Four years in Shanghai – without a doubt the coolest thing I’ve ever done. 再见上海!

I still have the one-way ticket from Chicago when I came here: June 2nd, 2011.  The week leading up to my move here was madness, and arriving here was comical.  The airline had lost my biggest suitcase, the one with all my clothes in it.  They don’t sell clothes my size here in Shanghai, at least not on the rack.  I wore the same clothes for three days!

Here I sit, four years on.  It’s been a wild ride living in Shanghai and it’s come time to turn the page again.  My wife and I are moving to London tomorrow where I’ll be continuing my same role with Mintel.

I’ve learned a lot in my time in China.  Not just about China, too – I’ve travelled around Asia so much and visited countries and cities that previously I couldn’t point out on a map.  It’s hard to remember what life was like back before I came here – I think I knew so little about the world then.  Seriously, did you know that the Vietnamese call it “The American War”?  I’d just never thought about it that way, to be honest.

To give you an idea where I’ve been, here’s my travel map for the last four years using showing the 400,000 miles I’ve flown since my first trip to Shanghai in March 2011:

Traveling around is nice, but there’s a lifetime’s worth of things you could explore just here in Shanghai.  Lets start with…


Below are Xiaolongbao pictured at Mintel-favorite Small Dragon restaurant:

My favorite cuisine though is the local Sichuan food.  When I first moved here I couldn’t eat anything spicy, and I’m living proof that spiciness in food is a learned thing.  My favorite dish is called laziji 辣子鸡 which is bits of bony fried chicken buried in a sea of chili peppers.  It’s the dish in baskets on left and right sides of this photo.  The soup in the middle is even spicier and also delicious, which is fish (with tiny bones!) in a steaming cauldron of spicy chili hot soup.

The chilies themselves are sold dry:

There’s also spicy barbeque fish!

Finally you can’t forget Portuguese egg tarts 蛋挞 (“dan ta” – easy to pronounce) available at lots of street corner shops.  The sweetest ones are from Lillian’s Bakery but different shops have a different style and they’re all good.  I hate to say it, but KFC’s are pretty good too.  Egg tarts are best eaten with a cold pearl milk tea 珍珠奶茶 (one of the first phrases I learned).  You can get a couple of egg tarts and a milk tea for an afternoon pick me up for about 10 RMB ($1.60).  Mmm…sugar…

Ok, enough about food (for now).  There’s some stuff here you just won’t see in America.

“Styrofoam Lady”

Every single day there are hundreds of people on three-wheel pedal carts riding around Shanghai picking up and hauling materials around – a lot of which is refuse being recycled somewhere else.  Every single day this same woman pictured below rides down Madang Road on my commute route with a giant load of styrofoam.  Sometimes so much tied and stacked up that you can barely find her beneath it all, like this day:

There are 24 million people in Shanghai, many of which I have seen every day, but will never meet.

My biggest surprise: I can read Chinese

Ok, not really, I know probably know about 20 of the 8,000 characters needed to be able to “read” Chinese.  But when I moved here, I thought Chinese was just madness scribbles on paper that I’d never be able to understand, so I focused on trying to listen and speak.  Strangely enough four years on, my spoken Chinese is terrible, but I recognize actually quite a few of the base characters in Chinese writing – I recognize more written symbols than I can understand when listening to people speak.

Cycling to work

Cycling on the roads here is fun if you like to live dangerously.  For the past four years I’ve been riding to/from work about 4 days out of each week, first from my apartments in Jing’An and later from my apartment in Huangpu district racing up Madang road to the office.  Tallying it up: four years, a few hundred miles a year, and just one accident – with a pedestrian.  I’ve gone through two full sets of front brake pads and snapped brake cables.  And an absolutely – almost daily incrementing – count of near misses with buses, pedestrians, motor bikes, taxis, did I mention buses?, electric bikes, and idiot taxi drivers doing 11 point U-turns.

Chinglish translations

I might have to publish a book of these someday, so here’s a taste of some of the amazing signs I’ve captured photos of:


The hardest part leaving Shanghai is the people I’ve met.  Sure you meet a lot of people when you travel, but some people stick with you, and before you know it you’re up at 2 AM with them, drinking something called “shaquila” and making cookie dough.  Jake & Sha, Mike and Sarah, Mark and Jessie, you’ve made the last few years really special.  Dale, too bad you had to leave so soon.  Co-workers Andrew, Louis, Yanchen, Frank, Daniel, Xiang and Susan, thank you for all the late nights at work and times at lunch.  Sarah Luo, our real estate agent who we later found out had never made a sale until she met us, has been an amazing help.  I hope our paths all cross again.

