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. ▶
The Central Southern Chinese province of Jiangxi is in a rather awkward part of the country. Bordering three of the nation’s better well-off provinces, Jiangxi itself has been rather slow in getting its transport network done right. The current 4×4 HSR network only has one solitary west-east 350 km/h (217 mph) line, the Shanghai-Kunming HSR.
Some years back, a new 8×8 HSR network plan was officially approved. This added a few more 350 km/h HSR hub cities in Jiangxi, including Nanchang, the provincial capital, and Ganzhou, a bit of Jiangxi which is just maybe a few hours shy of Guangdong, that one of the most populated and well-off provinces in Southern China, if not across the entire land. With Ganzhou to be a new HSR interchange pretty much rising from the middle of nowhere, local entities in the city wanted to make this a huge deal, so they invited me — and […] I keynoted a rather unique HSR forum: they actually held it in the open (under the auspices of local businesses)…
So after a very brief welcome by the organisers, I went onstage keynoting the entire forum. The 10-minute talk focused on quite a few things I wanted to get across: Ganzhou’s position in the national rail network, attracting international brands thanks to improve rail links, and cases of successful HSR transfer connections and benefits to the cities — with Weihai, Shandong in China being the local example, and London (two stations: London Bridge and the Stratfords) and of course Zürich, Switzerland, being the two international case studies certainly worth a look. ▶
This time a year ago, I left on Train G1 to Nanjing South and Hefei South. A year later, I’m in front of a microphone — not on a train — though at times both have happened at the same time…
The people at Radio Beijing timed the live show to happen exactly a year after the documentary started. We’re far from done… But it has shown me China beyond any dimension imaginable.
Pretty much wherever I’ve set up my camera and microphone — wired or wireless — I’ve been an item of curiosity. I’ve been identified by a member of the public once — at Wuxi Railway Station — but otherwise they’re rather low-key. There’s a reason I keep it like that — to uncover the station as-is, without anything extra (without any extras, in fact). ▶
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. ▶
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…▶
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.) ▶
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 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. ▶