Those of you who know me well obviously must know that the approval people at SAFEA (Chinese State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs) and the immigration police must (not) be aware of the secret double life I am leading in China. While most of you will be brainwashed that I’m into brainwashing about trains, thus making me the epic Beijing clone of Sheldon Cooper, the official people recognise me more as associate professor at the Communication (or Media) University of China, and hence status as foreign expert. (Which as I see is the most useless, pointless, and patronising title bestowable upon me, or anyone at that, ever. Didn’t you guys in China concoct the Great Wall on your own? Then why now this administrative kowtowing to “foreign experts”?)
Oh well. The SAFEA guys arranged me to come to this International Symposium on Higher Education Development 2017 forum held at Xiamen University (same place where I did my BRICS train talk in August). And in a typical Chinese official way, they paid me First Class round-trip HSR tickets (I had uncovered from the SAFEA site that this was “normal practice” when inviting foreign experts). Only upon boarding did I know that I’d be a chair for the meeting, but 2017 was a true banner year, where I got to keynote TEDx (making my third onstage TEDx appearance so far), so this was going to be no problemo my end. (Since late 1996, in fact, and particularly since late 2003, I’ve relished taking centre stage.) ▶
Hong Kong remains this place in my heart, like Shanghai, as one of those Chinese cities where you’ve got just about everything. But it looks like, especially after my London days, HK has more. Lots more.
Like legacy fonts. I remembered these on the Swissair of old. Fonts that reminded you to the 1990s, when we didn’t have a nukes-obsessed dotard on 1600 Covfefe Avenue (or the equivalent north of the 38th parallel) whose one push on the soft red rubber button of death would end humanity as we know it. The 1990s were a time of freer and more peaceful days…
The 1990s also brought forth Hong Kong’s then-new international airport. It does look a little dated now, but Kai Tak was just epic insanity. ▶
The 2017 Beijing Foreign Language Festival was held in some of the weirdest weather ever. You’ll note that the huge billboard to my back was probably dented and pierced by some out-of-control toddler. That’s right, as we had to ensure nobody got hurt by equally maddening and out-of-control gusts — real, big-time heavy winds!
As a result we only had so many of us super-intrepid people braving the wind, but in full force they did come. For once, I was set free onstage by myself to talk about trains. Interestingly enough, we had the Beijing Subway do their bilingual shtick first before I went onstage and took people on an imagined bilingual trip from Chaoyang Park out via the tube network to Beijing South, then onward to Shanghai.
With High Speed Rail being the way to get around now, we’re swearing by the trains more these days than at it… ▶
Pingguoyuan terminus on Line 1 is still here as of this writing, but not for long. It’s going away to get redone into a three-line hub, where it’ll co-host Lines 6 and the Mentougou Maglev. That’s going to be good when it happens in future, but for now it’ll mean we’ll have services cut back a stop, to Gucheng. Pingguoyuan will go dark as it’s being remodelled and, hopefully, expanded big time from the 1970s invention it is right now.
So it’s one more ride for the moment to Pingguoyuan, the only station on Line 1 not on Chang’an Avenue. As a result, it tilts probably 50°-60° to the northwest, making its mark felt clearly on the Subway map.
Being built in the 1970s, it was built at a time when Peking feared invasion from Moscow or DC more than the millions in the city that’d be one day taking this platform by surprise, so everything’s very spartan and not as big as you’d think. ▶
On 01 August 2008, China did what no other country on Planet Earth did — operate trains at 350 km/h (217 mph). On 23 July 2011, the horrendous Wenzhou crash happened, killing 40. The then-head of the mainland Chinese railway authorities, Sheng Guangzu, had little recourse but to ask the prime minister to lower speeds to 300 km/h (186 mph).
Sheng retired in late 2016. However, it was under his administration that work started in earnest on an “all-Chinese” trainset, the CR Revival Express (a train which was also made inherently safer and better at higher speeds).
