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). ▶
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! ▶
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. ▶
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. ▶
That’s me having just completed an interview with Radio Beijing about the Next Station: China trip I’m doing right now. Finish all railway stations on the mainland of China by early 2022. (Now you just have to make a real effort!)
I’ve really been into discovering stations since I stumbled upon the Tanggu-Beijing high speed trains (I thought they used to go only as far as Central Tianjin). Since that time, I’ve been hooked. Unhappy with “just” Beijing South, Tianjin, and Shanghai being the sole three stations I’ve visited and taken a trip from in 2008, I’ve been dreaming of doing a “rail stations atlas”. The documentary, hopefully, will make this one come alive. ▶
Whack my head with a great big microphone, people… I swear this doesn’t appear to make any sense.
Except for it does, actually. I was presenting a presentation of presenters from around the world to presenters(-to-be). Some were already with a media organisation; others were here to replenish knowledge before heading onstage for real. As it contained a fair bit of (hopefully) useful knowledge, and as I generally don’t, by personal policy, charge those that have nurtured me academically (such as the Presenting and Anchoring School of the Communication University of China), this would actually be some form of present to these people.
In essence this was a talk about how presenters from other parts of the planet were onstage, what digital aids they used, how they presented, their tone of voice (north Korea’s Ri Chun-hee of Juchelish telly fame set everyone in cackles of epic laughter), and everything under the Sun. Examples from 14 countries and territories (including north Korea; they were just too “legendary” to miss out on) were included. ▶
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. ▶
The average academic talk is where you’ve students all facing one way, staring at a speaker, and then trying to make sense of this. Then you realise that when I do seminars and events, I wanted to make it the exact way both the speaker and attendees want it. We decided shifting tables so that most of us ended up looking at one other — much like a semi-roundtable — would be the best idea. And that’s exactly how the classroom was arranged for the first China Media Centre seminar, which took place today.
Vincent Ni, who’s now with the BBC World Service, came today as speaker to deliver an extremely insightful talk — insightful as it was also thought-provoking and very much what you expected from a distinguished journalist with a lot of experience. He has covered the elections in Myanmar / Burma, the Arab Spring, and much more. He has also worked previously in China-based media, moving recently onwards to media based in the UK. ▶
I will be part of the UK-China Culture Exchange – 2nd Global China Dialogue: Transculturality and New Global Governance conference. This will be held at the Wolfson Auditorium in the British Academy on 23 & 24 November 2015.
My role at this event at this moment will be as discussant of the second forum on the first day — Civilised dialogue – transcultural and comparative.
Here’s a quick briefer into the conference… ▶