It happened earlier this year in Inner Mongolia: my once-trusty Shure mic, which “clipped” onto the Lightning connector, decided to give it the quits. Happily, I had backups: a “traditional” iRig iMic which used the usual audio connector, and the USB variant, which I used. I grew up when Mandopop divas went onstage with a handheld mic and an extremely long cable, so to me, sound recording absolutely equated with an old school microphone you held in your hands. For a long time, I had wanted to make the audio set at home work for me.
The USB/Lightning mic I carry on me has recently been “converted” to become my podcasting-only microphone. I carry this with me in my black bag that I got from my BA Club World flight back to Beijing. I’ve tried recording without a “proper” mic and only using what my phone has: it does not sound optimal. This also means that I’ve finally, after many previous tries decades back, decided to enter the world of podcasting. The podcast I’m doing is called David Feng’s Cities. It makes sense as either I’m in cities or travelling to or away from them (or going in transit). As with all things Swiss and David Feng, this is a completely independent show.
Start by tuning in here! (Generally clean language!) ▶
If you were travelling clockwise on the 4th Ring Road and wanted to head north (coming in from the west) at Wanquan River Bridge (Wanquanhe Qiao), previously you had to use the slip road and wait for maybe two or three sets of traffic lights. They were timed so badly, you could have started with some kind of artwork masterpiece just by using moving your gearstick around as if it was a paintbrush! (I refer, of course, to those of us with proper cars, not those artificialised automated gear change systems.)
The good news is that the city authorities finally installed a separate “hook” bridge avoiding traffic queues — and that bridge opened to traffic today. It was still artistic as in it had plenty of curves, but now your wheels, not gearstick, would move like a paintbrush. The very bad news was that it was truly poorly designed. Of course to remove the “hook” bridge would be suicidal, but still, City Hall better think hard about how projects are to be completed with grace! ▶
No other “clean” expression in the English language today is enough to describe the utter amazement and my sense of being completely overwhelmed at how Beijing is doing its transport links to the new Daxing International Airport (which is what everyone’s calling it, in spite of the new airport not yet having an official name)…
It looks like nothing is sacred to planners who want to make this the world’s most important airport, ever. We’re looking at pics… which in essence shows, to the far end, a new High Speed Rail line being built (Beijing – Xiongan) as well as a motorway with a new airport express Beijing Subway line being sandwiched in the middle layer. You really can’t make this stuff up. ▶
The Beijing Subway is an epic element of “daily life” (as they say here in Beijing) my end. Whilst I don’t ride it day in day out, I do ride on it religiously enough that I’ve been to most stations (though not all, unlike London at the moment), and I’ve seen a few Chinglish fails.
So City Hall got me the chance to speak to 90 of the Beijing Subway’s “Ops-3” (Third Operations) company. These guys manage Lines 2, 8, 10, and 13, which included the city’s two loop lines, and the arc line as well. We also went over the basic, included ten phrases used in ten situations — gateline English, at the platforms, to deal with interchange routes, and many others.
But we saved the best for last. I treated Subway crew to nearly a hundred phrases or so used at major interchanges and stations across town, in mock situations, and to deal with horrendously complex transfer situations. ▶
The Central Southern Chinese province of Jiangxi is in a rather awkward part of the country. Bordering three of the nation’s better well-off provinces, Jiangxi itself has been rather slow in getting its transport network done right. The current 4×4 HSR network only has one solitary west-east 350 km/h (217 mph) line, the Shanghai-Kunming HSR.
Some years back, a new 8×8 HSR network plan was officially approved. This added a few more 350 km/h HSR hub cities in Jiangxi, including Nanchang, the provincial capital, and Ganzhou, a bit of Jiangxi which is just maybe a few hours shy of Guangdong, that one of the most populated and well-off provinces in Southern China, if not across the entire land. With Ganzhou to be a new HSR interchange pretty much rising from the middle of nowhere, local entities in the city wanted to make this a huge deal, so they invited me — and […] I keynoted a rather unique HSR forum: they actually held it in the open (under the auspices of local businesses)…
So after a very brief welcome by the organisers, I went onstage keynoting the entire forum. The 10-minute talk focused on quite a few things I wanted to get across: Ganzhou’s position in the national rail network, attracting international brands thanks to improve rail links, and cases of successful HSR transfer connections and benefits to the cities — with Weihai, Shandong in China being the local example, and London (two stations: London Bridge and the Stratfords) and of course Zürich, Switzerland, being the two international case studies certainly worth a look. ▶
I did the Everyday Rail English books in late 2017 so to clean up on China Railway’s epic mistranslations (they run great trains, but some translations are just totally random). It was bilingual for the sole fact that they had to have something to read in English, but all the descriptive text and others remaining in Mandarin Chinese. Like my Chinglish book, it found itself an unexpected international audience. There is hearsay this book made it big in the Belgian community in Beijing, both civilian and diplomatic (!??). As a result, this book began an unexpected second life as a book semi-primed for expats as well (supposedly so they could probably use pre-canned phrases to navigate their way around the rail network).
