earning potential. As a result, carrying bags full of wires and screws or blinking LEDs tends to attract more negative attention than positive. We as a community get upset, and those that aren’t in the know about what we do sound alarms.

    The issue becomes one of education – many people are just plain scared by the world they see. Fear grows from the most primitive part of our brains and isn’t easily reasoned away – this is why telling a child not to be scared and expecting results doesn’t work. The majority of people do not build circuits (or in my case get really excited to see two buildings full of circuit components.)

    The responsibility really falls to our own community to not only take part in the hobby and feel pride for our accomplishments, but also to make an effort to get out and involve as many people as possible in the process. If we want to have any hope of reversing the trend, we have to find people that don’t know what we do, engage them, and involve them in the fun.

    Some makers don’t document their work. Some don’t take safety precautions. Either way, people create some amazing things and it’s through magazines like MAKE that lots of people find out about them. The consequence of not including public involvement as a design feature in our projects is that we don’t work to fix our own PR problem during the process. It’s more work, but more difficult problems have been solved in the past.

    To answer some questions you have posed:

    kibodwin and Marcel – the development board includes a bunch of great features: LCD displays, button matrices, a stepper motor driver, a buzzer, a real time clock, digital temperature sensor, an AD/DA converter, PS2, and a relay output. I’m still mapping out the connections (and doing so during my “down” time prepping for lessons on a nightly basis) between things, but I found a guide in Chinese that has some circuit diagrams that show how things are connected. It programs a bunch of Atmel chips, Dallas, Intel, and some others I forget – it seems it wouldn’t be out of the question to put an ATMEGA328 in there and use the Arduino software to run it. As I find out more, I will certainly put together some more information.

    I plan to contact the company and see if I could work with them to make some English materials and potentially link to markets elsewhere – that darn time thing still gets in the way. I paid 960 RMB for this ($142 USD) which seemed to me to be a great deal. One downside is that there are no Windows 7 drivers for the built-in programmer, but I’m sure that can be resolved with time.

    As I said in the post, I will try my best to make the most of what is available. Thanks Ian for the other recommendation – I will check it out.

    Be well,

    Evan

  11. gbeth says:

    Hongzhou… I have been to that store !!! within the last 3 weeks.

    went over there to fix our network… go figgger. had to go to multiple places to get basic tools and network hardware. We finally ended up at this place, the first store on the right.. had STRIPPERS!!! nobody at our Chinese office had seen what is common place here in the states. Then we found all of the tools and punchdown blocks , etc.

    I was in nirvana!

    Next time I am over there, we should get together!

    have a GREAT DAY !!

    gb

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