I’m headed back to Beijing in around a month, after all these years in the UK. Beijing, indeed, is the place I was born in. I’ve always kept my homeland and Beijing close to me — and it shows in all the involvements I’ve been part of. In the past two years, I’ve been more involved academically, am a closer part of the London Chinese community, have been part of events and meetups amongst locals in London, have been closer to UK media and the rail world, and through all this, now understand the UK better — not least also through my travels to all 32 London Boroughs and The City, as well as all lines and stations on the London Underground and the DLR.
Beijing is the city of the future. Once back “in the Jing”, I’m going to be involved in the Chinese capital as never before. My main career is obviously going to be rail-centred, but I’ll also keep a firm footing in academia, Beijing’s international events, and particularly the Swiss community in Beijing and across all of China. The Beijing & Zhangjiakou 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, as well as the building of the northern China megalopolis around Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei, are stories that will define our time and are unique in their own right. This is where I’ll also come in with my own experience and know-how, as I do my part in making China and its people better off and living better lives daily.
Here’s a look back at 25 pictures of two highly successful years in Britain. ▶
I have to admit, I’ve mixed feelings when it came to the Gemeindesaal (or Community Hall, a “mini” City Town Hall of sorts) in Zumikon, Switzerland. It remained to me a lesser-favourite part of Zumikon, the place I went to school in Switzerland, for a fair bit of time — simply because we sat exams there — and it was rather scary. A grand hall for upwards of 500, converted to a hall of around 200-300 students sitting exams!
However, the whole thing changed on 14 December 1996. I remembered an audience that almost filled the entire hall — parents, kids, everyone, as everyone joined our school for an afternoon of performances just in time for the festive period. On a conservative count, I figured there were at least 200; more recently, I was told this figure could have been upwards of 500. ▶
It’s not a David Feng talk if it’s not about trains. With the population of just over two Londons moving from the countryside to the city every year across China, something will have to carry them. And whilst the country may have pretty much the largest national motorway network on the planet, it’s also home to over two-thirds of the world’s HSR tracks.
This already-massive network — at 19,000 km (11,806 miles) — is expected to grow even more by 2020, with figures by then to hit 30,000 km (18,641 miles) for the entire nationwide HSR network. With most trunk lines running at no less than 300 km/h (186 mph), this is going to be one of the most efficient ways to get across the country.
My talk on 12 April 2016 at the London Book Fair introduced urbanisation in China and its effects, with a focus on infrastructure. ▶
I will be talking about China and urbanisation at the London Book Fair, which will be held at Olympia Exhibition Centre. For further details as to where you can find me, follow me on Twitter (@DavidFeng).
I am expected to talk around 15:55 on Tuesday, 12 April 2016, although I might begin a few minutes earlier depending actual situations, so if you’re coming, I advise you to come around 5-10 minutes before time.
The talk on urbanisation will also coincide with the release of a new series of books on China urbanisation. In addition to remaining active in the China media world, I will also be taking an increasingly closer look at China’s urbanisation. ▶
It had every last David Feng element possibly conceivable on the planet. Trains. Subways. HSR trainsets. Audiences. Comparisons between the Metropolitan line and Beijing’s Line 1 and the Batong Line extension. The audience at the London Transport Museum was wowed for an hour as I did my shtick — a one-hour presentation on From A to B in London and Beijing. Everything was fully localised for a London audience. Miles per hour appeared next to their SI equivalents, and the Victoria line was shown its Beijing counterpart.
In the London Transport Museum’s Cubic Theatre, over 80 were seated as they discovered how the Chinese rails and roads worked. I first started with a fact-and-distance check: the easternmost end of the bridge by the Tube platforms at Upminster, in essence the closest point on the Tube network to Beijing from inside the M25, was 5,302⅔ miles (8,099.2 km) away. That station was a new late 2015 addition: Changping Xishankou station. ▶
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. ▶
I absolutely adore the English language here. Make no mistake — the way I see it, the best way to get better at speaking onstage in a tone of voice that doesn’t get people snoring is — to travel on the Tube (or any other form of public transport — even planes).
I knew this happened to me because a few years back, I was asked to record a series of (very short) audio programmes for China Radio International in Mandarin Chinese (if I got my facts right). I was invited into a recording studio with a massive microphone, and they turned the machine on. I started reciting from memory.
