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The JavaScript Community in China

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Last weekend was hujs in Shanghai, China. This conference was organized by Glenn Block and Troy Howard from the US and Guang Yang, Goddy Zhao and Jackson Tian from China. As far as I know, this was the first ever JavaScript community conference in China. I was honored to be a part of it and be invited to speak.

Getting to China was somewhat difficult since it involves getting a visa. I work for Cloud9 remotely from Texas and the nearest Chinese Consulate is over 300 miles away (and they don’t accept mailed in applications). With Glenn’s help, I quickly got the visa, hotel, and plane tickets straightened out. Flying west over the Pacific Ocean was a new adventure for me, but the real adventure was when I got to China.

The people there are very friendly and service oriented, but unluckily for me, I don’t speak Chinese and many people there speak little or no English. After 26 hours of traveling and 14 time zones, I made it to my hotel. I was pleased to find that taxis are very affordable if you stand your ground, and most power outlets support american plugs.

The organizers treated us speakers to an afternoon and evening on the town. We went to the Perl tower which had a mini-mall, a roller coaster, the largest Namco arcade I’ve ever seen, and a glass floor where you stand looking at the ground hundreds of feet below. The parallax effect while walking was unnerving, but very fun.

All the while the English speakers and the Chinese speakers had great fun communicating. Their English was considerably better than my Chinese, so most  conversations ended up being in English.

The next day the conference started. The content was great! The wifi was good most of the time, and other than the firewall blocking access to sites like Twitter, Wikipedia, and most Google sites, the internet was fast enough.

The first thing I realized while being in this remote time zone was that night and day were switched. This meant that I had very little overlap with my friends back in America. Combine this with the block on most social networking sites and the language barrier and I now understand while Chinese developers seem so quiet in our open source communities.

On the flip side, they have little distractions to prevent them from writing awesome code. There were some very smart developers I met there. In particular I was impressed with MoeScript by Belleve Invis and node-webkit presented by Zhao Cheng. The parties at night were sponsored by various hacker spaces. I hacked on a tiny TP-Link router that can be converted into a $10 computer complete with wifi and GPIO ports. The perfect robot brain. We met at the working space of the GitCafe team for the first night part and again for the Hackathon on the last day.

Since not all of the audience understood English well, most of the Chinese speakers gave their talks in their native tongue. I tried to listen to as many of these talks as I could. Surprisingly, I was able to understand a lot of them. Especially the ones that were code heavy or had English in the slides. The most interesting experience was the speaker panel on the first day. Since I spoke in the morning, I was in this panel. I was sitting near the wind.js author. If you haven’t heard of this project, it’s a transpiler that lets you write co-routine based JavaScript and translates it to vanilla JavaScript. (somewhat like streamline.js). The last question for the panel was asked in Chinese about wind, but somehow I knew exactly what they were talking about. The guy from the audience was asking why he should use a tool like wind when he has tools like step and async. The author was explaining how a source transformer is different and makes it easier when your app has complex logic that involves I/O. I understood the conversation not because I know Chinese, but because I know JavaScript communities. I’ve heard the exact same conversations in English before.

As I left the conference and started the long journey home, I felt glad to be welcomed and loved by people from so far away. Several of the local developers were very happy to see us foreign developers in person. One of them told me that he never thought he would get to meet me in his life, but was glad to meet me. Now when I see a post on the nodejs mailing list or somewhere else where their English is broken and the intent of the question is hard to understand, I’ll try to remember the smart people I met in China.





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  1. gbraad says:

    Tim, great to see you enjoyed the meeting in Shanghai.