I cannot think of a more exciting place to take centre stage in than the city of Beijing. And I cannot think of a better way of pulling this off than with all the elements of Swissness.
You see, Switzerland is now such a big element of me that I simply cannot be myself without being Swiss. First things straight, I have a Swiss passport. This red booklet is a design classic and opens the gates to around 170 countries and territories — no visas needed! It also is one of Europe’s most multilingual passports, and there’s also a lot of “cantonal elements of Swissness”: on the first 26 pages intended for visas and stamps are printed the iconic buildings of every Swiss canton. The one that’s closest to me? The Wasserkirche of Zürich, just by the Limmatquai.
In the same canton, Zürich, I went to international school for just around a decade. The Inter-Community School gave me my first stage to perform on — things got off to a start when I read along with a fellow student, on a stage, in front of the microphone, a poem in French. Stage fright instantly disappeared, and my trek and path to bigger-still stages began in Switzerland, 20 years ago. (That’s why I call it “Stage Swissness” — made in Switzerland!) Equally 20 years ago, also in Switzerland, I coded my first HTML page that would eventually be one of only three websites to make it to the “wider” Internet — as a student page of the school on the Internet.
To not to be Swiss is impossible chez moi. ▶
I have to admit, I’ve mixed feelings when it came to the Gemeindesaal (or Community Hall, a “mini” City Town Hall of sorts) in Zumikon, Switzerland. It remained to me a lesser-favourite part of Zumikon, the place I went to school in Switzerland, for a fair bit of time — simply because we sat exams there — and it was rather scary. A grand hall for upwards of 500, converted to a hall of around 200-300 students sitting exams!
However, the whole thing changed on 14 December 1996. I remembered an audience that almost filled the entire hall — parents, kids, everyone, as everyone joined our school for an afternoon of performances just in time for the festive period. On a conservative count, I figured there were at least 200; more recently, I was told this figure could have been upwards of 500. ▶
Rumantsch is that mysterious, hidden language that only “comes to” if you take a look at a Swiss passport or ID card. On the last line of the inside back cover of our passport, where you might “usually” expect English, you get this instead…
Quest passport cuntegna in chip da datas electronic. Il passaport sto vegnir tractà cun quità e na dastga betg vegnir faudà, sturschi, donnegià u exponì a champs electromagnetics ferms. Mintga perdita dal passport sto vegnir annunziada al proxim post da polizia. In passport ch’è puspè vegni chattà na dastga betg pli vegnir utilisà.
I see you utterly confused! This is Rumantsch Grischun. ▶
It’s not a David Feng talk if it’s not about trains. With the population of just over two Londons moving from the countryside to the city every year across China, something will have to carry them. And whilst the country may have pretty much the largest national motorway network on the planet, it’s also home to over two-thirds of the world’s HSR tracks.
This already-massive network — at 19,000 km (11,806 miles) — is expected to grow even more by 2020, with figures by then to hit 30,000 km (18,641 miles) for the entire nationwide HSR network. With most trunk lines running at no less than 300 km/h (186 mph), this is going to be one of the most efficient ways to get across the country.
My talk on 12 April 2016 at the London Book Fair introduced urbanisation in China and its effects, with a focus on infrastructure. ▶
Urbanisation in China is something that is literally breathtaking to behold. In late 2009, I did a drive for about a hundred miles just east of Beijing. I was just absolutely stunned by just how urbanised this erstwhile rural part of the Middle Kingdom became. It has also meant massive upgrades for many Chinese. The hutong alleyways of Old Beijing, as an example, had communal toilets instead of toilets in each compound. For those living “above ground” as in what I call the “low-rise” flats, we had loos that looked like they were hastily rushed, and a minimal kitchen solution.
In newer flats, we have better amenities, an emphasis on recycling, better transport links, and improved security. And yet, what I find pretty saddening is whilst we’re being couch potatoes (or sucked in our 9 inch screens) in those newer, and probably glitzier, high-rises, we’re seeing more and more of the older parts of town go away — for good. ▶
I will be talking about China and urbanisation at the London Book Fair, which will be held at Olympia Exhibition Centre. For further details as to where you can find me, follow me on Twitter (@DavidFeng).
I am expected to talk around 15:55 on Tuesday, 12 April 2016, although I might begin a few minutes earlier depending actual situations, so if you’re coming, I advise you to come around 5-10 minutes before time.
The talk on urbanisation will also coincide with the release of a new series of books on China urbanisation. In addition to remaining active in the China media world, I will also be taking an increasingly closer look at China’s urbanisation. ▶
The average gearstick in a car — and as in which gear you select — will decide how fast your motorised monster will go — or in which way, rather. It is close to suicidal to suddenly yank it into reverse — especially if your car is in a higher gear. Not only do you risk ruining your car’s hardware, you yourself are at risk as well!
Switzerland has just less than a year to see if it can come to an agreement, of sorts, with Brussels — on the thorny issue of freedom of movement for EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens. Much of this depends right now on how the UK will vote on the contentious issue of Brexit. And yet, a new people’s initiative, RASA, proposes an immediate yank into reverse for the Swiss constitution’s Article 121a, which is the point of contention — by scrubbing it out of the constitution itself. It would be no less than be a Swiss version of the US Constitution’s article on Prohibition, to be struck out. It’s really no different to yanking the stick from 5th to reverse, just as Bern blindly finds a way to realise Article 121a. ▶
It had every last David Feng element possibly conceivable on the planet. Trains. Subways. HSR trainsets. Audiences. Comparisons between the Metropolitan line and Beijing’s Line 1 and the Batong Line extension. The audience at the London Transport Museum was wowed for an hour as I did my shtick — a one-hour presentation on From A to B in London and Beijing. Everything was fully localised for a London audience. Miles per hour appeared next to their SI equivalents, and the Victoria line was shown its Beijing counterpart.
In the London Transport Museum’s Cubic Theatre, over 80 were seated as they discovered how the Chinese rails and roads worked. I first started with a fact-and-distance check: the easternmost end of the bridge by the Tube platforms at Upminster, in essence the closest point on the Tube network to Beijing from inside the M25, was 5,302⅔ miles (8,099.2 km) away. That station was a new late 2015 addition: Changping Xishankou station. ▶
Just yesterday, I had left the Starbucks not far from central Oxford and was headed to the town hall, apparently for “lunch”. 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. 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. ▶