Sometimes, it’s the little things that make China’s HSR great. Like, say, the 261 km long Tianjin-Qinhuangdao HSR. At just 163 miles, this is hardly a major trunk line in one of the world’s largest countries, but it links the high speed lines between Beijing and northeastern China via Tianjin, Qinhuangdao, and the coast. This new line has allowed “full” HSR services to connect northeast China with Shanghai.
The new Zhengzhou-Xuzhou HSR isn’t massive, either, at “only” 362 km. Yet, for its mere 225 miles or so, this new line, good for speeds upwards of 350 km/h (217 mph), formed a crucial link — it was the first rail line good for such high speeds to connect between two of China’s most vital north-south HSR routes — the Beijing-Hong Kong and Beijing-Shanghai HSR routes. It also meant that my long-awaited connection from Xi’an (where I’ve ancestral roots) to Shanghai is finally reality. Most trains that run on this line “borrow” it to reach their final destination. ▶
Let me be honest with you all: I find an equal amount of grave, dismal, even abysmal faults in China, as I find it to be one of the best countries in the world. It’s natural: I was born here, and until I was 18, I used to be a Chinese citizen. I still live here — with all of my family.
I am hardly alone in this, as I’ve learnt. Most people — expats included! — have this conflicting love and hate of China and of Beijing. But I am not willing to be sold out to either extremes. I’m a poor Swiss citizen if we’re to be seen as “the best of” viewpoint neutrality. So what I do instead is to reinterpret neutrality as a “smorgasbord of views”.
I’ll continue to have a love-hate relationship with the city — and the Middle Kingdom as a whole — as it’s a real, living, breathing experience — and because we all care about this place. Dearly. ▶
In London, for as much as work as I did finding Swissness at Sainsbury’s, M & S, and Waitrose (I deliberately shun Tesco as much as I can, and I never do Aldi, Lidl, or the like), I found only limited Swissness when it came to dairy products. I was a regular Onken yoghurt consumer, but as it had German roots, I wanted to look for something “more authentically Swiss”. And the only Swiss yoghurt you got were at Whole Foods, from a local dairy in Bischofszell (or thereabouts), Canton of St Gallen. You could easily forget what Waitrose passed off as its Number 1 choice for chocolate — I as a Swiss feel quite insulted that we weren’t picked (but the choice was made pre-Brexit, so they could always reconsider!).
For Beijing, by no means are they cheap (apart from the occasional sale), but if it’s something that won’t kill you, I’m going for it at all costs. ▶
In Switzerland our only “really” global airport is not located in the Federal City (much the equivalent of a “real” capital in other countries), Bern, but Zürich. It is only the “real” 100% Swiss airport of a major dimension (since the airports in Geneva and Basel have connections to nearby France, but all exits at Zürich Airport lead solely to Swiss territory).
We are somewhat satisfied with our 3-runway (or two-and-a-sort-of-half runway) airport, which is in a well-forested part of suburban Zürich. We completed around a decade back the new Fingerdock E, which is where most intercontinental flights land. The inside of the airport has also been massively redone, from the toilets to the concourses and shopping areas. The inside of the Airside Centre, in fact, feels not much unlike Shanghai Pudong!
However, it is the explosive growth of Beijing’s new air hub — Daxing International Airport, as it is sometimes known — that simply wows me in full. A few days back, I took my car for a spin, dashcam and other imaging devices ready, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new airport in the making. What I saw was enough to make me faint: basically miles on end of cranes and construction sites meaning that this new airport was about to become reality — very soon! ▶
I was in Yanqing just a few days back. This part of Beijing joins Miyun as the last parts to be converted from county to district status. This wasn’t my first time to this part of the Chinese capital, but it was my first “real” trip inside the newly-upgraded district.
Yanqing is, admittedly, a fair bit away from central Beijing. Therefore, you can’t blame parts of it looking as if it was still stuck in the 1980s. However, it remains visibly vibrant. Just look on the main avenues… symbols of the Winter Games to come and winter sports symbols as well… All Yanqing really needs is a fuller upgrade and it’ll be good for two events — the 2019 World Horticultural Exhibition — and the 2022 Winter Olympics, together with central Beijing and Zhangjiakou. ▶
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You’re seeing a black-and-white copy of the first part of my Swiss visa on my old, and now expired, Chinese passport. That was what I used to come to the Alpine republic. When I left for Beijing in 2000, I left Zürich Airport with the classic red booklet — the Swiss passport. The Swiss cross of worldwide fame was no longer restricted to a classical Wappe; it had taken over the entire cover of the passport.
Switzerland has given me so much for my past 12 years there. The country still continues to be part of what I do, day in, day out. Not sold? Here’s what it gave me… ▶
I’m headed back to Beijing in around a month, after all these years in the UK. Beijing, indeed, is the place I was born in. I’ve always kept my homeland and Beijing close to me — and it shows in all the involvements I’ve been part of. In the past two years, I’ve been more involved academically, am a closer part of the London Chinese community, have been part of events and meetups amongst locals in London, have been closer to UK media and the rail world, and through all this, now understand the UK better — not least also through my travels to all 32 London Boroughs and The City, as well as all lines and stations on the London Underground and the DLR.
Beijing is the city of the future. Once back “in the Jing”, I’m going to be involved in the Chinese capital as never before. My main career is obviously going to be rail-centred, but I’ll also keep a firm footing in academia, Beijing’s international events, and particularly the Swiss community in Beijing and across all of China. The Beijing & Zhangjiakou 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, as well as the building of the northern China megalopolis around Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei, are stories that will define our time and are unique in their own right. This is where I’ll also come in with my own experience and know-how, as I do my part in making China and its people better off and living better lives daily.
Here’s a look back at 25 pictures of two highly successful years in Britain. ▶
«Da isch ja mega, sehr geil!»
My favourite from the many Schmirinskis skits (of Swiss TV fame) was one involving one of these hors-la-loi skiing down an unauthorised path. After having cleared some distance, he let out a string of Alpine yodel-ish exclamations ending in «Da isch ja mega, sehr geil!», which literally means How cool is that!? in English…
Lea Bridge station came (back) to life in one — 31 years after it closed down. (For those of us born after 1985 however, it’d be the inaugural opening.) «Da isch ja mega, sehr geil!» was my first reaction, for not only was it my first-ever station opening (outside of Ji’nan West station of the Beijing-Shanghai HSR), but it was my first on non-Swiss, non-Chinese soil. I took the opportunity to take a fair number of pictures — mostly souvenir snaps, too.
My train to Lea Bridge departed at 20:08 from Ponders End (actually it departed a minute late. We pulled into Lea Bridge at 20:20:38 (that’s from my iPhone records), and I pushed the Door open button and the whole crowd erupted into wild cheer. ▶
Europe can throw weird things at you.
Sweden is probably the third nation I’ve seen across Europe that has had its stations inspired by our Helvetic font now used by much of Switzerland — from federal government logos and passports through to street signs — Frutiger. (The first I’ve seen was the Netherlands, and the second, Austria.) We made a second stop at Triangeln before arriving at Malmö Central Station, which at platform level looked like a cross between a Beijing Subway Line 15 station and Stansted Airport Railway Station. The inside was much nicer, though, and it could have been seen as the Scanian version of Beijing’s south station. ▶