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. ▶
David Feng to Chair and Speak at China and the Changing Geopolitics of Global Communication Conference on 09 April 2016
Although I’ve made some not-so-invisible changes to my main commitments, moving out of “theory / research-only” academia and being involved only in projects that yield actual, tangible results for the benefit of the general public, I still will be involved in my part of academia which involve speeches and lessons. This is why I’ve decided to be an active part of the upcoming China and the Changing Geopolitics of Global Communication conference. This is a unique event: both universities co-organising this are those I have academic affiliations to. It’s also a good way to transition academically from London to Beijing.
Check out the full schedule for details, and be sure to book yourself in for the event if you’re interested. I will be chairing Parallel Panel 2 (Cultures of communication) from 11:30 through to 13:00, and in the afternoon hour, I’ll have my 15 minute-presentation. ▶
There’s one thing I’m not all too happy with the food I have in the Jing: salad isn’t part of the menu in many a restaurant. (You pay the equivalent of £7.— or so for that in Beijing — cheap by London standards, quite a pocketbook-thumper by the standards of the Jing!) Obviously, in China, things are massively different: vegetables, especially cooked / stir-fried / ____ed ones, take their place most of the time. In particular, I don’t get rocket (the veg, not the Cape Canaveral version) as much as I’d like to in Beijing. And the greens and fruits I get at the average supermarket in town are astronomically priced for a Beijing budget.
The other thing I’m seeing is I easily get more mileage on foot in London than in Beijing. This strikes me as odd, as I take the Tube (or Subway) pretty much as often I do in Beijing as I do in London. Plus, Beijing has a larger still network; London’s next addition won’t be until 2018. However, in the end, my device reports I get less miles done on foot in the Jing than inside the M25. ▶
I have been taking trains for pretty much as long as I can remember. I remember quite clearly I was onboard a train in northeastern Switzerland, in second class, along with other members of the Chinese communities, in either 1989 or 1990.
In school, I quit the school bus service and instead, got myself multiride tickets between home and school. In high school, I got myself annual nationwide season tickets, known as the SBB GA travelcard (Generalabonnement). I wanted to spend some extra time on trains to get my homework perfected, so I was lucky enough to get a first class edition of the travel pass. This also meant I had weekends when I could travel onboard any train in Switzerland for as long as I wanted to. It also meant I had a front-row seat to Switzerland’s new ICN pendular train (when it came onto the rails on 28 May 2000) and the Coop shopping coach (a nice concept, unfortunately slightly flawed — as you had the train go at pretty high speeds, making the shopping more like tight-rope walking!).
When I returned to China in 2000, the whole national railway system there was completely different. You had virtually no freedom of travel: you were booked onto a specific seat on a designate train, and because I wasn’t up for this, I gave up trains in China for 8 full years. However, I was able to talk myself onto trying a train on 01 August 2008 — a Swiss day that had Chinese elements, for the world’s first-ever 350 km/h (217 mph) train service opened up on a day that was both Swiss National Day and military day in China. ▶
Once again, the China Media Centre has a seminar ready for all, and like last time, when I chaired the highly interactive talk with Vincent Ni, I’ll be chairing this one as well. We’re really honoured to have Professor Michel Hockx from SOAS with us.
As usual, this event is open to all members of the public.
Here’s the details:
China Media Centre 2016 Spring Seminar
WEB LITERATURE AND WORLD LITERATURE
Speaker: Prof Michel Hockx
Date: Wednesday, 24 February 2016
Time: 14:00 – 16:00 (with refreshments to follow)
Venue: A6.03, Maria Howlett Building, University of Westminster Harrow Campus
Chair: Dr David Feng
OPEN TO ALL
You will note I am all for Swissness in everything I do. Indeed: Attributes with positive connotations, which include fairness, precision, reliability, political stability, nature-ness, precision, and cleanliness, should be summarised and be marketed overseas as something that is typical of Switzerland. (That’s if you take it from the German Wikipedia!)
My challenge every time I head onstage is how to either host an event or make a talk in such a way that the audience feel like it’s done with Swiss quality. This is particularly big for me, because having travelled to so many different places, one does really see the difference between Switzerland and the rest of the world. There are also the tiny bits and bobs that so define the country that you simply miss when you’re beyond the border.
