Cycling in Chengdu

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With most of the entire city empty due to new years, low pollution and predictions for sunshine, I decided to take my bike and explore Chengdu a bit. I did not prepare anything but some water and a book and head off around 9am.

Cycling gives you a different perspective of a city. First discovery was an old factory converted to an artsy concert hall and coffee bar. I enjoyed an cappuccino on the terrace and explored the environment a bit. Chengdu seemed like a ghost town. Barely any vehicles on the road made my trip much more relaxed.

Continuing cycling eastwards, after 20km, passing the third ringroad, which involved me carrying the bike over an overpass, the suburbs finally seized and suddenly I was cycling in between the ricefields and forests. It was a lot of fun trying to get to a stretch of green with some water I located as my final destination for the day. Most road on my Google map made place for construction and thus I went’off-road’quite some times. However, it was 11:30 and I was getting hungry.

I passed some shops but everything was closed. The villagers had all gathered to play mahjong. Hairdressers and phoneshops had all turned to mahjong rooms for the day. Arriving at the green patch aka ‘Shiling Forrest park’ I made a round on the cycle patch and read a bit. 

It was approaching 2pm and I had enough. Instead of a restaurant I settled for a bag of potato chips and a beer. Found a chair and enjoyed sitting in the sun. Initially I planned for a 6 hour drive but it knew that wouldn’t be the case anymore. Instead I relaxed and took it easy. 

After I entered the city again, I cycled straight to my favorite restaurant, noticed I cycled 67km and had a meal for two.

Appreciation for the good old post system

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Last October I was send a package to my office in Chengdu from The Netherlands. The shipping fee was about 30 dollars.  The package never arrived, and information from the Dutch post company was cryptic. (contact local post branch)

Just when I considered the package lost, it successfully was returned to it’s origin address halfway around the globe. Three months after originally sending it off. Something as simple as the good old post system still seems to function very well, pretty cool!

package

 

Working at Dr. Panda in Chengdu

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Our spacious Dr Panda office is located at Raffles city in the center of Chengdu, China. After HR helped us find a house, I started working daily at the modern (air purified) office, which is a 10 minute walk for home. Working with the Dr. Panda team has been a great experience so far – with product-commited teammates from all over China but also Poland, Sweden, Belgium, France, US, Vietnam, Spain and The Netherlands; some speak only a bit of English, some speak only a little bit of Chinese, some both. For the interested there are free Chinese and English language courses in the office.

The spacious Dr Panda office is located at Raffles city in the center of Chengdu.

Meeting colleges outside office hours is normal in China, which is pleasant as a foreigner moving in. The office turns into a ‘cafe mode’ in the evening, some will go for dinner together, others keep on working (deadlines are fierce) but others just play board- or video games or play ping-pong in the after hours. Besides cozy evenings the mood is generally great at the office, free fruits, guess-where-we’ll-rank competitions for each app launch, and every now and then we have ‘happy hours’ with food and drinks.

At Dr. Panda, we make kids feel familiar with life through role playing games. I’m proud to be working on our next title. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been pitching new concepts and idea’s and now we are making actual playable prototypes. Today we delivered its second iteration at a product demo, we keep iterating and testing with kids until we get it right. Looking forward to the next steps.

Mia likes Dr. Panda too, product demo's and playing pingpong.

In the DonaldDuck

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Working at the Kids and Teens department is always interesting; The editors and the drawers of DonaldDuck get their jokes and inspiration from all sorts of places, even around the office. They ‘used’ me to make a character in an actual duck story; I’m a geeky guy who drives around a celebrity – how cool is that! If you want to read it, get a copy of the latest TrosKompas!

Mont Ventoux, je ne suis pas fou

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If you wanted to watch the Tour de France in the 70s, you had it rough, it was a daily 20 min B&W summary filmed from a single angle. However, my dad did become an avid fan and took up cycling himself. Together with his friends they climbed the famous mountains like Alpe d’Huez, Col de la Madeleine and the steep Mont Ventoux themselves. Their sport bonded the group and they are cycling together to this day.

Moving on to may 2015, my dad was picking a cottage for our yearly family get-together, unsurprisingly he picked one at the foot of that very Mont Ventoux. Our whole family took the opportunity and enjoyed surprisingly good weather, French baguettes and French wine. Then my dad asked me if I wanted to join him up the mountain; I had to consider, I cycled up Col de Madelaine in 2004 but I am totally untrained at the moment. I agreed to a small ascend to halfway point as a first training.

We started off and I felt pretty great, the mood was good, lot’s of “bonjours”, waves and there was an American girl cheering us on and offering cold beverages, that was fantastic! With the 7~10% climb I was cranking energy fast but all was good… until a man dressed like Lance Armstrong rode by and called me to my place “hey, c’est la folie, you are crazy” and carried on*.  I yelled something back – too little too late – but actually found a renewed strength; “I’ll show him!” After a good hour we left the forest and we could see the moon-like summit. Breathtaking.

At halfway point I told my dad I wanted to keep on going, as the weather was exceptionally cold that day. But actually, being there with my dad really kept my nose to the grindstone and I didn’t want to let him down. Then I hit my limit. Closer to the top, I got into trouble but I made it! Thanks to my dad staying by my side and motivating me. A lovely Dutch woman with a SLR camera snapped my last meters, seen in the shot above.

At the top, we cheered, took some photos and had a cold drink. Then we turned around and breezing off the mountain, I was carrying such a big smile that I felt embarrassed for the people still climbing but I couldn’t stop. It was an absolutely perfect day.

