New Beginnings for 2016 and Beyond

12:00 (UTC±00:00 +DST), 03 APR 2016 | GBR HARROW, GREATER LONDON

Just yesterday, I had left the Starbucks not far from central Oxford and was headed to the town hall, apparently for “lunch” (which as I later found out, was just a quick “refreshment” — but given my wife Tracy thought I was colossal already, I was glad I just had a bit!).

Tracy got me into a room in the town hall, which was to be used in the afternoon for an event we would take part in. She asked me to come to the lectern for a photo opp. (You like doing that and giving speeches all the time!, she said, so on I went to “the set”. There was also virtually no-one else there, and it would be at least a full hour until the event would be underway, so we had plenty of time.)

I thought about using this pic (look at this great shot, my wife said to me) so to tell you all about a key shift in my life as I prepare for what’s next my end, career-wise. (Just let me adjust everything whilst I’m readying up the whole enchilada…)

Présentation 03 avril 2016 800

There we go… Now Tracy and I had just finished a few weeks where we consulted one other for solid plans. I myself am putting behind unpredictable times and have a fresh new vision, but also am true to that age-old adage — If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I have to say she is far more optimistic than I dared imagine — and both of us were also realistic. It meant that I might un-say what I used to say, but in the words of a close friend, I was wise to listen to my wife to “save my y—bl*s” (pardonnez mom Franglais!).

New Strategy: Constructive Solutions, Not (Merely) B*tching

I do admit I’m not in my Colgated / Sensodyned / Elmexed me, word-selection-wise, and that I ought to be spanked for coming this close to using potty mouth language. But I’ve come to the conclusion that negativity sans frontiers probably just won’t cut it.

When I came to the UK nearly two years back, I wanted to settle here for good. We could easily have done this: just six years habitual residency (the Swiss / EEA way) would earn us our then-eventual British passport, provided none of us did anything stupid (like get a criminal record).

There were two things that made that Great British Dream end up more like a pipe dream. The worst was when our kitchen literally exploded and our beds broke every six months (I kid you not! This never happened even in China — “poor quality China” concerns included!). Reason / excuse (“excuse”?) number two was this at the Waterstone’s…

British pessimism

Granted, I’m a Swiss from the German-speaking part of the country and we’re often seen as rather pessimistic (read: realist), but even here, we’re not “British like that”. Whilst that quote alone didn’t get me thinking of packing up, it added one more point to our Brexit point-collection board.

The one thing that academia drives me totally up the wall is this tendency to be negative, polemic-laden and being a downright scholarly hedgehog in an ivory tower. Academia, as I see it, is supposed to serve people by coming out with tangible solutions that work to improve our society. I myself see no need for this amount of crass negativity, especially if there are no tangible results coming out of an amplified tirade. And so my first new strategy is, quite simply, in the form of constructive solutions.

This means, quite simply, that rather than moan and groan about things, what really would work would be tangible results that, ideally, would change things for the better. Rather than abandoning academia and doing us all a disservice, I should do things my own way and in doing so, make academia of use to us all. This could be as basic redoing lessons so there’s a lot more interaction, or something else in the form of putting your suggested new theory into action. It also means approaching your work in a more constructive way. I’m all for citing new academics with thought-provoking ideas. I’m also all for making academia more accessible for all. None of us should need to hog the mic to bore millions with academicspeak. What we write should be what could be turned into action, or at least knowledge that helps people.

New Career Focus: Trains

Trains from Shijiazhuang

Trains have been part of me since the 1990s. I’ve been to just about all Tube stations in London as of this post. And I’ve had annual passes on the tracks both in Switzerland and the UK. In China I’m easily known as one of the most visible independent rail voices, and I’ve also been on the rails in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. And, most unexpectedly, I’ve gotten academics and the media increasingly interested on my interest on the rails (interest by the former was particularly “unexpected”, but still very much appreciated!).

It must come as no surprise to you, then, that my new rail-centric career baby is called, quite simply, Trains Plus (also styled Trains +). From this I can join the rails, quite literally, with every last thing (in)conceivable.

