I’ve been avoiding large (marathon) events; why disturb the peace of running by yourself on a random dike in the Netherlands? However, I got invited for a run with the team of startpagina.nl and I couldn’t resist. It was also a great motivation for me to run throughout the summer. This run from Amsterdam until Zaandam is one of the largest in the Netherlands with almost 90.000 participants. I used to be very serious about my time; No talking, no sightseeing and straight to the finish. This day I decided to enjoy the experience. High fiving the little kids beside the road. Due to the warm weather, I drank some water at every stop (not something I usually do) and finished within my goal of 1h 30m. This was my third event I ran on my five fingers and I realize it’s not so popular in the Netherlands. (people keep asking about them). Arriving in Zaandam, I took the train back home. Leaving the town, I was pleasantly surprised with it’s center architecture. It looked typical Dutch but with a modern twist.
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I was delighted to visit the sea in Korea! Since the end of the summer season was also approaching here, family was worried that I wanted to swim, but to my surprise the sea was warmer then I’m used to. This Boryeong beach is famous for an annual mud festival. The place is buzzling with small dining ventures and mud therapy centers. And actually, I wasn’t the only one in the water; The people in the water came to swim or hang out on their inflatable boats.
After swimming we ate ‘Whe”, thinly sliced raw fish and other raw seafood (similar to Japanese sashimi); This restaurant was based right outside the port, full with small fisher vessels. Based on the first floor of the building, we had a great view over the harbor. Whilst getting used to eating while sitting on the floor, the Soju was welcomed with these raw foods. (Korean rice liquor) The food wasn’t cheap but it was quite an experience.
Another marker of the end of the summer were the Chuseok preparations, which is a celebration of the good harvest, Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional food such as songpyeon and rice wines such as sindoju and dongdongju. It’s a typical time to meetup with the family. Unfortunately I had to travel back to the Netherlands for the real ceremony but I was happy to join the mother’s side of the family for a great dinner.
To keep in shape and defeat jet-lag, I ran an 11km run upon arrival. I really wanted to run but Korean traffic seems really dangerous and I don’t like waiting for traffic lights while working out. An alternative plan was to do 40 rounds on the university’s running track. Fortunately, I found a river running all the way from our appartment to the city center. This was a great to run, as you can see in the photo there was a dedicated cycle track with soft asphalt. Mountains in the distance and a river. I saw crane birds, storks wonderful. Closer to the city, Koreans were sitting beside the water, I found that a friendly nod leads to smiles like 99% of the time :-)
The chemical lab looking device (photo) works like this: You add a liter of ice water in the top level water container, followed by about 100 grams of grounded coffee in the compartment below, then simply let’s it run and wait for about 6 hours. The ceramic or paper filter starts dripping and you store the dutch coffee in the fridge. Really refreshing! Whilst I saw this device for the first time in 2012, I was able to order Dutch coffee in most Korean coffee places, and even in Shanghai. Read more in my blogpost from 2012 regarding this coffee.
Korea is such a dynamic place which gives me a lot of energy. Yesterday I meetup with Kakao. Their Kakaotalk messenger is the ‘Whatsapp/wechat’ of Korea, and outside. They have 140 million visitors, it’s great technology of which a lot can be learned. Very exciting to see their office from the inside and have a peek into this technology company; It shows that Korea harbors modern and cutting edge technology companies these days. See more pictures from their office here. Besides Kakao, I also had the pleasure to meet Sun Hyun Woo. Hyunwoo Sun is a YouTube star and one of the best Korean language teacher in the world. Together with the team he built he has a community of over 110.000 Korean learners (200k facebook likes) around the world. If you are interested in Korea and the Korean language there is no way not to find Hyunwoo Sun’s free lessons on http://talktomeinkorean.com. Since they started a cafe (named you are here cafe) in Hongdae, we couldn’t resist to have a look and meet the people behind this concepts.
It was a short trip. Almost forgot to eat some Korean barbecue. Actually, Korean food is about way much more then barbecue. But who can say no to such a dinner before leaving back home?
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, and ate a modern Shanghainese meal with 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. 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.
My father in law came over from Korea. A rare occasion so Suna and me wanted to do something special. Whilst planning his trip, we realized that during his last visit, we had already shown him most of the popular spots we knew. But not the southern provence of Limburg! After booking a holiday house, we decided to give him a full tour in that area, we visited Maastricht, Aachten (DE), Monschou (DE) and Spa Francorchamps. It was a nice week. Had a chance to run in the area, made barbeque in the yard, played games (go-stop is a Korean card game) and I got some reading done there. Since we were planning to visit Andre Rieu (small video here) we booked tickets on our last night there. People around me think Andre Rieu is a bit corny with his popular waltz music. Actually, I haven’t seen Andre play his instrument that much, but he is such an outstanding character, it really makes the show!