The member of staff from China Radio International was completely flabbergasted. I was telling stories, not monologues, and it was all being recorded.
The tone of my voice isn’t the same ole same ole boring monologue for the simple fact that I’ve listened to station announcements on the Zürich suburban train (S-Bahn) system. In the 1990s, they had two female voices, plus another two voices from male announcers. I liked the one with the lady reading the station name in a tone which must have incorporated a warm smile (you could almost hear it!), and I was made slightly more nervous when Mr Nervous Announcer did his bit. As a kid then in his teens, these minute differences in tone meant a lot for me.
Here in London, my favourite announcements are those made on the S stock trains running on the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines. This is followed up next by 2009 Stock trains on the Victoria line. ▶
I took part in the Beautiful Hebei photo expo — an event where I absolutely did not regret being part of it. An extremely key reason for this being the case was because it was about Hebei, a part of China now about to be made famous by co-hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics. In fact, that part of China, which the Western media preferred to think would be completely snow-less, was entirely snowed in just as this post went onto the Internet.
The celebration dinner tonight was a moment of appreciation for all who were part of this event. I took it very seriously as it involved something dear and near to me. My wife’s origins by family roots was from Hebei, that very same province that got highlighted there, and I actually taught for two years in Hebei (and would happily do so again in future). Hebei was a place for me to go to when I got fed up of Beijing (that would actually happen!… but not all the time), and I’ve basically explored all the major cities in the province, save for Xingtai and Hengshui in the south, and maybe Huanghua in the southeast. I wanted to be part of this event which involved a part of China that would host the Winter Olympics in 2022 because being part of the Games (even off the field) in 2008 was a great experience for me.
My role at the meeting was as event host. For the rest of us, that translates to people who do little else than go onstage with a microphone, saying the right things, and trying to connect the dots for the audience. But that was only part of the story. With key events, you had to have two — a lady and a gentleman — so I had to get in touch with the lady presenter, Shuo Zhang, early onwards and try to figure out just how the scripts would work. A huge amount of details were put into the cue cards (which we tried to ignore as much as we can, just to appear more natural). I made more than the usual dashes to Waitrose, if only for the extra caffeine, because I’d be keeping late nights (up to 04:00 once!). No detail was spared — not even the back of cue cards, which could be spotted by eagle-eyed members of the audience. There was no complaints whatsoever: we just wanted to put on the best possible show for the audience. ▶
Over two hundred people came as the event kicked off in the afternoon hours of 31 October 2015. Local and Chinese media covered the event, and we had speakers and key guests from the University of Westminster, Hebei enterprises (with some making a very long trip over to London from China), and others, including support from the Chinese Embassy in London. The ribbon cutting kicked the event off into gear, with speeches also made (as usual), but a lot of entertainment as well — including Peking Opera, Cheongsam, and solo guitar performances. Messages of congratulations from Hebei in China were also read — it was quite an important event, with 66 pictures of Hebei displayed throughout Fyvie Hall.
Most of us might be wondering why Hebei was “such a big deal”. Here’s why Hebei’s key: It is the “other host” to the 2022 Winter Olympics. Victory on 31 July 2015 has not meant that solely Beijing has nabbed the games whole. Events will be shared between Beijing and Hebei, with central Beijing and Yanqing hosting some events, then Zhangjiakou (specifically Chongli) hosting others. It’s probably not all too nice to win gold in China in 2022 — if you forgot which province you won it from! The other big reason why “Hebei must be it” is the creation of a new megalopolis that will dwarf Tokyo and Yokohama in comparison — Hebei is joining the larger Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei metropolitan region, which will see in the mix the Chinese capital, a central municipality, and dozens of major cities in Hebei. Already now, we’re unifying standards across three jurisdictions so that the greater Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area is reality sooner. If you’re into major developments in North China, you cannot afford to “just ignore” Hebei.
It was a fantastic time entertaining visitors, and me and the other host pulled this off in both English and Chinese, often with one person alternating between these two languages on the fly (even if just for a bit). For once, it was quite an experience introducing senior academics I work with (instead of myself being introduced by the distinguished scholar, which happened more frequently my end!) onto the stage — there was a lot of mutual appreciation. ▶