My Everyday Rail English project is what you get when the formula reads Trains + Language, and equally exciting projects are taking place with this formula also reading Trains + Media. Before I give all my secrets away, I’d like to secretly hint that there’s a lot that can be done when you add trains to what you love. I already see trains as those magical things that get me from A to B for talks, presentations, “Chinglish inspection” trips, and much more. They can also form part of my media shows, and be a moving stage for me as I introduce the world’s most populous nation to the world, be it as a website, a show, or a book.

There’s a fabulous amount of data on my Mac which could be put into great use by the rest of us if I got it together and brought it online again. (There’s my work cut out for myself again!) Having said this, do expect a few key updates to Tracking China soon!

New Career Stage: Media

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I like to see the media as a great way for me to express myself. I think it’s hardwired into me that the moment I’m in a studio (especially a radio studio), I’m “set loose” making great shows reality. I know this because in the early 2010s, I wowed a member of staff at China Radio International. We were there to record part of a show, and I was led into a recording studio with a pretty big microphone in the centre of the room. Everything was set up, so I just went ahead and “did my thing” in front of the mic. At the end of my recording, the member of staff was flabbergasted. You just went ahead and did your show like that!…, the staff member went, obviously very impressed with how I recorded content that was bound to attract an audience. It was pretty much like telling a really inviting story. (I later heard from friends around town that they’d tune in without me even announcing it on the Web. And they loved it all.)

I’ve got plenty of experience in media — I’ve been live on radio, starting out from university radio to city and national radio, with my first live show aired since 2004. I have also been active in other closely-related media or mediatised events, including emceeing events for a similarly long period of time.

I have a more holistic view of “media” — these include not just audio and video shows, but also books and columns. I’m already an active columnist at the website of Nouvelles d’Europe UK edition and at People’s Railway Daily, and my involvements here are set to expand somewhat further — I personally, though, prefer more gradual growth rather than just signing onto too many things too quickly. You’ll also see more blogs under one roof — the domain roof, that is — as I consolidate more blogs under this e-roof, so to speak.

I am also serious about doing my own media shows via the Internet — first tries were already done in late 2013, and now the “real” show should be with us in the summer of this year (that’s 2016).

Finally, a fair number of you might also know me as a media academic. That’s not going away anytime soon; I’ve taught media studies since 2012, and will continue to do so, both here in London, and later on, in Beijing as well. My main research in media, however, will gradually transition to include a visibly railway element in addition to social media and China. There’s an art in how the railways in China tweet updates, and I feel this art certainly is worth exploring — in a classroom, or indeed, on a train! Also, I’ll be much more involved as an academic who is also an active member of society. I’ve always told myself not to be locked in some random ivory tower.

Living Life as “One of Us Amongst Us All”

DF Natur pur

My idea has been to live life in both a responsible and sustainable way. And nope, I didn’t get my cues from some random government bulletin, I got it from living life day in, day out.

We’re not treating our planet with TLC (Tender Loving Care). Obviously this crass pollution is the most visible result. But there’s more. We’re not using both sides of a sheet of A4 paper to its fullest. We’re not flattening our drinks bottles (and thus we’re transporting empty bottles in more bags, thus for sure churning out more plastic bags). Some of us feast on the private parts of exotic seafood. We’re taught “man is the super animal”, so some of us have twisted it to mean we can do any old thing we want and expect to get away with it.

That’s not working.

In Beijing, government rules mean your car is off the roads at least one day a week. Late last year, I voluntarily give my car a second day off. Yes, infrastructure is now so good, you can get to the hotel I stayed in last time in Shanghai from my Beijing home by walking just for around 10 minutes or so to the nearest subway station — there’ll be direct connections to the railway station, then all you do is ride onboard your 5-hour HSR train to Shanghai, then finish it off with a Line 1 connection to central Shanghai. Look ma, no taxis!

I do think we need to do everything more considerably. We need to start questioning if we’re minimising our footprint enough. We need to squash our finished drink cartons, so we can fit more in a plastic bag and not churn out a tonne of extra plastic bags. We need to consider how we treat a dog that suddenly dashes through the road. I’ve seen one car strike that poor dog — it was utterly devastating and truly heartbreaking for me to witness that.