Who am I kidding, I can’t sum up four years in one document.  I’ll be telling these stories the rest of my life.

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Net Neutrality

I’m an Internet nerd. I’ve been using the Internet since early days, on a dialup modem TUI to our local BBS, and later on MichNet which was made availably by our K-12 school in Adrian. I’ve grown up a bit since then, going to university studying computer programming, working on free software projects, and now working at Mintel for the past 8 years, recently moving into our IT Infrastructure team being the chief decision maker on what ISPs we use and how much of it we buy.

In short, I’m an Internet nerd. I really care about the Internet “tubes” I’m using. I have spent too many hours in the past few years at work, slaving away, comparing traceroutes and packet loss on Mintel’s mesh of network links to find the most optimal routes. The net neutrality thing matters to me as a network engineer.

As a computer enthusiast in my time, living in China, let me tell you what: in China, there is no net neutrality. Google, Facebook, Twitter, are blocked – not even just a few IPs, but all traffic to their ASNs on ports 80 and 443 are 100% blocked, and many of their DNS records rewritten. Once in 2013 I found that was blocked in China – who knows why. SourceForge was blocked for a while, too. The BBC was blocked this month. Users complain that these sites are blocked, and sure that’s annoying. But the businesses out there who compete for market share of users to sustain their business – which Facebook would sure love to do in China – are boxed out of the market without even being asked. Sina Weibo, Tencent, RenRen, and the dozen other attempts at big time social media in China would have had stiff competition if we had net neutrality in China. We do not.

This week I stumbled across The Oatmeal’s explanation of Net Neutrality, and it was simple enough that I liked it. The video eluded to an Orwellian reason why websites might end up being entirely blocked in a place where the Internet is a frequently used tool in a modern, consumer-driven civilized economy where millions of happy people use the Internet. You can’t imagine the government ever blocking websites in the USA – it would never happen, right?

A laptop with blocked, with blocked looking quite dreadful, and saying

I live this crap ever day.
This is what it’s like in China. This is what it’s like in many countries around the world.

I was happy today to see this highlight from President Obama on the subject, calling for the FCC to make a firm commitment to net neutrality. I’m not big on partisan politics and I could care less what the latest debate is on the subject. In short, Net Neutrality is good, the general public agrees, and we should have it.

Being the USA where so many of the building blocks of the Internet were dreamt and built, we have a responsibility to the rest of the world to get this right and lead with example. Lets get it right, my fellow Americans.

Update May 2018

It’s been a long few years since I’ve written this article, and I’ve had a fair few emails from people over the years asking about it. Unfortunately we now stand atop a slippery slope in the US having repealed Net Neutrality rules in late 2017.

One journalist agrees where this can lead.

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VyOS Users Meeting Japan

Today I did something cool: I attended the VyOS Users Meeting Japan #2 in Tokyo.

I clearly was not prepared for this meetup – my laptop has no stickers on the back of it.  I think every presenter’s laptop looked like this:

Consensus is: we need some VyOS stickers!

We had presentations from six VyOS users & hackers. I was the only presenter in English and I know about six words of Japanese, so a lot of it was lost on me, but it was fun still. I particularly enjoyed the presentation by Kazuhito Ohkawa (SatchanP) about VyOS at Kauli, Inc. – he’s clearly incredibly smart, and an enthusiastic presenter. I also enjoyed the presentation by Ryo Nakamura (upa) about VXLAN – especially his slide about RIP Vyatta.

Yuya Kusakabe (higebu), the organizer, gave us a good introduction to VyOS 1.1.0.  There were two more presentations which I had to miss – I had to leave the event early to catch my train out of Tokyo.

I gave a short presentation and demonstration of the build-ami scripts I’ve been working on, and a painfully long demonstration.  During my demonstration I mentioned how the Japanese Vyatta / VyOS community is the strongest in the world, to the point where when years ago I read about how to make Vyatta EC2 machines, I found myself referencing a developer named j3tm0t0 who I had never met.  He stood up – he was there in the room!

I showed everyone the Google Trends heat map which shows that Japan is the hot spot for Vyatta & VyOS users:

Special thanks to Yuya Kusakabe and Nifty Corporation for organizing this group.  The Nifty office is very nice.  Everyone, please buy Yuya a beer, and encourage him to host this user meet up regularly.