That very same screamer sped out of Beijing South in the morning hours of 21 September 2017, with yours truly onboard Train G1. Top speed reached 350 km/h (217 mph). Once again, China had the world’s fastest train. ▶
Looks like TEDx won’t be mobile any time soon… Still, if there was anything close to this, on the rails, China.org seems to have pulled it off with its Zhen Xiang series of talks — one topic, many voices and ideas. In the course of just 90 minutes, we had three talks, with me being the second one, all about railways in China, and especially the epic High Speed network. It started with a rail vehicle expert from CRRC, Mr Deng, and ended with award-winning HSR Chief Conductor Ms Li Yuan.
My talk was more about my experience on the Chinese rails — and also how it began with Swiss roots. Also, my documentary was mentioned as well — how can you not mention something that’s hit around 150 stations so far?
I’ve seen the railways during good times and bad. The expansion and brave forward-looking new projects of the late 2000s and early 2010s. How the railways were hanging in by just a thread in the wake of the terrible Wenzhou disaster in 2011. The recent recovery, starting in late 2013, and continuing through to this present day. China’s undergoing a rail revival, and it’s big as with travellers inside the country as it is with those outside. ▶
Looks like I can’t quite stop talking about trains…
The China Communication Forum, held at Xiamen University, had me as a speaker about trains, of course. But instead of the tech-Sheldon-ish aspects, it was far more about the Arteries of Communications — a term “born” of this conference, which in particular fitted into my talk well on the trains and what they mean.
The arteries had roots in China with its first high speed lines in the 2000s. As the network expanded, more of China became connected. Of course routes started running to the frontiers, but also further more in the heartland and across the seafront. Eventually, the network became so big, previously planned networks were being realised years ahead — such as the 2020 goal, which was realised 5 years ahead of time. ▶
The Canadian settlement of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! shares a similarity with this post — it is one of the very few such posts on my domain to end in an exclamation mark! But it finally happened: I got to talk to hundreds and hundreds of PR crew at China Railway — particularly those doing new media posts.
For a moment I just couldn’t believe this was happening. It was just f*cking epic. (Sorry.) OK, granted, I had spoken to rail crew about dumping Chinglish for proper English — but these were more local, confined to a particular geographic area of China. To pretty much have representatives of the entire nationwide network in front of you was not something the average, totally random mere mortal could really pull off. ▶
This new line goes through an incredibly mountainous part of Central and Western China, zipping through Tianshui, Dingxi, and other stations. Along with wife Tracy, I got to ride on the new line out from Xi’an North to Xining, incorporating the Baoji-Lanzhou bit, and got a look at Lanzhou West Railway Station. (Some have deemed that to be one of the lesser well-done HSR hubs, but I see it quite differently.)
Much of the line appeared to be familiar to me — remember I had been to all stations on the Xi’an-Baoji HSR, so it was only after we left Baoji South that the new bit of the line meant I was looking out the window. Quite a bit. Or at that, just a bit. The new high speed line went through probably a million tunnels, this being a very mountainous part of China.
When we did have a look at the countryside, I had to look very closely at a station we were only going to zip through — Dongcha Railway Station. Media interviews included me looking away to see if I’d finally snapped Dongcha station (I did do that on tape, or rather video), as the station was very unique. Initially it was intended only to be a place where trains would overtake one other — ie let slower trains take a breather whilst faster ones zipped by. However, they eventually converted this to a proper station. And not any station: Dongcha would feature, as I saw on pics released just before the line opened to the general public, a rather long, all-enclosed elevated walkway from the station building to the platforms, as they weren’t exactly under the HSR rail line viaduct. ▶
So after filming three more stations on 27 June 2017, we got back to Beijing late that evening and hopped right onto Train G123 the next day. Yes, 48 hours late, somewhat inexcusable for the Shanzhai Sheldon Cooper of Beijing, but oh well.
The new Revival Express train is in red. This to me is an excellent choice for colour… even before 1949, red was seen as a very Chinese colour. When people got married, it’s known as a “red party”. Enterprises are established at lavish parties where guests of honour wear “red tags” with a red flower and baskets of flowers (fake or real) are draped with ribbons of red. Over Chinese New Year, money is stuffed in red packets. Coincidentally, the present-day largest-denomination banknote, CNY 100.—, is pinkish-red. Red was also the colour of the walls around Tian’anmen, Zhongnanhai, and the Forbidden City. So it made sense to have a red train literally in the China of the same colour! ▶