SW Makers Visit Shenzhen

In October 2016, three of us visited Shenzhen for an energetic 15 day whirlwind geek holiday. Initially we where going for the Shenzhen Makers Faire, some component and fabric shopping and of course to catch up on some late night story telling with the Dangerous Prototype crew.

This all changed a bit, when we bumped into some Canadians that where prepping for a makeFashion show at the Makers Faire.  They invited us along to either just watch, chat or volunteer and help with the preparations.  There had been sponsored by Seeed and where working out of the a room at their new office, so we jumped at the chance!

But first two of us took an early morning bullet train 140km North to Guangzhou, home of the twice a year Canton Import Export Fair.  This is the largest trade fair in the world, with over 185,000 buyers visiting 60,000 booths.  We only managed to visit maybe 20% of site in the day, before being kicked out at 18:00.

Below is an aerial photo showing the size of the complex.  There is a metro train station at each end of the building.  As a bit of a reference, the furthest building is around 500m long.

The dedicated returnees walked towing small luggage trolley luggage behind them, whereas noobs like us carried many kilos of gear in backpacks and fair bags.  We did score some great booty though.
Here is view of one of the smaller of the three buildings:
We walked the lighting, bicycles, tool, light industrial machines.  The lunch hall was 400+ metres long and you couldn’t see the end, it just disappeared into the distance.  It was interesting to see the sheer scale of feeding 100,000+ people for lunch.  Below is one tiny section of the industrial machine section.  We spent most of the afternoon there, as most of the machines where working.  Australian OHS representatives would cry with some of the massive machines spinning with no safety rails mounted, lasers cutters working with no covers, electric spark wire cutting machines – it was all awesome:
Here is a close up of one of the buildings.  They range from three to four stories high. As you can see above, each floor is quiet high:
It is said that Shenzhen population has around 20-30 million people.  The Canton Trade Fair is held in a city some 140km North of Shenzhen and its population is 14 million people and linked by two different high speed train lines!  More than the population of Australia fitting in to a space less than Busselton to Perth!!
The Shenzhen Makers Faire was condensed from three days down to two due to an ill-timed typhoon.  That made for an interesting experience.  It was meant to be a direct hit, but it changed directions 5-6 hours earlier and landed 100km up the coast.  The poor organises had to take the site down the day before and then put it up the day after the typhoon passed.  It was a great show though.  We scored a free ESP32 and break out board and a few RGB LED panels and chips.
This year, there seemed to be a lot more laser cut gear, having a laser cutter myself, I found the different materials, and joint techniques fascinating.  They also had some nice looking 1mm thick plywood that was used a lot for cheap stiff signs. 

Below, some kids are playing with a lasercut Rube Goldberg machine:

A Dutch guy had brought along his sand poem writing bot.  It moved very elegantly along writing out 200m long Chinese poems:

The three of us volunteered our time (some more than others), to help them out with soldering, programming and sewing etc. 
While working in the makeFashion room at Seeed, a Japanese guy brought in one of his Makers Faire “Face Box” that he was putting together – a cardboard box, fresnel lens and a few LED strips.  At the Makers faire, the kids (and big kids) loved it.
 The video hasn’t gone up yet, but the makeFashion crew were kind enough to put our names up in the credits.  It was an enlightening exercise for me to see how a fashion show operates.  It certainly got all our creative juices working in another angle.  We all purchased a LOT more LEDs than we normally would have:
We were given a tour of the MakerBlock building.  In two days one of their techs built a fully automated robotic set of angel wings.  This thing had 8 motors on it – the crowd loved it:

Never having attended a fashion show before, let alone helping out behind the scene was amazing to see how it all unfolded.  Below, the models are lighting up, ready to go on stage:
We stayed in a cheep apartment building that was quite central to the electronics area of Shenzhen.  There are many multi story buildings selling all kinds of components and gear.  We wrote up a BOM of surface mounted devices and gave it to this lady and was told to come back in 60 minutes to collect the resistors, capacitors, transistors, mosfets.  400 each of about 26 items cost only A$30:
Of course half the fun is the great food, a few ales and fantastic conversations from interesting people from around the world:
Talking of food, down-town, there is a three story food mall, with two floors being around 100m long!  Below, Diane and Stephen are arguing on who has the best spud stick flavouring:
I was fortunate to be able to attend a HAX Accelerator open night.  This included a tour of their building.  They currently have 170 people visiting from around the world working out of their office space.  They only take 4.4% of the 2000 odd applicants in a year and are looking to expand into the floor below:
There were presentations from Duncan, the HAX GM and two Kickstarter teams (Wazer and M5 Stack), along with free beer and the largest pizzas I have seen:
While Shenzhen has a small fabric market on the 5th floor of the Commercial Market building at the Shenzhen/Hong Kong boarder, it’s really just a small but nice selection of all manor of fabrics.  We knew there was another section North of Dongman area.  One of the trip objectives was to locate and explore this area.  We had found one five story building that seems to have concentrated on silk.  We where fortunate to have a local tailor take us to another two buildings by bus.  It turns out they where right next door to the first building.  It did help that on our first visit, there was a torrential downpour for most of the day due to a typhoon that was passing close by.  These two buildings also had four to five floors of fabric related gear:
One floor had all the fabric bling you ever needed and then some:
This year Google has made the trip even easier by providing a futuristic live translation app.  You just open the app up, select camera and hold it up to the object you want to have translated.  All the Chinese writing is then replaced with the English translation is placed over top.  How cool is that!  It wasn’t perfect, but is nothing else, it made you laugh with some of the translations:
There are numerous little deli’s all over the place.  There was even one on the ground floor of our 23 story apartment building.  It sold all kinds of food, drinks, and household gear.  Very handy and the lady running got to know us all very well.  Here are some chicken snacks:
The Shenzhen Metro system is a joy to travel in.  Trains usually run every few minutes and are well air-conditioned.  It relatively easy to navigate, as everything is in English/Chinese.  For A$20, you can pick up a Metro card.  You swipe in as you enter a station and swipe out as you exit a station.  The maximum cost is around A$1.15 for an hour long train journey.  On the day we left, they turned on two completely new underground metro lines, not a station, these are whole new lines!  There is one more new one opening later in the year.  This year they had four new high speed train lines connected up to the city.  Some of them travel up to 300Km/hr.

The above is just a small part of what we managed to cram into our 15 day visit.  I haven’t talked much about the food, architecture, night life, typhoons, shopping, the accommodation.  Shenzhen is a dynamic and exciting place to explore.  We will all be going back again in 2017 for another geek adventure.

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