I was looking forward to this day. It would be all about summer. But instead, I got up in the morning and it was grey outside, and the rain was falling. I told myself it wouldn’t be bad and drove the 1,5 hr all the way up north to Enkhuizen. By the time I got there, the sun came through and I met the crew of this epic sailing event specialisterren.nl, our destination: Stavoren (on the opposite of the lake) and I quickly realized sailing isn’t about relaxing and sitting back. It’s hard work to halyard, make hitches and be cautious about what’s happening around you, all this with a lot of wind and rain in your face. As the only first timer, I thought we were don’t well and enjoyed our time out there. Until… we hit the seabed with our keel. Yes. We were going a good 7 knots, and suddenly we all felt a small tremble and a flinch in our velocity and looked at each-other, grabbed what we could and a few seconds later, the boat hit the seabed and with a huge slam, and with a bouncing motion, we almost came to a full stop. Turns out we steered right into undeep waters (< 3 meters). We began raising the keel immediately and calmly waited the shallow waters out. In the end the crew inspected the ship, laughed that everything was ok, and we all continued our journey. Turns out the map did warn us of this, we just came in to quickly. An potentially dangerous mistake. Soon after this, we arrived at the Stavoren harbour and enjoyed a nice meal and shared the story with the second specialisterren boat, who managed to get there quicker than us. Suddenly I realized I was worried about the weather for nothing. The typical Dutch skies with a few raindrops here and there actually contributed to the experience. I got to appreciate the landscape and the country a little bit more. Back in the harbor, we reviewed the day and the team was planning to stay the night and head out the next day again. For me it was enough, happy to be back on land I drove back to our home.
These weekly Korean lessons in Amsterdam are taking a large part of my weekends, so when non curriculum events occur I usually get on my way. However, last week, they organised a calligraphy workshop.
Since my father-in-law considers calligraphy more then a hobby, I felt obliged to partake. Whilst I didn’t expect it, calligraphy is quite fun. There is also something tranquil about putting hangeul or a hanja character on paper. Together with an official stamp, our first attempts looked like the real deal.
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.
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. 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.
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.
It seems like unitedstyles.com is down. Looking at that 404, is this the end of the startup that I cofounded? I never did put my thoughts about those years on this blog. It started with an idea; The webshop was inspired by the look-book generation of online shoppers, who follow bloggers online for their inspiration. Together with three european entrepreneurs, I co-founded UnitedStyles in 2011. Whilst others could focus on the fashion and marketing aspects, I was in charge of building the website from scratch and building the IT team from our office in Shanghai. We started in Shanghai as the city offers both expertise in fashion creation and IT development.
We launched in October 2011, at Techcrunch Disrupt Beijing and became finalists, meaning we could present the company to the techcrunch audience (300k people) twice! Still one of my proudest moments to date, here’s the article they wrote about us. It really kicked things off; Shortly after, we were chosen by FastCompany as one of the top 10 most innovative global fashion companies. In the wake of all this attention, we managed to hit the national press several times in all the markets we were operating; The Netherlands (nu.nl, telegraaf a.o.), Japan, Russia, Singapore and China (cbn weekly (first time to see myself in Chinese magazine)). This led to sales directly, and also to return customers.
Here’s a youtube video my wife receiving her first unitedstyles dress. The process of co-creating and delivering fashion at doorsteps worldwide was a thrilling experience. Every dress had it’s own story. At one point we had about twenty people working in our office. From fashion designers to stitchers to software developers. It was really fun seeing the (mostly Chinese) IT people talking about features, and the (mostly western) fashion designers about feelings. In terms of technology, I think the web application was quite revolutionary. In the wake of HTML5 and increasing tablet usage, offered a design engine in SVG, which worked well in all the browsers at the time. Furthermore, designers could upload with Adobe Illustrator and we then allowed customers to generate 3D previews of their dress, skirt or coat on our webshop directly. However, after the impressive launch, the startup company seemed to hit a wall. As we wanted to grow, we needed investment money but it turned out to be hard to find VC’s in China willing to invest in a company run by foreigners. Slowly, the expansion opportunities seemed to dry up and things got rather difficult. The frustrating aspect of this was that sales where still coming in. And besides that, aspiring fashion designers seemed to have found our site interesting to practice designing with, leading to high returning traffic. Well, it seems to be down at the moment.
I want to thank my former team, family and friends for putting up with me while we were working on this company six days a week, deep into the nights! The demise of a startup isn’t fun. But I guess, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and even though nothing tangible remains, I did learn a lot from the experience!
* Don’t focus too much on the technology, get a cashcow
- . I focussed way to much on enabling 3D and the latter. We could have ‘faked’ a few steps and increased turnover with a star product to wow our potential investors in the future.
* Stay small while you can. We dreamed big and put our stakes high from the start. If I would do it again, I would take it slowly
The evolution of the site
At the Catalan wedding, the bride threw her bouquet in the air.
We left our house in the early morning (4:30 am!) to travel to Tarragona today, visiting the wedding of two dear friends of us. An international Japanese/Spanish couple that live in Shanghai. They host a party in Spain for the family of the groom. Nevertheless, a small delegation of Japanese did fly over.
At was a great party; Great food and I was amazed with the dancing. The elderly danced the waltz, the younger ones enjoyed salsa and the Japanese seemed keen to do horse-dancing on Gangnam Style. The Catalan received their Japanese, Korean and Dutch guests like family.
Over the last few years, Sanoma thew some huge parties for christmas. However, considering the large downscaling the company went through in 2013, a huge party didn’t seem in order. There was room for a small party with a DJ. Nevertheless it was a great (and jam-packed) evening! I managed to borrow a google glass v2 from a nu.nl journalist for a while, the first time wearing glass was very interesting. Drank way to much at the party but had great fun.