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. ▶
I used to take High Speed trains in China for granted, especially in the earlier years. The horrific Wenzhou crash changed all that. Yes the PR guy at the railways did say truly ridiculous things back then. But then you get over this whole thing, and rethink HSR and the benefits it has created for the country. Which was why I returned to the High Speed rails in October 2011.
Starting from 2012, I’ve decided to, as much as possible, travel on High Speed trains on the very first day of the year. I’ve been able to do this for 2012, 2013, and 2017. Last year I was seen off at the station by some of the best people in the rail industry here around Beijing. This year, it’s my wife, Tracy, coming with me onboard the Revival Express, the fastest train in not just China, but also the world.
The train behind me is Train G5, operated by CR Shanghai. This is the very first 350 km/h (217 mph) train for the day, and is therefore the very first of its kind for this year. We are starting off the year 2018 on the world’s fastest train, and the very first fastest-train-on-the-planet for the new year. We’re sending an extremely strong signal of approval and support for our trains, as it’s made China that much smaller, closer together, and greener. ▶
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. ▶