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. ▶
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. ▶
Usually it’s supposed to be “remixed” properly as Beijing + Tianjin + Hebei or the rather awkward-sounding Jingjinji. Except for this time, Hebei did take centre stage.
You will have remembered I had some pretty solid “Hebei roots and connections”. Oh for sure, I was born in the Chinese capital, which is Beijing, not Hebei. Yet apart from highway and railway mileage, my wife also has her roots in the province, and I presented the Beautiful Hebei contest three months after winning our 2022 Winter Olympics bid. The UK Hebei Association also recommended me as a co-host to a spring festival gala for the Chinese community in Portsmouth just a few months into 2016. To them, I was a serious doer. So it was no wonder they decided I belonged to something much bigger.
I am aware of how these organisations for returned overseas Chinese work, and they were aware of my Swiss nationality in addition to Chinese roots. (I became a member and thus the sole member from Switzerland.) The perfect pill for understanding? A previous policy in Chinese-language media with regards to my special ties to China and Switzerland: political loyalty to Bern, concern and care by heritage to Beijing.
Which leads me into my afternoon talk. It was as much as a talk of “what’s next?” as a “summary of frustrations” (to the benefit of North China, in actual fact). I went over many things in the round-table event…▶
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. ▶
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. ▶
It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve stepped back into that live studio at Radio Beijing (as in the English-language services)… The show was Touch Beijing, a live show mostly in English, but with a fair bit of spoken Mandarin Chinese as well. I came in around 25 minutes past the hour (17:25 or so), for my 20-ish minutes of fame (or so). The rail documentary I was doing, Next Station: China, took, of course, centre stage.
Up to this point, I had “sped up” going to stations — I literally just returned yesterday from Shidu Railway Station, Station 51 right by the mountains in southwestern Beijing. The past 50 journeys have seen me around much of Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, He’nan, and Shandong, but also as far south as Hu’nan! Were there a few of my favourites already? Absolutely. Old Regular Rail stations made up for the bulk of unexpected discoveries. ▶