I think only when we live lives as members of “the wider community on Planet Earth” — as earthlings, placed as equals — living beings, rather than “flaunting our bio capital” as super beings, that we might have a shot at a more tranquil and balanced lifestyle. And that’s when we feel we’re actually in what I call “mutual respect equilibrium” (“zen”?).

Making People Understand Things Easier


In 1995 and 1996, I came across columns and books which radically changed how I viewed these reading matters. Instead of using hopelessly complex jargon, they used everyday language you could actually make sense of. And I loved these things the most.

It inspired me to use simple, understandable (but not “baby-ish”), and even, at times, witty and humorous words and expressions to keep the readership glued. It told me to use those words and expressions that the rest of us could understand the most. It reminded me that I was writing for a sizeable, yet on pen and paper invisible, audience. And it told me, especially in my academic involvements, to stay true to all this — to not to lose the audience in super-complex academicspeak.

This, too, will be a part of what I’m up to in future. As a Mac user and a Swiss, both of these elements stand for things that are simple, make sense, and are breathlessly easy to use. And I’d like to keep that in written and spoken form, now and also in future. I’d like to advocate the use of easy-to-understand everyday English. It’s what made sense to me — and, done right, will not “dumb things down”!

In addition to making text easier to understand, I’d like to do that with other things, too — anything from simple maps to slight more complex (but hopefully not too complex!) designs.

Keeping the Best of Existing Commitments

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My best-known existing commitments are trains, media, and to many extents, academia, but I’d also like to keep further existing commitments alive and well, too.

  • I’d like to keep on hunting Chinglish. This has been a big pet peeve my end. If you’re going to learn a new language, at least make an attempt to learn it the right way! At best, you make foreigners burst into peels of laughter at the wrong parts of the station; at worst, you make them miss their connection.
  • I’d like to continue bringing great shows and talks to you all. Both as emcee and as media show presenter, I’d like to make mic time my end work well for you. I’d like to weave together a performance seamlessly, to make time on shows I host just fly by with a healthy dose of smiles and laughter, and to also present media content and talks in ways you’d love to tune in and stay tuned to them.
  • I’d like to keep my World Citizen elements alive and well. Languages, multilinguality, and world travel are all key to this. Whilst I might risk appearing like a mad daydreamer in secretly declaring I’d like stamps from all countries in the world in my passport, the truth isn’t too far from that. I’d love to keep on exploring in particular parts of the planet I’ve never set foot in. And that’s a great big chunk beyond the Capital Ringway in Beijing, the Nordring in Zürich, or the M25 in London.
  • I’d like to remain a Beijinger and a Zürcher. I’d love to see both cities and countries get even better. I’d also like to tell more stories, especially “stories you never knew” about the two countries, to a wider audience. In particular, I’d like to visibly increase my participation in the Swiss communities around Beijing and the rest of China.

Of course, especially for those who know me well, that’s likely by far not the end of my wishlist…

April, April: Der weisst schon, was er will!

April, April… Der weisst nicht, was er will… So begins a German poem about April being unpredictable… most likely due to its very variable weather. April, April… it knows not what it will… So goes the “poetic moaning” about — well — unpredictability in general.

My end, though, I’m just about certain what’s up my end, both now and also in a few months down the line. So my end, it is more a case of: April, April: it now knows what it will!

I thank London for two enriching years, hundreds upon hundreds of weird and wonderful Tube stations, stage time and opportunities to entertain people from the world over, and an academic adventure unlike any other. I now look forward to the next big adventure — in Beijing, Zürich, London, Shanghai, New York, or indeed, wherever…! The move back to Beijing should not in any way be read as “retreating”, “seceding” even, from the West. The exact opposite is true. Beijing will be a bag drop, a home, but also our reestablished home airport city. Settling in Beijing means we’ll be flying and travelling around the planet whilst keeping our home base in the Chinese capital. In fact, we’ll probably be even more active in China than we were in London.

I’m more than ready for my arrival — be it with trains, media, or anything else, really, for that matter. Oh — and I’m also ready for my arrival onto any train that takes me to somewhere I’ve never been before…   

Finchley Road trains