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. ▶
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! ▶
Yesterday, I spoke to an Australian audience via audio Skype conference about how HSR worked in China. Everyone got carried away at the sheer dimensions of the system, but also how incredibly affordable it was. I started converting how much a train ticket equated to in terms of how much that ticket was worth in terms of Vegemite packs, something that got the audience in Australia roaring with laughter.
China started with steam, and they were still churning out steam engines until the late 1970s and early 1980s. Today, they’ve leapt over to HSR, with speeds up to 300 km/h or even faster. New trunk lines are being built to huge scales, and the Beijing-Shanghai HSR is already in operation, cutting the 1,318 km trek down to 5 hours or less (on the faster trains).
I also mentioned how much HSR has impacted China. Be that in terms of tourism, regional development, or ridership, it has had a visibly positive impact upon a veritable People’s Republic of billions. China’s HSR trainsets feature some of the nicest seats to travel upon (for example, in Business Class). ▶
Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak not once, but twice at the Chinese High Speed Railway Travel Cooperation Conference, which was held at the Beijing Railways Tower, not far from the Beijing West Railway Station.
In the first event, I was part of a panel on the topic of high-speed rail in Taiwan. I actually visited the island and took five trips on that HSR system. I commented on how the system in Taiwan connects with the city metro systems in each major urban area, such as Taipei and Kaohsiung, even if the stations were somewhat further away from the heart of the cities.
For the second event, I had my own ten minutes onstage, where I introduced audiences to how railways were run in China, compared them to the situations in Europe (especially Switzerland), and floated ideas for how to make Chinese railways more international. I also had my wishes for Chinese HSR. ▶
I presented a speech in early 2010 at Ignite Beijing about exploring China on Twitter, which featured my tweeted train travels in the country.
My first “go” on the rails in China came as Beijing’s Subway Line 5 opened in a city which was increasingly stuck in awful road traffic. The love of the rails then spread to other cities as the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity High Speed Railway opened on 01 August 2008.
Travels by train to much of Greater China has opened up me to new destinations and interesting people, and as I also tweet a lot on Twitter, nationwide tweetups with my followers and friends have emerged, making travel by train “with the Twitter factor” that bit more special. ▶
I presented a speech on 05 December 2009 at TEDxGuangzhou entitled The Twitter Story.
I first asked the audience to define what Twitter was — taking special note that Twitter is actually about you, the user. It showed people whom you were — and because it was “mobile”, it could show you — everyday — on the go. This made it a vastly different mode of communication in the day than traditional platforms.
I explored the fact that employers would potentially do a search on a user’s Twitter profile and tweets in future before deciding whether to employ someone new. He pointed out that whilst a résumé might “not always tell the truth”, the blog, and increasingly on Twitter, true feelings were posted. ▶
So, I approached the situation by making use of one of the skills students are really able to perfect over the course of the IB: I procrastinated.
That quote, of course, is from my friend Jeanette at high school — at her graduation ceremonoy. The opposite applies to yours truly. I was thinking about what I’d be saying when I finished my high school. I finally got a chance to do my graduation speech (at the Riverside School in Zug) on June 10, 2000.
It was actually a pretty easy affair. Everyone had their own bits of paper on the lectern, and the rule was that you “felt” yours and read your line. ▶
We go back all the way back to 1996…
December 1996. I was with — I think — Ms. MacDermott’s French class in school. Assignment numéro un: recite a French poem in front of not just the mic — but a huge aula of like about hundreds of people.
That date loomed large and clear for me. Was this a breakthrough effort my end? Mind you, I was a “behavior”-ish kind of guy in class, too. The class couldn’t escape my presence — I was always “there”. Sure, I got sent out a few times (for apparently burning too much energy in class, so to speak), but I was always “there”. Was I going to be “there” in front of the stage?
Ms. Zita, my 2nd grade teacher, was to bear witness to what she called “her favorite [Chinese student]” — and what he was up to in front of the mic. (Yeah, right — back in the day — the only reason why the PRC flag was there at all was because I was at school!)
I think we were number eight or something like that. (It was a “we” — I had a girl who would read along with me.) I started from the first line.
“Il neige!” ▶