Update: due to requests, here’s an English list of the presentations given:

  • 15:00 VyOS 1.1.0 and NIFTY Cloud New Features given by @higebu.  No slides available :(
  • 15:30 VyOS VXLAN given by @upaa.  Slides all in English.
  • 16:00 About vyos/build-ami given by me (@trickv).  Slides (in English).
  • 16:30 Case studies of VyOS in Kauli SSP given by @SatchanP.  Slides all in English except for one.
  • 17:00 Debian Jessie build environment, vyos-cfg-zabbix-agent, bug #345 report given by @hiroysato.  Slides almost all in English.
  • 17:30 NAT performance testing given by @twovs.  Slides in Japanese + English.


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Lunar eclipse from Shanghai

Today I watched and photographed the lunar eclipse from Shanghai.  It was a lot of fun – Sarah and I ordered pizza and stood on the terrace at Mintel’s Shanghai office with my camera, snapping photos.’s eclipse calculator was very helpful as it shows the direction to look for the moon and the timing of each phase of the eclipse.

All the photos below are links to hi-res images – please click and enjoy.

The moon became visible after the eclipse was already partially in progress, coming up over the horizon around 17:30 local time, and a few minutes later I found a view of it between some buildings at 17:47:

I was rather lucky where it started to rise – right between two buildings about the same height as mine:

18:06: As the moon rose, the eclipse furthered.  Using different exposures allowed me to show the buildings around it, or to hone in on the detail of the moon itself:

18:19: As we approach the total eclipse, some pesky clouds roll by:

18:29 After a while the moon came out from behind the clouds, but we were near the total eclipse:

18:52: At last, we have a clear view of the total eclipse:

Here’s a cropped version:

The full eclipse lasts about 20 minutes.

19:20: Before you know it, the bright light of the sun starts to strike the moon directly again:

Here it is with a bit less exposure:

The following photos are all in sequence, with shorter exposures on the left to highlight the detail of the bright emerging side of the moon, and longer exposures on the right to show detail of the darker (red) side while making the bright side look like the sun:













20:39: The total eclipse has finished, but the penumbral eclipse lasts for another hour:

Finally, the penumbral eclipse is finished and the moon is back in full:

It wasn’t bad scenery, staring out the Shanghai skyline (the Bund in the bottom-left), watching a lunar eclipse!

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Da Moon

After seeing some beautiful photos of August’s supermoon, I pondered what kind of camera it might take to capture such detailed photos of the moon.  I’ve recently taken delivery of a Canon EOS 700D (T5i), which when pointed at the moon, does what every camera does in “auto” mode: produce a photo of a bright white blob in the sky.

I got to searching, and read How To Take Stunning Pictures Of The (Super) Moon, which lends some advice on settings (ISO speed, exposure and aperture).  Sure enough, coupled with a used 250mm zoom lens procured at the Shanghai Photography Center, I was able to capture some good detail.

Here’s the final cropped product:

Shot on September 10th from my balcony in Shanghai.


  • 1/15 exposure
  • ISO100
  • 250mm zoom
  • F16.0

I actually took the shot in raw + jpeg, but I haven’t yet had enough experience with raw to produce quality better than the automated jpeg.  I also had the camera on a tripod, and to reduce shake, used tethered shooting from the ugly Canon app.

Here’s the original jpeg photo for the curious:

Should be fun next month for the October 8th lunar eclipse – thanks for the tip, Marie!

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Gone for a walk in the rain

Gone for a walk in the rain

We had an amazing rain & thunderstorm last week, and aside the beautiful lightning shots Sarah and I captured, the above photo of this anonymous, soaked individual stands out.

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Things you see on the street in Shanghai

It’s always an adventure out there.

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They don’t call ’em Armadillo tires for nothing

Three years of city riding in Chicago and Shanghai and my 700x28mm rear tire has finally had it. So bad the tread is coming off the base of the tire, despite two gashes in the rubber.  What finally took it down?  An unlucky staple in the road.




Specialized Armadillo tires. Highly recommended.

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The pollution moves in…


Friday afternoon.  Here’s the view from our new office on the balcony of the 25th floor. The wind is blowing from the north and bringing in the “fog” that you see.

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Lightning in Shanghai (Quite possibly the coolest photo I’ve ever taken)

From my apartment at 徐家汇路135号:

All lightning shots here on Google Plus.

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