Chongqing ground zero

2013: What just happened?

Here’s my year in review, mainly for the benefit of my future self. Apologies in advance for the selfie-ness of this post.

In February, after a layover in Paris to visit the Louvre, I made it to Rabat, to give a workshop on Internet security to Middle East activists, on behalf of the Swedish Institute. The main message: Be afraid and be vigilant; it is relatively easy for state agents to infiltrate your laptop and your mobile phone. Those warnings now seem quaint in light of Edward Snowden’s later revelations.

I then took the train to Fez, which had been the highlight of my trip the first time I was in Morocco, in 1991, when I backpacked all the way to Marrakesh. In the intervening 22 years, Morocco has metamorphosed into a remarkably modern country. Even Fez has changed, from a dirt-poor medieval city to a tourist destination with trendy Internet cafés and boutique hotels. The main question now: How will Fez’s famous tanneries navigate modernity? The dirty, smelly process is a photogenic tourist magnet, but it’s unhealthy for the guild workers, and uncompetitive with modern industrial processes. I took my first gigapixel photo there, to document an endangered cultural heritage:

I visited London in March, to meet an ailing friend — it turns out, for the last time. I helped bury her late in July.

Late April headed to Chongqing for a week, to see the remarkable metamorphosis of this city for myself, and to recalibrate my intuitions about China after two years of being away. I spent my days walking the streets, riverbanks and mushrooming new housing complexes, and practiced my bad but improving Chinese on the very friendly locals. Chongqing exudes a giddy optimism tempered only by the pollution that now ails all China’s cities. I did not see my shadow once all week, despite the “fair” weather.

I also headed to Chengdu for the day, via high-speed rail, streaking across a fertile basin where the occasional blurred peasants could still be seen toiling in their rice paddies.

My Chongqing photo set on Flickr.

Below is a series of video vignettes from my trip to Chongqing:

In May I attended the Stockholm Internet Forum, when it was still possible to believe that we have little to fear from the state when it comes to safeguarding human rights on the Internet. I wrote about the cause for The Local, here and here.

Early June saw me in New York and Washington DC, for my annual pilgrimage to these cultural capitals and the friends that live there. News of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing broke while I attended Personal Democracy Forum in NYC, and it electrified the audience. Little did we know what lay in store.

Summer is best in Sweden, so I spent most of it there. First, I entertained some Belgian friends visiting Stockholm; then, I helped a friend sail his gleaming new sailboat from southern Sweden to Stockholm.

Early August, I finally managed to properly visit Scotland, driving to Skye from Glasgow with friends and spending the days walking the fells. In a fortunate bit of timing, we got see the Highland Games in Portree.

Here’s the Flickr photo set of that trip.

Later in August I attended Sweden Social Web Camp on an island off the southern Swedish coast. It’s where Sweden’s geek squad goes to hang out with kindred spirits, and a great way to recharge the batteries at summer’s end.

In September, everyone at Söderhavet, where I work, headed for Biarritz, to brainstorm the company’s future.

From there it was just a short hop to San Sebastian, the culinary capital of Europe, where we ate very well indeed.

Back in July I had pre-ordered an Swedish bitcoin mining computer, so that I could get my hands dirty with cryptocurrencies and properly understand their mechanics, rather than just theorize about them from afar. The machine arrived late October, just as bitcoin hype headed for the stratosphere, along with its value. Great timing.

KnCMiner Mercury

Early November I was in Berlin for the marriage of an old friend from my days in New York.

At Söderhavet, after a year in development, we launched Sweden’s new global identity and a revamp of its official information portal, to rave reviews.

Later in November, I once again headed to China for a week — this time, back to Shanghai, and for the first time to Suzhou and Nanjing. The trip was prompted in part by cheap tickets, a desire to catch up with my Chinese teacher in Shanghai (we continue to have Skype lessons twice a week) and other friends, but also by a newfound appreciation for the historical importance of Suzhou and Nanjing after having read a bunch of books about the Taiping civil war this past year. In Nanjing I visited the Taiping war museum, but also the Nanjing Massacre museum, which memorializes the Rape of Nanjing, where in a space of 6 weeks the invading armies of the Japanese killed over 250,000 civilians. I found it to be very moving, and remarkably restrained; yet it’s clear the place also serves as a Masada for Chinese conscripts.

As usual, I headed to Antwerp for Christmas, to spend it with my parents, my sister, and her thriving family. Before flying back out of Schiphol, I managed to visit Amsterdam‘s newly reopened Rijksmuseum after its 10-year renovation. State of the art.

Best book I read in 2013: Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War by Stephen R. Platt. It brought me all the way to Nanjing.

Best iPhone game I played in 2013: Letterpress, at which I am oddly unbeatable. There was also a late surge by Kami, but I finished that too quickly.

Best computer game I played in 2013: BioShock Infinite. Just so beautiful.

Best new tech: Easy — my Oculus Rift. Here’s why.

Best Film: Gravity.

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