*note: I did carry a helmet but only wore it during the descent; it was a remark regarding my endurance or my bike. Also; Generally French people are nice!

Long weekend in Shanghai

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It seems to be a good tradition to visit Shanghai now and then. We met up with friends and ate the fruits and dishes that we craved.

Arriving during Friday’s traffic rush, we had some trouble hailing a taxi from the metro station. A friendly passerby explained that you can bid for taxi’s with an app these days, but instead I called a friend to pick us up.

On Saturday we enjoyed a south Chinese lunch (小南国), haggled for presents at pearl city (didn’t do that for a long time!), and ate a modern Shanghainese meal (Lynn) with different friends.

However good and rich the Chinese kitchen is, the next day we enjoyed Japanese foods like okonomiyaki, shabu shabu, and soba; as those are all also hard to get in my home country. Afterwards we left for a stay at the sofitel Sheshan, a bit outside the city; again amazed by the size of Shanghai, and the ghostly quiet rows of skyscrapers, block after block with each probably capable to host all the people of my small town of Culemborg.

Shanghai is such an energetic city and there is so much to do; we both think it was worth coming here, if even for a short time! Leaving at 5 am to the airport, the G20 was already busy with cars (day and night) and we realized the smog also continues day and night. It has been getting worse and breathing it is the price to pay to live here, I guess one can’t have it all.
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At work; upgraded kieskeurig.nl

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I met a colleague in the hallway last week and he asked me about the planned upcoming release of Kieskeurig.nl; He called it a “major league” event. Weirdly, as technical manager of the site, I wasn’t worried about the launch event at all.

“major league”? well, ok, with 2,7 million visits a month a lot was at stake, but we had gone through the entire launch procedure dozens of times. Nothing could go wrong. Personally, I couldn’t wait to launch the user-friendly and responsive site, with improved search and support for new product groups like garden, pharmacy and cosmetics. It was actually long due.

The deadline was today. So we launched yesterday – in the middle of the night, the whole team (which grew a lot recently) joined in to help. Even if only to help with testing, and to be part of it. It was a short night, and when I made my way to the office this morning, we started a hour-to-hour-post-it-based-standups to prioritise potential problems for the site. Needless to say, we ended the day with bubbles and cake.

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I took away a lof of valuable learnings about the process:

  • We work scrum, but just before the launch, had to let go of some of the procedures. Be flexible.
  • Work closely together with experts, the industry and visitors to gain insight. (Reason for us to do AB testing of the site before launch)
  • A sharp deadline (though sometimes painful) works wonders when trying to achieve a lot in little time.
  • I’m really proud of what we build and I want to thank the whole team for their efforts. Tomorrow the real fun starts, in the next chapter.

    visit the site here: http://www.kieskeurig.nl

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    100 years from now

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    FC15

    You learn something new every day; what did you learn today? How reddit imagine the world 100 years from now? . Some of my favorites:

    1. TIL Google started out as a search engine.
    2. TIL the term “rewind” comes from having to wind magnetic ribbons around a spool to go backwards in a song or video.
    3. TIL People once actually drove cars completely manually, and this was before human augmentations. They were crashing and killing people all the time and they just accepted that as normal. What the fuck dude…
    4. TIL every home electronic device had to be plugged into walls to get power. They also had to use wires to connect each other to share video, sound, and data.

    Some more:

    1. TIL between 2000 and 2025 there were 179 movies made about the same 14 superheroes (individually or as different pairs/groups), including dozens that were sequels, prequels, or even remakes of the same movie.
    2. TIL people actually paid for the internet.
    3. TIL cloning of Humans used to be illegal
    4. TIL people used to take poison to kill cancer, only some of the time it killed them first.
    5. TIL the U.S. minted “pennies” for over a century
    6. TIL Netflix started by mailing movies to your house.

    Finland, Belgium and Maastricht

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    Sanoma headquarters in Helsinki

    Sanoma headquarters in Helsinki

     

    Started the month with a business trip to Helsinki at the Sanoma headquarters. Even though I met a lot of colleagues that are working there, it’s was great to see the office for myself and see a bit more of company I work for. Sanoma became big by the newspaper ‘Helsingin Sanomat’ in Finland and is now a leading company in news, tv and learning in ten countries, but predominantly Finland and The Netherlands. Full history of the company in a neat slideshow here.

     

     

     

     

     

    Train depot in Simpelveld

    Train depot in Simpelveld

    I’ve also visited Limburg with Suna and her high school friends who were visiting. My personal highlight was a tour at the miljoenenlijn. Actually, just drove the car to an industrial building besides the track. No people around, until we made our way into the depot. Just look at these magnificent locomotives. They are authentic and old. Still used during the summer on the track for tourists, money is raised to refurbish them further during the winter. We got an improvised and enthusiastic tour by one of the engineers who has been working on one of the trains for over 9 years. He told the stories of taking the train from London to Istanbul in 1924; The girls were surprisingly intrigued, the people dressed nicely, lot’s of leg-space and good food seemed to fill their appetite to get an idea of the romantics of train travel during the time.

    Maastricht with Suna

    Maastricht with Suna

    Besides trains we also explored Maastricht, Brussel and Brugge. Of which Maastricht seemed most interesting to them, didn’t do much more then walking around and visiting monuments; The city has a better appeal to foreigners compared to the touristification of cities like Amsterdam and Brussels. Also Brugge is still quite authentic. My Belgium highlight was to bring some beers home as a souvenir.

    Brugge

    Brugge

    Belgium souvenirs

    Belgium souvenirs