The Bookworm’s probably the most well-read, literally, of all expat hangout places in the Jing, so I decided to talk about the book, but also my documentary, and other untold stories of the Chinese railways, at the Bookworm for the 14 May 2018 event. The topic was so Sheldonesque I thought I’d get maybe just a few coming along for the ferrovial brainwashing. Except that I had underestimated interest in this…
Not only did I take a look at the raison d’être for the book — but I also went ahead with a few unknown facts (and hopefully less factoids) of the railways in China… such as the rather complex way they managed the stations on the Beijing-Shanghai HSR (11 different entities or bodies manage the 24 stations!), or how Muping has this Tottenham Court Road-like echo hall at the departures hall. ▶
This time a year ago, I left on Train G1 to Nanjing South and Hefei South. A year later, I’m in front of a microphone — not on a train — though at times both have happened at the same time…
The people at Radio Beijing timed the live show to happen exactly a year after the documentary started. We’re far from done… But it has shown me China beyond any dimension imaginable.
Pretty much wherever I’ve set up my camera and microphone — wired or wireless — I’ve been an item of curiosity. I’ve been identified by a member of the public once — at Wuxi Railway Station — but otherwise they’re rather low-key. There’s a reason I keep it like that — to uncover the station as-is, without anything extra (without any extras, in fact). ▶
If you thought people in Britain blew up in fits of fury and rage over Auntie Beeb helping herself to £145.50 a year for ad-free BBC to be viewed by those in Blighty, then they must consider themselves super-lucky. In Switzerland we easily pay double — it’s Fr. 451.10!
Sick to death of such mediatised extortion, some of us (of course, not me or my family) went ahead and launched a motion to kill the fee altogether and to also ban subventions (or grants) by the Swiss federal government.
[But d]umping Billag (the TV Licensing of Switzerland, so to speak), would put us on a very dangerous course to overly-commercialised content where money, not quality, was the defining factor. Meantime, shows in regional languages few spoke in real life would probably go down the shredder. Not good stuff! ▶
Next Station: China is loved by many a station — and feared by many a microphone. I say this after going through two Shure USB mics. Thankfully, I had my “blue bag” with me, with two wired microphones. I was about to plug the USB mic in as I arrived at Hohhot Main Station — then the bloody USB connector broke. The useless lemon!
The one stop before this, when I did want to pop on the handheld mic (due to heavy winds), was Mt Zhuozi, or Zhuozishan, station. It was absolutely brilliant, with an old station building on Platform 1 harking back to the Republican era. Not only has the old station building been well-preserved, it’s also found a second life as a station museum. Some of the rail treasures they’ve there are from rail departments that have now disappeared.
Inner Mongolia is not a complete stranger to me — Tracy and I visited the place as early as summer 2014 (we started out in Duolun, a rather spartan-and-less-well-off part), and went out to Xulun Hor and Taibus Banner further west (slightly better developed). Our first proper introduction to Cosmopolitan-ish Inner Mongolia was from November 2017, when we gave Ulanqab/Jining a visit. ▶
Even when I’m doing the documentary around all railway stations across China, I return home pretty much every night. However, tonight, the journey my end is accompanied by a fair bit of video gear, plus microphones (which I don’t use except for doing livecasts), and the sound of a train happily chugging away to Southern Central China. That’s right: I’m off to visit around 20 stations — and the journey will start off from Changsha, where I’ll also get to visit Changsha’s newest railway station, Changsha West. (Tracy is off to a culture programme, which is why for the next two weeks, we’ll be in different parts of the country.)
The trip my end will be semi-live in the form of tweets, the occasional Periscope livestreaming session, and a fair bit more. ▶