A New York maker moves to China…

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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

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