Having myself been frustrated at times with “things from other places” that might not work the way you wanted them to, I felt it was important to give the audience an evening where everything simply worked like clockwork. I’ve been adding elements from Switzerland in such a way that I’d be happy as a member of the audience myself, and my idea is if I tested the waters with high standards, you as the audience should enjoy the show as well! ▶
This was an evening very much unlike any other. For a long time, I had my eyes on China Central Television’s Spring Festival Gala — itself often ridiculed. I wondered why eight emcees were needed — but loved it when in early 2011, a CRH high speed train model rolled into the studio.
I was totally unexpected for something like this to happen to me, for my remote control to be replaced by a microphone, and for me to be standing in the centre of the stage in front of thousands — instead of leaning back on the comfy chair.
This completely changed on Wednesday, 17 February 2016, in the city of Portsmouth, right on the southern coast of England. I was to emcee, along with another host (a lady), the Cultures of China, Festival of Spring Year of the Monkey gala to a massive audience in Portsmouth’s King Theatre. ▶
At precisely 18:57:39 on 14 January 2016, a Daxing Line train, extraordinarily crowded until Xihongmen (where they’ve a ginormous IKEA with the obligatory Costa next to it), emptied itself of all riders, yours truly included, at the Tian’gongyuan terminus. That was it. I had completed all of the Beijing Subway opened to the public. And Beijing thus became the third city in the whole wide world (after Chengdu in 2013, and London in 2015) that I had travelled on its mass transit system across all lines in revenue service.
I actually was able to pull off this stunt earlier — in April 2008 — so strictly speaking, it would have been the first such system around the planet. But then the network quintupled itself, adding since that record Lines 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, and 15, as well as the Airport Express, and Changping, Daxing, Fangshan, and Yizhuang Lines.
The new station I have absolutely come to yell for (not yell at) is Dawanglu. The city’s south HSR hub, Beijingnan (Beijing South) Railway Station, once was remotely inaccessible for CBD people — you in essence had to cram yourself onto a Line 1 train (stuffy it was!), and make yourself through the spaghetti interchange that was Xidan onto Line 4. Now, it really is a no-brainer… I can imagine nothing better than leaving the CBD onto a direct connection to the HSR hub at Beijing South, all without having to change trains halfway through. ▶
I do admit I left China at a time when it was pretty much in its doldrums. 2014 was a slow year. Earlier that year, me being stuck in smog in very bad traffic was pretty much it to me.
It would be nearly 7 years since I was last in London, so I imagined development had really picked up there. I took the Metropolitan line to the city terminus at Aldgate twice — once in November 2014, and again in summer 2015. It was highly disappointing: there was just about no change there in the City.
In the meantime, Beijing had engaged Magnet Mode again: just about everything from the Winter Olympics and the G20 meeting to international gardening and relaxation summits headed its way into the Middle Kingdom in a chain series of events starting from summer 2015.
With this return trip to Beijing, the absolutely amazing pace of development just completely took my breath away. I took the Beijing Subway the day I landed to see how fast things were picking up in the CBD, after seeing pics on the Web that there must have been at least one new skyscraper in the making. The entire city took my breath away. Even more breathtaking was Hebei, especially that part which would host the world in 2022. ▶
This morning I’m in a part of town I used to live in — back in the early 1990s, we stayed for a fair while at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel (we also did have a home back then, but we left it for the rest of the family). I sat in the Atrium for a fair bit of rather late morning tea. In this city where just about everything changed, it was nice to find a more Aldgate part of the Jing. The 1980s / 1990s-esque lifts were still there (even the way the number “4” was displayed on the identification plates), and the mini-pavilion in the Atrium was still there. What changed was merely the music they were playing — at times it sounded a little from what I heard from the crew at SWISS International Air Lines.
The Aldgate bit means a fair bit to me: I took the Metropoiltan line to Aldgate, snapped myself a pic in late 2014, and was wowed by the likes of the Gherkin. Sadly, I’d see almost no development in that part of London next year, so the views changed far less than in Beijing. The Atrium at the Great Wall Sheraton stayed much the same — in fact, much of the whole hotel stayed the same. Even the lifts looked their late 1980s / early 1990s self, with the number 4 on lift number plates by the entrance still in that very special typeface.
In a city that has shifted beyond sixth gear in no time, it’s… well… somewhat comforting to find a part of town that hasn’t changed. ▶